I See Dead People?
The television and movie world continue to make millions depicting dead people who are not really dead (primarily: vampires, ghosts and zombies). Like the heros in the old Ghostbusters movie, many are even making a living by claiming the ability to detect and remove these troublesome dead souls who are still around. One of my favorite "ghost" programs is the Ghost Whisperer. This lady sees dead people (souls lingering with the living after death). The show is about Belinda trying to find out why they are sticking around and helping them into the light. Her life's goal is to help as many souls into the light as possible. Her character is noble and selfless in her efforts to be of help to these wayward spirits of the dead. Of course, this is a work of fiction for our entertainment and for their profit.
Perhaps the reason these stories about the dead are so popular is because we all know we too shall die. But, of all the people Melinda has helped into the light, there is never a mention of God's True plan to save the lost by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we lay aside all the science fiction and the imagination of the entertainment industry, we can actually gain a clearer picture of what really awaits us after death. Even more importantly, we should be especially focused the kind of faith we have while alive and how our choices affects us after we die.
Please allow me to briefly address some things the Bible has to say concerning the word "death" and what waits for us when our time to die finally comes.
Physical Death Is Not The End Of Our Existence:
Some would have us think that death means we no longer exist in any way, shape or form. But the Bible teaches us that physical death is not the end of our existence. In the book of Matthew, Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders (Sadducees) who did not believe in an afterlife. Jesus quotes a statement made by God. "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine" (Matthew 22:32-33) If any of the sincere listeners were on the fence with their beliefs about the afterlife, they were probably amazed at the plain and simple truth of God's words. God did not say "I was" their God. Speaking of the dead, He uses the present tense to proclaim "I am" their God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still existed somewhere according to God.
The very hope of all Christian teaching has to do with the resurrection and our relationship with God after physical death. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is clear evidence that it is not all over for us at physical death. "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom 14:9). Paul, by inspiration said, "...there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). Jesus said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). The Apostles were to preach to all the people that Jesus, ... "was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick (living) and dead" (Acts 10:42).
If we reject the existence of the afterlife, we are blind to the truth and purpose of the Bible altogether. Paul addressed the false teaching that there is no resurrection and said if this is true then we should all just "...eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor 15:32). The truth is, the Bible was written to reveal to us what we need to prepare for our after death existence. Paul told the church, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor 15:19). God, speaking His truth in the scriptures, tells us the grave is not our "final resting place."
But we are not left to figure out this afterlife stuff on our own, nor are we wise to let Hollywood explain it all to us. God's Word is the authoritative truth about all things eternal. In this coming judgment, it is God's Word which will judge us. Jesus warns us, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
Death In the Bible:
The Bible uses the word "death" in several different ways depending on its context. But, it is always speaking more about a separation (and the accompanying limitations) between two things than it is about something no longer existing. We also shall see, depending on the context, one might be "dead" in one sense, but alive in another.
First of all, there is physical death: the separation of our spirit from our bodies. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (James 2:26). Likewise, physical death is overcome when the body and spirit are reunited. "And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat." (Luke 8:53-55)
Jesus literally died physically on the cross. In His death we see this temporary separation of body and soul (spirit). "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (hades, place of the dead) neither his flesh (body in tomb) did see corruption." (Acts 2:31). The Greek Word "Hades" is translated as "hell" along with a number of other words in the King James Version. But, "hell" in this context is not talking about the place of final punishment (Greek: gehenna), but of Greek: hades, the grave or waiting place of physically dead spirits.
Jesus gives us a specific account of two men who were dead and buried physically. One was a self centered rich man and the other a poor beggar named Lazarus. They both had existence after death and had gone somewhere (hades?), like Jesus, with other dead souls (Abraham was there). The rich man was in torment because his wicked life had followed him. He wanted Lazarus to go back to the world of the living and warn his brothers not to die in his condition. Abraham told him that, if they would not believe the scriptures, they would not believe one who had returned from the dead. (Luke 16:19-31).
According to Jesus' words here and what actually happened to Him, we too (our spirits or souls) will someday be in this place called "hades" when we die physically. How we prepare while alive will determine which part of hades we will experience. Physical death is that time of temporary separation of our body and spirit until the resurrection of all who are in the grave.
There is another kind of death spoken of in the Bible which we will call "spiritual" death. People who are physically alive can be dead in a spiritual sense. Spiritual death occurs when a living person's soul is in a state of separation from fellowship and acceptance with God.
Like Adam, we are all created in the image of God and are spiritually one with God. But when we sin we die spiritually and are separated from God's fellowship just as Adam was cast out of God's presence. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die in another way because he lost his good relationship with God. Paul explains that, " the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom_6:23). Paul also reminds us that, "...all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23). The Prophet Isaiah says, "But your iniquities (sins) have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isa 59:2). Ezekiel quotes God as saying, "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek 18:4).
Spiritual death is not just about having sinned. It is about being lost and unwilling to hear and obey the words and instructions of God about how to be saved. It is about rejecting God's invitation to be saved by the blood of His Son Jesus. Many of these dead do not even realize they are dead. They are religious in some way, but lost because they have never submitted themselves to God's Word, only the religious teaching of men (Rom 10:1-3).
Jesus further supports this idea of being dead (spiritually) while still being physically alive. When some of His disciples began giving excuses about not following Him, he told them, "let the dead bury the dead." (Matt 8:22).
Listen carefully as Paul reminds the church in Ephesus of their previous state of death. "And you hath he quickened (made alive), who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation (lifestyle, rj) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature (habitual lifestyle, rj) the children of wrath, even as others." (Eph 2:1-3).
Of course, obedient faith in the Gospel of Jesus is the only possible way we can be made alive and restored to a saving relationship with God. Jesus became the author of eternal life to "...all them that obey him" (Heb 5:9). Our response to the Gospel is very specific. It is not just believing ("the devils also believe and tremble", James 2:19). It is about loving God and obeying His word to demonstrate Biblical faith so we may receive His precious grace. Have you believed, repented, confessed faith in Christ and been immersed for the remission of your sins?? (Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38). If you have not, then you are still separated from God. You are dead in a very frightening sense.
Dead To Sin:
Another kind of death has to do with a true believer remaining separated from acts of sin. We are to be dead to sin so that it no longer controls us. This is considering oneself dead to old ways and old desires. It is being dead to the old self. Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20).
Our submission to God in baptism clearly details when we die to self, are buried and then raised to live a new life in Christ, thus separated from our sins:
"God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:" (Romans 6:2-5).
The "Second Death":
Finally, there is another death mentioned in the Bible. While we are alive physically, but still spiritually separated from God, there is still time to hear and obey the Gospel. But, if physical death takes us while we are spiritually dead, all hope of salvation is gone. In this "second death" we will be forever lost and separated from God.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death ...But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev 2:11; 21:8).
I See Dead People:
It is our work as the church of Christ to see dead people. Souls who are separated from God by their sin, but are not yet willing to hear and obey the truth of the Gospel. Sort of like Melinda, in the Ghost Whisperer, a Christian's job is to help as many people into the light of God's Truth as possible. Unfortunately, this can only be done before they die physically. One who dies separated from God has only the "second death" in the lake of fire in their future. After this study you should be able to see "dead" people. If you see one in the mirror, please get your Bible out so the truth can make you free and ready to meet God (John 8:32).
Remember, there are the dead who do not know they are dead. Will you study the Bible to find out if you or those you love are really dead while they live (1 Tim 5:6), destined for the "second death?" We must look for the light before physical death. Full trust and submission to Jesus and God's Word is our only hope of receiving a restored relationship with God forever.
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12).
"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Jesus compared true obedient faith in conversion to being born again (anew) (John 3:3). If you understand the verses we have mentioned along with this one, then the meaning of this popular statement will be clear to you:
"Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once."