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Where Are the Dead? (132)

James R. Davis

Of late there have been many stories about near death experiences. The other evening NBC evening news ran a story about near death experiences discussing the possibility of life after death. The news story concluded that the near death experiences gave no conclusive proof of life after death.

Raymond Moody wrote a book "The Light Beyond"; a research done with those who have had near-death experiences. His research led him to conclude that something leaves the body at death, and that something continues to exist. Moody through his research discovered that nine traits of the near death experiences are common. 1) A sense of being dead, 2) peace and painlessness, 3) out-of-body experience, 4) the tunnel experience, 5) seeing people of light, 6) seeing a Being of light, 7) a life review, 8) rising rapidly into the heavens, 9) a reluctance to return. It is rare that any one person would experience all nine. Experiencing one of these is enough to constitute a near-death experience.

Out of the body experiences have been categorized in three groups: autoscopic (an out-of-body experience), transcendental (entry into a spiritual realm) and combinations of the two. The studies have revealed that religion, race and age are unrelated to who might have such an experience.

Harvard University lecturer in religion Carol Zaleski has written a study of near-death experiences called "Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times" that compares the differences in the same ages-old experiences. A prime difference is that the medieval experience included the pains of hell--plus dragons, serpents and toads in contrast to modern experience of light and peace. The article discusses the subject at length and concluded that near-death experiences "prove nothing in and of themselves, but here and there they open the spiritual realm to those who previously ignored it."

The vision of the apostle Paul was the closest thing in the Bible that we have to modern day near-death experiences. Many believe that he may have had this vision when he was stoned and dragged out of the city of Lystra and left for dead. (Acts 14:19) Paul wrote, "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:1-4)

Paul was like many today who are not sure whether they are in the body or out of the body, only God knew. Yet he speaks of being in his body or out of his body. He recognizes that man can exist in either condition.

To Whom Can We Go for Answers?

Does the Bible sustain the truth of consciousness after death with reference to the soul?

Many seem to have difficulty in accepting the soul's consciousness out of the physical body. The difficulty seems to center around the ability of the soul to be conscious while separated from sense-experiences and faculties (five senses of the physical body). Yet we believe that God and angels are conscious without a physical body. Therefore, one should not find it difficult to accept the souls' conscious existence out of the body after physical death.

God is a God of the living. "Jesus said, 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." (Matthew 22:32) The patriarchs had been dead for over a thousand but Jesus said that they were living. In Genesis 49:33 Moses speaks of Jacob's death, "And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people." He wasn't gathered into a grave with his people nor was he annihilated, but living.

In the book of Revelation John is caught up into a vision by the power of God for the sole purpose of allowing him and us to see things from God's point of view. He is invited by the voice of Jesus Christ to come to a place of advantage. (Revelation 1:10) In Revelation 4:1 John wrote, "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." As the door to heaven is opened John sees God on his eternal throne leaving no doubt about whom is charge of the world order.

One of the amazing things about John's vision in the book of Revelation is found in the following verses:

Revelations 6:9-11
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

John speaks of those who have been " . . . slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. They cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth."

The amazing thing is what John sees as he looks through the door into heaven, souls of those slain because of their belief in the word of God. They are before the throne of God crying for God to punish those that shed their blood. Those who shed their blood were presently alive on earth. John sees those who have been slain, they are dead and yet they stand before the throne of God while life on earth continues in a normal fashion. Those slain were told to be patient while God fulfills his plan on earth.

Notice what Peter, James and John saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Matthew 17:1-8
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

Moses and Elijah had experienced death. They were recognizable by Peter, James and John. They had personality. They had, evidently, "bodily" shape. They talked. This account is not given to substantiate life after death, but it does present a secondary truth. There is life after death and before the resurrection.

Two thieves were crucified with Christ. In the last moments of life one of the thieves turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42-43) Jesus did not say today you shall be with me in the grave. The thief was conscious. He realized that very day the fulfillment of Christ's promise.

As Jesus was dying on the cross he, " . . . cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." (Luke 23:46)

Peter said, " Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption." (Acts 2:29-31)

Paul wrote, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." (Philippians 1:21-24) Paul wrote again in 2 Corinthians 5:8 "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."

In James 2:26 death is defined, "For as the body without the spirit is dead . . . " In Ecclesiastes 12:7 Solomon defines what happens when the soul leaves the body " . . . and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.) Ecclesiastes 12:7) Moses speaks of Rachael as she was dying, while giving birth to Benjamin, "And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin." In unmistakable terms the Bible speaks of an existence of life separate from the body.

Luke 16:19-31
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

This is a true story; it is not a parable. According to Jesus, two men lived, two men died and their souls went into another world? Proper names are used Lazarus, Abraham, Moses, and a certain rich man. The rich man had five brothers who were still alive on earth; therefore it is not the judgment scene at the end of time. In fact these events took place while the Law of Moses and the prophets were still in effect. It was before Christ died on the cross. It may well have been when Jesus was with God before he was born. (John 1:1-3)

The account of the rich Man and Lazarus indicates that there is an intermediate state between death and the resurrection. I believe that this account is giving us a glimpse into the unseen realm of the spirits, a glimpse no man has had before this time. He makes a specific affirmation, " . . . there was . . ." There was no doubt in the master's mind. There was a certain Rich Man. There was a certain beggar named Lazarus. Both men lived, and both men died. Angels carried the beggar to Abraham's bosom where he was comforted. "Abraham bosom" is a metaphor expressing nearness to God. The rich man lifted up his eyes in torment.

These Scriptures Speak with Clarity Concerning the Dead.

Do the dead have any power over our lives?  Some believe that the souls of the departed loved ones are making intercession for those alive on earth. Some believe that the departed "saints" hold a special place of honor with God because of the good they did while on earth. And because of this, they are able to intercede for a person here below. They claimed that they could help you with the "little" things while God is busy elsewhere. When the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God cried out to God, they were told to be patient until God worked his plan. They could not bring about justice on their behalf. The rich man's prayers were to no avail. The rich man knew how his five brothers were living when he made his exit but there is nothing that indicates that he knows what is transpiring presently. He prayed that Lazarus be sent back to warn his five brothers of this place of torment, but he was told that they had Moses and the prophets and they must hear them.

This story makes me wonder when someone has had a near-death-experience and they come back saying that God sent them back to warn others of what lies ahead. God didn't send Lazarus back why would he send others back. I am in no position to judge what others have experienced. But I do know,  even if an angel tells me something, I am not obligated to swallow it hook line and sinker. (Galatians 1:8) We have something more substantial to sink our teeth into. We not only have Moses and the prophets but we have Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead speaking to us presently.

Acts 17:30-32
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

Can the dead answer our prayers?  These scriptures reveal that prayers to the dead departed saints will not accomplish anything for us. They don't know what is transpiring on earth and they have no part in anything that goes on under the sun forever. The dead do not know what is transpiring on earth and they have no power to change our lives.

 In Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 Solomon writes, "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.". These scriptures show that the dead cannot hear our prayers.

1 Timothy 2:5-6
 Paul wrote, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."

Are the dead with us in some mystic way today?  Many times it is difficult to accept the fact that a separation or departure has taken place. It is easier for many to believe that the soul of a departed loved one is constantly with them.

Some take Hebrews 12:1 to mean that we are compassed with a cloud of witnesses to mean that these witnesses spoken of are our departed loved ones. Therefore they think that they can feel them nearby in times of need. They believe that the departed loved ones are mystically imparting power to the living. Yet other passages teach that the dead can work neither good nor evil to the living. They have no power on earth. Hebrews 12:1 says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us . . . " The "cloud of witnesses" we are compassed with are those who faithful lives are mentioned in the previous chapter of Hebrews. They continue to surround us and speak to us posthumously. In Hebrews 11:4 the writer says, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh." Then the writer mentions many faithful men and women whose faithful lives surround us posthumously. As we read the Bible these lives continue to surround and speak to us posthumously.

Is it  possible to communicate with the dead? The rich man communicated with those on the other side of the gulf. The rich man recognized Lazarus. If you know someone who is about to depart this life, it seems that you could tell them to give a message to a love one who has already made the journey. Of course you are not going to receive an answer back.

In our congregation we had a young lady who was on her deathbed only a couple of hours from death. Her life long friend asks her to say hello to her mother-in-law who had just passed away a short time before. She told her that she would. My mother was passing from this life and as she was taking her last breath, I asked her to say hello to my dad.

Other Issues These Scriptures Raise

Is there recognition in the next life? The rich man recognized Lazarus.

Is there memory in the next life? Abraham told the rich man, "remember in your life time"; there was memory of how he had lived. John wrote, "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." (Revelation 14:13)

Is there reward as well as punishment? The story of the rich man and Lazarus teaches that there is reward as well as punishment for how we have lived while on earth. The rich man was in torment and Lazarus was in paradise.

Do the scriptures indicate that our eternal destiny can be changed after death? If we are lost there is nothing here that indicates that our love ones on earth can effect any change for us through their prayers after our death. Our eternal destiny is fixed when we depart from this world. We are reminded that we now have Moses, the prophets, Jesus Christ and the gracious God crying out to us presently. That is enough!

Some Objections that May Be Raised

If Moses, Elijah and Christ came back to earth from the dead, can't anyone come back? We may want to object in that Moses and Elijah came back at the mount of transfiguration. And also that Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after his death. These were special occasions; they were for the purpose of offering undeniable proof to the disciples concerning who Jesus was. They leave no indication that once we are dead that we will be allowed to return and roam the earth.

Also when Jesus died on the cross many were resurrected. Matthew wrote, "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:51-54) This was merely a sign that Jesus had conquered death and now he had the keys to hell and death. (Revelation 1:18) But it is no indication that the dead are now with us.

What about the resurrection? If we are already alive and conscious after death what about the resurrection from the graves. The Bible teaches that there will be a bodily resurrection. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live . . . " (John 11:25) Paul spoke of the resurrection, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) We have seen in James 2:26 as well as in other scriptures that death is a separation of the spirit from the body. On the resurrection day our bodies will be resurrected as our spirits return to our bodies. Throughout the Bible we see angels take on the form of a human body. We see this take place as Abraham entertains angels unaware in Genesis 18. In much the same way our spirits will be reunited with our physical bodies.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Note in these scriptures that for those who have already died God will bring them back with him on judgment day. Then the dead in Christ shall rise from the grave first. Apparently those Christ brings back are loved ones who have died. Their spirits apparently will be reunited to their resurrected bodies. Then the rest, those remaining alive on judgment day will be caught up with Christ to ever be with him.

Paul wrote, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Corinthians 15:51-53) The living and the dead shall receive an incorruptible body. The living will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.

Why a judgment day if there is already punishment and reward before Christ returns? It is much like a prisoner who has been convicted of a crime as he/she sits in a jail cell awaiting the final sentence. The prisoner is suffering punishment while awaiting sentencing.

Conclusion:

The Bible leaves no doubts as to whether there is life after death. It leaves no doubt that immediately at death we pass into the presence of God. It leaves no doubt that we will know our eternal destiny within moments after we pass from this life.

 

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