What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Satan's heresy that "You shall not surely die," when expanded, claims that we are already immortal, so death has no real hold over us. This idea, proposed at the very beginning, has thrived throughout history. Mainstream Christianity calls it the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, while various Eastern religions contain it in beliefs such as reincarnation. Whatever its moniker, the belief that human beings possess a spiritual, eternally conscious, imperishable component is a major tenet of nearly every religion throughout man's history. In our modern culture, books and movies abound with examples of the spirits of the dead hovering around the living characters, giving them comfort, aid, and encouragement. It is taken as given that death is not the end; somehow, one's conscious spirit will live on when the physical body perishes.
The Gnostic belief in the dualism of flesh and spirit—with the flesh being evil and something to be freed from, while the eternal spirit was good—also originated in the lie Satan told Eve. Gnostics, in general, believed that the purpose of human existence was to return to the spiritual realm from whence all originated. Death, then, was seen as liberation of the spirit.
First, consider how this belief affects a person's attitude and way of life. When Satan undermined the death penalty for disobedience, in addition to sowing further distrust in what God says, he also blunted one of the keenest elements of human motivation, continued self-preservation. If life beyond the grave is assured, how this life is lived makes little difference. It is like guaranteeing a college freshman that he will receive a doctorate degree, regardless of whether anything is learned, any work is done, any classes are attended, or any tuition is paid. While the student may indeed expend some effort, the motivation to apply himself wholeheartedly to his education will be substantially weakened. It would be so easy to slack off and postpone catching up to some time next week. After all, if the goal is certain, why worry about the details in the meantime?
Spiritually, the result is the same. If one already has immortality, and is eternally saved, there is no pressing reason to resist the pulls of carnality. Resisting Satan matters little. Devoting one's life to growing and overcoming has no urgency. Sin is no big deal. Why should one study to come to know God and His truth? Believing that one already possesses eternal life removes the urgency to live according to the desires and requirements of the Creator. At best, all that remains is the vague guidance of "just be a good person."
The Bible teaches that there can be life after death through the resurrection from the dead. Eternal life is ours only if God supplies it, and not because we possess an immortal soul:
» God tells us, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4; emphasis ours throughout). God repeats this in Ezekiel 18:20. Clearly, it is possible for a "soul" to die.
» Paul instructs in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death," not eternal life—not even eternal life in ever-burning hell. As with Ezekiel 18, sin incurs the death penalty. Satan, though, would have us believe that since death is not a real threat, sin is no big deal. It is only because of God's grace that we are not struck down immediately—not because of any inherent immortality within us—as the rest of Romans 6:23 explains: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eternal life is a gift, not an inborn quality.
» I Timothy 6:16 says that God "alone has immortality"—not any member of the human race, Christians included!
» Romans 2:7 promises "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality," again proving that eternal life is a gift, not a right, and that immortality must be sought (by "doing good") rather than assumed to have it already.
» Finally, in the "Resurrection Chapter," I Corinthians 15, Paul explains when Christians receive immortality:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:50-54)
It is not until "the last trumpet," when Jesus Christ returns, that the dead will be resurrected and given immortality (I Thessalonians 4:16). At this time, the saints will be changed and given new spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:49; I John 3:2). Clearly, immortality is not given until the resurrection from the dead, which does not take place until Jesus Christ returns.
That God must resurrect a person for him to continue living means that He retains sovereignty. He is not obliged to grant eternal life to anyone who demonstrates, once he has the opportunity to know God, that he is not willing to be subject to His way of life. However, by belittling the truth about the resurrection from the dead, and telling people that they already have immortality, Satan can distract them from a basic reason why they need to listen to God—so that they may be resurrected and continue living!
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the latter, a heartless person, speaks to Lazarus while being "tormented in this flame." This alludes to the wicked being cremated when God burns up the earth, turning it into the final Gehenna, called elsewhere "the Lake of Fire." The rich man is raised out of his grave at the end of God's plan for humanity on earth. Because the dead know nothing, he does not realize the passage of time, but he certainly realizes that he has failed to receive salvation. He sees "a great gulf fixed" between him and those who are with Abraham in the Kingdom of God. At this point, it is impossible for anyone to change his fate.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: The Third Resurrection
In Luke 16:19-31 appears the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which Jesus spoke to those who would not repent. Jesus uses it to help them understand His earlier words: "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:27-28). In the parable, the rich man—representing all workers of iniquity, all sinners—illustrates what is to befall the unrepentant.
The wicked will be raised to physical life in their resurrection, and then, immediately knowing that they are doomed, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire designed by God to consume them. The Lake of Fire will burn them up completely and finally. Jesus pictures the rich man crying out for help because of his mental and physical anguish at this time, but he is not burning eternally in hell fire. He is soon consumed while Lazarus the beggar dwells safely in immortality.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part One)
In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus illustrates death—total unconsciousness—as being followed by a resurrection from the dead and a restoration to consciousness. Secondly, Jesus describes the second death, eternal death, in the Lake of Fire that will totally destroy the wicked. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), not endless torment.
Jesus shows that the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear the voice of God and come forth—those who have lived righteously to the resurrection of life, and those who have lived wickedly (including the rich man) to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). We need to understand how vital it is to hear and submit to God's voice now.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part Two)
Jesus does not say the rich man is taken immediately to an eternally burning hell. He says the rich man dies and is buried. People are buried in a grave and covered with earth. Hades (verse 23) is the Greek word for "grave." The King James Version generically translates hades into "hell," as it also does the Greek words tartarus (the present condition of darkness and restraint of the fallen angels or demons) and gehenna (a place at the bottom of a high ledge at the south end of Jerusalem where garbage and dead bodies were dumped and burned). Other Bible translations correctly distinguish the different meaning in these words. The rich man went to the same kind of place Jesus did when He died—"hell" (KJV) or "Hades" (NKJV)—but the Father did not leave Him there (Acts 2:31-32).
Daniel 12:2 speaks of those who will be resurrected to eternal life (the just) and of those who will be resurrected to damnation or judgment (the unjust). In the parable, Jesus speaks of two different, separate resurrections (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:4-5, 11-12). Jesus pictures the rich man as wicked and lost, but even he will open his eyes and rise from his grave after the Millennium. Having passed up his opportunity for immortality by choosing this world's temporary, material riches and pleasures rather than eternal, spiritual riches, he is without hope, doomed to perish in the Lake of Fire.
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man shows the resurrection from the dead, not an instantaneous going to heaven or hell. It is a resurrection from death, not from life. It depicts mortals who die and are dead, not immortals who never lose consciousness and live forever under punishment in a fiery hell. Jesus describes bringing back to life one who was dead, who had no conscious realization of the lapse of centuries and millennia since his death.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part One)
1 Peter 2:22-23
The term "awful" arose out of the Middle Ages, invented to signify the everburning hell that many people in the world believed then and still believe. This ever-burning hell was "awful." "Awful" describes peoples' feelings about being cast into that place.
The truth is that there is no ever-burning hell. Is there anything, any situation, any circumstance that is truly awful? What is the most awful thing that has ever happened on earth? The most awful thing that ever happened on earth was the murder of God in the flesh. Absolutely, totally, innocent, vulnerable, He was a lamb led to the slaughter, and He allowed them to kill Him without defending Himself. Our Creator—put to death—was the worse thing that ever happened on earth.
How does anything that has ever happened to us measure up against that? This is why God points to this example. Christ did not revile. He kept His mouth shut. He committed Himself, by faith, to Him that judges righteously.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
1 Peter 3:18-20
This passage in I Peter 3, particularly verses 19-20, is quite difficult to translate from Greek to English. This is so because each of the nine Greek words in verse 19 can be translated in various shades of meaning, making interpretation tricky. We probably do best by translating them in their most basic meanings, thus: "in which also He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison . . ." (author's paraphrase).
The "which" ("whom" in NKJV) in verse 19 probably refers back to "Spirit," its closest antecedent, in verse 18, suggesting that Jesus was no longer in the flesh but by this time had been changed into spirit. This follows the historical chain of events in order from the preceding verse: He suffered, died, was resurrected, and was thus changed to spirit, leading to the next key words, "He went."
What happened next in the gospel record after His resurrection to spirit? What did Jesus do after arising from the dead? Some might suggest that He revealed Himself to His disciples, which He did, but not by any stretch of meaning could it be described as going and proclaiming to imprisoned spirits! No, John tells us through the words of Jesus Himself to Mary Magdalene what the next momentous occurrence was: "[G]o to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God'" (John 20:17). When Jesus "went," He ascended in glory to the right hand of the Father in heaven!
At this point, we will skip to the phrase "spirits in prison." First, let us note that the Bible does not refer to human beings who have died as being imprisoned in any way, not even those who have rebelled against and rejected God. They may be said to be "destroyed" or "killed" or "cut off" or sent to "Sheol," which is a pit or grave, but they are never imprisoned. As we saw, humans who die return to the dust of which they are made (see also Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
However, the Bible speaks in several places about spirit beings - angels or demons - being imprisoned (see II Peter 2:4-5, where Peter again refers to Noah's time; Jude 6; and Revelation 20:1-3, 7). Rebellious angels, unlike mortal humans, must be imprisoned because angels or demons, being composed of spirit, do not die as humans do. The "angels who sinned," Peter and Jude say, were cast down to Tartarus ("a place of restraint," a prison) where they are bound until God judges them. This Tartarus, this "hell" where the demons are restrained, is none other than their "first estate," their "proper domain," earth (see Ezekiel 28:17; Revelation 12:7-9)!
Second, Peter's use of "spirits" is consistent with its use in the gospels (see, for instance, Matthew 8:16; 12:45; Mark 3:11; 5:13; 6:7; Luke 11:26; etc.). In the gospels, "spirits" consistently denotes "evil spirits," "demons," "wicked spirits." It is highly likely that Peter refers to demons in I Peter 3:19.
This is confirmed by the first phrase of verse 20, "who formerly were disobedient" (NKJV) or "who disobeyed long ago" (New International Version, [NIV]). Peter is speaking of a time in deep antiquity, a time before the Flood. Perhaps he does not intend us to think of Satan's original sin of rebellion against God (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28), although it may be included, but specifically of the demons' corruption of mankind between the Creation and the Flood.
This would explain his time marker in the next phrase, "when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built" (NIV). In Satan's sin, only the demons themselves were affected, but when they corrupted mankind, human beings who were potential sons of God were affected. Once men and women began sinning under the influence of Satan and his demon horde, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ became necessary.
Peter's point, then, is that, though the wicked spirits seemed to be so successful in corrupting mankind, God patiently waited during Noah's 120-year ministry to save only eight people by bringing them through the Flood, delivering them through a kind of baptism. The demons had failed to destroy mankind. So also, by having Jesus crucified, the demons thought again they had won, but through the resurrection, Jesus had the victory instead. Baptism is a type of this same victory, as it is a symbolic death of the old, wicked man and of his resurrection to newness of life (see Romans 6:4).
This brings us back to the word in I Peter 3:19 that we skipped: "proclaimed" (or in many Bibles, "preached"). Most objective commentaries will note that this word in the Greek (ekêruxen from kêrússô) means in general "to be a herald," "to proclaim," "to announce," "to publish," "to preach." Although it can be used as such, it does not necessarily mean "to preach the gospel to" or "to preach salvation to." Because Peter does not specify what Jesus "proclaimed" or "announced," to assume the preaching of the gospel is not warranted. The only clue we have of what He proclaimed appears in the immediate context: that He was "made alive by the Spirit."
If this is the case, verse 19 says simply that, after Jesus was resurrected, He ascended to heaven, proclaiming to the imprisoned evil spirits that He lived! The demons, once again, had failed!
Verse 22 backs this interpretation: "who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to him." This agrees with many scriptures that speak of His exaltation over all things, for instance, Philippians 2:9-10: "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth." Jesus' ascension to the throne of God proclaimed His victory over death and over Satan and his demons!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus and 'the Spirits in Prison'
2 Peter 2:4
"Hell" comes from the Greek tartaroo, and it means "a place of restraint." God did not spare the angels, but He cast them down to a place of restraint, a kind of prison.
In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the lowest hell, the place where the Titans (who were defeated by Zeus) were restrained. It is described as being as far below Hades as heaven is high above the earth. As far as we can apply Greek mythology, we can understand that these angels were cast so far down as to be out of sight. Their place of restraint was so far down that one would think they would never be able to crawl out.
God is trying to get across that the angels have been defeated—cast down from heaven to the earth, as Revelation 12 shows. The earth, then, is a place of restraint, a prison, for them.
To add to the imagery, they are bound in "chains of darkness." This amplifies the thought that Peter is making: The demons are restrained. There is some disagreement among scholars whether Peter uses the word that is translated here as "chains" or whether he means "silo." Almost everyone understands what a silo is. To an American, it is a tall, cylindrical object in which grain is stored. To the Greek, a silo was an underground pit where grain was stored. Whether it is a chain or a silo, it does not matter. God is trying to assure us that the demons have been restrained.
They are being restrained because they are facing judgment. Unfortunately for us, they are restrained in the place where we live! The earth is the silo, the storage bin. We are sharing this place with them. Worse, as they would see it, we are intruders in their space. They consider us invaders.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 1)
The final descriptive item regarding the fourth seal is "Hades followed with him." Obviously, "Hades" has been left untranslated in the New King James; it is "Hell" in the Authorized Version. Strong's Concordance defines this simply as "the place (state) of departed souls," although this is in itself an interpretive definition. A more complete definition would include that it is a proper name of the Greek god of the lower regions, known as Pluto by the Romans, who gave his name to the realm of the dead (Thayer's Greek Lexicon).
However, this barely scratches the surface of the subject. The Complete Word Study New Testament adds, "In Homer and Hesiod the word is spelled Haïdês meaning obscure, dark, invisible," suggesting that it is a place or condition about which mortal man understands little. The same reference work mentions that it equates to the Hebrew word Sheol, and that in all the New Testament passages in which it occurs, Hades is associated with death (with the possible exceptions of Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15).
Cutting through all the scholarly speculation, much of which is based on either Jewish or Greek—not necessarily biblical—conceptions of Sheol or Hades, the basic idea is the grave, the place where the dead go after death. As Solomon writes so plainly, "But the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward. . . . [F]or there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10).
Many scriptures show that God will resurrect or redeem us from the grave, not from some shadowy netherworld of spirits. For instance, the psalmist writes, "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave" (Psalm 49:15; see 30:3), and God prophesies through Ezekiel, "Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves" (Ezekiel 37:13). Jesus Himself says, "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).
The Old Testament instruction, carried into the New, is that death and the grave are parallel if not synonymous ideas. Notice these passages which use parallelisms:
» For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalm 6:5)
» Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them. . . . (Psalm 49:14)
» [I am] adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand. (Psalm 88:5)
» What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? (Psalm 89:48)
» For love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave. . . . (Song of Songs 8:6)
» I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! (Hosea 13:14; see I Corinthians 15:55)
» And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death. . . . (Isaiah 53:9)
These verses accent the common-sense truth of Revelation 6:8: "And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades [the grave] followed with him." Death, in this case by pestilence, and the grave—Hades or Sheol, the abode of the dead—are inseparable companions; where one goes the other must follow because they are essentially the same. One can argue that they are technically different—that death is the cessation of life, and the grave is the repository of a person's earthly remains—but the difference is purely semantic. In the end, they both describe a state of lifelessness and corruption, of being cut off from the living and from God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Five): The Pale Horse
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