BLESSED ARE THE DEAD IN THE LORD – Part I
Adam and Eve settled in a Garden called Eden as stewards. The Lord God commanded them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:15-117). The couple ate and they died; but God loved man and promised, “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will free them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O Sheol is your destruction” (Hos. 13:14)? In this study, I am looking at death as a blessing and not as a curse.
We blame Adam and Eve for causing death to become a terminator of all life on earth. Suppose the couple had not eaten the poison and kept on living, what would the world look like without death? Think of man living forever without rebirth, no children or young people, middle aged and seniors. More than that, think of man stuck on this earth without redemption. Could it be that the first couple made the right choice? I am at a time in my life where aging and aching from physical handicaps and medical deficiencies begin to look at death as a welcome option. There are times when our earthly body craves to be delivered from pain and suffering and from being a burden on our loved ones. Death is a deliverer from all earthly and physical entrapments and for that reason it is a blessing. Death is also the gate into a world where the soul or spirit returns to its Maker.
The Book of Revelation mentions a second death when the souls that have followed the devil and their names do not show up in the book of life are forever expelled from the Creator’ s presence to a place prepared for the devil and his angels. The place is called, “the lake of fire.” And, it is the final destination for Satan and his beasts (false gods), his prophet (false Christ), his Hades (Satan’s world or place of the dead), and death (Satan’s power over physical life on earth). It is identical with hell and is similar to Gahanna (a place of torture), the burning dump outside Jerusalem. Jesus gave us a glimpse of hell in the Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame’” (Lk. 16:22-24).
Hades (Greek) or Sheol (Hebrew) is the abode of the dead and it is divided into two parts. The rich man is in the place of punishment and Abraham and Lazarus are in that part that is similar to Paradise, where Jesus took the thief with Him, who died with Jesus. Abraham and Lazarus are enjoying the comfortable rest and await the resurrection when their deeds will be looked at and will be rewarded. This is the place, where Jesus went to preach to the souls during his state in Sheol before His resurrection. It is also the place, where the dead rest that died in the Lord. Sheol or Paradise is not the final destination, or the new world yet to come. The ancients, and especially the Hebrews, believed that the soul continued to live after it separated from the body. This earthly life is not the only or final existence. It is only a time of preparation for eternity or “the forever.” Our earthly life is but, “a mist that appears for a short time and then vanishes.” Yet, it is the only and most important life when man can prove himself to God, to men, and to himself. Woe to any person, who denies another person the right to prove him or herself, a time where the soul can decide where it wants to spend eternity.
The world, before Moses, believed that Sheol or Hades was not a dead place. The good souls rested, but the bad spirits roamed at nights. Leaders, like Pharaoh, were eager to die and live in the underworld with their servants and ministers. The Pyramids were built to house the souls or spirits of these kings. The Greeks believed that Hades was a place of pleasure, where the goddess “Persephone” entertained the god “Dionysus” for four months every year with wine, dancing, and love. Pork was the main meal. Also, the pig became holy to the Romans in initiations into the cult of Bacchus, god of vegetation, wine, and lust. Dionysus or Bacchus was believed to be the son of Zeus and a human princess. The dual nature of Christ was not a mystery to Greeks and Romans and converts flocked to the Christian way of life. The idea that the dead do not die, but live on in a ghostly form is still prevalent in our time. Both my parents claimed to have seen ghosts. Hollywood is very active in reviving manifestations of the dead; particularly, those who could not fulfill their purpose while they were in the flesh. Sorcerers or soothsayers still consult the dead, in our time. During Moses’ days, it was so bad that Moses was instructed to draft a law to prohibit contact with the dead and execute those that did.
The Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament begins to regard Sheol or Hades as a temporary transfer station for good people, but not for the bad. It is not a permanent place and not everyone ends up in the place of the dead. The writer of Job believed that a good person, without the flesh or human body, would see God. Godly men like Enoch and Elijah were changed and taken to heaven. King David believed that God would not keep him in Sheol, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure. For you will not give me up to Sheol, or let your godly one see the Pit. You did show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:9-11). “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me” (Ps. 49:15). Hosea also held to the ransom from Sheol idea mentioned in the beginning of this study.
The clearest concept of being ransomed from Sheol comes from the vision of Daniel, “At that time shall arise Michael (one like God), the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never had been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people will be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:1-3). “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but those who are wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:10). “But go your way (Daniel) till the end; and you shall rest, and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days” (Dan. 12:13).
The Christian Scripture or New Testament is an extension or a fulfillment of the Hebrew Messianic hope. It puts meaning into the blue print and defines the outline. Where there were guesses it puts certainties. The Grave or Sheol could not hold Jesus. Jesus spent forty days on earth as the risen Man from Galilee before He ascended to heaven, similar to Enoch and Elijah. Moses and Elijah manifested themselves in the same glorified state that Jesus was in and vise versa. On the day Jesus was crucified and died, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Mt. 27:51-53). In three instances, Jesus called the souls back from Sheol, who were sleeping or resting. Jesus told Jairus, that his daughter was not dead, but she was sleeping. The widow’s only son at Nain, heard the voice of Jesus, and he came back from the place of the dead. Lazarus was not dead in Sheol when he heard Jesus command, “Lazarus come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
Paul, the messenger of Jesus, was a strong believer in the resurrection and in the judgment. Paul, too, believed that the souls slept in Sheol or the good part of Hades. “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive (at that time), who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thes. 4:13-15). Eutychus fell out of a third story window and was picked up dead. “But Paul went down and bent over him, and embraced him said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him’” (Ac. 20:9-10). For a short time, Peter was also allowed to call Tabitha or Dorcas back from Sheol.