When attending funerals, a common statement for one to hear is that the person lying in the casket for all to see is now finally with Jesus and all their loved ones in heaven. Is this a true statement? What does the Bible say about death, heaven and hell? Unfortunately, Christianity has blended so much mythology with their theology that the truth is hard to discern.
Plato was a Greek philosopher who is responsible for much of the Christian thought on the after life through the framework of the church fathers. Many of the church fathers loved Plato and were greatly influenced by his work. He draws from Egyptian mythology, where the disembodied souls of good people go to a good place in the sky and the disembodied souls of bad people go to the under world. People scoffed when Paul presented the Biblical idea of the resurrection in Athens.
Acts 17:32–34 (LEB): 32 Now when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed, but others said, “We will hear you about this again also.” 33 So Paul went out from the midst of them. 34 But some people joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The idea that a person has a non-material part, such as a “soul” is biblically debatable. To say that the soul is immortal is simply not true. It was originally intended to be immortal until sin entered and humankind experienced death. The cartoon on the left is a popular Facebook meme, yet it is far from what the Bible describes. If we look closely, there are what appears to be tombstones also in this meme. I realize it is only a Facebook meme, but this is all that some Christians are holding on to due to the poor teaching we experience in the many thousands of denominations.
Genesis 3:22–24 (LEB): 22 And Yahweh God said, “Look—the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil. What if he stretches out his hand and takes also from the tree of life and eats, and lives forever?” 23 And Yahweh God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So he drove the man out, and placed cherubim east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming, turning sword to guard the way to the tree of life.
In order for Adam to live forever he would have had to eat from the tree of life. God removed humans from having access to the tree of life so they would not become immortal in their sin. Eternal life is granted to those through the resurrection of the dead, promised for the people who choose to serve Yahweh. Eternal life does not equal an eternal, non-material part of the body that floats around when our bodies are lying in a casket or tomb.
John 11:21–26 (LEB): 21 So Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will grant you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die forever. Do you believe this?”
Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, equated death with sleeping. Mary knew of the resurrection where everyone will be raised at the end of the ages spoken about by Daniel.
John 11:11–15 (LEB)
11 He said these things, and after this he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going so that I can awaken him.” 12 So the disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” 13 (Now Jesus had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was speaking about real sleep.) 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Yeshua claims that whoever believes in him will never die, but does this equate a body-less ghost floating to heaven? It was not the case with Lazarus. He was dead and Yeshua resurrected him, or woke him up. There was no talk of him being in heaven and disappointed to be back on earth, or mention of all his dead family members that he saw in heaven during the three days he was dead. This is where we have to discern mythology from Biblical truth.
Luke 20:34–38 (LEB): 34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they are not even able to die any longer, because they are like the angels and are sons of God, because they are sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses revealed in the passage about the bush, when he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him!”
Paul understood the idea of resting in peace until the resurrection. Even though, people still misquote him when they say, “absent from the body, present with the Lord” to promote this idea of body-less phantoms habituating heaven. How does one picture their loved ones in heaven without a body, especially when they see the dead body in front of them? The body goes into the ground and is like a seed that sprouts new life at the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:20–26 (LEB): 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since through a man came death, also through a man came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own group: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s at his coming, 24 then the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For it is necessary for him to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death.
“But each in his own group: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s at his coming” means we are waiting for His coming in the grave, or Sheol. This does not give us a picture of body-less humans floating around heaven ahead of the resurrection. It also does not indicate anyone will have their new, incorruptible body before the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:35–53 (LEB): 35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what sort of body do they come?” 36 Foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body which it will become, but you sow the bare seed, whether perhaps of wheat or of some of the rest. 38 But God gives to it a body just as he wishes, and to each one of the seeds its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same, but there is one flesh of human beings, and another flesh of animals, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish, 40 and heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. But the glory of the heavenly bodies is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly bodies is of another kind. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for star differs from star in glory. 42 Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of earth; the second man is from heaven. 48 As the one who is made of earth, so also are those who are made of earth, and as the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the one who is made of earth, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 But I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruptibility. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For it is necessary for this perishable body to put on incorruptibility, and this mortal body to put on immortality.
Paul tells us some will fall asleep, but some will be alive at the resurrection and be changed instantly. These that have “fallen asleep” are just like Lazarus was when Yeshua said “he is sleeping”. Sleeping is a term used for the first death because Paul and Yeshua knew it was not the end. For those in Messiah, theirs would be a resurrection to life, for all others, the second death, which is final.
John 5:28–29 (LEB): 28 “Do not be astonished at this, because an hour is coming in which all those in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and they will come out—those who have done good things to a resurrection of life, but those who have practiced evil things to a resurrection of judgment.
Again, Yeshua tells us that the dead will come out of the tombs. There is no mention of some non-material part of a person flying down from heaven to meet their resurrected body. This is where the Egyptian mythology from Plato is mixed with the Biblical ideas of death. Very few try to reconcile the myths taught in Christianity with the Bible.
The resurrection of the dead is not simply a New Testament idea. Daniel was shown this as well.
Daniel 12:1–4 (LEB): 12 “Now at that time, Michael, the great prince, will arise, the protector over the sons of your people, and it will be a time of distress that has not been since your people have been a nation until that time. And at that time your people will escape, everyone who is found written in the scroll. 2 And many from those sleeping in the dusty ground will awake, some to everlasting life and some to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 But the ones having insight will shine like the brightness of the expanse, and the ones providing justice for the many will be like the stars forever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and seal the scroll until the time of the end; many will run back and forth and knowledge will increase.”
Those sleeping in the dusty ground will awake; some to everlasting life and some to disgrace. This is more clear scripture. Daniel is told to go rest until the end. Daniel 12:13 (LEB): But you, go on to the end and rest, and you will arise for your allotted inheritance at the end of the days.”
Of course there are arguments against death and sleeping in the grave until the resurrection. One of the most common arguments is made using the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:19–31 (LEB): 19 “Now a certain man was rich, and dressed in purple cloth and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day. 20 And a certain poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, lay at his gate, 21 and was longing to be filled with what fell from the table of the rich man. But even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 Now it happened that the poor man died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. And the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes as he was in torment and saw Abraham from a distance, and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering pain in this flame!’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received your good things during your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. But now he is comforted here, but you are suffering pain. 26 And in addition to all these things, a great chasm has been established between us and you, so that those who want to cross over from here to you are not able to do so, nor can they cross over from there to us.’ 27 So he said, ‘Then I ask you, father, that you send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he could warn them, in order that they also should not come to this place of torment!’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must listen to them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
The biggest take away I get from this parable is that if one will not listen to the words of Moses and the prophets, neither will that person listen to the one who raised from the dead. This is Yeshua referring to Himself because He was saying the same thing as Moses and the Prophets and no one listened. Today the church says that Yeshua spoke against Moses and has created a lawless doctrine which shows clearly the meaning of this parable . One rose from the dead and people still do not believe what Moses and the prophets taught.
We can find this type of language that is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in the second book of Esdras. This is one of the apocryphal books that many do not regard as scripture. It tells us a similar story with more detail: sleep in profound quietness guarded by angels is the destiny for the righteous.
2 Esdras 7:76–99 (NRSV): 76 He answered me and said, “I will show you that also, but do not include yourself with those who have shown scorn, or number yourself among those who are tormented. 77 For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times. 78 Now concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone out from the Most High that a person shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. 79 If it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, who have despised his law and hated those who fear God— 80 such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, always grieving and sad, in seven ways. 81 The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High. 82 The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live. 83 The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. 84 The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. 85 The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. 86 The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will cross over into torments. 87 The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High in whose presence they sinned while they were alive, and in whose presence they are to be judged in the last times.
88 “Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body. 89 During the time that they lived in it, they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour so that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly. 90 Therefore this is the teaching concerning them: 91 First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders. 92 The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought that was formed with them, so that it might not lead them astray from life into death. 93 The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander and the punishment that awaits them. 94 The third order, they see the witness that he who formed them bears concerning them, that throughout their life they kept the law with which they were entrusted. 95 The fourth order, they understand the rest that they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory waiting for them in the last days. 96 The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible and shall inherit what is to come; and besides they see the straits and toil from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty that they are to receive and enjoy in immortality. 97 The sixth order, when it is shown them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on. 98 The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they press forward to see the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified. 99 This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced; and the previously mentioned are the ways of torment that those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter.”
We could also look at the book of Enoch which describes the chasm between the two chambers, but it is too long for our purpose here. The point is that none of these sources, whether in the sixty-six book canon or other books considered extra-biblical, mention anything about souls reuniting with loved ones in heaven when they die. They all point to resting in peace or “sleep” until the resurrection and judgement.
Egyptian mythology may be the basis for many of Christianity’s belief systems. I believe it was simply a distortion of the earlier known truth known by Noah and his children. The following is the Egyptian thought on the afterlife from World History.org:
When the soul left the body at death, it was thought to appear in the Hall of Truth to stand before Osiris for judgment. The heart of the deceased was weighed on a golden scale against the white feather of Ma’at. If the heart was found to be lighter than the feather, the soul was allowed to move on to the Field of Reeds, the place of purification and eternal bliss. If the heart was heavier than the feather, it was dropped on to the floor where it was eaten by the monster Ammut (the gobbler) and the soul would then cease to exist.
Philosophy explored various ideas about the after life and immortal soul. The following is from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Yet another of Socrates’ arguments appeals to the affinity between the soul and the forms. In Plato’s understanding, forms are perfect, immaterial and eternal. And, in as much as the forms are intelligible, but not sensible, only the soul can apprehend them. In order to apprehend something, the thing apprehending must have the same nature as the thing apprehended. The soul, then, shares the attributes of the forms: it is immaterial and eternal, and hence, immortal.
One way to purge false belief systems from our minds is to write down a set of dearly held beliefs and then search scripture to prove these beliefs. Do not go to the internet or some super evangelist’s You Tube channel. I guarantee one will find their belief system in a particular denomination or website, but may not be able to find it in scripture. Let’s strive to worship in Spirit and truth, not man-made fables.
Featured photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.
Please check out my first book on Amazon titled, Finding God in Organized Religion. It is the story of my life focusing on my involvement with three major denominations, from my childhood to present, describing the good and bad, and what I learned during the process.
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