Select Page

WHAT IS DEATH?

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE?

Most of us have been to funerals where we have heard that the one who died, if saved, is with the Lord. The implication is, of course, that the person is not dead, but in a different state and “alive” with the Lord in heaven. I cannot disagree that this is a comforting thought. We would much rather think of our loved ones alive with Christ in heaven, than dead in the grave. But is that what the Bible teaches? Let us examine God’s holy Word for the answer to that question.

WHAT IS DEATH?

One of the most succinct pictures of what happens at death is found in Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath, man has no advantage over the animal.  …..All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? (This passage will be discussed in more detail later in this study).

Let us consider some other scriptural passages that describe death.

Job 8:12-13, “While still growing and uncut, they (papyrus and reeds of verse 11) wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless”.

Job 14:10, “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more“. This verse and the verses quoted below from Job speak of man in general, and are, of course, true.  But Job also wrote that he knew that his Redeemer lives.  So when man dies, he is no more except for those who have a Redeemer, i.e. believers.

Job 14:12, “So man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.”

Psalm 49:13-15, “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,…..  Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them.  The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave far from their princely mansions.  But God will redeem my soul from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself”.  Note the contrast in this verse.  The forms will decay, but the writer of the Psalm will be redeemed.  Without redemption, there is no resurrection.

Prov. 21:16, “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.”

Proverbs 24:20 tells us the same thing.  “for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out“.

Isaiah 26:14, “They are dead, they shall not livethey are deceased, they shall not rise.  therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish”.   The Hebrew word translated “deceased” is “rephaim”. The note in the Companion Bible on this word reads, “deceased = Rephaim. This is a proper name, and should not be translated. Where it is translated it is always rendered ‘giants’ or ‘dead’;. ….why not so here? …..These Rephaim shall not rise. they are the progeny of the fallen angels……”. This note suggests that it is not men who will not rise, but progeny of fallen angels. I believe further comment is necessary on this important verse.

Let us consider Is. 26:14 in an effort to determine from the context how we are to understand who the rephaim in this passage are. “They are dead, they shall not live”. Who are these who shall not live? They are those of verse 13, “O Lord our God, other lords (Heb. “anon”) beside Thee have had dominion over us…..”. So the ones about whom Isaiah writes in verse 14 are those of verse 13,  i.e. “other lords beside Thee”. There are two things that tell us that these “other lords” are not progeny of fallen angels. 1) The Hebrew word translated “lords” is “adon” and is almost always used in reference to God, but where it is not used of God, it is used in reference to man. “Adon” is never used in reference to progeny of fallen angels. 2) The phrase, “have had dominion over us” points to the definition of rephaim in Is. 14:9, i.e. “chief ones” and “kings of the nations”.

Let us continue with Is. 26:14. “they are rephaim, they shall not rise.  therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish”.   The rephaim are the same ones that Isaiah said were “other lords” in the previous verse. If “other lords” refer to chief ones and kings, so too must “rephaim” refer to chief ones and kings.

In short, the context does not allow for the interpretation that these “rephaim” are progeny of fallen angels. (The paper on this web-site Were The Rephaim The Progeny Of Fallen Angles? will prove from Scripture that whereas the Rephaim were indeed giants, they were not progeny of fallen angels.)

Is. 26:19, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. ……but the earth shall cast out the rephaim”. The Hebrew word translated “cast out” is almost always translated “fallen” or perish”. We have in this verse the contrast between the believer who will be raised and the unbeliever, even the important ones. i.e. rephaim, who will perish. (Please see the above mentioned paper on the Rephaim for the Scriptural evidence that “rephaim” is sometimes used of important people.)

Jeremiah 51:39, “But while they are aroused, I will set out a feast for them and make them drunk, so that they shout with laughter-then sleep forever and not awake.

Jeremiah 51:57, “………they will sleep forever and not wake“.

What we learn from these passages is that like the animals, the body returns to dust and the spirit goes back to God. (The spirit will be discussed later in this paper). If we say that man is not dead but in another form of life when he dies, we must say the same of the animals. But the thought that the animals are alive in heaven is unscriptural and, as much as we would like to think is true, is foolish, to the extreme. A pig, for example can not live in heaven, God declares it unfit to eat in the Law of Moses. How could He accept a pig in heaven?

It is also important to note that the passages quoted above do not make any distinction between the death of the saved and the unsaved. They describe what happens at death, apart from man’s acceptance or non-acceptance of God. Therefore, what is true, as described in these passages, of the believer is also true of the unbeliever.*

THE SOUL

“But what about the soul?”, one might ask. It has long been taught that man has a soul, and that when he dies that soul goes either to heaven or to hell, depending upon whether that person is saved. Let us once again examine God’s Word to arrive at the truth regarding “soul”.

Gen. 2:7 describes the creation of man.  “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul”.  Note, in this verse, man is two part, i.e. 1) the body from the ground, and 2) the breath of life, which was breathed into his nostrils.  When these two were combined, man became a living soul. We must see how the words translated “soul” are used in the Bible in order to understand the meaning that the Holy Spirit intended.

The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the verse quoted above is “nephesh”.  Its first occurrences are found in Genesis, chapter one.  Gen. 1:20, “And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature (nephesh) that hath life…”.   Gen. 1:21, “And God created great whales and every living creature (nephesh) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly…”.  Gen. 1:24, “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature (nephesh) …the cattle and creeping things and beast of the earth…”.  Gen. 1:30, “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is life (nephesh) I have given every green herb for meat…”.

The traditional view of soul is something spiritual that man has, that is part of man. But the verses quoted above show something very different.  How can we come to a definition of “soul” that allows for the fact that the first occurrences of the Hebrew word translated “soul”, are translated “creature” and “life”?

In the King James Version of the Bible “nephesh” is translated in 45 different ways.  In my opinion, every occurrence of “nephesh” can be translated with one of only three words, these are “being”, “life” or “person“.  These three words all have the same connotation and will not contradict the meaning of the others.

Let us go back to the first occurrences in Genesis to see if one of the three words suggested above will adequately translate the Hebrew word “nephesh”.  Gen.1:20, “…bring forth the moving beings…”.  Gen. 1:21, “…. God created every living being….”.   Gen. 1:24, “….bring forth the living beings“.  In my opinion “beings” is a better translation of “nephesh“.

Now let us go back to the creation of man.  Gen. 2:7 “…and man became a living being“.  This translation allows for the word to have the same connotation in all its occurrences, and will not be a stumbling block to the reader when it is applied in the Bible twenty-two times to the lower animals.

Let us come back, once again to the creation of man.  When God brought body and spirit together man became a living being.  May I be allowed a rather mundane example from every day life to clarify my point?  If I combine a pie crust with a pie filling I get a pie.  That is to say, by combining the two things they became something else.  So, when God combined the breath of life with the body from the dust of the earth, man became something else, he became a living being.

There is only one Greek word translated “soul” in the New Testament, it is “psuche“.  “Psuche” corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word “nephesh” as can be seen by the following comparison.  Deut. 6:5 reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (nephesh) and with all your strength”. In Mark 12:30, Christ quotes this passage, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (psuche) and with all your mind and with all your strength”.   We have in this comparison the God-breathed translation of the Hebrew “nephesh” to the Greek “psuche“.  We know from this that “psuche” is equivalent to the Hebrew word “nephesh“.  (The translation of “nephesh” and “psuche” could, in these verses, be translated “being” and convey the meaning intended).

To continue our discussion of “soul”, once we understand that man does not have a soul, but that man is a soul, we can take at face value (i.e. we don’t have to add something that is not there) the scriptures in Ecclesiastes and Psalms that we looked at above.  That is to say, when we read for example in Ecc. three of man’s spirit departing and the body returning to the dust of the ground, we do not have to add that the soul, which is, of course, not mentioned in these passages, goes somewhere. So then, at death, the body goes back to dust, the breath of life departs.*

THE SPIRIT OF MAN

This brings us to the question of the spirit of man that “goes back to God”  (Ecc. 12:7).  Does that spirit have  the personality of the person from whom it came? Let us search the Scriptures for the answer to that question.

Let us begin our study of the spirit of man with Ecc. 3:18-21, “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts: even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath: so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” The answer to the question posed in the last sentence is answered, in part, in Ecc. 12:7, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it“.

The point of the passage quoted from Ecc. three is that man is no different in death than the animals. Note the phrase regarding man, ” they might see that they themselves are beasts”.  Note also that in death “man hath no preeminence above a beast“. Some might object that we are told in chapter 12 that the spirit of man goes back to God, but we are not told that of the animals’ spirit. But the entire point of 3:18-21 is that man and the beast are the same in death. Therefore, we may not assume a difference when the Holy Spirit, through Solomon, has said expressly that there is no difference between man and the animals in death.

Another point to consider in regards to the spirit of man is the fact that there is no distinction in Ecc. 3 or 12 between the spirits of unsaved men and those of saved men. That is to say, they all go back to God. If the spirits of the unsaved are alive and have personality, then they, along with the saved, have not died. That means that there is no difference, in terms of eternal life, between the spirits of the saved and the unsaved. That goes against all the teachings of the Bible concerning who will inherit eternal life.

If this spirit that goes back to God does not have life or personality in itself, what is it? Job 34:14 will answer that question. “If He set His heart upon man, if He gather unto Himself his spirit and his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust”. The Hebrew words translated “spirit” and “breath” are “ruach” and “neshamah” respectively.   Let us consider these two Hebrew terms.

We read in Gen. 6:17 and 7:15, “And behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life from under heaven….”.  The Hebrew  word translated “breath”  in this verse is  “ruach“.  And we read in Gen. 2:7 that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils  “the breath of life”.  The  Hebrew word translated “breath” in this verse  is “neshamah“.  In other words one scripture tells us that the breath of life is the “neshamah” and another tells us that it is the “ruach“.  There are, of course, no contradictions in the Word of God, both verses are correct.  That is to say,  that because both Hebrew words are used of the breath that gives life, both “ruach” and “neshamah”  are used of the breath that gives life.  We read in  Job 34:14 , “If He gather unto Himself his spirit and  his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust”.  Because, as we have seen, both “ruach” and “neshamah” are used of the breath  of life, that   lends credence to the suggestion in the Companion Bible that the “and” in Job 34:14 should be  translated “even” because “ruach” and “neshamah” refer to one and the same thing, i.e. the breath of life.  So Job 34:14 should read, “”If He gather unto Himself his spirit even  his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust”

Isaiah 42:5 is another verse where “ruach” and “neshamah” are used of the same thing. “….He that giveth breath (neshamah) unto the people upon it (the earth), and the spirit (ruach) to them that walk therein”.  This verse should read, “He that giveth breath….even the spirit…”. The spirit is the breath of life.

Gen. 7:15 is a verse that speaks of the “ruach of life”. “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach) of life”. See also Gen. 7:22, “All in whose nostrils was the breath (ruach) of life, of all that was in the the dry land, died”.

Job 27:3 is another verse that tells us that the spirit is the breath of life that gives life to all living beings. “All the while my breath (neshamah) is in me, and the spirit (ruach) of God is in my nostrils”.

We must bear in mind that all men, saved and unsaved, have the breath of life. So whatever can be said of the spirit is true of all men, there is no distinction between the spirit (the breath of life) of the saved and the spirit of the unsaved.

We read in Genesis 7, quoted above, that the animals also have the breath of life. The Bible never implies in any way that the breath of life, i.e. the spirit that goes back to God upon death, has life or personality in and of itself. Only when it is joined to a body does the breath of life give life. Therefore, when we read that in death the body returns to the dust of the earth and the spirit goes back to God, we may conclude only one thing, which is that death is an absence of life. There is no life in the grave. Death is death, not life in another form.

If the spirit or the breath of life, which is the same thing, does not have life or personality in itself, what is the meaning of Ps. 31:5, where we read, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit (neshamah)”? Because we may not assume what is not taught in God’s holy Word and say that the breath of life does have life in itself, we must seek an answer based on what is in the Bible. I believe that the Psalmist (and Christ when He quoted this on the cross) was saying that he was entrusting his life to God until the day of resurrection. (The resurrection is an extremely important subject when studying death and will be discussed in the following section of  this paper).

THE ENEMY IS CONQUERED THROUGH RESURRECTION

We read in I Cor. 15:26 that “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”. Note that death is an enemy. It is not a friend. If we go to God immediately upon our death, how can Paul refer to death as an enemy?

Our next question is, how was death conquered? Consider I Cor. 15:17-20, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; ….Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished…..But now is Christ risen from the dead“. And in verse 22, “For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”. Note the contrast between the unthinkable, that Christ had not risen, and the fact that He had risen. Because Christ had risen, those that are His shall also rise. Christ’s resurrection is that which conquers death. And because He was raised, those in Christ shall also be raised.

The Greek word translated “raised’ in this passage is “egiro” and another  Greek word for “resurrection” is “anastasis“. Is being raised a different event than resurrection? Let us examine a few of the scriptures which use these two Greek words.

Egiro” is found 137 times in the New Testament. It is used of resurrection 74 times. We read in Matthew 16:21, “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised (egiro) again the third day”. “Egiro” then refers to the resurrection of  Christ.

Let us turn now to I Cor. 15:13, “But if there be no resurrection (anastasis) of the dead, then is Christ not risen (egiro)”. Paul’s point in this passage is to assure his readers that, false teachings aside, there is indeed a resurrection of the dead. If there were no resurrection of the dead then Christ would still be in the grave. But Christ was raised and that proves that there is a resurrection. With that in mind, let us reexamine I Cor. 5:13. “But if there be no resurrection (anastasis) of the dead, then is Christ not risen (egiro)”. I believe that this verse makes it clear that “anastasis” and “egiro” refer to the exact same event, i.e resurrection.

Now let us consider this question. If man is alive after death apart from resurrection, how is Christ’s resurrection the conquering of the enemy, i.e. death? And, even more to the point, why is resurrection even necessary if we are alive anyway before resurrection? I believe that the unsaved man is no longer alive after death. And because the same fate befalls the saved as the unsaved at death, the saved also are no longer alive. But because the saved will be resurrected, it is only the saved who do not perish, because only the saved are resurrected unto resurrection life.*

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE QUESTION

The view that the saved go to heaven immediately upon death is one that has been taught for many, many years. It obviously didn’t come out of nowhere. In order to study this subject as thoroughly as possible we should consider the scriptures that seem to teach the widely held view.

PHILIPPIANS 1:23

“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better”.

There is no doubt that taken apart from the teaching of God’s holy Word concerning what happens at death, this verse does certainly seem to suggest that when a believer dies he goes to be with Christ. But, we can not dismiss the teachings of the Bible as to what death is, i.e. as to the fact that the body goes back to dust and the spirit has no life or personality in itself. How then, are we to understand this verse?

Let us turn once again to what Job, through the Holy Spirit, tells us of death.

Job 14:10, “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more”.

Job 34:14 “If He set His heart upon man, if He gather unto Himself his spirit even his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust”.

When man dies and “is no more”, he doesn’t exist. In the same way, if we were  able to separate a pie crust from a pie filling it no longer exists as a pie, so too, when the breath of life is separated from the body, a man does not exist. So when Paul writes of departing to be with Christ, he was most naturally not counting the time that he will not exist, i.e. the years of his burial.

II CORINTHIANS 5:8

“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord”.

Many times I have heard this verse misquoted as “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. It is misquoted because that is the meaning that many have given this verse. If it were true that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, how could we possibly consider death an enemy? But that is how death is described in the Bible, i.e. as an enemy. Why would we need to be resurrected? And what part of us is with the Lord? That is to say, the soul is not part of us, the spirit is nothing more than the breath of life, i.e. it has no life or personality in itself. And the body returns to dust. How then shall we understand this verse?

I believe that in order to be consistent in our understanding of death we must see in this verse the same thing we see in Philippians 1:23 quoted above. That is to say, Paul is not counting the time that he is dead because he does not exist then. So he knew that the first thing that he will know when he is resurrected, i.e. when he is made alive again, is that he is present with the Lord. Naturally, he is willing to be absent from the body, when that is what he has to look forward to at resurrection.

LUKE 20:38

“For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him”. Does this verse mean that because God is the God of the living, the dead are alive? If that were true, how then are we to understand Rom. 14:9, “For to this end Christ died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living”? That is to say, if all are alive, then none would be dead and Paul could not write of two different states, i.e. life and death. Let us examine the context of Luke 20:38.

Verse 27 of Luke 20 gives us the reason for this particular discourse of our Lord’s. “Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection...”. It is clear that the verse under consideration comes in the context of Christ’s response to the implied question as to whether there is indeed a resurrection of the dead.

Verse 37 is part of this same discourse. “Now, that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”. The point of this verse is that Moses knew that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would live. Does that mean that they were not dead? I would answer “no” for two reasons: 1) there is no scriptural evidence that they are alive and 2) if they were not dead, why would they need to be resurrected from the dead?

I believe that because God is spirit and is therefore not confined to the limits of time, He looks upon those who will live in resurrection life as already alive. In other words, there is a gap in time for we who live in time, but there is no gap for God, who does not live in time.

I Cor. 15:23-25 is an excellent example of a gap that is not mentioned, because God is not confined to time. “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. 24) Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.25) For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet”. Verse 23 speaks of the second coming of Christ. Verse 24 reads, “then cometh the end”. But the end is 1,000 years after His coming. How do we know that? We know that Christ will not deliver the kingdom to the Father until He has “put down all rule and all power and all authority”. May I respectfully remind the reader that at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ the nations will rebel  (Rev. 20:7-9). We cannot say that all rule power and authority are put down when there is a rebellion of the nations pending. Also, death is not destroyed until after the millennial reign (Rev. 20:14).

My point is this: Clearly, there is a gap of 1,000 years between I Cor. 15:23 and 15:24. That is to say, we read in verse 23 of the coming of Christ. Then the next phrase is “then cometh the end”. But there is a 1,000 year gap between the coming of Christ and the end. This is not a mistake. There is no error on Paul’s part. We must bear in mind that God is spirit and does not live in time and space.

Paul writes in Rom. 14:9 that God is the Lord “both of the dead and living“. But Christ in Luke 20:38 was telling the Sadducees that Moses understood that there would be a resurrection when He “called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”. Resurrection was the theme in Luke 20, we may not dismiss that theme if we want a true understanding of verse 38.

JOHN 6:47

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ‘He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”.

Does this verse mean that there is life in the believer and he will never die? How then would we explain what death is? If it is not death but life, then why is it an enemy? If we are alive when we die, why would we need to be resurrected? I suggest that there are no scriptural answers for these  questions because man is not alive when he dies, he is dead. How then are we to understand the meaning of this verse?

There are two things to consider in trying to answer that question. The first is, as has been said above, God is not limited by, nor does He live in, time. When there is no time, everything happens in the present. So God can speak of man having everlasting life at the moment he accepts Christ as his Savior because for God, everything is in the present..

The second thing to consider is that every believer has the guarantee of resurrection life. “In Whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in Whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). If the believer is guaranteed redemption, obviously we can count on that guarantee. That is to say in the vernacular, “it’s as good as done”.

JOHN 11:26

“And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die”.

This verse suggests to some that the believer doesn’t really die, but lives forever. But we read in the previous verse, verse 25, “…..he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”. That proves that even believers do die. Some would argue that verse 25 refers to spiritual death. But taken in context that argument is, in my opinion, unfounded. That is to say, the context is not about spiritual death as opposed to real death. It is about believers who are dead, in verse 25, and believers who will then be alive in verse 26.

How then are we to understand this passage? We must understand it in it dispensational setting. That is to say, Christ is speaking these words to those who, obviously, were alive. Had Israel accepted Him as their Messiah He would have set up His millennial reign as they had expected. But they crucified Him. And for the entire Acts period, Israel continued to reject Christ. But all through the Acts period Christ was preached to Israel in hopes that they would accept Him so that He would return to establish  His kingdom (see, for example Acts 3:17-21). At the end of the Acts period Israel was put aside as God’s chosen people. With that came the dispensation of the mystery, during which the church is being built. This dispensation represents a gap between Acts 28 and the time, yet future, when Israel will be once again God’s chosen.

The point is that at the time our Lord uttered the words recorded in John 11:25-26, Israel was, correctly, looking forward to the millennium to begin in their life time. Had Israel accepted their Messiah, those believers alive at the time would not have died. John 6:58 is another passage that speaks of living forever. Again, I believe that we must understand that verse in its dispensational setting, otherwise it contradicts a great many other scriptures and their teaching as to the need for resurrection.

THE TRANSFIGURATION

“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” (Matthew 17:1-3).

Does the fact that Moses and Elias were talking with our Lord prove that Moses and Elias had not been dead, but alive in heaven? I believe that we may learn the answer to that question from verse 9. “And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them saying, ‘Tell the vision to no man….”. Peter, James and John did not see Moses and Elias, they saw a vision.

The Greek word translated “vision” is “horama“. That Greek word is used twelve times in the New Testament. As we study each occurrence we will see how the Holy Spirit had intended for us to understand this word. It is always translated “vision”, except in Acts 7:31.

The first occurrence is in Matthew 17:9 which is quoted above.

Acts 7:31, “And when Moses saw it, (the burning bush-verse 30) he wondered at the sight...”. The Greek word translated “sight” in this verse is  “horama“, the same word translated “vision” in Matthew 17:9. The account of the burning bush is given in Ex. 3. Unfortunately, the Hebrew has “he saw” the burning bush, but that phrase was not included in the KJV, so I can not tell the reader the meaning of that Hebrew word translated “saw”.  However, based on the fact that the eleven other occurrences of the word “horama” are translated “vision”, I would say that here too, Moses saw a vision of a burning bush.

Acts 9:9-10, “And he (Paul) was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias: and to him said the Lord in a vision….”.

Acts 9:11-12, “And the Lord said unto him, (Ananias) ‘Arise, and go unto the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight“. It couldn’t be more clear that “horama” does not mean “to see with the eyes” because we are specifically told that Paul could not see when had this vision.

Acts 10:3, “He (Cornelius) saw in a vision, evidently about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him….”

Acts 10:17, “Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean….”

Acts 10:19, “While Peter thought on the vision….”

Acts 11:5, “I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain vessel descend as it had been a great sheet let down from heaven by four corners…” The next  four occurrences of “horama” refer to Peter’s vision. This verse tells us that he had been in a trance. That, in my opinion, tells us that Peter did not see the actual sheet, but a vision.

Acts 12:8-9, “And the angel said unto him (Peter in prison) ‘Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals.’ And so he did, And he saith unto him, ‘Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.’ And he went out, and followed him: and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel: but thought he saw a vision“. Note the contrast in this passage between what Peter thought he was actually seeing, and seeing a vision.

Acts 16:9, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night…”.

Acts 16:10, “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia…”.

Acts 18:9, “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision…”.

Because we are told quite specifically in Matt. 17:9 that what Peter, James and John had seen was a vision, I believe that we may conclude that Moses and Elijah were not (and are not) alive, but that they were seen in a vision.

THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

The story of the rich man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke 16 is one that because it is almost universally misunderstood, needs to be studied thoroughly and carefully. I therefore, direct the reader to the paper on this web-site, The Rich Man And Lazarus.

“FAMILIAR SPIRITS”

In the interest of being thorough we should consider the “familiar spirits” spoken of in I Sam. 28, In verse 7 of this chapter we see that Saul sent his servants to a woman “that hath a familiar spirit” so that he might speak to the dead Samuel (vs. 11). In verse 15 we read, “And Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?’ and Saul answered, ‘ I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I should do'”. Verses 16-19 is a record of what this “familiar spirit” replied to Saul’s request.

To begin with it should be noted that to seek out familiar spirits was against the law of Moses. We read in Lev. 19:31, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them….”. That brings up the question: would Samuel, in spirit form, have broken the commandment of God to speak with Saul? I believe that he would not, but let us go on with our study.

In verse 15 we read, “And Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up’“. In other words, this “familiar spirit” asked why his spirit had been brought up. That being the case his spirit must have been below in order to be brought up. But we have learned from Ecc. three which was discussed  in the body of this paper, that the spirit of man goes up to God. Therefore, Samuel’s spirit would have had to have been brought down, not up.

In short there are too many difficulties with this passage to take it at face value. And it is for that reason and because of the teaching of Scripture that when a man dies he is “no more”, that I quote from the Companion Bible note on I Sam. 28:12 which tells us that when the woman saw Saul she actually saw, “the materialization of a deceiving spirit personating Samuel as is done by ‘mediums’ today”. In other words, this spirit was not Samuel’s spirit, it was a spirit impersonating him.

Who then was this spirit? Because this spirit who was impersonating Samuel’s spirit acted contrary to God Law, I believe we may conclude the spirit of this context was an evil spirit from Satan.

CONCLUSION

These are several things we know from Scripture in regards to what happens when we die.

1) The body returns to dust and the spirit goes back to God who gave it.

2) The spirit is not alive, nor does it have a personality in itself. The spirit is simply the breath of life.

3) When man dies, he “is no more”. i.e. he ceases to exist.

4) If a man is a believer, he will be resurrected unto eternal life. If he is not a believer, he will not inherit eternal life, he will remain dead. (Please see the paper on this web-site, Will The Unbeliever Be Raised For Judgment? for the Scriptural proof of that statement).*

*The bold type in the quotations were added.

I know these things are difficult to hear, but they are God’s truth and cannot be dismissed just because they are difficult.

This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please e-mail me at: janjoyce@aol.com

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *