Sabbath School Lesson for November 19-25, 2022

Overview of Lesson 9

Although there are many verses and stories in the Bible that speak about what happens after we die, this week we look at some of the most common ones that are used to support the idea that we live on in spirit form immediately after we die–either in heaven or hell. We will examine…

  • the lessons taught in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus–Luke 16:19-31 (Sunday)
  • what Jesus meant when He spoke to the thief on the cross about being in heaven with him that day–Luke 23:43 (Monday)
  • why Paul said he would prefer to die than to live–Philippians 1:21-24 (Tuesday)
  • how and when did Jesus preach to the “spirits in prison”–1 Peter 3:13-20 (Wednesday)
  • who are the souls crying under the altar–Revelation 6:9-11 (Thursday)

There are two verses that cause us to want to study this topic of death from the perspective of all those with whom we might be studying the Bible.

  1. 1 Peter 3:15–“…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
  2. 2 Timothy 4:2, 3–“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.”

Following the example of Jesus, we can share our hope with confidence and humble kindness.

“Christ Himself did not suppress one word of truth, but He spoke it always in love…He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness.” ~Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 353.

 Memory Text: ” ‘You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.’ ” John 5:39 NKJV

Let’s remember that when we study the Bible, the words are those of Christ Himself. The words have no power, except as we recognize Christ as the One who spoke them. He will help us preach the word in a way that gives hope and comfort in the most loving way possible.

Sunday: The Rich Man and Lazarus

It’s hard to take the story of the rich man and Lazarus literally, when it talks about the proximity of two places, heaven and hell, being close enough for conversations to exist between them. How could someone be happy in heaven with the cries of their loved ones, living in torturous agony so close they could be heard?

It’s far more likely that this was a fictional story/parable told by Jesus, which was intended to teach the Pharisees some very important lessons in a way that spoke to their current way of thinking. They thought, for instance, that having wealth and material goods proved that you had God’s favor and were guaranteed a place in heaven. The unnamed, rich man in the story clearly was not in the place they would expect.

The end of the parable had a strong message for them as well. If they would not listen to the words of Moses and the prophets while they were alive, why would they believe a spirit coming back from the dead? That statement must have given some of them food for thought.

Bible Verses:

Luke 16:19-31 and Revelation 21:4

  • Why does the heaven in this parable not sound like the real one we are looking forward to?

Luke 16:31

  • How should we regard and respond to the Scriptures?

Monday: ” ‘Today…With Me in Paradise’ “

Luke 23:43 has always been a troubling verse, with Jesus proclaiming that the thief beside Him would be with Him in paradise that very day. And yet, we know that Jesus had not ascended to heaven on that day.

Mary saw Jesus at the tomb Sunday morning, the first day of the week and was told that He had not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17). There’s even some question about whether the thief died on that day. John 19:31-33 records that the legs of both thieves were broken, so they could not run away after they took them down from their crosses over the Sabbath hours.

Perhaps the most likely reason this verse reads the way it does in most Bibles is because a mistake was made in the translation. There are no commas in the original Greek and Hebrew texts. As a matter of fact, the ancient manuscripts consisted of all capital letters, without even spacing. By the time commas were added in the 15th century, the doctrine of the spirit going directly to heaven or hell after death was well established.

We can more accurately read Luke 23:43 with the comma after, not before, the word today. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.’ “ How comforting these words were to the thief. Jesus was assuring him, right then and there, that he would be saved and have eternal life in heaven.

Bible Verses:

John 20:17, Luke 23:43, and John 19:31-33

  • Why would Jesus’s statement have been false, if taken it to mean that the thief would be in heaven with Jesus that day?

Tuesday: “To Depart and Be With Christ”

Many have read Philippians 1:21-24, where Paul wrote about having “a desire to depart and be with Christ”. They assume that the reason why he would choose death over life was so he could be with Christ right away.

However, Paul understood that he would be reunited with Jesus at His Second Coming. It would happen “on that Day, and not only me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NKJV). He understood that when he departed from this earth, when he died, a crown of righteousness would be given him on the Day of His appearing.

He even used his letter to the Thessalonians to explain when they would receive their reward. It would be at the same time as their brethren who had fallen asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We will rise “together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”, he tells us.

So, why was Paul questioning in his Philippian letter whether he should live or die? It was because he was torn between his desire to stay and serve his brethren, or whether it would be better to rest from his labors and wait in the grave for the Lord to come back.

Bible Verses:

Philippians 1:21-24, Romans 14:8, and 8:38, 39

  • How does God stay with us, whether we live or die?

Wednesday: Preaching to the Spirits in Prison

Many have questions about “the spirits in prison” found in 1 Peter 3:19. Does this verse prove that there are spirits of the dead in heaven and hell? There is definitely a need to read this verse in context to find the answer.

Peter was speaking in verses 13-17 about how it is better to do good than evil, even if you are threatened and suffer for your good conduct. Having a good conscience, and not regrets for your behavior, would result from being sanctified by God in your heart.

Peter goes on to say that even Christ suffered for sin, though not His own. Through the Spirit, He preached to “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18, 19). Then in 1 Peter 3:20, we see who those “spirits” were.

He used the example of Noah and how God waited patiently before sending the flood till all those who were disobedient could be preached to and warned.

We might safely conclude that those “spirits in prison” that were preached to include all who are trapped in the awful clutches of sin, both in Noah’s day or in ours.

Bible Verses:

1 Peter 3:13-20

  • What do you see as the main theme of Peter in this passage?
  • Who were preached to in Noah’s day? Were they live, sinful men, or dead spirits, floating away from their bodies somewhere?

Romans 6:22

  • How do we become free from the prison of sin and what is the result?

Thursday: The Souls Under the Altar

Some might wonder if the “souls under the altar”, spoken of in the fifth seal in Revelation, might mean that our souls do separate from our bodies at death and are in heaven (Revelation 6:9-11). Many theologians believe that these seals are symbolic representations of different periods of church history, such as during the Dark Ages, when many Christian martyrs died for their faith.

In addition, looking at the earthly sanctuary service, the altar of incense or the altar of sacrifice could be of help in understanding this apocalyptic text. Since blood is mentioned in the fifth seal and blood was sprinkled around the earthly altar of sacrifice, we might conclude that this blood represented the blood of martyrs, who have died through the ages.

Since much of Revelation is symbolic, we might also conclude that “souls under the altar” are not comprised of actual spirit beings. We remember that after Abel was killed by his brother Cain, God asked him, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Surely, the blood didn’t actually call out to God. The blood represented the life of Abel. If Abel had a “soul” that was whisked away to heaven after his death, one would think his soul would have called out to God.

Bible Verses:

Revelation 6:9-11

  • What evidence do you find in the fifth seal that helps us understand who these “souls” are?

Genesis 2:7

  • Why is it important to understand that the word for “soul” in the Bible often means a living being, a real person?

Genesis 4:10

  • How might this verse about Abel help us understand the “blood” of these martyrs, and the meaning of the fifth seal?

Friday: Final Thoughts

The belief that our spirits depart from our bodies when we die has become entrenched in the minds of many Christians. It’s difficult for them to read the Bible with a different mindset: that death is merely a period of unconscious sleep until the Lord returns. To be honest, there are times when both views seem to fit the text we are reading.

To many, their view of the state of the dead, which includes our spirits leaving our bodies after death, has never been questioned. But when one has an open mind and is willing to consider both views, it’s easy to see that the belief of death being a rest from our labors makes a lot of sense. Our common sense tells us, for instance, that Jesus would have no reason to return, if our “spirits” were already in heaven.

We know that in the last days, many deceiving spirits will be used by Satan (1 Timothy 4:1). God has warned us many times in the Bible to stay away from spiritualists, or mediums (Isaiah 8:19). How easy it would be though to listen to and even welcome the words of those we think are our deceased loved ones.

If Satan has the ability to disguise Himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), we have no reason to think he or his angels wouldn’t try to deceive God’s people by disguising themselves as those who have died, whenever we give him the opportunity. Having a correct understanding of the state of the dead is therefore vitally important in today’s uncertain, chaotic world.

Next Week: The Fires of Hell

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