Lesson for September 13-19, 2014
There’s probably no other subject harder to preach or teach than that of the state of the dead. We humans are very sensitive about what happens when we die. Almost all of us are in one stage or another of grieving for a loved one. And someone, who is struggling with a terminal illness or knows someone who’s struggling, will most likely find the subject disturbing.
It’s not a subject we enter into lightly, but is something that Jesus Himself confronted on more than one occasion and most of us want to know what He taught about death.
Humans seem to be the only animals on earth who are disturbed by death though. It’s only natural that we are, because God did not create us to die. He had eternity in mind for us from the very beginning. Until this foreign element of sin and death entered the picture, we were meant to live forever. Mankind has always taken this desire to live beyond the grave seriously and understandably so. God gave us that desire.
Key Text: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.’ “ John 11:25 NKJV
Jesus fulfills our hopes for eternal life. He gave us life when we were born, and has the power to give it again at the resurrection. We’re not just talking about death here, but resurrection, about life.
Christianity is the only world religion today that can point to an empty grave of its founder, Buddha, Muhammad, Abraham, and Confucius remain in the tomb.
This should not be a depressing subject, but a joyful one. It involves the greatest promise given to us in God’s Word. Someone has said that the resurrection isn’t the most important thing. It’s the ONLY thing! This week we discover why this is so.
Sunday: The State of the Dead
Jesus brought several people back to life, but perhaps His crowning act of this nature was with His friend Lazarus. In this case, Lazarus had been dead and in the grave for four days. What a dramatic display of Jesus’ power over death this was!
You’ll recall Jesus’ description of Lazarus’ death. “…He said to them,‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ “ John 11:11 NKJV
Like the Old Testament writers, Jesus used the metaphor of sleep, or rest, to indicate the state of the dead. See I Kings 11:21 (David slept with his fathers). This is a fitting illustration of the unconscious condition of a person after death.
Martha also made a correct statement regarding her understanding of the state of death. She said to Jesus in John 11:24, “…I know that he [her brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Notice she didn’t say, “He HAS risen”, but that he WILL rise again…AT THE LAST DAY.
You may recall that Satan’s first lie to mankind was “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:4 NKJV It was a common belief among pagan religions even during Jesus’ time that the soul was immortal. That some part of us lives on after death. Satan has used this concept of the dualistic nature of man, having both a soul and body, to further blur the lines of our understanding of the certainty of death.
The belief that our souls or spirits go directly to heaven when we die has opened up the opportunity for heretical beliefs, such as purgatory, spiritualism, and even channeling. And it will certainly set the stage for more deceptions in the future.
Discussion Questions: Read Luke 23:43, Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross. Read it twice, once with the comma before “today” and again with the comma after “today”, knowing that commas were not in the original text, but supplied by translators. How does the meaning change? [Why could Jesus not have fulfilled that promise to the thief on that day? Read John 20:17 to verify your answer.]
Read Genesis 35:18, talking about Rachel’s death. Versions describing this event vary. Some say her soul was departing, but others say she breathed her last. Which do you think is the best translation of the word for “soul” here? Strong’s Concordance verifies that the word “soul” has both meanings. How might this apply to other examples in the Bible and why is our correct understanding of death in the first place is so important?
Monday: The Hope of Resurrection
Since our focus is on Jesus as we explore this topic of death, we are encouraged to find that Jesus has power over both life and death. John 1:4 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” NKJV This passage takes us back to creation. The Gospel of John begins with “In the beginning”, same as Genesis.
Let’s go back to creation and see how Jesus created man. It says in Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” [Notice it doesn’t say man HAS a soul, but that he became one. Other translations render the text with the phrase “became a living being (or person)”.]
Jesus also pronounced Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) This is the basis of our hope that Jesus, the Giver of life in the first place, can provide for our resurrection, which is a reversal of death.
But how does the resurrection happen? We’ve seen how Lazarus came back to life. Jesus called him, “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:43) Once again, when He resurrected Jairus’ daughter, we discover:
“But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Little girl, arise.’ Then her spirit [or breath] returned, and she arose immediately…” Luke 8:54, 55 NKJV
As God spoke our earth into existence, He will someday call all His “sleeping” children from the grave. Paul describes it this way:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:15-18 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read I Corinthians 15:50-58. How do we know that this event and the one in I Thessalonians refer to the Second Coming of Christ? See also Matthew 24:31, the chapter where Jesus described the Second Coming, in response to His disciples’ questions about the end of the world.
Read Matthew 16:27 for what Jesus said about when we receive our reward. [What is the purpose of the Second Coming if all the saints are already in heaven? If the unrighteous go straight to their reward in hell, as commonly thought, what would be the justice of having some suffer longer than others, depending on when you died?]
Tuesday: The Resurrection and the Judgment
A check with Strong’s Concordance indicates that the resurrection was a favorite topic of the New Testament church, and understandably so. Jesus, however, mentions the word only sporadically. Most notably was His reply to Martha that “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus also gave this statement in John 5:28-29, which verifies that there are actually two resurrections in store for this planet:
” ‘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.;’ ” NKJV
This statement corroborates what we find in Revelation 20:5, 6:
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection [the one that occurred at Jesus’ Coming]. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
This second death occurs after the second resurrection:
“Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14, 15 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Although none would contend that we are saved by our belief in Jesus, what part do works play in the judgment? The last chapter in Revelation seems to point to our works as a major factor in who will have access to the tree of life and who will perish. Read Jesus’ entire discourse in John 3:16-21 and find what effect our belief or lack of it has on our works.
Do temptations still reach God’s people, even after they surrender their wills to God? Are we always successful in avoiding sin and how often will God forgive us if we continue to sin? Thank God, He judges us not just by our actions, but by our hearts. And only He knows the true condition of the heart.
Wednesday: What Jesus Said About Hell
A look through the Gospels to determine what Jesus said about hell reveals some very reassuring words. (Check Strong’s Concordance under the word “hell”.)
- First, Jesus does verify that there is punishment for the wicked, for those who do not surrender themselves to God and strive to live for Him. Evil will not always reign on our planet. God has a plan to eliminate sin and those who have aligned themselves on Satan’s side of this universal conflict.
- Second, although Jesus does refer to the everlasting effects of this lake of fire, even saying it can’t be quenched in Mark 9 (as when the fire department can’t put out a fire, it’s called unquenchable; it leaves nothing but ashes), there is no indication that Jesus intended hell (which is also a word translated “grave”) to be a place where people are suffering the intense pain of burning continuously in some unknown place the instant they die. This kind of suffering and punishment does not seem possible for a God, who claims to be full of mercy, justice, and love. And many people have rejected Christianity, based on this doctrine alone.
Some theologians use the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to substantiate their claims of this hidden underworld of endless torture. The story, found only in Luke 16:19-31, does picture a place called Hades, in addition to a place simply called Abraham’s bosom. Like many of Jesus’ parables, He uses an earthly story to illustrate a heavenly point about rewards and punishment.
We have other Biblical evidence to support this view of hell as a place for future punishment and total destruction of the wicked. These and other verses assure us that sin and sinners will be totally eradicated:
- II Peter 2:9 “then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,” NKJV
- Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death,…”
- Psalm 37:20 “But the wicked shall perish…”
- Malachi 4:1-3 ” ‘For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read the parable in Luke 16:19-31 and discuss what lesson Jesus seems to be teaching with this story. Who was His target audience?
Strong’s defines Abraham’s bosom as “expressive of heavenly status”. Could this indicate that Jesus was also using figurative language to describe the final punishment of sinners?
Thursday: Jesus Conquered Death
Jesus performed three resurrection miracles before laying down His own life and taking it up again. There was Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. But what a dramatic event when He raised Lazarus, before a crowd of many respected witnesses from Jerusalem. Even the Pharisees were alarmed and it caused many of them to plot more fervently to end the Savior’s life and ministry. This was an extreme threat to their power and control over the people.
Two verses stand out as evidence that it is God who has power over death:
- John 5:21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” NKJV
- John 10:17, 18 ” ‘Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.’ “ NKJV
Men, including Elijah, Elisha, and Peter, to name a few mentioned in the Bible, were instrumental in raising someone to life with the power of the Holy Spirit. But no man has ever had that power available to raise HIMSELF from the dead,..except Jesus.
Discussion Questions: Read John 11:14, 25, 40, and 42. What seems to be Jesus’ motive for raising Lazarus from the dead?
What was Jesus anxious for them to believe by witnessing this miracle? And why is this belief important to God’s followers?
Read I Corinthians 15:17-26. Why is Christ called the “firstfruits”? Why is death considered the last enemy?
Without the resurrection (Christ’s and ours), Christianity is just another religion, without the power and hope that leads to eternal life. No religion can offer an empty tomb of its founder. Our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and in our own resurrection in the future, sets us apart from the world.
Our correct understanding of the state of the dead and the promise of eternal life is of utmost importance for believers. Jesus gave us many insights about the nature of death, combined with promises of a glorious eternal future with Him in heaven.
If ever a firm decision to believe the Bible and the Bible only was important, it is with this topic of death. Many deceptions and false teachings have already entered the Christian world. Most people, even Christians, hold erroneous views about life after death, which may lead to even more deceptions in the future.
- Using the topical index of your church hymnal, read/sing hymns under the topics of “Death and Suffering”, “Hope and Comfort”, and “Resurrection and Ascension”. Find the verses that are most meaningful to you.
- Meditate on Psalm 23 and why it has become so popular, especially as comfort for the dying.
- Try to imagine the resurrection scene during Christ’s Second Coming.
Next Week: The Second Coming of Jesus
To read the Sabbath School lesson or to find more resources, see www.ssnet.org