WAITING FOR THE RESURRECTION

We have seen that the Bible offers only two eternal destinies for mankind to choose from. One is terenal life, the other, death. We have also seen that the gateway to our eternal destiny is the resurrection from the dead (unless we happen to be alive at the Second Coming of Christ). For the righteous, that resurrection occurs at the Second Coming. It is called the "first resurrection" Revelation 20:5 and those who have a part in it are called "blessed and holy" Revelation 20:6. The apostle Paul summarized this experience in his letter to the church in Corinth:

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." 1 Corinthians 15:22,23.
We saw that those who are not raised with the righteous at the Second Coming will be raised 1,000 years later: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Revelation 20:5.

The question we want to consider now is this. What happens to a person when they die? What do they experience while they are waiting for the first or second resurrection? For many this may be a troubling question. The Bible often cuts across our preconceived notions. Upon close inspection, it often fails to teach the very things that we have always believed it did. This is true for the subject of death, the uncomfortable subject. Did you know that in a study of high school youth, it was discovered that these young people spent more time thinking about sex and death than any other subjects? But that is a fact. If people do not talk about death, it is not because they do not think about it. More likely, they have chosen one notion or another and do not want anyone to "upset the applecart". The unfortunate thing is that many people suffer under fear and anxiety throughout their lifetime because of misconceptions about the subject of death. It is interesting to watch people at a funeral. Even those who claim to be the most optimistic about the experience often come completely "unglued" in the face of the reality. Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32. Is it possible that this could also be true for the experience of death? Jesus accused the Jewish Pharisees of "making the word of God of none effect through your traditions." Throughout the centuries of the Christian Church, tradition has also obscured the light of truth. There are few subjects for which this has been as true as for the subject of death.

What does the Bible say? For those who are willing lay aside their prejudices and study the scriptures for themselves, there is an answer which is reasonable, satisfying, and comforting. Let's investigate the evidence.

1.

How does the Bible picture death? 1 Corinthians 15:26

Helps and hints: Among the Greek philosophers, some of the most influential considered death to be a friend. They visualized people as pure, immortal spirits trapped in corrupted, mortal bodies. At death, the spirit was said to be freed from the burden of this degrading and cumbersome body. The Bible does not support such a concept. Death is seen for exactly what it is, the great enemy of mankind, the separator of friends and loved ones.

2.

How many deaths are spoken of in the Bible? 1 Corinthians 15:26

Helps and hints: It comes as a surprise to many that the term "second death" appears in the Bible at all. In fact, it appears four times in the book of Revelation.

3.

On whom will the second death have no power? Revelation 20:6

4.

Who will experience the effects of the second death? Revelation 21:7,8, Revelation 20:13,14

Helps and hints: The experience of the "second death" will be studied in another lesson. For now we need only notice that those who experience it will be those who are resurrectedin the second resurrection, one thousand years after the second coming of Christ. Simply stated, no one is experiencing the second death at this time.

5.

To what does the Psalmist David compare death? Psalm 13:3

6.

Where is David now? 1 Kings 2:10, Acts 2:29,34

Helps and hints: The phrase "slept with his fathers" is used over 35 times in the Old Testament. It is especially interesting to notice that in the Book of Acts, Peter specifically states that David has not ascended into the heavens, although Jesus has. Where is David? He is awaiting the resurrection.

7.

What did Jesus mean when He said His friend Lazarus was asleep? John 11:11-14

8.

Why did the people laugh at Jesus when He said the ruler's daughter was asleep? Luke 8:49-53

9.

How does the apostle Paul use the word "sleep"? 1 Corinthians 15:17,18

10.

How does Paul use the word "sleep" in 1 Corinthians 15:51,52?

11.

Who are the sleeping ones in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16?

12.

What happened to Stephen when he was stoned by the angry mob? Acts 7:60

Helps and hints: I was once confronted by a young man who had overheard a conversation I was having with another individual on the subject of death. Excitedly shaking his finger in my face he said, "I know who you are. You're one of those people who believe in soul sleep". He strongly expressed his feelings that I was some sort of a heretic. But if Jesus and at least three other Bible witnesses clearly compare death to sleep, am I not justified in doing the same? But a description must also be provided of what that sleep is like. Here again the Bible provides us adequate information to avoid confusion.

13.

According to the prophet Daniel, where do the dead sleep? Daniel 12:2

Helps and hints: Daniel recognizes the two categories of people awaiting the resurrection. But regardless of which resurrection they will appear at, they all partake of the same experience until that time comes. They all sleep in the dust of the earth. This would obviously be the "first death." While the majority of translations say "many" shall awake, at least one modern translation (the New International Version) has phrased it, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake."

14.

What is the result of death? Psalm 146:3,4

15.

How else is the condition of death described? Psalm 115:17

16.

How do the dead relate to God? Psalm 6:4,5

17.

How does Solomon summarize the experience of death? Ecclesiastes 9:5,6
Helps and hints: Much is stated in those few words, "the dead know not anything." It should be noted that the phrase "the memory of them is forgotten" does not mean that the dead are no longer remembered by the living. The world is filled with tombstones, photographs, history books, and other reminders of the dead. This phrase means simply that the dead themselves do not remember anything. How could they? As Solomon said, "The dead know not anything."
It is true that some are uncomfortable with the idea that the dead actually rest in a state of unconsciousness. But this Bible teaching has been a source of great comfort for many who have been brought up to believe that the dead are burning in the fires of hell or purgatory. Others who imagine their departed loved ones looking down from heaven, are troubled by the thought that even after death, they must share in the misery that som many are experiencing here on earth. It is comforting to know that whatever our problems or failures are here, our departed loved ones are not in a position to share our grief or shame. True, the grave seems to us a cold and forbidding place. But remember, "the dead know not anything." They experience no pain, no anxiety, and no fear. They do not even experience the sensation of passing time. It is like they are in a deep, deep sleep. When they awake at the resurrection, it will be to them as only a moment's time, no matter how long they rested. Many will never sleep again.
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." 1 Corinthians 15:26.


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