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COMFORT IN THEOLOGY
At the culmination of life

Chapter 1 - Comfort in Theology

Comfort in Theology

theology is more comforting when it is consistent

Christians who are facing the end of life can find significant comfort in consistent theology. But theology that is disconnected from reality and the rest of scripture is far less convincing.

Bible verses that have been disconnected from the body of consistent truth are like bricks strewn on the ground at a work-site. They are independent and not part of the structure itself. They demand credibility because they are part of God’s Word, but for no other reason.

Although the fact that they are part of His Word is sufficient reason to believe them, scripture passages that have been isolated are not facially coherent. God’s Truth is a tapestry that presents a consistent whole and when we can see where each scripture fits, it is far more compelling and understandable. When isolated threads become interwoven into the entire tapestry of scripture, they take on a credibility and faith that is massive in comparison.

Tragically, the great promise of Christ found in John 11:25 is one of those isolated threads.

“He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

When the Messiah spoke these words He was only minutes away from raising Lazarus from the dead. So His intent is clear. He was quite literally teaching that if we believe in Him we will live even though we die.

But we really do die. We can remind ourselves that God said that we will live even though we die and that is supposed to settle the question. But when relentless death stands leering at our bedside where shall we go for assurance?

The conflict between scripture and observable reality is present at every funeral. The pastor or the priest solemnly announces to the congregation that the corpse or the ashes in the little box are the remains of someone who is “not really dead.”

How does Christ’s statement fit into what we are actually seeing? How can it be true that “everyone who believes in Me [Christ] will never die” when, in fact, we most certainly do die?

The explanation offered by the evangelical church of today less than adequate. The conventional explanation is simply that we don’t really die, because death in the Bible is not really death at all. Death in the Bible is only separation from God. So, when Christ said that we will live even though we die He meant that we will never be separated from God.

Since death is only being “separated from God,” no one ever really dies at all. Everybody goes to either heaven or hell and lives forever in peace or in torment. So death just looks like death but it’s only separation from God.

That is ridiculous. Death is death and it doesn’t matter whether it occurs in the Bible or outside of the Bible. The word means what it means. There is nothing in the Bible that says death does not mean real death.

In fact, one look at a Greek or Hebrew dictionary shows that death in the Bible is death plain and simple; it is no different from the death anywhere. The meaning of the word does not change just because it is used in the Bible.

The tragedy of separation-from-God error is that it deprives those who are facing real death from the comfort of consistent scripture. And if there were ever a time when consistent, credible theology is needed it is when we face our own death. But there, when comfort is most needed, all that conventional evangelicalism has to offer is a myth, “You are not really going to die because death in the Bible is only separation from God and you won’t be spearated because you have trusted in Christ.” This is cold comfort when one stares his own death directly in the face.

So, do Christians really die when they die? Of course they do. In fact the Bible teaches that everyone must die.1 Even Jesus Christ died.

But does that mean that Christ was wrong when He said that we would never die?

No. Christ was not wrong about anything.

So, if Christians actually do die and Christ said that they don’t die, who is right? Both statements cannot be true.

Both statements are true. How?

Both statements are true because there are two deaths. The first death is the death of the body and the second death is the death of the soul. When Christ said that He gave us eternal life, He did not mean that He gave our bodies eternal life. He meant that He gave our souls eternal life.

Scripture teaches that the first death is “appointed” to all men. Everyone has to die the first death:

“It is appointed for men [all men] to die once…”2

So we should expect our body to die, just like everyone else.

But there is a second death that occurs after our body dies and that is the reason why Hebrews 9:27 specifies that it is appointed to all me to die once. All men will die once but not all men will die twice.

The second death is not for everybody. It is only for the unredeemed. It happens for all of the unredeemed following the final judgment. The second death is the final enactment of the warning given by Paul when he said “the wages of sin is death.”3

The second death occurs at the end of time when the unredeemed of mankind are all judged and they die in the “second death.”4 The entire Bible is a warning that sin kills and this is the death of which it speaks.

Ezekiel stated it in crystal clear terms,“The soul that sins shall die.”5 There are 50 scriptures that repeatedly warn us that sin kills.

Why doesn’t evangelical theology teach about the second death? Because the second death does not fit well with the separation from God belief and because current evangelical theology teaches that no one ever actually dies. Everybody goes to either heaven or hell forever. They don’t die; they just “pass on” to either heaven or hell. Thus, word for death in the Bible has been re-defined to mean “separation from God” and no one ever really dies.

Why is it necessary to re-define the word for death to mean separation from God? Because if the word for death in the Bible means real death, then the souls of all of the unredeemed would actually die in the second death. And if they died in the second death, they could not be tormented forever in hell because a dead body or dead soul cannot be tormented. The belief that unbelievers will be tormented forever is very important to many evangelicals. So death in the Bible has to mean something other than real death.

But what does scripture say?

We know that we have a soul because scripture teaches that God has given us a soul:

“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine.”6

And we know that the soul that sins will die:

The soul who sins will die.7

We know that everybody dies the first death:

Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed for men [all men] to die once…”.8

And we can see from the Parable of Lazarus that the soul does not die in the first death. The body of Lazarus and the body of the rich man died, but their souls did not. The soul of the rich man was tormented in hell9 because all unredeemed souls go to hell until the final judgment,10 after which hell itself is cast into the lake of fire.11

The body dies because it wears out. The soul dies because it sins.

But that is where Jesus Christ comes in. He paid for our sins by bearing them on the cross.

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…”12

In doing so, He became sin for us, so that we could be righteous (without sin).

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”13

That’s why Jesus Christ is so important. He died in our place. He paid our penalty (death) for us and in doing so made us righteous and without sin in God’s sight. That means that we will not die in the second death.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.”14

Instead, He gives us eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”15

It is the gift of God.

Through grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God.16

To obtain it, all you have to do is sincerely decide to come to Christ trusting in Him and Him alone for the gift.

And the Spirit and the bride [the church] say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

The condemnation (the second death) is based upon one’s choice to receive or to reject Christ.

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”17

So when Christ said that we would live even though we die, He was not saying that our bodies will never die, nor was He saying that death in the Bible is not really death. He was saying that when our body dies, it is only our body that dies, not our soul. The Christian’s soul will survive the first death and it will not die in the second death. It will live forever because Christ has given us eternal life.18 And later it will be reunited with a resurrected body,19 just like Jesus had a resurrected body.

Therefore, the scriptural message to Christians who are facing their own death is this: Don’t delude yourself. Your body will die because all bodies die; they all wear out at one time or another.20 But take comfort because there are two deaths, not just one. And you will die only the first one. You, the real you, your soul, will never die because it has been given eternal life.21 Your body does not have eternal life. Your soul does and later you will receive a resurrected body.22

Death for the Christian is like the woman who comes in from the cold. She is tired. She walks through her house and drops her arms to her side and lets an old coat slip from her shoulders to the floor. But she, the real she, walks on and life for her has just begun.

That’s what Christ was talking about when He said “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”23

1 Hebrews 9:27

2 Hebrews 9:27

3 Romans 6:3

4 See Revelation 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murders and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

5 Ezekiel 18:4

6 Ezekiel 18:4 This verse shows that the reference to souls is not a reference to people, but to the souls of people.

7 Ezekiel 18:4 This verse refers to the soul as a soul, not as a physical person.

8 Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed for men [all men] to die once…”

9 See the Parable of Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31

10 Revelation 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murders and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

11 Revelation 20:14 “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

12 First Peter 2:24

13 Second Corinthians 5:21

14 Revelation 2:11 Being victorious means yielding to the commands of Christ (cf. John 14:21,23). This results in the presence of Christ within, which is the hallmark of salvation (Second Corinthians 13:5).

15 John 3:16

16 Ephesians 2:8,9

17 John 3:17

18 First John 5:11 “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

19 Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

20 Hebrews 9:27 “it is appointed for men [all men] to die once…”

21 John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish [die] but have eternal life.”

22 Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

23 John 11:25. There is no scripture in the Bible that teaches that any entity will suffer eternal torment other than Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet (Revelation 20:10); the words “eternal torment” are not used anywhere else in scripture. The only scriptures that are used to support eternal torment are those scriptures that are simply broad enough to mean either death or eternal torment. Every single scripture that speaks directly to the ultimate punishment for sin says that the punishment is death. Hence death must be re-defined to accommodate eternal torment because one cannot torment a dead body-or a dead soul. Specifically, see Revelation 21:8, the final end of unbelievers is “the second death;” Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death;” Ezekiel 18:4 “The soul who sins will die.” The Bible contains 50 scriptures that specifically teach that sin causes death and Greek dictionaries define the Greek word that is translated “death” as death plain and simple. The doctrine of eternal torment is an error that effects numerous good doctrines and the doctrine of the second death is one of them. See the author’s Fate of Unbelievers.