Friday, January 14, 2022

Thoughts on Death, the Soul, and Soul Sleep

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Watching TV the other day I saw a commercial for a religious program. One of the intriguing things the presenter said was, if you think you're destined to just go to heaven when you die, think again. He talked about the concept of "sleeping in death" and what this could possibly mean.

Doing a few minutes research on the internet, I found that the program, Beyond Today, is supported by the United Church of God. On their website, they say that those who have died are unconscious and in a dream state awaiting the resurrection, and that popular concept of hell where the wicked suffer eternal torment is not found in Holy Scripture (Beyond Today, 2022).

That got me thinking, "What does scripture say about the human soul, and death?"

The Athanasian Creed summarizes scripture's teaching about what a person is by saying that a man consists of a reasonable soul and human flesh.

God created man's flesh from the dust of the earth, and that He breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life, thereby joining soul to flesh (Genesis 2:7). To tear apart this union of body and soul is unnatural (Pieper, 1953). When He created man, God did not intend for man to experience that separation of soul and body. Death was brought into the world as a result of man's sin (Genesis 3:17-19) (Pieper, 1953).

People are not reincarnated, or born again into other physical forms. Such teachings are contrary to God's word. The destiny of man since his fall into sin is to die once, and then to face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27-28) (Luther's Small Catechism, 1986).

At the time of physical death, the dust of the body returns to the ground. The body is buried and experiences decay. The spirit returns to God, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The body "sleeps" while the soul goes to heaven to be with the Lord. Paul, writing to the Philippians, explains that his death is desirable to him, because it would mean that, though Paul would be away from the body and physically dead, he would be at home with the Lord in the heavenly paradise (Philippians 1:23-24). Jesus also promises the thief on the cross next to Him, not that his body and soul will lie dormant in the grave until the Judgment. Jesus assures the man, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42) (Luther's Small Catechism, 1986).

Jesus promises that if we keep His word, we will not see death. We will still, however, die physically, but not eternally. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has removed the sting of death. Physical death is but a slumber to those who are connected to Jesus' death and resurrection by their baptism. Though our bodies will sleep for a while in the grave, our souls will be in Christ, and we will wake to eternal life on the Last Day at the resurrection.

Christ will return to raise the dead on the Last Day. He will raise the same bodies that went into the grave. This hope of the resurrection is taught throughout the scripture. Job says he will see God in his own flesh, and with his own eyes, even after Job's flesh has been destroyed (Job 19:25-27). Jesus explicitly says that, one day, the dead who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out (John 5:28-29). Paul explains to the Thessalonians that, when Christ returns, it is the dead Christians who will rise from their graves first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) (Luther's Small Catechism, 1986).

All people, however, will be raised and will stand before Christ on the Last Day. Christians will rise to eternal life. Christ will transform their bodies to be like His glorious body, though God's word does not give a lot of information about what that will be like. People who do not believe in Jesus will be told to depart to the eternal fire. Believers will experience life everlasting. Unbelievers will experience everlasting death (Luther's Small Catechism, 1986).

There are three types of death described in Holy Scripture: physical, spiritual, and eternal. Physical death is the separation of body and soul. Spiritual death is to be dead in sin and separated from God (Ephesians 2:1-10). It is not believing in God's words of promise. Eternal death is to be cast into hell and suffer eternal separation from God. Jesus, as part of His salvific work, suffered both physical and spiritual death for us (Petersen, 2021).

In spiritual matters, man does not have a free will. This is one of the results of the Fall, and Original Sin. This is part of the spiritual death Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God and passed on to us (Pieper, 1950).

During the time between the death of a person and Christ's return, the souls of the unbelieving people are kept in "prison". This is clearly a place of punishment. Souls of believers are with Christ in paradise. Paul says that this "departing to be with Christ" is far better than our current state (Pieper, 1953).

Questions about such things as soul sleep can be a hindrance to the Gospel. Satan likes to tempt men into worrying about, and arguing over "useless questions" questions such as this. The more people become fixated on these secondary things, the easier it becomes to lose the primary things (Pieper, 1953).

The soul of the Christian, between that believer's physical death and bodily resurrection, is alive, it is at rest, and it is with Christ. That is what scripture says conclusively. We can talk of the soul of the departed being asleep, but such a sleep could not exclude the enjoyment of God (Pieper, 1953).

Scripture doesn't say a lot about what happens to the soul between physical death and the resurrection on the Last Day. Instead, scripture focuses us on that Last Day of judgment, and Jesus' return (Pieper, 1953). ###

Works Cited

Beyond Today, 2022. "What Happens After Death?" United Church of God. .

Luther, Martin. 1986. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. The Apostles' Creed: IV. The Resurrection of the Body, 187-189.

Pieper, Francis. 1950. Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 of 3. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Pieper, Francis. 1953. Christian Dogmatics, vol. 3 of 3. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Thoughts on Psalm 50

Christ the Lightgiver
Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before Him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that He may judge His people: "Gather to Me My consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice." And the heavens proclaim His righteousness, for God Himself is judge (Psalm 50: 3-6).

Christ summons the earth from Zion (v. 2), that is, through His body the Church. Christ, the incarnate YAHWEH, calls the peoples of the world to take refuge in Him.

God took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary as the God-man Jesus. He came to earth to make a covenant, which He did by shedding His blood on the cross (v. 5). God Himself, Our Lord Jesus, is indeed judge.

Jesus proclaimed salvation to the people by God's grace through faith in Him rather than by sacrifice. He condemned the wicked, those who would despise God's word, who would praise God with their lips but whose hearts were far from Him.

In addition to describing Jesus' first coming and judgment, Psalm 50 also illustrates the judgment of the wicked on the Last Day.

God calls the wicked to repentance (v. 16-23). If the wicked continue to despise God's grace, they will be torn to pieces with no one to rescue them (v. 22). Those who honor God through faith in Christ will be shown the salvation of God (v. 23). Indeed, they have already been shown that salvation in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

But He is also calling His own people to repentance (v. 7-15).

If trust in riches is useless, so is trust in empty ritualistic worship. The Psalmist is talking about people who think they have forgiveness, life, and salvation because of the ceremonies they perform.

(Or because their name is on a church membership roll because they were baptized there 45 years ago.)

This is the kind of religion or worship done out of habit to earn God's love and favor. God doesn't need our works. They are filthy rags to Him (Isaiah 64:4-7). He owns the cattle on 1,000 hills (v. 10). He doesn't need for us to feed Him (v. 12).

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). He is the one who, when He lifted up on the cross, would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). No one comes to the Father except through Him, who is the exact representation of the invisible Yahweh in human flesh (Hebrews 1:3). The One who longed to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not (Matthew 23:37)

Worship that is true is to be joyful and willing service to God. After the Old Covenant, that looks like not despising preaching and God's word, but holding it sacred, and gladly hearing, and learning it. It looks like gathering together with God's people around His word to receive the gifts He gives to us through that word: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27). ###

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Thoughts on Psalm 11

In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: "Flee like a bird to
your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:1-3).

David is not afraid when the evil men of this world do evil. In Psalm 11, he appears to be answering those around him who lament their seemingly hopeless situation - righteous men in an unrighteous world. David reminds them that God is in charge when they say to flee to the mountains. God will destroy the wicked.

It doesn't look like that, though. David realizes that. He doesn't deny that evil is in the world, or that wicked men do wicked things and even prosper. David knows, however, that the wicked things they do, even if they harm him, will not go unnoticed by God.

In His discussion with the disciples about the signs of the end of the age, Jesus tells them that the temple will be destroyed. He tells them that they should leave Jerusalem when they see this thing about to happen. "...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains..." But the foundation of those who believe in God. It is in Him they take refuge. This catastrophe that looks a lot like the end of the world will not destroy you, even if God allows it to kill you.

God is in His holy temple. The real one is in heaven. He is on His heavenly throne. God's kingdom is not of this corrupt and fallen world. And that God is the Lord Jesus.

God observes man from His throne in judgment. The Lord observes the righteous, but He hates the wicked. Who are the wicked? Who are the righteous? It is important because the wicked will be destroyed at the judgment on the Last Day. Upright men, however, will see God's face.

Jesus says that the pure in heart are blessed because they will see God. But we know that there are no pure in heart. There are none who are righteous, no, not even one. All have sinned. All have fallen short of the glory of God. So who will get to see God's face? Who will avoid the judgment of which David writes?

All of the people who saw Jesus when He declared, "Blessed are the pure in heart" saw the face of God because Jesus is God in human flesh. He is the image of the invisible God. He put on that flesh so He could rescue men from sin and death. He endured the punishment for our sin that we wicked men deserve so that we could see His face on the Last Day, and be saved from the fiery coals, burning sulfur, and scorching wind. ###