Today, the final presentation of nine. The series is HAYSTACKS--Seventh-day Adventist identity in nine themes.
The first eight:
- Youthful Eternity
- Alpha and Omega
Number nine is State of the Dead.
Truth is preferable to error, and much more utilitarian. If you are putting a new roof on a house, it's important to have a working-understanding of the likely outcome of a multi-story tumble.
To know, from the Bible, as Seventh-day Adventists do, that the deceased are in a situation likened to sleep, completely rules out for us any interaction with the dead. Spiritual insight is not given from the grave.
Today we review how God makes a person, then how he is unmade. Jesus addresses death, then we consider passages from the book of Ecclesiastes. Next, into the end-times and a warning against the deception of modern spiritualism.
Genesis 2:7 tells how humans are made. God took the ground, minerals and organic bits, and made a body. He breathed into Adam's lungs the breath of life. These two, united together, create man a living soul.
God did not put an immortal soul into the man. He combined the things that made a creature and that made it live. Combined, life flowed through the body made from earth, and suddenly, the unliving lived!
Immortal souls do not wait in line somewhere for a human body to occupy; God only has immortality in Himself (1 Timothy 6:16). Humans who accept Jesus' gift of life will be gifted with immortality when resurrected or translated (1 Corinthians 15:53-54; Hebrews 11:5), but immortality is given from outside ourselves. We are dependent creatures; we are not self-contained.
If this understanding is correct, it should work the same way in reverse. And it does. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us:
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit [breath] will return to God who gave it.
When one dies, the body decomposes. Breath leaves the body and doesn't return.
Jesus Knew This
In John eleven, Jesus' friend, Lazarus, becomes very sick. Word is sent to Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus does not come. Lazarus dies. Jesus and the disciples talk it out:
He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.' The disciples then said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.' Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Jesus said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.'
Jesus travels to the grave where Lazarus is entombed, and calls him forth out of the grave, resurrecting him. The Bible from one end to the other represents death as a sleep.
The Dead Know Not Anything
According to Hollywood, when people die suddenly they know almost everything. According to the Bible, when a person dies he knows absolutely nothing. Let's turn our pages toward Ecclesiastes chapters eight and nine.
While you're turning, let me share a short summary of the book of Ecclesiastes: someone might claim we are merely pulling single verses out of context; let's understand what Ecclesiastes is about.
Solomon wrote the book describing a wise king in Israel to whom God gave peace on every side. Solomon studied trees, music, wisdom, and sciences. He searched out human sensation. Every delicious food, hundreds of wives, maximum pleasure--if ever anyone sampled hedonism, it was Solomon. Yet all the material things this life could offer left him empty.
Years speedily passed. His hundreds of wives from different cultures brought baleful religious influences. Solomon drifted from the God of heaven into idolatry, superstition and excess, even a kind of humanism. The farther his heart travelled from God, the emptier he felt. His Redeemer never gave up on him, and in his last years, Solomon returned to God. In Ecclesiastes he chronicled his journey.
Recurring themes in Ecclesiastes? Life should be enjoyed (2:24; 8:15; 9:7); life is short (5:18; 9:7-9); there are experiences in life which seem unfair to us (8:10-11, 14; 9:2-3, 11-12); God gave man a curiosity and deep interest in eternity and the truth of things but we are limited creatures (3:11; 8:16-17; 9:3).
Ecclesiastes includes much more, such as the blessedness of choosing right, the fact that there is no consciousness in the grave, and the truth that every person will be judged by God.
For example, hear 3:17:
God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work (KJV).
Solomon reminds the reader that life is given that men may become aware of their limitations.
In 7:2 Solomon states that when people die the living are led to think about the moral quality of the life they have been living. If one lives well, he can finish his course in righteousness and wisdom (7:18).
The wicked die and are soon forgotten. Because they are not immediately judged, they choose to live superficial lives (8:11), but verses 12 and 13 warn:
Although a sinner does evil hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
Verse 14 admits some righteous live short lives, and some wicked, long ones. But that is only part of the story. Still "It will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly." How can this be unless Solomon is telling us about the results of judgment, the glorious hope of future life?
Ecclesiastes instructs its reader to enjoy life now, to realize that we can't know everything, we can't understand all that God does. We should be content to serve Him knowing we are finite creatures, and make the most of it. But we will die, and for the life we live we will be judged. Why do we have hope? 9:4-6. Because
With all the living there is hope. . . for the living know they will die, but the dead do not know anything. . . their memory is forgotten. . . their love, their hate, their zeal have perished.
The dead know nothing and do not look to any reward. Chapter 9, verse 10 reminds us "there is no activity in the grave beyond." The living can choose to repent; they can choose to fear before God. The dead cannot.
You will be judged for the life you live, warns the author of Ecclesiastes in 11:9:
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment (NKJV).
And finally, 12:13-14:
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
Use your short life wisely; live a God-respecting life because you will be judged. Such an injunction makes no sense if this life is all that is. Judgment means real consequences. If judgment comes only at the conclusion of a life ending with nothing following, there are no real consequences. Ecclesiastes helps us know that the time to make moral choices is now, because there are no opportunities for that in the grave. The dead are effectively asleep, unconscious, not thinking, not feeling. But we can choose to fear God and keep His commandments.
Hard Questions and Answers about Death
We are designed to live, not to die. But sin brings death with it. We all have loved ones who have died, whose death seemed not to make sense. Why are innocents permitted to die? Prayers were offered, love given, families believe. Yet, a loved one dies. Didn't God hear the prayers? Five responses:
First, God heard the prayers offered in faith. Nothing escapes His notice, not a bird falling to the ground, not a hair falling out. Jesus puts all our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He is not indifferent but involved. He is alert to all our heartbreaks. If the answer to our prayer does not come in just the time and the way we want, we might feel He has not answered. Yet, He is too wise to answer in ways which would finally be destructive to us or others. Prayer is an exercise in learning to trust Him. We are asking Him to work according to His purposes, not ours. His answers to prayer will be all-wise.
Second, God is not distant and unaware of the human condition. God in Christ took a human body like ours. He experienced human feeling, human emotion, human suffering, sorrow, and joy. He was made like us "in all things" (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15). He felt aloneness, torture, kindness, loss. He was intentional and personal, entering into life right beside us. He has sympathy and empathy for us. His heart, more than any other heart, has been pierced by sorrows.
Third, God foresees the tests of your life. He sees ahead of you, demon-traps being set against you further ahead on the road. God is working providentially for your salvation and for others. He does not permit you to encounter a situation where you cannot be victorious in His strength. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not all you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). He intervenes for you. You cannot now see how the elements of His providence fit together, but they do. Death God uses to help us learn better to exercise faith.
Fourth, God's word never returns to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). Every life has its initiatory source in His speaking His Word; in Him is life (John 1:4), and in every life given God has a purpose. Moreover, it is a positive purpose. Jesus accepts our misuse of the free choice He gives us, but He has a purpose of goodness toward all. "The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9). Rebels like Pharaoh will arise, gifted free will yet misusing free will to fight against God. But all choose our moral alignment. No one is born a Hitler; people choose for themselves what they become.
Fifth, God brings good out of evil (Romans 8:28). He is working through His providences; He is engaged in our history in all that happens. He does not initiate all that happens; humans and fallen angels are also agents, but He adapts what happens for His purposes of good. We Christians should be developing a more and more robust sense of providence. God is on His throne ruling, acting, intervening. He is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32). He is not "OK" with sin. He is actively intervening! But were He to intervene too much, He would mask the evil of evil; we would not learn to abhor sin. Conclusive interventions are on the way but for now the effects of sin are more strongly permitted. He wants us to see sin's destructiveness and reject its atrocities. Humans experimented with evil, and we need to see the result, that we might learn never to experiment with evil again.
First and Second Death Compared
Let's think together about the first and second death. There are two "deaths." The first death is something everyone experiences. Unless the Second Coming occurs first, we will die and all our loved ones will die, along with Billy Graham, Adolph Hitler, Mother Teresa, Carl Sagan, and George Washington. We will experience this death because Adam and Eve sinned, and we are their descendants. Normally this death has nothing to do with our life. Others made bad decisions and we were affected. This death is not a judgment on our life, but a consequence of being born into a sinful world.
This death is very much like sleeping. Not exactly, because when we sleep, there are different kinds of brain activity. In the sleep we will experience tonight, our brains will do a lot of memory and janitorial work. Nothing like this happens when we die the first death, for in one who has died brain activity soon ceases. But the Bible writers liken death to sleep to help us understand it. When a loved one dies, he does not suffer. He does not do anything. As Ecclesiastes said, there is no life, no activity in the grave.
Those who die the first death will rise again, whether good or bad. The first death is temporary and precedes judgment.
Then comes the second death, in our second column here. The second death is experienced as a result of one's own sin, and is condemnation for sin. The second death is experienced consciously by the condemned. It is also temporary, lasting for only a limited time. At the close of the age, when all the wicked are resurrected and gathered to make their final assault on the New Jerusalem in Satan's final (and hopeless) attempt to defeat God, Revelation 20:9 tells us that fire will come down from God out of heaven and consume the wicked.
That leads us to the third column on our chart. This describes the final disposition of the wicked. Do they burn forever? No. Rather, there is no experience for those who are burned up and lost, there is no consciousness, no thinking, and there is no rising from the second death, no resurrection, because one who dies second death ceases to exist. The result of the second death is eternal: unending non-existence.
The wages of sin is death, and when Jesus took your sins and mine He paid the penalty of sin for us; He tasted death for us. He took our condemnation and experienced it for us. With His stripes, His being punished, God heals us. When did Jesus taste death for every person? In the garden of Gethsemene; that was second death. When Jesus lay dead in the tomb, what was that? The first death. Because He made atonement for us, He tasted our second death, but because God accepted His sinless life for us, our just God raised Him from the dead.
God foresaw that pagan Greek thought about the supposed immortality of the soul would be blended into Christian thinking in the years following the completion of the New Testament. He knew in the end-time, deceptions would reach evil perfection. He knew demonic influences would then be unleashed leading rulers to persecute believers. Revelation 16:13-14:
And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
Demonic forces will work especially through the agents of human government. They will counteract God's authority and harm and abuse people of conscience. Further prophetic insight comes through one permitted to see and write what she was shown:
Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome. The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience.
As spiritualism more closely imitates the nominal Christianity of the day, it has greater power to deceive and ensnare. Satan himself is converted, after the modern order of things. He will appear in the character of an angel of light. Through the agency of spiritualism, miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and many undeniable wonders will be performed. And as the spirits will profess faith in the Bible, and manifest respect for the institutions of the church, their work will be accepted as a manifestation of divine power.
The line of distinction between professed Christians and the ungodly is now hardly distinguishable. Church members love what the world loves and are ready to join with them, and Satan determines to unite them in one body and thus strengthen his cause by sweeping all into the ranks of spiritualism. Papists, who boast of miracles as a certain sign of the true church, will be readily deceived by this wonder-working power; and Protestants, having cast away the shield of truth, will also be deluded. Papists, Protestants, and worldlings will alike accept the form of godliness without the power, and they will see in this union a grand movement for the conversion of the world and the ushering in of the long-expected millennium (The Great Controversy, pp 588-589).
Spiritualism is founded on the belief in the natural immortality of the soul. Protestants will be foremost in reaching across the space separating Protestantism and the Papacy. These three powers--Protestantism, Romanism, and spiritualism--will lead our government to persecute Christians.
Spiritualism will imitate the Christianity "of the day." That is, spiritualism will be accepted as a part of Christianity. It will provide the supernatural aspect long missing because most Christians reject obedience to God's law.
Here is the premium point: worldliness will come to dominate churches so much that the way will be open for Satan to unite them into "one body." "By sweeping all into the ranks of spiritualism." Not just Protestants but Catholics will be deceived by this. So "Papists, Protestants, and worldlings will alike accept the form of godliness without the power." Virtually all will suppose that this new union heralds the conversion of the world and a new age of peace. But it will mark the final descent into darkness.
One other vision shown Ellen White previews the delusion of spiritualism:
I saw the rapidity with which this delusion was spreading. A train of cars was shown me, going with the speed of lightning. The angel bade me look carefully. I fixed my eyes upon the train. It seemed that the whole world was on board, that there could not be one left. Said the angel, 'They are binding in bundles ready to burn.' Then he showed me the conductor, who appeared like a stately, fair person, whom all the passengers looked up to and reverenced. I was perplexed and asked my attending angel who it was. He said, 'It is Satan. He is the conductor in the form of an angel of light. He has taken the world captive. They are given over to strong delusions, to believe a lie, that they may be damned' (Early Writings, p. 88).
What is modern spiritualism? An alternative source of spiritual authority in competition with Scripture. It is, by definition antichrist, standing in the place of Christ.
The Bible, rightly interpreted is the message of Jesus to us. To wrongly interpret the Bible effectively comes out the same as spiritualism, replacing intended the intended meaning of the Bible writer with a misinterpretation designed to defeat God's purposes. No wonder Isaiah 8:19-20 exactly contrasts making God's Word the supreme test with the authority of demonic spirits:
And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
And so we come full circle. We began at the place of hope. Adventists are a people of hope through the Scriptures and the prophecies. Having the Bible guards us against modern spiritualism. In the end every mask is torn away. God will have a people who maintain the Bible as the basis for their beliefs.
We will not trust in miracles done by devils; we will trust the Bible above what we see or touch or hear. Our understanding--from the Bible--of the state of man in death, that we cannot communicate with the dead, that such apparent manifestations are demons working to deceive us and turn us away from God's Word, helps us navigate safely the closing delusions. All the world will ride the train of the deceived. We will work urgently to draw hearts to Jesus to prevent that.
As Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus will call forth His faithful from the grave. He will rouse them from sleep. Revelation 22:14: Those who keep His commandments, who wash their robes, will be blessed and have the right to the tree of life and enter in by the gates into the city. But 22:15:
Outside are dogs and sorcerers and the immoral persons and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.
In the end there will be a people of love and truth, and a people of lying and error; a people who have become unselfish like Jesus, and a people who have become like Satan; those who await His coming with joy, and those who fear it with trembling.
Nine ideas framing our experience as Seventh-day Adventist Christians are:
- Youthful Eternity
- Alpha and Omega
- State of the Dead
These guide us through the extremities of the last days. Each is essential. Each is from the Bible. Each is a Jesus-centered truth. May we be shaped by these truths and may God's purpose in sustaining His Church in these last days be manifest in those who take His truths to heart, who become more like Jesus because of the truth of Jesus.
Deer Park WA SDA 2017-11-18
Chewelah WA SDA 2018-03-10