Life after Death
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.’”
This chapter will examine the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy on life after death.
In short, Orthodox theology teaches that each person possesses an immortal soul. Indeed, in this area, Eastern Orthodoxy agrees with the Bible. Yet, where Orthodoxy departs from God’s Word is in its belief of the soul’s destiny after death. As a person’s soul leaves the human body, he can wind up in one of two places depending on whether the man was baptized as an Eastern Orthodox believer or not. If he were baptized, his soul travels through Heaven and gives account for his sins at heavenly demonic customs offices (also called “toll houses”). If he is not baptized Eastern Orthodox, he is immediately sent to Hell.
The first part of this chapter will examine what God’s Word teaches about life after death. The second part of this chapter will examine in detail teachings about the afterlife in Eastern Orthodoxy. The objective reader will recognize that, yet again, Eastern Orthodoxy teaches in utter contradiction of God’s Holy Scripture.
The Holy Bible records the spiritual truths that God has progressively revealed to people through the ages. During the history of the Old and New Testaments, God provided people progressive revelation. In other words, over time God chose to reveal through later generations more details about subjects that their forefathers had previously not known. Such revelation began with limited and modest teachings in the Old Testament, and ended in the New Testament with more comprehensive revelation. Such is the case with, for example, the resurrection of the dead (discussed in the next chapter). Namely, unlike the New Testament account of the resurrection, the Old Testament provides us with limited insight into this future event. The question about the afterlife also slowly reveals the God of the Bible, especially in the New Testament Scriptures that speak about this issue much more than the Old Testament.
What did the Old Testament, from the creation of the world until the birth of Jesus Christ, tell us about what people believed about life after death? Let us analyze this question.
The Old Testament Revelation of Life after Death
As mentioned earlier, the early teaching of Old Testament Scripture about the fate of man after death is somewhat vague. The Old Testament contains various statements that indicate the possibility of an afterlife. However, at that time death was an event about which no one rejoiced, except those who were in terrible mental anguish or physical pain, as in the case of the righteous Job (Job 3:11-13, 21-22). Some Old Testament figures understood the state of the human soul after death as a stay in a dark abyss where the disembodied spirits roam both of the righteous and of the wicked. On the other hand, many other biblical texts describe the state of the dead as a dream in which the deceased body rests in the dust of the earth awaiting a bodily resurrection.
To begin a more detailed study of what the Old Testament says about life after physical death, you should first look at the creation of the first man which occurred on the sixth day of God’s creation. Here is the Biblical account:
“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 being.”
Paul the apostle explains that any believer who has in faith received Christ’s teachings has the Holy Spirit inside himself. The Scriptures teach that the audience of this epistle was the Corinthians, a group whom Paul considered as small children (in terms of spiritual maturity). If you read the whole epistle, you will see that believers in
Corinth were no special spiritual elitists or “friends of God”. In fact, some of them even suffered physical illnesses due to the great sin practiced by some. Paul is addressing this very group of Corinthian Christians. He admonishes them that they are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (As a consequence, they should abstain from sins that grieve the Spirit.)
Therefore, since Scripture clearly says that all believers belong to the Church of God, not just some special “saints,” it logically follows, according to Orthodoxy’s teaching, that the dead bodies of every single Christian throughout history should be incorruptible and wonder-working. Only the bodies of non-Christians should be subject to decay. However, as we will see, the Holy Scripture never ever teaches that a believer’s body after his death remains incorruptible. ((However, there could exist a few exception situations in which either natural conditions fossilize a dead body or else deliberate man-made means are employed to preserve a corpse.) The psalmist David, whom the Scriptures testify to be a true man of God, wrote the following words:
“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 being.”
We see that the Lord formed man’s body from the dust of the earth and then “breathed” into his nostrils the breath of life. In other words, the Lord began the process of life by breathing air into man’s lungs. At that moment, all the other organs and tissues became alive. The man became a living being.
According to the teachings of the Lord in Genesis, when a person dies, his physical body returns to the earth from which it was created, and his spirit returns to God who gave him life.
After man’s transgression in eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, God pronounced the following words to Adam:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
From the moment of the Fall, the first human being began to age until, according to the Creator’s words, he finally returned to the dust from which he was taken.
The wise king Solomon was deeply reflecting on the purpose of human life on earth. He concluded that the fate of people was identical to the fate of animals (in terms of their mortality and the return of their bodies to the earthen dust):
“For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”
However, Solomon did not merely stop with the departure of all living creatures “to one place” as their corpses are to be buried in natural earthen graves. Solomon called on all readers of the book of Ecclesiastes to trust in the Lord while he still has time (until his death), because afterward, time will run out. He said:
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
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.
Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
And put away evil from your flesh,
For childhood and youth are vanity.…
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it..”
Godly readers of God’s revelation in the Old Testament religious people understood the existence of the mysterious metaphysical world where the spirits of the deceased live. That place was called “Sheol” or the realm of the dead.
The Old Testament Scriptures mention several times the word “Sheol.” Some foreign translations use the words “grave” or “hell”. The word “grave” is not the best choice, because it inaccurately characterizes Sheol as the ground beneath the earth. This is not what is meant in the context of the Bible. For this reason, the verses below cite the word as simply “Sheol”.
After his ten brothers sold Joseph to the Midianite traders and deceived his father that he was devoured by a wild beast, the bereaved Jacob cried that he would go down with his dead son to Sheol with a sad heart. He expressed his belief that his dead son Joseph was already in Sheol, that is, the habitat of deceased souls:
“Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into Sheol to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.’”
More than a decade later, when Joseph became the governor of Egypt, his brothers came to him to buy food, though they did not recognize his true identity. He ordered them to bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin, whose mother was Rachel. When their father heard the request, the aged Jacob reacted in this manner:
“My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to Sheol.”
The same word “Sheol”, the world of the dead, is mentioned in several places in the book of the righteous Job. Verses such as Job 7:9-10 and Job 17:13-16 mention Sheol as a place where he expects to go after his death. This place is dark and filled with silence, from which no one can depart. According to the description of Sheol which we find in this book, we might conclude that Job describes it as the ultimate destination for all of humanity:
“Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep; Then I would have been at rest With kings and counselors of the earth, Who built ruins for themselves, Or with princes who had gold, Who filled their houses with silver.”
“As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, So he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, Nor shall his place know him anymore.”
“If I wait for Sheol as my house, If I make my bed in the darkness, If I say to corruption, ‘You are my father,’ And to the worm, ‘You are my mother and my sister,’ Where then is my hope? As for my hope, who can see it? Will they go down to the gates of Sheol? Shall we have rest together in the dust?”
Although it would appear that Job thought about death with uncertainty and anxiety, the knowledge of God’s truth, to which Job came during his blessed life, made a big distinction between it and the surrounding Gentiles. Job feared God and obeyed His will. He believed in a future bodily resurrection from the dead and eventual meeting with God face to face. Job believed in something about which his contemporaries had no idea.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
The descent into Sheol is mentioned several hundred years later in connection with the death of rivals to Moses and Aaron who had rebelled against their God-given authority:
“And Moses said: ‘By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.’ Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.”
What is important to point out is the fact that Sheol in the Old Testament represented a place in the depths of the earth (underground) in which the disembodied spirits of people went, not their bodies. The theologian Dragan Simov in his textbook for Bible study comments on this topic:
“The souls of the dead go to Sheol, not their bodies. Sheol is not a grave. The Hebrew word for grave is ‘keber’. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that the body goes to Sheol. ‘Keber’ is mentioned 37 times in the Old Testament, always with the meaning of ‘grave’, and ‘Sheol’ with the meaning of the ‘habitat of souls’. Sheol is never described as a place under the earth, but ‘keber’ in 32 places is described in such a manner. Yet again, this proves that ‘keber’ means grave and ‘Sheol’ means the place to which the soul departs in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, one can never take another man into ‘Sheol’, but a man can lead another to ‘keber’. 33 places describe the interment of a body into a physical grave, but a soul is never sent to the grave. Also, nowhere do we find a man digging ‘Sheol’, but we do find 6 examples of men digging ‘keber’ in Scripture. Again, this demonstrates that one can dig a physical grave, but not a place for the soul. Scripture never says that someone can touch ‘Sheol’, but 6 places in the Old Testament suggest that a person could touch ‘keber’, confirming that a man can touch a physical coffin or grave, but he cannot touch ‘Sheol’, where souls go.”
Namely, when Scripture speaks of the death of Abraham, Jacob, David and many other figures from this period, both positive (servants of God) and negative (godless people), it mentions that they were “gathered to his fathers” or “he slept with his fathers.” This translation is supposed to mean that their immortal spirits (souls) go to the same place where the souls of their ancestors dwell.
Regarding God’s servants, heroes of the faith such as the Patriarch Abraham and King Josiah of Judah, the Lord said they were “gathered to their fathers.” Here are some Scriptures:
“Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.”
“Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”
“Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”
“’I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…’ And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”
“So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David.”
“And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done… So Jotham rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David his father. Then Ahaz his son reigned in his place… Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done… So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.”
“And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done… So Hezekiah rested with his fathers. Then Manasseh his son reigned in his place… Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel… So Manasseh rested with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza. Then his son Amon reigned in his place. ”
So, after his physical death, every single person, whether they obeyed or rebelled against God, went to the same place, which is described as a place “with his fathers”. The existence of “Sheol” as a place to which departed souls of the Old Testament went is very evident from Scripture.
However, since the enemy of mankind, the Devil, knew that God had created man to have an immortal soul (or spirit), he invented pagan religions that were designed to fool people in terms of their fate after death. Further studies will describe various pagan beliefs about the afterlife that conflict with God’s revelation of truth through Moses and His other servants.
Pagan Beliefs about the Afterlife and God’s Warnings to the People of Israel
Recall the life and conversion of Abraham in the second chapter of this book. After the Great Flood, it took only a few generations after the great God’s punishment of the wicked before people immersed themselves in false gods. Belief in the eternal state of the soul is found in many different forms in various cultures. Different concepts of Heaven and Hell exist among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, as well as in religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism to this day. Here is what ancient Egyptians believed about life after death:
“All written testimonies from ancient Egypt reveal that Egyptians did not share a common and stringent doctrine about eternal life and how one can find it. It seems that Egypt had always been facing a kind of dualism… Thus two basic ‘teachings’ regarding belief in the afterlife arose. One teaching consisted of the ancient belief in the One thing is very old belief in life after death for the material world, and the second, also ancient and quite developed, held that the spiritual part of man not only survives death, but the soul can also attain divinity.”
“According to Egyptian beliefs, the man had some sort of spiritual counterpart – an abstract figure that, after the death of the body, became completely independent. This counterpart could dwell among the gods and visit the grave. Therefore, the Egyptian name for man’s spiritual aspect is most commonly translated as ‘spirit’ or ‘double’. Living Egyptians would offer sacrifices of food and drink so that the ‘spirits’ could have something to eat in the afterlife… The part of a man that enjoys life in the spiritual realm is called the ‘ba’. The ‘ba’ connotes the aspect of a person that is great and noble, and is usually translated as ‘soul’. Although the ‘ba’ is usually considered to be immaterial, one often encounters claims that it is a spiritual entity takes the form of a bird with a human head.”
Our purposes are not to go into great depth about the spiritual beliefs of various other cultures. At this point, let us briefly look at the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Semites. They were descendants of Noah’s son Shem and the pagan ancestors of Abraham. According to the professors of religion Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, the ancient Semites believed that the cosmos was divided into three parts: Earth, Heaven, and the Underworld of the Dead.
“The ancient Semites pictured the world like a big house with a three-tier structure: the upper kingdom of the gods (Heaven), the central human world that the gods gave us (Earth), and the lower part which consisted of a huge rock located deep below the Earth’s surface (Underworld or Sheol)… In contrast to the upper world of the gods, Sheol was the abode of the dead and the hellish deities. Although the ancients portrayed the grave as a dark and quiet place, we must not think of it as hell. A deity called Mot, ‘Death’, presided over the dead and the gods of hell. Since human beings live between Heaven and Sheol, they could expect activity in the upper and lower worlds to affect the earth.”
“People who live on the Earth – between the upper and lower worlds – can address the inhabitants on either level to seek help for their earthly problems.”
The pagans considered of utmost importance the ability to communicate with the gods of the upper and lower worlds, and with the souls of deceased ancestors, because they expected assistance and blessing from them on a variety of occasions. Of course, before they would rain blessings on the people who worshiped them, the gods demanded the inhabitants of the earth to perform certain religious rituals:
“Only by erecting temples, financing priests and temple choirs, generous offerings of sacrifices, chanting elaborate prayers, and heeding shamans and prophets, the people could be confident to receive divine blessing and favor. Fertile herds, rich harvests, victories in battle, and anything associated with success, prosperity and peace depended on the mercy of the gods of Heaven or Sheol… For gaining worldly benefits, rituals were paid to the dead and the gods of Sheol, or else were directed toward the powers in Heaven… Veneration for ancestors also assumed organized forms of ritual. In one such ceremony, participants consumed large amounts of wine and also poured wine on behalf of the dead. During the ritual, everyone present, including the dead, were to imbibe. A simpler rite involved placing bits of food and drink on family graves.”
Therefore, according to the belief of the ancient Semitic peoples that inhabited the land before the Israelites settled the Middle East, the dead from the region ruled by the gods of the Underworld could assist their fellow men on Earth. According to the Scriptures, such alleged assistance provided by the dead in fact represented a diabolical deception. Through Moses, the Lord issued a strict prohibition against the invocation of dead souls through open spiritualism (or rather, Satanism). The Lord punished such activity with the death penalty:
“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.”
“A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.”
It is clear that God’s commandment declares the religious beliefs and actions practiced by the pagan peoples in the land of Israel to be accursed. This means that they are neither reasonable nor lawful. Such practices include the practice of invoking the dead (from Sheol) to assist the living.
Unfortunately, after the death of Moses and Joshua up until the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, the Jewish people were inclined to adopt many pagan customs from the surrounding nations. After Saul was chosen as the first king over Israel, he had exterminated from his kingdom all those who practiced divination and sorcery. However, in the fortieth year of his reign, after God’s Spirit departed from Saul because of his disobedience of the Lord’s commandments, the initially cautious King Saul attended a séance performed by a witch to invoke the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel. Saul wanted to call upon the dead prophet, whom he knew personally for many years, in order to find out the details of the outcome of the impending battle on the next day. Here is the Biblical account:
“Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land. Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.
Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.’ So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, ‘Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.’ Then the woman said to him, ‘Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?’ And Saul swore to her by the LORD, saying, ‘As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.’ Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ And he said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’ When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, ‘Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!’ And the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What did you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.’ So he said to her, ‘What is his form?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.’ And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down. Now Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ And Saul answered, ‘I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.’ Then Samuel said: ‘So why do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.’
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.”
Although the message received by the King from the spirit was true, because the next day Saul and his sons were killed in an armed conflict with the Philistines, on the basis of the Lord’s commandment, the spirit with whom Saul was talking was not the recently deceased prophet of God. Firstly, if the dead could truly re-emerge alive yet again, then the Lord would not have banned this phenomenon and denounced it as sorcery (spiritualism). Second, Saul himself did not see anyone apart from what the witch (medium) described from her “vision”. King Saul automatically assumed by her description of the spirit as “old and wearing a mantle” that this was Samuel. Additionally, when Saul asked what she saw, the witch answered, “I saw a spirit ascending from the earth.” Lujo Bakotić translates this verse as:
“The woman told Saul, ‘I see a god ascending from the earth.’”
Many other translations render this verse under some variation of “a god ascending from the earth.” Recall the excerpts from Professors MacDannell and Lang, who showed that the belief of the ancients viewed the deceased in Sheol to have the capability of transforming into a kind of divinity. We see that 1 Samuel 28 makes mention that “Samuel” ascended out of the earth (that is, from the underworld – the kingdom of the dead). This apparition came from a spiritualism of satanic inspiration, not from a faith that pleases God. It becomes obvious why this practice was strongly prohibited. The aforementioned “Samuel” from the medium’s vision was none other than one of the fallen angels (demons) who along with their head, the former cherubim Lucifer, aim to use religious deception to take the world captive.
Let us summarize the conclusion of this study:
Abiding in Sheol as recorded in the Old Testament was reserved for the spirits of all deceased persons. Those who entered Sheol included both those who believed in the true God and those who did not know Him. It was unknown to the Old Testament believers what fate awaited them in the realm of the dead, but they were sure that their Lord would not abandon them, and that He would have mercy on them at the Judgment Day.
King David describes such hope in one of his psalms:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
The Old Testament servants of God could have true confidence that the Lord would be with them in the afterlife. In the study that follows, we will present the New Testament texts that throw more light on the biblical teaching about life after death and the fate of humanity, past, present, and future.
Belief in the Afterlife in the New Testament
The previous section revealed teachings from the Old Testament on life after death. The human body returns to the dust from which it originated, and the spirit of life returns to God who gave it. The Old Testament also teaches about Sheol, a place where human souls separated from the body reside. Yet, there is little description beyond that of Sheol. The Old Testament Hebrew texts really give little information about life
after death. The New Testament, on the other hand, gives detailed descriptions of what
happens to man after his last breath and his surrender to God of “the spirit of life”.
Even so, the New Testament writings do not address many questions that arise out of human curiosity. Moreover, the Scriptures say volumes less about the afterlife than what is taught as core doctrine by several of today’s churches and denominations. We will see in the next chapter that the Lord Jesus Christ talked in greater detail about the future judgment that would take place after the resurrection of the dead. The soul lives forever but will suffer the consequences of the judgment of God after the final resurrection. A person’s abode in the grave is only temporary. First things first.
The only text quoting the Lord Christ regarding the condition of the souls of the deceased is written in Luke 16:19-31. This passage openly mentions the realm of the dead. Jesus actually explains the true meaning of what had been hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly the state of the souls of the deceased in Sheol. Although the author Luke wrote in Greek and used the Greek word “Hades”, which refers to the realm of the dead, it is certain that the Lord Jesus spoke with the Jews in Aramaic and used the Hebrew word Sheol.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
This parable reveals several important details. Firstly, the event takes place after both poor Lazarus and the rich man die. Secondly, the soul of poor Lazarus was taken away by the angels to “Abraham’s bosom,” while the rich man after his death reached the “place of torment” engulfed with flames. After their deaths, both of them retain their memories of the lives they lived on earth. (The rich man recognized Lazarus and remembered that five of his brothers still lived.) We note the possibility of communication (conversation) among the dead. The place of torment where the rich man found himself is called “Hell” (Greek “Hades”), while the place of “Abraham’s bosom” is presented as a place of bliss (apparently it is compared to Heaven). They do not occupy their places in the afterlife because of their wealth or lack thereof. Rather, the real reason is found in verse 29 that mentions obedience (belief), or rather disobedience (unbelief) to what was written by Moses and the prophets – who wrote and testified about the coming and work of Christ the Savior.
So the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that Sheol, or Hades, had two separate places. The first place, called “Abraham’s bosom”, was a place of comfort for all pious and righteous Old Testament figures, while those who disobeyed God during the time of Adam, Enoch, Noah, his sons, and others were sent to the place of torment.
However, just because Jesus used the word “Sheol” or “Hades” to describe the historical event of death and developments in the afterlife by no means implies that He agreed with the pagan Greek concept of Hades. This term is only borrowed from the Greek
(the language in which the New Testament was written), and used to translate the Hebrew word “Sheol” The Biblical concept of the afterlife in the Old Testament had nothing to do with that in ancient Greek mythology. The false pagan concept in the afterlife conflicted with God’s true revelation through Jesus Christ.
In addition to using the word “Hell” in Luke 16, this term appears several times in the New Testament. Only the Lord Jesus Christ used this term.
The Usage of the Term “Hades” in the New Testament
The word “Hades” is used in the New Testament several times, including Matthew 16:18, Luke 10:15, 16:23, Acts. 2:27, 31, Revelations 1:18, 6:8, and 20:13-14. Here are the verses:
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
“But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.”
“And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
“For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”
“He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.”
“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.’”
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 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.”
Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18 explain that His church will be delivered from the eternal death that awaits unbelievers. First, He first tells us that He will build His church “on this rock” (which symbolizes Himself), and then points out that it will overcome the “gates of Hades”.
Gates are static, yet the church will triumph with dynamic power over her adversaries – an invisible legion of satanic forces. The Lord equips His church with spiritual strength and vigor. Thus, the Lord enables His church to overcome the Devil and his angels. As the church preaches Christ’s message of salvation, millions of souls through history are delivered from eternal death to eternal life through Him.
Thus, Christ’s statement is not referring to a conflict between His church and an underground world filled with dead spirits. Scriptures such as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus tell us that once a person dies, God no longer gives him further opportunity to repent and attain eternal life. “Hades” symbolizes the objective of spiritual forces of Satan and his demons. They oppose the Lord and His saints on earth and strive to bring about the eternal death of billions of people.
The passage in Luke 10:12-15 refers to Jesus’s curse on the residents of cities in Galilee who did not believe His message, despite the Lord’s messianic signs having been revealed in those places. Jesus spoke of the pride of the inhabitants of Capernaum who did not want to accept Him and who believed the teaching of the Pharisees that their goodness would merit them a place in Heaven. Jesus warned them that without His intercession, they would be brought down “to Hades” instead of being exalted to Heaven.
To properly understand the use of the word “Hades”, let us examine the entire context of this verse. Before Jesus uses the word “Hades”, he mentions twice the Day of God’s Judgment which will follow the resurrection in verses 12 and 14. It is certain that God will not judge the cities on the Day in a literal sense. However, God will judge the sin of their deceased residents after their resurrection for the Day. Since it is impossible for a city of bricks to be demolished by “the underground spiritual world” of Hades, Jesus intended a different meaning. The elevated opinion of themselves will not help the inhabitants of Capernaum to face on Judgment Day Jesus Whom they rejected and ignored. Their city (work of their hands) in the future will surely lie in ruins, their souls will end up dead in Hades, and eventually they will face judgment and be sent to the Lake of Fire to suffer a penalty greater than what the sinful residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.
As for the speech of the Apostle Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2, in two places we find the word “Hades”. The Greek language uses “Hades” as a direct translation of the Hebrew word “Sheol” used by King David in Psalm 16:10. In both cases, commentator Emilian Carnic translates the term as “kingdom of the dead” and defines the word as the place in the underworld, “the heart of the earth”, where Jesus’ human spirit resided after death – until the resurrection.
Namely, at the request of the repentant thief to be remembered when Christ’s Kingdom would come, He answered:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
This text clearly proves that the spirit of Jesus, along with that of the criminal, would depart from their bodies to be in Heaven, otherwise known by the Jews as that part of Hades called “Abraham’s bosom” – a place of comfort.
Regarding His stay in Hades, Jesus testified about it in mentioning “the Sign of Jonah”. Jesus told his contemporaries that in the near future, after his death, He would temporarily stay in the “heart of the earth”. This is identical with the place that the Old Testament calls the place where spirits of the deceased reside:
“But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’”
Regarding Jesus’s descent into the earth, the apostle Peter writes:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.”
But as we read in Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2, the spirit (soul) of Jesus is not abandoned to Sheol (Hades) because of His resurrection and reuniting of His soul to His dead body.
“Hades” is also mentioned in the last book of the New Testament – John’s Revelation. Whenever John uses the term “Hades” in Revelation, he associates it with death, though he always uses the term “death” before the term “Hades”.
The first chapter tells us that Jesus owns the keys of death and Hades. In the sixth chapter, “the fourth horseman of the apocalypse” rides on a pale horse named “Death” with “Hades” accompanying them. Their appearance beckons a time of major earthly suffering. The twentieth chapter describes the resurrection from the dead of people who did not believe in Christ the Savior. A passage refers to the resurrection of dead bodies from “death” and “Hades” on the Day of Judgment.
Similar to the sixth chapter, the twentieth chapter also uses the names of “death” and “Hades” to represent major disasters to come into the world (perhaps embodied in the last global dictator – the Antichrist). They will result in the killing of many thousands of human beings and their being sent to the realm of the dead. Thus, they need to be resurrected from “death” and Hades” for the purpose of God’s judgment. Death in this text certainly means the event of the termination of human beings by God, and Hades refers to the realm of the dead where the spirits of deceased people are stored until the Day of Judgment.
Jesus in Revelation 1 states that He holds the keys to death and Hades. Jesus has the power to resurrect all people one day, such that their souls will be reunited to their formerly dead bodies. People who were believers in life will be resurrected to eternal life. People who did not believe in Jesus in their earthly life will be raised for eternal punishment.
Continuing with this vivid expression, the writer of Revelation at the end of the
twentieth chapter shows that the last act of the Final Judgment consists of “casting death and Hades into the Lake of Fire”. After the Day and the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth as a habitat for the resurrected righteous, never again will there be death, decay, and disintegration. Scripture tells us this about this future state of perfection:
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’”
In throwing death and Hades into the Lake of Fire, also called the second death, we see a vivid display of Christ’s eternal power. Death and decay will disappear from the earth in the newly created universe.
Consistent with other passages in the Bible, the term “Hades” refers to the place to which man goes after his body ceases to function and awaits resurrection. In Old Testament times (until Christ’s resurrection), both righteous and wicked souls went to Hades. But in the New Testament period, the situation changed. Only unrepentant souls go to Hades. In contrast, the souls of reborn Christians depart their bodies and go straight into the third heaven – the Lord’s presence. We will examine this great topic later in the book.
Let us examine briefly what the Bible says regarding the metaphor of death as a dream.
Do Human Beings Sleep without Dreams after Death?
Different passages in the Old and New Testaments compare death to sleep. One might presume that a man after his last breath sinks into a state of deep sleep (dreamless sleep), after which follows his awakening in the resurrection from the dead. Although this conclusion is not correct, the fact is that God inspired the writers of the Bible to symbolize a person’s death as a night’s rest. Here are some verses that address this issue:
“And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt… But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.”
“When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, ‘Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.’ And they ridiculed Him.”
“These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”
“And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus, 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.”
There are various reasons why the state of death is compared with sleep. First, just as sleep is a temporary state of inactivity (limited to a few hours a day), after which a person wakes up rested and refreshed, so after a temporary stay in the grave to which a deceased person’s soul arrives, that person gains a new, eternal body in resurrection. Also, the fact that the Son of God can so easily raise anyone from the dead resembles how we as merely mortal people can wake up after having been physically exhausted by fatigue and having slept. Third, the reality is that the height of human activity occurs when he or she is awake, while during sleep, a person takes time off from the world around him. Likewise, a human being created to live for eternity in his body will experience fullness of life with God or without Him after the resurrection, not when his body lies dormant.
The Actual State of the Deceased before the Lord
Other passages in the New Testament express the hopes of the apostles to be with the Lord after death. They recall the words of Jesus to Martha, sister of Lazarus:
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”
Upon reflecting on the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and its significance for faith, the apostle Paul shouts for joy:
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, if a person is saved for eternity through faith in Jesus the Savior, it means that physical death cannot separate that person from Him. Jesus said, that he who believes in Him will be alive (in His presence) after physical death. That is why the apostle Paul could say that he was ready, together with other believers, to “be absent from the body and present with the Lord.” In another passage, Paul even more clearly affirmed his belief that a Christian after his death went to be with the Lord:
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”
The same apostle describes a vision to the believers in Corinth. In a supernatural way, Paul himself was transferred to the third heaven, or paradise – where Christ Himself is seated at the right hand of God:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
The book of Revelation confirms that the faithful after death will meet the Lord in John’s vision. John describes the following future developments:
“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the church in Heaven consists of the souls of believers who have died:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant…”
Stephen, the first deacon and martyr of the Christian church, asserts his confidence that the Lord would take his soul to Himself at the time of his death:
“And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen echoes the words of Jesus Christ:
“And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.”
On the basis of what we have mentioned about the afterlife, it is clear that the human soul, or spirit, separates from the body after death. The soul of a believer goes to God in Heaven, while the soul of an unbeliever goes to Hades, a place of torment.
In contrast to the false teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Bible teaches that the sole requirement for a person to go to Heaven is to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, thus securing justification before God by faith in the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (We demonstrated this truth in the second chapter of this book.) Such faith occurs only in a person’s life on earth.
The Bible never teaches that the eternal destiny of a person can change after death. Eternal life, life with God, is attained through faith in Jesus during a person’s earthly life, which Scripture states very clearly. Anyone who has lived a life pleasing to God belongs to the Lord, whether he is alive or has died:
“For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
On the other hand, numerous verses accurately point out the fact that a person who disobeys God in his earthly life has no hope for anything better after his death.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Further study will reveal that the Orthodox Church, unfortunately, teaches a theology of the afterlife that contradicts the Bible. Almost everything about this distorted theology is based upon subsequent ecclesiastical authority (or sacred tradition) and deviates from the Biblical truth revealed by God. We will examine this problematic teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy in the next section.