Shadows, Souls, and Where They Go
It’s clear that people struggle with death
Some are afraid. Some are fatalistic. Some are in denial. Some are just way out there… Looking for some way – any way – out of death and denial of the fact that there is an end to this material universe.
Recently I came across an article in a magazine while I was in a waiting room. The Title:
“How to Survive the End of the Universe – in Seven Steps”
We live in an expanding universe. There is no end to this expansion and eventually everything will grow dark and cold - in about 50 billion years! This isn’t tomorrow but still it’s important to think about being ready for the end! Right!
So would you like the seven steps? We’ll I’m going to tell you what they are!
Here you go:
1. Find and test a theory of everything
2. Search for a naturally occurring wormhole.
3. Send a probe through a black hole
4. Create a black hole in slow motion
5. Create negative energy
6. Make a baby universe
6a Build a Laser Implosion machine
6b Build a Cosmic Atom Smasher
7. Send in the Nano-bots
Why do people find it necessary to create such solutions to death? Because they are afraid.
Death is a reality of life but the big question is – What comes next?
CS Lewis “Here lies an atheist—all dressed up and no place to go.” Lewis quietly replied, “I bet he wishes that were so!”
Today we are going to look at the grave and deal with the issue of death. Let me just say that the Bible and Jesus say very clearly that the grave is not the end of life. There is life after life.
One of the best sources of information in the Bible is in a story Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man. Each man died. But each man had a different experience in the grave.
Let’s look at Luke 16:19-31 and learn just a little about these matters of life.
The Rich Man & Lazarus
22 Later, Lazarus died, and the angels carried him to the arms of Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. 23 In the place of the dead, he was in much pain. The rich man saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side.
24 He called, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering in this fire!’
25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember when you were alive you had the good things in life, but bad things happened to Lazarus. Now he is comforted here, and you are suffering.
26 Besides, there is a big pit between you and us, so no one can cross over to you, and no one can leave there and come here.
27 The rich man said, ‘Father, then please send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28 I have five brothers, and Lazarus could warn them so that they will not come to this place of pain.’
29 But Abraham said, ‘They have the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets; let them learn from them.’
30 The rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham! If someone goes to them from the dead, they would believe and change their hearts and lives.’
31 But Abraham said to him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who comes back from the dead.’ ”
Sheol & Hades
The Hebrew word sheol (Strong’s #7585) is translated in the KJV 31 times as "hell," but also 31 times as "the grave," and another three times as "the pit."
The Jews returned from Babylonian captivity with a form of the Babylonian religion, including the concept of an afterlife. To the Jews of first century Palestine, sheol referred to the place where the dead go, and also as a place where the wicked are sent for punishment. That may suggest torment, but consider this: What do we do with our children when they misbehave? We send them to their room! What does God do with people when they misbehave? He lets them wait in the grave until His own time when He calls them forth and deals with the problem. So, sheol is properly translated as "the grave," but to translate it as "hell" is misleading, because we tend to read a meaning into that word that probably wasn’t intended by the original authors.
The Septuagent was the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. It was the translation used by Jews and Nazarenes in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. The Septuagent translated sheol as hades (the Strong’s number is, appropriately enough, #86). Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew sheol.
The Valley of “Hinnom”
Is gehenna simply a stronger definition of the word "hell"? No, it’s a different concept entirely! When we see how the word gehenna is used in contrast to hades, we will see two different ideas, and to label both as "hell" has been very misleading to English-speaking Bible readers down through the centuries!
We have heard that Gehenna is a valley just outside Jerusalem, which was used basically as the city dump. Trash was burned there, as were the bodies of dead criminals. Maggots and other scavengers thrived in the debris, which gave rise to the vivid picture of "worms that don’t die," as Yashua warned about in Mark chapter 9.
What else do we know about this "Valley of Hinnom" outside Jerusalem? It had a rich history before it became the city dump. In this valley, the ancient Canaanites worshiped Baal and the fire-god Molech by sacrificing their children in a fire that burned continuously. Ahaz and Manasseh, two of the kings of Judah, revived this horrible practice when Baalism became the state religion of Judah (1 Kings 11:7; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). King Josiah finally put an end to this worship. He defiled the valley in order to make it unfit even for pagan worship (2 Kings 23:10-14). By the time of the Messiah, it had become nothing more than a garbage dump. As for its future, Jeremiah has prophecied that God will send so much destruction on Jerusalem that this valley would be known as the "Valley of Slaughter" (Jeremiah 7:31-34; 19:2-6).
The word gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek scriptures, each time translated in KJV as "hell": Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5. The word also occurs once in the epistle of James (3:6).
It is not used in this passage at all. Only the word for Hades and Tartaruo which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Shadows, Souls, and Where They Go
So what do we learn from the story Jesus told. Four lessons are clear.
Hades: Lesson One
There is a reward in the coming life that is based on our behavior in the present life
Notice that the contrast is between a poor man and a rich man. This alone should give us pause when we think about the value of material wealth. Riches do not mean we have found favor with God.
In fact, over and over in scripture we are warned about the seductive nature of wealth. Jesus taught about money and its dangers more than any other subject. More than prayer and more than love – in fact, you may remember that Jesus said that it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into heaven.
The critical key is that there is a relationship between this life and the next. This much is very clear in this story.
Hades: Lesson Two
The grave (hades) has two separate regions
A place of comfort
Lazarus was comforted in the “the arms of Abraham”. He was broken and worthless in this life. His existence was fragile and tenuous – but in the grave he was tended to and held close.
Can you image a tenderer image than being held close. Recently, my grandson (age three) jumped off of a yellow parking bumper – all of 5 inches off the ground – and tripped. His face bounced off the pavement and he got a huge fat lip out of his adventure. As he erupted into tears his mother picked him up and held him close as she comforted him and the pain slowly ebbed away.
This is the image of a person struggling with the pain of cancer, the constant ache of arthritis, the persistent and agonizing presence of dis-ease, being held closely until the pain is gone.
A place of torment
This is contrasted with the rich man who is in agonizing torment.
The word used here is Tartaruo. It is translated in two ways – one as the pain of disease and the other as the pain caused by the rack – an instrument of torture.
Here is a man who was used to luxury and ease who now is in torment, pain, and deep, deep regret.
Hades: Lesson Three
There is a great gulf fixed between the two regions of hades and there is no way to get from one to the other
In the story Jesus tells the rich man sees Lazarus and asks for him to be sent over with a drop of water.
I am appalled at the audacity of this rich man who still seeks to be served by Lazarus. His request illustrates the problem – it’s all about him. Send Lazarus with a drop of water for me.
No matter. It cannot be done. There is a great gulf fixed. Literally, at chasm has been set in place. This is no accidental ditch. There is a separation between these two regions that will not be bridged, filled in, covered over, jumped, or flanked. It has been carefully fixed between the place of torment and the place of comfort.
Hades: Lesson Four
There is no way back from the grave to life
Popular, secular, and new age thinking is filled with – no saturated with desire for a way back from the grave. From Houdini after his mother’s death to the Hindu belief in reincarnation – there is a deep hunger for a way to escape the grave.
But Jesus taught here in this story that not only is there no way back but that if one did come back it would not be received by those who are here on this side of death. Even if the rich man went back to warn his brothers – even if Marlee came back from the grave with the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future – even if Jesus came back from the grave – they will not hear the message.
The reality of life is very simple. According to Paul in Hebrews 9:27, It is appointed (reserved for) for a man once to die and then – judgment
There is no way back.
Jesus came to set us free from the grave!
8 This is why it (Psalms 68:18) says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?…)
Peter tells us that Jesus preached to the spirits “in prison” – in hades when he was in the grave and when he was resurrected he took those on the close and comforted side of the great fixed chasm with him in to paradise.
Jesus did a jail break on those held captive in the grave!
Jesus defeated death. He did not compromise with or accommodate death. He didn’t bend to its inevitability or succumb to its power. Jesus strode into the grave, gathered up his friends and left with them.
Kinda like the good cop walking into a biker bar and grabbing his friends and walking out while leather-jacketed, bicycle chain swinging, tattooed gawkers stand and watch helplessly.
No one but Jesus has this kind of power. You can watch all the Hollywood movies you want – no one but Jesus walks out of the grave with his friends.
There were two men on crosses with Jesus the day he died. One turned away from Jesus – the other turned toward him.
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.c”
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We can have this same promise and assurance today.