Tagged: grave

Sheol and the afterlife

Woman is walking towards g

This is the second in a series of articles about the afterlife and the unseen realm.

Is there conscious existence beyond the grave? Where did Old Testament saints go when they died? Do the wicked really suffer forever in hell? Should you believe in ghosts?

These are important questions about the afterlife and the unseen world. Most religions deal in some way with these questions and appeal to a variety of authorities to provide answers.

This series explores the manner in which God’s Word describes life beyond the grave and the unseen world. In this column we examine the Hebrew term Sheol.  In future columns we address Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus, and other terms.
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And Hades was following after him (Rev. 6:7-8)

Previously:  A horseman named death (Rev. 6:7-8)

The scripture

Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was iven to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).

And Hades was following after him

In close pursuit of Death is Hades. The two are, in fact, inseparable. Hades is the Greek term meaning “the place of the unseen.” It corresponds to the Hebrew word Sheol, or the abode of the dead, and is the typical term used by the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in the third and second centuries B.C. Put simply, all people die and go to Hades because all pass from the visible world to the invisible one.

Initially, the Greeks envisioned Hades as a place where good and evil people alike exist as shadowy beings after death. (In Greek mythology, Hades also is the god of the underworld.) In time, the Greeks and Romans came to think of Hades as a place of reward and punishment. This matches well with the Jewish concept of the afterlife because the Old Testament term Sheol and the Greek word Hades can signify the physical grave or death. In Gen. 37:35, for example, when Jacob sees that Joseph’s coat is covered in blood and that his young son evidently has died, he tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth and refuses to be comforted. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning,” he says. In Prov. 5:5 and 7:27, Solomon warns his son that a seductive woman’s feet go down to death and her steps head straight for Sheol; in addition, her house is the road to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death. In Job 10:21-22,  Job describes his fate as going into the land of darkness and gloom, never to return … a land of blackness like the deepest darkness, gloomy and chaotic, where even the light is like the darkness. Later, the Jews express the belief that Hades is a place of reward and punishment.

Hades in the New Testament

By the beginning of the New Testament era, Hades has three meanings, according to The Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: (1) death, (2) the place of all the dead, and (3) the place of the wicked dead only. “Context determines which meaning an author intends in a given passage” (p. 297). For example:

  • In Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus speaks of Capernaum descending to Hades because of the people’s unbelief in spite of His convincing miracles. Jesus seems to mean simply that the city will be destroyed, so Hades in this context means death.
  • In Acts 2:27, Hades is the abode of the dead. Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost, quotes Ps. 16:10, in which David declares, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One [Jesus] to see decay.”
  • In Rev. 20:13–14, Hades refers to the place of the dead, because it is emptied of all who are in it at the end of the world. Some would argue that this reference to Hades involves unbelievers only because the righteous dead already have been resurrected and judged at the judgment seat of Christ. In any case, there is a fitting end to Death and Hades. Both are thrown into the lake of fire – Gehenna or Hell – as are those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:14-15).
  • In Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), He uses the word Hades to refer to the place of the wicked dead. There, the rich man is tormented in flames while poor but righteous Lazarus is comforted at Abraham’s side. Some would contend that both Lazarus and the rich man are in Hades, existing in the intermediate state between death and resurrection. According to this view, Hades is divided into two parts separated by a wide chasm: torment, for unbelievers, and Abraham’s bosom / side for believers who, following Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, are taken to heaven, where the souls of New Testament saints are transported instantly at death.

One other note should be made. It’s unfortunate that the King James Version often translates three different Greek words as “hell,” thus creating confusion. The three words are:

  • Hades – the abode of the dead, or the abode of the wicked dead.
  • Gehenna – best translated Hell or the lake of fire. This word is derived from the Hebrew place-name gehinnom meaning Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. It is a place of child sacrifice in Old Testament times (2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) and the Jews later use it as a place to dump refuse, dead animals and executed criminals. Fires burn there continuously to deal with the stench and disease. The Jews transfer this imagery to their concept of a place of eternal punishment. Jesus uses gehenna numerous times to describe the eternal state of the unbeliever (for example Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15).
  • Tartarus – a Greek name for a place of divine punishment lower than Hades. Peter uses the term in 2 Peter 2:4 to describe a place where some angels (demons) are “kept in chains of darkness until judgment.”

Death and Hades riding together

Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind here is that Death and Hades ride closely together. Both are consequences of the Fall. All people die physically and spiritually as a result of sin – “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) – and Hades waits with his gaping mouth to receive the souls of the departed until they are finally resurrected and judged. The writer of Hebrews puts it well: “[I]t is appointed for people to die once – and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It is equally important to know that Death and Hades ultimately are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Christ’s finished work on the cross defeats sin and death, and the wrath He bore in our place removes the curse of eternal separation from God. Yes, death breathes down our necks and finally overtakes us, and Hades remains for now as the abode of unbelievers. But these are temporary beasts already defeated by the blood of the slaughtered Lamb. Christ holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18), and one day both will be cast into hell (Rev. 20:14).

Next: Authority was given to them (Rev. 6:7-8)

Bread of Heaven: Jesus in the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Part 2)

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Download audio file — part 1

Unleavened bread is a wonderful picture of Jesus the Messiah. The bread is without leaven, as He is without sin. It also is striped and pierced, as His body was beaten and pierced for our sins (Isa. 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). In addition, the Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolizes Jesus’ burial. His body was placed in the grave but did not see corruption as He rose on the third day (see Ps. 16:10; Isa. 53:9; Matt. 27:57-60; 28:1-10) and carried our sins away (Ps. 103:12; Heb. 9:26).

Everyone should see Jesus in the Feast of Uneavened Bread because He fulfilled the feast’s Messianic symbols in the bread:

1. Provision (Jesus is the bread of heaven).

2. Propitiation (Jesus is the sacrifice who bore God’s wrath and satisfied His justice; in so doing He brought sinful people back into favor with God).

3. Preservation (Jesus’ body did not suffer decay in the grave).

There are other symbolic markers in this feast:

Jesus referred to Himself as the bread of life (John 6:35) and chose the bread of the Passover to be the symbolic memorial of His broken body (Luke 22:19).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

The Lord expects believers put aside sin in our lives, as leaven is put aside in the feast (1 Cor. 5:7-8; see also Gal. 5:16-24; Eph. 4:22-24).

The seven days speak of satisfaction or fullness; believers are completely satisfied in Christ.

In summary, Passover and Unleavened Bread together picture the sacrificial, substitionary death of Jesus — the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world — and the burial of His body, which God the Father raised on the third day before it decayed. The resurrection, as we will see next week, is pictured in the Feast of Firstfruits.

Bread of Heaven: Jesus in the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Part 1)

Download audio file.

Unleavened bread is a wonderful picture of Jesus the Messiah. The bread is without leaven, as He is without sin. It also is striped and pierced, as His body was beaten and pierced for our sins (Isa. 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). In addition, the Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolizes Jesus’ burial. His body was placed in the grave but did not see corruption as He rose on the third day (see Psalm 16:10; Isa. 53:9; Matt. 27:57-60, 28:1-10) and carried our sins away (Psalm 103:12; Heb. 9:26).

Everyone should see Jesus in the Feast of Unleavened Bread because He fulfilled the feast’s Messianic symbols in the bread:

1. Provision (Jesus is the bread of life).

2. Propitiation (Jesus is the sacrifice who bore God’s wrath, and in so doing changed God’s wrath into favor with us).

3. Preservation (Jesus’ body did not suffer decay in the grave).

There are other symbolic markers in this feast:

Jesus referred to Himself as the bread of life (John 6:35) and chose the bread of the Passover to be the symbolic memorial of His broken body (Luke 22:19).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

The Lord expects believers to put aside sin in our lives, as leaven is put aside during this feast (1 Cor. 5:7-8; see also Eph. 4:22-24 and Gal. 5:16-24).

The seven days speak of satisfaction or fullness; believers are completely satisfied in Christ.

In summary, Passover and Unleavened Bread together picture the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – and the burial of His body, which God the Father raised on the third day before it decayed. The resurrection, as we’ll see in two weeks, is pictured in the Feast of Firstfruits.

 Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

Why every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims: Part 3

 The views of Charles Taze Russell and subsequent Jehovah’s Witness leaders regarding the doctrines of Biblical Christianity are not new; for the most part, they are recent spins on the Arian heresy of the early 4th century and other more recent Scripture-twisting views. Specifically, every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims to be the only true church because of its numerous unbiblical views. Ten false doctrines of the Watchtower are being highlighted in this three-part series.

Click here to review Parts 1 and 2

Download an audio file of Part 3

Click play to listen to Part 3: 

JW False Doctrine 7: Salvation by grace through faith denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “It is evident from this that besides faith and baptism, ‘public declaration’ to the effect that Jesus Christ is Lord and the God raised him up from the dead is a requirement for salvation…. Clearly, for all who wish to gain an approved standing with God, Christian baptism is a requirement” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 755).
  • “Most Witnesses hope to be found worthy enough to be ‘saved’ from destruction in the future battle of Armageddon and to survive into God’s new earthly system of rule, when ‘paradise’ will be restored to Earth. The four requirements for salvation are: 1) taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and of Jesus Christ; 2) obeying God’s laws and conforming one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible; 3) belonging to and serving with God’s one true channel and organization (that is, the Watchtower Society); and 4) being loyal to God’s organization” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • “Salvation is earned through a combination of faith plus good works. True Christians can have no assurance of eternal life. They must work toward perfection throughout this life, and then throughout Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. Next they must pass the final test of Satan (during which Satan is released from the pit to tempt all faithful Witnesses one last time) before God will grant them eternal life. If they fail at any point they are at risk of annihilation (eternal destruction)” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).

What the Bible teaches:

  • Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
  • Believers are eternally secure based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25; 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).
  • All who receive Christ by faith enter immediately and everlastingly into Christ’s kingdom (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

JW False Doctrine 8: Consciousness of the soul after death denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “… the claim of religionists that man has an immortal soul and therefore differs from the beast is not Scriptural” (Let God Be True, p. 68).
  • “Hell is mankind’s common grave” (Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Web Site).
  • At death, the soul, which is inseparable from the body, ceases to exist. Jehovah “remembers” each person’s life essence and recreates it at the resurrection. In other words, the Watchtower teaches the false doctrine of “soul sleep.”
  • There are three classes of individuals who are resurrected (recreated) and are potential heirs of salvation: 1) the 144,000 elect of God who enter heaven; 2) the “earthly class’ of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses; and 3) the rest of mankind. A fourth class, the unsaved, are annihilated at death and are not resurrected and given a second chance.

What the Bible teaches:

  • At death, man’s eternal destiny is fixed in one of two places: heaven or hell.  All people have conscious existence at death and beyond (Luke 16:19-31).
  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).
  • Heaven also is a place of everlasting conscious existence, and the believer’s soul/spirit goes there upon death (2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 22:5).

JW False Doctrine 9: Eternal punishment in hell denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “Hell is mankind’s common grave” (Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Web Site).
  • “Who is responsible for this God-defaming doctrine of a hell of torment? The promulgator of it is Satan himself. His purpose in introducing it has been to frighten the people away from studying the Bible and to make them hate God” (Let God Be True, p. 98).
  • “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true, mainly for four reasons: (1) Because it is wholly unscriptural; (2) it is unreasonable; (3) it is contrary to God’s love; and (4) it is repugnant to justice” (Let God Be True, p. 99).
  • “Would a loving God really torment people forever? … The wicked, of course, are not literally tormented because, as we have seen, when a person is dead he is completely out of existence…. And it is also a lie, which the Devil spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented …” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 81, 88-89).

What the Bible teaches:

  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).

JW False Doctrine 10: Heaven as the destination for all believers denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • Only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, called the “anointed class” and chosen by Jehovah, will be in heaven. The remaining faithful Witnesses, after an indefinite length of time in a state of soul sleep, will be raised to populate Paradise Earth – if they remain faithful throughout the millennium and final test.
  • “So this ‘congregation of God’ is made up of all Christians on earth who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God.’ Today, only a few of these, a remnant, are still on the earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God'” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 125-26).
  • “Many millions that have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before the “great tribulation,” and they will gain salvation (Jehovah’s Witnesses official Web site).
  • The “anointed class” will one day rule in heaven with the elder brother Jesus. The anointed class is sovereignly chosen, or elected. Members of this class receive five benefits not given to others: 1) They are now presently “justified” by God as long as they maintain their justified status; 2) they are now consecrated and anointed as priests; 3) they are specially sanctified for Jehovah’s purposes; 4) if they remain faithful, at death they will be regenerated or born again just as Jesus was born again; 5) they will then rule in heaven with God and Jesus. At the “resurrection,” the 144,000 will be changed into spirit creatures, just as they believe Jesus was at His “resurrection.” This constitutes being “born again.” Thus, just like the Watchtower Jesus, they will live in heaven as spirits but not on earth as physical persons. They are thus said to be given immortality as spirits in heaven, in contrast to a physical eternal life on earth.
  • The “other sheep,” or “great crowd,” constitutes the rest of the Witnesses. The average Witness today has virtually no expectation of being elected to the anointed class, neither does he or she have any expectation of being “born again.” If the “other sheep” are successful in earning their salvation they will be given positions of leadership in the millennial age. However, they are also warned that if they do not pass additional millennial tests, they will forfeit their eternal life and be annihilated.
  • The rest of mankind are resurrected to life on earth in the exact moral condition in which they died, and they must then seek to attain their own perfection during the millennium. If they attain perfection and also pass the final millennial test by avoiding the judgment of God in Rev. 20:7-9, they will obtain eternal life on earth.

What the Bible teaches:

  • All believers have God’s promise of a home in heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ to earth one day (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).
  • There is no opportunity for salvation beyond the grave, as the Watchtower teaches  (Luke 16:19-31; Heb. 9:27).

More resources:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses: An Overview (PDF)

Comparing Christianity to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (PDF)

Key Mistranslations of the New World Translation (PDF)