DO MARY AND THE SAINTS HEAR AND ANSWER OUR PRAYERS?
Some years ago Oscar Cullmann, the well-known New Testament scholar, wrote a book entitled Immortality of the Soul Or Resurrection of the Dead? The Witness of the New Testament.(1) Cullmann argued that the Greek philosophical concept of the immortality of the soul is incompatible with the New Testament teaching of the resurrection of the dead at the end of human history.
Cullmann wrote that Plato's book Phaedo has replaced 1 Corinthians 15. The teaching of the two documents is incompatible, despite attempts to conceal that fact. Cullmann disagrees with those who view the New Testament doctrine of the resurrection as in line with the mythological thought of the time in which the New Testament was written. He opposes the idea that the real truth underlying all New Testament teaching is the immortality of the soul. Cullmann argues, on the contrary, that the real message of the New Testament is the doctrine of the resurrection at the end of time. And this he recognizes to be thoroughly unreconcilable with the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul.
Cullmann wrote: "The question is here raised in its exegetical aspect. If we turn to the Christian aspect, I would venture to remind my critics that when they put in the forefront, as they do, the particular manner in which they wish themselves and their loved ones to survive, they are involuntarily giving grounds to the opponents of Christianity who constantly repeat that the faith of Christians is nothing more than the projection of their desires."(2)
Cullmann compared the death of Socrates, as described in Plato's Phaedo, with the death of Jesus, described by the Gospel writers.(3) Socrates welcomed death as the release of the immortal soul from the prison-house of the body. Jesus feared death as separation from His Father, and prayed that, if possible, He would not have to face it. Jesus death conquered death, the great enemy of the human race.
"He cannot obtain this victory by simply living on as an immortal soul, thus fundamentally not dying. He can conquer death only by actually dying, by betaking Himself to the sphere of death, the destroyer of life, to the sphere of 'nothingness', of abandonment by God. When one wishes to overcome someone else, one must enter his territory. Whoever wants to conquer death must die; he must really cease to live--not simply live on as an immortal soul, but die in body and soul, lose life itself, the most precious good which God has given us. For this reason the Evangelists, who none the less intended to present Jesus as the Son of God, have not tried to soften the terribleness of His thoroughly human death."(4)
The resurrection of Christ, Cullmann emphasized, involved "a new divine act of creation." "And this act of creation calls back to life not just a part of the man, but the whole man--all that God had created and death had annihilated."(5) Socrates and Plato did not think they needed a new act of creation, because the body which is bad should not live again, and the soul which is immortal never did die.
The Greek philosophers had an optimistic view of death. For them death was a liberation of the immortal soul to its natural sphere of existence. But for the New Testament authors death is the result of sin which destroyed God's perfect creation. Only by the resurrection at the end of history will this perfect creation be restored. Only then will believers who have been annihilated and subjected to the "sleep" of death be raised to live with Christ as immortal beings. Believers have the gift of eternal life when they accept Jesus, and the temporary "sleep" of death does not destroy this gift. But they are not immortal until the second coming of Jesus.
Cullmann's book created a storm of protest from those who believe in the immortality of the soul. It was recognized that, if he were correct, one of the basic tenets of many world religions must be regarded as a myth. Most Christians, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul as fundamental Bible teaching. The practical application of this doctrine is regarded as vital to the life of the churches. Mourners of dead loved ones are comforted by the assurance that their dear ones are now in heaven. The Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory depends on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The souls of the dead who are not yet purified of sin suffer in the fires of purgatory as a preparation for heaven. Thus the church has consistently encouraged Masses, indulgences, and public and private prayers on behalf of souls in purgatory. In fact, the idea that the payment of money to the church could release souls from purgatory was one of the issues that sparked the sixteenth-century Reformation.
It is popularly believed by Roman Catholics and many Protestants
that the immortal souls of unbelievers go directly to hell where they
will suffer eternal torment. Even though this teaching has turned
many away from Christianity and the truth of God's love, it is
believed to be squarely based on Scripture.
APPEARANCES OF MARY
The Roman Catholic exaltation of Mary and the saints is dependent upon the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In recent years there has been a proliferation of appearances of Mary in various parts of the world. In their book Thunder of Justice, Ted and Maureen Flynn have documented many of these numerous appearances.(6) They assert that these many apparitions and locutions (verbal communications) are a wake-up call to the world which is about to be plunged into unprecedented turmoil. Heaven granted Satan the twentieth century to do his worst against the Church. As a warning to humanity that the most massive destruction is about to occur, Mary is appearing in many lands. She offers warning, encouragement, and instruction. But only a remnant of the Church will survive.(7)
Father Stefano Gobbi is said to have received and to be currently receiving "detailed locutions" from Mary, as a result of which there has been established a Marian Movement of Priests with 55,000 members.(8) Ted and Maureen Flynn provide a brief summary of Marian apparitions since the sixteenth century.(9) There have been many more such appearances in the twentieth century than in any previous century. The most impressive of these appearances are those at Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia. After a first appearance on June 24, 1981, Mary appeared often to six peasant children. In their adult life Mary's messages to them have continued. Mary's messages have been a plea for prayer, fasting, reconciliation with God and neighbor, conversion, and peace.(10) It is estimated that over fifteen million pilgrims have visited Medjugorje in a ten-year period.
When asked by the children what instruction she had for priests, Mary urged that they instruct everyone to pray the rosary. By this means they would overcome all the troubles that Satan is attempting to bring on the Catholic Church.(11)
All six of the children at Medjugorje were shown heaven and purgatory, and four of them were shown hell. They reported that more souls go to purgatory than to heaven or hell. In purgatory there are various levels in which souls exist; some levels are close to heaven and others are close to hell. (12)
The cover of Newsweek, August 25, 1997, had a picture of Mary and the caption, "The Meaning of Mary, A Struggle Over Her Role Grows Within the Church." The leading article reports that 40,383 petitions were shipped that week to the pope from a dozen countries, appealing to him to exercise his power of papal infallibility to proclaim that the Virgin Mary is "Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces and Advocate for the People of God."(13) In the past four years, 4,340,429 signatures have been sent to the pope from 157 countries supporting the doctrine.
If the pope makes such an infallible declaration, Catholics will be obliged to accept "that Mary participates in the redemption achieved by her son, that all graces that flow from the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are granted only through Mary's intercession with her son, and that all prayers and petitions from the faithful on earth must likewise flow through Mary, who then brings them to the attention of Jesus. This is what theologians call high Mariology, and it seems to contradict the basic New Testament belief that 'there is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus' (1 Timothy 2:5). In place of the Holy Trinity, it would appear, there would be a kind of Holy Quartet, with Mary playing the multiple roles of daughter of the Father, mother of the Son and spouse of the Holy Spirit."(14)
Despite strong opposition from Protestant churches and considerable criticism of the proposed new dogma within the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is thought to favor it. "As the patron saint of Poland, Mary has always been especially important to this pope from Wadowice. He also credits her with saving his life during a 1981 assassination attempt. He has referred to her as 'Co-Redemptrix' at least five times, though never as a formal declaration of dogma. He has reflected on her role in more than 50 weekly addresses, often emphasizing her 'co-operation' in redemption."(15)
In the light of the pope's attitude and the strong support within the Roman Catholic Church for the proposed new dogma, it is not difficult to see why Oscar Cullmann's thesis would meet even more bitter opposition today than it did in 1958. If he were correct, and the concept of the immortality of the soul is not taught in the Bible, all this discussion concerning Mary's role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix is totally irrelevant. If the Bible teaches what Cullmann says it teaches, Mary is in her grave waiting to be called forth on the resurrection morning. Mariology would then simply be an untruth despite its acceptance throughout centuries of church history and its enthusiastic propagation today.
But if the idea of the immortality of the soul is unscriptural,
how do we explain the apparitions of Mary that have appeared in
numerous places around the world? Are they real or imaginary? If they
are real, what are they, and where do they come from?
NEW AGE PHIILOSOPHY
The basic premise of the New Age philosophy is the concept of the immortality of the soul. In his book Deceived by the New Age, Will Baron graphically describes how the new age "Master" Djwhal Khul appeared to him as a kingly being bathed in light.(16) This is the spirit being who is said to have dictated verbatim to Alice Bailey the contents of twenty-five volumes of metaphysical information.(17) These books, published between 1919 and 1949 provided a great deal of the doctrinal foundation for the current New Age movement. Djwhal Khul claims that he is a senior member of the Hierarchy of Masters.
"He maintains that he is a human being born more than 350 years ago in Tibet, where he was at one time the abbot of a Tibetan lamasery. He asserts that through the process of meditation and strict spiritual practices, and through the assistance of heavenly beings, he has so evolved his consciousness as to have reached a state of immortality in his current physical body. Hence his claimed ability to have lived for almost four centuries."(18)
Djwahl Khul teaches that the Hierarchy of Masters consists of human beings who have achieved immortality. Their leader, Lord Maitreya, has the title of "the Christ." Jesus and Buddha are senior-ranking members of the Hierarchy of Masters. The Hierarchy are said to be working for "the spiritual evolution of humanity on planet Earth in all its aspects: religious, political, technological, scientific, and cultural."(19)
Khul "emphasizes that Master Jesus is a man who evolved himself over successive incarnations and initiations until he became an immortal 'Son of God,' just as the other masters, such as the Buddha, also became 'Sons of God.'"(20)
The masters are able to assume spirit form or physical form whenever they choose. In spirit form they can visit any part of the planet. And they can appear as visible bodies of light or as physical bodies that can be touched like any human being.
The concept of reincarnation is one of the major tenets of the New Age movement. The idea is based squarely on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The doctrines of reincarnation and karma are borrowed from ancient Hindu teaching. The law of karma teaches that a person's good or bad behavior will have to be faced in future existences. Because it is impossible for people to do enough good in one lifetime to pay the debt of their bad deeds, they are obliged to go through as many reincarnations as may be necessary until their good deeds balance out their bad deeds.(21)
Alice Bailey wrote: "The immortality of the human soul, and the innate ability of the spiritual, inner man to work out his own salvation under the Law of Rebirth, in response to the Law of Cause and Effect, are the underlying factors governing all human conduct and all human aspiration. These two laws no man can evade. They condition him at all times until he has achieved the desire and the designed perfection and can manifest on earth as a rightly functioning son of God."(22)
Thus the prime teachings of the New Age movement are the immortality of the soul, reincarnation, and righteousness by human works.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the New Age movement is its infiltration into the belief and practice of the Christian Church. Will Baron refers to Christian preachers whose biblical teaching is intermingled with New Age concepts.(23) He describes how the New Age center of which he was a member turned to Bible study and identified itself with Christian teaching.(24) Will became a "Christian" preacher.(25) He identified himself with Christian churches and was baptized as a Christian.(26) But the "Christian" teachings he espoused and taught were transformed by New Age concepts, so that their true biblical meaning was destroyed. He endeavored to introduce his Christian friends to New Age meditation techniques, so that their minds, like his, could be controlled and directed by spirit entities.(27) Then he was converted to true Christianity, and he turned away in horror and disgust from the New Age beliefs that had dominated his life.(28)
Will Baron writes: "In essence, I regard the New Age as a counterfeit system of religion devised by Satan to be an attractive alternative to Bible-based Christianity. Its ultimate goal is to lead the churches into a great apostasy in preparation for the appearance of the Antichrist, so that he will be accepted as the Messiah by both Christians and New Agers alike."
"As a New Age 'Christian,' I had read those biblical passages that warned against false prophets and teachings. But I never seriously considered that I was involved with them. The deception was possible because I did not believe that the whole Bible should be understood just exactly as it is written. Because of this, I was able to compromise and embrace false teachings while knowing that they contradicted plain Scripture."(29)
Appearances of Mary, appearances of New Age masters, appearances
in spiritualistic seances of dead loved ones -- are these phenomena
real? Is it really Mary who is appearing in many place around the
world? Are the New Age masters really immortal human beings? Do
people's loved ones really appear to them and speak to them, or is
there another explanation of these remarkable appearances? What
answers to these questions can be found in the Bible?
DEATH IS A SLEEP
In both Old and New Testaments death is represented as a sleep. As sleep is a state of unconsciousness, so is death.
In announcing to Moses that his time had come to die, the Lord said: "Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers" (Deut. 31:16, KJV). The Hebrew verb used in the text is shakab that means "to sleep," "to lie down."(30) The same verb is used in Job 7:21, which the King James Version correctly translates, "For now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be." Job 14:12 underlines the point: "Mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep." Emphasizing the resurrection at the end of time, Daniel wrote: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2).
There was a resurrection of certain sleeping saints at the time of Jesus death and resurrection: "The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matt. 27:52, 53). Verse 52 uses the Greek word koimao, that means "to sleep," "to fall asleep."(31) In describing the death of Lazarus to His disciples, Jesus clearly identified death with sleep. "He told them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.' The disciples said to him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.' Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, and they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead'" (John 11:11-14). In describing Jairus' daughter who had died, Jesus said, "The child is not dead but sleeping" (Mark 5:39). When Stephen was stoned to death, "he fell asleep" (Acts 7:60, KJV). Referring to the resurrection of the dead at the end of human history, Paul wrote: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51, KJV).
Never do the Bible writers suggest that part of man sleeps at death while another part goes on living in a conscious state. Never do they even imply that death is not, like sleep, a state of unconsciousness. As Bible writers faced death, they did not expect to be conscious living beings again until, by a divine miracle of recreation, their existence was restored.
Right at the beginning of our study, we are impressed that the
doctrine of the immortality of the soul is seriously open to
question. We must test our initial impression by searching the
WHAT IS THE SPIRIT IN
It is popularly believed that there is in humans an immortal, immaterial part that does not sleep when they die. The spirit is thought to go on living either in heaven or hell. Does the Bible teach this view?
What were the component parts of man given by God at creation? "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 soul" (Gen. 2:7, KJV). The breath of life was the life principle or life force that gave life to the body and existence to the individual. When man dies the opposite process takes place. "When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish" (Ps. 146:4). "The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). The word "breath," or "spirit" in these verses is a translation of the Hebrew word ruach. The Greek equivalent is pneuma. Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives the meanings of the Hebrew word for "breath" or "spirit" (ruach):
1. "Breath of the Mouth . . . Ps. 33:6."
2. "Breath of Air, Wind. Soft breeze Job 4:15; 41:8."
3. "The Principle which Gives Life to the Body. . . . Gn. 6:17; 7:15."
4. "The Seat of the Emotions, Intellectual Functions and Attitude of Will. . . . 2 K. 19:7; Gn. 41:8; Da. 2:3."
5. "God gives vital force, the spirit of life Isa 42:5; Ez. 37:6. . . . He upholds it Job 10:12. . . . God takes away the spirit of life . . . Ps. 104:29."(32)
Never in Scripture is the spirit of a person said to survive the death of the body as an immortal, conscious entity. The breath or spirit is simply the life force implanted by God at creation and shared by every living thing, whether human or animal. "For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Eccl. 3:19, 20). This does not mean that in respect to intellect and the capacity to make moral choices humans have no advantage over the animals. It means that humans and animals have the same life force implanted by God and taken away when they die.
Some Bible interpreters try to use Ecclesiastes 12:7 to prove that the immortal spirits of good people go to heaven when they die. On the contrary, the text is simply referring to the opposite process to that which occurred at creation (Gen. 2:7). If the "spirit" or "breath" spoken of in this verse is a person's immortal soul, then the souls of all people, good and bad, must go to heaven when they die. But no one believes that the spirits of evil people go to heaven when they die. The text is not teaching that. It is telling us that the life principle that God gives is taken back when a person dies. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not even implied.
Both the Old and New Testaments sometimes use the word spirit to refer to the mind of man, his capacity to reason, as well as his ability to feel and choose (see Dan. 2:1; 5:12; Matt. 26:41; Rom. 1:9 etc.). Such intellectual and emotional faculties never survive the death of the body. The spirit is not depicted in the Bible as the real self that goes on living after the body has died. In this sense, the spirit is the inner life of man that is totally dependent upon the existence of the body. As we shall see, the dead person has no further reasoning powers, or emotions, or powers of will. Dead persons are totally unconscious. Because the life force has been taken way, they cease to be living persons.
Our study of the breath of life ("spirit") contradicts the
teaching that humans have within them an immortal soul that goes on
living either in heaven or hell. Now we must look further to see if
our conclusions are supported by other things the Bible says about
the soul and the state of humans in death.
WHAT IS A SOUL? IS IT
Did God create an immortal soul for man? Genesis 2:7 says that the body + the breath of life = "a living soul" (KJV). That implies that if the breath of life were withdrawn, the person would be a dead soul. If souls can die, they cannot be regarded as immortal, because immortality is the capacity never to die. What does the Bible teach on this question?
Can a living soul die? "The soul [Hebrew: nephesh] that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4, KJV). "And every living soul [Greek: psuche] died in the sea" (Rev. 16:3, KJV). Writing of the Nazarite, Moses said, "All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body" (Num 6:6, KJV). The word translated "body" is the Hebrew word nephesh that means "soul."
Since souls can die, they are not immortal. When the breath of life is taken from individuals, they cease to be living souls. Now they are dead souls. And dead souls have no consciousness. Jesus said that eventually wicked souls will be destroyed in hell. "Fear him [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). That being so, the doctrine of an ever-burning hell cannot be true. The idea of eternal suffering for lost souls in hell depends on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. If the soul can die, it is not immortal. And if God plans to destroy wicked mortal souls in hell, they cannot suffer for eternity.
The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, and the Greek equivalent is psuche. The word creature is used to translate the Hebrew nephesh in the King James Version of Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30; 2:19; 9:10, 12, 15, 16. Animals are spoken of as souls. God made the animals living souls just as He made humans living souls. He formed the animals from the dust and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and they became living souls. Like man, when they die, they are dead souls.
The Bible never teaches the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. It says unequivocally that God "only hath immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16, KJV). In the comparison of God with mankind, only God is immortal. When a human body dies, that is the death of the soul.
Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament comments on the Hebrew word for soul (nephesh): The soul "has no existence apart from the body. Hence the best translation in many instances is 'person' comprised in corporeal reality. The person can be marked off and counted, Gn. 12:5; 46:18; Jos. 10:28; 11:11. Each individual is a nephesh and when the texts speak of a single nephesh for a totality, the totality is viewed as a single person, a 'corporate personality.' Hence nephesh can denote what is most individual in human nature, namely the ego, and it can become a synonym for the personal pronoun, Gn. 27:25. . . ."(33)
The New Testament Greek word for soul, psuche, has meanings similar to those of the Old Testament word nephesh. It is often best translated by life. A human life is a soul. Mark 3:4 translates literally from the Greek: "And he says to them, 'Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbaths or to do harm (evil), to save a soul (life) or to kill?"(34) Mark 8:35 translates literally: "For whoever should wish to save his soul (life) will lose it; and whoever will lose his soul (life) for my sake and the gospel's will save it."(35)
Nowhere in the Scriptures is the soul spoken of as a
disembodied immortal soul in heaven or hell. The word in both the
Hebrew and the Greek may refer to the total personality or to a part
of it. Sometimes the reference is to the spiritual self or the
intellectual or emotional self. But these aspects of soul are not
conceived as entities separate from the physical self. When the body
dies so do the other faculties of the soul. What is preserved for
believers is God's knowledge of their faithfulness and His undying
assurance that they will have eternal life at the second coming of
DO THE DEAD HAVE CONSCIOUSNESS OF ANY
The Bible answer is so simple and direct it is difficult to understand how anyone could have missed it. "The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun. . . . Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [the grave], to which you are going" (Eccl. 9:5, 610).
The dead are not in heaven observing what is happening to their earthly loved ones. "Their children come to honor, and they do not know it; they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed" (Job 14:21).
The dead have no knowledge of God and no capacity to praise Him. "For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol [the grave] who can give you praise?" (Ps. 6:5). "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence" (Ps. 115:17).
The Bible's clear teaching is that the dead know nothing and feel nothing. People who die do not go to heaven or hell, where they live on in a state of consciousness. They go to the grave where their bodies disintegrate because the life force has been removed. They are sleeping without any awareness of what is happening on earth or in heaven. They do not praise God because they cannot. If the good were in heaven right after death, wouldn't they praise the Lord? But the Bible says, "The dead do not praise the Lord" (Ps. 115:17).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is often used as evidence of life in either heaven or hell immediately after death. In fact, the parable is simply designed to teach the danger of covetousness, with no concern to support the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. No one believes that the parable can be taken literally. In fact, if it is interpreted literally, it becomes an absurdity. For example, the beggar went to "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22, KJV). Obviously this is a symbol. Abraham would have needed a very large chest to literally accommodate all the righteous dead. The rich man in hell spoke of Lazarus's finger and his own tongue (verse 24). But immortal soul advocates believe that the souls of the dead are disembodied. In this parable the dead have bodies. Who imagines that it is possible for the good in heaven to converse with the wicked in hell, and vice versa, as they do in this parable? The rich man wanted Lazarus to go to his living brothers and warn them (verses 27, 28). The only way that could happen, according to this story, would be if "one rose from the dead" (verse 31, KJV). That is quite different from the popular idea that dead souls can communicate with the living without a resurrection being necessary.
Jesus was using a popular fable as a sermon illustration. He was not teaching life immediately after death or the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, tells much the same fable in other words.(36) Jesus was illustrating the danger of covetousness.
The Bible truth of the mortality of the soul and the sleep of the
dead takes the fear out of death. For centuries people have been
taught that they will go immediately to a painful hell or a miserable
purgatory unless they do what is right. The Bible certainly urges us
to do right by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But it nowhere refers
to hell as a place of consciousness for wicked souls after death. If
the dead were in hell, suffering for long periods of time until the
second coming of the Lord, we would have difficulty understanding how
a God of love could bring such protracted suffering. "The dead know
nothing" (Eccl. 9:5). Think of the misery the immortal souls of the
dead would experience if they were looking down at the struggles and
sufferings of their earthly loved ones. What a mercy it is that they
are peacefully sleeping, waiting the call of the
WHERE ARE THE DEAD?
The Bible clearly explains where the dead are not, as well as where they are. In his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained that David's statement in Psalm 16 was a reference to the Messiah, not to David himself (Acts 2:24-33). David is dead and buried, Peter pointed out, and his sepulcher was there for everyone to see. Hence, when David wrote, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (verse 27, KJV), he was not referring to himself, but to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was crucified, but who has risen from the dead. Then Peter adds, "For David is not ascended into the heavens" (v. 34). Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, but David remained in the grave where he saw corruption. David was a righteous man, a forgiven sinner, but he did not go to heaven when he died. In fact, the Bible nowhere teaches that believers in Christ go to heaven when they die. They sleep peacefully in their graves waiting for the resurrection morning at the second coming of Jesus.
Where are the dead? Job makes that very clear. "If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come" (Job 14:14, KJV). "If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it? They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust" (John 17:13-16, KJV). "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job. 19:25-27, KJV).
Isaiah agreed with Job. "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead" (Isa. 26:19).
The dead are in the dust of the earth, resting in their graves,
waiting for the great change that Jesus promised would come at the
end of time. Death need have no fears for us. Since it is a state of
unconsciousness, we rest sweetly until the call of the Lifegiver. The
Bible truth is that death is a sleep, a state of unconsciousness, and
sleep involves no suffering.
WILL THERE BE A RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD?
The ancient Sadducees denied it. Jesus and the apostles taught it. Jesus explained that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous. "Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28, 29; cf. Acts 24:15).
We know from Scripture that the resurrection of the righteous takes place at Jesus' second coming. In comforting the Thessalonian Christians who had lost their loved ones by death, Paul wrote: "For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:15-18).
The great resurrection chapter of the New Testament is 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. It teaches that everything depends on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:16-23; italics supplied).
It is then that the gift of eternal life is fully realized; it is then that those who died believing are raised from their graves and given immortality along with their living brethren and sisters. "Behold, I shew you a mystery," Paul exclaimed. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:51-54, KJV).
If they were immortal already and had been taken to heaven as soon as they died, why would a resurrection be necessary? Of what purpose would it be to have their "immortal souls" linked up with bodies? Nowhere does the Bible teach that idea. The message is delightfully plain that the dead sleep until they are raised at the second coming of Jesus when He will bestow immortality upon them.
The dead are not raised as disembodied spirits. They are raised with perfect, immortal bodies, free from all physical ills and blemishes. At his coming, Jesus "shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil. 3:21, KJV). "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Rom. 8:11, KJV). Living believers are "waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (verse 23, KJV). Perfect spiritually and with perfect minds and bodies the raised believers and their living brothers and sisters are taken to receive their eternal reward in the Kingdom of heaven.
Our Lord bestows rewards upon the faithful at His second advent, not at the point at which they die. Good works are not the means of salvation. Salvation is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-10). Nonetheless, good works are rewarded when Jesus returns. "You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14). "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:4, KJV). Paul did not expect to receive his eternal crown at death but "at that day" (2 Tim. 4:8, KJV). When is "that day"? The rest of the verse makes it clear: ". . . and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." His appearing is His second advent, when all the righteous will receive their eternal rewards.
The sleep of death comes to an end for the righteous at the second coming of Jesus. What a thrilling day that will be! Mothers and fathers will be reunited with their little ones, husbands with their wives, children with their parents and grandparents, lovers with their sweethearts. It will be a great reunion day. And never again will there be suffering, separation, or death. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:4, KJV).
For unbelievers the sleep of death is not broken until the end of
the millennium that follows Jesus' second coming. "The rest of the
dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended" (Rev.
20:5). This is the second resurrection, the resurrection of the
unrighteous that precedes their second death which is retribution for
their rejection of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev.
WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF THE BIBLE
The relevance of the Bible teaching on the state of the dead and the resurrection at the second advent of Jesus is that Roman Catholic ideas regarding Mary and the saints as well as New Age philosophies regarding immortal humans are totally false. The only human saints in heaven are the relatively few who have been raised bodily from the grave and those who were taken to heaven without seeing death. For example, the Lord raised Moses from the grave and transported him to heaven (Jude 9; Matt. 17:1-3). Enoch and Elijah were translated without seeing death (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11; Matt. 17:3). There are no examples in Scripture of immortal souls being taken to heaven while their bodies remained in the grave. Nor is there any Bible support for the idea that Mary was taken to heaven at the end of her earthly existence.
Praying to Mary and the saints is futile because, like the rest of the faithful dead, they are sleeping in the grave awaiting the resurrection morning. The Bible says there is only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5, KJV). There is no Bible evidence for the view that the immortal souls of the saints in heaven are assistant mediators or that we need mediators between us and the supreme Mediator. The Holy Spirit assists us in making known our requests to God (Rom. 8:26), but the one Mediator is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). That being so, we cannot approach the Deity through an angel, a redeemed human being in heaven, or an earthly human being. The only One whom the Bible mentions as appearing "in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24) is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only One spoken of as the Advocate for sinners in the heavenly sanctuary (1 John 2:1; Heb. 8:1, 2; 9:15; 12:24).
The Bible teaches that it is wrong to pray to an angel or to another human being. The angel before whom John bowed in an act of worship refused to accept such adoration. He said, "'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'" (Rev. 19:10). A second attempt by John to worship the angel resulted in a similar response: "'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!'" (Rev. 22:9). It follows that heavenly angels, holy prophets, and humans who obey the will of God are not to be worshiped. Our acts of devotion and our prayers are to be directed solely to the Deity.
The Apostle Peter made it clear to Cornelius that it is wrong to worship a man, even though he happens to be one of Christ's apostles (Acts 10:25, 26). Likewise the Apostle Paul refused to accept acts of worship directed to himself (Acts 14:11-18). Jesus reminded Satan of the divine instruction in this regard: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matt. 4:10).
As supreme Deity (John 5:18; 8:58; Col. 2:9), Jesus accepted people's worship while He was here on earth, and forgave their sins (Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 15:25-28; Luke 5:20-25; John 9:38). After His resurrection, He was worshiped by His followers (Matt. 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 20:28). The New Testament command is that we should bow before Him, acknowledging Him as our Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). It is entirely appropriate to speak directly to Christ in prayer (Acts 7:59; Rev. 22:20). Heavenly beings worship Him (Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8, 13, 14), and it is our privilege to worship Him also.
There is no example in Scripture of a saint in heaven accepting
worship, forgiving sin, acting as a mediator, or supplying the needs
of people on earth. Saint worship is totally unscriptural and
contrary to the will of God as expressed in His Word. The only Being
we are to worship is the Deity Himself. Because Jesus Christ, the
Father, and the Holy Spirit are the Deity, we are commanded to
worship Him, seeking His forgiveness for our sins and asking for His
guidance, wisdom, and strength in the affairs of our everyday
HOW THEN DO WE EXPLAIN THE APPEARANCES OF MARY AND NEW AGE
There can be no doubt that people in various places around the world have seen genuine spirit apparitions. But these apparitions are not Mary or other dead human beings. They are evil spirits impersonating Mary and dead humans.
What is the origin of these spirit beings? First, we should point out that heavenly angels are sinless beings whom God created to inhabit His perfect universe. They willingly and lovingly cooperate with the Lord in His efforts to save humans from sin.
The myriads of heaven's angels were created by God (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 12:22; Ps. 68:17; Dan. 7:10). By comparison with humans, they are spirit beings with power and glory far in excess of anything we experience. They are totally loyal to God and Christ, worshiping them continually, willingly carrying out their divine commands, and never aspiring to a position of equality with the Deity (Ps. 103:20; 148:2; Heb. 1:4-6; Rev. 7:11, 12). Humans were created with less power, glory, and ability than the angels (Heb. 2:6, 7; 2 Peter 2:11). Never are humans said to be equal to the angels; quite the contrary, they are very much dependent upon them for protection, guidance, and instruction (Heb. 1:14; Ps. 91:11; Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:7). Yet, as we have already seen, we are specifically instructed in the Bible that we are never to worship angels. Like us they are created beings. Our worship belongs only to the Lord. The angels worship Christ as Lord of the universe, and we are instructed to do the same. We are not to pray to angels but only to the Lord.
Angels are not immortal spirits of dead human beings. No passage of Scripture teaches such a view. Nor does the Bible depict any dead human as existing in spirit form and appearing to the living with any kind of message(37)
The Bible explains that Satan and his demons were once heavenly angels who were perfect beings living in a state of joyful service for God. Then they chose to rebel against God. As one of the cherubim in heaven with the special privilege of dwelling in the presence of God, Lucifer was a being of magnificent beauty and intelligence (Ezek. 28:12-17; Isa. 14:12-15; Ps. 80:1). Tragically he chose to covet the position and power of the Deity. Not satisfied with his own privileged status, he fostered pride and selfishness in his own heart until he made himself a demon completely divorced from righteousness, purity, and love. Unfortunately he was successful in captivating the affections of one third of heaven's angels; a huge number considering that there are countless myriads of angels. The only choice left to God was to cast out these dissenters who were destroying the peace and happiness of heaven (Rev. 12:4, 7-9).
There was war in heaven, and Satan and his hosts of supporting angels were cast out. Peter explains that they were cast out to "hell" (2 Peter 2:4). The Greek word he uses in the verse is tartaroo. It means "to hold captive in tartarus." To the ancient Greeks Tartarus was the place of punishment of the wicked dead. It corresponded to Gehenna in Jewish thought. Since Peter was writing to Christians, many of whom were Gentiles, he uses a Greek term to symbolize the total rejection of Satan and his demons. His use of the word tartaroo does not, however, indicate that the Greek or Hebrew idea of death at that time was correct, or that he believed it. Peter's concern was to demonstrate that Satan and his demons, who since the creation of our world have been able to tempt and delude mankind, are reserved by God in a place of total isolation from heaven until the judgment at the end of time will result in their eternal destruction. Compare Jude 6: "The angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day."
Satan and one third of the angels who were cast out with him are now roving around our world with the one intention of dragging as many humans as possible into the eternal ruin facing them. "Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering" (1 Peter 5:8, 9). "Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Rev. 12:12). Satan and his demons are not yet in a place of burning; they are occupied in an all out attempt to destroy humanity.
These fallen angels who are now demons are able to impersonate Mary and the saints and other dead humans. Spiritualism in whatever form it comes is a wicked and masterful deception practiced by demons who are totally alienated from God and are determined to destroy for eternity as many humans as they can. Misery loves company! Satan and his demons deceive for the purpose of involving others in their ruin.
Through Moses, the Lord warned Israel that there would be dire results of preserving and giving heed to those who professed to communicate with the dead (Lev. 19:31; 20:27; Deut. 18:9-14). Israel was left in no doubt that the supposed living dead were in fact evil spirits who were bent on deception and destruction. Isaiah, Zechariah, and other prophets warned the people of the dangers of spiritualism and the lies of false prophets who had received their communications from demons (Isa. 8:19, 20; 28:15-18; Zech. 10:2; 13:2, 3).
A vital part of Jesus' ministry involved combating evil demons who had taken possession of the minds and bodies of sick and sinful people (Matt. 8:28-34; 9:32, 33; 10:1; 12:22, 23; Mark 7:25, 26, 29). Jesus healed the insane and the physically ill by casting out the demons who were destroying their lives. He also gave His disciples the power to cast out evil spirits and commanded His followers to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them for the deliverance of those who were victims of Satan and his demons (Matt. 10:8). The book of Acts indicates that the apostles followed Jesus' instruction. Through the mighty power of Christ they were enabled to deliver suffering people from the harassment and possession of evil spirits (Acts 8:7-13; 16:16-18).
The Holy Spirit warns us that "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1; cf. Eph. 6:12; 1 John 4:1-5). This prophecy is being fulfilled by the great increase in the popularity of the occult in our era. As never before in history spiritualism in many different forms and represented in many different religious organizations is exerting a powerful influence. The unbiblical doctrine that man's spirit lives on after death is the basis of a massive deception. Supposedly orthodox Christian churches are being swept into the rushing tide of spiritist delusions because they insist that the dead loved ones of their members are still living and able to communicate with them.
Little do such churches, their leaders, and their members realize the danger of infatuation with spiritualism. The supposed spirits of dead loved ones, who are actually evil spirits, say they are enjoying heaven. Even those who died unready to meet the Lord appear and give the message that they, and many others like them, are safe from harm and suffering in the blessed realm of the eternal spirits. The result is that people are deceived into believing that there is no difference between righteousness and wickedness; everyone goes to the same place whatever the record of the life. Such universalism is totally unscriptural (Heb. 12:14; 2 Peter 2:9; Jude 11-13).
The evil spirits impersonating the dead teach many other doctrines contrary to the Bible. First they gain confidence by teaching some things that are consistent with Scripture; then they teach error. Christ is placed on a level with the spirits, His unique Deity is denied, and His special saving work for man is depreciated. The Christianity of the Bible is destroyed by so-called Christian spiritualism.
The Apostle Paul's prediction of the last great deceptions of Satan should lead everyone to search the Scriptures very carefully. The final great deception will be with "all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:9, 10). People who refuse to receive Christ's truth will be permitted to accept "a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned" (verses 11, 12). There is terrible danger in clinging to sin at this time of crisis in our world. The deceptions of spiritualism will be attractive to those who refuse to receive the Holy Spirit into their hearts and to put away all sin from their lives.
John the Revelator agrees entirely with Paul, and adds the warning with great insistence. The false religious union of the last days will be a miracle working power (Rev. 13:13, 14). Satan will operate through professed Christians who have accepted a religion that is a counterfeit to that of the Bible. They will perform outstanding miracles as a means of convincing earth's inhabitants that their beliefs are genuine. The only safety will be to cherish the Word of God and its teachings. "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20, KJV).
In vision, John saw symbolized "the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14, KJV). That battle is Armageddon (verse 16), the final battle between the armies of heaven and the armies of earth at the second coming of Christ (Rev. 17:14; 19:11-16). Before this takes place, evil spirits are intensely deceiving the leaders and peoples of earth's nations, preparing them for destruction when Jesus appears. Because they will not accept God's final message of love and warning (Rev. 14:6, 7), multitudes will be captivated by spiritualism, convinced by demons that their unbiblical teachings are true. Their tragic plight is described graphically in the book of Revelation. We can imagine the tears in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ as He warns that those deceived by spiritualism will cry out to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16).
Because He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all
should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, KJV), Jesus sends the last
great warning message to the world: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the
great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every
foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast" (Rev.
18:2). The great end-time "Babylon" is that false religious union of
the last days that has turned away from the Bible and has accepted
the deceptions of evil spirits. Christ cries out longingly and
mercifully to every inhabitant of earth, "Come out of her, my people,
so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not
share in her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).
WHAT WILL BE SATAN'S CROWNING ACT OF
Just before the second coming of Jesus, Satan will attempt to anticipate that event by appearing as though he is the Christ. The warning of this final deception is clearly given in Scripture. The word will go out that Christ has come and that He can be seen in such and such a place.
The final great tribulation just before Jesus' coming will be more serious than anything the world has ever known (Matt. 24:21). For the sake of the elect it will be cut short (verse 22). As the tribulation is drawing to a close, there will be many rumors that Christ has already come (verse 23). Many false prophets will arise, inspired by Satan, who will try to demonstrate by miracles that they are Christ (verse 24). There will be reports that Christ is in this or that location, and people will be urged to go out and see him (verse 26). Only Satan, transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), could successfully deceive most people into believing that Christ has come. By a masterful impersonation of Christ, Satan will finally turn the impenitent world away from the Lord and Bible truth.
Christian believers do not have to be misled. Satan will not be permitted to counterfeit the manner of Christ's advent. Jesus' coming will not be localized; He will not appear in any one part of the earth at any one time. "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt. 24:27). Jesus comes with the matchless glory of the Father, accompanied by all the holy angels (Matt. 16:27). His coming will be viewed by every individual of every nation on earth (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7). He does not touch the earth at this time. His faithful followers are caught up to meet Him in the sky and are then taken to be with Him in heaven (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16-18; John 14:1-3). Satan will not be able to counterfeit this glorious public appearing of Jesus Christ in the heavens.
Finally at the end of the 1,000 years after Jesus' coming Satan and his demons, along with all those humans who have followed his plans for their lives, will be destroyed eternally by fire (Rev. 20:7-10). The "sorcerers" (Greek: pharmakos) who are destroyed with Satan (Rev. 21:8; 22:15) are those who practice magic or witchcraft. These are the spiritualists who communicated with evil demons and convinced millions that they were the immortal spirits of the dead. Thus spiritualism with all its lies and false doctrines will be destroyed for eternity.
Jesus warns us to "watch" (KJV), to "keep awake (NRSV) (Mark 13:35). That means to study His Word regularly and pray constantly. To live with Jesus in your heart by the Holy Spirit is the only way to avoid the great spiritualistic deceptions of the last days. None of us is clever or wise enough to out-smart the devil. For many centuries he has been perfecting his deceptive arts. Only the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ can save us from these terrible delusions.
Are you living daily in a state of total surrender to Christ? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to teach you the meaning of the Bible and allowing Him to so control your mind and body that there is no room for Satan and his demons to overcome you? Let us pray now and every day from now on that Jesus will dwell with us and protect us from the terrible evils that Satan wants to bring upon us.
37. The spirit that appeared to King Saul (1 Sam. 28:7-19) was not the immortal spirit of the dead Samuel. It was an evil spirit impersonating Samuel. For a full explanation of this Bible story see my next article, "An Explanation of Bible Passages Used to Prove the immortality of the Soul."
© Copyright 1998 by Erwin R. Gane, All Rights Reserved. This document may be freely distributed via the following means - Email (including listservers), Usenet, and WorldWideWeb. It may not be reproduced for profit including, but not limited to, CD ROMs, books, and/or other commercial outlets without prior written consent from the author.