Thursday, February 6, 2014

How physical death, heaven & hell relate to the study of "last things"

Hebrews 9:27-28 "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him."

Introduction: how eschatology or "study of last things" deals with both now and later
Whenever people hear the topic of "Bible prophecy" or what has been termed by Bible teachers "eschatology" (the study of last things), immediately most people assume the discussion is going to turn to future events.  Although the vast majority of subjects covered by eschatology deals with things "yet to come", there are other areas that deal with the "here-and-now". What particular "now" areas are included in the study of "last things"? Generally speaking three principle areas:
1. Physical death
2. Heaven and Hell
3. The details of intermediate state, which include #1 & #2. 

Defining and picturing the intermediate state in relationship to the study of "last things"
Theologian Walter E. Elwell gives the following definition of the intermediate state: "This refers to the condition of the person between the time of death and the resurrection. The traditional orthodox view is that believers experience a state of bliss in the presence of the Lord, while unbelievers are tormented by separation from the presence of God."1

So in trying to picture what Dr. Elwell and the remainder of this post is talking about, I offer up the simple diagram for the reader (notice I have purposefully left out other details such as the rapture, tribulation period and the millennium for simplicity's sake):

physical death________________________Christ's        Final
                                                                     2nd coming Judgment

believer's in heaven----------------------------------.R
unbeliever's in hell-------------------------------------------------------.R

The letter "R" in each line represents "resurrection". The dotted lines of course represent the continuing lives of both the righteous and the wicked apart from their physical bodies between their physical "death" and respective "resurrections".

What notable Bible teachers and theologians have said about death, heaven and hell and last things
Notable theologians and pastors have observed how the Bible connects death, heaven and hell with the study of last things. Baptist theologian A.H Strong writes: "As preparing the way for the kingdom of God in its completeness, certain events are to take place, such as death, Christ's second coming, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment. As stages in the future condition of men, there is to be an intermediate and an ultimate state, both for the righteous and for the wicked."2 Strong later writes: "Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. We distinguish it from spiritual death, or the separation of the soul from God; and from the second death, or the banishment from God and final misery of the reunited soul and body of the wicked."3

Dr. William G.T Shedd explains what eschatology is in relation to these subjects: "Eschatology is that division of Dogmatics (old name for systematic theology) which treats of the Intermediate or Disembodied state, Christ's Second Advent, the Resurrection, The Final Judgment, Heaven and Hell." 4

Dr. A.A Hodge in his outlines of systematic theology writes similarly as doctors Shedd and Strong above regarding the relationship of physical death to that of last things.  However Dr. Hodge raises and answers the following question: By what forms of expression is death described in the Bible?" Dr. Hodge's answers are indeed illuminating:

1. A departure out of this world - 2 Timothy 4:6

2. A going the way of all the earth. - Joshua 23:14

3. A being gathered to one's fathers and people. Judges 2:10 and Deuteronomy 32:50

4. A dissolving of the earthly house of this tabernacle. 2 Corinthians 5:1

5. A returning to dust. Ecclesiastes 12:7

6. A sleep - John 11:11

7. A giving up of the ghost. Acts 5:10

8. A being absent from the body and present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8

9. Sleeping in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:4

Drawing some conclusions regarding how death, heaven, hell (i.e the intermediate state) relates to last things
We aimed today to get some thoughts together about how the current physical deaths of believers and unbeliever's relate to eschatology or the study of last things. Much has been said and quoted along with a simple diagram to aid the reader in visualizing this important subject. Above reflection on the opening passage of today's post makes this writer think of an old distinction that years ago was drawn in describing the differences between a Christian and non-Christian as it relates to the subject of the intermediate state and eschatology.

If you die once and are born twice, you are a Christian.  However if you are born once and die twice, then biblically speaking you are a non-Christian. My prayer today would be dear friend that in the reading of this post, you are among that company who have been born twice and only have to die once.

1. David Horton, General editor., Walter Elwell. The Portable Seminary - Master's level overview in One Volume. 2006. Page 193

2. Augustus H. Strong. Systematic Theology. Page 981.

3. Augustus H. Strong. Systematic Theology. Page 982.

4. W.G.T Shedd. Dogmatic Theology - Volume II. Page 591.

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