Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, March 12, 2023
“It Is Appointed for Men to Die Once….” – Part 1
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: I will reach my eighty-second birthday in a few days. This RR series on death and dying is an old man’s musings that may interest only me. Except for somewhat gimpy legs, which slow my mobility, I actually feel good. I am thankful to God for many blessings, including: someone shared the Gospel with me, which I accepted; I had the privilege of living in America, before she started unraveling; for more than six decades, I have had a perfect wife (for me); my children and grandchildren; God’s prophetic Word that provides a roadmap for my future; and countless other blessings. I, desiring to go to Heaven, look forward to that Blessed Hope– the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Messiah Yeshua (Titus 2:13). I write about death not fearfully, but in grateful thanksgiving.
I recall a cartoon I saw years ago, which showed an old, haggard man staring into a medicine cabinet mirror. The caption read: “If I had known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” I should have had this revelation decades ago.
I would be a fool not to realize that my death is just around the corner. I do not think I fear death (at least not at this moment). Absent severe trauma or a yet-to-manifest debilitating illness, my death will likely be a peaceful transition from one phase of life to the next.
I do wish I had a better record for my judgment. I am afraid my record will be what is known in the financial world as a “thin file.” And, I am curious, to say the least. Is death just falling to sleep never to awaken? Or, is death the beginning of the most glorious adventure of all time? What is death like? What, if anything, happens after death? I want to explore with you this month some random thoughts about death.
Since no one has ever experienced true death and “lived to tell about it,” we only have limited information– mostly conjecture, indirect observations, and Biblical teachings– about what a person experiences at and after death. We have a hint about death from accounts of the well-known near-death experience (NDE), which I will discuss in a future RR.
You will forgive me when I answer few or none of the questions you might have about death. We humans do not know what we cannot know. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists have pondered the mysteries of life after death, and probably know little more than I will write in these RRs.
WHAT IS DEATH LIKE? A wag quipped, “Death is Nature’s way of telling a person to slow down.” Well, there is more to death than this simple explanation.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas railed against the uncertainty of death (his father’s death) in a well-known poem, which reads: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. || Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. || Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. || Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. || Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. || And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I hope I go peacefully (that is, I go gently into that good night), and not rage against death, as Dylan Thomas advised. I hope I go before my wife, children, and grandchildren. As a selfish coward, I would rather die first than suffer the grief of burying any of my family. Even the Apostle Paul, a man of great faith, recognized the deep sorrow associated with death (1 Corinthians 15:55, quoting Hosea 13:14): “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” Paul’s faith in God provided solace for the sting of death, though.
Being curious about that final voyage all of us will take, I will sketch out during the next couple of weeks a few thoughts about death and dying.
SCRIPTURAL COMMENTS ABOUT DEATH: God’s Word discusses death:
● Eternal life on Earth was conditional– conditional that those created in the image of Elohim would not sin (would not disobey God). Humans, soon failing this test, lost the gift of immortality. They were expelled from the Garden of Eden and made to suffer the adversities of life to which we are today accustomed. Again, Adam and Eve– and their descendants– became and are still mortal beings because of sin (Genesis 3:17a, 19): Then to [Adam] [Adonai] said, “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate of the tree which I commanded you, saying, ‘You must not eat of it:’…. || By the sweat of your brow will you eat food, until you return to the ground, since from it were you taken. For you are dust, and to dust will you return.”
● Every person will die (Hebrews 9:27): And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,…. Last month (February, 2023), I wrote about the two judgments after death (the Judgment Seat of the Messiah, or the Bema Judgment, and the Great White Throne Judgment). Believers, destined for Heaven, will be judged at the Bema Judgment; nonbelievers, destined for Hell, will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment.
● A person’s life is the Lord’s possession, and we should live and die for Him (Romans 14:8-9): For if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Messiah died and lived again, so that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
● A Believer will never die, but will live forever, as Yeshua set the example (John 11:25-26): Yeshua said to [Martha, Lazarus’ sister], “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
● Some say that belief in resurrection and an afterlife are newer (B’rit Chadashah) doctrines, but older (Tanakh) doctrines also reflected these beliefs. For example: After intense praying, grieving, and fasting for his newborn son, who barely clung to life, David’s demeanor dramatically changed after the baby died. He eloquently explained this change (2 Samuel 12:21-23): [David’s] servants asked him, “What is this thing you have done? You fasted and wept while the child was still alive, but as soon as the child died, you got up and ate food.” [David] replied, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I thought, ‘Who knows? Adonai might be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he has died, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? It is I who will be going to him, but he will never return to me.” Although David reflected his view of resurrection and an afterlife (the dead cannot return to us, but we will someday go to the dead), there is another message in this passage. All decisions are ultimately Adonai’s decisions. Just because we fast, pray, and plead with Adonai to honor our desired outcome, He may have a better outcome or plan than the one we desire (Isaiah 55:8): “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of Adonai. A negative response to prayer must be understood that God’s plan is better than the plan of the person who prays to God.
● We gain, not lose, when we die (Philippians 1:21): For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. What price can we assign to eternal life in Heaven? The Believer who enters Heaven is a joint heir with the Messiah (Romans 8:17), and enjoys an existence no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no hopeful thought has entered the heart (1 Corinthians 2:9).
● We are promised eternal life through the Messiah (2 Timothy 2:11): Trustworthy is the saying: If we died with Him [the Messiah], we will also live with Him;…. This promise is confirmed in a beloved passage of Scripture (John 3:13-18): [Yeshua said] “No one has gone up into heaven except the One who came down from heaven– the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life! For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. The one who believes in Him is not condemned; but whoever does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not put his trust in the name of the one and only Ben-Elohim.” [Ben-Elohim = “Son of God”]
● We are inseparable– not even by death– from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39): For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. We make a distinction between life and death. If a person is not alive, we say he/ she is “dead.” I do not see such a clear distinction in Scriptures. The body is a temporary house for the spirit and soul. Consider a personal illustration: My wife and I moved into our present house in Maryville in 1990. We enjoy this newer house (as an improvement over our older house). We do not plan to move. Earlier (from 1976 to 1990), we lived in another house in Maryville, which we also enjoyed. In both houses, we made improvements and appreciated living in them. We have happy memories of the former house, but we have no desire to return. We have moved on in life. Although we enjoy our present house, we long even more for our future house being built for us under Yeshua’s direction (John 14:2).
Death is part of life. If I go to sleep Monday night and awaken Tuesday morning, I am unaware of what happened while I was asleep. I am the same person, only refreshed. The essence of my being does not disappear during sleep, and it is only improved by death. The essence of my being is only awakened to a new and far superior life (Romans 6:3-7): Or do you not know that all of us who were immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? Therefore we were buried together with Him through immersion into death– in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become joined together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also will be joined together in His resurrection– knowing our old man was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be done away with, so we no longer serve sin. For he who has died is set free from sin.
I recall an old joke from years ago, when eating oat bran supposedly reduced heart disease and prolonged life. A husband and wife are involved in a traffic accident, and both die instantly. They enter the pearly gates simultaneously. Both are overwhelmed and speechless with the beauty of all they see. The husband, finally able to speak, says: “Margaret, you and your stupid oat bran. If you had stopped making us eat that stuff every morning, we would have been here years ago!” When I discuss the near-death experience in a week or so, we will learn that many people who enter a place of beauty after “death” (Paradise?) do not want to return to Earth.
● We immediately pass from one life to the next (2 Corinthians 5:8): We are confident, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. Yeshua confirmed this immediate transition, when the malefactor crucified beside Him accepted Him as Savior (Luke 23:43): Yeshua said to him, “Amen, I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Some faiths, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, teach there is a place (state) – Purgatory– where a person’s soul must reside for a time for the expiation (atonement, purification) of sins. Purgatory became part of the Catholic doctrine toward the end of the twelfth century, and became “official” in AD 1274 at the Second Council of Lyon. The doctrine of Purgatory is more fully explained in the Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraphs 210-211, 1030-1032, 1054, and 1472-1473. The Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and some Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist traditions may embrace parts of purging of sin after death. Some Rabbinical Judaism teachings promote the concept of cleansing from sin after death. Most Protestant Believers hold that persons are saved by grace alone, not by any works we can do before or after death (Ephesians 2:8-9): For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves– it is the gift of God. It is not based on deeds, so that no one may boast.
● We will be raptured or resurrected to eternal life, when Yeshua returns in the clouds, and we should encourage each other with this blessed promise (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18): For the Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the blast of God’s shofar, and the dead in Messiah shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left behind, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air– and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Even though God’s plan involves death, which frightens many people, the Apostle Paul wants us to be encouraged, not frightened, by the process of dying which eventually opens up Heaven.
● Only by losing our earthly (corruptible) bodies can we attain our heavenly (incorruptible) bodies (Matthew 16:25): [Yeshua said] “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (This statement follows immediately Yeshua’s formula for being His follower– deny self and take up the cross; in other words, be willing to suffer and die for Him.) – AND – (2 Corinthians 5:1-4): For we know that if the tent, our earthly home, is torn down, we have a building from God– a home not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling– if indeed, after we have put it on, we will not be found naked. For we groan while we are in this tent– burdened because we don’t want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. In this passage, Paul equates the earthly body to a tent. Unhappy in this “tent,” some day the Believer will be stripped from his/ her earthly “tent” to be appropriately clothed throughout eternity.
● As a member of Adam’s race, we will die; as a follower of Yeshua, we can live (1 Corinthians 15:21-22): For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead also has come through a Man [Yeshua]. For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah will all be made alive.
● Adonai’s plan is for His children to live, not die (Ezekiel 18:32): “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” – it is a declaration of Adonai– “so return, and live!”
● We should not fear death, because the Lord walks with us (Psalm 23:4): Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me. Adonai, as our Shepherd, walks beside and guides us, leading us along life’s paths as He deems best for us, even in deadly situations.
● In eternal Heaven, there is no death, pain, or sorrow (Revelation 21:3-4): I [John] also heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is among men, and He shall tabernacle among them. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them and be their God. He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Nor shall there be mourning or crying or pain any longer, for the former things have passed away.”
● God has power over death (Matthew 10:28): [Yeshua said] “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Satan must not be feared, because he is a contemptible liar and thief whose limited powers pale in comparison to the powers of God. [To discuss Gehenna would require a separate RR. Briefly, Gehenna is the place of life after death for unbelievers and the wicked, before final disposition into the Lake of Fire, or Hell.]
● Blessed are those who are taken in the first resurrection and will face only death of the body, not death of the soul (Revelation 20:6): How fortunate and holy is the one who has a share in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no authority, but they shall be kohanim of God and the Messiah, and they shall reign with Him for a thousand years. [kohanim = “priests, descendants of the sons of Aaron”]
● We can live because Yeshua died for us (Romans 5:7-8): For rarely will anyone die for a righteous man– though perhaps for a good man someone might even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us.
● The Bible has much more to say about death and dying, but I do not have space to record and discuss all relevant Scriptures. Be confident that God is in control, and has all details worked out for Believers to join Him some day.
THE TWO DEATHS: The Bible teaches that there are two deaths. They are:
● The first death will occur first. There are only two ways of leaving this Earth for an eternal life– physical death or the Rapture. In the preceding discussion, I listed Scripture verses about the death of the body, freeing the soul and spirit to return to God.
● The second death, which occurs after the first death, will only affect some unfortunate persons. This death, mentioned several times in The Revelation, is synonymous with the Lake of Fire. See Revelation 21:8: [Yeshua told John] “But for the cowardly and faithless and detestable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars– their lot is in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Yeshua also warned about this death in Revelation 2:11: [Yeshua said] “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Ruach is saying to Messiah’s communities. The one who overcomes shall never be harmed by the second death.”
At least two conditions must be met for a person to avoid the second death. Firstly, the person must have his/ her name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, showing acceptance of Yeshua as Savior. Secondly, the person must be an “overcomer.” What must be “overcome?” I believe the Bible is silent on this matter, but I assume it is sin that must be overcome. Sin separates a human from God. Believers, who importantly are “overcomers” – who overcome sin by God’s grace and Yeshua’s sacrifice? – will not experience the lake of fire or the second death. See also 1 John 5:4-5: For everyone born of God overcomes the world. And the victory that has overcome the world is this– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world, if not the one who believes that Yeshua is Ben-Elohim? [Ben-Elohim = “Son of God”]
SIDELIGHT: Yeshua (also, Yehoshua) in Hebrew, or Yeshu in Aramaic, or Iēsous in Greek, or Jesus in English = “Savior or Deliverer.” Yehoshua is literally translated, “The Lord is salvation.” Yeshua is derived from the Hebrew verb yasha, which means “to deliver, rescue, or save.” END sidelight.
The second death is reserved for persons who have rejected salvation by not believing in Yeshua HaMashiach as Lord and Savior.
We read that the second death will occur after the Millennium (Revelation 20:6): How fortunate and holy is the one who has a share in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no authority, but they shall be kohanim of God and the Messiah, and they shall reign with Him for a thousand years. Death and Sheol (Hades) will be defeated by Yeshua and thrown into the Lake of Fire, along with all unbelievers (Revelation 20:14-15): Then death and Sheol were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death– the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. The Unholy Trinity– Satan, Antichrist, and False Prophet– will also abide eternally in this lake of torment.
The second death is horrendous not only because of the agony associated with being immersed in fire and brimstone but also because of the eternal separation from God. Persons in the Lake of Fire will have likely glimpsed the splendor of Heaven (at their Great White Throne Judgment?), but will carry forever in the lake a fleeting memory of what could have been, had they lived differently.
CONCLUSION: I will write more about death and dying next Sunday. Until then, Shalom and Maranatha.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 12 Mar-2023 19th of Adar, 5783
Ex 35:1-29 Isa 10 Pr 8 Ac 7:30-60 (Rev 1)