Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, March 19, 2023
Shavuah Tov,

“It Is Appointed for Men to Die Once….” – Part 2
by Dr. Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: I continue the death and dying series I began last Sunday. It comes as no surprise to you of the Biblical truth that every person will die (Hebrews 9:27). However, we know little about dying. I wish this series could answer important questions about dying, but it will not. Little is known about death because no one has ever returned from true death. Researchers are geared up to measure life events, not death events.

WHY DO WE DIE? I practiced pathology for several decades. Pathology  includes study of diseases and performance of autopsies. I was Blount County Medical Examiner for much of this time. I have performed numerous forensic and non-forensic autopsies. I have testified as an expert witness about deaths in homicide trials in several eastern Tennessee counties. I have reviewed in detail aspects of death with my practice partners. I have attended state and national conferences on death investigation. I have read extensively about death.

I say these things not to brag, but to establish a background that might say, “I am knowledgeable about death.” More truthfully, I say, “I still know very little about death.” I devise the following “case report” to initiate discussion:

CASE REPORT (LENGTHY): I offer you a case report, which is hypothetical but is repeated in a similar nature many times daily in America and the world. Our “patient” is an elderly man with terminal pancreatic cancer. His diagnosis has been confirmed with tissue biopsy (the gold standard for diagnosis). His physicians have monitored him for months, but have been unable to do anything to stop the relentless progress of his disease. His family has painfully watched him transformed from a vibrant, robust man to a frail, wasted man. Because of several factors, his physicians elect to transfer him from hospice care to inpatient hospitalization.

Family members, summoned for the end, gather around his bedside for his last moment of life. Physicians and nurses periodically come in and out of the room to check on him. He takes his last breath at 3:10 pm, which is witnessed by all family members present in the room. His physician signs the death certificate, showing the cause of death is widespread metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas and the manner of death is natural. The death certificate is filed with the Tennessee Office of Vital Records in Nashville. This beloved patriarch now becomes a statistic, yet another victim of a cruel disease.

This case is “cut and dried,” right? Not so fast. He died at 3:10 pm. The death was witnessed, and all agree this is an accurate fact. But, he was alive at 3:09 pm, and all agree this is also an accurate fact. What happened between 3:09 pm (when he was alive) and 3:10 pm (when he was dead)? His burden of tumor cells was essentially unchanged during this minute, even though the death certificate records the cause of death to be cancer. During the minute from 3:09 pm to 3:10 pm, something important changed– life became death. This change is important because it is part of the mystery of the essence of life. God may shield this “essence” from our knowledge because we are not supposed to know the answers to certain questions (I repeat Isaiah 55:8): “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of Adonai. The Apostle Paul, from whom much of our B’rit Chadashah doctrines come, was frustrated about the “mysteries” of certain spiritual matters he encountered. The mystery of life frustrates me and countless others.

Did our patient in this case report exhaust a vital enzyme system, or nutrient, or hormone, or …? Was there a toxic compound release, or was a toxic compound level eventually exceeded? Was a fatal cardiac arrhythmia (heart rhythm disturbance) triggered? Did he die from a pulmonary embolus? And so forth. Some of these and other possibilities might be undetectable at autopsy. I have reported autopsies with less than firm confidence. Probably most (all?) pathologists have doubt about some of their reports. We are limited in what we can prove, especially concerning this “last minute” prior to death. Humility is always a physician’s best friend. I stayed humble in my practice of medicine, and probably no physician ever deserved to be more humble than I was.

What happened to our patient in this report? I have frequently thought about this last minute (last second) of life. What separates life from death? I do not know the answer. I have not read a convincing answer of someone who claims to know. If you know the answer, please email me.

I have signed autopsy reports and death certificates in which I unequivocally stated the cause of death. Physician colleagues would approve of my efforts. I carefully, conscientiously searched for answers. I questioned (challenged) my own conclusions. I used standard medical terms. I seemed knowledgeable and confident (more confident than I sometime was). In my autopsy reports, I qualified, as is standard practice, the diagnosis as the anatomic cause of death, thereby humbly admitting that there may be electrophysiological and other mechanisms that can cause death without being reflected in anatomical changes (organ changes) of the decedent’s body.

I cannot remember, but I believe the state’s death certificate form omits the “anatomic” qualifier. It probably does not matter. Death certificate data                                                                                       (especially concerning cause of death) are notoriously inaccurate. That is why so many people officially die of “heart attack.”

I will probably go to my own grave not knowing the basic cause of a condition– death– that affects us all. Perhaps the poetry of the Tanakh is as good an explanation as any (Ecclesiastes 12:5e, 6a, 7-8): … for a man is going to his eternal home, and mourners go about in the street || … before the silver cord is snapped,…. || Then the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Evanescent vapors,” says Kohelet. All is futility. [Kohelet (Koheleth) may refer to the Book of Ecclesiastes in Hebrew; or from Ecclesiastes 1:1, it may refer to “the Preacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem,” generally regarded as Solomon.]

Once again, perhaps the poetic “silver cord” extending from God to a human, which snaps at death and returns a human to the dust from whence he/ she was made, is as good an explanation as I can suggest. Life is a gift from God, and He decides when to reclaim that gift. This decision is determined even before birth (among other Scriptures, see Psalm 139:16): Your [Adonai’s] eyes saw me when I was unformed, and in Your book were written the days that were formed– when not one of them had come to be. Here, the psalmist tells us that in Adonai’s Book are written the number of days of our lives. Personally, I have escaped death a few times unscathed, when I could have easily died. Had Adonai’s record for me not been completed? Have you “miraculously” escaped death, also? Had your record not yet expired, when you escaped death? This question should not cause any person to live recklessly or dangerously, assuming he/ she will not die until God calls him/ her home.

We believe God is three in one and one as three– God the Father, Yeshua the Son, and God’s Spirit (the Ruach HaKodesh). The Bible teaches that a human is composed of three parts– body, soul, and spirit. The body is temporal and dies; the soul and spirit are eternal and live forever. To achieve immortality, our corruptible body is transformed into an incorruptible body. A useful diagram, showing what the three Persons of God are or are not, may be seen at: https://www.livingtheologically.com/2016/11/14/what-is-the-trinity/ .

Importantly, only the mortal body returns to dust, but the immortal spirit and soul return to God. That is, the body is temporary and disposable, but the spirit and soul are eternal and highly valuable. END case report.

THE JOURNEY OF THE SPIRIT AFTER DEATH: Many people, even Believers, are confused about what happens after death. I believe I am Scripturally sound in correcting the following two errors:

● Question: What happens to a Believer after death? Incorrect answer: His/ her soul goes to Heaven. Correct answer: After incorporation of the soul into a glorified body, he/ she goes to Paradise, then serves in Yeshua’s Millennial Kingdom, and then enters Heaven. A Believer’s soul and glorified body will not be able to enter Heaven for approximately 1,007 years after death.

● Question: Where is Heaven? Incorrect answer: Somewhere up there (pointing up in the sky). Sorry, Australian Believers, you seem to be directed 180 degrees away from Heaven. Correct answer: Heaven (New Jerusalem) will be here on the New Earth, after it descends from above as God’s masterpiece creation. (It would complete God’s plan if Heaven descends onto or hovers over the original Garden of Eden, but I speculate on this possibility.)

As we discuss the next section, keep in mind this journey for the Believer: Earth, while a person lives > Death (separation of the body, which returns to dust, while  the spirit and soul return to Father God) > Instantaneous incorporation of the soul into a glorified body > Paradise (Bema Judgment, Marriage to Bridegroom Yeshua, Marriage Supper of the Lamb) > Return to Earth– with Yeshua, the Heavenly Host (angels), and other Believers– to defeat evil at Armageddon > Millennial Kingdom on Earth to mentor blameless humans (“sheep” in a Matthew 25 parable) who remain after Armageddon > Heaven, after creation of a New Earth, a New Heaven, and descent of New Jerusalem from above. Paradise is relevant to the next section and next Sunday’s RR.

THE INTERMEDIATE STATE AND PARADISE: Some skeptics argue that bodily resurrection to eternal life is a B’rit Chadashah “invention,” but Job, Daniel, David, and others are quoted in the Tanakh as believing in life after death. A very brief, necessarily incomplete sketch of life between Earth and Heaven– life in Paradise– follows. Life between a temporary state on Earth and an eternal state in Heaven has been called “The Intermediate State.”

Forerunners in our faith believed in life after death and a place where the dead gathered. In the Tanakh, this place is called the Hebrew Sheol; in the B’rit Chadashah, this place is called the Greek Hades. Translators, lacking good English equivalents, often translated these places as “the Grave” or “Hell.” By the time of the revelation of the B’rit Chadashah, it was more commonly taught that sinners went to Hades and saints went to Abraham’s Bosom (Abraham’s Side). The two sides were separated by a great chasm, which could not be crossed from one side to the other. (See Yeshua’s teaching in Luke 16:19-31.) An unrepentant sinner in Hades awaits his/ her resurrection to the Great White Throne Judgment and final residence in the Lake of Fire (Hell). A righteous saint in Abraham’s Bosom awaits his/ her resurrection to the Bema Judgment and final residence in New Jerusalem (Heaven).

Yeshua and others clarified that Believers, who ultimately will inherit Heaven, go to a place called Paradise. Paradise (Παράδεισος || transliterated, Paradeisos || pronounced, par-AD-i-sos) is a borrowed foreign (Persian?) word. In the Oriental culture, a paradise was an enclosed park, preserve, garden, pleasure ground, whose beauty was beyond description. Scripture examples include:

● Yeshua told the malefactor being crucified beside Him and who accepted Him as Lord that the two would be together “that day” in Paradise (Luke 23:43): Yeshua said to [the man being crucified beside Him], “Amen, I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

● The Apostle Paul was caught up to Paradise, when he experienced a near-death experience (2 Corinthians 12:4): [I know such a man who] was caught up into Paradise and heard words too sacred to tell, which a human is not permitted to utter. This man “Paul knew” was Paul himself. I will say more about this experience in next Sunday’s RR.

● Yeshua stated that the famous Tree of Life is in Paradise (Revelation 2:7b): [Yeshua said] “… To the one who overcomes, I will grant the right to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of God.”

Note the immediacy of transition from this life to the next, which was mirrored in Paul’s reassurance (2 Corinthians 5:8): We are confident, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. A person is present on Earth in his/ her body, but when he/ she vacates that body at death, he/ she is in the Lord’s presence. This immediacy of transfer from one life on Earth to the next life with the Lord speaks against such doctrines as Purgatory and soul sleep. Such doctrines are beyond teachings of the Bible.

SIDELIGHT: Do not be confused by these verses. The books of Genesis and The Revelation have been called “the bookends of the Bible.” What was lost in the Garden of Eden by humans in the first book (Genesis) will be regained by humans in New Jerusalem in the last book (The Revelation). God’s plan for humans was disrupted, when Adam and Eve sinned against God, but that plan was not forgotten and will be restored at the end of the Age. I may write a future RR on this topic of Paradise Lost/ Paradise Regained. Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience only delayed God’s plan for His children, but this plan was never abandoned. God’s plan, lost in the Garden of Eden, will be re-implemented in New Jerusalem some day, and Satan’s seductive murmurings will not destroy His plan this time! END sidelight.

CONFUSING? COMPASSIONATE? Another piece of the afterlife puzzle was added after Yeshua’s death, when He went to the dead (Ephesians 4:8-10, referring to the Sixty-eighth Psalm): Therefore it says, “When He went up on high, He led captive a troop of captives and gave gifts to his people.” Now what does “He went up” mean, except that He first went down to the lower regions of the earth? The One who came down is the same One who went up far above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.

The Apostles’ Cred, recited as a statement of faith in the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches, contains a clause pointing to this descent: “… [Jesus] descended into hell, rose again from the dead on the third day,….”

Does this mean that all people who died before hearing the Gospel were given the opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe in Yeshua? Will people who do not hear the Gospel in the future be given an opportunity to receive Yeshua as Savior? God is just. Would it be just to exclude people from Heaven because they died without having been given the opportunity to hear and believe? Did Yeshua “go down” to the dead (go to Sheol/ Hades) and give them the opportunity to believe in Him and obtain salvation?

From Paul’s statement (reproduced above) – [Yeshua] first went down to the lower regions of the earth– can we infer that Hell is embedded in the Earth? The Revelation teaches that New Jerusalem (Heaven) descends from above to a newly refurbished Earth. Scriptures also teach that the world is without end. Could it be that Heaven occupies the surface of the Earth and Hell occupies a chamber within the Earth’s core? Interestingly, the Earth’s core is even now formed of very hot, molten rock (magma) and Hell is described as extremely hot (lake of fire and brimstone).

SEPARATION OF GOOD AND EVIL SOULS AFTER DEATH: Before Yeshua’s refinement of doctrine, the Jews believed in a place for the dead where good and bad people were separated. Read Yeshua’s account of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31, too lengthy to reproduce here). A rich man lived in luxury with his brothers. Lazarus, a poor, unhealthy beggar, lived outside the rich man’s home. Both died. Lazarus went to “Abraham’s side,” where good people went. The rich man went to Sheol, where bad people went. Hebrew Sheol (or Greek Hades) was the sorrowful abode of the wicked dead. Abraham’s side was the joyful abode of the righteous dead. Sheol was a bleak place of sadness and torment. The two places were separated by a great chasm, but apparently souls on each side were aware of others on the other side and could communicate. I believe “Abraham’s side” and “Paradise” are synonymous. The Tanakh and B’rit Chadashah doctrines are similar, only using different terminology.

Question: In the parable referenced in the preceding paragraph, Lazarus could see across the chasm to understand the rich man’s torment and communicate with him. We are promised that all sorrow and all tears will be erased, when we enter Heaven. Can a Believer communicate with a soul in torment, after entering Heaven? If a Believer sees a loved one in Hell, he/ she would be deeply saddened about the loved one’s plight. Something surely has been devised to prevent this apparent paradox.

You may also read in the Bible about a place called Gehenna. Gehenna is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Ge-hinnom, translated “Valley of [the sons of] Hinnom.” This valley south of Jerusalem is the cursed place where some Israelites “passed their children through the fire.” This evil practice caused parents to sacrifice their babies to the Canaanite god Molech. This ancient idol, Molech, was a hollow iron statue in the belly of which was built a roaring fire. After the idol’s arms became exceedingly hot, infants were placed in those arms to die excruciating deaths. Such deaths were thought to appease Molech,  ensuring bountiful crops. Yeshua used Molech sacrifice as an example of Hell. Even after Molech sacrifices ended, the Jews continued to burn sewage, garbage, dead animals, and other refuse in this valley. Smoldering fires and horrific odors were always present, making Gehenna a good example of Hell.

CONCLUSION: In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss the near-death experience (NDE). The NDE is one of the most intriguing phenomena I know. The NDE is a real phenomenon, having been experienced by far too many persons to be  disregarded, but no one knows what causes it. The Apostle Paul recorded his NDE in the B’rit Chadashah. Does the NDE offer a hint to what an afterlife and Paradise are like? God loves us and has plans for us, even after death (Jeremiah 29:11): “For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares Adonai, “plans for shalom and not calamity– to give you a future and a hope.”

As we approach the last days, is God making known to humans what lies ahead after death? Could the innumerable NDE accounts be God’s way of confirming to us that there is an afterlife and a place of beauty and peace awaiting us? We usually think of death as being a great darkness, but  the NDE may confirm that we will live in a great light– Yeshua being the Light of the world– forever (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 8:23ff): [Isaiah wrote] “… the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light [Yeshua], and those sitting in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 19 Mar-2023 26th of Adar, 5783
Le 1:1-13 Isa 19-20 Pr 14 Ac 13 (Rev 7)