Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, March 26, 2023
Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,
“It Is Appointed for Men to Die Once….” – Part 3
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: I continue this brief series on death and dying. We will all die, as the Bible reminds us (Hebrews 9:27): And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,…. However, we know little about the dying process. What happens after death is in the realm of theology.
In today’s RR, I will begin a discussion of an intriguing phenomenon– the near death experience (NDE). The NDE is as close as anyone can come to death and tell others about it. Shortly after experiencing a NDE (if not resuscitated), a person dies and remains forever silent.
RECAP: Because it is important to recall the journey of every person’s soul after death, as taught in the Holy Bible, I repeat some of last Sunday’s RR.
● For the person whose ultimate destination is Heaven: He/ she must leave earthly life to begin the afterlife. For most persons, this exit will involve death. For some persons in the future, this exit will be the Rapture. At the Rapture (which is preceded an instant earlier by the Resurrection), the trumpet of God sounds, Yeshua appears in the clouds, and the archangel commands, “Come up here!”
Resurrected and raptured souls, housed in glorified (immortal) bodies, are transported to Paradise. In this glorious place, they meet Yeshua face to face. While the Tribulation, under the evil domination of the Unholy Trinity, racks the Earth, three things happen for the souls in Paradise. He/ she: (1) is judged at the Bema Judgment (Judgment Seat of the Messiah), with awarding of crowns and other rewards for faithful service; (2) is married (as the Bride) in the Marriage of Believers to the Lamb (the Bridegroom, Yeshua); and (3) celebrates marriage the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Meanwhile on Earth, the greatest collection of military might in history is assembled just at the end of the Age of Grace at Armageddon (in Israel). Yeshua, as King of kings and Lord of lords, leads the Heavenly Host (angels) and Saints (resurrected and raptured Believers) to defeat evil– especially the Unholy Trinity. Armageddon would be the greatest battle of history, except Yeshua and His Army of Heaven defeat God’s enemies assembled there. Those who remain alive on Earth and who have not mistreated God’s people enter a glorious time for one-thousand years (the Millennial Kingdom of Yeshua). Humans reproduce; saints do not reproduce. Saints assist Yeshua administer His Kingdom and mentor the humans.
To enter Heaven, every person must overcome sin. Since humans in the Millennial Kingdom have not been tempted by Satan (who has been imprisoned) and have not overcome sin, God permits Satan to be released from his imprisonment “for a time” to tempt humans. Sadly, many humans, even though having lived in a perfect world, will revolt against God and stage the second Battle of Gog and Magog (not to be confused with the first Battle of Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38 and 39). The rebels are cast into Hell, along with Satan. The Antichrist and False Prophet are already there.
The Earth and the Heavens are made anew. All vestiges of sin are burnt from the Earth. New Jerusalem descends from above to Earth, where it remains “without end” (for eternity). Saints enter New Jerusalem, where each one has a dwelling place. The perfect existence God originally planned for Adam and Eve and their descendants in the Garden of Eden will be enjoyed for eternity.
● For the person whose ultimate destination is Hell: He/ she must leave earthly life to begin the afterlife. He/ she lives in a place of torment (Sheol in the Tanakh, Hades in the B’rit Chadashah). After approximately 1,007 years, each unfortunate soul will face the White Throne Judgment. The purpose of this judgment is not to determine guilt (the person’s refusal to follow God in his/ her earthly life has sealed the guilty verdict), but it is to show the person why he/ she must spend eternity in Hell (and to determine the degree of torture to be imposed?). The lost soul will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Hell), where he/ she languishes for eternity.
Hell is horrible because of the pain of the flames, the association with the most evil souls of all time (including Satan, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin, etc.), the separation from God, and the realization what could have been, had they accepted Yeshua as Savior.
THE APOSTLE PAUL’S NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: The Apostle Paul had a near death experience, wrote about it, and probably had his life changed by it.
● Paul was extremely persecuted and nearly died during his missionary journeys. He was almost stoned to death (left for dead) in Lystra, which is in present-day Turkey (Acts 14:19): But Jewish people came from Antioch and Iconium; and after they won the crowd over and stoned Paul, they were dragging him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
● Paul described what happened to him after being stoned and left for dead fourteen years earlier in Lystra (2 Corinthians 12:1-7a): I must go on boasting– though it does no good, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Messiah (whether in the body I don’t know, or whether out of the body I don’t know– God knows) – fourteen years ago, he was caught up to the third heaven. I know such a man (whether in the body or outside of the body I don’t know– God knows) – he was caught up into Paradise and heard words too sacred to tell, which a human is not permitted to utter. On behalf of such a man I will boast– but about myself I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I should want to boast, I would not be foolish– for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me– even in the extraordinary quality of the revelations.
The “man Paul knew” was surely Paul himself, but Paul’s humility prevented him from bragging about himself. Paul described a near death experience that he had in Lystra following his near death from stoning. The near death experience was unknown in the first century. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was unknown. Then, when a person died, he/ she just died. Since CPR techniques were unknown, a person could not be returned from death to life. During Paul’s NDE, he described features discussed later in this RR series. He clearly had an out of body experience, not knowing whether he was in or out of his body. The third heaven would have been regarded in Paul’s time as the abode of God and angels. There, Paul heard “words too sacred to tell.”
● Paul’s NDE surely shaped the rest of his life. Paul was fearless, certainly not fearing death. Paul knew that life on Earth kept him from life in Paradise/ Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8): Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. |…| We are confident, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. Paul could not wait to trade his life on Earth for his life in Heaven.
After many years of hard life and service to Yeshua, whom he dearly loved, Paul was exhausted and ready to be called home (Philippians 1:21-26): For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. But if to live on in the body means fruit from my work, what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two– having a desire to leave and be with Messiah, which is far better; yet for your sake, to remain in the body is more necessary. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith– so that your confidence in Messiah Yeshua might overflow because of me through my coming to you again. – AND – (Acts 21:13): Then Paul responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but to die for the name of the Lord Yeshua!” – AND – (2 Timothy 4:6-7): For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.
● After years of service and repeatedly expressing his readiness to be with the Lord, Paul was executed, probably by decapitation, in Rome after his fifth missionary journey in AD 67.
In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (published in 1563), English historian John Foxe recorded this account of Paul’s death: “Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declareth that under his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death. They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptized at His sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword.” [Note that Paul was saving souls even on the way to his execution!]
● Paul’s writings show that he did not fear death. He even longed for death in order that he might be re-united with his Messiah. For example, he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:50-57): Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed– in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last shofar. For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible will have put on incorruptibility and this mortal will have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Torah. But thanks be to God, who keeps giving us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! [Paul quoted Tanakh passages of Isaiah and Hosea about death not claiming victory and lacking any sting.]
● I believe Paul was so brave about his martyr’s death because years earlier he nearly died in Lystra and experienced a near death experience. Why fear death? His NDE was a wonderful, life-changing event. He was about to begin the most glorious journey of his life– a journey he had longed for since he first met the Lord Yeshua.
An interesting observation was made by Roman soldiers who herded Believers to their deaths– often horrendously cruel deaths. The Believers hugged the soldiers. They laughed. They sang. They danced. They smiled. The soldiers surely shook their heads in disbelief at those “crazy” Believers! Who would be joyful, as they marched to their deaths? Even though I know of no written documentation, I believe that these Believers had learned from Paul’s letters how wonderful death was. They were about to experience personally this wonderful event. They were about to be swept into Paradise. They were about to meet Yeshua HaMashiach face to face. Yes, soldiers, these “crazy” Believers had much to rejoice. They were about to die! In a few moments, they would be dead and standing in Paradise, but the soldiers would still be alive and standing in the hot, dusty lands of the Roman Empire.
CONCLUSION: In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss details about some peoples’ NDEs. Most of these accounts are happy, but I will share the account of a friend of mine who told me about his three NDEs in the same evening. My friend was (past tense), according to him, an alcoholic and “hell raiser.” He “died’ in a drunk-driving traffic accident in Blount County after a night of carousing. He was transported to a hellish place (Hades) in his NDEs, while fighting for life in Blount Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. What he saw literally “scared the hell out of him.” After release from the hospital, he immediately sought out a local church, and has become the most faithful congregant that church likely ever has had. Yeshua and Paradise are not just something he has read about in the Bible. He knows they are real. Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 26 Mar-2023 4th of Nisan, 5783
Le 6:8-18[1-11] Isa 28 Pr 20 Ac 19 (Rev 13)