Posted by Milo Hurley for August 25, 2012 Sabbath School
Apparently the Thessalonians had some mistaken views about the afterlife. “Although all of God’s faithful would share in the ‘world to come,’ only those who were alive at the end would be carried up into heaven. Those who died before the end would be resurrected and remain on earth.”1 The apostle had some encouraging words for those who felt they may be forever separated from their loved ones.
1 Immortality of the soul, or sleep of the soul?
- Only God has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16).
- It is “at the last trumpet,” at the resurrection, when the righteous “put on” immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52, 53).
- If we already have it, why are we exhorted to “seek” it (Romans 2:7)?
- Three times in our passage (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, and 15), Paul compares death to sleep.
- David prayed for deliverance from his enemies, lest he “sleep the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3).
- “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to . . . everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
- Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11).
- How is it that Lazarus — along with every other person raised from the dead — spoke not a single word about the afterlife?
- Imagine the despair he would’ve felt, after basking in heavenly bliss, to come back to this sin-darkened planet!
- One last point. Paul teaches that the Christian’s hope is the resurrection — not the soul’s wafting to heaven at death. Famous Bible translator William Tyndale agrees:
And I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine, if he had wist it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that their dead should rise again. If the souls be in heaven, in as great glory as the angels, . . . shew me what cause should be of the resurrection?2
2 Paul begins and ends his resurrection discourse with “hope” and “comfort” respectively (verses 13, 18). To what degree do the following views offer less hope than the Biblical view?
- A sketch of eternal hell from the early life of Ellen White:
Satan was represented as eager to seize upon his prey, and bear us to the lowest depths of anguish, there to exult over our sufferings in the horrors of an eternally burning hell, where, after the tortures of thousands upon thousands of years, the fiery billows would roll to the surface the writhing victims, who would shriek, “How long, O Lord, how long?” Then the answer would thunder down the abyss, “Through all eternity!” Again the molten waves would engulf the lost, carrying them down into the depths of an ever restless sea of fire.
While listening to these terrible descriptions, my imagination would be so wrought upon that the perspiration would start, and it was difficult to suppress a cry of anguish, for I seemed already to feel the pains of perdition. Then the minister would dwell upon the uncertainty of life: one moment we might be here, and the next in hell; or one moment on earth, and the next in heaven. Would we choose the lake of fire and the company of demons, or the bliss of heaven with angels for our companions? Would we hear the voice of wailing and the cursing of lost souls through all eternity, or sing the songs of Jesus before the throne?3
- A discourse on the circle of life from Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety:
A Monarch butterfly caught in the draft was lifted twenty feet over our heads. I saw Sid look away from Charity’s unsteadily insistent glance to follow the Monarch’s movement. Perhaps he was fantasizing, as I was, that there went part of what had once been the mortal substance of Aunt Emily or George Barnwell or Uncle Dwight, absorbed by the root of a beech tree in the village cemetery, incorporated into a beechnut, eaten by a squirrel, dropped as a pellet in a meadow, converted into a milkweed stalk, nibbled and taken in by this butterfly, destined to be carried south on a long, unlikely, interrupted migration, to be picked off by a flycatcher, brought back north in the spring as other flesh, laid in an egg, eaten by a robbing jay and laid as another kind of egg, blown out of a tree in a windstorm, soaked up by the earth, extruded as grass, eaten by a freshening heifer, some of it foreordained to be drunk, as Charity said, by its own descendants with their breakfasts, some of it deposited in cowpads, to melt into the earth yet again, and thrust upward again, immortal, in another milkweed stalk preparing itself to feed more Monarch butterflies.4
- An exchange between Achilles’ ghost and Odysseus when the latter visits the underworld:
“How did you find your way down to the dark where these dimwitted dead are camped forever, the after images of used-up men?”
I answered: “Akhilleus, Peleus’ son, strongest of all among the Akhaians, I had need of foresight such as Teirêsias alone could give to help me, homeward bound for the crags of Ithaka. I have not yet coasted Akhaia, not yet touched my land; my life is all adversity. But was there ever a man more blest by fortune than you, Akhilleus? Can there ever be? We ranked you with immortals in your lifetime, we Argives did, and here your power is royal among the dead men’s shades. Think, then, Akhilleus: you need not be so pained by death.”
To this he answered swiftly: “Let me hear no smooth talk of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils. Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand for some poor country man, on iron rations, than lord it over all the exhausted dead. Tell me, what news of the prince my son: did he come after me to make a name in battle or could it be he did not? Do you know if rank and honor still belong to Peleus in the towns of the Myrmidons? . . .”5