"O Death, Where Is Your Sting"?
Recently, it was my misfortune to attend the funeral service of a friend who was a member of my own church. In the past few years I have found funeral services to be disconcerting and I believe that those services highlight, better than anything else, the FLAWED PREACHING of our ministers and FLAWED THEOLOGY of our religious scholars. Over time, we have come to believe that death is a transition from this life on earth to a life in heaven with YEHOVAH God. So death is NOT death but a passport to a paradise where we live with the angels. This is not what the Bible teaches or more specifically, what the Messiah teaches. Let us examine this together and see if we can find the TRUTH.
The first truth is found in John 3:13 where the Messiah is teaching Nicodemus that we must be born again. To be born again, we must first face death; the REBIRTH comes with the Resurrection. The verse cited states, "NO MAN has gone up into heaven; there is only the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man" (Jewish New Testament). That rules out singing with the angels and praising the Ancient of Days before His throne. All of our funerals refer constantly to going to heaven, "a better place," and eulogizers include messages to the dead like they can be heard; for example, "Dad I love you!" It would make more sense to me if the eulogizer said to the participating congregation, "I loved Dad."
As in every phase of life, we can look to the Messiah for understanding and compassion in our times of grief. When the Messiah confronted death he referred to SLEEP. When we sleep, we fully expect to awake the next morning; so when Yeshua referred to death as sleep, he was giving us hope that it would have a good ending, or, better, a NEW BEGINNING. Although the Bible has several examples of recovery from sleep (death) I believe the most useful is the story of Lazarus. There is no doubt in my mind that Lazarus died, an act of YEHOVAH God so that the Messiah could demonstrate YEHOVAH's power and in so doing strengthen the faith of the Messiah's followers and give them the necessary credibility with mankind when he stated, "I AM THE RESURRECTION."
So, let us take a look at the Lazarus story. The story begins in John 11 --
" Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then his disciples said, Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that he was speaking about taking rest in sleep. The Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him" (verses11-15).
Here the Messiah uses the metaphor of being awakened from sleep, meaning resurrected from death. And he expressed delight that he would have the opportunity to display YEHOVAH's power, THAT HIS DISCIPLES MAY BELIEVE! And John has recorded this story that WE MIGHT BELIEVE! As you know, Martha told the Messiah that he could have saved Lazarus if he had been there, but whatever the Messiah asked of YEHOVAH God, YEHOVAH would give it to him. Yeshua did NOT tell her that Lazarus had gone to heaven and being in heaven do not mourn for him for he is in a better place. No, the Messiah said, "YOUR BROTHER WILL RISE AGAIN" (verse 23).
Martha expressed her belief in the Messiah and the Resurrection at the last day. Without going through all the details of the story, the Messiah said to them, "if you would believe you would see the glory of God" (verse 40). Finally, those famous words, "Lazarus, come forth!" Then, the miracle was completed as Lazarus complied with that command. What a demonstration of YEHOVAH's power! This was a foretaste of the Messiah's own resurrection.
In this story, the Messiah made the following declaration:
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. He who believes in ME, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (verse 25-26).
When the Messiah says "shall never die," he is referring to the SECOND DEATH. We all must die once but through the power of the Resurrection, we shall be BORN AGAIN into LIFE EVERLASTING! But if we sleep in the grave until the Messiah calls us forth, what happens to our spirit? Again, on the tree where the Messiah DIED, he said, "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit." Yes, YEHOVAH God preserves our essence in His own mysterious way until it is reunited with our new flesh and bones, a body like unto the Messiah's glorious body.
The apostle Paul based his whole ministry on the truth of the Resurrection. But even he had to deal with unbelievers. His response to this major theological problem is found in 1st Corinthians, chapter 15. I think it would be profitable for you to take time, at this point in this article, to read the whole chapter. Paul does a better job than I could ever do, although I will quote some key verses. For example, verses 12-19 --
Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up -- if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen ASLEEP in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (New King James Version).
Then Paul discusses how the risen Messiah atones for Adam's sin (and ours) concluding, "even so in Christ ALL shall be made alive" (verse 22). And then in verse 23, "But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's AT HIS COMING."
Paul discusses the subject further and verse 32 ends with words we all know, "If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (ibid.). Paul discusses how we must die, like a seed in the ground, to acquire our new body, like unto the Messiah's glorious body. This discussion leads to the verses 54 and 55, "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades [the grave], where is your victory?'"
We should be overjoyed at the prospect of joining our loved ones at the TIME OF THE RESURRECTION. But Paul foresaw the future when he prophesied in 2nd Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time is coming when people will not have patience for sound teaching, but will cater to their passions and gather around themselves teachers who say whatever their ears itch to hear. Yes, they will stop listening to the TRUTH, but will TURN ASIDE TO FOLLOW MYTHS" (Jewish New Testament).
So, we conduct funerals without any mention of the Resurrection to new life ON THIS PLANET, where YEHOVAH God has promised to make all things NEW so that we will not call to remembrance the former things. Paul offered us comforting words which I have NEVER heard at a funeral and seldom, if ever, in a church. I refer to 1st Thessalonians 4:16-18:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God's shofar [trumpet]; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words (ibid.).
-- Don Robson
Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.