Dead or Alive?

The Bible states in Psalm 90: 12 and Exodus 23: 26 that God has allotted to each human a certain number of days (that number known only to God) in which He wants us to learn wisdom.  Wisdom is defined as “learning comprehensive insight into God’s person, character, and nature, and the way He works throughout all creation, including his altogether good purposes for earth, AND especially how He lovingly relates to and works among all humanity.” Both aspects of that definition are important; “ya can’t have one without the other.”

When God brings any human to his or her last numbered day, that is when the person will die—not sooner, not later.  Hopefully, that person will have learned true wisdom by the time that final numbered day arrives.

Even if a person dies in the womb or in infancy or childhood, or by suicide, that is still when their last numbered day arrives; who but God knows what wisdom they might have learned even before they die what we call a premature death?  If God is God—absolutely sovereign over the life spans and affairs of all humanity, then there are no premature deaths as viewed from his eternal vantage point.

This teaching is about human death.

I hope you understand that we humans consist of three components of our one being:  body, soul, and spirit—just as God has three components to his One Being:  Father, Son, Spirit.  The Bible is very clear and unequivocal about our tri-une human makeup, patterned after God’s tri-une makeup.  1 Thessalonians 5: 23 in the New Testament portion of the Bible is a key reference in that regard.

I assume it goes without saying that you know what your body is—the physical part of who your are:  skin, tissue, organs, cells, blood, brain, etc.

Your soul is essentially your mind, your thoughts, your will, your emotions—that part of you that is studied by psychiatrists and psychologists.  “Soul” comes from the Greek word, “psuche,” from where we get the English word, “psyche” from where we get the root word for psychiatrist and psychologist.  The soul (psyche) is “seated” or “housed” in the brain, but the brain itself is not the soul; the soul is actually part of every cell of our body. 

One cannot really separate the soul and body, but the soul is that part of our human makeup that is non-corporeal or “non body,” or immaterial.  We can see, feel, and touch our bodies, but the soul is an invisible part of who we are as humans.  It’s actually more than our mind, our thoughts, our wills, and our emotions; our soul also includes our personality, our character, our nature—all the other invisible components or who we are.

Your human spirit is also invisible; it’s that part of your tri-une being that is God-conscious, that part of you where God dwells, and from within your spirit connects and interacts with your souls and bodies.  God has created the spirit within every human being (Zechariah 12: 2), and the spirit of humans is the “candle” or light of God.  (Proverbs 20: 27)  God comes to permanently reside in humans–in their spirit–when they are born again:  The Spirit of God and the human spirit are joined, welded, fused, and combined into one spirit, forever inseparable.  (1 Corinthians 6: 17)

There’s a misunderstanding by millions of people that the human soul and spirit are one and the same—that they are identical.  Mistaken understanding about human makeup in general—and human death specifically—has arisen because people mistakenly feel soul and spirit are identical.

The only entity in all God’s creation that can help us correctly understand the differences between our souls and spirits is the Bible, the Word of God:  “For we have the living Word of God, which is full of effective energy, like a two-mouthed sword.  It will penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet..!”  As one writer has stated it:  “Soul and Spirit are the immaterial parts of every person that make us who we are, joint and bone marrow are the physical aspects of our existence.  God’s Word [alone] has the ability to uncover the hidden aspects of our personhood and make them known to us.”                                                                                                   –Hebrews 4: 12 and footnote, paraphrased

I’ve written all of the above to introduce the concept of human death.  What is death?  What occurs when a human dies?  Where do they go (if anywhere) when they die? 

First, let’s briefly consider what medical science informs us about death.  Without much exception, medical science tells us that human death occurs when our brains cease to function; the term most commonly used is “brain dead.”  If a person is alive (or being kept alive by artificial means) physically, but their brain has ceased functioning, a person is considered dead by medical science.

But that’s not what the Bible teaches about when death occurs.  The key Bible reference about human death is John 19: 30 where Jesus “released his spirit” to God and died.  When Stephen, the first follower of Jesus killed for his faith, died, Stephen cried out:  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  (Acts 7: 59)  The Bible is full of many other references that support the view that when the human spirit is released to return to God, that is considered to be the moment of death.  On one occasion many years ago at the bedside of a dear friend, I actually saw his spirit exit his body at the moment of his death. 

So…death occurs when the human spirit is released to return to God.  The Bible does not teach much at all about what happens to the spirit after a person dies and returns to God—only that the spirit returns to God.  I expect that after we die and enter Jesus’ Kingdom we will learn much more about all that has happened to our spirits after we died! 

If the spirit returns to God when a person dies, what happens to the body and soul when a human dies?  They are simply buried in the ground, cremated, buried at sea, placed in a tomb, mummified, or otherwise disposed of.   The Bible claims that both body and soul “sleep” until they are resurrected when Jesus returns to earth.  At that time, body, soul, and spirit are reunited in a new, immortal spirit-body patterned after the mortal human body they had in this life.  (the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians tells us much about that)

In summary:  upon death, the human spirit returns to God, and body and soul sleep in death until Jesus returns to earth and resurrects them, reuniting body, soul, and spirit in a new spirit-body.

For me to teach all the Bible says about death would be pretty boring, I think.  There are many references about death, lots of different words and terms in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages, some complex matters that would need to be considered, etc.  So…rather than bore you with a lengthy explanatory teaching about death, I’m simply going to furnish you with various thoughts about death that I and many others have entertained through the years. 

Some of the thoughts are my own, some I have learned from others in person, some I have read here and there through the years; whenever possible, I have attempted to furnish the names of people and authors who have shared their thoughts. 

I will write this very candidly right here near the beginning of this teaching:  there is ample evidence throughout the Bible that when some people die, they do NOT immediately go to hell to be punished forever in fiery, eternal conscious torment!  All people eventually go to heaven after they die. 

Yes, for some people there may be a period of cleansing in a “place” called the lake of fire” before they eventually go to heaven, but no human remains in that lake of fire being punished eternally without any hope.  (Revelation 20 and 21 and many related references, too numerous to mention)  In brief, God will eventually redeem, reconcile, and restore every human to Himself!

If that last sentence in the above paragraph, bothers you or you do not agree with it, then you probably won’t find any benefit from reading and studying the remainder of this teaching.

The remainder of this teaching will simply be a “listing” of many thoughts about aging, dying, and death.

–What is dying?  I am standing on the seashore.  A ship is sailing away from where I stand.  I watch her until she sails over the horizon.  She is not gone—only from my sight.  At the very moment when the ship seems gone from me, on another shore, there are others who are watching her coming.  That is dying!

–For many people the process of dying leading to one’s death is painful; for some, the pain might simply be uncomfortable; for others, the pain might be agonizing, leading one to wish for death to occur soon, and—in some cases—causing people to take their own lives, giving their lives back to God prematurely because the physical or emotional pain is unbearable.   Whatever the intensity of the pain and however long it lasts, the Bible teaches that the pain is like “labor pains” resulting in one’s “birth” into Jesus’ Kingdom.  Jesus implied that truth during his famous conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel:  “[Nicodemus], I speak an eternal truth:  unless you are born of water and Spirit-wind [born again or born from above], you will never enter God’s Kingdom realm.”

–In John 16: 21, Jesus said, Just like a woman giving birth experiences intense labor pains in delivering her baby, yet after the child is born she quickly forgets what she went through because of the overwhelming joy of knowing that a new baby has been born into the world.”  The pain experienced before some people die is quickly forgotten split seconds after death when they awaken to overwhelming, inexpressible joy in Jesus’ Kingdom.  The pain preceding their death was the labor  pains  birthing   them into that Kingdom where they shall never again experience pain!

–Most of us lack the imagination to envision a life beyond death.  Instead, we cling tenaciously to this mortal existence, to sweet familiarity, fearful that immortal life in heaven will somehow prove wanting by comparison.

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass through the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses;
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.”               –Ernest Dawson

–There are so many wonder-full things beyond description ahead of us in the life to come after our death, yet we keep looking back and longing for the lesser things we must leave behind for a while.

–Major questions asked by many people:  “Is death a comma or a period?  A simple, brief pause in our eternal existence?  Or the end of everything?”  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus answers all three questions.  He said to Martha, the sister of his dear friend, Lazarus, who had recently died:  “I am the Resurrection, and I am Life Eternal.  Anyone who places their trust in me, even though that person dies physically, will live with me in eternity.  And the one who lives his mortal life believing in me will really never die.”  (John 11: 25 and 26)

“Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”           –Mark Twain

–I don’t get to choose how I’m going to die.  Or when.  I can decide only how I’m going to live.  Now. –Adapted from Joan Baez                                                                   

–Old age and dying, to the person who doesn’t believe in Jesus, is winter.  To the believer in Jesus, it is harvest time!

–I am not waiting for the undertaker; I am waiting for the “Upper Taker!”

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real!  Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art; to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”                     –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

–“Within a split second after I die, I will know exactly how I should have lived this mortal life!”
                                                                                            –adapted from Randy Alcorn

–God, I ask You to please make my death as painless as possible—and peaceful, with the confidence that at long last I will be going Home.  Permit me, please, to joyfully relinquish this life in order to fully embrace the real LIFE of eternity.

–The only way for me to overcome the lifelong fear of death, our last enemy, is to live my life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.  It means being ready to “die” again and again—to myself and to every self-seeking opinion or agenda.

–“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day.”                            –Matthew Henry  

–Right now my mortal life is but the root waiting to blossom into the beautiful, lovely flower to come.

–God, help me add life to my years, not necessarily years to my life.

–Statistically, since the dawn of human history the worldwide death rate for humans has remained exactly the same:  one death per person!  And…something everyone who is alive on the planet—no exceptions—is experiencing at the same time is growing older.

–All people begin dying at the moment of their conception.  As we grow and mature, most live in denial of death, until late in life and deep in sickness, death comes to their bedside.

–“Death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”             –Rossiter Raymond

–“Everyone knows they are going to die, but relatively few really believe it and prepare for it.”                                                                                             

–“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague.  Who shall say where one ends and the other begins?”                                                                                                                  –Edgar Allen Poe

–I do not fear death, what the Bible calls our “last enemy.”  It’s not the end.  It is merely a threshold where my true self, my spirit, exits my mortal body and steps into Eternal Realms.

–What’s the first thing one must do in order to enter Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven?         Die!

–Aging is a physical process, but age is a state of mind.  I don’t mind getting older; I just don’t plan to get old.

–I should not expect to have all the blessings of this life and none of its trials.  It would make this world and this life too delightful, and I might not want to leave them behind.  Only by allowing to be removed from me some of those people and things to which my heart so closely clings does God endeavor in his love and grace to draw me inexorably from this world and life to one of greater Joy and Delight.

–“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end.  Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature.  What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more.  Remember when you leave this life, you can take with you nothing you have received…but only what you have given!”                      –St Francis of Assisi

–There is in this mortal life much good.  There is also a great deal of that which is bad.  The worst of that which is bad is having to say goodbye to family and friends because of death.  [Note:  As I’m writing these very words, I learned just a few minutes ago that a dear friend of many years died yesterday; I am weeping as I write these words; yes death is such a loss…]

–Our mortality is one of humankind’s most devouring disappointments; having only a brief lifetime to make a difference, one forever feels the pressure of not enough time.

–Human history didn’t begin with my birth and won’t end with my death.  I am only a small part of something infinitely bigger and more vast than myself—yes, only a miniscule part, but an absolutely essential and necessary part.

–The entire universe is creation in all its ravishing beauty, with wonders beyond imagining.  Yet, we tend to cling tenaciously to our existence here, not daring to believe that after this life are even more wonders and beauty beyond imagining, beyond description.

–Most people mistakenly feel we are in the land of the living journeying toward the land of the dying.  Not so!  We are in the land of the dying journeying toward the Land of the Living!

–Suicide is merely when one makes a decision to prematurely give one’s life back to God by one’s own hand.

–We must not resent growing older.  Many are denied the privilege!

–He who dies with the most toys…still dies!  And he cannot take any of his toys with him.

–As I approach nearer and nearer the end of my years, I am not counting my years.  I am making my years count!  When it comes time for me to die, the only thing I want to have left to do is die!

–Birthdays are good for me.  Research has shown the more I have, the longer I will live before I die.

There you have them:  some snippets of thoughts and sayings about aging, dying, and death I have collected throughout the brief years of my mortal pilgrimage here.  Much more could be said.  Some of these thoughts are profound. Some are just plain common sense.  Some are a little humorous.  But they’re all mostly true.  I will die when God decides that I have reached my last numbered day.  You will die on your last numbered day.  A simple question I have for you is:  “Are you ready and prepared to die on your last numbered day?”

These are some words from one of my favorite old Christian songs:

“When my days shall know their number,
And in death I sweetly slumber—
When my King commands my spirit to be free—
Nevermore with burdens laden,
I shall reach that lovely Eden,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.            –Words to song by Daniel de Marbelle, 1887

For every major subject, topic, concept, or teaching in the Bible, there is always a specific chapter, passage, or reference that encapsulates or summarizes that subject.  For example, the subject of God’s love is summarized in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians in the New Testament; the chapter about how God “speaks” to humans is the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John…and so on.  For this teaching, the chapter that summarizes what the Bible teaches about death is the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians; the following paragraphs are some paraphrased excerpts from that chapter:

“If people who have died aren’t raised from the dead, that means that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead either.  And if Jesus isn’t alive, we are still lost in our sins and our faith is simply a fantasy.  If the only benefit of our hope in Jesus is limited to this mortal life on earth, we are more pitiable than anyone—we’re just being deceived with smoke and mirrors.  But the truth is, Jesus was raised from death, as the firstfruit of a great resurrection harvest of those who have died. I’m not telling you pious religious teachings; this is God’s truth!

“The final state of that harvest for all humankind will come when Jesus will bring to a final end every other rulership, power, and authority in all creation and on earth, and He will then hand over his Kingdom to God the Father.  The last enemy to be subdued and eliminated will be death itself.  When the Father then places all things in subjection to Jesus, then Jesus Himself will subject Himself to the Father, so that Father God will BE ALL in all, Everything to everyone. It will be the grand consummation of all things!

“I can almost hear people asking how can the dead be brought back to life and what kind of body will they have when they are brought back to life?  They ask me to show them what will happen; they ask me to please draw them a clear word-picture…  My answer is a gardening illustration:  If you sow a seed in the ground, it won’t germinate unless it dies. But when it dies and springs forth to new life, God gives it a new form; you can’t tell merely by looking at a seed what the fully grown fruit will be; the fruit doesn’t even resemble the seed in any way:  in the case of humans who have died, their corpse is no beauty and doesn’t look anything like the new body they will receive; they will receive a beautiful new, spiritual body patterned after their old physical, mortal, pre-death body.

“Our human bodies are planted in the earth [or cremated, or mummified, or buried at sea, etc.] and decay, but will be raised to immortality. If we’ve had physical bodies, we are guaranteed to receive new, spiritual bodies.  Physical flesh and blood will not inherit God’s Kingdom.  When the last loud trumpet blast is blown—loud enough to wake the dead!—those who have died will spring up to new life in Jesus’ Great Kingdom.  This will happen in a nano-second, in less than an atomic moment.  We will be indestructible, and transformed from physical to spiritual.  When we die, we simply discard our mortal bodies as we might take off our clothing, and slip into new clothing:    unimaginable new spiritual bodies that will never decay again, that are imperishable, ever new.

“It’s a mystery of sorts.  No dead person will sleep forever.  There will come a time when Jesus returns to consummate his Kingdom on earth when what is now mortal will be exchanged for immortality, and what now decays is exchanged for what will never decay:  The Great Change!  Then what the Bible has claimed all along (In Isaiah 25: 8) will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up by a triumphant victory!
So death, tell me, who gets the last word, where is your victory?
Tell me, death, where is your frightening sting that kills all humanity?

“We continually thank God for making us conquering victors over death and the grave because of all that Jesus has magnanimously done for us.  It’s not a maybe; it’s a done deal; it’s a given; it will happen!”     

I realize that some of you who have read or studied this teaching, may have felt it’s a little somber or morbid to write so openly about dying and death.  So…let me conclude this teaching about dying and death on a somewhat humorous note; I read the following words on a T-shirt recently…and ordered one for myself:  “Just before I die I’m going to eat a whole bag of popcorn kernels.  My cremation is going to be epic!”

For some additional teaching about the matter of human death, I invite you to read two companion teachings on this website titled Death Tied Today and Anastasia.

Bill Boylan
Revised and Updated January 2023

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