Death is an issue that prevails over and includes everyone, as the Psalmist wonders, “What man can live and not see death?” (Ps89:48). This fact is also emphasized by the saying of St. Paul, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb9:27). As much as the capabilities we have, no man has escaped death. Even the righteous Enoch (Gen5:24) and Elijah the prophet (2King2:9-11), who ascended to heaven alive, will return to our world at the end of the days, before Christ’s second coming, to fulfill their ministry during the time of the Anti-Christ to strengthen the faith; and then they will taste the death as two martyrs, according to the Book of Revelation (Rev11:3-9).
Concept of Death in Christianity
There is what is called the first and second death; and the Book of Revelation mentioned also two resurrections (Rev20:1-10). So, what is the first and second resurrection? In other words, what is the first and second death?
“The first resurrection” is the Spiritual resurrection from the spiritual death; for we were dead in sin and iniquity (Eph2:1). Sin separates us from God, the source of life (Jhn1:4; 11:25); and by our acceptance of Christ through faith and by our repentance, we are raised from this spiritual death (Eph2:6). Our Lord Christ explains this concept by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (Jhn5:25), and “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” (Jhn11:25, 26). “The second resurrection” is the resurrection of the bodies, at the end of ages, for general judgment according to the Lord Christ, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jhn5:28, 29). Accordingly, “the first death” is the death of Sin, and “the second death” is the death of the body which to rise again for judgment.
From the Christian point of view, the physical death, or the second death, is not an end to our existence; rather, it is an end to certain stage… It is the end of a painful stage in man’s life in a world of toil and affliction. It is also a beginning of an eternal life full of joy for the faithful believers who struggled for their salvation. The Lord Christ, glory be to Him, tasted death willingly, trampled it, and changed it to life. Therefore, Christianity looks to death as victory and conquest. St. Paul, after he spoke about death and the resurrection of the body, says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor15:57). We believe that Christ “has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim1:10). Before Christ, death was a thorn, but He destroyed it, but even plucked it out of the human heart “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1Cor15:55). Therefore, death is not an end to our existence, but it is the entrance to a more perfect and a sublime life than that on earth “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2Cor5:1).
The body is not everything in man; rather, he has a spirit that dwells in his body and it is the mystery behind his life. God created man in His own image according to His likeness; and this image and similarity concerns the spirit and not the body because God is Spirit (Jhn4:24; 2Cor3:17). Therefore, man’s spirit, being in the image of God, is a free, immortal, pure, sanctified spirit and has dominion over nature and all that is in it. However, human spirit is limited, whereas God’s is limitless. The moment of death is the moment at which the spirit departs from the body “All flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job34:15). This is why it was said of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they gave up the spirit and died. Therefore, St. Stephen, the first martyr in Christendom, said at the moment of His death, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Act7:59). David the prophet also said, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Ps31:5). The same word was said by the Lord Christ when He committed His human spirit at His death on the cross to the Father saying, ‘“Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Lk26:46). The expression of “committing the spirit” means depositing it into the hands of the Creator until the general judgment day. Regarding Christ, His human spirit, which is uniting with His divinity, reunited with His body, which is uniting with His divinity too, at the moment of His resurrection.
What Happens After Death?
When man dies, his spirit is separated from his body and so he becomes a dead corpse, and soon enough this body will be of no value because it will deteriorate and returns into dust, from which it was created. But the spirit, which is immortal, returns to God. But we may wonder, to where it comes?
Before Christ’s redemption that was fulfilled on the cross, all the spirits of the dead, whether righteous or wicked, saints or sinners, were captured by Satan and pushed into Hades. “Sheol” in Hebrew, or “Hades” in Greek, meaning “hellfire,” expresses the place where the spirits of the departed were gathered, whether the spirits of the righteous of the Old Testament, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, besides those of all the other prophets in addition of all the wicked. But when Christ died on the cross on our behalf, He committed His human spirit, which is uniting with His divinity, into the hands of His Father, since Satan was not able to capture it, but rather He descended into Hades immediately and released the spirits of those righteous men, which were captured by Satan, that had died in the hope of the coming of the Messiah the Savior, transferring them to the Paradise, and leaving behind those of the wicked into Hades. So, St. Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient” (1Pet3:18-20). St. Paul also says, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph4:8-10). This same meaning is also expressed by St. Basil in his Liturgy by saying, “He descended into Hades through the cross.” Regarding the spirits of those who died after the fulfillment of Redemption by Christ, the spirits of the righteous went to the Paradise, as their waiting place; while those of the wicked went to the Hades, as their waiting place.
Believing in Waiting for Judgment
There are many Biblical proofs for the belief in waiting for judgment since there is no immediate judgment for every person after his death. Regarding the righteous, St. John said in his revelation, “When He opened the fifth seal; I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Rev6:9-11). The phrase “they should rest a little while longer” refers to waiting. He also says, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’” (Rev14:13). The phrase “rest from their labors” indicates that there is a place for rest and waiting; and that there is no immediate judgment. As well as the phrase “their works follow them” in its original Greek text, and the Coptic text as well, is in the future tense. So, the accurate translation is “their works will follow them” meaning “will follow them in the judgment when it happens” while they are waiting at this time. Regarding the waiting of the evil men, St. Peter says, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2Pet2:9). Both the Greek and Coptic text of this phrase is “as for the unrighteous, they are reserved to the judgment day to be punished.” Therefore, the wicked men who passed away are waiting for judgment in a waiting place.
The Waiting Places
The waiting place for the righteous is called “Paradise,” while the waiting place for the wicked is called “Hades” or “Hell.” The first time Paradise was mentioned in (Gen2:8-15), also known as the Garden of Eden, which was a place on earth. It is also mentioned the names of four rivers as geographical boundaries to this Paradise. As long as Adam was expelled from this Paradise, it was perished and existing no more because no one was taking care of its plants and tress. But we are talking about the Paradise as a waiting place for the righteous spirits, which is called “The third heaven” by St. Paul, where he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (2Cor12:2-4). It is quite mysterious matter to us, as long as the divine inspiration did not explain or reveal more details about it.
As for Hades, or the abyss, which is the waiting place for the wicked ones, it is believed that it is a place under the earth, or in the core of the earth, based on the linguistic meaning of the word “abyss.” They rely on many biblical verses, e.g. “You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth” (Ps71:20), “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Ps139:8), and “The way of life winds upward for the wise, That he may turn away from hell below” (Prov15:24). Isaiah, while talking about Satan, says, “Hell from beneath is excited about you… Your pomp is brought down to Sheol… Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit” (Isa14:9-15), and St. Paul also says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)” (Rom10:6, 7), “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?” (Eph4:8, 9). The reference to the abyss, or Sheol, as being under the earth may be referring to the fact that it is degraded and ugly, contrary to the heaven that is so exalted and sublime.
There is opinion about a third place called “purgatory” (Lat., ‘purgare’, to make clean, to purify) for the spirits’ purification by the purifying fire (Lat., ‘purgatorius ignis’) for a definite time differs from one to the other. The Roman Church teaches that the vast majority of believers is neither good enough for heaven nor bad enough for hell and thus is tormented in the purgatory to be purified and cleansed. This opinion is only approved recently as doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church in 1548 in spite of the fact that the purgatory as a place for purification is not mentioned at all in both Testaments. This doctrine does not need much effort to prove its annulment (more details about this subject in the article titled “The Purgatory” in our Website). The purgatory concept implies scorn to Christ’s salvation and the efficacy of His blood for atonement and redemption. The need of purgatory for purification shows that the blood of Christ is not good enough for forgiveness of sins, even though the Holy Bible declares openly, “… and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jhn1:7). Moreover, St. Paul says, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb7:25). In addition to this, the concept of purgatory lessens the impact of the mystery of repentance in the church, as. If the spirit of the repentant has to cross the purgatory fire, then of what use is repentance? At the same time, St. John says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn1: 9). The Lord Jesus ties salvation with repentance saying, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk13:3). ???Since the purgatory is the only means for purification from sin, according to this opinion, therefore there is no need for the Incarnation of the Word of God; and it was just enough for the salvation of every person to go through the purgatory for purification to enter the kingdom; and accordingly, there is no need for judgment. This teaching contradicts all the biblical teachings.
The Departed in Their Waiting Places
The destiny of each of them has been defined, and each one knows his end. This is similar to students who have completed the exam and each one knows how he did in the exam, but they are waiting for the official results to be announced. The righteous in Paradise are longing joyfully to the heavenly kingdom, their dwelling place of eternal joy. On the other hand, the wicked, who are waiting in Hades, are like those sentenced to death, who know their end but waiting in fearful worry of the horrible execution. All are waiting for their well known destiny… the righteous are waiting for the eternal glory, whereas the wicked are waiting for their eternal torment. All are waiting until the fellow servants on earth fulfill their task (Rev6:11). No doubt, the joy of the righteous spirits is expressed by their unceasing praise with the heavenly hosts.
The spirits of the departed ones, both the righteous and wicked, surely feel for us, who are still alive, and they are able to know and see many things since they got rid of their thick body which prevents any vision. Their concern about those on earth is obvious from the story of the rich man and Lazarus, mentioned by the Lord Christ (Lk16:19-31). When the rich man, while he is tormented in Hades, failed in achieving his first request from our father Abraham for his own sake, He was pleading with Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to make them realize the truth and how disastrous their destiny would be, so they may repent and would not end up as grievously as he did. This shows clearly his concern, after his death, for his brothers’ destiny.
Regarding the righteous spirit, they intercede for the living too, and raise their prayers and supplications, accompanied with the prayers of the heavenly, before the Lord as sweet savor of incense “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev5:8). “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne” (Rev8:3). They also have compassion for their brethren on earth, during the great tribulation, asking God to end this tribulation by revenging from the persecutors, lest the faith of their brothers may become weak under severe persecution, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Rev6:9-11). If the zealous servants, who lived among us and departed, prayed fervently, while they were in the flesh, to God for the salvation of those who went astray, is it then acceptable that such righteous, after leaving their physical body, would cease praying and supplicating for those whom they loved and for whom they were so zealous for their salvation?! For sure, they are still concerned about us, intercede for us, and surround us till we fulfill our salvation. This fact encourages us during our struggling, as St. Paul says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb12:1).
The church, or the body of Christ, consists of seen members, i.e. the living members who are still struggling, and unseen members, i.e. the righteous who departed. Both of them tied together with the bond of love. Therefore, we pray and remember those who departed as well as they pray also for us to fulfill our salvation to be with them in glory.
General Resurrection for Judgment
Christ will come on the clouds of heaven, and the Archangel will blast a trumpet to gather all men for judgment (1Thes4:16; Matt24:30, 31). So, all the dead will rise in the body, according to the Lord’s saying, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jhn5:28, 29). The bodies of all those who died by different means and methods will rise for judgment, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” (Rev20:11-13). Those who are alive at the time of His coming, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1Thes4:14-17).
All men will stand before Christ for judgment (Rom14:10-12) depending on faith working through love (Gal5:6). The Lord Christ says, “He who believes in Him (in Christ) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (Jhn3:18-21), “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me… Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me… And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt25:31-46). We have to realize, in previous text, that hunger is not merely the hunger for bread, but there is a far worse and more severe hunger, which is that for the word of God, and the thirst for salvation. The nakedness is not only meant to have no clothes but it refers to a different type of nakedness… For Adam and Eve realized their nakedness only when they fell in sin; and the prodigal son returned to his father in nakedness because he was in rags, so the father commanded the servants to clothe him in the best garment. This means that if we are able to bring any person back to the Lord through repentance, then we are actually satisfying him with God’s word, leading him to drink of Christ’s love, and clothing him with the garment of righteousness, faith and Christian virtues.
The Resurrection of the Body
The resurrection of the body is a must for judgment, since man, as one entity of spirit and body, will be judged. It is not logical that the spirit will be rewarded or condemned without the body, which implemented, or rejected, the spiritual desires. The Prophet Isaiah says, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise.
Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust” (Isa26:19). St. Paul says, “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Act24:15). (cf. Dan12:2; Lk14:13, 14; Matt12:41, 42; Act23:6). In the general resurrection, these bodies will rise into spiritual nonphysical bodies (Matt22:30-32) to live for ever… either in eternal joy into the kingdom in case they are righteous, or in eternal torment into the Hell in case they are wicked. So, the Prophet Daniel says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan12:2). This is will be decided and revealed in general judgment.
Since the ancient times, there have been those who denied the resurrection of the body, including pagan philosophers, like the Epicureans, and some groups of the Jews themselves, like the Sadducees. When they denied the resurrection of the body, they also denied the general resurrection at the end of the world. The Epicureans boldly declared their materialistic tendency and their rejection of religion. The motto for their philosophy was, “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” St. Paul referred to this material attitude by saying, “If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1Cor15:32). Following the Epicurean footsteps in denying the resurrection of the body, came the Stoic philosophers, the followers of the Greek philosopher Xenon. They taught that the spirits, after leaving the bodies, return to the greatest god, who is the origin, and vanished in him; therefore, there is no need for any resurrection. St. Paul met with some of these Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens; and as he was preaching to them the Lord Jesus, talking about the resurrection from the dead, they were laughing at him (Act17:18-32). Regarding the principles of these people, Solomon says in the Book of Wisdom, “For they reasoned unsoundly saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been know to return from Hades. For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our nature will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back. Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.” (Wis2:1-6). However, the wise Solomon denounces these teachings by saying, “Thus they reasoned, but they were deceived, for their own wickedness had blinded them, and they did not know the mysteries of God, nor hoped for the wages of righteousness, nor discerned the reward for blameless souls; for God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity” (Wis2:21-23).
We might not be surprised if these beliefs are adopted by some of the atheist philosophers. But, what is truly amazing is to find a large number of the Jewish sect, the Sadducees, and their followers of the Jewish priests, who denies the resurrection of the body and immortality of the spirit. Moreover, they denied the existence of the spirits and angels. St. Matthew refers to their corrupt belief by saying, “The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection” (Matt22:23), and St. Luke says, “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both” (Act23:8). The reason for adopting this belief is because they were connected with the Gentiles, contrary to the Pharisees, and adopted their Hellenic (Greek) culture. In modern days, we find the followers of Gnosticism, Materialism, and logicism besides others who deny the existence of spirits, and accordingly their immortality, and some of them believe that resurrection is preposterous and untenable.
Biblical Proves on Resurrection of the Body
There are many biblical proves for the fact of the resurrection of the bodies from the dead in both Old and New Testaments. Besides that, we have 10 events as practical evidences of the resurrection from the dead:
In the Old Testament we find transient references about the resurrection of the dead. The Prophet Isaiah, for example, says, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise” (Isa26:19); and the Prophet Daniel also says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan12:2). In the second book of Maccabees, we find a man telling the king, who was tormenting him because he would not defile God’s law, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for His laws” (2Macc7:9). The Prophet Ezekiel gives us a detailed picture of what is going to happen regarding the resurrection of the bodies (Eze37:1-10).
In the New Testament, we find the resurrection crowned the redeeming work of Christ. The resurrection belief is linked to Christ’s own resurrection, to the extent that St. Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1Cor15:13, 14). The teaching of the resurrection is clearly taught by the Lord Christ; so He says, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jhn5:28, 29). He also overcame the Sadducees, who deny the resurrection, by saying, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt22:31, 32). The appearance of the two prophets Moses and Elijah together with Him on the mount of transfiguration, approximately 1500 years after the death of the former and 900 years after the latter’s ascension to the heaven while alive, is a strong proof for what He taught about the resurrection. Moreover, the apostolic teachings in the scriptures also declare the belief of the resurrection (c.f. 2Cor4:14; 5:10; Phil3:10, 11; 2Tim2:11, 12; 1:12, 18; 2:8-10; Act23:6; 24:15; 26:22, 23; 2Pet3:3-17). St. Paul dedicated an entire chapter to emphasize the fact of the resurrection of the bodies depending on the resurrection of Christ, overcoming the heretical teaching of those who deny this doctrine (1Cor15).