There is only one “Good Death”, and all other Deaths Are our Enemy

If you were to look at the top two shelves of books beside my desk, you would see nothing but books about death. How We Die, by Nuland. The Gift of Death, by Derrida. Death and Eternal life, by John Hick. Immortality and Resurrection, by Oscar Cullman. The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. From Grave to Glory, by Murray Harris. The list goes on and on. My mother is 81 years old. My father is 88 years old. I think a lot about death.

I hear a lot of talk about death being a blessing for Christians. The idea seems to be that death is no longer our enemy after we become Christians. Many follow the Roman Catholic tradition is teaching that death is what takes us to either purgatory or to heaven. In this tradition, there is no need for Jesus Christ to return to earth, because death will supposedly take us to Christ in heaven.

But the Christian hope is not our own deaths. Our hope is not going to heaven, but the Resurrected Christ one day coming back again to earth and raising us from our death. Our hope is not our dying. Our hope is Christ’s death. There is only one “good death” and that death is not our death but the death of Christ as the righteousness which satisfies all the demands of the law. Our hope is not our death, but legal identification with Christ’s good death. There are not two “good deaths”, but only one “good death” and that’s why “imputation” is so important

Romans 6 is about Christ the public representative of the elect first being under death “for” the elect, in their place, as their replacement, as their substitute.

Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death NO LONGER has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died HE DIED TO SIN once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s “good death” as the complete satisfaction of God’s law. Christ after His resurrection is now no longer under law and therefore now no longer under death.

The death of the justified elect is that VERY SAME legal death. The resurrection (present and future) of the justified elect in Romans 6 is the result of Christ’s justification from being under law and death. There is only one “good death”, and that was Christ’s death.

Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ.

Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with a death like his, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. And this is what Romans 6:7 teaches: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”

Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s transformation by grace and by the Spirit so that the justified elect cannot habitually sin (or that their new nature cannot sin) They tell us that justification was in chapter five and that chapter six must be about something more if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”.

But Christ was never under the power of habitual sin or any sin, and the death of the elect is not their own death or their own dying. The death of the elect in Romans 6 is the same one “good death” which Christ Himself died.

Romans 6:10, “For the death He died He died to sin.” When the elect consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God, they think of themselves as dead to the guilt of sin. Death to the guilt of sin means justification and life before God.

Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”

Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Spirit and our believing the gospel. But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. Our hope is being legally joined to Christ’s “good death”. Romans 6 teaches that being “baptized into” Christ’s death is what frees the justified elect from guilt. Romans 6 does not teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who puts us into the “good death”. The gift of the Spirit is a blessing which results from having been placed into Christ’s ‘good death”.

Make no mistake. I know that some deaths are worse than others. We all have to die, but some of us die quickly. Others of us are given just enough notice to say and do the things we want to with regards to our family and friends. And then others of us will go through great suffering, many medical procedures, with much pain and expense, for ourselves and for those we love. Some of us die young, and others of us die after we are so old that our health is bad and we would rather be dead already. It is not good to die, but since we all have to die, sometimes it is better for us to die sooner rather than later. And though we submit to and recognize God’s sovereignty over life and death (which is one reason we do NOT kill or cause other humans to sacrifice their lives), we simply do not now see why God thinks it’s better for some of us to die later rather than sooner (and others of us to die “early”). We do not have to deny that God does all things “on time” to confess that we do not understand why God has some of us live so much longer than others live.

This “variety” in death applies to both Christians and non-Christians. Even bigger is the difference between the death of a Christian who has a real hope of resurrection, and a non-Christian who has no such hope. In both cases, we all have to die. Unless we are still living when Jesus Christs returns, we all will be dead for a while. But even in death the Christian is “in Christ” and this means that even our dead humanity in legally joined to Christ’s living humanity so that Christ has the right to our resurrection.

But the “catholic” tradition teaches an instant consciousness after death for Christians and a trip to heaven, all without a body. From the phrase in James, “the body apart from the spirit is dead”, the tradition infers that “the spirit apart from the body is alive.”

John 5: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, as many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has the lasting life of the age to come… They do not come into judgment, but HAVE PASSED FROM DEATH TO LIFE. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out…

Instead of recognizing from Genesis 2 that “souls” are “living beings”, the tradition begins with the idea that “souls” are non-material spirits with consciousness that can nevertheless be seen and heard. Thus the tradition reads John 5 as saying that it’s only the bodies which will come out the graves. It can’t be the persons, the tradition explains, because it already knows that “souls” go straight to heaven. Thus the teaching that Christians have a “good death” of their own. Thus the teaching that all humans have an immortality of their own, and that no human ever really dies. Thus the teaching that Christians don’t really have a “good death”, because their death is not really death.

I Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

We will not precede them. They will rise first. This is NOT about “never-dying souls” of dead Christians getting into heaven before we do. Leave your dead body behind. Do not pass go. Get a new body in heaven now, as soon as you die, and before they even bury your old body. No, none of that is the hope. Nor is our hope some experience of disembodied consciousness That is a stoic hope for those who fear human emotions so much that they think mainly of control. Duty and law become so important to them that they entertain a gnostic hope for triumphal worship before and without
Christ’s second coming. I could say that in a more gentle way—“over-realized eschatology” leaning toward preterism—-but I think it’s important to see that there is no hope outside of the one “good death” of Christ. There is no hope in our own dying, or in our own law-keeping, but only in Christ’s death which has completely satisfied the law.

Human persons, elect and non-elect, justified and condemned, will not be left in the graves. But now they wait in the graves, and then the elect will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and clothed with immortality. Then “the dead in Christ will rise first. Only then, at His coming will those saints who are alive and remain be caught up together with dead saints [all at one time, at the same time)] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air as He comes to earth. This meeting is not to go back to heaven, but the coming of heaven to earth. Thus “we shall always be with the Lord.”

The non-elect will also be raised on that day but only to come into judgment, and then to perish in the second death. But the justified elect will be raised and “shall not come into judgment” but will from then on, in the lasting age to come, be with the risen Christ with bodies like his glorious body.

The “catholic” tradition causes folks to read “those who have fallen asleep” as “those bodies which sleep”, because people thinks they already know that “perfected souls” are already ascended to heaven and now worship 24/7 without sleep.

John 3: 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that as many as believe in him shall have the life OF THE AGE TO COME. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that as many as believe in him should not perish but have the life of the age to come.

The tradition presumes that all the saints who have died the first death have only died in their bodies and that their “souls” have already ascended to heaven. ( The orthodox tradition does not teach that these “souls” were pre-existent and descended from heaven.) So presumably the promise of “not perish” is only about the bodies, because the tradition knows that “souls” can never die or perish, no matter what God did in giving His Son, no matter what Christ did in being lifted up on the cross.

The tradition of intermediate hope of conscious souls in heaven immediately at death is not taught by the Bible, but is contradicted by what the Bible teaches in defining “living being” (Genesis 2:7) or describing the “good death” of Christ (“pouring out his soul, Isaiah 53).

The Bible says, wait and be patient. But the tradition says instead: the people left living behind wait, but the Christians who die get a ‘good death” which is not really death but which gets them right away to conscious worship (until presumably all that is interrupted by needing to go with Christ to earth for earthly things, like resurrection, judgment, other Christians, and bodies.)

Hebrews 12: 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The tradition ignores the “ye have come” for the sake of what it thinks will happen in our own “dying”. “First comes the perfecting of our souls when we die”. Even though the tradition does not teach that the “blood that speaks” (be it that of Abel or Christ) is literal, it is sure that disembodied “souls” are now not only conscious but already perfected and glorified. Neither does the tradition understand “consuming fire” in a literal way.

The tradition acts as if “soul” is not a “thing that has been made”. Does this mean that our bodies can be shaken (having being created) but that our “spirits” (souls) cannot be shaken?

”God will put forth upon that soul that has left the body a concentration of his sanctifying grace and power that will immediately complete the work of conforming the soul to the moral likeness of Christ.” The tradition has no understanding of the one “good death” of Romans 6, and so it ignores the forensic (Christ died under the law, we died with Him, we are not under the law) meaning and displaces that forensic meaning with an “in us” idea of some “definitive” regeneration in which we don’t sin (much) anymore (like we used to).

That “in us” view cannot account for the “one and only one good death” teaching of Romans 6. Christ had no need for the Spirit to conform him to the pattern of Christ. Our death with Christ to the guilt of the law is NOT brought about by our conformity to Christ. The death of the elect to the guilt of the law is the same as Christ’s good death to the guilt of the law. There is only the one “good death”, and that only belongs to the elect by imputation. The only death which takes the sting out of our own deaths, the only hope is Christ’s “good death”.

I certainly agree that dead Christians do not sin anymore after they die. But that is no reason to claim that our own death is our hope. Nor is it reason to deny that death is our enemy. Indeed, I doubt very much that even the non-elect will continue to sin after their second death, even though they most certainly will sin as they gnash their teeth at the judgment which has not yet come. But agreeing that dead Christians no longer sin has nothing to do with proving that their conscious spirits are now in worship in heaven. Nor does it prove that our own deaths are now good deaths.

Who is the dead person? Presumably, according to the tradition, the dead person is not the body, because the body is merely only something the person has. Is the “immortal conscious soul” the person? Or does the person also “have a soul”? If so, what is the person who “has a soul”? And where is that person, when the body sleeps and the “soul” worships?

Spurgeon writes about John 17: “You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father I will that thy saints be with me where I am.’ Christ says, ‘Father I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’ Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with His Lord. The soul cannot be at both places; the beloved cannot be with Christ and with you too….You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction.”

What does “realize the thoughts” mean? Must we agree with what Spurgeon is preaching, even though it has no logic? Should we stop taking our children to the doctor, because that might be in “cross-purposes” with what Jesus wants? Or should we only think this way, after our loved ones die, but not before they die? Why would that timing matter? And to replay my previous question–are we praying for their “souls” to be with us, or is it our desire for them as persons to be with us? Is Christ praying for their persons or only for their “souls”?

The presumption of the tradition is that the way to be “with Christ” is “instantly at death”. The tradition evades any sense of the resurrection being the hope which is “far better” in Philippians 1 or II Corinthians 5. The tradition rejects any idea of a time-lag between “departure” and conscious life with Christ at the resurrection. Even though the tradition will concede that “nakedness” is not the way that the Bible speaks of glorification, it still assures us that our comfort is “largely” based on a desire for instant conscious nakedness before God as soon as we die.

Christ said: “to be with me where I am”. The tradition presumes that this means heaven as soon as we died, and ignores the hope of Christ coming to earth to be with His (then resurrected) people. The tradition ignores the wait involved in hope, so that no Christian gets to glory before another Christian, so that we not precede each other. The tradition presumes that the “sleep” of I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 is not about the real us (our persons), but only about the “bodies we have”.

According to the tradition, Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7) to “receive my spirit” means that Stephen the person never really died. The tradition expects beatific vision as soon as a Christian dies, and argues for this based on a vision Stephen had before Stephen died. Because Stephen prayed, “receive my spirit”, the tradition assumes that his means that Stephen had a never dying spirit. Stephen the person didn’t really die. Only his body did.

The Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5). Does this mean that Jesus the real humanity of Christ person never died either, but only part of his humanity, that is, only his body? I certainly do not begin to understand the incarnation or the mystery of Christ’s death, which is why I am not about to explain it on the basis of a “never-dying soul” so as to prove that the humanity of Christ really did not die. I do not question the unceasing nature of the “hypostatic union” of Christ’s two natures, but I do not presume to explain it by assuming that the real humanity of Christ never died. To the contrary, my only hope is the “good death” of Christ.

I Timothy 6:13 “I charge you in the presence of God, WHO GIVES LIFE to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach UNTIL THE APPEARING of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 WHO ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and lasting dominion. Amen.”

While we could not say that “Christ lives in us” when we are dead, nevertheless even then (when we will have died and be dead) we will continue to be legally “seated in the heavenlies” by means of our federal relation to Christ, whose humanity is now absent from us and living in heaven. Christ indwells us now, lives in our humanity now, but when we are dead, the hope that the Holy Spirit will transform us from death is not based on any idea of the Spirit having now already transformed us so that we already are immortal. In our “theology of glory”, the glory has not yet come for us and we must die and wait for Christ’s coming, with a hope not based on what has now been put in us but a hope for future transformation and resurrection based on Christ’s own death and resurrection.

Romans 8: 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, HE who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies THROUGH HIS Spirit who dwells in you.

Hebrews 13:20– The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the lasting covenant

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40 Comments on “There is only one “Good Death”, and all other Deaths Are our Enemy”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Daddy’s going to die someday. And for two of you today that day has come. Daddy died. We think, we know that we are going to die, we ourselves are going to die. But we think, not now, not until Daddy has died. As we know, it doesn’t always work that way— sometimes we die before daddy dies. But today, two of you come with your families, to this grave, because Daddy died.

    And what can we say in the face of this reality, what is there to talk about beside this grave? It’s hot, but I want to read to you from the book of Hebrews chapter 11, verses 17-19

    “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, and he that had received the promises offered up his one and only Son. Of whom it was said: That in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead…”

    We could talk about faith, about Abraham’s believing. But my question is— what gospel did Abraham believe? What is the gospel, what is the good news for us now, standing here at this grave and with Daddy dead? What are these promises that Hebrews talks about?

    We know that there was a promised land. I find it interesting that in Genesis 23, right after the chapter about Abraham and Isaac on the mountain, we see Abraham buying land to bury his wife Sarah. And when Abraham himself died, that grave, that burial place was the only part of the promised land that Abraham owned. And when Abraham died, his two sons Isaac and Ishmael came to bury him. And so we remember that God promised Abraham not only the land but many children.

    But is that all there is to the promises? Is that all the gospel Abraham knew? Is that all the gospel we know? It’s hot, but I want you to see two other promises here in this text. One is the promise in v 19: counting that God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead. Abraham knew about resurrection. Abraham believed in resurrection. The gospel is about resurrection.

    Not today, but the day when Jesus comes, there will be a resurrection from the grave. Both the elect and the non-elect will be raised. At that resurrection day God will demand from us a righteousness, a perfect righteousness, a divine righteousness, a righteousness we do not have and cannot earn or produce…we need to receive it by grace. This righteousness is not grace changing us on the inside. This righteousness is Christ’s death for the elect to satisfy God’s law for all the sins of the elect. This righteousness we receive by God’s imputation, and not because of our faith.

    The resurrection day which is to come will not be good news for the non-elect. But for the elect it will be, because Jesus Christ did a work of righteousness, and the merit of that work is in time imputed to the elect so that they will stand perfect before God at the resurrection day.

    So what are the promises Abraham believed? Not only land and many children, but resurrection. But not only resurrection, because there is a resurrection to nothing but second death. Let me read Hebrews 11 verse 18 again: “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The promise Abraham believed is not only that he would have many children, not only that Isaac was his elect seed, his one and only, and that Ishmael was not. The promise was about one specific child of Abraham, about one particular descendent of Abraham, the promise was about Jesus Christ.

    Abraham (as far as I know) did not know the name of the child, but Abraham did know that there was one child, one seed, who was coming to do a work of righteousness for the elect. Abraham did see the need of that perfect righteousness, and he did trust God’s promise to bring in that righteousness. “In Isaac thy seed shall be called”. Yes, Isaac is the seed of Abraham. Yes, Isaac’s children are God’s firstborn , God’s national seed. But IN Isaac there is to be one seed, one child, and that human person is named Jesus. Jesus is not only God now; Jesus is also human now and Jesus was raised from the grave because Jesus had completed that perfect work of righteousness which God had promised to Abraham.

    Are you elect? You will never know, unless and until you believe this gospel that Abraham believed, trusting in the seed of Abraham and his perfect work of righteousness for the elect. Hebrews 9:27-28 “And it is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment. So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of MANY; and unto THEM that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

    It is not just daddy who is appointed to die. All of us are going to die, unless Jesus comes back before then. After we die, it’s too late to believe the gospel. After we die, those on earth will continue to wait for the day of resurrection, for the day of judgment. And on that day, the question will be: do we have a perfect righteousness? Have our sins all been taken away?

    What is the gospel for us, for today, for right here and right now? The gospel is that Jesus has taken away some sins. Some will die in their sins, but the good news is that others will die without sins. Why? Why do the elect die WITHOUT their sins? Hebrews 9:28 says it’s because Christ died WITH their sins.

    Listen to the gospel again! Christ was handed over to death, delivered, offered TO BEAR THE SINS OF MANY. Christ died because he was imputed with all the sins of the elect. But Christ no longer bears all the sins of the elect. Christ did something only He could do—He put away these sins, He bore them away, He took them away, He paid the full price for all the sins of all the elect.

    Jesus Christ is no longer imputed with these sins. Hebrews 9:28 says He shall appear. Christ rose from the grave. And when Christ rose from the grave, He was no longer imputed with the sins of the elect. Christ had by His death satisfied for all those sins. All the sins of the elect, past and future, were then non-imputed to Jesus Christ.

    This is the gospel. Not that you are going to die. Your death is no gospel. But the death of Christ for the elect, that is the gospel. All for whom Christ died will be saved from God’s wrath.

    Mark McCulley

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Bavinck, Last Things, p 133—”The resurrection of the dead is primarily a judicial act of God.”

    Daniel 12 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt

    the justified elect will not be found “naked” on that day, will not be like Adam after his first sin

    II Corinthians 5—to be found “clothed” in two ways

    1. to be found resurrected (a body from heaven, not a body always to be in heaven)

    2. to be found righteous before God, justified

    but here’s the point

    if found resurrected, then also found justified, no point to a future judgment after that

    the resurrection itself is the reward of Christ’s righteousness

    Galatians 5:5
    For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness

    this does not mean that we now hope for righteousness
    this means that we hope because we are already now counted righteous

    on resurrection day,
    we won’t be hoping to be justified at the judgment
    our justification will already be visible to all

  3. markmcculley Says:

    In 2 Corinthians 5 , Paul clearly does not want “nakedness”. He wants the body from heaven, which is the resurrection body. And Paul’s not going to get that body until Jesus comes again. If Jesus does not come again, if there is no resurrection, then we would all perish. This is what I Corinthians 15 says. Until that day comes, dead Christians sleep, which means that they are dead. It does not mean that only their bodies are dead, because their minds are also dead until resurrection. Genesis 2:7 teaches that dust plus breath (life from God) results in a “living soul” ( a living person).

    The one thief asked to be remembered (favored) on the last day, in paradise. But Jesus promised him that very day, that the thief would enter the kingdom on that day. It’s not only a matter of “moving the comma” but a matter of remembering where Jesus was when Jesus died that day. Acts 2 clearly tells us that Jesus was in Hades (Sheol, the grave), and so we need to think about what the thief asked and what Jesus answered.

    Moses and Elijah were not alive at the mount—if they were, then there would be no need for Jesus to come again or for them to be raised from the dead! Are you saying that Moses and Elijah did not have bodies but they could be seen by the disciples? Was it a vision, or was it a resurrection so that Abraham and Moses do not have to wait for that day with the rest of us? (read Hebrews 11:39-40)

  4. markmcculley Says:

    If we were to ever become dead
    It would not have been us who did it
    God will have done us to death

    We would count ourselves new and raised
    Not suspending our future
    On a life found in us

    If we were ever to become dead
    We would count as garbage and loss
    What we used to count good worship

    Death is suffered
    Death does not depend on God causing us to obey
    Being Really Dead Means Needing a Real Resurrection.

    We do not hope for righteousness
    We hope because of righteousness
    We have passed from death through a death imputed

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus, like the Old Testament types, offered His BODY as a sacrifice: Who his own self bare our sins IN HIS OWN BODY on the tree…(I Pet. 2:24).

    Christ hath suffered for us IN THE FLESH…(I Peter. 4:1).

    And you…hath he reconciled IN THE BODY OF HIS FLESH through death…(Col.1:21-22).

    I am the living bread which came down from heaven…and the bread that I will give is MY FLESH, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:51).

    …we are sanctified through the offering of the BODY OF JESUS once for all (Heb. 10:10).

    Having abolished IN HIS FLESH the enmity, even the law of
    commandments…(Ephesians. 2:15).

    “Destroy this temple, and in three day I will raise it up,” we are informed that”…he spake of the TEMPLE OF HIS BODY” (John 2:19-21).

    “This is my BODY which is given for you” (Luke 22:19)

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Paul on Justification and the Final Judgment

    J. V. Fesko

    In recent years there has been much controversy surrounding the exact
    relationship between justification by faith alone and the final judgment. While it is certainly important to establish Paul’s understanding of the law, it seems that few take into account the nature of the final judgment itself. There appears to be an
    unchecked assumption regarding the final judgment, namely that the parousia, resurrection, and final judgment are separate events.

    The final judgment is not a separate event on the last day but is part of the single organic event of parousia-resurrection-final judgment. The final judgment is the resurrection.

    Vos explains: “Christ’s resurrection was the de facto declaration of God in regard to his being just. His quickening bears in itself the testimony of his justification.” Once again we see the declarative, connected to the resurrection of Christ.

    In Romans 8:23 we read that we, “Who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Here Paul explicitly relates the forensic category of adoption to the redemption of the body, or the resurrection from the dead (cf. Luke 20:35).

    Believers have the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” which is essentially synonymous with the word arrabōn, which Paul uses to describe the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as guarantee or pledge of the believer’s future resurrection (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:4). Romans 8:23 means that we will be declared sons of God by the resurrection of our bodies, when what is sown perishable is raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

    Just as Christ was declared to be the son of God by his resurrection, those who are in Christ will likewise be declared to be sons of God. When we consider that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), then those who are raised from the dead are righteous in the sight of God.

    “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:2-3). Paul does not want to be naked on the day of judgment; to be naked is to be in the state of shame and guilt. The resurrection of the believer, then, is a de facto declaration of righteousness because death has no claim upon those who are righteous (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

    In the resurrection there is already wrapped up a judging-process, at least for believers: the raising act in their case, together with the attending change, plainly involves a pronouncement of vindication. The resurrection does more than prepare its object for undergoing the judgment.

    The resurrection of the church is not the anticipation of the issue of
    judgment, but is de jure the final judgment. As Herman Bavinck writes, “The resurrection of the dead in general, therefore, is primarily a judicial act of God.”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    WCF 32.1: The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption1 but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them2 the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.3 And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Mike Horton—We have gone from having funerals to memorial services to “celebrations,” not realizing that this is a fatal index of our inability to face the music, whether we’re talking about the tragedy of sin itself or the suffering, death, and ultimate condemnation that it brings in its wake.

    Why is it that in our churches-in the preaching that avoids sin, suffering, the cross, and death, in the music that is always upbeat and seems so alien to the “blue note” that one finds in the Psalms, and in the “celebrations” that cannot seem to come to grips with the tragedy of death and the common curse that has invoked it-we seem to follow the world in refusing to face the music?

    We aren’t morbid when we take sin, suffering, and death seriously as Christians. Rather, we can face these tough realities head-on because we know that they have been decisively confronted by our captain. They have not lost their power to harm, but they have lost their power to destroy us. This biblical piety is not morbid because it doesn’t end at the cross, but it also doesn’t avoid it. It goes through the cross to the Resurrection.

    Lazarus, along with his sisters, was a close friend of Jesus, we learn especially from verses 1-16. I’ve walked that short distance between Bethany and Jerusalem in roughly an hour. We might say that it was the ancient equivalent of a suburb, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had made their home a base for Jesus’ Jerusalem-area mission. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord”- that is, the prostitute who met the only person whose love was greater than her sin. Jesus was entreated to come to his ill friend’s side when Mary identified him to Jesus as “he whom you love” (v. 2). The assumption here is that Jesus and Lazarus are so close that all Jesus needed was an announcement of his condition. Surely Jesus would come running.

    Their plea for Jesus was not wrong, but short-sighted in its motivation. They were appealing to him for the healing of Lazarus, while Jesus anticipates using his friend’s death as an opportunity to signify his person and work. It is not about Lazarus, but about Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Again we think of the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. It is not wrong to anticipate glory-both God’s and our own participation in it, but the problem comes when we think that our own immediate concerns are ultimate. God must provide for us or our loved ones in such and such a manner if he is really our friend.

    Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their failing brother, and simply assumed that, given his love for Lazarus, Jesus would want to. Here we return to that conundrum: Is God both sovereign (able to heal) and good (willing to heal)? If the healing doesn’t occur, one of those affirmations comes into question, we reason. If Jesus really loves Lazarus, he’ll come quickly. “God, if you really care about me __________ “-fill in your own blank. In the thick of trouble, this is not so bad a response. In fact, it is a sign of faith on their part: God can and will heal. Rather, the problem is in the timing and the terms. “It is for the glory of God,” says Jesus, “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4).

    In terms of the unfolding plot, Lazarus is a character in Jesus’ story, not vice versa. The glorification of the Son as the Messiah is the real “show” here, as was the case with all of the miracles. They are signs, not ends in themselves.

    Jesus deliberately delays his return to Bethany two more days. What could have been happening in the sisters’ minds during these two agonizing days? They had no idea that Jesus was going to do something far greater than they had asked him to do. With the wisdom and data at their disposal, they could only have been utterly depressed at the apparent lack of response on Jesus’ part. Jesus, of course, had acted promptly before: in the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8) or in the raising of the widow’s son in the middle of the funeral procession (Luke 7). How callous could he be if he healed perfect strangers but would not rush to the aid of one of his closest friends?

    Out of love for Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus finally decided to go to Bethany. “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” He tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him,” to which the disciples (no doubt concerned about their own safety-see verses 7-16) reply, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.'” Nobody-the disciples, Lazarus, Mary, or Martha, nobody but Jesus, knew why Jesus had allowed Lazarus to die in the first place, especially if all along he was going to visit him eventually. It was all palpably confusing to their experience. It simply did not make sense.

    Jesus’ cryptic remark, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe,” could not be discerned this side of the events in Bethany. It could only be clear to them after the completion of the episode, not within it. This is a crucial point for our own application in such circumstances. From their perspective, in terms of their own experience, the sisters (and Lazarus in his final hours) and the disciples would have logically concluded that Jesus, whom they had seen as perfectly capable of healing, was simply callous. He was uninterested, unconcerned. Their experience was not irrational or illogical, but rather incomplete and so inadequate to sit in judgment upon God’s ways. Just as the disciples could not recognize what God was going to do through the cross, nobody could understand why Jesus had allowed his friend to die.

    Lazarus had to die in order for the greater miracle to occur. There is something more important than the healing of his friend. Jesus knew the great work that he would accomplish in the power of the Spirit when he came finally to Bethany. It is like Elijah pouring water on the fire-pit, just to make sure that God’s glorious power will be manifest. As the greater Elijah, Jesus was engaged in a cosmic contest between Yahweh and the serpent. That was the larger story behind all of these other stories.

    After a four-day interval between Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ arrival in Bethany, Martha displays the sort of frustration that one would not have expected a woman of her day to show toward a man in public, much less a rabbi. Yet after scolding Jesus for his tardiness-“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she immediately adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (vv. 21-22). Martha’s faith in Jesus is unfailing. He can still turn things around-even after her brother’s entombment: “Even now . . .” (v. 22).

    It is important to see how Martha here reflects that combination of heart-wrenching disappointment and faith that we find in the Psalms. She does not believe that even death has the last say in the presence of Jesus, which is thus far more faith than we have seen in the disciples. Martha’s theology is right: as a Pharisee, she believes in the resurrection of the dead. But it’s like Philip saying to Jesus, “Now show us the Father,” with Jesus’ reply, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-14).

    Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). “Do you believe this?” Jesus presses her to commit herself not just to the theological question of resurrection of the dead, but to him as the Resurrection and the Life! To claim to be “the Resurrection and the Life,” as “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” is to claim nothing less than equality with the Father. So now the stakes of Martha’s confession are raised considerably. In the presence of witnesses, she is called not only to confess that Jesus can raise the dead-as Elijah had done. Jesus calls upon her to acknowledge that he is himself the God upon whom Elijah called.

    That is a very large step. One of the marvelous clauses here is, “though he may die” (v. 25). It is one thing to halt the processes of decay and death, quite another to bring someone back to life. Jesus declares of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (v. 26).

    Jesus is not simply asking Martha to confess that Lazarus will live, but that those who trust in Jesus Christ-even though they die, will be raised to never die again. It’s no longer about Lazarus per se. Jesus is calling Martha into the circle of that cosmic trial between Yahweh and the serpent, calling her to be a witness (the Greek word for witness being the same for “martyr”). Lazarus’ resurrection will be a sign-proof, in fact-of that reality to be inaugurated with Christ’s own Resurrection from the dead. Even though people will still die despite the arrival of Messiah, they will not remain dead forever but will be raised in the likeness not of Lazarus’ mortal body, still tending toward death, but in the likeness of Christ’s glorified body.

    We recall that many centuries earlier, in the midst of his agony, Job cried out, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in this flesh I shall behold God” (Job 19:25). And on the witness stand Martha, racked with myriad thoughts and feelings of desperation and hope, brought Job’s exclamation up-to-date: “She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world'” (v. 27).

    Mary, who had been sitting in the house, joins Martha at this point (vv. 28-32). Perhaps even more despondent than Martha both at her brother’s death and her beloved Master’s apparent failure either to care enough or to be powerful enough, Mary, the one who had lavished Jesus’ feet with her expensive perfume, has to be called out to the scene by her sister (“The Teacher has come and is calling for you”). Furthermore, upon meeting Jesus she reiterates the charge, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 32). Martha is not to be blamed here, but to be respected for having brought her doubts as well as her faith to the Savior.

    Jesus finds himself one of the mourners. Here he is not simply a miracle worker who walks on the sea and calms the storms, but a man who is suddenly overtaken by troubled emotions. His own love for Lazarus and his hatred for death overwhelmed him even though he knew what he was about to do.

    It is in verses 33-35 that we capture a glimpse of what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he said that Jesus was made like us in every respect:

    Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)
    And here at his friend’s tomb-even moments before he knew he would raise Lazarus, we see his anguish of soul in the presence of sin’s most gruesome banner: death. He did not come with a cheerful homily on how better off Lazarus was now that he had “slipped the bonds of earth” or “sloughed off his mortal coil,” for these are pagan views .

    There was no “celebration,” where mourning was considered out of place. Already emotionally unhinged by Mary’s weeping at his feet, Jesus came to the tomb, and we read those two words that deserve their own verse: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). The bystanders were not sure what to make of it. “See how he loved him!” said some. “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?'” (v. 37).
    But let’s pause for a moment at the remarkable report, “Jesus wept.” Jesus here overthrows the various pagan conceptions of life and death that are as prevalent in our day: stoicism and sentimentalism. Some influences are more Stoic in orientation. Famous for the stiff upper lip, the ancient Stoics believed that the best souls were those who were completely free of emotion. Stirred neither by friendship nor treachery, the Stoic aimed at perfect rest. If one depended on others, he or she would soon be disappointed. In order to avoid disappointment, one should resolve never to develop attachments, except to oneself. Utter freedom from desire would make the soul a fortress against distress. For them, as for Greek thought generally, death was a liberation from the body, which was after all the seat of emotion-that weak part of human nature that would drag the soul down into the messiness of the world. By contrast, Westerners such as myself are often astonished to the point of embarrassment to witness Jews and Palestinians mourning their dead with wails and desperate gestures, but this is the culture from which Jesus came and he was not embarrassed by it.

    Far from resisting emotional expression, sentimentalism celebrates it. Ironically, although sentimentalism seems like the opposite of stoicism, they share some intriguing parallels. They both seem intent on avoiding the messiness of life-particularly, the tragic aspect. They want to ignore the bad news, although their solution is different. While the Stoic realizes that to abandon negative emotions one must banish all emotions, the sentimentalist believes in admitting only the good emotions, always looking on the bright side of life.

    One sympathy card I saw has a line from Thoreau: “Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up.” Even more troubling was the maxim of my father’s convalescent hospital that was unfortunately enshrined in giant tapestries hanging in various parts of the complex. With scenes from childhood to old age, walking toward a sunset, it read, “The setting of the sun is as beautiful as its rising.” I wondered at how offensive this must have been to many who were suffering there, as their lot was trivialized.

    Compare for just a moment any experience you might have had with the joy of childbirth, family and friends standing around to celebrate this new life, with the declining years, months, and days of a person’s life. One stage is full of hope in a way that the other simply cannot be made to be. . One attracts visitors, family, and friends who cannot keep themselves from holding and doting on the little ones, while the other draws visits more often than not out of a sense of duty.

    We often hear, “Death is a natural part of life.” This assumes the “cycle of life” approach to reality. According to this picture, life and death are just two sides of the same coin. However, the biblical picture could not be more opposite: life everlasting was the goal of creation in the beginning; death is the curse for human sin. It is part of the Fall imposed on humanity as a result of disobedience, not an inevitable circumstance to be taken in stride. Death stands against God, against the world, against life, against hope, against possibilities.

    So now we return to Jesus as he crumples at his friend’s grave: “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb” (v. 38). Look at Jesus’ face, hear his scream here. “Deeply moved” hardly captures the emotion of the original language:enebrimesato, meaning to snort like a horse in anger; “troubled,” etaraxen, meaning agitated, confused, disorganized, fearful, surprised, as when Herod was “troubled” by the wise men (Matt. 2:3); or when the disciples were “troubled” and “cried out in fear” when Jesus walked on the sea (Matt. 14:27). Jesus now found himself overtaken by grief. More than grief, in fact: anger. And why not? There he stood face to face with “the last enemy” he would defeat in his crusade against Satan. And he “wept.”

    The marvel in this scene is that Jesus responds thus even though he knows that he will shortly raise Lazarus from the dead. One would expect his countenance to reveal a knowing grin that invites the crowd to anticipate his miracle, but all it shows is anguish. How much more are we allowed to weep when such an interval exists between the death of loved ones and the final Resurrection! Theologically, it is the appropriate response to death-not simply because of our own sense of loss or our mourning for the survivors who are dear to us, but because of the loss to the beloved who has died. We do not grieve “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13), but we do grieve.

    Death is not a benign passageway to happiness, but a horrible enemy attempting to keep us in the grave. Death’s sting has been removed, but its bite remains. It does not have the last word for believers, but it remains the believer’s antagonist until the Resurrection of the body. The good news is never that one has died, but that death has been ultimately conquered by the Lord of Life.

    Martha trusted Jesus when she moved the stone at his command. Perhaps she had even heard and recalled Jesus’ promise, “For the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth” (John 5:28). Jesus’ own Resurrection will be the “first fruits of those who sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), but this resurrection of Lazarus is in a sense the prelude to that great inauguration of the last day. This is the climactic sign because “the last enemy is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

    The good news in all of this is that “the last enemy is death.” This means that Jesus accomplished everything in his mission on earth for our complete redemption and glorification. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” That is the bad news. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56).
    Death is not a portal to life. Death is not a benign friend, but a dreaded foe. It is not a natural part of life, but the most unnatural part of life you could imagine. But in his death and Resurrection, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head, vanquishing the “last enemy” of every believer. This last enemy will one day be overcome for believers in the final resurrection of the dead, but that is because it has already objectively been vanquished in the Resurrection of our Living Head. In Christ, the end has already begun. The Head will not live without his body. The shape of the future is already present.

    Lazarus was raised, but he died. His body thus raised for a time continued where it left off in its surrender to decay and death. One day, mourners would gather again at Lazarus’ tomb, but this time with no expectation of resurrection until the last day. And yet, precisely because of that confidence, precisely because Lazarus’ next funeral occurred this side of Christ’s resurrection, they would not mourn that day as those with no hope. After all, word would have reached them by then-perhaps some of them had even been witnesses-of the greater Resurrection of Jesus himself, which would take a stand against death on its own territory, so that those united to him by faith will not remain dead. Their bodies will be raised to worship in God’s renewed sanctuary.

    Death is still an enemy, not a friend, but it is “the last enemy,” and it is already defeated so that now death is not God’s judgment upon us for our sin but the temporal effects of our participation in Adam’s guilt. And because the guilt and judgment are removed, we can both cry out with our Lord in troubled anger at death and yet also sing with the Apostle, “Where O death is your sting? Where O hell is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). What we need again is a church that can sing the blue note in a way that faces the real world honestly and truthfully, recognizing the tragic aspect of life as even more tragic than any nihilist could imagine, while knowing that the one who raised Lazarus is now raised to the right hand of his Father, until all enemies-including death, lie in the rubble beneath his feet.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin—the conclusion usually drawn is, that believing souls were shut up in an intermediate state or prison, because Christ says that, by his ascension into heaven, the place will be prepared. But the answer is easy. This place is said to be prepared for the day of the resurrection; for by nature mankind are banished from the kingdom of God…. we will not enjoy this great blessing, until he come from heaven the second time. The condition of the fathers after death, therefore, is not here distinguished from ours; because Christ has prepared both for them and for us a place, into which he will receive us all at the last day.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Luther vs praying for the dead,

    from Carlos Eirie, A Very Brief History of Eternity, p 108

    A mere three years after he challenged Tetzel to a debate on indulgences with his 95 theses, Luther would be arguing that praying for the dead was as wrong as praying to the dead. To believe that the dead in heaven could pray for anyone on earth was dead wrong, as the pun would have it, or even worse. “The Scriptures forbid and condemn communication with the dead… For Luther, the communion of saints mentioned in the Creed was not to be understood as anything other than a eschatological hope.about the promised resurrection and the kingdom to come.

    Luther summed it up in a sermon in 1522—-The summons of death comes to us all, and none of us can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone. We can shout into each other’s ears, but everyone must himself be prepared for the time of death. I will not be with you then, nor you with me.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    from an Anglican bulletin—Some people from the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions find it perplexing that we pray for the dead. but we do because we believe in one universal church, the communion of the saints, includes the souls of all those who have preceded us in faith and because we believe the lives of the saints continue beyond the grave. Put another way, we understand the culmination of our spiritual growth to come only in the fullness of time. Such growth does not end in death.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    It was around the time of the Civil War that people began to sentimentalize the dead, to imagine them as perfect and alive — an eternally enduring snapshot of themselves, as though death had not changed them at all. So many beloved and beautiful men had died young — so many boyfriends and brothers and fathers and sons — and with dignity, too, for a greater cause. It was impossible to think of them in their final, gruesome, agonizing moments ….One of the best-selling books of the 19th century, surpassed only by the Bible and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was The Gates Ajar, a novel that refuted that old Puritan ideal. A young woman named Mary, grieving over the death of her brother Roy in the war, is visited by an aunt who teaches her that Roy exists still, somewhere nearby, and that when she ascends to heaven she will see “the sparkle in his eye and listen to his laughing voice.” A nation found comfort in the idea that a young man who died too soon might be whisked from one perfect state to another, with no excruciating passage in between. The character of Peter Pan, written at the beginning of the 20th century by the Scottish author J.M. Barrie, was based on the author’s older brother, who died in an ice-skating accident when he was 14. Their mother said her child “never grew up.”

    I’m not someone who believes things were better in the centuries before hospitals and vaccinations. My mother was given large doses of morphine in her last days; she was grateful for it then, and I remain so today. But the dignity thing is a red herring, in my opinion, which …. consoles the control freaks among us, allowing us to fantasize that in death we can still be strong and in charge of outcomes …..

  13. markmcculley Says:

  14. markmcculley Says:

    in the first approach (incarnate in order to die) the physicality of Christ’s death was the very point of his saving work. Christ came to save human beings, and humans are not disembodied souls. Christ saved us by embracing the physical death that comes as a consequence of our sin (Genesis 2:17). This embrace of death was the entire point of the incarnation.

    In the second approach, Calvin denies that Christ could not have descended into hell to proclaim salvation to the righteous dead because there are no righteous dead: This means, Calvin says, that Peter’s claim that Christ “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) should not be interpreted literally.

    mark: I think this means that Calvin thinks none of the justified are ever really dead. It also means that Calvin discounts the significance of “only the physical death” of Christ.

    Calvin: “If Christ had died only a bodily death ,it would have been ineffectual. No—it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment.” 2.16.10.

    • markmcculley Says:

      Lee irons—Calvin was equally concerned with this phrase and felt the weight of these objections against it. However, he didn’t want to tamper with an ancient Creed, so he interpreted it metaphorically (Institutes 2.16.8-12). He said that the descent of Jesus into hell means that Jesus endured the torments of hell in his soul prior to his death. Calvin’s interpretation is theologically acceptable. It’s true that Jesus “endured most grievous torments … in his soul” (WCF VIII.4), in addition to the painful sufferings of his body. Calvin’s metaphorical interpretation has had a tremendous influence in the continental Reformed tradition. It is the view enshrined in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 16:

      Question 44: Why is there added, “he descended into hell”? Answer: That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which he was plunged during all his sufferings, but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.

      This metaphorical interpretation is defended by many Reformed pastors to this day, e.g., Daniel Hyde, In Defense of the Descent (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).
      But I just can’t see that this is what was intended by “he descended into hell.” If the descent clause is a metaphorical way of describing Christ’s atoning sufferings on the cross, then it’s in the wrong place. It should be after “was crucified” and before “died and was buried.” On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished,” so we know that the atoning sufferings of Christ were completed before he died. He did not go into hell after his death to suffer further punishment in our place.

      • markmcculley Says:

        Calvin—“Christ did not pour out his soul unto death. Did Christ die when He was working for your salvation? Not thus does He say of Himself, “As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given the Son to have life in himself.” (John V. 26.) How could He who has life in Himself lose it?…. If He can die, our death is certain.” Tracts Relating to the Reformation, p 436

        Calvin—“The body which decays, weighs down the soul, and confining it within an earthly habitation, greatly limits its perceptions. If the body is the prison of the soul, if the earthly habitation is a kind of fetters, what is the state of the soul when set free from this prison, when loosed from these fetters? Is it not restored to itself, and as it were made complete, so that we may truly say, that all for which it gains is so much lost to the body? . . . For then the soul, having shaken off all kinds of pollution, is truly spiritual, so that it consents to the will of God, and is no longer subjected to the tyranny of the flesh; thus dwelling in tranquility, with all its thoughts fixed on God.

        Tracts Relating to The Reformation, p 443

  15. markmcculley Says:

    The class of theories to which the designation of “conditional immortality” is most properly applicable, agree with the theories of pure mortalism in teaching the natural mortality of man in his entirety, but separate from them in maintaining that this mortal may, and in many cases does, put on immortality. Immortality in their view is a gift of God, conferred on those who have entered into living communion with Him. Many theorists of this class adopt frankly the materialistic doctrine of the soul, and deny that it is a distinct entity; they …identify life beyond death with the resurrection, conceived as essentially a recreation of the entire man. Whether all men are subjects of this recreative resurrection is a mooted question among themselves. Some deny it, and affirm therefore that the wicked perish finally at death, the children of God alone attaining to resurrection. The greater part, however, teach a resurrection for all, and a “second death,” which is annihilation, for the wicked (e.g. Jacob Blain, “Death not Life,” Buffalo, 1857, pp. 39-42; Aaron Ellis and Thomas Read, “Bible versus Tradition,” New York, 1853, pp. 13-121; George Storrs, “Six Sermons,” New York, 1856, pp. 29 ft.; Zenas Campbell, “The Age of Gospel Light,” Hartford, 1854).

  16. markmcculley Says:

    sarcasm alert—death in hell is separation from common grace. What you do matters, and if you don’t do what God commands, then there will be a decrease in common grace for you. Since you always wanted to live separate from God,, now God is going to allow and permit you to do that, even if God never originally intended that FOR YOU. You were born in the covenant, and received the seal of the promise that God was your God, and that is what God really wished for, but now God is going to give you what you wanted, even if you didn’t know you wanted to be tortured. You didn’t want God to be your God, and now God is not, because in a way it will not even be God torturing you because you brought it on yourself. It will really be like you torturing yourself, because at any time you could open the doors in hell and come back to the covenant but you won’t do that.

    Psalm 139—Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
    8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
    9 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
    11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
    12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

  17. markmcculley Says:

    More sarcasm—He’s a “Reformed psychologist” who gets featured at Reformed conferences He pushes the idea of sinners living forever in hell, but in the process of defending that notion he says time and again, it was not ever meant to be this way. So “hell” to him is plan b.

    He definitely agrees with what Satan told Adam and Eve—you will never die, you will live somewhere forever. He even endorses the dualism of Ben Franklin—here lies the body, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out…..And he quotes C S Lewis as if it’s apostolic—we will live forever, because inside we want to live forever.

    Who the we is of course a little fuzzy. Maybe all of us are Christians, or maybe it’s only all of us who are reading his books or paying to hear him in a conference, but in any case we all need to be thankful that we won’t be tortured forever by the God who never wanted to do that. It was never God’s “intention”, the writer keeps telling us. It was not on purpose, it was plan b. And even now, God wishes that it would not happen, but since we have free will, it might…..

    I suppose this theodicy is “intended” to reassure us. God never gave the law to increase sin, but we have free will. God never ordained Adam to sin, but Adam had free will. But in any case, Satan was right–being in the image of God means that we will ‘spend eternity” somewhere, and never die. That part of the plan can’t be changed by us.

    God did not put Adam on probation as a means to giving Christ the glory for the redemption of the elect. But it did turn out that way, and Christ will get glory anyway, provided that you exercise your free will to accept the fact that he died for you. I mean he died for you even if you don’t accept that he did, but if you don’t, then you will live forever in torment.

    Those who are ‘spiritually dead” make bad choices. So that explains how Adam made a bad choice and as a result of that bad choice, Adam became ‘spiritually dead”. And so now what LOOKS LIKE us living is really us being ‘spiritually dead.”. And what LOOKS LIKE “physical death” is really about being alive either in heaven or being tortured in hell. But God never intended any of this, it’s all on us. We placed our own feet on the slippery slope.

    Because when the Bible says that the wages of sin is death or that the soul that sins shall die, that’s not “intended” to be taken literally. Death is not death but torture. Death is not death but a separation. This age will end, but the next age will never end, and in the next age God will not ever really bring anybody to an end, but those who use their free will wrong in this age will be kept existing forever in order to partially satisfy what is so infinite that it never can ever get any closer to being satisfied..

    Death is not literally death, but for some folks (not us) it will have a dark side. God never had any designs on there being vessels of destruction, but it happened anyway, because what we do matters and what we decide has consequences. The fire that tortures forever was not meant for any human but only for Satan and Satan’s angels (Matthew 25:41). But nobody ever perishes or gets destroyed in that fire, because as Satan well knows—you shall never die. The final torture will never be final.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    David Platt, Radical, p 179—“The key to taking back your faith (from the American dream) is to see death as a reward.

    Mike Wittmer—“-If the thought of being cremated or rotting in the ground does not scare you and sicken you, there is no way you will ever put your faith in Jesus. Why would you? Jesus came to solve a problem you don’t think exists…..”

    Philippians 2: 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

    Philippians 1: 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ

    Philippians 1: 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

  19. markmcculley Says:

    If heaven by itself were superior, then Jesus would not have raised Lazarus from the dead. Earth is the best place for humans, because this is where God made us to live. The problem of “better place” will not be resolved until Jesus returns and unites heaven and earth. Until then, we should be careful not to unequivocally call heaven “a better place,” as it isn’t better in every way and saying so promotes the Platonic idea that heaven is our final home. Who would want to leave the better place to come back here?

    When we say “to die is gain” is a promise, we risk confusing good and evil. David Platt makes this mistake in Radical, when he says that we must “see death as reward.” He explains that a missionary’s death was a reward rather than a tragedy because she immediately went to heaven (p. 179-81).

    Paul’s desire was to be with Jesus not by dying but by Jesus’ coming. Paul’s cry of “Maranatha!” (1 Cor. 16:22) echoes the closing prayer of Scripture, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

    “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40)

    I mention in the book about going to visit my friend in hospice. She was suffering… But even there, we didn’t pray for Jesus to take her but for Jesus to come. He didn’t,…. My concern is that when we connect these benefits to the place rather than to the person we breed Platonists who think going to heaven is the goal, rather than heaven coming here. As my wife says, directions matter!

  20. markmcculley Says:

    Even a little more life (and then death again) is a good thing Luke 7: 11 Soon afterward Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother

    (Oh, you will say that those old times
    Are all dried up like water,
    Since the great God went walking on a road to Naim,
    How many hundred years has slept again in death
    That widow’s son, after the marvel of his miracle:
    He did not rise for long, and sleeps forever.
    And what of the men of the town?
    What have the desert winds done to the dust
    Of the poor weepers, and the widow’s friends?) Merton

  21. markmcculley Says:

    John 17: 23 I in them and you in me, in order that they become perfectly one, in order that the world know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me be in them, and I in them.

    Philippians 3: 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    Psalm 17: 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

  22. markmcculley Says:

    Perspectives on Israel and the Church, Four views-, Reymond, p 57—“The Hebrews word translated ‘everlasting’ may denote the limited duration of the age of promise, such as 1. God’s declaration that circumcision was to be an ‘everlasting covenant’ between him and his people in Genesis 17: 13 and 2. God’s declaration that the Passover Feast in Exodus 12:7 was to be an ‘everlasting ordinance’

    Allan Macrae, Theological Wordbook of the OT, 2:673—Neither the Hebrew (olam) nor the Greek (aion) in itself contains the idea of endlessness. They sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in time in past history. Sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying ‘forever’, but forever and forever…

  23. markmcculley Says:

    the sins of the elect will be remembered no more because of the one sacrificial death of Christ, and the non elect will be remembered no more because of the second death

    the first death is not the same as the second death
    1. not all who die the first death will perish (the elect will not die the second death)
    2. even those who will die the second death do not perish in the first death in the sense that they cannot be raised for condemnation (resurrected to second death)

    1. if Christ is not God, then His righteousness is not the righteousness of God
    2. if Christ did not really die, then God’s law has not been satisfied by His death for the sins of the elect

    1. Christ was and is God, Adam was not God
    2. Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, Adam was not.
    3. Christ was born under law, Adam was created under law
    4. Adam could keep what he had, life, by not sinning
    5. Adam could not gain by not sinning what he never had, immortality

  24. markmcculley Says:

    There are those say that “you get justified by getting dead” and not by satisfaction of law. But this fails to understand that being joined to Christ’s death means having satisfied the law in Christ’s death.

  25. markmcculley Says:

    glenn peoples—A representative of Let us Reason ministries writes as follows:
    As our substitute he was separated, suffering the wrath of God for us, he cried out to the Father “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” His eternal fellowship was broken as he experienced the punishment for sin. He now understood its affect [sic] on the human condition, body and soul. While no one knows what exactly transpired in this separation which lasted an agonizing 3 hours, we do know fellowship was fully restored before he died.5
    The claim is fairly clear: Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross: separation from God, which is the “punishment for sin.” Then a point came when this wrath was exhausted, the punishment had been paid, and fellowship with God was restored, after which point Jesus died, his work having been finished. A similar claim is made over at “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”:
    Right before Jesus died, he said “It is finished.” He must have suffered all of God’s wrath before he died. …
    For three hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, God turned the lights out on the earth because he didn’t want anyone looking in when he poured out all of his wrath on his son – when he bruised the son for our iniquities. It was during these three hours that God the son had become sin for us and he could not call God, Father, as before. The son was forsaken by the Father. It was during these three hours that Jesus suffered in our place. Jesus did not have to go to Hell to suffer the torments of those flames.6
    The point of this claim is to reject the view that Jesus atoned for sin by suffering in hell after death (see below). The problem, however, is that it is simply assumes that the punishment for sin is suffering the wrath of God in the form of torment, and so the solution, whatever it is, is assumed to be that Jesus suffers that torment somewhere, either on the cross or in hell – and since it wasn’t in hell it was on the cross.
    One more example (just to show that this is not a misrepresentation), Ken Matto wrote a short and somewhat hot-tempered article against annihilationisn, in which he denied that physical death is the punishment for sin. But what about the death of Jesus for sin? Here’s what Dr Matto had to say: “Did the Lord Jesus say ‘It is finished’ before He died or after He died? Uh oh, He said it before He died, which means the atonement was complete before He physically died, and the atonement was on a higher level than mere physical death.”7 The atonement was complete before Jesus died. After all, Jesus had already suffered the spiritual wrath of God, and that is the punishment, not death.
    The fact is that this view, expressed, admittedly, by a minority, is simply a rejection of what the Christian faith has always taught: Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for sin. Now of course, “it is finished” had to have been uttered before Jesus died. He obviously could not have uttered it after he was dead. But as theologians have always recognized, this was his declaration based on the inevitable: He was about to die. In fact John is the only one to record this saying, and he portrays Jesus saying these words virtually as he dies: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Rhetorically, John links the saying directly to the death of Christ. The theological point made here is that Jesus’ atoning work is finished because Jesus died.
    A major obstacle – in fact a decisive objection – to the claim that Jesus completed his atoning work before he actually died is just this: If the atonement was completed before Jesus died, then why did Jesus die at all? It will do no good to say that he died just because he was injured. If Jesus’ physical state was to dictate what could and could not happen, then the resurrection would never have happened. If the atonement was completed, the work was all done, nothing more was required and any “satisfaction” that was required had been achieved, why did God the Father allow his son to die? What did it achieve? Victory over the fate of sinners? No, because according to the traditional view of hell, death is not the fate of sinners. The eternal experience of the wrath of God is.
    The reality is that if someone is prepared to overturn one of the central truths of the Christian faith, it is unlikely that they will be troubled by having us simply point out that they are making the death of Christ unnecessary for the atonement. They already know this. But to those who believe that the punishment for sin is eternal torment but have not taken this extraordinary step, perhaps these examples will give you pause. Do you really want to make the death of Christ superfluous?

  26. markmcculley Says:

    David Bishop God is omniscient, omnipresent, and immutable. Does this mean we are too? Then why should we think of ourselves as inherently immortal just because He is and we are made in His image? Is immortality another of His inherent attributes that we do not inherently possess?

    Consider 1 Timothy 6:16 He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who ALONE POSSESSES IMMORTALITY, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

    Consider also that resurrection was one of the promises God promised to the fathers.

    Acts 26:6-7 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

    The Holy Spirit, redemption, resurrection, these were the promises God made to the fathers and the ones which Christ obtained. If immortality is a gift then that He gives only to those who are in Christ, then what does that mean for all those who are not in Christ? Will they still receive immortality, even if it is only to suffer for eternity?

  27. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Rodgers The thing that traditional thinking misses I believe is the aspect of glorification. When the elect die, they are still sinners. They still need to be glorified. The traditional thinking would have all the elect go straight to be in the presence of the Lord in a not yet glorified state.

    “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?””
    1 Corinthians 15:50-55 ESV

    Our hope is in the resurrection!

  28. markmcculley Says:

    mortal means not permanent
    but for Christians
    being impermanent is impermanent
    but our present mortality
    is not unimportant
    the age, what is passing away
    we will not forget
    even after that day
    our previous mortality

  29. markmcculley Says:

    packer: The assertion that in the age to come life is the sort of thing that goes on while punishment is the sort of thing that ends begs the question.

    mark: would it change anything if we said that life is the sort of thing that goes on living while death is the sort of thing which stays dead?

    if you stay dead, is that a “sustained event”?

    if you substitute punishment for “perish” or ‘destruction”, does that change anything?

    is ‘eternal redemption” a “sustained event’?

    if redemption is “once for all time”, does that mean that redemption is not “everlasting’?

    why does exclusion rule out destruction?

    has the thing destroyed been excluded?

    or does it have to be destroyed in such a way that it is never destroyed in order to keep on being excluded?

  30. markmcculley Says:

    resurrection does not make death a good thing

    reform attempts to make suffering good
    or to say that good comes from suffering
    flowers out of dead wood

    Lazarus, why bother delaying the inevitable?

    but resurrection forgives and forgets
    starts over again
    all new

    so who or what was was raised to new life?
    having died once for all time,
    never ever to die again

    death still frightens me, also puzzles me

    the law never died, Romans 7:1-6
    but we died once
    when Christ died
    but only God legally joined us to that death
    sometime after we were born

    Augustine’s self-deception—after death, then death is past and gone, after death, the present life of the soul still continues in continuity. Now that death is past, how could death be evil, how could death be enemy?

    so Augustine avoids termination of consciousness, because his “soul” remembers what he used to be

    but this is not to favor one alternative to Augustine
    to be dead is not to know that you are dead

    why do we want to die suddenly?
    why do you want to die sooner rather than later?

    since there is now no condemnation in Jesus, we don’t need more time to prepare

    we want to die suddenly because we don’t want to know that we are dying when we die

    “a living will”, a directive for doctors to keep us alive up to the point
    that when we die we do not have to know that we are dying

    as a bonus, that way, we get to blame the doctors for keeping us alive to no point
    for no purpose

    if we can’t deny that we will die, at least we can deny that we fear death
    nothing to fear but fear itself, death itself we do not fear….

    for me, the only fear that trumps the fear of death is fear of God—God is satisfied by nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the elect imputed to Jesus Christ

    Psalm 111— The Lord has provided food for those who fear Him; the Lord remembers His covenant forever.
    the Lord has shown His people the power of His works
    by giving them the inheritance of the nations.
    The works of His hands are truth and justice;
    His instructions are established forever
    enacted in truth and in what is right.
    the Lord has sent redemption to His people.
    He has ordained His covenant forever.
    His name is holy and awe-inspiring.
    10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

  31. markmcculley Says:

    One with Him I can and have died
    One with Him I have died the death which satisfies God’s law
    and now my life is hid with Christ on High
    until Christ comes back here below

    God brings everything together in Him who sits
    both things in heaven and things on earth united and new
    and He who rose and who now sits above will come down
    to live with us
    when in this ruined age my flesh shall fail
    and mortal life cease
    I shall not go up above behind the veil
    but sleep until He who rose and now sits above come back to earth
    and after Jesus the risen one has come back ten thousand years
    we will still have no less days to sing God’s praise
    than the first day He comes back
    or than we have already right now

  32. markmcculley Says:

    When Job’s wife told him to go ahead and die, perhaps she believed Job would go straight to heaven. If death takes you to heaven, what’s so bad about dying? if death takes Christians to heaven, isn’t death God’s friend instead of God’s enemy?

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