This is the edited transcript of a message preached by Miltos in Limassol, November 2013 after the passing of a very much loved member of the congregation there
REAL DEATH Miltos Yiapanis
THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH
A few days ago one of our sisters was describing to me, how, when she was praying with someone who was near to death, as she was doing so suddenly the persons spirit left his body and he died. This will happen to all of us, sooner or later, none will escape the experience, except those of His people who will be alive when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. We are here in these mortal bodies for a while and then the time to go comes. We do not cease to exist but pass into a new existence. The ex-president of Cyprus also died the other day. He was a prominent man, but he passed away, you see there are no exceptions, no one can avoid the coming of death. Where do the spirits of the dead go? What we are told in the word of God; is it true that they do not all go to the same place? We are told that those who belong to God go to a different spiritual place from those who do not; those who belong to Christ go to Him and others go elsewhere. We are told in the Bible, that they go to Hades. It is difficult to understand or describe Hades, because it is not a geographical location, but a powerful spiritual entity (Revelation 20:14). There the spirits of those who rebelled against God are imprisoned (1 Peter 3:19-20). Our Lord’s spirit descended there briefly after His physical death on the cross, not because He was rebellious, but because of our sins. Hades is also described for our understanding as an underground level, so those who die without Christ are thought of as going down below, those that are His and go to the Lord, are thought of as going above.
BELOW OR ABOVE?
However, when we think of these things, we must not get the idea that ‘down below’ implies that the spirit goes inside the earth and by ‘going up’ the spirit of those that believe goes up to the physical heaven beyond the stars. Many people have the idea that ‘up’ and ‘down’ in the bible are geographical locations, but they are not. The ‘up’ and ‘down’ places must be considered as levels of spiritual life, as spiritual states and not as geographical locations. There are different spiritual levels of life, so we may say ‘above’ speaks of the life of God, and what we call ‘beneath’ describes human life as we know it, which is infected with sin. We are also told by Paul that there is a spiritual level called “the lower parts of the earth,” meaning below the surface of the earth. Heaven is an infinitely large place and was created to demonstrate the infinite, limitless, pure life, of God; earth is a limited place and represents the narrowness of the human life that needs sustenance from heaven. Under the earth,represents Hades, or Sheol, a place where there is no light, it is a totally dark realm that Jesus referred to as, ‘outer darkness’, a dry andbarren and confined place, where the rebellious spirits who do not have the life of God descend after death. The spirit/soul after physical death will enter into either an elevated or demoted state, expanded or confined, liberated or imprisoned, passing into the realm of everlasting joy or into weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the spirit world there are no locations as such, but spirit beings that bring about spirit states. We understand therefore that Jesus used visible things mainly as pictures and manifestations of the spiritual invisible world. For instance, He said, “You are from beneath, I am from above” (John 8:20), and “no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that descended down from heaven, even the son of man who is in heaven” (John 3: 13). What did Jesus mean by these words? It is obvious that He did not come from another planet. Certainly He was telling us that He came from a higher spiritual level of life, of which those beneath had no idea. He came from God, Who is the highest level of spiritual life and the Creator and therefore; the origin of all other lesser lives. We are told that Christ after His physical death on the cross, whilst His body lay in the tomb, he descended into the lower parts of the earth, “Wherefore he says, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things) (Ephesians 4:8-10). He ascended high, where? Where is, above all heavens? He descended to the lower parts of the earth, where? Did He descend to the earth’s core? Did He ascend beyond the stars? Is this what Paul means? No, the Apostle was saying that Jesus descended to the lowest possible spiritual level of life, before ascending to the highest possible spiritual level of life. He descended first to the place where the lifeless spirits of men were imprisoned, tasting Himself of that state, before ascending to the highest levels of spiritual life, next to His Father. The exegesis, that whilst down below He preached the gospel to the dead spirits giving them another chance (1 Peter 3:19) is a misinterpretation, not supported by other references in the Scriptures. We read that He descended and was briefly made captive into that lowest, most degrading level of existence, because of the sins of the world.
LIFE AND DEATH
The life of God is the highest spiritual level that there is, and death, the place where this life is totally absent, a condition of complete and total darkness, absolute and complete despair. Visible things are shadows of the spiritual realities such as darkness and light, life and death, heaven and earth and below and above. When the Bible speaks about death and life we must understand that these words convey deep spiritual realities, which we as humans do not understand. The real meaning of life, in God’s view, is different from ours and this applies to death also. We call someone alive when he continues to breathe and when the blood is circulating in his body and dead when these activities cease. True life and true death are spiritual states. When someone says I feel ‘down’ today, he does not mean that he is physically down, he is describing the state of his heart. The spiritual realities of death and life are well known in the spirit world, but not by us so much, because of the veil of the flesh. At present they are invisible to the human eye, nevertheless they are the substance, whilst the visible are the shadows, they are the eternal, but that which is seen is only temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18). Christ was continually aware of the spirit world, seeing and listening, whilst people like John and Paul, had to be granted special permission to enter. Paul was not allowed to speak about it (2 Corinthians 12:4); John did and in order to convey the spiritual realities that he saw and heard in the Spirit, he used symbols and pictures understandable to the human mind (The Book of the Revelation). The spirit world becomes visible once a person physically dies, nevertheless spiritual persons can taste to a measure something of these realities while still in their mortal bodies. The visible world that we know and see and touch is only a tiny spot, the tip of an iceberg, of a vast invisible spiritual world, of which we know very little.
THE LIFE OF GOD
We said that the highest level of life is God’s life, shared by God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit and which man is called to, and can partake of, through the grace of God, in Christ Jesus. This level of life is represented by visible heaven. Visible earth represents human life as we know it, the carnal, that which is earthly. Death, which is the condition where life is totally absent, is represented by that level called, ‘below the earth’ and is known as Hades. Jesus tasted death for every man. “But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 5:9). The writer does not refer simply to the physical death of Christ on the cross when he says, “He tasted death for us,” but also means the descent below that followed after Jesus committed His spirit to His Father as He departed from His body. As Paul puts it, He descended into the lower parts of the earth, to the very bottom of spiritual existence, into that level which is totally void of life, the extremity of emptiness, where God’s wrath burns. Just before Jesus gave up his spirit, he committed it to His Father. He cried with a loud voice and said “Father to Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He had to do this and did so gladly in faith; everything now was in his Father’s hands. The journey down was dangerous and difficult, none ever escaped from Hades, and none ever ascended from there. He committed therefore His spirit to His Father. It was not the physical death alone that troubled Jesus’ soul. His soul was also troubled by what lay ahead after that; the descending into the lower parts of the earth. He needed grace, like always He could not do it alone. Oh, the anguish and the trouble that Jesus experienced in His soul! “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27). He knew very well the travailing pains involved in descending down there, He knew what the power of that spirit was. He knew that even a trace of sin could keep a person there as its permanent captive, how much more the sins of the world that were about to be laid upon Him. He wanted if possible to avoid it, but that was not his Father’s will. He had to do it; He had to go down, to descend below, to the bottom of man’s state of depravity and degradation. “Father, keep My soul from death.” He prayedwith prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:9). “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). We read that His prayers were answered and God saved him, because of His godliness (Hebrews 5:7).
HE TASTED DEATH FOR US
He was not saved from physical death, for we read that on the cross He gave up His spirit and died, but He was saved from the real death, for we read, that His Father did “not leave His soul in hell (Hades), neither did He suffer His Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10). He did not stay there in Hades, another prisoner, but He was raised from the dead. He only tasted death, for His soul never died. He tasted it as His soul descended to the lowest Hades, to the lowest spiritual place that anyone can fall. He did that, by the grace, of God for every man. He tasted death in its absoluteness, in its mosthorrificform, initsmostdreadedmanifestation, initsmosthopelessexpression, tasting at the same time the fires of God’s wrath. When He departed from His physical body He went down, He plunged into the realm of the powerful spirit of death and went down to the bottom of this spiritual abyss, to this most dark, most desperate, most painful spiritual state. Into the place of intolerable narrowness where all was so confined He passed, He who filled the heavens, entered the place of terrible hopelessness awaiting the salvation His Father had promised Him. This attempt to speak of these things so filled as they are, with mystery, is that we might realise what God is saving us from! We must understand spiritual realities and know more of the real death of Jesus Christ. It was the weight of our sins that pushed him there; we read that the wages of sin is death. Yes our sins plunged Him there, your sins and my sins and everyone’s sins, all sins of all people that ever lived from the beginning of the world. They pushed Him down and down to the bottom of this spiritual abyss. My lies and yours, our pride our bitterness our angersand murders, our adulteries and idolatries, our lusts and promiscuities, our uncleanness is what took Him there. We read in Deuteronomy 32:22,“For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” Jesus tasted this fire of God’s wrath because of our sins. He tasted His judgments in their uttermost extremities, and then came resurrection; God raised Him from the dead, His body also. “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held of it… (Acts 2:24). This is the wonderful news! Death could not keep Jesus; although it has held everyone else, it could keep not Jesus Christ.
Have you ever tried to push a ball under the water? What happens? You push it down and down, and when you let it go, at once it bounces up! How can death overcome life, how can darkness overcome light? Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and true life cannot die! By the grace of God, Jesus rose up out of the grave triumphant; He bounced up and up and up and ascended above the heavens. “Who is the One that ascended but He who descended?” (Ephesians 4:9), says the apostle Paul. So Jesus was raised and ascended, above the heavens, from the lowest to the highest, from the narrowest to an immeasurable spaciousness to fill all things, Hallelujah! He ascended into the highest places of contentment and joy, perfection and fullness, beauty and glory, into the highest place of authority and power. All this He did as our representative man,for with Him we were spiritually raised and ascended and elevated as far away from death as it can be, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 2:5-6). The highest spiritual place is where Jesus Christ and His church is now come (Hebrews 12:22), and nobody can ascend above that, and there we are with God. The spirits of the dead shall not remain always in the state that they are in now for this condition is temporal. Jesus spoke clearly about resurrection day, He said, “Marvel not at this, the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:8). The word of God informs us clearly about the judgment of all people. Jesus, we are told, shall judge the living and the dead, “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that 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, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-15). Now concerning those that are the Lord’s and have died, these have already passed from death into life through the atoning death of Christ, for them there is no Hades. Jesus said at one point, “Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:43-44). These, like Jesusshall not remain forever as disembodied spirits, but shall receive at the resurrection day, a new visible, immortal, incorruptible body and shall accompany the Lord at His return. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18). Idonotknowthereasonswhyyouarehereinthismeetingthismorning, butknowthis, JesusChristtasteddeathforyou, sothat you will never have to drink this bitter cup yourself. Do you appreciate who Christ is and what He did for you? We are nothing but He is everything and in Him we are alive. We must be comforted for our loved ones who died in the Lord, are this very moment in this most high spiritual place together with Christ! This was Paul’s desire, to depart and be with Christ, which he considered as, “much better” (Philippians 1:23). When Christ returns those who are gone on before us will be amongst an innumerable number that shall follow him. Do we love Christ Who has done all this for us? Do we honour Him, praise and worship Him? Do we know who He is? Will we go and sin again, continuing in disobedience to Him Who has done all for us? God forbid! Let us live for Him unreservedly. May this truth come to us not as abstract ideas of doctrine but reality, not knowledge only, but in spirit and life, for unless we realise who Christ is and what He did for us we will never be able to appreciate Him fully and we will never be able to live as He wants us to live or serve Him as we should. Thank you Father, thank you Jesus Christ for tasting death for us, thank you for such love, thank you for drinking the bitter cup that your Father gave you to drink for us sinners. Help us pass this message to those that are lost. Amen!