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Parsha Chayei Sarah – Apostolic Readings, Commentary, and Videos

Torah study for Christians on parsha Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18.

Readings

  • Genesis 23
    • Matthew 27:3-10
    • John 11:14-46
    • 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
    • 3 John 1:3-7
  • Genesis 24
    • Luke 7:20-27
    • John 3:29-36
    • John 14:23-27
    • 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
  • Genesis 25:1-18
    • Matthew 28:18-20
    • Luke 5:36-39
    • John 17:6-24

Additional Reading

Videos Related to Parsha Chayei Sarah

  • A Metaphor of the Divine Plan in Joshua 15 – The episode of Caleb and his daughter Achsah is inserted into a strange place here. Once again, here’s an invitation to look for a prophetic message! Let me tell you what I see in this passage about God’s divine plan.
  • A Woman of Valor, Who Can Find? – The Hebrew word used to describe the Proverbs 31 wife in v10 and translated variously as “excellent”, “of valor”, and “competent” is “chayil”. It most often refers to an army or a might warrior. Do you want an excellent wife? Then look for a woman with strength, competence, and intelligence coupled with humility and a desire to serve her husband.
  • Rebekah’s Godly Character in Genesis 24 – Abraham sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer, who knew the heart of Abraham and of YHWH, asked God for a sign: “When I ask her for a drink of water, she will also offer to water my camels.” Rebekah did exactly that in spectacular fashion, and she didn’t stop there! This story reveals three important character traits of Rebekah, traits that God wants to see in ALL of his people.

Resurrection and Eternal Life in the Bible

What does the Bible say about the resurrection and eternal life?

As you read, you might want to refer back to these two articles:

Resurrection in the Bible is a very big deal. Yeshua (aka Jesus) is our savior and the only way to be reconciled to our Heavenly Creator and Father, but resurrection is central to the very meaning of salvation. When Yeshua saves us, he saves us from the eternal consequences of our sins and allows us to be resurrected into eternal life in God’s presence. The Bible talks about resurrection from beginning to end. It is described or discussed in many passages, and hidden by metaphor and allegory in many more.

On one hand, what we believe about our own resurrection and what happens afterward has very little bearing on our eternal salvation. We will be resurrected whether we understand that it will happen or not, and we will receive eternal life if we have lived believing in Yeshua and the promises of God whether we completely understand all of those promises or not.

On the other hand, our understanding of the resurrection will effect our understanding of much of the rest of Scripture, including what it means to believe in Yeshua. A person can be saved from his sins and resurrected to eternal life without ever hearing that there will be a resurrection, but his spiritual life will suffer because he doesn’t have a full understanding of his relationship with God and his place in God’s eternal plan.

Remember that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, and that led them into many other errors. Yeshua and the Apostles thought that teaching about the resurrection was important enough that they repeatedly came into conflict with the Sadducees over it, risking imprisonment, beatings, and even death!

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Acts 4:1-2

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”
Acts 23:6

In my previous article on the afterlife, I established from Scripture a rough idea of what happens to a person after he dies: his spirit goes to one of the regions or chambers of Sheol to await resurrection. In this article, I’m going to pick up where that one left off and examine what Scripture says about the resurrection itself and what happens after that.

Many Temporary Resurrections

There are many resurrections recorded in the Bible, but most of them were temporary. A person died, was brought back to life, and then presumably died again sometime later.

  • Elijah and Elisha both brought children back to life in the Old Testament.
  • Yeshua raised at least three people from the grave before his own crucifixion.
  • Many people buried in Jerusalem came back to life about the same time Yeshua was resurrected.
  • The Apostles raised some from the dead after Yeshua returned to Heaven.

There is no indication in Scripture that any of those people are still alive today or that their resurrected bodies were incorruptible as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15. If they had been made immortal or if they had ascended into Heaven like Yeshua, I’m certain that some mention would have been made of that. It’s much more likely that their spirits were returned to their former bodies, which were healed of any injuries and corruption and then grew old and died again as do the bodies of all other people.

Yeshua’s resurrection was different. He was raised from the dead in a glorified body and then rose through the clouds to heaven in his physical form. Unlike the rest of us, his body didn’t return to the dust of the earth.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
Psalms 16:10

He left the grave with the same body that was crucified, but it was transformed. As I will show, this allowed him to prefigure two groups of believers at the end.

Appointed unto Men Once to Die

If those who were resurrected in years past were destined to die again, how should we understand this verse in the Letter to the Hebrews?

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…
Hebrews 9:27

This is a statement of general principle, not an absolute law. It’s similar to saying that “what goes up must come down”, but we all know that some things go up and never come back down. Numerous spacecraft have left the earth and never come back. Those few exceptions don’t negate the principle that anything thrown into the air will be pulled back to the ground by gravity. Without some continuous force keeping it from falling, it will fall.

In the same way, all those resurrected before Yeshua’s return have been thrown up from the grave, but the inevitable effects of entropy and the continual pull of Sheol eventually bring them back down again. They returned to life and their families, but continued to age until they died and were buried once more.

Scripture itself describes a “second death” in Revelation 21:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Revelation 21:8

We can’t read both Hebrews 9:27 and Revelation 21:8 in a strictly literal sense or else they contradict each other. The one describes the usual–though not universal–end of our mortal flesh–while the second is a description of the end of the resurrected, incorruptible flesh of the wicked after the final judgment.

The writer of Hebrews meant that there is no reincarnation. Everybody gets one life, not two or a hundred. Nobody will live, die, and then be born again as a baby to do it all over. This life is not a dress rehearsal. With very few exceptions, men are given one mortal body that lives once, dies, and returns to the earth.

Wait… Backup. “The incorruptible flesh of the wicked”!?

Yes, but more on that later. I’m sorry if this is getting confusing, but I will try to pull it all together at the end.

The First Resurrection

I am not going to speculate on when, but sometime in the future, Yeshua will return to earth in glory and power with a noise something like a great trumpet or the shout of a multitude.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Revelation 19:11

As Revelation 19 indicates, this will happen after the Beast and the False Prophet have spent some years persecuting and murdering God’s faithful during a period known as The Great Tribulation. When Yeshua returns, “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). These aren’t all those who died prior to Yeshua’s return, but only those killed by the Beast and his minions.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years….This is the first resurrection.
Revelation 20:4-5

These martyrs of the Beast are the first wave of the Final Resurrection, long before the second wave. I don’t believe that their former bodies will be brought back to life, because they will have been killed over the course of several years and their bodies will have decomposed. Instead, these martyrs will gain newly created bodies that will never decompose.

And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
1 Corinthians 15:37-38

These new bodies will be immortal. Although they have a beginning, they will have no end, reigning at Yeshua’s side for a period of one thousand years (commonly known by some variation of the word “Millennium”) and living beyond that.

The Great Resurrection

At the end of the Millennium, Yeshua will put down a rebellion of the nations, destroy all of the physical universe, and raise all the dead who remain in Sheol. Everyone–great and small, righteous and wicked–will be resurrected and given brand new bodies. Yes, even the wicked will be resurrected at the end.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended…
Revelation 20:5

Sheol will be completely emptied of all who have died between Adam’s Fall and the destruction of the Earth. Those countless souls will be given new bodies and made to stand before the Throne of God to learn whether their names are written in the Book of Life. If their names are found in the Book, they will keep their new bodies and remain alive forever in the presence of God. If their names are not found, they will be condemned.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
Revelation 20:11-12

Sheol itself will be cast into Hell and the wicked who have just been resurrected and judged will follow.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:14-15

The Transformation of the Survivors

All those who were still alive at the time of the Final Judgment will be transformed. They won’t die, but their bodies will be glorified like Yeshua’s. He died and was resurrected, but he didn’t receive a new body. Rather the body he inhabited when he walked the earth was refined and glorified, made immune to death. In this, Yeshua’s resurrection prophesied both the resurrection of the dead and the glorification of the living before the Final Judgment.

Those who are alive at the end will stand judgment alongside the newly resurrected. The faithful among them will go on to eternal life, while the unfaithful will go down to Hell and the Second Death, having passed by the First Death altogether.

The End and the Beginning

Death and resurrection have been with us since Adam first sinned and they are central to God’s plan to refine mankind and restore us to full relationship with him as we once had in the Garden. A few have died and been resurrected temporarily, but everyone who has ever died will be resurrected and everyone who has ever lived will stand together before the throne of God to be judged for eternity.

Those whose names are found in the Book of Life will see a new heaven and earth. What happens after that has not been revealed and has barely even been hinted at so far as I know. I suspect that the time we spent on the first earth is merely trial, a proving ground for our Great Continuation. Life is a furnace and we are all silver ore being refined into something beautiful and useful. The dross will be discarded and the silver retained. What use the Creator will put us to is a mystery that I can’t wait to discover!

Note: You might also appreciate Tony Robinson’s teaching series on Resurrection in the Old Testament.

Did Paul Behave Differently with Jews and Gentiles?

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 1 Corinthians 9:20

During a lengthy argument between pronomians and antinomians in an online forum, one Torah-keeper asked “Why did Paul go with other Christian brothers and sacrifice sheep at the Temple?”

Someone on the other side of the argument replied…

Why? That easy: 1 Corinthians 9:20

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. “

-NorOb

In other words, NorOb believes that Paul was a good actor. He was just pretending to do Jewish things to trick the Jews into thinking he was just like them. When Jews complained that Paul was teaching other Jews to abandon Torah, he took a Nazirite vow and made a blood sacrifice at the Temple, paying for several other men to do the same thing to demonstrate that those Jews were in error. If NorOb’s interpretation is correct, then Paul only did this to pretend that he still kept the Law. As soon as he was back among gentiles, he resumed eating pork chops.

This is not a reasonable interpretation. Once again, it is a misunderstanding based on one statement taken out of its original context. Here’s the same verse with the surrounding text:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Unless NorOb is a true antinomian and libertine, I seriously doubt that he believes that “I have become all things to all people” means Paul fornicated in order to witness to fornicators. He didn’t starve himself and cause his muscles to atrophy so that he could become weak in order to win the weak over to Christ. His intended meaning should be very clear to those who have done actual street ministry or door-to-door witnessing.

Paul didn’t become lawless so that he could win the lawless or legalistic to win the legalistic. Instead he did the same thing that Yeshua did with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and rabbis: he spoke to them where they were and in terms they could understand. He did not pretend to be something he was not. In order to convince deeply religious Jews that Yeshua is the Messiah, Paul wrote of the priesthood and tabernacle (the Letter to the Hebrews, probably). In order to introduce Greeks to the Creator, he spoke to them of their own Unknown God (Acts 17:21-34).

I am certain that Paul did not mean what NorOb asserted, and Paul himself confirmed it. First, in the very same passage, Paul said that he did not operate outside of God’s Law.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
1 Corinthians 9:21

Second, only a few sentences later, he wrote that he kept his body under strict discipline so as no to compromise his witness.

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27

In other words, he strictly monitored and controlled his own behavior so that nobody would have cause to call him a hypocrite. He was consistent in lifestyle, morality, worship, theology, not changing his behavior based on the company at hand. He called Peter on the carpet for the very thing that NorOb accused Paul of:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Galatians 2:11-14

Third, he said that he remained a Pharisee in regards to the Law his entire life. He always kept the Law no matter where he was or who was watching.

My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
Acts 26:4-5

Either Paul lied to Agrippa or else he continued to live as a Pharisee at all times during his many missionary trips among both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the book of Acts. 

It is abundantly clear from Paul’s own extensive testimony that he did not sacrifice at the Temple only so that he could appear to be a Jew in the eyes of other Jews. He sacrificed at the Temple because he really was a Torah-observant Jew in every way and continued as such throughout his entire life.

And he wrote…

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1

Be obedient like Paul and like Christ. Be straightforward and consistent in your moral behavior, like Paul and like Christ.

What Happens When You Die?

What happens when you die? Do you go straight to Heaven? Or somewhere else?

Please refer to A Dictionary of Death, Resurrection, and Judgment for terms that might not be clear, and to A Timeline of Resurrection and Judgment for an overall perspective of related events since Yeshua’s crucifixion.


Faces blur, lights fade, and darkness closes in.

But there’s another light. Just a pinpoint at first, but it grows brighter and brighter, larger and larger, until it rushes in like an oncoming train, and suddenly you find yourself… someplace else, but where?

Whether we admit it openly or spend much time thinking about it, everyone wants to know what happens when you die.

We’ve all heard stories about it: a bright light, a tunnel, meeting God, etc., or else somewhere dark and hot, where you meet someone else entirely. We’ve also heard sermons and Sunday School lessons–not to mention Internet memes and Hollywood productions–about going to Heaven or Hell. And who hasn’t heard someone say, “I just know my [insert loved one here] is looking down from Heaven.”

Recently, someone in our local community expressed her frustration to me over the conflicting messages from church, friends, and Scripture. Some talk about soul-sleep, others about Purgatory, and still others say we go to be with Jesus in Heaven immediately upon death. They all claim Scriptural support for their beliefs, but all three are mutually exclusive, so only one of them can be right. Or none of them.

I had a pretty good idea of what the Bible said about life after death, but I didn’t want to give her a hasty answer. I needed to check a few things and get back to her. Those few things turned into a few more things, and then there was COVID…but that’s another story, at least for me. It didn’t take me long to realize that the topic was more complicated than I thought. In order to really understand what happens immediately after death, I needed a better picture of the entirety of the afterlife. Not just now, but the resurrections of Revelation, the final judgment, and beyond.

After a couple of months of searching the Scriptures and consulting the apocrypha, Early Church Fathers, and modern Bible commentaries, here’s what I can say for certain: not a whole lot. Much of the popular imagery of Heaven and Hell comes from European mythology, fiction, and conjecture, not from the Bible or even Jewish tradition. Some of what I was taught in church when I was young–or at least what I think I remember being taught in church–was wrong or at least unfounded. The Bible just doesn’t give a lot of specific details.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me tell you about my current beliefs…

Sheol, Hades, and the Grave

Sheol is the Hebrew word for Hades, also often referred to euphemistically as “the grave”. Ancient Jewish beliefs on the afterlife were about as divided as modern Christian beliefs are. According to the Book of Enoch1 (Michael A. Knibb translation, chapter 22), Sheol is divided into four areas, great “hollow places” in the earth, two for the righteous and two for the wicked. This is similar to the picture given by Yeshua in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, in which the spirits of the righteous went to Abraham’s side (aka Abraham’s Bosom), while the spirits of the wicked went to another place of extreme thirst, but close enough to be able to see and interact with the righteous dead.

I don’t believe these depictions were meant to be literally true. However, they might still describe something about an incomprehensible reality in terms that we can understand. Sheol is a spiritual place, not a physical one, so descriptions such as found in Luke 16 and Enoch are necessarily allegorical. The righteous and the wicked are separated by the spiritual equivalent of a chasm, rather than an actual crack in the ground (Luke) or walls carved out of a mountainside (Enoch). The dead have no bodies, and so they don’t see, hear, or experience physical sensations in the same way that the living do, let alone thirst for water. The side of the chasm reserved for the wicked isn’t actually uncomfortably dry, but the dead who are there experience some sensation analogous to extreme thirst.

Don’t dismiss the “parable” of Lazarus and the rich man as a mere parable. Yeshua might (or might not!) have chosen specific terms and imagery in order to align with the cultural beliefs of the day, but this is the only parable in which he gave one of the characters a name. I believe this unusual bit indicates that the essence of the story is true, even if Yeshua changed some details to make the setting more comprehensible to a flesh and blood audience.

What Is Sheol Really Like?

The Bible doesn’t give a lot of specific information about life…or, um, death…in Sheol, but it does give us some glimpses into how the ancient Hebrews, including the Patriarchs and Prophets thought of it. I have listed below some points that can be gleaned from Scripture, but keep in mind that some of the source texts are poetry, and therefore laden with hyperbole and allegory. The Scriptural references aren’t exhaustive, but should be sufficiently representative.

  • Everyone goes to Sheol. Genesis 37:35, 42:38, etc; Numbers 16:30,33; 2 Samuel 22:6; Job 21:13; Psalm 18:5, 89:48; Isaiah 5:14; Luke 16:19-31
  • The righteous go to a pleasant side of Sheol, a paradise. Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:43
  • The wicked go to an unpleasant side of Sheol. Job 26:6, Luke 16:19-31
  • Some fallen angels or antediluvian villains have been imprisoned in Sheol. 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:7
  • The physical body decomposes and returns to the earth, while the spirit lives on. Psalm 141:7, 146:4; Ecclesiastes 3:20, 12:7; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57; James 2:26
  • The dead still exist in some way in the present and do not skip across time to the final judgment. Genesis 37:9-10 (his mother died years earlier); Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:27; Luke 20:37-38
  • The dead can’t return from Sheol of their own volition, but can be called up against God’s Law. 1 Samuel 28:11-12; Job 7:9; Isaiah 38:10-11
  • The dead are in a sleep-like state or at least have limited awareness. Psalm 6:5, 49:19, & 115:17; Ecclesiastes 9:5,10; Daniel 12:1-3; Matthew 27:52; 1 Corinthians 15:20,35-37

Everyone’s spirit goes to Sheol after death, while their body stays behind and decays into nothing. Once there, they don’t come back unless resurrected or temporarily brought back by a necromancer. (I wouldn’t count on any spirits called up by a necromancer to be who they claim to be, though. Satan is the master of every necromancer and spiritist, and he is a consummate liar!) The minds of the dead are dulled nearly to the extent of sleep, but the dead do experience some kinds of sensations analogous to physical pleasure and pain. Existence there is more pleasant for the righteous than for the wicked, although we don’t know exactly what that means.

Do the Dead Still Go to Sheol?

It is commonly taught in Christian churches that Yeshua went to Sheol (aka Hades) during the three days he was dead and preached the Gospel to the spirits imprisoned there. Those who believed him and repented (What does it mean for the dead to repent?), he released and took up to Heaven with him. I have seen three verses from Ephesians and 1 Peter used to support this idea:

A Host of Captives

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
Ephesians 4:8-10

In this passage, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18, which is about God liberating Israel from oppression and sin and elevating them through worship and obedience. In Ephesians 4, Paul is using it in a very similar manner. When he says Yeshua descended to the “lower regions”, he means the earth, not the grave. We, not the dead in Hades, are the captives that have been set free and elevated by repentance from sin and adoption into the House of God. The gifts he gave to men are “the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

The Spirits in Prison

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
1 Peter 3:18-20

Peter and Jude both wrote about some of the events described in the Book of Enoch. They don’t appear to have quoted it directly, but they and their intended audiences were clearly very familiar with its contents. In this passage, “the spirits in prison” does not refer to all men who died before Yeshua’s crucifixion. Rather, it refers to the extraordinarily wicked people who were destroyed in Noah’s Flood, or else the “hosts of Azazel” which led men into their wickedness.

In either case, he surely did not go there in order to preach the Gospel one more time to those who heard and rejected it from Noah for one hundred years! Should he give the worst of the worst a second chance after death while abandoning the vast multitudes who lived and died in lesser sins after the Flood? Peter also wrote nothing about releasing these prisoners or taking anyone to Heaven.

Yeshua did not go to Sheol to convert those already condemned. He went there to show them the glory predicted by Enoch and Noah and which they forfeited by their hard-headed rebellion. Those prisoners who heard Yeshua’s proclamations over those three days are still there today and will only be released in order to be judged and transferred to the Lake of Fire at the End.

The Gospel Was Preached to the Dead

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
1 Peter 4:6

I believe that “those who are dead” in this verse refers to living people who are spiritually dead, as described in v3, “living in sensuality, passions,” etc.. Peter’s hope was that, in preaching the truth of God’s judgment and forgiveness to the wicked, he might rescue some of them from their sins, converting those who are dead in the flesh into spiritually living sons of God.

It’s possible that he really did mean that Yeshua (or someone) preached to the dead in Sheol in order to convert them, but he still gives no hint that anyone who is there might be released prior to the Final Judgment. The only way to get that out of the text is to insert it first. Nobody could read 1 Peter and get the idea that any of the dead had been released from Sheol unless they already believed that before reading it.

Do We Go Straight to Heaven or Hell When We Die?

Most Christians seem to believe that, after Yeshua’s resurrection, Sheol (if they are aware of it at all) has been closed and locked, so that the righteous dead now go immediately to Heaven while the wicked go immediately to Hell. Certainly before the crucifixion, nobody went directly to Heaven when they died. In John 3:13, Yeshua told Nicodemus that no man other than Yeshua himself had ascended to Heaven. As I’ve shown above, I don’t believe there is any reason in Scripture to believe that the dead who were in Sheol at that time aren’t still there now, but what about people who died after that?

There is only one passage in all of Scripture (that I know of!) that can be reasonably interpreted to mean that the dead go straight to Heaven:

And [Yeshua] said to [the thief on the cross], “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

Ancient Greek, like ancient Hebrew, had no real punctuation, so translators need to exercise some license and discretion in deciding how to punctuate the English. Some believe that the comma should be moved from after “you” to after “today”, changing the meaning to something like “I say to you right now, that you will be with me in paradise someday.” I’m not an expert in Biblical Greek, but I have heard from those who are that this would have been a very unusual way to speak, so this theory probably is not correct.

I think the word “paradise” is much more open to interpretation. Literally, it refers to a manicured garden or a park. The word was often used to refer to any pleasant, peaceful place, even to the righteous side of Sheol.

We know that Yeshua did not go to Heaven immediately after he died, so how could the thief be with him in Heaven? If “today you will be with me in paradise” was literally true, then “paradise” can only refer to the pleasant place in Sheol that King James Version readers have come to know as “Abraham’s Bosom”. In other words, Yeshua was telling the humble thief that his faith would be rewarded by allowing him to wait out the final resurrection and judgment with Abraham and Lazarus rather than in torment with the rich man and the prideful thief who mocked Yeshua.

The short answer is, no, we do not go straight to Heaven or Hell when we die. Rather we go to Sheol, just as did wicked Korah and righteous Moses.

How Long Will We Remain in the Grave?

Not forever!

It is impossible to say how time passes for the dead. Since their conscious processes are severely limited, I suspect that their perception of time is probably very different from ours. None-the-less, they do have a long wait in store before they will be resurrected for the White Throne Judgment at the end. How long is known only to God, but it will be at least another thousand years for most (or all) of us alive today.

Why a thousand years? And what happens then? You will have to wait for a later article in this series to learn why that is so.

The question of “What happens when you die?” in the immediate sense is never addressed directly in Scripture. We can only work with hints and their implications, but those hints aren’t insignificant either. The Prophets and Apostles pointed us in the right general direction, but gave very little detail. That very lack of detail also tells us something: What happens to our spirits between death and resurrection isn’t nearly as important as what happens before and after.


1 The Book of Enoch might contain some remnants of prophetic writings of Enoch, the great grandfather of Noah, but any intact copies of his own work (if they ever existed) are long lost. The bulk of the book was probably written only a few hundred years Before Christ at the earliest. While it contains a lot of truth and much of it aligns with the words of Yeshua and the Apostles, some of it does not. The Book of Enoch is much more likely to have taken ideas–possibly even direct quotes of other works–that would have been familiar to many Jews of the time, and incorporated them into a work that is entirely allegorical. According to Ryan White, Enoch was probably intended to be a veiled commentary on current events, not to be taken as the actual writings of the antediluvian prophet. Whether or not that is correct, it is full of allegory, and the nature of the text itself indicates that almost nothing in it should be taken strictly literally.

Dead Works and Living Faith

Does the Letter to the Hebrews say that the blood of Christ nullifies any need for believers to keep God's Law today?

Years ago–sometimes it feels like a previous life–I used to engage any willing theological or political combatant on blogs, forums, and listservs. Not so much anymore. I don’t have the patience for rehashing the same old arguments for the ten thousandth time.

Those years did have a lot of value, though. In defending and supporting my own beliefs, I managed to change my own mind on many topics, I learned an awful lot from digging through the Bible, and I was able to help a very few people with honest questions find some answers. It also produced some great blog fodder. 😉 The post below (in addition to some previous and future posts) came out of one of those discussions…


Dead Works

A commenter using the name “Book of Hebrews” made the following argument against a believer in Yeshua (aka Jesus) keeping Torah today:

Plus there’s that whole crazy thing called…The Book of Hebrews.

“When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. For if the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of cleanness of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God?”-Hebrews 9:11-14

“Book of Hebrews” should have paid more attention to the Letter to the Hebrews. Look at verses 13 & 14 in the passage he quoted, as well as this one from the next chapter:

Hebrews 10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats take away sins.

“Dead works” are those actions that transgress the Law and thus put us under its jurisdiction. The blood of bulls and goats is effective for sanctifying the flesh, but completely ineffective for sanctifying the spirit from those dead works. (Although sin is both physical and spiritual, it should be clear from the context that the author is referring to sin’s taint on the soul in 10:4.) The present tense used by the author is especially important. The blood of bulls and goats is effective for the flesh and is not effective for the spirit. In fact, the temple sacrifices were never effective for sanctifying the spirit.

Living Faith

Consider what this fact means in light of this passage:

[Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth….Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Hebrews 11:13 & 16

These great saints lived and died long before Sinai, yet the blood of Yeshua still washed the stain of sin from their souls by way of their faith in God’s providence. The mechanism of their salvation was (is!) no different than that of the saints who lived after Sinai and before Calvary: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. They all lived by faith and are (or will be) raised from the dead because of that faith. They all sacrificed bulls and goats to cleanse their flesh, but they also knew that all of that blood was insufficient to remove all sins from their eternal souls.

This doesn’t mark a change in the Law, merely a continuation. There was always only one way to the Father: faith in his grace to forgive our sins, enabled by the blood of Yeshua. And no amount of faith or grace ever removed the obligation of God’s people to obey his eternal commandments.

Bride, Priest, and Citizen

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2

And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am YHWH who sanctifies him.
Leviticus 21:13-15

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2

The High Priest of Israel was only to marry a virgin of Israel.

For anyone else, there is nothing wrong with marrying a woman who is not a virgin, but, because of his close contact with YHWH, the High Priest had to keep himself to a much higher standard, beyond simple right and wrong. He is also a type of the Messiah, for whom we are preparing ourselves as a bride. In practical terms, it is impossible for us to be pure. Everyone has sinned and therefore the whole body of his people has also sinned. Our theology is corrupt, our behavior is corrupt, our minds and hearts are corrupt. On what basis can Paul say that he intends to present the Church to Messiah Yeshua as a pure virgin?

Solely on the basis of Yeshua’s righteousness imputed to us through his blood which takes away our impurity. He more than covers us, more than forgives us. He cleanses us, making us whole and pure again.

They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.
Ezekiel 44:23

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5

We have become the bride of Messiah, and we have also been made priests, not of the orders of Aaron or Melchizedek, but that of all believers. From the beginning, when Israel was chosen from among the nations, she was chosen to be God’s bride and a nation of priests to the world. Set apart and made holy, we are tasked with teaching the world the difference between unclean and clean, drawing them closer to their creator and interceding on their behalf.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:9-11

We are the bride of Christ, we are a nation of priests, and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We have been reborn into the nation of Israel, wild olive shoots grafted into a cultivated tree. As citizens, whether physically circumcised or only spiritually, we are expected to behave ourselves as children of the King, not flaunting privilege, but obeying a higher standard.

Our ultimate purification is yet to come, but until we finally exchange these mortal, corruptible shells for eternal, incorruptible bodies, we must strive to live as pure as we are able, with the aid of God’s Word and Spirit. We can’t be perfect, but we can always be better than we are, one choice, one stop, one word at a time. It’s the least we can do for our ultimate, heavenly High Priest and Husband.

Father Sky, Mother Earth

And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it. Exodus 20:26

An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.

If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.

And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’

Exodus 20:24-26

The Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians all had sacred prostitutes or somehow mixed sex with worship. In fact, I’d be surprised if there was any culture on earth that hadn’t dabbled in “sacred sex” at some point in their history.

In a very real sense, God is our father and the earth is our mother. The God of heaven took a bit of earth to fashion a man and then breathed his spirit into it, creating a being in his own image. This fact in combination with the astounding miracles of reproduction, of putting seeds in the ground so that they will sprout and produce more seeds, of a man and woman joining their bodies to create a new person in their own image, could easily lead people into the ideas manifested in fertility cults. If imitation is the sincerest flattery, how better can we worship the Creator than through an act of creation?

The command to make an altar of earth in order to worship the God of heaven re-emphasizes our creation from these two. However, there are two more commands attached to this one that strongly imply God does not approve of sex as an act of worship.

In the first command, God says we are not to build the altar with cut stones. We might have ideas about how to make a more beautiful altar, but God has said he will prepare the stones. We get to select them and place them, but the materials and format are strictly up to him. God wants his worship his way, not ours. He has told us how he is to be worshiped, and, although we might have a great deal of leeway in some of the details, we are not free to improvise however we choose. He commanded us to reproduce, but he did not command us to worship him through the reproductive act.

In the second command, God says the altar should be placed so as to avoid even accidental exposure of the priest’s nakedness. If there was any doubt as to whether nudity should or should not be a part of overt worship, that should quell it.

In other places, Torah is quite clear that temple prostitution is an abomination to God. He doesn’t seem to have left much room for debate on this issue among people who accept the Hebrew scriptures as divinely inspired.

When a man and woman become one, they image Elohim by creating a new life and God frequently compares his relationship with his people to that of a husband and wife. The Hebrew and Canaanite word for “husband” is ba’al, which the Canaanites also applied to their chief deity as a proper name. The sex act can be a physically, emotionally, and even spiritually intense experience. Incorporating it into the worship of a god, a divine ba’al, makes intuitive sense. Yet God hates it. He wants no sex, no alcohol, no nakedness in his worship.

Yet another illustration of how “follow your heart” is frequently the worst possible advice.

Out of Faith, Obedience

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Proverbs 28:9

I was going through some old correspondence on the issue of Torah-keeping, and would like to share some of the better thoughts. This is somewhat edited from the original emails from sometime between 2000 and 2006…

The theology I remember being taught when growing up in the Assemblies of God now seems to me like a substitute legalism. Dispensationalism of any sort almost inevitably exchanges a Mosaic legalism for a Paulist legalism. The truth is that there is a middle ground that is completely consistent with the entire Bible, without having to relegate certain of God’s instructions to certain dispensations. The Letter to the Hebrews makes it very clear that the method of salvation has not changed from Abraham until now. Salvation was always through faith, and faith always results in obedience quite apart from salvation.

Dispensationalism teaches salvation is through faith in some eras and salvation through obedience in others. In reality there is no conflict between faith and obedience at any time. No one was ever saved by obedience to God’s Law. But if you do not have at least the beginning of obedience, then you cannot have faith, and you are therefore not “saved”. The Spirit will lead you ever towards obedience, but if you deliberately ignore one aspect of what the Spirit has already told you in writing through Moses, how can you expect to ever effectively hear that still, small voice?

Solomon wrote:

Trust in YHWH with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding….Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
Proverbs 3:5 & 28:26

Jeremiah wrote:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9

Do you really believe that you are the exception, that your heart isn’t like everyone else’s?

I think you are fortunate that God tries to communicate with you at all when you attempt to dictate through what medium he is allowed to speak. If what you are hearing in secret in your own heart conflicts with what God has revealed openly to the entire world, then there is a very good chance that your heart is deceiving you.

If anyone turns away his ear from hearing the Torah, even his prayer is an abomination.
Proverbs 28:9