Have you considered human life and death from a spiritual perspective and the Holy Spirit’s influence upon our quality of life? Even though we cannot become immortal, New Testament writers believed that Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit’s power to reverse the consequences of our sinful, futile lifestyles. Many of their helpful insights are presented here. Bible students typically struggle with understanding the spiritual realm, or doubt its existence, because they weakly perceive it with their five senses. This difficulty in our perception should not hinder our desire to understand the spiritual realm through Biblical teachings to establish its relevance in our daily lives. By tapping into the Spirit, we can see lives transformed and renewed as Jesus taught.
The authors of the Bible consistently present the reality and eternal nature of the spiritual realm with the same sobriety as their narration of the Jewish patriarchs from the Old Testament. They use the names of men and women in Jesus’ genealogies to identify the significant forefathers of Jesus’ parents, including King David’s line, Ruth, Rahab the harlot, Jacob, Noah, Seth, and Adam. This genealogy instructed readers that Jesus was not just human and of royal Jewish lineage, but that his life fulfilled prophecies written over five hundred years earlier by Isaiah, David, Zechariah, and Daniel about Israel’s future Messiah and His victory over death and God’s wrath. As contrast, Jesus emphasized his ability to follow the Holy Spirit and its spiritual capabilities instead of citing his Jewish pedigree. John 8 describes multiple layers of how Jesus viewed the interplay between fleshly entitlement to spiritual privileges, and how inferior the human dimension is when compared to the eternal, spiritual nature of God:
John 8:21-29. “Once more Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.’ 22 This made the Jews ask, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, “Where I go, you cannot come”?’ 23 But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’ (emphasis added)
Jesus went further in describing that his identity and authority to minister to people was from a spiritual, heavenly source and not from his Jewish heritage:
John 8:31- 59. “ 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ 33 They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ 34 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
41 … ‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’ 42 Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. … 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’…” (emphasis added)
51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’ 52 At this they exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’…58 ‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”
Jesus claimed to possess a deep familiarity with the spiritual realm and a form of eternal existence not perceived by mortal man. He taught of a new covenant between God and man (sonship) that was superior to human lineage or compliance with Old Testament regulations. This is why the Gospel writers presented more than just a historical narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They felt compelled to recounted His unique relationship with God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit (the creator of heaven and earth), His Second Coming to earth in the future to rule over mankind, and the end of this age (e.g., Matthew 25, Luke 21, Daniel 9, Revelation 20).
We also see in St. Paul’s writings many details about the next age of human existence when those who follow Jesus will receive a resurrected body, like Jesus possessed from His Father after His resurrection. St. Paul makes this clear in his letters:
I Corinthians 15:50-53. “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [die physically], but we shall all be CHANGED — 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound [when Jesus returns], and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (emphasis added)
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
The above two passages describe the power of God to raise His People from death into an incorruptible form of life. However, it is unclear whether this resurrection will be only spiritual in nature or if Father and Son will re-unite the spirits of dead people with perfected flesh and blood. From the examples recorded in the Gospels about Lazarus, Jesus and two other dead persons raised by God from the dead, their bodies were intact and only dead a few days when they were brought back to life. We are uncertain how Jesus will raise from death those who died many years ago, especially those whose bodies were destroyed. Since we lack clear Biblical teaching on that point, we focus on the spiritual form of resurrection power addressed by Jesus’ disciples.
THE SON AND HOLY SPIRIT IMPART ETERNAL LIFE
St. Paul explained in Romans 6 that if we die to our self-gratification approach to life and instead aspire to be joined in the Holy Spirit, then Jesus will impart to us a transcendent form of existence, which Jesus called “eternal life” (See Mark 8 and 10, John 5:52):
Romans 6:3-7. “…do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin…. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
Mark 8:37-40. “34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [death to self], and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus provided His disciples with God’s Plan to defeat not only death and decay as individuals, but to also establish authority and governance to redeem human cultures and ethnicities!
Mark 10:37-40. “They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” (emphasis added)
Luke 19:15 – 17. 15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over TEN CITIES.’
A more detailed description of Jesus’ rulership over resurrected people is presented in Mark’s Gospel.
Mark 10: 37-40. “They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”
Within our mortal existence, we may choose to “walk in the Spirit” and follow Jesus’ example since Jesus’ baptism in the above passage means a personal calling. We can then participate in God’s eternal life while we remain inhabitants of our decaying human bodies and souls. This is one of the great mysteries of our life as Christians!
1 Corinthians 6:16 – 18. “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”[a] 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (emphasis added)
St. Paul contrasts the fleshly, physical dimension and its vulnerability to defiling, external influences with the loftier spiritual dimension, as if each dimension co-exists actively. Is Paul really saying that those who engage in sexual immorality disturb or hinder their ability to be joined to God’s Holy Spirit? The above passage implies this inter-relationship between flesh and spirit.
ACCESS TO THE SPIRITUAL REALM IS NOT EXCLUSIVE
How do we obtain greater access to the spiritual realm? Christians do not have exclusive access; those who engage in mysticism and the occult also claim to have access to the unseen realm of spirits. They do not have the protection or guidance of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to assist them in the spiritual realm. By taking more time in our weekly schedules to calm our minds and souls and enter invite the Holy Spirit to guide our consciousness we make room in our awareness to His leading.
Ezekiel 36:26-40. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
Galatians 5:16-20. 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
In the last passage, St. Paul tells us that before we followed Jesus our desires were primarily to please our fleshly appetites. This orientation differs from living under the influence of the Holy Spirit in our service to others and dying to our self-fulfillment needs. We choose which influence to live under day by day!
RE-BIRTH IN THE SPIRIT IS NECESSARY TO SEE GOD’S KINGDOM
We return to our initial inquiry, “Why do many people continue to doubt that spiritual life and death exist?” Many people misunderstand the transcendent reality of the spiritual realm. Yet only one realm is described by Gospel writers as “eternal” compared to the limited, decaying physical realm that we live in. For example, Jesus taught that rebirth in the Holy Spirit is required to be able to see and apprehend the “kingdom of God” (John 3:3-15). St. Paul taught the same distinction in 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 3:
John 3:3-15. “3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is BORN of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
1 Corinthians 2:9-14. “But as it is written [Isaiah 64:4]: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”[c] 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[d] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Colossians 3:1-3. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” (emphasis added)
St. Paul warns that if we rely upon the “spirit of the world” to discern and use our human understanding to follow God’s ways and instructions instead of using the Holy Spirit as our source of discernment and communication, we will not “know the things freely given to us by God”. Our worldly beliefs and our limited minds resist the Spirit because they operate in different dimensions with different channels and outcomes. In other words, human effort and striving typically lead to futility and death because they fall short of the Holy Spirit’s method of hearing and pleasing God. This is an important reason why the gifts imparted freely by the Holy Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians 12 (e.g., speaking in spiritual tongues and prophesying) are easily misused by some who attempt these expressions using their human, fleshly orientation instead relying upon the Holy Spirit and a sincere love for God in serving others (See 1 Peter 1:22).
WHEN DOES OUR LIFE BEGIN AND END?
A deeper question to ask the writers of the Bible is, “Why does human life end in physical and spiritual death?” Does human death mean that life ceases or does the human spirit enter into another body or a non-human being? St. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the result of human sin (disobeying God) is death but the gift of God is an eternal form of human life through Jesus Christ his son. St. Paul’s views were influenced by his meeting Jesus in the form of a spirit on the Damascus road and his visits to heavenly realms where he learned about spiritual dynamics.
2 Corinthians 12:2-4. “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man … 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
An atheist might argue that spiritual dimensions and spiritual life and death 1) are illusory and unreal. An atheist may limit our existence as merely a chemical, biological process in which our tissues, blood, and organs operate and decompose after our heart and brain stop functioning. These viewpoints, however, are overly narrow. Most people are not afraid of physical death, but are more afraid of what happens after they die. They consider the human spirit to continue to exist separately from the body after death. This belief, for example, is the basis of the grand burial practices of many ancient peoples and the Hindu belief in reincarnation after death. In contrast, the Bible teaches that a person dies once and does not reincarnate into different flesh. Consider St. Paul’s insights in 1 Corinthians 15:
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-36, 39-45. “21 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 BUT EACH ONE IN HIS OWN ORDER: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death….
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies… 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written,“The first man Adam became a living being.”[d] The last Adam (Jesus) became a life-giving spirit.”
This passage implies that Jesus will return to earth as the resurrected Messiah, not as a different person or as a non-human being. Likewise, those who follow Jesus will return in a resurrected form of his or her own life. The writers of the New Testament provide us with consistent statements of personhood retention after death. Thus we see in Luke’s gospel this rare account of post-death activity:
Luke 16:22-32. “So it was that the beggar [Lazarus] died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ 27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
Even beyond an awareness of the post-death spiritual realm, St. John in Revelation reports that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, He was given the keys to unlock Death and Hades and those kept in those holding places. This means that our lives do not end with physical death! Consider the extensive role of Jesus as a judge in Revelation 1 through 3 and the last two chapters.
Revelation 1:18. “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. 19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (emphasis added)
As an application of the principles of spiritual life and death, the followers of Jesus continued to invite the Holy Spirit to impart God’s life-giving power to others who dying in their sinful lifestyles. We will face our Creator in the future and He will inquire how we invested our time and energy on earth. The writer of Hebrews and Revelation emphasize the judgment seat of Christ.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (emphasis added) Hebrews 4:12
If we believe that God will one day judge us, should we live as mere mortals or as eternal people? Each of us chooses daily HOW to pursue life. If we are not deliberate in defining a path of life offered to us by the Holy Spirit, we will miss many opportunities to extend life and avoid death.