Christ Jesus, while in the flesh on earth, told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word he shall not see death” (John 8:51). Again, He says, “Whoever believes in Him (Christ) should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). Yet, in another place, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). Since the dawn of Christianity, its followers have understood that in Christ they are no longer subject to death. But wait, there are Christian graves all over the world. Clearly, Christians die, someone may object.
|The Pillaging of Sheol (Hades)|
In ancient Christian thought there are two deaths: one is the falling asleep of the body to await the general resurrection (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13ff), the other is the result of being willfully cut off from the source of Life: God (cf. Rev. 20:14, 21:8). In the beginning, when Adam sinned he was cast out of Paradise, and thus fellowship with God the Giver of Life. God had warned Adam, “In the day you eat of it (the tree of knowledge) you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Now, as one reads on Adam did not drop dead when he ate the fruit or did he? Spiritually speaking he did, through his willful disobedience, he severed himself from the source of life. He became the existing dead. This spiritual death took over 900 years to manifest itself in the passing of his body back to the earth from whence it came. In the Scripture, the root cause of physical death is spiritual death. When Christ came, He first healed mankind of spiritual death, and at the second coming He will consummate the action in healing bodily death through the final resurrection.
The pattern is clear, sin is the doorway of death. “Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin ...” (Rom 5:12). Christ Jesus' primary act is to free humanity from bondage to sin and death, which were chains enslaving us to the enemy. “In order that through death He (Christ) might bring to nought the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might set free those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
In any walk of life, one behaves according to what one believes. In faith, praxis will reveal conviction. There is a very clear Christian practice that reveals absolute faith in the resurrection, that is the destruction of death (I am using it in the context of second death). What is this practice? It is communion with the saints. The frequent main objection from protestant groups is that one cannot pray (speak) with the dead. But, are they dead? If they are in Christ, are they not in Life? Most commonly the Old Testament prohibition is brought forward, “When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations … who call up the dead” (Deut. 18:9-11). In the Old Testament, the whole root problem of second death had not been conquered by Jesus Christ. It was understood in those days that departed souls existed in a place known as Sheol. It is precisely to this place that Christ descended while in the grave, thereby destroying the kingdom of death (cf. Eph. 4:7-10).
We see in the select verses quoted at the beginning that Christ explicitly promised His followers life; that the ancient hold of sin and death would be broken over them. From the offset, Christians understood that although their bodies passed in a manner as others, immortality had already begun. They would no longer journey to Sheol (Hades) as those before, but would by Christ's grace dwell in Him, Who is Life. The crowning moment of this process of incorruption is the final resurrection, as St. Paul teaches, “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Death, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
A true Christian cannot die (according to Christ's word), death has no hold on him because death is separation from Christ. Thus, from the very beginning, Christians understood that those in the body and those who have already passed are in Christ. And in Christ we have communion. The barrier of death is no more for those in Christ. So, when we “pray” to saints we are not praying to the dead, such an accusation is akin to saying that Christ did not conquer death and sin; that Christians pass and are still under the power of Sheol; in fact, it questions the Lord who said His followers shall not die. Such a stance is clearly counter to the words of Christ, and the life of the Church. St. Paul clearly tells us that through entering Christ Jesus we have entered eternal life, in fact through the Body of Christ, the Church, we are right now entering into Heaven, “But you have come to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, a heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, a festal assembly and Church of the firstborn ones who have been registered in the heavens, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous who have been perfected, and to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant ...” (Heb 12:22-24).
To deny the possibility of fellowship with the righteous who are in Christ is to rebuild the partition of death destroyed by our Lord. In fact, it is a practical revelation of a theological doubting in the power of the resurrection. Whereas the practice of fellowship with the saints is natural and reveals a practical and theological confidence in the reality and power of Christ Jesus' resurrection.
What a person believes will be revealed in praxis. Orthodox Christianity has always had an organic fundamental experience of resurrection life in Christ. We know death is no more because it is no longer a barrier for Christians. In fact, we are, in Christ, freed from it to the extent that we may fellowship with all those God-pleasers who have gone before us in our Lord and in His Body, the Church.
Any system that believes Christians are still affected by death needs to examine its faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus the conquer of sin and death. “if anyone keeps My words, he will not see death!
(There is a fundamental difference between spiritism and the Christian belief in the resurrection, and thereby fellowship with those in Christ. Christianity understands that death is the product of sin, and is an unnatural state. Our reliance is only in Christ, without Him we understand that we could not overcome death. Spiritism seeks to overcome the barrier of death without repentance and Christ. It views death as a natural event that can be transcended by various methods. It rejects the Christian concept of sin and death and mankind's need for a Redeemer. It is one of mankind's attempts to fellowship without God.)