Monday, December 18, 2006

Last Things: Death and Judgment

Notes on Death

Death is the separation of the spirit (the animating principle of life) from the body. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ . . . ‘For you are dust, and to dust you shall return’.” Genesis 3:3, 19 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

The bodies of the dead should be treated with respect and charity in view of the fact that the body is God’s creation and the subject of the Resurrection. Burial is a corporal work of mercy. “During Shalmaneser’s reign I performed many charitable works for my kinsmen and my people. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw one of my people who had died and been thrown outside the walls of Nineveh, I would bury him.” Tobit 1:17-18

The Bible also speaks of a “second death” (after the general resurrection of the death for judgment) in reference to the souls in hell who are forever separated from the principle of supernatural life. “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:6

Death is a consequence of sin and is also now part of the natural human condition “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Romans 5:12-14

Sin earns death because it is a rejection of the source of supernatural life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus shared human death to conquer death for us. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Without Christ, we are now dead spiritually (cut off from supernatural life) and will soon be physically. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” Revelation 14:13

Notes on Judgement

A “particular” judgment awaits the individual after death. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27 Death puts and end to the time immediately after death the eternal destiny of each separated soul is decided by the righteous judgment of God. The soul goes to Hell or Heaven (or an intermediate state of paradise in anticipation of full heavenly bliss). Particular judgment is the common belief of most Christians, as opposed to the belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously until the General Judgment, or that the soul is annihilated at death, to be recreated on Judgment Day. Christ represents Lazarus and Dives as receiving their respective rewards immediately after death. They have always been regarded as types of the just man and the sinner. To the penitent thief it was promised that his soul instantly on leaving the body would be in the state of the blessed: “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). St Paul longs to be absent from the body that he may be present to the Lord (2 Cor 5), evidently understanding death to be the entrance into his reward (Philemon 1:21). The gift of eternal life is sometimes spoken of as bypassing judgment. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that the soul awaits its fate either in blissful anticipation or in dreadful torment. St Augustine wrote in the City of God that the righteous dead would rest “in the secret receptacles and abodes of disembodied spirits” awaiting Judgment Day. Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas argued that Augustine’s teaching was nevertheless consistent with particular judgment.

Jesus is the one who sits in Judgement of all mankind at the Day of the Lord. “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:22-23, 25-27

Judgment is reserved to the Last Day for this life is the hour of decision. “Let both grow together until the harvest . . . The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:30, 37-43

Judgement Day manifests both God’s righteousness and mercy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’...And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46

Judgement Day brings human history to a close. The dead are raised to account for their deeds. “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.” Revelation 20:11-12 Note: Premillenialists see the “great white throne” as a separate judgment which is only the condemnation of sinners. In catholic tradition, there is one final judgment at the last day, which is a liturgy manifesting God’s justice and mercy in proclamation of the particular judgment of each individual.

1 comment:

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