|Turbo Charge Your Church||by R. David Pogge|
The Romans were very practical. They realized that they could most easily assimilate conquered people by compromising with their culture. This is clearly evident when studying Roman mythology. Roman mythology is simply Greek mythology with the names changed. Zeus was renamed Jupiter, Aphrodite was renamed Venus, Poseidon was renamed Neptune, and so on.
When pagan Rome became papal Rome, this attitude of compromise continued. Pagan Romans were accustomed to a pantheon of many gods with limited spheres of influence. They were accustomed to praying to statues of these gods. The church made concessions to these pagans by replacing the pantheon of gods with a collection of saints. The pagan converts could pray to dead saints for favors—but to do this, the church had to replace the Biblical truth about death with the Greek myth about the Underworld.
The primary sources for mythology about the afterlife are The Iliad and The Odyssey by the Greek poet, Homer, and Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil. The references to the underworld in these ancient works are summarized in two modern classics. Perhaps the best summary is in the section titled The Underworld in Edith Hamilton’s classic book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. The other modern reference is Chapter XXV The Infernal Regions in Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch. The chart below gives you a side-by-side comparison of Roman mythology and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the same story, with the names changed.
The Bible tells an entirely different story about what happens after death, as we will see in the next section.
There are two reasons why papal Rome adopted pagan Rome’s myth about death.
First, it was easier to convert pagan Romans if they didn’t have to give up their beliefs about death. That is still true today. People who have been told all their lives that their dearly departed friends and relatives are enjoying a blissful existence right now in Heaven (regardless of how they lived their lives on Earth) don’t want to hear the truth. Many Protestant churches today cling to Roman mythology for the same reason. They don’t want to risk losing members by destroying their cherished belief that their loved ones are now in “a better place” looking down on them.
The second reason why the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Greco-Roman death myth is that it allowed the church to sell indulgences. If you tell vulnerable, grieving people that Saint Peter will allow your loved one to leave Tartarus and enjoy eternal bliss in the Elysian Fields, in return for a significant donation to the church, what grieving person can refuse? Not only that! You can even buy indulgences for sins you have not yet committed so that you can go straight to Heaven without spending a single, uncomfortable minute in Purgatory! The Greco-Roman death myth was a cash cow for the Roman Catholic Church.
Some modern Protestant churches have retained the Greek myth about death because they think that the threat of eternal torment will encourage church members to behave. Therefore, eternal hellfire is preached often from their pulpits.
Other Protestants believe that a loving god would never punish people this way, and fear that the doctrine of eternal hellfire drives people away from the church. They find it advantageous to say that God loves everyone, so everyone will go straight to heaven when they die.
But since consciousness in death has its roots in Greek mythology, and not the Bible, there should be no argument. Neither eternal damnation nor universal salvation should be taught from Protestant pulpits. The Biblical truth about death should be preached instead of Greek mythology, despite the perceived practical advantages of preaching the Greek myth.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know what the Bible actually says about death. All they have heard is the Greek myth taught in many Protestant churches, and therefore think that it is Biblical.
What the Bible says about death is nothing like the Greek myth commonly taught in Christian churches. According to the Bible, people enter a state of unconsciousness when they die. Jesus is currently judging everyone, including those who are still living, and those who are dead. When all the cases have been decided, Jesus will return to Earth. The righteous dead will be resurrected and given glorious new bodies The righteous living will also get new bodies, and all the righteous will ascend together to Heaven with Jesus. The unrighteous living will be killed by the brightness of Jesus’ coming, and the unrighteous dead will remain dead for a while.
The righteous will spend 1,000 years in Heaven, reviewing the records of the lives of anyone they care about, to discover why those people were either saved or lost. At the end of the thousand years, New Jerusalem will come down from Heaven, with the saints inside. At this time, all the unrighteous dead will be resurrected. True to their unrighteous characters, they will attack New Jerusalem, and God will mercifully kill them all in the lake of fire. They will cease to exist.
Then God will recreate the Earth, restoring it to a condition similar to the Garden of Eden, as a home for the righteous forever.
Clearly, this doctrine is incompatible with the worship of saints. What good would it to do to pray to a saint who is unconscious in the grave? Even if Saint Christopher did hear your prayer for a safe journey, what could he do about it? In order to believe that Saint Christopher can keep you safe, you have to believe Saint Christopher has some sort of limited power on Earth, just like one of the lesser gods of Roman mythology, and he has to be conscious in heaven, capable of hearing your prayer.
The Biblical doctrine about the state of the dead bears absolutely no resemblance at all to the Greek mythology commonly preached in many Christian churches. Let’s open the Bible and see this straight from God’s Word, starting with the Gospel of John.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” [John 11, NIV]
Let’s look at some key points. Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” He did not say, “Our friend Lazarus has gone to Heaven; but I am going to bring him back.” He did not say, “Our friend Lazarus has gone to Hell; but I am going to rescue him from torment.” If Lazarus had gone to Heaven, and was enjoying unimaginable bliss, it would have been cruel for Jesus to bring him back to Earth. If Lazarus had gone to Hell, it would have been cruel for Jesus to let His friend be tortured there for four days before rescuing him. Jesus isn’t cruel. He knew that Lazarus was unconscious in the grave, and would remain so until his resurrection. Since he wasn’t enjoying the pleasures of Heaven, or suffering the torment of Hell, it didn’t matter how long Jesus waited before resurrecting him. So, He waited long enough for everyone to know that Lazarus was really dead.
John tells us that His disciples replied, “‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’” Jesus didn’t lie. It would have been a lie to say that Lazarus was asleep if he had actually been awake in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Jesus equated death with sleep. His disciples misunderstood, thinking He meant natural sleep when He meant the sleep of death. So, He told them plainly what He meant.
Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She didn’t say, “I know Lazarus is in a better place.” She was a well-informed Jewish girl. She knew what the Old Testament says about death. She knew what Jesus had told her about death. She knew her brother would remain dead, in the grave, until the resurrection.
When she said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” Jesus did not correct her by saying, “No, he is already resurrected.” Instead, Jesus said to her, “The one who believes in me will live.” He used the future tense. Lazarus was dead at the moment, but was going to live again at the resurrection.
Furthermore, note what Jesus said about the condition for being resurrected in the future. “The one who believes in me will live.” He did not say, “The one who buys salvation from the Church will live.” If the Catholic Church in the dark ages had allowed the common people to read the Bible in their own language, they would have known their dead loved ones were sleeping peacefully in their graves, awaiting the resurrection, and would not have bought indulgences to get their loved ones out of Purgatory. They would not have bought candles to burn in front of statues of saints to gain their favor and assistance if they had known the saints were sleeping peacefully, unaware of the prayers asked of them.
What passages in the Old Testament gave Martha the idea that her brother was sleeping and would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day?” She probably knew passages like these from the book of Job.
“Why did I not perish at birth,
Job knew that everyone, from slaves to kings, even the wicked, were at rest in the grave. They didn’t need to buy indulgences from the church to relieve them of their suffering.
Job wished his words were recorded on a scroll. Fortunately for us, they were.
“Oh, that my words were recorded,
After his skin was destroyed, Job expected to see his redeemer with his own eyes. Clearly Job was expecting some sort of physical resurrection. He did not believe the dead would suffer in Purgatory until somebody bribed the pope to get them out. Solomon, too, understood what happens at death. He said this:
All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good,
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
For the living know that they will die,
… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. [Ecclesiastes 9:2-6, 10, NIV]
The righteous and the unrighteous share the same fate at death—they both enter a state of unconsciousness. The nearly righteous don’t become probationary angels sent back to Earth to earn their wings by showing Jimmy Stuart, “It’s a wonderful life!”
Martha knew what the Old Testament said about death. She knew her brother Lazarus was sleeping in the grave, unconscious, waiting along with everyone else for the resurrection at the last day. To prove that He has the power to resurrect the dead, Jesus raised Lazarus; but He did not raise everyone at that time. We know that because later, on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd,
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. … For David did not ascend to heaven … [Acts 2:29, 34, NIV]
The disciples knew from Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones 1 that resurrection is connected to the kingdom being restored to Israel. So, when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection…
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:6-11, NIV]
Given this promise from the two angels, they expected Jesus to return from heaven at any moment to come back and restore the kingdom. But Jesus did not return immediately, and some of the believers died without seeing His return. This concerned some of the rest of them. The believers at Thessalonica asked Paul about it. He wrote this response to them:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NIV]
Paul did not say, “The Greeks were right. Your brothers are in the Elysian Fields right now, so that should encourage you.”
Paul refers to death as sleep twice in this passage, and doesn’t feel the need to qualify the term. He knows that his readers will know that “sleep” means “death” without having to explain what he means. Furthermore, it is clear that resurrection will be a group activity in the future. He doesn’t say that every Christian who has died has already risen and is with God in heaven now. All the dead believers will be resurrected at the same time as the living believers are translated to heaven.
Paul clearly told the Thessalonians what happens to believers when they die; but what happens to non-believers? John tells us.
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) [Revelation 20:4, 5, NIV]
There are two resurrections. First, believers are resurrected when Jesus returns. Second, non-believers are resurrected 1,000 years later. The book of Revelation goes on to explain that Satan and the non-believers are then destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Satan doesn’t torment the wicked people forever in Hell the same way Pluto torments the wicked in Tartarus, as stated in the Roman myth.
The parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus is sometimes twisted to make it appear that the Greek death myth is Biblical. That’s not what the parable teaches.
Every parable can be twisted in an attempt to prove something other than the intended point. The parable about the Pearl of Great Price is intended to teach that you should recognize what is really important, and strive to attain it—not that you can get financial security by investing in jewelry. The Parable of the Ten Virgins teaches the importance of being ready for Jesus when He comes—not that you shouldn’t share your oil with others who need it. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares teaches that God will separate the good from the bad at the Second Coming—not that Christians should not weed their vegetable gardens. (I learned that the hard way.)
If I wanted to teach a lesson discouraging greed, I might tell a story about a man who was told by a leprechaun that he could become wealthy by digging up the pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow. The parable would work only because you know that leprechauns don’t exist, there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and you can never reach the end of the rainbow because it moves every time you move. The parable works because it is based on a premise you know is false. If there really were a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the parable would not teach the intended lesson. Furthermore, because the parable is intended to teach a lesson about greed, it should not be twisted to prove that leprechauns exist.
In the same way, the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, only works because the premise is false. Jesus wanted to make the point, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. … If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” [Luke 16:9, 31] He did that using the well-known, foolish Roman myth about people going to Heaven or Hell when they died. Jesus was trying to show them it would be just as foolish to think that someone coming back to life to warn about the coming judgment would have any more credibility than Moses and the Prophets as it is to think finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is a better way to get rich than working hard. And, just to prove His point, He did bring back a man named Lazarus from the dead; and the leaders did not listen to him!
Don’t just take my word for it. Here is the parable, in its entirety. Ask yourself, is Jesus is trying to teach a lesson about what happens at death? Or, is He using a silly Greek myth to make the point that it is silly not to believe the Bible unless someone comes back from the dead?
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” [Luke 16:19-31, NIV]
Clearly, when Jesus spoke this parable, He was not giving a sermon on the state of the dead, endorsing the Greek myth that there is a great chasm between Hades and the Elysian Fields. When Jesus spoke that parable to the Jews, the Jews did not believe in Greek mythology, so there was no confusion about what Jesus was saying. The only reason it is confusing to some people today is because the Catholic Church replaced the Biblical truth about death with Greek mythology in order to sell indulgences and bully people into obedience. Over the years this Catholic doctrine has become ingrained in so many churches that many people erroneously believe that Jesus taught it. They miss Jesus’ point that one should believe on the basis of Moses and the Prophets, and erroneously think that Jesus was teaching that their dead relatives could contact them from beyond the grave.
If you believe that your dead loved ones are in another dimension, conscious of what is going on in your life, it makes it easy for Satan to impersonate your dead loved one and give you bad advice that will lead you astray. That’s why the Bible warns,
“‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God. …“‘I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people. … “‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’” … Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. [Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV]
The Greek death myth opens the door to satanic deception. If you know that the dead are unconscious in the grave, you can’t be deceived by a medium who tells you that your dead loved one has a message for you.
The Greek death myth also presents a false, slanderous picture of God. God has not deputized Satan, giving him the job of punishing sinners forever in Hell for a few misspent years on Earth. That punishment doesn’t fit the crime. It makes God appear vindictive and vengeful.
Don’t be deceived by a foolish Greek myth. You don’t have to worry about your dead friends and relatives suffering eternal torment because they failed to accept Jesus. Yes, it is sad that they might not enjoy the eternal blessings that God offers to those who believe Him; but they aren’t suffering now, and they won’t suffer for eternity.
God judges the heart. It could be that some of your deceased friends and relatives had accepted Jesus without your knowledge. There is a chance they will participate in the resurrection of the righteous even if they never attended church. But why take the chance? All those who accept Jesus as their Savior can be assured of salvation. Something as important as salvation should not be left to chance.
You can’t pay the church to save your dead friends and relatives; but you can tell your living friends and relatives the Good News of salvation. You can share the Gospel with them, and help them to live a happier, more fulfilling life on Earth now, and be assured of enjoying the blessings of everlasting life in the Earth made new.
God has a wonderful reward for those people who love and obey Him. You can order your life in such a way that you will receive eternal life when Jesus returns. We pray that you will.
There is a second reason why a correct understanding of the state of the dead is important. Atheists love to claim that the Bible is unreliable because it contradicts itself. They argue that the Bible says people go to Heaven or Hell when they die, but aren’t judged until they are resurrected on Judgment Day. That makes no sense, and is clearly contradictory. How do they get to Heaven or Hell if they haven’t been judged yet? Why wait until Judgment Day to be resurrected and judged if they are already in Heaven or Hell?
The fallacy in the atheists’ argument is that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself—it contradicts Greek mythology. It is Greek mythology that says people go to Heaven or Hell when they die, not the Bible. The Bible clearly says in both the Old and New Testaments that dead people remain unconscious until they are resurrected. There is no contradiction in the Bible. Furthermore, it makes perfect sense that people do not receive their reward or punishment until after they are judged.
This is very important, so please read this section carefully and prayerfully.
You have just learned that the common “Christian” belief about death isn’t Christian at all. It came from Greek mythology, and clearly contradicts the Bible. It was a compromise with pagan beliefs made hundreds of years ago in order to increase church membership and income. It should have been corrected during the Protestant Reformation, but wasn’t.
How will you respond to learning this? You have three options:
If you choose option one, there is no point in reading further. The state of the dead is the first of several “testing truths,” which will test your willingness to reject a well-established, erroneous church tradition, and replace it with an unpopular Biblical truth.
Of all the testing truths that are presented in this book, the state of the dead is the easiest one to accept because it requires no sacrifice. It won’t cost you anything, neither time nor money, to admit that what you have been taught for years is wrong. If you won’t make a reform that requires no sacrifice, it is unlikely you will accept any reform that requires you to change the way you live.
Option two isn’t a good one. You should not blindly accept everything anyone says (even me).
You should be like the Bereans, and take option 3.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. [Acts 17:11, NIV]
If you take option 3, you will convince yourself of the truth far more effectively than I can. This will give you the strength to stand firm in the face of the opposition that all sincere Christians are bound to face sooner or later.
What you will learn in subsequent chapters not only requires you to admit that your church has been doctrinally wrong for years; it also requires your congregation to change its behavior to conform to the Biblical ideal. If your congregation isn’t willing to admit it has been doctrinally mistaken, it can’t possibly reform. Revival requires reformation. Reformation requires correction of mistakes. Correction of mistakes requires admission of mistakes. Admitting that the Greek myth about death is wrong is the first step to reformation.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a unity of purpose. The Holy Spirit will not help a church that holds doctrines that conflict with the recorded words of the Father or Son. That’s why doctrinal purity is essential to revival.
Pray that your congregation will have the discernment and strength to replace doctrines that contradict Biblical teachings.
|Table of Contents||On to Chapter 2|