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Questions and Answers

I thought that when followers of Jesus died they were absent from the body and present with the Lord. But the Bible also says we are raised on the last day. Which is it?

The Bible states that those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection will be with the Lord immediately upon death. The Lord told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (a first-century Jewish word for Heaven; Luke 23:43). Paul states that when he died he would be with Jesus immediately (Phil. 1:21). He said he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). When followers of Jesus die, their immaterial spirit or soul goes to be with the Lord immediately.

The confusion arises from 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 which describes believers who died as being asleep. The word “asleep” is a euphemism for death. Upon physical death, the immaterial person goes to be with the Lord. Our bodies become empty vessels, separated from our spirits. At the resurrection of the dead, our bodies and spirits will reunite. Then, we will have glorified bodies, like the resurrected body of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:42–49). We need not fear death. We can have the confident expectation that at the moment of physical death, our spirit will live in the presence of the Lord. Then, at the end of days resurrection, our body will reunite with our spirit, and we will serve the Lord forever.

What do Jewish people believe will happen when someone dies?

Jewish people (myself included) often joke that where there are two Jews, there are three opinions. Since there are many perspectives on this and other doctrinal beliefs, I will explain the traditional Jewish view, as found in ancient Rabbinic writings, like the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash.

Traditional Judaism teaches that all people, both Jew and Gentile, will stand before the Lord, who will judge them based on their adherence to the Torah, the Law of Moses. The righteous will be resurrected to Paradise while those who are totally wicked will be sent to Gehenna (or Hell) to suffer, after which they will be annihilated. The vast majority (who have done both good and evil) will go to Gehenna to atone for their sins and then be resurrected to life.

The apostle Paul had a radical departure from his training in Rabbinic Judaism. His declaration that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24) is the message we must present to both Jews and Gentiles, since “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:20).

Some say that recent events mean the end of the world is near. Is the COVID-19 global pandemic a sign of the end times?

The Bible teaches that before Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on earth, there will be a 7-year period known as the Tribulation or the Day of the Lord. Some are concerned that we are now in that period of tribulation. But, as bad as this pandemic may be, I do not believe it to be the Day of the Lord.

First, none of the corollary events connected to the tribulation period have taken place. Earthquakes, famines, and terrifying signs in the heavens are mentioned in Luke 21. Revelation 6:12–14, describes the 6th-seal judgment which will take place in the first half of the seven-year tribulation (violent earthquakes, cosmic signs in the heavens, and the uprooting of mountains and islands). The Day of the Lord will include plagues, but also other terrifying events which have not occurred yet. While we are enduring a pandemic now—other plagues in the past have been more serious than this one.

Second, the man of lawlessness has not yet been revealed. In the first century, false teachers spread the idea that the Tribulation had already begun. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul said the “man of lawlessness” had not yet been revealed. Paul was speaking of a coming world dictator, the future false messiah, also called the antichrist (1 John 2:18) and the Beast (Rev. 13:1–10). Since this person has not yet been revealed, we are not yet in the Day of the Lord.

Third, Israel has not signed a covenant with this future false messiah. Daniel 9:27 indicates that the end times seven-year tribulation will begin when this future false messiah makes a treaty with the leadership of Israel. It has not yet been signed, so we are not yet in the tribulation.

We should not be surprised that we are facing difficulties. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Nevertheless, we are not to fear. Nothing can befall us apart from God’s loving hand. He will bring us through this crisis or home to His loving arms.

BY Dr. Michael Rydelnik

Dr. Michael Rydelnik is professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute and the host of Moody Radio’s Open Line. He is the author of Understanding the Arab Israeli Conflict and The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? He is also the co-editor of the Moody Bible Commentary. Michael served on the translation team of the Holman CSB Bible and contributed to several other books and study Bibles. Michael also appeared in the Lee Stroebel video The Case for Christ. Michael and his wife, Eva, have two adult sons. The Rydelniks live in Chicago, Ill.

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