The Dead in Christ

By Stephen Terry


Commentary for the August 25, 2012 Sabbath School Lesson


“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes —I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27, NIV

A popular theme in several movies currently is the idea of a zombie apocalypse. In various ways, sometimes scientific and at other times with more of an occult twist, the dead rise from their graves and develop an insatiable appetite for the brains of the living. Zombies have long been a recurring theme in so-called “B” movies. These were often low-budget movies that were the second half of a double feature, hence the name since the first feature would be the “A” movie. The first film that used the name “Zombie” was probably “White Zombie” starring Bela Lugosi and produced in 1932 by the Halperin brothers. A quick internet search reveals there have been hundreds of zombie movies produced since then. Some notable films in the genre were “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “Dawn of the Dead” (1979) by George Romero which became hits. His zombie movies have inspired parodies like “Shaun of the Dead” and dark comedies like “The Evil Dead” starring Bruce Campbell. Even a currently popular television series “Walking Dead” is about a zombie apocalypse.

Several major cities around the world have annual zombie festivals reminiscent of Mexico’s “Day of the Dead.” Multitudes dress up with make-up and costumes as dead people who shuffle down the city sidewalks moaning and lusting for “brains.” Videos of these events are available on various internet media sharing sites. The “zombies” include youth, married couples, babies in strollers, even pets. So why are these people mimicking the undead? What is so appealing about the idea of an apocalypse full of putrefying animated corpses? Might there be a deeper meaning to all of this? Could a zombie apocalypse really happen? Can the dead come back to life? Maybe the perplexing nature of these questions is an alluring mystery that leads us to act out the idea of death and what it might entail.

When I was studying Egyptian history, the historians made the point over and over again that ancient Egypt was a society obsessed with death. As evidence they pointed to the pyramids built to house the mummified remains of pharaohs. They also found evidence of this obsession in the hieroglyphics discovered in tombs and temples. Even pets, especially cats, were mummified in precise rituals to ensure their preparation for what lay beyond the gates of death. With the plethora of stories about zombies present in every form of media from books to movies, perhaps some future historians would feel that our society was obsessed with death as well. Maybe we are a little like curious cats. No matter what side of the door they are on, they want the door opened so they can see the other side. Death can seem like a closed door to us. Our curiosity may lead us to stand at the door waiting for someone to open it and show us what lies beyond.

When we ask others, it becomes quickly clear many people believe that when we die we don’t really die. Many seem to believe that there is life after death in some altered form, and life never actually comes to an end. This belief is so strong that it can be found in most of the world’s religions. This could mean that the belief in an afterlife may have its roots in antiquity. Logically, it must be before the Egyptian obsession with the idea of death and what lies beyond. That pyramid-building society began around 3000, BC. This was several centuries before the Sumerians and Akkadians began to lay the foundations of an empire that would eventually spawn Babylon. Many date the birth of writing to this time in Egypt. Once writing developed, cultures began to record their understandings of the origin of their societies. The Sumerians and Akkadians recorded the Gilgamesh Epic which is an account of flooding and salvation in some ways similar to that of Noah and the Ark. The Egyptians had legends based on a mountain or pyramid rising out of the chaotic sea. This was again similar to some aspects of the flood account of Noah in the Bible.

While both of these accounts predate the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Moses wrote an account during the Exodus that not only included the concept of a world-wide flood that the present world came from, he also stated that there was a world that existed before that one. Logically, this makes sense. In order to have a flood, you need some place for it to occur. He wrote of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. He also wrote of Cain, Abel and Seth, their children, and an entire genealogy that existed before the flood and continued through Noah and his sons to the present. But perhaps one of the more significant things he wrote about was the idea of death.

His first book, Genesis, tells us that death came into the world through the actions of Adam and Eve.  According to the Genesis account, God told them to stay away from a tree in the Garden of Eden or they would die. However, a serpent told Eve this was a lie. She chose to believe that serpent rather than God. Eve discovered the meaning of death, first in the loss of Abel, when Cain slew him and ultimately with her own death. We discover eventually that the serpent was the Devil. He could deceive Eve with a simple lie because there was no evidence to contradict the lie. But today we are surrounded by the death brought upon us all by this primal act. Since the Devil cannot say you will not die, because the evidence refutes him, the lie continues in another form. Now it is shared as “You won’t really die. You have immortality within you. Life goes on in another form that you cannot see now.” This belief has become so pervasive that it is present in science fiction and fantasy stories. Even the zombie concept draws on it. Perversely, the zombie’s existence is not what you would think a normal person would look forward to in any way, but nonetheless it is life after death in an altered state.

Even Christianity has been influenced by this idea. If we have immortality within us then we cannot die, so what do you do with an immortal evil person? The answer they came up with many centuries ago was to burn them in everlasting, fiery agony.  While this seems like a logical response to the idea of people possessed of unconditional immortality, it presents a horrendous picture of what God must be like. It is equivalent to a parent telling a child to stay away from the kitchen stove and when they do not, the parent throws the little one in the oven and turns it on. No rational parent would ever do such a thing. Yet, we often claim that God is like that. Furthermore, we claim that He is in such a hurry to do so that He snatches us directly at the point of death to whisk us off to this place where He can delight in our torment, or if we are very, very lucky, He might find enough worthwhile in us to let us into heaven.

But as we saw from the book of Genesis, there are two paradigms about death. We have seen the Serpents paradigm. What about God’s? Obviously, if God created Adam and Eve and warned them to stay away from something that would cause their death, He had no intention for us to die. He wanted us to live. He wanted that so badly that even after Adam and Eve’s sin and to the present day, He has worked very hard to make that possible. He has made life as easy to obtain as death was in the beginning. There was a tremendous cost for doing this. The price of death must always be paid. Jesus paid that price on the cross, so that we would not have to. As a result, salvation and eternal life, which we had in the beginning in Adam and Eve but do not have now in any part of our being, is proffered to us as a free gift. (See Romans 6:23) We can choose to turn from our path of disobedience that began with that first couple and accept that gift as easily as Eve chose to taste the fruit of that long-ago tree. The only thing that stands in our way is if we are too proud to accept the offer. If we believe that we are the ones who must do some work to save ourselves, we put ourselves in the place of God as Eve did when she believed that eating the fruit would make her godlike. Our efforts will avail us nothing. (See Jeremiah 13:23)

If we set aside our pride, we can look forward one day to true eternal life. On that day, we will receive the immortality Adam and Eve were created to enjoy. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-55) The dead will rest in their graves, but one day we will see them again. They will not immediately be carried away to either heaven or hell at the moment of death.  (See Psalm 146:4 & 115:17)  Neither will anyone be part of a zombie apocalypse. (See Ecclesiastes 9:5-6)  Instead, the Bible says, “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 4:16-18, NIV


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