Fundamental Belief Number 26 (Death and Resurrection)

The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later. (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 20:1-10.) (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; Isa. 25:8; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 16; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 20:1-10.)

There were no changes in this fundamental other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. The Adventist view on the “state of the dead” actually depends on the “state of the living.” The foundation of this perspective is the unified view of human nature (see FB 7, The Nature of Humanity). In the Adventist view, which increasing numbers of scholars consider the biblical view, body and “soul” are necessarily interconnected, the one cannot live without the other. When the body dies, therefore, all consciousness ceases. There are no thoughts or plans without the body, and there is no return to life without the body, hence a bodily resurrection is needed for life to return.

In spite of its strong biblical foundation, this is one of the most controversial of Adventist doctrines in the wider world. Major figures like Rob Bell and Nancy Murphy, who have adopted positions on death similar to Adventists, have faced more opposition on this issue than any other. Many people recoil from the doctrine because it seems to take away the assurance that “mom is in heaven now.” The idea that the person is “asleep” in death does not strike them as comforting. But in fact, the Adventist teaching takes nothing away and gives much in return. If the person is completely unconscious with no sense of the passage of time, then the next thing the believer experiences after death is the face of Jesus. In their experience their “ascension to heaven” will truly have occurred in an instant. But the bonus in the biblical perspective is that the whole community is resurrected together, at the same time (1 Thess 4:15-18). So the community is preserved. Mom is not up in heaven alone for a time, but is immediately joined in resurrection by all her loved ones, living or dead, at the Second Coming of Jesus.

This fundamental mentions two resurrections, a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous, separated by a thousand years. So everyone who ever lived will be resurrected, it is their relation to Jesus that will determine the timing. But an important aspect of the biblical teaching on resurrection is missing. John 5:28-29 is mentioned in the text list because it describes the two resurrections mentioned in the statement. But John 5:24-25 is left out. There resurrection is not just a future bodily event, it becomes a metaphor for the life transformation that occurs when the gospel is received and the Holy Spirit enters the believer’s life. In the words of Paul, believers in Christ can “know the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10). The life-giving power of God, which raised Christ from the dead and will one day raise all others, can also bring resurrection life into our experience today. This theme is widespread in the New Testament.

I was once talking with Lyn Behrens, former president of Loma Linda University. She said something quite startling. She said, “I have come to believe that it is possible to die whole.” Death is inevitable in this life, but how one dies matters. It is possible to face death as a whole person in spite of the deterioration of the body. She felt that Loma Linda University should be the place where people can experience a “good death,” if there is such a thing. The biblical doctrine of death and resurrection should not only benefit those who remain living but also those going through the process of dying itself.

In our faculty discussion at the School of Religion, someone raised the issue of “baptism for the dead” (1 Cor 15:29). This mysterious text has baffled scholars through the years, it is a concept unique to that text in Scripture and neither the biblical context nor ancient practices illuminates what Paul was talking about. The most that can be said is that it must have been a local practice of the church at Corinth that Paul wasn’t sure he could buy into, but was willing to use as an illustration of his larger point on death and resurrection. He was meeting them where they were. The core message of 1 Corinthians, which we do understand, is that the resurrection of Christ guarantees the resurrection of those who trust Him. Faith is not for this life only, but is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with God that climaxes in a new order at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-23).

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