Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once.

By Cris D. Putnam

Marian Osher "Tree of Life"

Everyone, believer or non-believer, is naturally born once and will die naturally once. This is apparent to all and is noncontroversial. But the biblical worldview includes a supernatural component which is not seen by the natural man. There are two additional possibilities, one of which will occur, depending on one’s spiritual status relating to Jesus Christ. These two conditional supernatural events are difficult to accept.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.(1 Co 2:14)

It wasn’t always this way. God created man in a state of spiritual communion which entailed an intimate connection to him.  Adam’s fall into disobedience ruined that intimacy and put mankind under a curse (Gen 3:14-19).  But notice neither Adam nor Eve were struck dead instantly when God pronounced the curse upon them and the creation. It seems that the physical nature of death was always a logical possibility because God had put two trees in the garden. One was the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the other was the tree of life. Adam and Eve were not immortal beings; it was the tree of life that sustained them.  This can be deduced from the account that God saw physical death as a merciful release from their fallen state.

“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.(Ge 3:22–24)

In this way, natural death is a blessing but only if you are in the book of life (Phil 1:21). When one is moved on by the Holy Spirit, repents of their sins and convinced by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, one is “born again” and released from the second death. Jesus explains this to Nicodemus in John 3:

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(Jn 3:5–8)

When one believes the good news of Jesus resurrection, one’s name is written in the book of 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.”(Re 20:6)

If one rejects this good news and chooses not to accept Jesus resurrection, one gains a second death.

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.(Re 20:12–15)

So whether you are believer or an unbeliever you are going gain a supernatural element: a second birth or a second death. If you earnestly seek God, he will reward your faith (Heb 11:6).

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

(Ro 10:9)

What Happens When You Die?

What happens when you die? The Bible uses the word death in different senses. Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). Also in Revelation 20:6, John speaks of a “second death,” apparently distinguishing it from the first death or the usual understanding of death. It is important to note that the only way to escape the second death and Hell is through the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 11:26). Make sure to be in on that one! Now we turn to what happens to Christian believers at the “first death.” Paul addresses the issue of what happens to Christians when they die in 2 Corinthians 5:8 when he says “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This refers to the intermediate state between a believer’s death and the resurrection of all believers’ bodies at the Parousia. I have always thought that heaven is temporary state until Jesus returns for the general resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:2; Rev 20:4-6). So if you die before Christ returns, I always assumed you exist as a spirit until then. It seems to me that we consist of material and immaterial elements and in our present lives we are in a state of conditional unity. A useful analogy for conditional unity comes from chemistry.

Did you know that every summer, including this one, thousands of people will die from dihydrogen monoxide inhalation? Yes it is true… they drown while swimming in pools, the ocean or lakes. It’s a bad joke. Dihydrogen monoxide is H20 or plain old water. Now of course we all know that water is not usually dangerous and is, in fact, essential for life. But what happens when you break water down into its two components hydrogen and oxygen? It suddenly takes on drastically different properties. In fact, it gets downright dangerous. In the presence of an oxidizer like oxygen, hydrogen can catch fire, sometimes explosively, and it burns more easily than gasoline does. According to the American National Standards Institute, hydrogen requires only one tenth as much energy to ignite as gasoline does. So when water is separated into its two elements, they are nothing like water. It seems appropriate to think of the body and soul in the same way. In life we are like a molecule consisting of body and soul. At death the material and immaterial are separated and take on different properties. The material body decays and the immaterial soul transfers into the spiritual dimension. So what does the New Testament tell us about this process?

According to some scholars, Paul does not seem to believe in a bodiless ethereal state in heaven rather an immediate transformation to a new body.  F.F. Bruce thinks Paul’s view is that some sort of body is essential to personhood.[1] This is most evident in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where he speaks of putting on the heavenly dwelling. Paul argues that we put it on so that we will “not be found naked” (2 Cor 5:3) which likely refers to the intermediate state in which believers’ spirits are with God but they do not yet enjoy their resurrected bodies. Accordingly, Bruce argues that Paul did not envision an intermediate state as a disembodied spirit and that it is difficult to distinguish any difference between this and the glorified body believers are to receive at the Parousia (1 Cor. 15:51). He believes that Paul is teaching that believers receive their eternal resurrection bodies at death, rather than waiting for Christ to return in glory.[2]

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Php 3:20-21)

Scholars have different views on this. Like Bruce, W. D. Davies argues, “there is no room in Paul’s theology for an intermediate state of the dead.”[3] But 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 seems to place this at the last trump – the return of Christ. The general consensus of conservative theologians seems to support an intermediate state between death and the resurrection body. Millard Erickson argues, “there is no inherent untenability about the concept of disembodied existence. The human being is capable of existing in either a materialized (bodily) or immaterialized condition.”[4] Many commentators view the 2 Corinthians 5:1 passage as Paul’s “hope of receiving the resurrection body at Christ’s return.”[5] Another view of Paul’s argument about “not being found naked” is that it was intended as a polemic against those who taught existence in a state of disembodied immortality.[6] There are passages in the Bible that seem to support the idea of a temporary disembodied soul state (Rev 6:9) but even here these tribulation martyrs put on white robes. Isaiah 14:9-10 seems to describe the disembodied souls of the dead being “stirred up.” 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 also supports the idea of existence outside of a body. I guess biggest question you have to ask is that if we get a body at death, then what is resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return for? It would no longer seem necessary (1 Thes 4:17; Rev 20:4). It seems to be tied to our old body in some way. Accordingly, there seems to be an intermediate state of some sort. A humble posture is in order as the evidence does not seem conclusive either way. Perhaps the resurrection body is granted but not fully realized until Christ’s return?

Either way the biblical teaching is clear that believers enjoy immediate fellowship with the Lord. Contrary to the teachings of Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the idea of soul sleep is not supported by the biblical text (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 12:23). This offers great comfort to the loved ones of Christians. They need not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes 4:13).  Finally, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 offers ample motivation for living to please God as well. We are charged to live courageously in knowledge that we will soon appear before the judgment seat of Christ when we shall give an account of our lives (Ro 14:12).


[1] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 311.

[2] Bruce, Paul, 312.

[3] W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London: SPCK, 1955), pp. 317–18.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 1189.

[5] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 422.

[6] Kenneth L Barker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 676.

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

We love our conveniences and because they can be largely attributed to scientific progress, science has become the new priesthood. Yet their prevailing consensus for man’s destiny is a bleak one, death is final. The Bible tells a different story. Jesus Christ conquered death.  John’s gospel is unique in its theological discourse on the deity of Jesus Christ. Seven times Jesus is recorded as saying “I am” attached to a metaphor (Jn. 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:5). These seven statements provide a unique window in which to view the person of Jesus. The words “I am”, ego eimi in Greek, had an unambiguous connotation to Jesus’ first century Jewish audience. When Moses first encountered Yahweh in the burning bush, he was given a mission to bring his people out of Egypt. Moses balked asking God, “who he would say had sent him?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex 3:14).  The “I am” statements by Jesus are nothing short of a claim to be that voice in the bush. Fortunately, whenever modern higher criticism casts doubt upon Jesus’ claim to divinity, the Pharisees faithfully come to the rescue. For they had no doubts that Jesus was claiming to be the “I am” of the Torah. This is beyond question as they subsequently attempt to stone him for blasphemy (Jn. 5:17-18, 8:58-59). Of the famous seven “I am” statements found in the gospel of John, I believe the fifth, “I am the resurrection and the life” is the most explicit proclamation of Jesus’ power and deity.

The context of this astonishing statement is last of the great sign miracles discussed in the fourth gospel, near the end of Jesus public ministry. We learn that Jesus friend Lazarus is ill. The home of Lazarus was in Bethany, near Jerusalem (Jn. 11:1, 30; 12:1), located south east of the Mount of Olives.[1] Jesus was a close friend of the family. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is identified as the one who anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair (cf. Jn.12:3). This unforgettable act will be retold in eternity as both Mark (Mk.14:9) and Matthew (Mat.26:13) immortalize.[2] In fact, Jesus was likely a frequent guest (Matt. 21:17; Lk. 10:38–41; Jn. 11:17). The sister’s message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” also reveals the close relationship. It employed the word phileo meaning “to love as friend.”[3] His personal affection for the family was shared, evidenced when speaking to the disciples Jesus also called Lazarus “our friend” (Jn.11:11).

In light of Jesus close relationship and the urgency of the request, Jesus’ response seems all the more perplexing at first. They were at least a day’s journey from Bethany and the disciples, like the sisters, were afraid that Lazarus might die. Dr. Towns thinks that perhaps Lazarus had already expired by the time Jesus received the message.[4] The sequence of events does make it likely.  Jesus foreshadows the imminent miracle when he replies that the end result would not be what it appeared. He said, “This sickness will not end in death”, rather that God would “be glorified” (Jn. 11:4). This seems alien to our human experience because of our temporal perspective. We are bound in time. In contrast, God as an eternal omniscient spirit has providentially ordained events and circumstances apart from our ability to perceive or conceive. Pointing to this reality, Jesus had made a similar comment concerning the blind man he previously healed.  When he was asked whose sin had caused the man’s disability, Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). Indeed, it seems as if at times God wants to remove all plausible deniability to a sign miracle. For instance, before calling down fire from heaven, Elijah had the priests of Baal pour water on the firewood (1 Ki. 18:33).  For this reason, instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side, Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer.

Jesus then tells the disciples that Lazarus has merely fallen asleep and that he is going to waken him. Obtuse as ever, they reply, “he will recover” (Jn.11:12).  Finally Jesus drops the euphemism and tells them “plainly,” or “with boldness” (Greek parrēsia̧), that Lazarus is dead (Jn.11:15). Driving divine providence home, Jesus says he is actually glad he was not there so that they would believe. Death is the great unknown and arguably the primal fuel for all human anxiety. Morris writes, “As far as men were concerned, the position of Lazarus, who had been in the grave four days, was hopeless.”[5] Even more, Jesus wants to risk stoning by going the way of Jerusalem. I sometimes think that Thomas was the scientist of the group because he is famous for demanding to see the evidence for himself. In step with his skeptical predisposition, he speaks for the hopelessness of the natural man’s temperament when he laments, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn.11:16).

Jesus finally arrives only to find a scene of mourning and sorrow. I believe Jesus tears (Jn. 11:25) are really over the general state of unbelief he encounters even amongst his closest friends. By this point, it had been four days since Lazarus died. To bolster my argument that God seeks to dispel plausible deniability, I contend the four days were by skillful design:

There was a well-known Jewish belief (attested from about a.d. 200) that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body “hoping to reenter it” for three days, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. John wants us to know clearly that Lazarus is truly dead and that the miracle of Jesus cannot be construed as a resuscitation.[6]

Martha went out to meet Jesus and bemoaned his delayed arrival. When Jesus replied that Lazarus would rise, she acknowledges that she is a believer in the ultimate resurrection on the last day. This alludes to the fact the Jews really did not have a category for individual resurrections. The Jewish doctrine was largely based on the general resurrection of the dead in Daniel 12:2, which we now know occurs after the Parousia and is expounded on in Revelation chapter 20. It is at this point that Jesus delivers the great statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26).  Dr. Towns writes that, “Martha had expressed her faith in the resurrection as a principle, but Jesus now reveals the resurrection as a person.”[7] Even more, Jesus is not only pointing to his own future resurrection but also to his deity, for he even claims to be life itself. Never disappointing, Jesus delivers Lazarus, grave clothes and all, providing evidence that death is not final. A truth he expands upon and confirms with his own triumph over the grave.

The hopeless absurdity of modern man is best encapsulated by the belief that death is the cessation of being. The scientific consensus is one of philosophical naturalism and materialistic reductionism. We humans are merely bodies and brains, the products of random unguided forces. If it’s true there is necessarily no real meaning or ultimate significance to life and certainly no final justice. Despite this pathetic flee from ultimate accountability, I believe most people intuitively know better. It is only by burying oneself under heaps of rationalistic denial and Darwinian obfuscations that one arrives at such a pitiful worldview. Our thought life and nightly excursions into the dream state speak to a deeper metaphysical truth, even to children. Science is still mystified by the life force albeit all of its fortuitous accomplishments. We have a sense of our immaterial self which is greater than unintentional chemical reactions. This is only adequately explained by the idea that we spiritual beings having a material experience. Genesis records, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Ge 2:7).  Life is breathed by God. Jesus’ fifth “I am” statement is a claim to be one and the same.

[1]Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 3, H-L, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 1009.

[2]Gerald L. Borchert, vol. 25A, John 1-11, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996), 349.

[3] Elmer Towns. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 106.

[4] Towns, John, 106.

[5] Leon Morris. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. (Grand Rapids MH: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), 38.

[6]Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 315.

[7] Towns, John, 109.