In “a humbling for all” Jefferson Vann explains why all creatures die, and return to dust, but the gospel offers a resurrection to eternal life.
a humbling for all
If we claim to be telling the world what God has said in his word, the least we can do is be honest about it. There have been libraries of books assuring the curious that human beings are made up of immortal stuff, which has to go somewhere when their mortal bodies die. But what does the Bible actually say about what happens to us at the moment of our deaths?
“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NASB).
We are sons and daughts of Adam, and when we die, we return to the ‘adamah — the ground. It is the simplest of statements, but we have been taught that godly people must deny it categorically.
For conditionalsts, returning to the ground is not a horrible fate. It speaks of the hope that God will take that dead soil and make something alive from it again. If God could take inanimate soil and fashion it into life once, he can certainly do it again.
Moses wrote of human creation this way:
“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7 NASB).
Job talked about a hypothetical situation once. He imagined what would happen if God decided to undo human creation.
“If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15 NASB).
So, Job and Moses agree that death is simply a returning to dust. God takes away from the dust what he gave that enables life: his spirit and breath. The result is that the created being is now dead. All of us experience that humbling event.
The theologians have come along and explained that simple truth away by insisting that the spirit of a human being is one’s true essence — that the body is just the house of the spirit, and that if the body dies, the spirit keeps on living. But Neither Moses nor Job said that. They both agree that the true human is the body, and that at death, the human being returns to the dust from which it was taken.
In the book of Job, God later describes the death of the wicked in a similar fashion. He called on Job to judge the wicked and to send them to — wait for it — the dust!
“Pour out the overflowings of your anger, And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, And tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place” (Job 40:11-13 NASB).
God is telling Job to judge the wicked and end their lives while rescuing the righteous and allowing them to keep on living. He is not talking about hell here. He is telling Job to make sure that God’s righteous ones to triumph, while the rebellious and evil ones die an early death. But he says nothing about those rebellious and evil people suffering in hell. No, he describes their intermediate state very differently that the theologians do. They are not suffering the torments of hell.
- They are brought low
- They are humbled
- They are hidden in the dust
- They are bound in the hidden place
That hidden place is elsewhere referred to as Sheol — the place people ask about. It is being in the grave, in the state of unconsciousness that everyone who dies experiences before the resurrection.
God tells Job that if he can reverse creation and send all the wicked to the grave, then God would admit that Job could save himself by his own righteousness.
“Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place.
Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you” (Job 40:13-14 NASB).
This is gospel truth, direct from the Old Testament. The gospel tells us that no one is righteous enough to save himself or herself from death — not even righteous Job. God has determined that the wages of Adam’s sin is death, and all of us in Adam will die to pay those wages. We are not immortal.
But the good news from God is that salvation is possible. The same God who created us from the dust can raise us up from the dust. While we cannot save ourselves, we have a loving God who has determined to save us from that mortality.
But this is not what the theologians say. They tell us that we are already immortal, and that all Jesus wants to do is rescue our immortal souls and take them to heaven with him. They tell us that death is an exaltation, not a humbling. They tell us that when we die, we will join Jesus in the clouds, not be hidden in the dust.
Death is a humbling, a reminder of our mortality, a returning to the dust from which we came. That is why the psalmist tells us:
“Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free” (Psalm 146:3-7 NASB).
The pslamist describes the princes of the earth as mortal men whose spirits (breath) depart, and they experience the humbling of death — returning to the earth. But the LORD (Yahveh) can set free all those imprisoned in that holding cell. In fact, that is exactly what the psalmist says that God does. He “raises up those who are bowed down” because “The LORD loves the righteous”(Psalm 146:8).
Here again is the good news of the gospel. The mighty princes cannot rescue us because they are mortal, like us. But God can rescue us, and he will do it not by giving us immortal souls that cannot die, but by freeing us from the prison of death by means of resurrection. This heart of the gospel is also the heart of conditionalism. Death is a humbling that comes to all, but God’s good news is that death is not permanent for those God loves.
The Bible speaks of the intermediate state as a humbling for all — a time when all “those who go down to the dust will bow before Him” (Psalm 22:29). Even Jesus went down into Sheol for a time, but then was raised triumphant from it. He became the firstfruits of those who sleep in death, because he was the first to be raised forever from that humble state (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
But the theologians have snatched this good news from us. They deny that death is a sleep, insisting that death is an exaltation to eternal life without a resurrection. Not so. Instead, death is the same state the animals experience, including the fish in the sea:
“There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust” (Psalm 104:25-29 NASB).
Yes, the fish have spirits too. That is what is says. Those spirits are the life that animates the fish. And when God takes their breath away, they — like us — experience the humbling. They expire and return to the dust.
The spirit within a creature is like the electricity in my table lamp. The energy allows my lamp to shine, but the energy is not the lamp. The lamp is still there when the power is turned off. It hasn’t gone somewhere else. Resurrection is like turning the lamp back on. But none of us are able to flip the switch once it is turned off. Only God can do that. Our death puts us in our place. It humbles us, reminding the world that it is not its own creator.
This humbling time is not a judgment of our individual sins. The theologians have taught us that, but it is not true. Death comes to all — man and beast alike:
“I said to myself concerning the sons of men, ‘God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.’ For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 NASB).
No, this returning to the dust is the fate of everyone, whether good or evil, human or animal. It is a humbling intermediate state where the animating spirit goes back to God who gave it, and all that remains returns to the dust (Ecclesiastes 12:7). There is no freedom in returning to the dust. The freedom and rescue will come later. Instead, death is a humbling for all.
God’s message of freedom and rescue is the message of a coming resurrection, when:
“Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits” (Isaiah 26:19 NASB).
We all have to experience thus humbling time in which we are but corpses lying in the dust, but the good news of the gospel is that there will be a resurrection. The judgement to come requires this resurrection, because it is at this time of awakening that people will discover their eternal destiny — either everlasting life, or everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
For more about the intermediate state, see: