Risen from the Dust
A lot of people get confused in scripture because they don't understand the difference between spiritual death, and physical death. Both Christians and non-Christians alike die in the flesh, but true believers never die spiritually. Instead, they have eternal life in Christ, "This (his body) is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6.50-51 KJV bible). We know that everyone dies in the flesh regardless of whether they follow Christ or not. So then what does Jesus mean that the one partaking of his flesh will live forever? Clearly, he is not speaking of physical life and death, but rather spiritual life and death.
The world tends to think of life and death in material terms, as either a continuation or cessation of something. However, in the bible, the meaning of life and death is not as straightforward. Life and death are often used as abstract concepts to describe an entities' spiritual state of being. A state of life implies peace, vitality, and light on a spiritual level. In contrast, a state of death implies darkness, delusion, and imprisonment on a spiritual level.
These states of life and death, are the result of an individual's closeness to, or estrangement from, the Lord. God is the source of all life, and we able to approach him through Christ. In Jesus, we are spiritually sustained to dwell in a place of light, vitality, hope, and peace, "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14.6 KJV bible). Through Christ we have freedom from the bondage of sin, so that we can share in his victory over the power of death, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1st John 5.12 KJV bible). When a believer dies, their spirit continues on in this relationship, and being cleansed from all iniquity they are received into heaven (see ch.4 Souls in Heaven). In heaven, they can rest with the Lord in a state of life, awaiting the time when they will return with him to earth.
This state of life, is the eternal life that Christ promises exclusively to those believing in him, "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10.28 KJV bible). Those who abide in him will never see spiritual death, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death" (John 8.51 KJV bible). So after they have fulfilled their life in the flesh, they pass on to a continuing state of life with the righteous in heaven.
In contrast, a state of death implies a disconnection from God and a captivity to sin. This imprisonment of death and sin brings about (to a varying degree) pain, anger, hostility, despair, hopelessness, fear, and even torment. It is the immediate afterlife of all souls that do not receive Christ before they die. Upon death they descend into Sheol, and being overtaken by the cords of death, they become its prisoners, "Her house is the way to hell [Sheol], going down to the chambers of death (Proverbs 7.27 KJV bible). They become "locked in" by the chambers of death, because it has gained authority over them through sin.
Death feeds upon its captives like a maggot, and ruins them as a moth ruins wool, "Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation" (Isaiah 51.7-8 KJV bible). Jesus warns his adversaries that this is their fate, because to reject him is to reject the path of life, "Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come...I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8.21,24 KJV bible). Jesus would return to his Father in heaven, but those rejecting him would be rejected by the Father in heaven. They would all die under the authority of sin and death, because only those who keep the testimony of Christ are worthy to be received by the Father when they die.
So every person will walk either one of two paths; a narrow way leading to life, or the wide path leading to destruction, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8.13 KJV bible), "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7.14 KJV bible). Ezekiel describes to his people the consequences of these two spiritual paths, one of life, and the other of death, "When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby. But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby" (Ezekiel 33.18-19 KJV bible). The narrow path of faith and righteousness leads to a state of life in heaven, but the path of the world leads to a state of death in Sheol.
Understanding these two opposing realms also adds a deeper layer to the crucifixion. Christ did not only resurrect from physical death, but he also resurrected out of Hades itself, overcoming the bonds of spiritual death, "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" (Ephesians 4.9 KJV bible). Rather than spending three-and-a-half days with his Father in Paradise, he was dragged down into Hades as he bore the sins of the world, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2.9 KJV bible). However, death could not hold him, "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2.24 KJV bible). In breaking free from its cords, Christ controls the keys of death and life, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [Hades] and of death" (Revelation 1.18 KJV bible). He has authority to both set free into life, and bind up in death, according to his righteous judgment.