Hebrews 9:27 reads, “And just as it is appointed for people to die once-and after this judgement…” Psalm 78:39 reads, “He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” Hebrews 9:27 uses the word “people” which doesn’t specify the whole person (body, mind, & soul). “People” could be referring to just the physical body. What about the spiritual or mental part of us? I wonder if we have souls that have existed long before we were born into our current physical bodies. Souls that have been reincarnated over eons. I also wonder if our karma from other lives carry over to our present life, which is the only thing that makes sense to me in regards to why some people are born in such terrible circumstances and others not.
I still believe in Jesus and salvation. But it seems to me that a just and loving God would give us more than one short lifetime to get it right. What about all those people who suffered from terrible trauma and mental illness and then completed suicide? What happens to them? What about all the Biblical characters in the Old Testament times that died? Do they all go to hell (Abraham, Jacob, Solomon, Job, David…)? I have so many questions. It just doesn’t make sense. Could you please help me unravel this mystery? This belief that I have in reincarnation is something I just can’t seem to let go of.
Before I dig into this topic, it should be said, that I cannot convince you in my own power of the finality of Judgement at death. Jesus himself said in John 16, “7 But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me, 10 and concerning righteousness, because I am going away to the Father and you will see me no more, 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” (LEB) So the only way you will be persuaded of the truth, no matter how much Bible teaching you get is if the Holy Spirit, our Advocate or Counselor or Comforter, teaches you. The promise of the finality of judgement is indeed a comfort and encouragement to all who are looking to Jesus, but a terror to all who reject the Lord.
Reincarnation is at the heart of Hindu and some Buddhist belief & practice as is karma. According to this doctrine, it is best to leave people to their karma and to allow people to suffer for their past sins, lest you delay their rescue from the endless cycle of rebirths or postpone their merging with nirvana (literally: nothingness). Indeed, many worldly religions believe a kind of reincarnation or second chance theology. For example, Catholicism absorbed this mindset in terms of purgatory and being purified after death … which thus allows sinners to hold onto their sins in this life. The Bible teaching is rather that this world is as close to hell as the righteous will get and as close to heaven as the wicked will get.
Before looking at the New Testament doctrine of the resurrection, it would be good to see what the Hebrew Scriptures taught about existence of humans after one passes from this life. In Genesis, we read a number of times the phrase, “gathered to his people” “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:8 NIV; see also 25:17; 35:29; 49:33; Numbers 20:24, 26; Deuteronomy 35:50). Perhaps from some perspectives, this could potentially mean that those who died were simply gathered physically and buried with their ancestors. But looking at the death of Aaron in Numbers and Moses in Deuteronomy, it becomes clear that this was not at all what was intended, because both Aaron and Moses died outside of the land of promise and could not have been buried in the ancestral tomb at Hebron. Indeed, nobody knows the exact burial spot of Moses.
Rather, to have been “gathered to his people” means that the saints of the pre-resurrection times were gathered to wait until Jesus and His resurrection, indeed to wait for the resurrection of all the saints. In Matthew 27:51-53 we read, “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” These saints that were raised were a foreshadowing of the future resurrection. Apparently these saints were those who were faithful to the Lord unto death and were counted worthy to represent the greater number who will ultimately be raised on the last day. Wouldn’t it have been memorable to see all these saints raised and walking around town testifying of the glories of God’s presence and the call to holiness!!
Another reference to what happens to Old Covenant saints, indeed to all who have left this earth is in Hebrews 11:39-40, “And all these [referring to a long litany of godly people from the Hebrew Scriptures], having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (NIV) What is the promise spoken of in Hebrews? Precisely the resurrection. The goal is that after we die, we will be raised to meet Jesus and be perfected as we behold Jesus face to face for all eternity, whole and complete, lacking nothing, body-soul-spirit … a renewed body! Hallelujah!! The perfection will not fully come -until- it happens for all who believe.
This future perfection of our lives is referred to in Revelation 20:4-6 as “The first resurrection” or the resurrection of the righteous, the reward of trusting Jesus for life. “Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (NIV) Notice, the Bible no where in any legitimate translation ever uses the term reincarnation, but resurrection.
Resurrection means Raised Up to Stand Again. Reincarnation means Put Back in the Flesh Again. Why would anyone want to be put back in the “flesh”? The Word of God teaches that “in the flesh dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The flesh is the meeting ground of sin and satan and selfishness in this world. As long as we are alive in the world, before the final resurrection, something of the flesh is still with us. Only after we have suffered faithfully and died at long last are we promised hope. Some people are Resuscitated, that is they medically/physically die but are revived. This will give them an opportunity to repent and to trust Christ. Medical doctors have documented that often those who are resuscitated tell of encountering scary, hellish things if asked shortly after they are resuscitated. Studies have found that a rosey, heavenly picture deceptively takes this place years later … if they continue to live. Perhaps the terrors of hell are just too scary to live with … unless one repents and turns to Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus told an account, (not described as a parable, but perhaps told as a historical fact of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 in the NIV.
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
As an aside, there are reasons to suspect that this may have been referring to Isaac and Eliezer: Abraham calls the rich man “Child,” and he calls Abraham “Father.” Looking at Isaac’s life in Genesis 26:13, we find that he was very wealthy. God is referred to as the “Fear of Isaac.” Lazarus is Aramaic for the Hebrew Eliezer. Not the God of Isaac. Just some thoughts. It isn’t conclusive since Genesis 35:29 says Isaac was gathered to his people. At the least, this rich man was a wealthy heir of Isaac, but clearly he valued riches over God’s grace and generosity.
Pertinent to what you had asked about, notice that:
- There is a gulf fixed between the rich man and Abraham & the righteous poor after death. Nothing will repair the gap between the rich and the poor after death, and it looks like this world’s blessings will be reversed in the resurrection, but there are no second chances.
- The whole chapter is a contrast between serving God and serving wealth. This is a caution to all of us to not seek to merely be rich in material wealth, but to be generous to others … in this life.
- People are exhorted to pay attention to the Bible (i.e. Moses & the Prophets. From Romans 1:18-23 we know that we are also called to learn from the wisdom revealed in creation and not to make images to worship.)
- The rich man wanted living people (his brothers, fellow Jews) warned lest they go to the place of destruction. It sounds like they had one chance to turn to the Lord before they perished in a very hot place. It really sounds like the message is “Turn or Burn.”
It would be good to read Hebrews 9:27 in context:
24 For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf, 25 and not in order that he can offer himself many times, as the high priest enters into the sanctuary year by year with blood not his own, 26 since it would have been necessary for him to suffer many times from the foundation of the world, but now he has appeared once at the end of the ages for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is destined for people to die once, and after this, judgment, 28 thus also Christ, having been offered once in order to bear the sins of many, will appear for the second time without reference to sin to those who eagerly await him for salvation. (LEX)
They whole tenor of this passage is: You only live once … and then you are judged. Jesus only died and rose once to justify all who turn to Him and will save all who are waiting for -Him- until the end. Notice, He does not save those who are waiting for a second chance. Rather, “Today is the day of salvation.” Believe and repent today.
In Daniel 12, the Lord revealed, “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (NIV) Currently world travel and knowledge are increasing exponentially. The time of the end is drawing nigh. There are two alternatives: an honorable eternity or a shameful eternity. Wise light in the Lord or dark ignorance in sin. Either option is everlasting & eternal, for ever and ever. We have only this life to choose which direction we will go.
I will address the topic of suicide and suffering at greater length in other essays. For now, I will simply note that about Judas, the one person who completed suicide who had known Jesus and spent much time with him and who was a close companion of Jesus , Jesus Himself said, “It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” How can that be possible, unless he went to a place far worse than anything this life has to offer? Unless Judas (and all self-murderers, life-rejecters?) are judged for their final sin, it would seem that the call to forgive others and choose life is meaningless. God does not force people to be saved against our will, but only saves us through our will and desire for salvation, by grace we are saved through faithful cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
As to those who suffer from childhood, it is unwise to pity others … except to tangibly do what you can to relieve that suffering and offer hope. It seems like a futile effort to offer people hope of a reincarnation when there is no clue what they would be reincarnated as? After all, if reincarnation is where souls come from, why has there been for the past 500 years an exponentially increasing number of people on the earth so that now there are over 8 billion souls on the planet? I don’t think reincarnation can account for these souls as well as the creative work of a Loving God.
You mentioned Psalm 78:38-39, “Yet he was compassionate; he atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them. He often turned his anger aside and did not unleash all his wrath. He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” It should be noted simply that the word translated wind can mean, “breath, breeze, wind, … or spirit.” The Hebrew Scriptures are clearly here teaching that the human spirit dies once and that atonement must be made before one dies. You will notice though that before the Psalm says that humans will perish like the wind/spirit that does not return, it is pretty clear that God is incredibly patient and doesn’t destroy us immediately after our sin. He seeks to atone for our sin and reconcile us often and early.
So then, what does this mean? What should we do in light of this truth?
- Trust Messiah Jesus and turn from your sin & unbelief and be saved.
- Continue in holiness, live and abide in Christ. Don’t go back to the old way.
- Tell others about the call to repent and about the devastating nature of sin, the righteousness of Christ, and the judgement that is coming on this world, the flesh, & the devil while there is still time. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing: trying to persuade others of the gospel—and so we should too.
- We should do all we can to show mercy as we engage in mission: helping people in practical ways and not just preaching to them. If we share the eternal, spiritual gospel, is it too much to offer them a simple meal or a listening ear or a kind touch or help with their physical needs as well? The rich man perished without ever helping Lazarus. Let us not leave needs unmet when we have it within our ability to do something to remediate the evils of this world.
© Mert Hershberger, P.O. Box 981215, Ypsilanti, MI 48198