THE EGYPTIANS, Babylonians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Greeks, essentially all the ancient nations surrounding the children of Israel, had plenty to say on life after death. The Hebrews had very little.
Their silence is telling.
For the ancient Hebrew, the soul dies.
Dies. As in, death is death.
The breath first breathed by Yahuah into Adam returns to Elohim. And then the righteous sleep with their fathers while awaiting resurrection. There are certainly added details to this—and some slight variations—but I have also concluded that the most complex of studies in Scripture will ultimately show that it’s really that simple. And it all boils down to one future event.
Our hope is in the resurrection.
I believe the Apostle Yohanan (John) summed it up best when he wrote:
“Beloved ones, now we are children of Elohim. And it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
1 Yohanan 3:2
Nobody will see Messiah in life or death until He returns.
I am often told, “What does any of this really matter?”
For me, the Hebrew death experience is very much a part of the Hebrew Gospel. The bad news is death. Don’t listen to the serpent. The serpent lied. We really do die.
Death is death.
Even our memory perishes. Or as Iyob (Job) would say of his own desire for death, it would be as if he never was. The good news however is resurrection. Yohanan again. Iyob also held fast to this. In fact, every single writer of Scripture did. When the kingdom of heaven finally arrives, the righteous are promised immortality.
Just not yet.
It’s kind of the theological elephant in the room. I’ve actually had seminary graduates admit to me that the Hebrew writers did indeed advocate soul sleep, but we needn’t believe it anymore—why? Paul, of course.
Paul once again disproves 99% of the Bible. He always does. The church paints Paul in broad strokes of lawlessness. The Torah community inverts that process and claims him lawful. If Paul truly did disagree with every other writer of Scripture to insist we go to heaven the moment after we die, then we might as well paint him in the image of a Platonist too. Because, as I’ve come to find, that is what he is. A Platonist. As a habit, Paul quoted Plato regularly. Plato is evil.
So, let’s be clear about this. Absent from the body. Present with the Lord. If Paul advocated Plato and the Mystery religions doctrine that the soul ascends to heaven after we die, then he disagrees with every other writer of Scripture.
One of the reasons I became so fascinated by extra-Biblical literature is because I wanted to understand Hebrew thinking outside of accepted 66-book canon. I’ll let you try and make sense of that. Despite the fact that many will argue until the cows come home that Enoch and Jubilees advocate the common Pauline view of the afterlife (it’s Platonic), my rebuttal is that they’re simply digesting those books in the same contextual manner as they read all of Scripture, through Platonic approved reading glasses. My conclusion is that Enoch predates Hellenization and is furthermore untouched by Hellenization.
Enoch holds fast.
And now for the monkey wrench. After recently undressing another ancient Hebrew text I must confess, I’m a bit perplexed.
Let’s talk about 2 Esdras.
And if I’m not mistaken, it was at one time included in the KJV.
Firstly, 2 Esdras confirms my own conclusions in ancient Hebrew thinking. The righteous dead do indeed sleep until the moment of our resurrection. Consider the following verse. The context here is the second coming.
“And the earth shall restore those that are asleep in her, and so shall the dust those that dwell in silence, and the secret places shall deliver those souls that were committed unto them.”
2 Esdras 7:32
Okay, so Esdras wasn’t a Platonist. What a relief. Now let’s address the monkey wrench.
In the very same chapter of 2 Esdras, specifically 7:75-101, we soon learn that the spirits of the dead, both the wicked and the righteous have SEVEN days after their death to wander about freely and, most importantly, perceive the glory of Elohim before being “gathered in their habitations.” Notice it does not necessarily speak of Yahshua. The wicked of course will wander in torment during these seven days, knowing what they have missed out upon, and what is to come. The righteous, learning that they “will be guarded by angels in profound quiet,” and furthermore knowing “the glory that awaits them in the last days,” will be at peace.
I had always presumed that a man closes his eyes and lets his spirit slip from his lips—whereas he succumbs to unconsciousness. The first death. Perhaps I was wrong, but only because the timeline is off. What I’m specifically looking for here is a second witness. Though one would unlikely think to find it in “canon,” I can’t help but turn my gaze towards the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
Torment. Rest. Sleep.
And man, if 2 Esdras doesn’t perfectly explain so many near-death experiences, then I don’t know what does. I’ll post the text below.
75 I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, show this also to your servant: whether after death, as soon as everyone of us yields up the soul, we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation, or whether we shall be tormented at once?”
76 He answered me and said, “I will show you that also, but do not include yourself with those who have shown scorn, or number yourself among those who are tormented. 77 For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times. 78 Now concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone out from the Most High that a person shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. 79 If it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, who have despised his law and hated those who fear God— 80 such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, always grieving and sad, in seven ways. 81 The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High. 82 The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live. 83 The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. 84 The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. 85 The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. 86 The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will cross overs into torments. 87 The seventh way, which is worset than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame,u and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High in whose presence they sinned while they were alive, and in whose presence they are to be judged in the last times.
88 “Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body.v 89 During the time that they lived in it,w they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour so that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly. 90 Therefore this is the teaching concerning them: 91 First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders. 92 The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought that was formed with them, so that it might not lead them astray from life into death. 93 The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander and the punishment that awaits them. 94 The third order, they see the witness that he who formed them bears concerning them, that throughout their life they kept the law with which they were entrusted. 95 The fourth order, they understand the rest that they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory waiting for them in the last days. 96 The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible and shall inherit what is to come; and besides they see the straits and toilx from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty that they are to receive and enjoy in immortality. 97 The sixth order, when it is shown them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on. 98 The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they press forward to see the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified. 99 This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced;y and the previously mentioned are the ways of torment that those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter.”
100 Then I answered and said, “Will time therefore be given to the souls, after they have been separated from the bodies, to see what you have described to me?”
101 He said to me, “They shall have freedom for seven days, so that during these seven days they may see the things of which you have been told, and afterwards they shall be gathered in their habitations.”
2 Esdras 7:75-101