Then? Time ceases after death. So very much to be gleaned from this fact…
The Bible says death is irreversible without a divine miracle (Hebrews 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:22). What it does not say, explicitly, is when death becomes “official.” Medical developments have provided means to resuscitate those previously beyond hope. That has led to the question of where, exactly, the line is drawn between being “alive” and being “dead.” It has even raised the debate of whether a person’s body can be medically alive, while the soul and spirit have permanently departed. Such circumstances are rare but puzzling. While Scripture provides guidance, we cannot find absolute, black-and-white identifiers for declaring a person “really” dead.
From a biblical perspective, “real” death occurs when the soul and spirit leave the physical body. Obviously, this is not an event that can be observed with the eyes or measured with medical equipment. Rather, a biblical approach would be to compare physical signs to the functions of the soul and spirit. When a person seems to irreversibly lose those functions, it’s reasonable to believe he or she is truly dead.
There are many examples of those in a coma or persistent vegetative state who recovered, and even in the coma they sometimes showed signs of awareness. Biblically speaking, such persons were never “truly dead.” Spiritually, they were in a similar condition to someone who is sleeping: the soul is present but not actively aware of its surroundings. Those diagnosed with “brain death,” on the other hand, appear to be biologically alive, with cells that continue to function, but their brain has ceased all activity, and they lack any awareness of spirit; therefore, they are most likely devoid of a soul or spirit.
The medical community considers death a process, rather than a single moment. Measurements used to diagnose death have varied throughout history. For many centuries, breathing was considered the litmus test for life. Those not apparently breathing were declared dead. As medical equipment improved, that standard shifted to the heartbeat. Today, it’s possible to measure breathing, heartbeat, and brain activity on a scale imperceptible to the unaided eye. As a result, medical professionals today distinguish between “clinical death,” “biological death,” and even “legal death,” depending on the topic of conversation.
We can be certain that death, when it truly occurs, cannot be undone by medicine or technology. Once a person is “truly dead,” his soul and spirit are entirely separated from the body. That separation can only be undone by the direct intervention of God in a true miracle. So, when people speak of being “brought back” from death in an ambulance or being “dead for ten minutes,” they are using biblically inaccurate terms. In such cases, those persons came very close to death, but they were not truly dead.
Humanity has long recognized the complexity of recognizing when real death occurs. To the casual observer, it’s possible for a person to appear dead but actually be alive. That awareness is reflected in prophecy and miracles in the Bible. For example, Jesus deliberately delayed resurrecting Lazarus until the fourth day after his death (John 11:17). This delay precluded any possible claim that it was a trick or that Lazarus was merely in a coma or sleeping. In fact, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus’s family was concerned about the stink of decomposition (John 11:39).
Likewise, Jesus prophesied that He would be in His grave for “three days and three nights,” since that was the customary waiting period after which death was considered official (Matthew 12:40). Not that this was absolutely necessary—Jesus was killed by professional executioners (John 19:13–18), stabbed through the heart (John 19:33–34), and buried in a guarded tomb (Matthew 27:62–66). The three-day time period, in Jesus’ case, was more for prophetic reasons than “proof” reasons.
In the cases of Jesus and Lazarus and most people in history, defining the exact moment of death is unnecessary—they were unmistakably dead. Debates over when exactly death occurs involve a very thin “gray” area and don’t apply to most of human experience. Most controversial are instances when a person’s body exhibits biological signs of life but there is doubt about brain function. Comas, vegetative states, and “brain death” encroach into this territory.
For the most part, those in comas and vegetative states are still considered “alive,” albeit with limited awareness. Allowing such a person to die by removing life support or withholding care would presumably cause the separation of the soul and spirit from the body; that is, it would cause “true” death. A body exhibiting brain death, on the other hand, would appear to be one that the soul and spirit have already left behind. Removing mechanical support from a body diagnosed with brain death would not appear to cause death, in the biblical sense, since that line has already been crossed.
For this reason, most Christians are opposed to ending the life of a person in a coma or vegetative state. In cases of brain death, or when life is only possible with extreme measures, Christians are often split on the morality of allowing a person to die naturally. Living wills were created specifically to address these concerns. Obviously, this is a topic open to considerable differences of opinion. When discussing or deciding such a topic, Christians should prioritize the sanctity of life while being graceful with and forgiving of others.
On the last day of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Thus, He finished His work with a “personal touch.” God formed Adam from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Accordingly, humanity is unique among all God’s creations, having both a material body and an immaterial soul/spirit.
Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However, Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death.
The image of God (Latin, imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.
Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Morally, humanity was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (humanity included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behavior, or feels guilty, he or she is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.
Socially, humanity was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature and His love. In Eden, humanity’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Every time someone marries, makes a friend, hugs a child, or attends church, he or she is demonstrating the fact that we are made in the likeness of God.
Part of being made in God’s image is that Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Although they were given a righteous nature, Adam and Eve made an evil choice to rebel against their Creator. In so doing, they marred the image of God within themselves, and passed that damaged likeness on to all their descendants (Romans 5:12). Today, we still bear the image of God (James 3:9), but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we show the effects of sin.
The good news is that when God redeems an individual, He begins to restore the original image of God, creating a “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). That redemption is only available by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from the sin that separates us from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Through Christ, we are made new creations in the likeness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Sometimes God calls us to big assignments that will take a great deal of work from many people. Some tasks even seem downright impossible. But where God calls, where God equips. And where God assigns, God strengthened. Where is God calling you to work in His strength today?
And we pray:
Lord, throughout scripture we see You doing great things through Your people. You gave Zerubbabel and Joshua the strength to lead Your people in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. I pray that their example will give me hope and trust as I lean on Your strength to carry me through whatever tasks You have set before me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ephesians 2:10, ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Philippians 2:13, ESV for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (We are his hands and feet)
John 14:12, NLT “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.
We must choose to remain in Jesus if we want God working through us
John 15:4, NIV Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. See also: Without Jesus we can do nothing
Matthew 5:14-16, ESV You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Psalm 90:17, NIV May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.
Galatians 2:20, ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Hebrews 13:21, NLT may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. (When God calls, He also equips!)
Philippians 1:6, NLT And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
1 John 4:12, ESV …if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
John 1:16, ESV For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
1 Corinthians 1:7-8, NIV Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.