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IMPORTANT BIBLE TOPICS

Photograph: Ooman CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikipedia.

Where is Abraham ?

Many years ago I was asked a question after a Bible presentation. The enquirer had been reading his Bible and was puzzled about what it said in relation to what he had been brought up to believe. He asked:

'Where is Abraham?

It is an excellent question because it touches on the very essence of the true Christian faith. The answer is a simple one and it explains what Abraham’s hope was based on, and how that hope has been, still is, and will be worked out in God’s purpose. The answer is, Abraham is dead, still in the grave where he was buried. But the point of the question was, if Abraham is dead does he have a future life, and if so, when and where? You see the questioner understood that nowhere in the Bible is heaven mentioned as Abraham’s place of reward. But God did offer Abraham a future life. So how is this possible?

Promises made to Abraham

Abraham, like every human being since creation, was subject to death. But while he was living he was given promises by God, as recorded in Genesis chapters 12 to 22. In fact, you can trace seven distinct promises that cover the following points:

  1. Abraham was told to leave his home in Ur (now in Iraq) and travel to a land God would show

him (Genesis 12). He left the relative prosperity of Ur and as a nomad made an 800 mile trek from Ur in Mesopotamia to reach that promised land.

  1. This land was known as Canaan or what later became the kingdom of

Israel. The ancient Greeks renamed the land Palestine.

  1. Abraham was promised a ‘seed’ or descendant through Sarah his wife.
  2. He and his descendants would become numerous.
  3. They would inherit the land and live in it for ever.
  4. A particular descendant would become victorious and bring blessings to all nations of the earth – not just to Abraham’s

family.

  1. We know from the New Testament that the ‘seed’ or descendant of the promises was most importantly, Jesus Christ − a very

special and unique offspring of Abraham * Galatians 3:16

The promises were not fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime

It is evident from the book of Genesis however, that these promises were not fulfilled during Abraham’s lifetime. We are told that he wandered like a stranger around the land, even having to buy a burial plot from a family of the Hittites (Genesis 25:9-10). He certainly did not own the land and has not lived in it for ever, as promised. Neither did his son Isaac, nor his grandson Jacob, both of whom had these same promises repeated to them. In the New Testament we are clearly told that Abraham and his wife Sarah were among those who didn’t receive their promised inheritance: ''"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, they were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."''

  • Hebrews 11:13

However, it is abundantly clear that Abraham during his lifetime believed implicitly in the personal fulfilment of those promises; even to the point of being prepared to obey God’s command to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, when his faith in those promises was put to the test. We might call it the ultimate test. The Genesis 22 account explains that God intervened and provided a ram for a sacrifice in place of Isaac. But one of the salient points that come out of this incident is Abraham’s implicit belief in the ability of God to raise the dead. He believed that, even if he had sacrificed his son, God would have raised him from the dead.

This is clearly implied by Abraham’s conversation with his servants beforehand, and confirmed by the New Testament commentary in the letter to the Hebrews:

''"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense."''

  • Hebrews 11:17-19

The supreme faith of Abraham was the feature that God recognised when He confirmed that promise. The promise involved living again on the earth, as we see from these words of the Apostle Paul: '''"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith"''

  • Romans 4:13
  • Note: the phrase ‘heir of the world’.

We must now answer the related question – what happened to Abraham when he died? Regular readers of this magazine may well be familiar with the Bible answer to this question. Man dies because of sin. Death was a punishment given to Adam, Eve and all their descendants. Indeed, the real story of the Bible is all about the divine plan to reverse that process – and that is what Abraham believed in, the resurrection of the dead to eternal life!

What happened when Abraham died?

The Bible is very clear about the state of the dead; they know nothing. Even those related to a resurrection are described as being ‘asleep’, in other words completely unconscious (see Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Daniel 12:2). Abraham, his wife Sarah, and Isaac and Jacob were all buried in the cave of Machpelah in the plot of land that Abraham had bought at Hebron.

See the top of article picture, which is the traditional site of Abraham's family tomb in Hebron.

There is no record in the Bible of Abraham (or anyone else) having an immortal soul which went on living in heaven after death. In fact, the phrases ‘immortal soul’ and ‘ever living soul’ do not appear in the Bible at all! The Bible is consistent in teaching that all men and women are mortal and will perish completely after death. Let the three following passages suffice to emphasise this point:

  • It was God who pronounced death as a punishment for sin in the first

place and this was very clear in his curse upon Adam: "“Cursed is the ground for your sake…In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return”."

  • Genesis 3:17-19
  • The wise man Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes:

''"For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust."''

  • Ecclesiastes 3:19
  • The ‘one place’ is the grave.
  • David wrote: "For in death there is no remembrance of you; In the grave who will give you thanks?"
    • Psalm 6:5

So, if Abraham is dead and not in heaven, then God’s personal promises to him that he will live for ever have not yet been fulfilled.

Abraham’s hope

What then is the hope of Abraham? He awaits a future resurrection from the dead to inherit those promises with his family of faith, together with his special offspring Jesus Christ. His work to defeat sin and its consequences has made the future inheritance of the kingdom possible for "Abraham and his seed". To live in "the land" forever involves an inheritance in the kingdom of God to be established on the earth. As the commentary in Hebrews chapter 11 states, all the faithful men and women listed in that chapter lived their lives in the hope "that they might obtain a better resurrection"

  • Hebrews 11:35

We are clearly told in the same chapter that all God’s faithful children, even those alive today, will receive their reward at the same time: ''"And all these 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."''

  • Hebrews 11:39-40

This will be the day spoken of by the Apostle Paul: ''"I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word !..."''

  • 2 Timothy 4:1-2

In summary then, we can say with confidence that Abraham, together with all the men and women of faith throughout the ages, are dead, "asleep" and unconscious, awaiting the call to resurrection, judgement and a glorious gift of immortal life; to be with Christ at his second coming when he comes to establish God’s heavenly kingdom on the earth.

Author: Justin Giles, London, UK
Source Light on a New World - Volume 31/1

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