Will anyone escape death?

There’s a strange doctrine being taught by certain members of the body of Christ recently which suggests that the Snatching Away is not something we should actually consider to be our blessed hope (or happy expectation, depending on your Bible translation), but rather that everyone in the body of Christ will instead definitely die, and I wanted to write a few thoughts about it.

While this teaching within the body seems to be originating with Clyde Pilkington (whom I consider to be a beloved fellow member of the body of Christ, and who has provided many wonderful teachings over the years prior to this one) — although his son-in-law, Stephen Hill (who has also had some great teachings over the years), seems to be pushing it as well — from what I can gather (although, if I’m mistaken, I hope someone will correct me), he himself appears to have learned it from either the writings of Otis Q. Sellers or of Charles H. Welch (neither of whom believed in the salvation of all humanity, and hence can’t be considered to be members of the body of Christ, since the doctrine of the salvation of all humanity is a foundational element of Paul’s Gospel). And while I normally try to avoid naming names in articles I write about scriptural misinterpretations made by fellow believers, I do have to link to a couple articles written by Clyde in order to cite my sources, which means it would become obvious pretty quickly that I was referring to him anyway, so I’m making an exception in this case (although the fact that nearly every English-speaking member of the body is aware that Clyde and Stephen are the main two pushing this doctrine among the ecclesia also makes trying to avoid naming names kind of a moot point in this case).

So what is the basis of this teaching? Well, you can find Clyde’s main arguments in Volume 34, Issues 836 and 837 of the BSN (referring to the Bible Student’s Notebook, which Clyde publishes every week or so, and which often does contain excellent teachings as well), and I’m going to go over his main arguments from those issues in this article to show why the passages he used to defend this new doctrine don’t mean what Clyde and others teaching it assume they do. (I’m not going to cover every paragraph of the two articles he wrote on the topic, but I will cover the main points he makes.)

The first passage of Scripture he quotes is just in passing (“it is appointed unto men once to die”Hebrews 9:27), but I should quickly comment on it anyway, because aside from the fact that it’s a Circumcision writing, which means it’s not necessarily to or about the body of Christ anyway, it can’t actually be talking about humans as a whole at all, because that would contradict the rest of Scripture if it was, considering the fact that many people were recorded as being resurrected throughout the Bible who later would have died a second time as well (unless you believe that Lazarus and everyone else raised from the dead are still alive today), not to mention the fact that many people alive today will die a second time as well, in the lake of fire, after they’ve been resurrected from their first death at the Great White Throne Judgement. So whatever this verse is talking about, it can’t mean that humans only die once, thus confirming that pretty much all of the traditional interpretations of the verse are incorrect (including Clyde’s). As for what this verse is talking about, it’s actually a callback to the death of high priests as mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (specifically in the book of Numbers and the book of Joshua, as any Israelite reading a book called Hebrews back when it was written should have recognized), based on the context of the rest of the chapter, as well as the existence of the Definite Article before the word “men” in the verse (it’s not as clear in the KJV as it is in certain other translations, but if you look at the original Greek you can see that the writer of Hebrews had to have meant, “it is reserved to the men to be dying once, yet after this is a judging” (as the Concordant Literal Version puts it, which Clyde should really already know since he uses that translation regularly), referring only to the death of certain men, specifically the high priests of Israel — including Jesus, of course — based on the mention of the high priest in verse 25 of the chapter, as well as all the other references to Jesus’ death throughout the rest of the chapter, not to mention the fact that the death and judgement of any other humans just doesn’t fit the context of the chapter at all). Whenever a high priest died, there was a judgement which resulted in the freedom of certain Israelite sinners, as mentioned in those passages in Numbers and Joshua, and Jesus’ death as high priest resulted in the freedom of even more Israelites.

As far as his main argument goes, Clyde wrote, “The plain teaching of Scripture is that (1) death is the absence of life, and (2) that it is a sure thing for the offspring of Adam.” As far as point 1 goes, he’s absolutely correct. As every member of the body of Christ knows, the dead are unconscious and gone until their resurrection. But it isn’t point 1 where he goes astray; it’s point 2.

Following up that statement, Clyde wrote, “The bedrock fact that ‘in Adam ALL die’ is the prerequisite to the glorious truth that ‘even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).” The thing is, Clyde is quoting a figurative translation of 1 Corinthians 15:22 there, using the KJV (the King James Version of the Bible) rather than a more literal translation. And while that’s fine (the KJV is my personal favourite when it comes to Bible translations, and it’s the version I myself primarily quote when teaching), if one isn’t aware that it’s not a literal translation, and that it needs to be carefully interpreted when using it for Bible study, they can easily go astray when trying to understand it. Of course, the mistake Clyde made there is almost certainly extremely obvious to most members of the body of Christ who are reading this, since most do read more literal translations. But in order to explain where he went wrong to those who might not be sure what I’m talking about, I’m going to quote an edited excerpt of my own writings, which I originally wrote to demonstrate that this passage proves the eventual salvation of all humanity, but which works to correct this particular error as well:

Many Christians assume that Paul was simply referring to being resurrected from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:22 (based on the fact that a large part of this chapter is about resurrection), but we know that everyone who Paul said will be “made alive” includes those who will never die, such as the members of the body of Christ who will still be living at the time they’re caught up together in the air to meet the Lord when He comes for His body (as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 tells us will happen), not to mention the members of the Israel of God who will still be alive at the Second Coming and who will remain alive — thanks to the tree of life — until the time they’re finally also made immortal, so being “made alive” (translated from a future-tense variation of ζῳοποιέω/“dzo-op-oy-eh’-o” in the KJV, which is the same Greek word that “quickened” and “quickeneth” — or “vivified” and “vivifying,” depending on your Bible translation — is translated from, and which refers to having our mortal bodies be made immortal as happened to Jesus after His resurrection, being “made alive” beyond the reach of death, which means being incapable of dying, as well as never being subject to the corruption and the humiliation of mortality ever again) obviously can’t simply be referring to resurrection (which is an entirely different word, translated from the Greek word ἀνάστασις/“an-as’-tas-is” instead) since not everyone who will be “made alive” will actually die and be resurrected (yes, that the dead will be physically resurrected was Paul’s main point in this chapter, but he used his Gospel to prove this point, and in doing so ended up covering details that went far beyond just simple resurrection, including elements that apply to those who won’t literally be resurrected — because they’ll never actually die — as well).

And since the “in Adam” half of the verse is about the end result of his sin as it applies to everyone (and not just those people who will actually literally die), it stands to reason that, “even so,” the “in Christ” part is about the end result of His death for our sins as it applies to every one of us as well, which can only be the quickening, or vivification, of our mortal bodies (since, as Paul explains later in the very same chapter, being made immortal is what we’re looking forward to as far as our salvation goes, and that being made immortal is how the death Adam brought us all is going to be ultimately defeated, which also means that any human who is made immortal will then be experiencing the final stage of their own salvation). That, combined with the fact that Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 that not everyone will end up as a corpse prior to being “made alive” —  confirming that the “for as in Adam all die” part of the verse can only be referring to being made mortal, meaning being in a state of slowly dying because of what Adam did — tells us Paul was simply explaining that, for as in Adam all are dying (meaning all are mortal), even so in Christ shall all be quickened/vivified (made immortal). The Present Active Indicative tense in the original Greek of the word translated as “die” in this verse in the KJV also makes this clear, I should add, making “in Adam all die” in the KJV a figurative translation of a Greek phrase which literally means “in Adam all are dying” (meaning all are in a state of mortality and are slowly dying).

From that, it should be pretty clear now where Clyde’s mistake is. He seems to be assuming that the phrase “all die” in that verse means that everyone will literally drop dead, when all Paul was saying there is that “all are dying,” meaning everyone is mortal and slowly dying. But, as we also know from the same chapter, Paul revealed a secret to his readers (referred to as “a mystery” in the KJV), which is that, while we’re all in the process of slowly dying, not everyone will actually reach the final death state.

That said, even for those of us who might not physically drop dead, it can still be said that we do all die. In fact, Clyde himself accidentally revealed this fact without realizing it, when he wrote, “Just like Christ our Head, every member of His Body will die. After all, we are not only united in His resurrection, but in His death and burial.” Now, he‘s obviously a little confused in thinking that this means we’ll all literally drop dead in the future ourselves, but he still inadvertently reveals the truth that every member of the body of Christ does experience death, because we all died when Christ died (and this also applies to every human who will have ever lived as well, albeit only proleptically at present). This means that we don’t actually have to experience physical death again (although most members of the body still do die physically, of course), because we already went through it once, when Christ Himself died.

And while he doesn’t really go into detail on it in these particular articles, he has brought up a related passage in videos and other places, so I should also mention that Genesis 2:17 doesn’t mean every human who will have ever lived will drop dead either, as he seems to believe. While I myself might be somewhat guilty of stretching the meaning of this verse at times in some of my articles as well, in order to prove what death really is, it’s important to remember that we have to keep the intended audience of a statement in mind rather than trying to apply every single verse in the Bible to ourselves. And with that in mind, it’s important to realize that God’s statement to Adam and Eve in that verse was really only entirely applicable to Adam and Eve.

It’s also important to know what God’s warning, which is rendered figuratively in the KJV as, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” actually even meant. Remember, the expression “thou shalt surely die” was used in both Genesis 2:17 and in 1 Kings 2:36-46 in the KJV, and yet, based on the amount of time it would take to travel from Jerusalem to Gath and back (even on horseback), there’s no way that Shimei actually died physically the day he crossed the brook Kidron, as Solomon warned he would in 1 Kings. And he certainly didn’t “die spiritually” that day either, as most Christians mistakenly assume the translation of “surely die” in the KJV means (an assumption they make because they recognize that this is obviously a figurative translation, based on the fact that Adam didn’t physically drop dead on the day he sinned), which confirms that the popular “spiritual death” idea is a complete misunderstanding of the term “surely die” in the KJV. As far as Shimei goes, it just meant that he had basically signed his own death warrant and knew that he was “as good as dead” on the day he crossed the forbidden brook. And as far as Adam and Eve go, it literally just meant that, to die, they began dying, meaning they gained mortality leading to eventual physical death on the day they ate the forbidden fruit (which makes sense considering the fact that the Hebrew phrase מוֹת תָּמוּת/“mooth ta’-mooth,” translated as “thou shalt surely die” in both passages in the KJV, literally means “to die you will be dying”; this also tells us that “to die” can’t possibly be a reference to being punished in the lake of fire, by the way, because Adam didn’t end up in that location the day he sinned either, so becoming mortal remains the best interpretation of this warning).

And while we know from what we learned about 1 Corinthians 15:22 that all humans are indeed mortal (which means the “you will be dying” part of Genesis 2:17 technically ended up applying to us as well), we know from the various other passages we looked at that not everyone will literally drop dead (which means that the “to die” part of the verse technically only applied to Adam and Eve, even if most of humanity will still physically die at some point).

On top of all that, though, we also have Philippians 1:18-23, where Paul outright states his desire that the Snatching Away occur soon. Of course, most Christians assume Paul’s statement in verse 21 that, for him specifically at that particular time (it’s important to note that this verse isn’t talking about believers in general, but was about Paul’s unenviable circumstances at the time he wrote these words), “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” means that he believed his death would bring him immediately to be with Christ in heaven, but this ignores the context of the verses before these words, not to mention the verses after them as well, and the context of the surrounding verses make it pretty obvious that the “gain” Paul was referring to there would be a gain to the furtherance of the message he was preaching while in bonds, which his martyrdom would surely accomplish (the idea that the “gain” referred to going to heaven as a ghost is reading one’s presuppositions about the immortality of the soul into the passage, but since the Bible tells us that the dead are unconscious and gone until their physical resurrection, this obviously can’t be the case). I’ll admit, verses 22 and 23 in the KJV aren’t the easiest for people today to understand (17th-century English isn’t something modern people always find easy to grasp), and some people will assume that by, “yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul meant he hadn’t yet decided which option he was going to select, as if it was up to him. But whether he lived or died wasn’t actually up to him at all — it was up to the Roman government (at least from a relative perspective, although it was ultimately up to God from an absolute perspective). Literally all Paul was saying there is that he wasn’t going to let it be known whether he’d personally rather continue living as a prisoner in bonds, which seemed to be helping the word to be spread more boldly, or whether he’d prefer to die and let his martyrdom help the cause even more than his state as a prisoner was doing, and that he was pretty much “stuck between a rock and a hard place” either way (which is basically all that “in a strait betwixt two” means in modern day colloquialism), since his only options at that point appeared to be equally undesirable for him as an individual, which is why he then went on to say that he’d prefer a third option over either of the seemingly available two options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” because if Jesus were to come take the body of Christ up to heaven while Paul was still alive, he wouldn’t have to suffer through either of the two likely options, but would instead get to depart the earth without dying, to “ever be with the Lord” in the heavens in an immortal body, which is a far superior option to living as a prisoner in a mortal body or to being put to death. He couldn’t possibly have been referring to dying and being with Christ in an afterlife when he wrote, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,” since he’d just finished telling his readers that he wasn’t going to say whether he’d rather live or die, and that neither of the two likely options were particularly desirable. Now, some Bible translations make it look like he simply couldn’t decide whether he’d prefer to live or die, but he outright said that his desire was “to depart,” so those translations don’t actually make any sense if “to depart” meant “to die,” telling us it’s simply referring to the Snatching Away.

Now, Clyde’s misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:22 was really his main argument, and I trust that you can see it doesn’t mean what he’s assuming it does, but he does try to defend his argument by claiming that verse 51 (“Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”) doesn’t mean what most of us believe it does, so I need to quickly comment on this as well. He does this by claiming: “First, it is important to realize that, even though this passage discusses a ‘mystery,’ this secret is not associated with Paul’s latter Secret Administration.” You see, Clyde believes in another strange doctrine, sometimes referred to as Acts 28 Ultradispensationalism (not to be confused with the Mid-Acts Hyperdispensationalism that most members of the body of Christ hold to as truth). Basically, while nearly every member of the body of Christ understands that Paul’s Gospel is not the same Gospel as the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus and His disciples preached during His earthly ministry, and that we need to divide Paul’s writings from the rest of the Bible as well (in the sense that only Paul was writing to and about the body of Christ, while the rest of the Bible was only to and about Israel), Clyde takes it a step too far and divides Paul’s epistles from themselves as well, believing that there were multiple dispensations, or administrations, associated with Paul’s ministry to the nations, and that we’re now in a “latter, Secret Administration,” with only Colossians and Ephesians applying to us today (with the rest of Paul’s epistles pretty much referring to a previous Administration, and that most of what’s written in those epistles don’t apply to us at all). And while it’s true that not every part of Paul’s earlier epistles are still relevant today, since some of the teachings in those epistles did only apply to the time that Israel still had an opportunity (relatively speaking) to accept Jesus as their Messiah and as the Son of God, in order to bring about the kingdom of heaven for 1,000 years (which has now been delayed until a future time because they didn’t; again, relatively speaking, since we know that, from an absolute perspective, it was actually God who hardened their hearts so they wouldn’t do so, in order that the Secret Dispensation, or Administration, could take place).

The problem is, the Secret Administration isn’t a dispensation, or administration, which was pushed off until the end of Paul’s life, as the Acts 28 position teaches, but was rather an administration that nearly all of Paul’s teachings were relevant to. However, rather than getting into all the arguments against the Acts 28 position myself, I’m going to instead refer you to a number of excellent articles on the topic by Aaron Welch and Martin Zender, since they’ve already taken the time to do so (some of which also cover the very topic of the Snatching Away that this article is already discussing, so please read them all carefully):