God gave me a wonderful dream last week. In just one word, He gave me the key to Egypt – its ancient civilization, its place in world history and the Bible, and its relationship with Israel. That word is “death.” God also gave me the key to Greece (love).
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Anyone who has read anything about ancient Egyptian culture knows their preoccupation with death. Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs say it well: “No civilization ever invested more faith, energy, or money its belief in life after death than ancient Egypt” (41). The Egyptians may have had some fun and lived lavishly, but they cared more about the afterlife than the here and now.
Atheists, secular humanists, and worldly Christians think this is morbid or dumb. I wish more Christians would act like the Egyptians! A preoccupation with death and the afterlife is an excellent thing, since our earthly lives are just a dressing room for eternity. After conversion, we are seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). As strangers and pilgrims on this earth, we seek a heavenly city (Hebrews 11:13-16). As Christians we should aim at heaven rather than earth.
As right as ancient Egyptians were to focus on death and the afterlife, their pagan understanding of both states was wrong. The thing in which they excelled as a people missed the mark.
Mistake 1: The Egyptians misunderstood the nature and purpose of the afterlife.
Egyptians believed in a “pharaoh’s divinity and immortality,” namely that he would be “resurrected to live again in another world” (Brier and Hobbs 3). Tomb robbers helped spread that belief to all classes of society. However, Egyptians also thought the afterlife was “not an abstract spiritual realm but a concrete, real destination mirroring life in this world” (33). They believed a pharaoh’s afterlife required “clothing, food, and furniture” (3). So they made it their business to “provide for their pharaoh’s eternal life” by building “tombs to store the food and equipment required for his next existence” (3).
So what’s the truth about the afterlife?
- Heaven is a real destination, more real than this earth because it is eternal. Here we will figuratively eat, drink, and live forever.
- Heaven is also a spiritual realm and it won’t resemble our earthly lives. Whatever is natural and physical will pass away.
- We cannot bring earthly objects into a spiritual place. The ancient patriarch Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). The apostle Paul later said, “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7).
Mistake 2: Egyptians misunderstood the nature of the soul and resurrection.
In the legend of Isis and Osiris, Osiris’s evil brother Seth tricks him into climbing inside a coffin made to fit him. Seth then seals and covers the coffin in lead and throws it into the Nile. Osiris’s sister-wife Isis recovers and buries the coffin. Seth finds the grave, divides the body, and scatters it all over Egypt. Isis finds and reassembles Osiris’s body, then hovers over it in as a bird “until he comes back to life” (Brier and Hobbs 41). Osiris then becomes king of the next world.
Whether Egyptians’ ideas on the afterlife originated from this myth or they created it to explain them is unknown (Brier and Hobbs 41-42). Because of it, Egyptians believed “a physical body would literally revive in the next world” and that “eternal life required an intact body” (42). The transitional process involved “awakening in the pyramid, ascending through the sky to the netherworld, and finally being admitted into the company of the gods” (42). This sounds like astral travel.
Egyptians’ ideas on the soul are also important here. They believed it was made up of a ‘ba’ and a ‘ka.’ The ‘ba’ was separated from the body at death but had physical needs (Brier and Hobbs 45). Egyptians would write spells on the pyramid and coffin to ensure that the ‘ba’ was reunited with the body in the afterlife (45). The ‘ka,’ however, was “a spiritual duplicate of the deceased that required a place to dwell” (46). Some wealthy Egyptians were buried with a lifelike statue where the ‘ka’ could reside if the body were destroyed (46-47). This last idea sounds like demon possession, a daily reality that the Egyptians knew nothing about.
So what’s the truth about the soul and resurrection?
- The soul is an indivisible entity. It is the real person, not a duplicate. The soul is also immortal and does not have physical needs.
- The soul departs the body at death and enters heaven or hell for eternity, while the body remains on earth. The resurrection of the dead will occur at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16). Only then will body and soul be reunited.
- “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). A physical body cannot enter a spiritual place but must be changed into a spiritual body during resurrection; it does not need to be intact (15:42-54).
- When our physical bodies are changed, we will be figuratively transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 3:21, 1 John 3:2).
Mistake 3: The Egyptians misunderstood the nature and purpose of judgment.
Egyptians believed that “attaining eternal life did not require performing good acts but simply doing no wrong” (Brier and Hobbs 33). They thought a dead person would pass through two final judgments, the first beyond his control and the second based on his persuasion.
In the first test, the person’s heart would be weighed against the feather of truth (maat). If he failed, his heart would be eaten by a crocodile. If he passed, he would enter the second test – revealing the names of all forty-two gods and denying specific sins to each one. Passing this test ensured entry to the netherworld and being welcomed by Osiris, God of the dead (Brier and Hobbs 44-45).
So what’s the truth on final judgment?
- There is one judgment of the dead but it will happen in two stages. Christians will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:13-15), during the Great Tribulation on earth. Non-Christians will appear before the Great White Throne Judgment, after the Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 20:11-13).
- We will be judged for our motives, thoughts, words, and deeds – the whole package. What matters most is our works. Our souls will figuratively be ‘weighed.’
- Christians are ensured of heaven regardless of the outcome. The judgment seat of Christ is about reward. Non-Christians are ensured of hell. Their judgment is about destiny.
- There is one name “password” (not 42) to heaven: Jesus Christ. We must accept him as Savior and Lord while on earth. We won’t have a chance after we die.
- What matters is not whether we know God’s name but whether he knows ours. Those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15, 21:27).
- The path to eternal life is not denying sin or claiming a life of truth but admitting our sinful deeds and its consequences, then accepting the blood of Christ as payment.
The ancient Egyptians rightly focused on death and the afterlife. However, they missed the key to eternal life. It’s found in their hieroglyphic language. The Egyptian word for “life” is ankh. It resembles a head on a cross and is called “the key of life.” This image also corresponds to laminin, the protein that sustains our bodies. I believe God placed the ankh or laminin image all over creation as a testament to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Christ is the Word of life (Philippians 2:16, 1 John 1:1).
If the Egyptians had focused on this word, they might have learned the one true path to eternal life. Instead, they ignored it. As a result, God allowed their ancient civilization to become a timeless symbol of eternal death – both to ancient Israel and to all Christians.
I pray God makes Egypt “a lesson before dying” in these last days, before the anti-Christ comes. Sinners must heed its warning of eternal death, the consequence of refusing eternal life in Christ. Christians must heed its focus on the afterlife, both heaven and hell.
Brier, Bob, and Hoyt Hobbs. Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.