©2019 Dale M. Sides
Note: I researched this topic in a quest to re-dig the wellspring of hope for a dear friend of mine who is struggling with stage 4 liver cancer. While in the midst of it, I discovered a promise that I believe can touch and refresh all of us.
Anyone familiar with the 23rd Psalm has heard of “the shadow of death.” This blog posting is about that phrase and its interpretation, which is of great significance to all of us. From what I could see online, I don’t believe there has been much done on this subject, so I hope you will enjoy this new insight. The reason this has significance is because it validates Jesus Christ as our perfect and complete Redeemer. Not only did He redeem New Testament saints with His blood, but He also delivered Old Testament believers (those who looked for His coming) out of a place called “the Shadow of Death” and into the light of their inheritance called “Paradise.”
The Bible Dictionary definition of “shadow of death” is “thick darkness;” and that is an accurate description, because it depicts the hopelessness of the kingdom of darkness. As we go deeper into this phrase, we will see that it is about a prophetic promise of the Messiah that will sustain and strengthen us in times of suffering and duress. So, this is much more than a biblical exercise or mind stretcher—it is a truth that will add steel to the backbone of your commitment to Jesus Christ.
The conclusion of this research is that Jesus Christ delivered all the Old Testament believers from the Shadow of Death and took them into the light of Paradise. This is also the promise of where we are going too when our spirit leaves our body. We will be translated into a kingdom of light and glory and not into the Shadow of Death and Hell.
A synopsis of my conclusion is this:
· The blood of Jesus paid it back for Old Testament believers and paid it forward for New Testament believers.
· He is the Light of the world.
· He has delivered us out of the kingdom of darkness.
What is the Shadow of Death?
The phrase “the Shadow of Death” can be used of a place as well as a way to describe thick darkness. It can also mean an ominous feeling or fear of death. The Bible makes clear that the Shadow of Death is most definitely a place, as well as a description of what it was like there. In this blog post, when I write the Shadow of Death (upper-cased), I am referring to a place, but when I write the shadow of death (lower-cased), it is referring to a fear of dying and being stranded in thick darkness.
Specifically in our application, the word “death” can be capitalized when it is referring to the principality of Death who oversees one of the regions of Hades (Revelation 6:8). Note: “Hell” is also sometimes used as a reference to a prince of the underworld of the kingdom of darkness.
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. ~Revelation 6:8
Within the region that Death rules over is a section that Jesus called “Abraham’s bosom.” He directly referred to this region in Luke 16:22ff.
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. ~Luke 16:22–23
Some commentators call this section of Scripture a parable, but Jesus was speaking of a literal place. He called it “Abraham’s bosom” in honor of Abraham who is called “the father of all that believe.” In Jewish lore, it is believed that Abraham stood at the door of Gehenna, the lower pit of torment and pain in Hell, and looked for the sign of the covenant with Yahweh upon those who were entering. Those with the covenant mark entered Abraham’s bosom while those who did not have the covenant mark went on into Gehenna, the place of torment. Abraham’s bosom is the same place that is called the Shadow of Death. It seems that when the writer is referencing this location from a motivation of fear (in order to lead people to repentance), he writes it as “the Shadow of Death;” but when it is referenced as “Abraham’s bosom,” it emphasizes the loving care and compassion of the Lord for the captives and a promise of their future deliverance.
The hope of Old Testament saints who believed in Messiah’s coming was that they would go to the Shadow of Death (Abraham’s bosom) when they died and not into the deeper recesses of Hell (Gehenna).
Israel had no inheritance in heaven until Christ came and paid the ransom for their souls to be rescued. There are different compartments in Hell as the book of 1 Enoch chapter 22 shows. (See .) Abraham’s bosom (the Shadow of Death) was reserved for the righteous dead in the kingdom of the underworld, for those who looked forward to Messiah’s coming. There are even deeper places prepared for those who worked evil against the purposes of God. But those who believed in Messiah’s coming as Job did (Job 19:25) were taken by angels to Abraham’s bosom when they died. There they sat in “thick darkness,” waiting for the coming Light of the world. Job said the following:
Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death [Shadow of Death], without any order, and where the light is as darkness. ~Job 10:20–22
These statements by Job validate the Shadow of Death as a place, and this is where Job said he was going. He was saying in a paraphrased way, “Leave me alone; I am going to die. Will you not give me a few moments of peace before I go to the Shadow of Death?”
In Job 38:17, God asked Job the following question.
Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death [the Shadow of Death]? ~Job 38:17
This place was known even as far back as Job (the book of Job is thought by many to be the oldest book in the Bible). The phrase “Shadow of Death” occurs five times in Job, and King David read Job, since it was even older than the Pentateuch. Thoughts of this place became so ominous that “shadow of death” led to the connotation of “death angels coming from Death like vultures.” In Psalm 23, David said that even when he walked “through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” This comparison to the Shadow of Death describes the most frightening situation possible, yet David said he had no fear because his Shepherd guarded him.
David also said in Psalm 16:10 that God would not leave his soul in hell (the Shadow of Death) nor would He allow the Holy One (the Messiah that David believed on) to see corruption. David, along with all the believers who looked for Messiah’s coming, from Adam to John the Baptist, was assigned to the Shadow of Death, or Abraham’s bosom, until the ransom for their sins had been paid.
All of these Old Testament believers sat in darkness until the Light appeared. The Shadow of Death was called this because the principality of Death held them captive, as the Bible says, “behind iron bars and bronze gates.” These gates were the gates of hell, and Jesus has the keys to Death and Hell (Revelation 1:18).
Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, Bound in affliction and irons—Because they rebelled against the words of God, And despised the counsel of the Most High, Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; They fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death [Shadow of Death], And broke their chains in pieces. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He has broken the gates of bronze, And cut the bars of iron in two. Fools, because of their transgression, And because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, And they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! ~Psalm 107:10–21
Psalm 107:10–21 speaks not only of sitting in darkness on earth because of rebellion against the Lord, but it also speaks prophetically concerning those who would sit in the Shadow of Death/Abraham’s bosom and would someday be rescued out of it by the Messiah. These things were also prophesied in Psalm 24 where the command is given to “Lift up your heads, O you gates.”
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! And lift them up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah. ~Psalm 24:7–10
The good news is that King David was right—Jesus did not leave him in the Shadow of Death but translated him into Paradise—out of the thick darkness and into the light.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. ~Psalm 16:10–11
The story of what happened when Jesus led the captives out of darkness is amazing, to say the least. What happened when the Light of the world invaded the kingdom of darkness?
What Happened to the Shadow of Death?
What do you think happened when the Light of the world invaded the kingdom of darkness and ripped the gates of Hell and the doors of the Shadow of Death off their foundations? Total confusion came upon the kingdom of darkness! Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, but when He (the King of Glory) lifted up the gates of Hell and broke down the doors of the Shadow of Death, there was utter chaos within the evil kingdom. When He entered the domain of darkness, the whole cavern of Abraham’s bosom was filled with overwhelming light!
The King of Glory went to Hell immediately after He died. What kind of attitude do you think He had?
Ephesians 4:8–10 shares a truth that is often overlooked, even though it is in the oldest versions of the Apostle’s Creed.
Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”— what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) ~Ephesians 4:8–10
It says that when He ascended up to heaven, He led captivity captive, but before He did, He descended into the lower parts of the earth to rescue the captives. The captured ones He took captive were the occupants of the Shadow of Death (or Abraham’s bosom, as Jesus more clearly defined it.)
Some denominations include the phrase “he descended into hell” in their Apostles Creed, and it is properly supplied. Jesus went into hell, specifically into Abraham’s bosom, the Shadow of Death. He plundered it and rescued all the captives.
Note: Jesus also descended deeper into the kingdom of darkness and witnessed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19), which means that not only did He plunder Abraham’s bosom but He also appeared to the spirits in Tartarus, the deepest pit in Sheol (1 Peter 3:19–20; 1 Enoch 20:1–3). The book of Jubilees exhumed from the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals that before the flood of Noah, the fallen angels were bound in a pit (Jubilees 5:6). That pit’s Greek name was Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4).
Jesus went to hell so that we wouldn’t have to. He went to rescue the sons of Adam who embraced His coming and He went even deeper into Tartarus to show Himself to the spirits in chains to remind them of their stupidity and that judgment was soon coming.
So, what happened to the region called the Shadow of Death? The Light of the world invaded the kingdom of darkness and rescued the spirits of righteous men and women after His blood had been shed as payment for their sins. He took them to Paradise and into the kingdom of Light and Glory. Jesus emptied Abraham’s bosom and cleaned out the Shadow of Death.
· Jesus paid it backwards for the Old Testament believers, and
· He paid it forward for New Testament saints.
The Gospel of Nicodemus
The ancient but reliable Gospel of Nicodemus manuscript contributes some valuable information to the discussion of what happened to Abraham’s bosom or the Shadow of Death. It documents the emptying of the Shadow of Death, the lifting of the gates of hell, and testimonies of the Old Testament believers who had sat in darkness waiting for the coming of the Light of the world. This apocryphal book is dated as far back as the 3rd century, and its place in the canon of Scripture has been debated for many years. Its message and story line agree perfectly with the Scriptures on this subject, but it also provides some tremendous enlightenment concerning Christ’s descent into Hell. (The Gospel of Nicodemus is available online at .)
The Gospel of Nicodemus centers around the witness of two men who were raised up out of Abraham’s bosom, or the Shadow of Death, as Matthew 27:52 and 53 chronicles.
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. ~Matthew 27:52–53 KJV
Nicodemus writes that two men—sons of Simeon, the prophet who witnessed baby Jesus’ arrival at the temple—arose out of the Shadow of Death as they were rescued by the Lord of Glory. They sat silently in the temple for two days waiting for the Lord's permission to speak. These men had only recently died, so they were known by the regulars in the temple who obviously were aware that they had died and probably grieved over them at their memorial services. Now here they were again, raised up from the dead and sitting in the temple! Then, by permission of the Lord, they testified of what took place when the Light of the world invaded the kingdom of darkness. There were two of them bearing witness, which was required according to Old Testament law, and each gave a separate testimony. If you have never read this book, you ought to—and if you have, you should read it again! It shows the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His triumph over Death and Hell and Satan. This book’s entire story line shows that Pilate and the elders of Israel finally discovered that they had, in fact and truth, crucified the King of Glory. The primary convincing event was the raising of these two men from the dead who testified to the fulfillment of Scripture—including the foretelling of Psalm 16:10 and the events described in Ephesians 4:9 and 10. (This may be the reason that Nicodemus was excluded from the Canon of scripture because it reveals that the Romans did in fact kill the Messiah.)
The plot of the Gospel of Nicodemus thickens in chapter 13 just after Yahweh’s Son Yeshua dies, descends into this region of Hell, and cleans out Abraham’s bosom—and He enters this place completely sinless! This means that Hell and Death had no hold on Him. It was only because of sin that even those who believed in the coming of Christ had to go to this holding place in Hell. They had to wait for the payment to be made so that they could ascend out of darkness and into the light.
In the Nicodemus account, a huge bolt of lightning suddenly appears in this place in Hell, so hot and bright that it looked like a purple Sun, and it blinded everyone who sat in darkness. This was the Light of the world invading darkness, and total chaos ensued. Death, Hell, and Satan were paralyzed at the shock and awe of the Light’s appearance in total darkness. Immediately Adam, the father of mankind, screamed for delight and testified, “I knew you would not leave me here!” Isaiah verified this prophecy when he said that “the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). David said, “Did I not tell you that He would not leave my soul in hell or allow the flesh of the Holy One to see corruption?" Then Simeon testified of seeing Him in the temple just before he died, and the joy crescendos with John the Baptist’s shout.
And now while I was going before him, I came down hither to acquaint you, that the Son of God will next visit us, and as the day-spring from on high, will come to us, who are in darkness and the shadow of death [Shadow of Death]. ~Gospel of Nicodemus 13:14
What follows is fascinating. It concludes with all the elders and even Pilate admitting that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Son of the Living God, that they had crucified Him and that He had risen from the dead. This piece of information is so astoundingly significant—not just to us who believe, but to the world!
The Gospel of Nicodemus not only reveals that there is consciousness after leaving our physical bodies, but it also discloses the truth of Christ’s redemption. This should increase mankind's fear and reverence of God.
Translated into the Kingdom of Paradise
There is a priceless gem of truth waiting for us to uncover and polish, and as we do, it will shine in our treasure chest of hope forever. We have been delivered out of the Shadow of Death and translated into the light of the kingdom of Jesus Christ—which is in Paradise!
Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. ~Colossians 1:12–13
In my daily Bible readings, I try to be sensitive to what the Lord wants me to read and study. I usually have an idea where He is directing me to go the next day just before I turn the light off and go to sleep. Recently, it seems that the Lord would not let me leave the first chapter of Colossians. I was already familiar with this chapter, to the point I could pretty much quote it from memory, so I knew it wasn’t just that I was supposed to memorize it. I believed there had to be a treasure within it that He wanted to reveal to me—something I had not noticed before. So, for about a week straight I simply read it, and then one morning as I was doing that, a truth flooded my soul and I felt God’s presence come upon me as the revelation of this truth filled my heart. Although the title of this blog post may seem dramatic (“Delivered from the Shadow of Death”), the beauty of this revelation is that we have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Light—the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—we have been translated into Paradise! This is the truth that will really enlighten our souls!
I also want to point out that the NKJV has verse 12 translated correctly, it is “partakers of the saints into the light." The word “the” is properly supplied in the NKJV because it is a place. It could actually be translated The Light. That place is further described in verse 13. The inhabitants were in the kingdom of darkness but now they are translated into the kingdom of Light.
It is interesting that the Greek word that is translated into English as “to be partakers” means to make someone adequate or to qualify someone. Verse 14 shows what qualified us for the kingdom of the Son of His love.
In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:14
The blood of Jesus was the payment for both the Old Testament and New Testament believers to be qualified for the inheritance in the Light—Paradise. The blood of Jesus was and is the payment for the sins of past and present. The blood of Jesus qualifies us!
What a Redeemer and Savior. What a plan of redemption and salvation. He not only paid it forward for the New Testament saints but He also paid it backward for the Old Testament believers who waited for His coming.
If you have embraced the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and Savior of the world and have pleaded His blood for your righteousness, upon your departure from your body you will ascend by angels into the Kingdom of the Son of Righteousness and the Light of world. You never have to fear a deep, dark cavern of separation from God.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” ~John 8:12
Although the light of the world is literally/physically the Sun; the Son claimed it in personification as the King of the kingdom of Light. When the Light of the world invaded the kingdom of darkness, He ransacked and destroyed it as He said He would. He descended into Hell and delivered the children of promise who sat in darkness in Abraham’s bosom waiting for the price for sin to be paid. When the King of the kingdom of Light gave His life, when His spirit and soul left His body, He knew that He would descend into Hell as all mankind had done—except He went there completely free of sin. He therefore qualified as the payment for the captives to be led captive to Paradise.
· If we had coined a descriptive code name for Jesus’ (spiritual) military invasion upon earth, it could have been: Plunder Hell and Populate Heaven!
Jesus paid it forward for all of us to be redeemed. It is a message we can never hear enough and it should drive us to our knees. How would you feel if your only hope when you leave your body is to descend into Hell and sit in darkness?
The King of Glory has come. He tore the bronze gates and iron bars off of Hell. He paid the price of a sinless life with His blood and took the keys from Death and Hell. Death and Hell could not hold Him because He was the Redeemer and King of Glory. He rescued the Old Testament believers and also paid the price for redemption for those who would follow.
The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most well known of all psalms, showing the future type of Messiah as Shepherd, but Psalm 24 reveals Him as the King of Glory. The entirety of Psalm 24 is directed to those who the Lord would deliver out of the Shadow of Death and even gives guidelines on how to qualify for Abraham’s bosom until the time of redemption would be paid.
And so, I’d like to close with this psalm to honor the King of Glory who invaded Hell and rescued our brothers and sisters who are now dwelling in the Light in Paradise.
The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully:
He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face. Selah
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And lift them up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah
We have been delivered from the Shadow of Death and translated into the Light of the kingdom of the Son of God. He is the Light of the world.