Bible Answer

Does all humanity “die once”?

In Hebrews 9:27, the writer says that everyone dies once. If this is true, then how can a Rapture be true for those believers who are alive? Don't they have to die first?

When interpreting any passage of the Bible, we must understand its meaning within the context it is given. Trying to understand a single verse taken out of context will usually result in an incorrect interpretation, especially in the case of Hebrews 9:27. 

In chapter 9 the writer of Hebrews was not discussing the nature of the afterlife or seeking to establish a rule for how many times a person may die. He was giving a rule of thumb in the course of teaching on a larger point:

Heb. 9:24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;
Heb. 9:25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.
Heb. 9:26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Heb. 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
Heb. 9:28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

In this passage, the writer makes a comparison between Christ's first and second coming and mankind's first and second "lives." His analogy is this: just as men must die at the end of their first life on earth, so Christ appeared the first time to live and die to take away our sins. And just as we live eternally in our second, resurrected life never to die again, so also Christ will appear a second time in glory to rule eternally over those who have received Him. So in that sense only, the writer says we die once and then comes judgment. 

Given the context, we can see clearly that the writer was not interested in addressing exceptions to the rule of thumb used in his analogy, though there are some obvious exceptions given in Scripture. Therefore, we cannot use this verse to assert that exceptions don't exist. Doing so would be going beyond the context of Hebrews 9:27 and would result in a misinterpretation. 

Looking elsewhere in Scripture, we see plainly that while most humanity will only die once, there will be some exceptions. Some human beings will die twice and some will never die at all. 

Lazarus and the others Christ raised from the dead during His earthly ministry had to die twice, because their resurrections were temporary. When these human beings were raised by Christ, they returned to their old, sinful bodies, not eternal, resurrected bodies. Therefore, another death was required to free them from their corrupt bodies and make way for the new bodies they will receive at the resurrection. So these human beings were an exception to the "die once" rule of thumb. 

Similarly, some human beings will never experience death (at least not in the conventional sense). Enoch and Elijah never experienced a conventional death, and all Christians alive at the moment Christ returns for His Church at the resurrection (i.e., rapture) will not experience death either, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. These too are exceptions to the "die once" rule of thumb in Hebrews 9:27. 

In summary, that verse was not intending to set a standard without exception. It was simply a rule of thumb being used as part of a larger point about Christ's Second Coming. 

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