Is Man Immortal?
When a person is freed from the spirit of religion, he is also freed from the bondage of its carnal doctrines. One such doctrine is the so-called “immortality of the soul.” Millions of Christians hold the false belief that when a person dies his soul immediately goes to one of two places—if he is a Christian, he goes to heaven, and if he is an unbeliever, he goes to a temporary place of torment where he awaits the final judgment. That this is the majority view we have no doubt. A pamphlet put out by The American Tract Society makes the following statements:
Man has a soul. The body dies. The soul never dies. The souls of the good will be happy in heaven. The souls of the wicked will be miserable in hell.
Is this scriptural? The word “soul” is used over 600 times in the Old Testament and over 100 times in the New Testament but not once do we have any reference to an “immortal soul.” The Bible speaks of souls being born (Exodus 12:19), souls being in the grave (Psalms 89:48), souls being raised from the dead (Acts 2:31), souls being slain with the sword (Joshua 10:28-30), bleeding souls (Jeremiah 2:34), souls being added to the Church (Acts 2:41), and other similar expressions, but not once do we have any mention of an immortal soul. Those who hold to the view of the “immortality of the soul” have very little scripture to stand on (as do most traditions), and as we will show, this doctrine contradicts the scriptural truths that 1) death is the penalty for sin, not eternal punishment, and 2) the hope of man lies in the resurrection not in being with the Lord at death.
Man: Created Perfect or Perfectly Created?
Which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality….” (1 Tim. 6:15-16a)
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? (Job 4:17)
The orthodox view of the “immortality of the soul” attributes to man something he does not possess. The Bible clearly tells us that “only God has immortality,” yet men continue to teach that the soul continues to live on after death. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) tells us in his History that the ancient Egyptians were the first to teach that the soul of man is separable from the body, and immortal. This Egyptian idea came centuries before Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam came onto the scene. Later, this was passed onto the ancient Greeks. The philosophers Socrates and Pythagoras were among the first to advocate this Egyptian idea. In the Phaedo—one of Plato’s most famous works—Plato recounts Socrates’ final conversation with his friends on the last day of Socrates’ life. Socrates declared to them: “Be of good cheer, and do not lament my passing ...When you lay me down in my grave, say that you are burying my body only, and not my soul.”
But what saith the scriptures? Does the Bible teach this pagan doctrine? There is no better place to start than at the very beginning of man’s existence. Orthodoxy teaches that man (Adam) was created perfect needing no further maturity. They suppose that if Adam had not sinned, God would have been perfectly content in keeping him in the Garden of Eden. Finally, the capstone of their theology states that whether or not Adam sinned, his soul was created eternal and would live on after the death of the body. Advocates of this belief use the following passage to prove their point,
26a Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”
27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:26a, 27)
But was man really created in the image of God? To answer that, let’s see how Adam was formed.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7)
Man was formed from the earth! This is confirmed for us in the very next chapter.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen. 3:19)
Adam was created a dusty, earthly man. He was not heavenly; he was earthy. He was not spiritual; he was flesh and blood. Paul tells us the same when he says:
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.
48a As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy…(1 Cor. 15:46-48a)
We know that God is spirit (Jn. 4:24), and so if man was created in the image of God, why was he created flesh and blood? We know that God is heavenly—not earthly—and so if man was created in the image of God, why was he formed from the dust of the ground?
You may ask then, if man was not made in God’s image, how do we explain the first chapter of Genesis, which seems to clearly state that man was created perfect? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 4:17 when he says, “…God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” God does not see things as we do. We see things that are past and present, but God sees things as they will be. “Let us make man in our own image” is a prophetic declaration by God seeing Adam not as he was (earthy), but as he would be in his finished state (heavenly). God was looking past man’s natural beginning, past his disobedience, past the Mosaic Law, and past Christ in the flesh to a time when man would be both heavenly and spiritual. Paul continues,
And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Cor. 15:49)
Clearly, Paul is telling us that man was not created complete (perfect), and that God had in mind a greater plan of development for Adam (mankind). When God created man, He did not see him as a flesh and blood creature formed from the dust, but a spiritual, heavenly (new) man borne from above. While we may see God’s words in Genesis as both literal and immediately fulfilled, the truth is that God was not speaking present fact. God is not like us for He knows all things, and so He could speak the beginning as if it were the end. The truth is man was not created perfect, but he was perfectly created, that is, he was created exactly as God wanted him to be. Man was not created with an immortal soul, but in fact, was very much mortal, and with mortal beings comes death. Paul tells us what the fate of this flesh and blood man would be.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (1 Cor. 15:50)
Paul tells us that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom. This is why man had to be changed. It was always God’s intention to create Adam in a natural (earthly) state and have him eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order that he might go through a long process of struggle against good and evil for the purpose of attaining unto a heavenly calling found in Christ. The so-called “fall of man” was not really a fall at all, but a marvelous plan to bring man from a lowly estate to a glorious calling in the heavens. This was the calling of Christ in the flesh—to begin in the natural and be raised to new life, and so as Christ is our example, we also begin in the natural and are raised to walk in newness of life. Paul says this very thing when he says that it is not the spiritual that comes first, but the natural. (1 Cor. 15:46) It is sufficient for me to know that God had a greater intention for Adam than simply allowing him to remain in an earthly state, tending to affairs in an earthly garden, and propagating earthly seed.
To further illustrate the truth that God did not create Adam perfect, Gen. 3:6 says,
…that when Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat….
The Hebrew word for “pleasant” is chamad, which can be translated to mean “lust” or “covet.” It is used in the following verses:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…. (Ex. 20:17)
Lust not after her beauty in thine heart…. (Prov. 6:25)
The Hebrew word for “desired” is ta’avah which comes from the root ‘avah which, again, means to “lust” or “covet.”
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting….(Num. 11:4)
They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. (Ps. 106:13, 14)
It is interesting that the apostle John says the very same thing in his epistle.
15 Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 Jn. 2:15, 16)
John tells us about “all that is in the world” and then proceeds to list the three specific lusts (flesh, eyes, and the pride of life) that are of the world. John was literally saying that all the sins of the world could be summed up in these three lusts. Now, notice the similarities between what John wrote and what was “in” Eve. Eve saw that the tree was good for food—this is “the lust of the flesh;” she saw that it was pleasant to the eyes—this is the “the lust of the eyes;” and she saw that it would make her wise—this is the “pride of life.” And guess what? All of this was “in” Eve before she even took one bite of the fruit. Sin was already in her! Jesus tells us about this kind of lust when He said,
But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Mt. 5:28)
Adam was created from the earth, and therefore, had the things of the earth (lust) already “in” his flesh. Is it any wonder that Adam couldn’t do anything but sin? He was created an earthly being, and because of this, he naturally inclined toward the things of the earth (world). Adam could no more prevent his disobedience than you or I could refuse a drink of water when on the verge of dehydration. Lust was already in him and it was just waiting for an opportunity to bring forth specific acts of sin.
I like to compare the creation of Adam to a seed. Within a seed is the potential for new life. However, without the proper elements (soil, water, nutrients, and sunlight), a seed will not produce the fruit that it is capable of. The same is true with man. God created man with the potential for spiritual maturity, however, without the proper elements (spiritual sight and regeneration), man would only have the potential to be in the image of God. It was first necessary for Adam to have his eyes opened to his own carnality, before he could grow to his full potential in Christ.
Understanding that man was not created perfect is but the first step in our attempt to refute the lie that man was created with an immortal soul.
“The Wages of Sin is Death”
As discussed in the last section, it was God’s plan from the very beginning to form Adam in sin (from the earth). We know this because the remedy for sin was planned out before the foundation of the world. (Rev. 13:8) Adam was created as a naked, natural man who was blind to his own condition. Once Adam disobeyed God, his eyes were opened to the fact that he was already in a state of dying.
And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it—dying, thou dost die. (Gen. 2:17 – Young’s Literal)
The “authorized” version wrongly translates Gen. 2:17 as, “…for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” This version gives the impression that Adam was created perfect, and that death only came to him on the day that he ate of the tree. In the last section, however, we have shown that “lust” was already in Eve even before she disobeyed God’s command. Adam was already in a state of “dying,” not because of a specific sin he committed, but because he was naturally formed from the earth.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps. 51:5)
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. (Rom. 8:20)
Paul tells us that God subjected his whole creation to vanity. This is exactly how Adam was created. He was not created perfect, but mortal (natural). When Paul says that the first man was natural, the Greek word he uses is psuchios, which is the adjective form of the Greek noun psuche, and should be translated “soul” or “soulish.” Strong’s Concordance translates “natural” to mean “the principle of animal life (breath), which men have in common with the brutes (beasts).” In other words, man was created in the same manner as the beasts of the earth. Solomon confirms this for us when he says,
18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. (Eccl. 3:18-20)
Man was created a mortal being—just like the beasts of the field. (In fact, he was created on the 6th day—the same day as the beasts – Gen. 1:24-26). He was natural and earthy—just like the beasts of the field. And when man dies, he has the same end as the beasts of the field. Yes, he was different in that he could think and reason, but when man operates in the soulish realm (which is all Adam could do at the time), he is no different (or better) than Rover. And so when God says in “dying, ye shall die,” He means that because man was created in a state of dying—he will sin, and because man sins—he dies. Adam’s state of dying and subsequent death had absolutely nothing to do with the eating of the fruit, for he was already dying. God, of course, already knew that. However, Adam was innocent (blind), and did not see his own naked condition. This is why when Adam sinned, his eyes were opened, and he could now see his own earthly and natural state. When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was this knowledge that allowed him to see his own carnality for the first time. The fact that Adam saw his own nakedness after he disobeyed God was both good and necessary. Unfortunately, Adam tried to cover his own beastly (soulish) nature with leaves (men still try to do that), but the Lord had other plans for how to cover Adam’s nakedness. (Gen. 3:21)
Notice also what the text doesn’t say: “…in dying, ye shall ‘suffer eternal punishment.’” The Hebrew word for “die” is “muwth” and it literally means “to die” or “to cease living.” It has not—and never has meant—a conscious existence in the after-life. This is an invention of orthodoxy. Man is born, man lives, and man dies. This was the consequence of Adam’s sinful condition—nothing more. The natural decay process had begun the moment Adam was created, and one day, he would cease living. His soul would not live forever for Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The Strong’s number for “die” is #4191 and it is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament and not once is it ever used to mean some future, conscious holding-cell (prison) where men’s souls go when they physically die. It always refers to the fruit of sorrow produced on the earth by the carnal man (dying), and the subsequent physical removal from the earth when man has breathed his last breath (die). When God told Adam that in sorrow he would eat of the cursed ground, and by the sweat of his brow produce thorns and thistles his entire life, He was referring to the present aspect of dying. Likewise, when God told Adam that he would return to the dust from whence he came, He was telling him that there would come a day in his life when he would cease to be a living soul. (God breathed into Adam the breath (spirit) of life and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7), and so likewise, when man breathes his last, the spirit returns to the Lord (Eccl. 12:7) and man ceases to be a living soul.)
So here we have the consequence for man’s sin—1) “dying” (carnality bringing forth sin), 2) “thou dost die” (cease to live—both spiritually and physically).
Here is a more descriptive passage that speaks perfectly of the “dying” that Adam would experience because of his sin:
15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments….
16 Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
17 Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
18 Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
19 Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. (Deut. 28:15-19)
This is exactly what God said in Genesis 3:17: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” And when the “breath” of God is removed from Adam…he died.
And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. (Gen. 5:5)
As Adam lived—he was dying, and as Adam was dying, one day, he would no longer be a living soul (Gen. 2:7). There is nothing, either in the context of these verses or anywhere else in the Old Testament that even remotely hints that either Adam’s or any other person’s soul departed their body at death. Once a man is dead, he is dead.
There is a spiritual death that also occurs because of sin. Our sins will always separate (alienate) us from God (Is. 59:2)—this is why Adam hid from God when he saw his own nakedness. How could it be then that Adam was able to “walk with God in the cool of the day” even in his sinful state? Because this had not yet been revealed to him. Adam, though in sinful flesh, was as innocent as a newborn baby. He was not yet made aware of his nakedness, and so when he disobeyed God, he saw himself for the first time as he really was. There is a wonderful truth here for those who have “ears to hear.” Even though Adam was formed in sin and had an evil law dwelling in him, God was still able to walk and fellowship with him in the garden. Do you ever wonder why God can still dwell with us and still use us despite our sin? It is because he knows our weakness and frailty. He knows we are but dust. God is always the One who is seeking and reaching out to man, even though we turn from Him and hide. This is why doctrines such as the “immortality of the soul,” “free will,” and “eternal punishment” are so wrong. It makes man solely responsible for his own destiny and gives him the same immortality that is only possessed by God. According to orthodoxy, if a man does not make the right choice, he will live forever in a state of unending punishment. What rubbish! Can we not see that God had a plan from the very beginning of creation?—and this plan is not just for a select few, but for all men! (Go to: http://www.savior-of-all.com/adam.html for more on this.)
Additionally, the use of the words “perishing” and “perished” throughout the Bible have the same connotation as “dying” and “die,” only it can give an additional meaning of being in an active state of disobedience or rebellion to God at the time of one’s dying or death. It literally means “to be lost” or “to be destroyed,” and just like the word “dying” or “die,” it is used strictly in relation to the state of man while he is on the earth.
I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land…. (Deut. 30:18)
They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. (Num. 16:33)
And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. (Lev. 23:30)
Notice that in the above verses, the perishing (destruction) is directly referencing the removal from the land, the congregation, and the people—it had absolutely nothing to do with some tormenting after-life. Even in the New Testament, both the disciples and our Lord used the word “perish” in this same manner.
And His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. (Mt. 8:25)
2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye think that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (that is, in like manner as the Galileans)
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (that is, in like manner as those at Siloam) (Lk. 13:2-5)
The disciples were not saying that they were about to go into “hell” fire, but that they were about to die (be removed from the face of the earth). And Jesus was not saying that those who did not repent would perish into “hell” fire, but that they would die in the same manner as both the Galileans and the eighteen at Siloam. In both of these cases “perish” simply meant to be removed from the earth (die)—physical death. I would also add that because of Christ’s victory over death, those who have “died in their sins” will also be raised in the very same spiritual condition. The common teaching is that this is both terrible and hopeless, but as we will see later, it is much better to be raised in rebellion than to never be raised at all.
The Old Testament concept of “in dying, thou dost die” is strictly confined to this life. In fact, ask any orthodox Jew today what God meant when He told Adam he would die, and he will tell you the same exact thing—Adam was going to suffer his whole life and at the end, he would physically die and go to Sheol (the grave). They knew nothing of life after death except in the hope that they would be raised on the last day. The Jew certainly understood that there was a spiritual alienation because of sin, but he saw this in the complete context of this life on earth. There is not even a hint in the Old Testament that the soul is separated from the body at death. The prophet Daniel does speak of a future time of life and punishment, but this is totally in relation to the resurrection of the dead. (Dan. 12:2) This life and punishment had nothing to do with the soul separating from the body at death, but the body (with the soul) being raised in resurrection. Daniel’s vision concerning this time of resurrection was in direct context with the work of the Messiah in the putting away of sin. (Dan. 9:24, 26)
The reason why the Old Testament is silent on future rewards and punishment is because Christ had not yet come and so there was not yet hope that those who had died would be raised from the dead. Daniel was given this vision, but other than a few isolated passages in the Old Testament, the idea of life after death is not mentioned until we get to the New Testament. Life or punishment immediately after death was an idea totally foreign to Jewish thought, and has come straight from the beliefs of pagan cultures. It is an idea not found in the Old Testament scriptures.
In the New Testament, the same exact penalty for sin is given to us. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death….” The Greek word for “death” is “thanatos” and again, its primary meaning is the “cessation of life.” This “cessation of life” can be (and is) both physical and spiritual. It is the same exact word that Jesus used when speaking of His own physical death. (Mt. 20:18) While the Old Testament primarily deals with life and death here on earth (including the time of the kingdom), there are many more passages in the New Testament that speak of the after-life, however, this is only because Christ had already come and has been declared the “firstborn from the dead.” (Col. 1:18) Men will be raised from the dead, not because they have an immortal soul, but because our Lord Jesus has conquered death in that He was raised from the dead.
Rest assured, Jesus suffered the entire (death) penalty for men. If the wages of sin is “eternal torment,” as is taught by the majority, then Jesus would have had to go into “hell” fire the moment of His death and remain there for all eternity in order to pay the full penalty for man’s sin. But the wages of sin is not “eternal punishment” but death, and the good news is that Jesus “tasted (the exact) death for all men.” (Heb. 2:9) We need not twist the Bible to fit a certain theological viewpoint. The Bible does not teach that the wages of sin is separation to a place of torment the moment a person dies. The penalty is death—plain and simple. We will next take a look at why Christ’s Resurrection was so important.
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13)
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:2)
It is not until we come to the New Testament that we begin to see the fullness of God’s plan, which had previously been hidden or veiled from the very beginning. (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9) Other than a few obscure prophecies in the Old Testament, we do not see much hope for mankind beyond the grave. Certainly there were promises of a future kingdom to the nation of Israel, but there were literally thousands of nations, and millions upon millions of men, women, and children who literally had no hope at all that there would be life beyond the grave. They certainly had their superstitions and pagan beliefs to lean on, but there was no real assurance to them that God was a Father to all (Mal. 2:10) and that He had a glorious plan that would involve them. Through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, men can now know God’s glorious plan of salvation and have the full assurance that there is a purpose for all the suffering and death since the world began. Dying and death is not the end of man, but life.
It is the Resurrection of our Lord, not His death, which gives men the hope of life after death. The Cross is the power of God unto salvation and without it there would be no forgiveness of sins and no path to tread in order to overcome. However, the Cross is only half the truth as it is a symbol of death, not life. The apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that if Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead, no man would have any hope of eternal life—regardless of Christ’s personal sacrifice on the Cross.
As we pointed out in the last two sections, the idea of conscious torment or conscious bliss immediately after death is based on the lie that man was created with an immortal soul. Before we address some passages that have caused some difficulty concerning this subject, I want to build a bit more on the Jewish thought that Israel’s hope was not in the idea that at death she would be ushered immediately into heaven, but rather, in a future resurrection for those who had “fallen asleep.”
Many of the early church fathers recognized the error (and pagan origin) of the doctrine of soul-consciousness after death. Writing in the mid second century, Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho said,
For if you have fallen with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit the truth of the resurrection . . . who say that there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls when they die are taken to heaven, do not imagine that they are Christians . . . But I and others who are right-minded Christians on all points are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead….
In his dialogue, Justin Martyr was defending the faith against the Gnosticism of his day, which actually denied the resurrection of the body. While the modern church doesn’t deny the resurrection, they reduce its significance by putting more emphasis on “going to heaven” or “going to hell” rather than the hope of the resurrection of the dead.
Irenaeus, writing about the same time, said,
Some who are reckoned among the orthodox go beyond the prearranged plan for the exaltation of the just, and are ignorant of the methods by which they are disciplined beforehand for incorruption. They thus entertain heretical opinions. For the heretics, not admitting the salvation of their flesh, affirm that immediately upon their death they shall pass above the heavens. Those persons, therefore, who reject a resurrection affecting the whole man, and do their best to remove it from the Christian scheme, know nothing as to the plan of resurrection.
What’s so amazing is that the very doctrine that was condemned as heresy in the early church is now accepted as truth, and that which was once considered truth has now become “heresy.” (Is. 5:20) Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and many other church fathers rejected the idea that the soul was removed from the body at death. They did so because of the scriptural truth that the Christian’s hope rested in the resurrection not in an immediate arising to heaven upon death.
The apostle Paul very clearly outlines this same thought in his treatise found in the fifteenth chapter of first Corinthians. Paul was a former Pharisee and Jewish zealot who thoroughly understood Jewish thought relating to the resurrection of the dead.
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17)
According to Paul, the whole basis of mankind’s hope, particularly that of a Christian, was not in the Cross, but primarily in Christ’s Resurrection. Old Testament saints who had fallen asleep only had hope that God would not leave them in the grave. The Pharisees understood this because they, too, believed in the resurrection of the dead. The apostles and the early church fathers believed this because of their emphasis on the Resurrection of Christ. After all, what is the big deal about a resurrection if they knew they were going to go to heaven when they died? Wouldn’t their preaching have emphasized this fact rather than a bodily resurrection? What’s all the fuss about a body anyway, especially since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God? The truth is that neither the saints of old nor the early Christian Church had any expectation that they would immediately (consciously) be in the presence of God upon their death, nor are the saints of either dispensation presently with God. (We’ll get to the “difficult” passages later.) I understand that this flies in the face of all we’re told by the learned men in our pulpits, but we are here to find out the truth, not follow the traditions of men. According to Paul, the whole basis of our faith stands or falls on whether or not Jesus remained in the grave. In the passage above, Paul tells us our faith is worthless if Christ is not raised. In other words, there would be no hope apart from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—neither for Christians or Old Testament saints.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Cor. 15:16-20)
Do you understand what Paul is saying here? He’s putting all the marbles on the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. If He has not, then all men, including Christians, will stay in the grave (Sheol, Hades) forever. In other words, we all would perish. (v. 18) If Christ remained in the grave, then all those who have put their hope and trust in a God who can “quicken the dead” are totally shattered. The “wages of sin is death” and if Christ be not risen from the dead, then that death would be permanent.
The importance of Christ’s Resurrection can’t be emphasized enough. First of all, Christ is God’s guarantee that all men will one day be raised—either to life or judgment. Fiery judgment should never have been the ultimate fear of men. The true fear should have always been the permanence of death, and as a result—no resurrection and no judgment. Judgment, though painful, is a good thing, and so the fact that Christ is raised gives men hope that there will be a judgment. (See http://www.savior-of-all.com/perfect.html) Daniel can prophesy of a coming resurrection of life and judgment (Dan. 12:2) only because of the fact that Christ conquered death. Paul can speak of the judgment seat (“bema”) of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) only because Christ took the sting out of death and the grave. John can write of the Lake of Fire (Rev. 14:10, 11) only because Jesus Christ is the “firstborn from among the dead.” Future punishment, the judgment seat of Christ, and the Lake of Fire are not the penalty for sin. The penalty for sin is that men would be forever lost in the grave (death) without ever knowing the life that can come through judgment (the 2nd death). The dread of men is not that they’ll be raised and thrown in the Lake of Fire (as dreadful as this may be), the dread of men is that Christ remained in the grave, and therefore, never giving them any hope that they would get up out of there. To “perish” does not mean that there awaits for men some “eternal” furnace as payback for their sins, but to perish means going to the grave still in one’s sins with no hope of ever waking from death.
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
Notice in the above verse that the assurance given to all men that God will judge them is contingent upon Christ’s Resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then there is no judgment. That would be very bad. But the good news is that as a result of Christ’s victory over death, all men have the assurance that they will be raised in order that they might be judged. The hope for all men is that someone would take the permanence out of death. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Christ has rendered death and the grave impotent, and as a result, all men have an assurance that they will be judged, and ultimately, receive the end of that judgment—God’s life in Christ! (1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:18)
Secondly, the only hope that this mortal will ever put on immortality is solely based upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, continuing on the resurrection, says:
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body….
53 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
54 For this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O’ death, where is thy sting? O’ grave, where is thy victory?(1 Cor. 15:42-44, 53-55)
Beloved, it is only through Christ’s Resurrection that we can put on immortality. The soul was not created immortal for God told Adam “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 1:19b) The same thing is reiterated by Solomon in Eccl. 3:20 when he says, “All (men and beasts) go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Despite what the American Tract Society has stated or what millions of Christians believe, immortality is not inherently possessed by the soul, but it is given at the time of Resurrection. Paul clearly tells us that “this mortal shall put on immortality” at the time of the resurrection.
Man’s hope/fear is not that he will be in the presence of God/tossed into conscious torment when he dies, but that he will one day be raised and this mortality be changed to immortality. Man has always tried to steal glory from God—either by claiming a “free will” independent of God or claiming that he has something that only God has. “Only God hath immortality” and any belief that says otherwise is simply not truth. The only reason that men one day will be immortal is because God, who alone possesses it, will give it to men based on the glorious Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Sleep of Death
There are numerous passages all throughout the Bible that refer to death as sleep. In a passage we’ve already referenced, the prophet Daniel tells us, “many (both righteous and unrighteous) that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake….” (Dan. 12:2) Jesus, when hearing of Lazarus’ death, referred to him as “having fallen asleep.” (Jn. 11:11) Paul, in speaking of the first resurrection, tells us that those who are “asleep” in Christ will be raised at the last trump. (1 Thes. 4:15, 16)
There are two reasons death is spoken of as sleep. First, when a person is in a sound sleep, there is no remembrance of the time spent sleeping. All of us have had nights where we just couldn’t seem to get a good night’s rest. We toss and turn, move in and out of dreams, and it seems like the night will never end. In contrast, when we are so exhausted that we literally wake up in the same position as when our head hit the pillow, it’s like we just went to bed. Perhaps eight, ten, or twelve hours go by, and we are simply amazed at how quickly the time passed. Death will be the same as a long, uninterrupted, deep sleep. The moment we are awakened from our slumber in either the first or second resurrection, it will seem as if we had just died. Perhaps we will instantly remember exactly where we were the moment of our death. When Adam is raised in the general (2nd) resurrection, he will be amazed that such a long time had passed since his death. It will seem as if he had just died. He will look at the many generations and the thousands of kingdoms that have come and gone, and it will not seem like thousands of years, but only seconds. This is exactly what Paul means when he says “…to be absent in the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8) You and I will die and no matter how many years have passed, we will awake and immediately be in God’s presence, even though many hundreds or thousands of years may have passed. To Paul, dying meant that he would immediately see His Lord—immediate to him—however, not immediate in the sense of actual time. Paul knew that only the resurrection would make His desire of being in God’s presence a reality.
Secondly, when death is referred to as sleep in the Bible, it is understood that there is a hope that our death will be as sleep—only temporary. When we go to bed at night, we fully expect to wake up the next morning to resume our normal, daily activities. Because we have hope in God and in the resurrection of the dead, we fully believe that our death will only be temporary. Men who die ‘yet in their sins’ have all died as having no hope, but as we have tried to show, Christ’s Resurrection defeated the hold that death and the grave have on mankind, and thus it gives all a hope that there will be both a resurrection of life, and one of judgment. In this next section, we will look at the few passages that are used by orthodoxy to try to prove that the soul lives on after death.
If what we are teaching is correct, then the common belief that men will either go to heaven or hell when they die is false. This “orthodox” teaching of either conscious bliss or torment at the moment of death springs forth from the pagan philosophy of the “immortality of the soul.” This is but another attempt by the carnal man to “be as God.” Additionally, to wrongly emphasize the idea that we will “be with Jesus when we die” takes away the importance of the resurrection of the dead.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, speaking of death, tells us,
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest. (Eccl. 9:10)
The Psalmist said,
The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence. (Ps. 115:17)
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks. (Ps. 6:5)
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:4)
And the prophet Isaiah says the same:
For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee…. (Is. 38:18a)
The testimony of the Bible teaches that man was created to be sin (formed from the dust of the earth), and when he has completed the number of their pre-ordained years on this earth (whether or not he puts his trust in God), the “spirit (breath) shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7), and the body and soul go back to the dust of the earth (Hades) to await the resurrection of the body and the awakening of the soul. (Remember, it was only the spirit of God that made man a living soul—take away the spirit, and man ceases to be a living soul – Gen. 2:7).
So if the preponderance of the biblical evidence suggests that man is not conscious immediately at death, then it is becoming of us as good “Bereans” to take the few passages that seem to suggest the opposite and explain them in the light of the whole testimony. Let us now look at the “difficult” passages and see if we can reconcile them with the testimony that we have presented thus far.
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
Without question, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) is the main Bible passage used by proponents of the doctrine of soul-separation at death. Those who hold to this view say that this passage should be taken literal because “when the plain sense, makes common sense, seek no other sense.” However, is Jesus really teaching the general concept of heaven or hell here, or could it be that there is another plain sense to the passage?
The setting begins in Luke, chapter fifteen. Jesus tells a sequence of five parables in response to the murmuring of the Pharisees. (v. 1, 2) It seems that they were upset that Jesus was receiving and eating with sinners, and so with the multitude near (including the Scribes and Pharisees), Jesus expounds the truth of how God views those who are despised by the Pharisees. He begins by telling the parables of the lost sheep, lost coins, and lost (prodigal) son. Through these stories, Jesus makes it clear that the Father’s heart is compassionate toward those who are lost, which was the exact opposite attitude of the Pharisees. In the parable of the lost son, Jesus begins to bring the haughty Pharisees into the picture with the identity of the “other” son who was upset that the father had killed the fatted calf in celebration of his brother’s salvation. By the time we get to the fourth parable, that of the unjust steward, Jesus clearly is addressing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees by condemning their misuse of the blessings that God had given them. God blessed Abraham to be a blessing (Gen. 12:3), but the Pharisees had become exclusive and horded the things that God intended to be given to others. Jesus tells the Pharisees in Lk. 16:1-2,
1 There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him and said unto him, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
If there is any doubt as to whom Jesus is addressing, verse 14 says,
And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
The Pharisees knew full well to whom Jesus was talking. He was clearly condemning their improper stewardship of the blessings of God. However, Jesus doesn’t stop there, but escalates His indictment of the leaders of Israel by telling them that judgment is about to fall on them.
In the previous four parables, Jesus uses fictitious characters to speak a truth. No one supposes that He is referring to a real man who had a hundred sheep, or a real woman who had ten coins, or two real sons who lived in Israel, or a real servant who was shrewd and cunning. No, these were not actual people, but fictitious characters Jesus was using to teach spiritual truth. The fifth and final example in this series of parables do not employ real characters either. There will be those who will readily point out that there was a real man named Lazarus who actually died during the ministry of Jesus, and this they say, proves the story should be taken literally. First, the name Lazarus (“Eleazer” in the Hebrew which means “God is my help”) was a common name used during the time of Jesus. Second, Jesus begins this story in the same manner of His other parables, “There was a certain rich man….” Lastly, Jesus knew that the carnal man would interpret this parable literally just as He knew that there would be many who would believe that you must literally eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. (Jn. 6:53) Jesus didn’t tell parables to reveal truth, but to hide it, (Mt. 13:13-15) and I suspect Jesus used the name Lazarus for this very reason.
In the parable itself, there is no specific sin mentioned against the rich man. The only thing that is said of him is that he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. (16:19) If orthodox Christianity is correct in teaching that the rich man represents the sinner going to hell, then they have just indicted themselves to hell as well. For if wearing fine clothes and owning nice things is a sin, then all American Christians are going to hell. Certainly if Jesus were meaning to apply this passage to sinners in general, He would have made it crystal clear as to exactly what sin would send a man to hell. In contrast to the Rich Man, nothing is said about any good done by the poor beggar (Lazarus). All the text says is that he was covered with sores and longed to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table. Again, if Jesus was using Lazarus as an example of what a person must do in order to get to heaven, then we had better sell all that we have and live in poverty lest we suffer the same fiery fate as the Rich Man.
So if Jesus is not teaching about the concept of hell, what is He teaching? We have to remember our context. The Pharisees were murmuring because of Jesus’ relationship with sinners. After explaining to the crowd the heart’s desire of the Father toward the lost, Jesus turns His attention to the Pharisees and condemns them for their lack of compassion toward the very ones whom the Father is so concerned about. The Rich Man decked out in all his fine clothes is none other than the nation of Israel (represented by the Pharisees). The royal (purple) linen represents the priesthood (Ex. 19:5, 6; Ex. 39:1), and the abundant bounty on his table represent the blessings of truth and the oracles of God that were entrusted to their care. (Rom. 3:1-2) The poor man represents the Gentile nations who were shut out from the promises of God and who had no hope in the world. (Eph. 2:11, 12)
So what do the torment of Hades and the bosom of Abraham represent? Because Israel failed in its commission to be a blessing to the nations, Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another. (Mt. 21:43) This judgment started with the rejection of Christ in the flesh, continued through the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and continues to this very day in that Israel has not obtained that which she diligently seeks. (Rom. 11:7) The torment of Hades symbolizes the casting out and subsequent judgment of Israel. Lazarus being carried into Abraham’s bosom symbolizes the grafting in of the Gentile nations to a place once possessed by Israel. (Rom. 11:11; Gal. 3:29)
Finally, if there is any doubt to whom Jesus was speaking, He tells us that the Rich Man had five brothers. Where was Jesus when He was speaking these words? It was the same place where He was crucified—Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was located in the southern region of Israel, which was called “Judah.” Genesis tells us that Judah, who was the son of Leah, had five brothers. (Gen. 35:23) Yes, Jesus was condemning the southern kingdom of Israel. And to seal the deal, Jesus reminds them that their fathers did not listen to the law and the prophets (16:31) which we know to be true because Jesus said the same thing in His very specific indictment of the Pharisees in Matthew, chapter twenty-three. (Mt. 23:31)
This parable—and yes, it is a parable—is not teaching the idea that the soul departs the body at death and is carried away to either heaven or hell. In context, the whole parable is nothing more than a prophecy of the rejection of Israel and the coming Church age. This is the context and the plain sense of the passage.
For a more detailed, verse-by-verse commentary on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus go to: http://www.savior-of-all.com/lazarus.html
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. (Lk. 23:43)
The words of Jesus to the thief on the cross is a common verse used to support the idea that the soul goes to a place of paradise immediately at death. Abraham’s bosom is thought to be that paradise (heaven) but as we have just shown, it was nothing more than symbolism (a parable) to show the grafting in of the Gentiles into the faith of Abraham. So what did Jesus mean by paradise? To understand this, we must first examine the specific question asked by the thief.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (Lk. 23:42)
The thief on the cross was a Jew, which was evident by his use of the word “kingdom.” Only someone familiar with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the kingdom of God would be able to understand and use this type of phraseology. And what, according to the Old Testament, was the kingdom? To the Jew, the kingdom was that great future period where the Messiah would rule the earth in power and glory. The kingdom age would be a time when the “lion would lie down with the lamb,” a time of peace and prosperity, and a time when Messiah would rule with a “rod of iron.” Almost without exception, biblical scholars will tell you that this is exactly what is meant by the term “kingdom.”
The word “paradise” as used by Jesus here was nothing more than a synonym for the kingdom age. We have a tendency to read the Bible with our “Gentile” understanding and totally forget that “Jesus came first to the lost sheep of Israel.” The entire nation of Israel was waiting for the Messiah to come in order that this great prophetic kingdom would be brought in. The Kingdom age (better known as the millennium to us Gentiles) is a future time after this current age is completed when God will establish His earthly reign with Christ ruling on the throne with His overcomers. To prove this was still a future event, the disciples asked Jesus just prior to His ascension, “…Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b) Jesus’ answer clearly was indicative that it was not yet time for the establishment of the kingdom on earth. (v. 7) In fact, the word “paradise” can best be translated, “Eden.” The Garden of Eden was clearly a paradise on earth, which is exactly what the millennial reign will be—a time of Christ’s rule upon this physical earth.
Lastly, the comma that is placed before the word “to day,” need not be there according to Greek rules of grammar. The original transcripts contained neither punctuation nor chapter and verse identifiers, and so the punctuation that is now found in our English bibles should not be considered as inspired by God. Punctuation was added later by the translators to help organize the great amount of text, and so we should move these marks as needed to help us understand what God is trying to say. With that in mind, Luke 23:43 can just as easily be translated,
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee to day, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.
Note: For more information on this, see Appendix 173, Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger.
1 Peter 3:18-20
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (1 Pet. 3:18-20)
Just like the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Christians like to look at this passage “literally” in order to prove that there were departed souls in the heart of the earth (Hades) that were waiting for an opportunity to hear the gospel preached by none other than Jesus Himself. This supposedly occurred after Christ’s death, but before His resurrection and ascension.
Is it possible that men can be in prison while they are alive? What saith the scriptures?
6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Is. 42:6, 7)
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; (Is. 61:1)
Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me. (Ps. 142:7)
There are many other passages that speak of men bound in the prison of sin, but these will suffice. According to the well-known passage in Is. 61:1, Christ was filled with the Spirit of God in order to proclaim liberty to those in prison. After Christ was ascended into the heavens, the Spirit of Christ was poured out at Pentecost, quickening believers (Eph. 2:5) with the same quickening Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. (1 Pet. 3:18; Eph. 1:19, 20) We are now God’s anointed (“Christ”), carrying on the same ministry as our Lord by the power of His Spirit—“proclaiming liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” In fact, Jesus told us that we would even do “greater works” than Himself. (Jn. 14:12)
The reference to the disobedient during the days of Noah in verse 20 is nothing more than a comparison between the long-suffering of God through the testimony of Noah (for 120 years) and to those who are being testified to today. God is both long-suffering to us-ward just as He was to those “in the days of Noah.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
Peter is not speaking about some literal “underground” prison. In fact, to believe this would contradict the testimony of the whole of scripture that clearly teaches that at the end of man’s days on earth, his “spirit” returns to the Lord and his body and soul dies and goes to the grave (Hades) to await the resurrection of the body (with the soul).
1 Peter 4:6
For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Pet. 4:6)
One such way to view this passage is in the same way as we did in 1 Pet. 3:19—to not see this verse literally, but spiritually. Just as there are men physically alive who are bound in spiritual prison, there are also men who are spiritually dead even while they are physically alive.
But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. (1 Tim. 5:6)
And you being dead in deviations and sins. (Eph. 2:1)
All men are born into this world in a state of death, that is, they are spiritually dead to the life of God. So when the gospel comes to us, it is preached to us who are spiritually dead. We are the walking dead, but when the seed of truth takes root in our heart, we pass from death to life. The dead men Peter refers to parallels the generation who rejected the preaching of Noah, and just like them, men today will be judged according to their sins in the flesh in order that salvation might come.
A second way to interpret this verse is that “…the gospel was preached to those who are [now] dead….” In other words, those to whom the gospel was preached (when they were alive) had since died and were awaiting the resurrection in order that they might be judged.
If we want to take this verse to prove soul-consciousness after death, then we would also have to admit that the gospel was being preached to the dead for a reason—that they might be saved. While my theology can accept this conclusion, the evangelical church would never admit that there is salvation beyond the grave. However, for some unknown reason, there are still many Christians who believe that Jesus is actually preaching to the disobedient. Why? If the wages of sin is “eternal punishment,” then what purpose would there be to preaching to those who were already lost and could never be saved?
Matthew 17:1, 3
1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. (Mt. 17:1, 3)
Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is cited as definitive proof that the Bible teaches soul-consciousness between death and resurrection. Advocates of this view fail to cite one small little verse found a little further down in the chapter.
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. (Mt. 17:9)
This was a vision! A vision is not the same as an actual event. Saul saw a vision of a man (Ananias) touching his eyes and restoring his sight. (Acts 9:12) Was Saul actually seeing Ananias in the flesh? No—he saw a vision of something that was still future. Peter saw a vision of a great sheet knit at the four corners of the earth where there were all manners of beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air. (Acts 10:10-17) Does anyone think that there were real animals coming out of the sky? No—God was using this vision to teach Peter a truth. Likewise, Peter, James, and John only saw a vision of Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets, and so as to what the vision meant, I will let the reader decide for himself. However, to take this vision and say that Moses and Elijah were actually there, and then further use it to teach soul immortality is not only a far stretch, but simply not scriptural.
And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. (Gen. 35:18)
The scriptures teach that at death, the spirit returns to the Lord, and both the body and soul die. There is nothing whatsoever in this verse that teaches soul-consciousness. I can definitely agree with this verse that the soul was in departing to the place of the imperceptible (Hades). The word Hades in the Greek (Sheol in the Hebrew) does not mean a place of conscious bliss or torment, but simply means the place of the “unseen” or the “grave.” Put a body and soul under the earth where it cannot be seen and we have the New Testament definition of Hades. I also like the Young’s Literal translation of this verse:
And it cometh to pass in the going out of her soul (for she died)….
“Departing” as it’s used here in the King James Version or “going out” in the Young’s Literal does not, in any way, have to mean the soul is departing into “a state of consciousness.” It can simply be departing to a place of unconsciousness (sleep of death). When a candle is “going out,” it continues to lose light until it dies. This is exactly what is meant in Gen. 35:18. The soul is the life of an individual. When the spirit is breathed into man, his soul is alive. When the spirit is removed, his soul is dead. As an individual gets nearer to death, his soul (the life) slowly fades (“in departing”) until it dies. In fact, the verse even tells us this, “…(for she died)….”
By stating that the “soul was in departing” it simply means that the soul is leaving in death. In no way does it say that it is “departing” to a place of consciousness. That would be reading into the verse that which is not there.
2 Corinthians 5:8
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8)
This verse is often misquoted to say: “…to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” This mistranslation is based on the theology that says that when we die, we immediately stand in the presence of the Lord. All Paul is saying here is that he would rather choose to be with the Lord rather than to stay in this world with all of its cares and lusts. Paul is not talking about chronology here, but about priorities. In other words, while we are in this present body, we are away from the Lord. How much better is it to desire to be with Him rather than stay here on this earth? Remember our discussion in the section titled, “The Sleep of Death?” The moment a man is awakened out of death at the resurrection—it will be as if he just died and woke up. So Paul, knowing the definition of death and resurrection, understood that to be out of this body would be, in essence, like being in the presence of the Lord—even if ten thousand years of actual time passed.
Properly translated, this verse in no way teaches that the chronological moment we die, we are in the presence of God.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Phil. 1:21-23)
This passage is similar to the one we just looked at in that it appears that Paul is suggesting that upon his death, he would immediately be in the presence of God. We use the same explanation as we did above in that in no way is Paul saying that he would be in God’s presence apart from the body. Immortality (the changing from mortal to immortal) will only occur at the time of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thes. 4). The Bible does not teach a transitional or in-between state of existence.
Also, in verse 21, it is generally assumed that the “gain” Paul is referring to is “his gain,” that is, the benefit he would experience when he dies—for he would be in the presence of Christ. However, we must look at the context in which Paul is writing. Earlier in the chapter Paul says,
12 But I would ye
brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather
the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Phil. 1:12-14)
Paul is expressing the benefit experienced by the saints at Philippi because of his own suffering. Paul tells them that because of his bonds, the gospel has been furthered (verse 12) and the saints were more confident to speak boldly the word of God (verse 14). So when Paul gets to verse 21, it is probable that Paul is referring to his own death as primarily a gain to the saints, not himself. In other words, if Paul’s chains were giving the saints courage to preach the Word, how much more would Paul’s willingness to die for the sake of the gospel also embolden them? “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is [to your] gain.” This is not at all an unreasonable interpretation.
Additionally, verse 23 is improperly translated. The phrase translated “I am in a strait…” is translated from the Greek verb sunechomai which means “to hold together” or “to press.” It is used in the following verse: “…the multitudes press thee.” (Lk. 8:45—R. V.) The word that is translated “betwixt” is the Greek preposition ek, which should be translated “from” or “out of.” It is used in Mt. 2:15, “…out of Egypt I have called you.” The word “depart” is the Greek word unalusai, which is better translated, “return.” It is only used one other time in the New Testament and it is thus translated, “…when he will return from the wedding….” (Lk. 12:36). So Phil. 1:23 should be translated,
Yet I am being pressed out of the two, having the desire unto the return and together with Christ to be, for it rather is much better.
So instead of the traditional view that says Paul desires death in order to be with Christ, Paul is actually looking for the return of the Lord Jesus. Paul is pressed out of the two (to live or to die) by the thought of Christ’s return. If the Lord returned while he was still alive, there would be no need for him to die; there would also be no need for him to continue in the flesh for the sake of the saints for they, too, would be changed. (Phil. 1:6; 3:20, 21) This is both reasonable and contextually accurate.
Paul cannot be teaching that death is the soul’s immediate entrance into heaven for two main reasons.
1) The scriptures are clear that the only way to the Lord is in His coming for us. (1 Thes. 4:16-18; Jn. 14:2, 3)
2) The scriptures plainly teach that the dead (not just their body) are in the grave until the resurrection. (Jn. 5:28, 29; Acts 2:29)
Revelation 6:9, 10
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:9, 10)
First of all, just like the vision that was given to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, John was given this vision while he was on the Isle of Patmos. No theologian supposes that all of this was actually going on at the time John received it. Secondly, just like the vision of the “great sheet,” why does this event in Revelation have to be literal? Peter certainly thought he saw literal beasts coming out of the sky, but we know this was just a picture that God used to show Peter that he must receive those outside of the house of Israel. I have no doubt that there have been and will be those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel, but why does this have to be literal dead saints talking? How was this Revelation given to John?
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: (Rev. 1:1)
The word “signified” means by “signs.” SIGN-ified. The entire book of Revelation is a book of signs designed to reveal the Person of Jesus Christ. These men crammed under the altar are not actual dead men talking, but a SIGN of those throughout the years who have given their lives for the testimony of Jesus Christ. The point of this is simple: God will vindicate and judge those who came against His anointed. This is what He is teaching us in this verse, and he is using a picture (symbol) to do so.
1 Thes. 4:13, 14
13 But I would not
have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep,
sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say
unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain
coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thes. 4:13-17)
It is assumed by advocates of the traditional view that the people who “sleep in Jesus” (v. 14) will be coming with Lord to get both the dead in Christ (v. 16) and those alive (v. 17). In other words, those who are dead in verse 14 are a different group than those dead spoken of in verse 16. However, nothing could be further from the truth. This is the exact same group of people.
Paul’s reason for having to explain this resurrection event to the saints at Thessalonica was that they were being told that the Day of the Lord had already come (5:1-11), and so Paul was trying to comfort those who had lost friends and family. Paul first gives the saints the reason why they should have hope (vs. 13, 14) and then proceeds to tell them exactly how it will happen (vs. 15-17). In other words, Paul tells the saints that those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will not be forgotten, for they will come with the Lord on that day. It’s important for us to understand where the Lord is going. According to modern orthodoxy, this event is called the “rapture” and it is a secret coming where the Lord meets the saints in the air; after this meeting in the air, they will all go back up to heaven until the establishment of God’s kingdom. We vehemently reject this view. The Lord is not coming down only to go back up; He is coming down to stay down. In the days of old, when a king or a high ranking official was coming to visit a city, an entourage was sent out to meet the important person and escort him back into the city. This is exactly what Paul is describing. Jesus is coming back to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, and He wants His saints (both dead and alive) to meet Him as escorts back to earth.
So after Paul has explained that those who are asleep in Jesus will not be forgotten, he then explains exactly what will happen. When the trump is sounded, those who are dead in Christ (the ones that have not been forgotten) will rise first, following those who are alive. These are the Lord’s escorts to come back down to the earth.
Paul is not speaking of two different groups of dead, but only one—the dead in Christ.
Near Death Experiences
I couldn’t finish this section without at least touching on this very subjective topic. I call it subjective because it is an argument based purely on personal experience. We know from scripture that a man dies when his spirit is removed and returned to God. Scripture is clear that death is as a deep sleep. There are no thoughts, no dreams, and no remembrance of that time. The only reason we remember our dreams is because we were not sleeping very soundly. Is it possible that during a period of near-death, the body is in that intermediate state where the spirit is still in a person, and yet their soul is “in departing,” or in other words…”going out?” And perhaps, just like a light sleep, the soul is still conscious and able to dream and think? I suppose this is possible and even probable. Perhaps it is at this time that the Lord (or the carnal mind) speaks to them and when they are revived, they remember those visions (dreams) just as if they were dreaming during a night of light sleep. However, there is no evidence in scripture, whatsoever, that a man is able to have thoughts or dreams of some kind after his spirit is removed. In fact, scripture declares just the opposite. Once the spirit returns to God, man dies.
While the near-death experience may be a fascinating study for those into these types of phenomena, we would do well to stand only on the Word of God as the final basis for our beliefs.
E. W. Bullinger said,
So effectually has Satan’s lie, “thou shalt not surely die,” succeeded and accomplished its purpose that, though the Lord Jesus said “I will come again and receive you unto Myself,” Christendom says, with one voice, “No! Lord. Thou needest not come for me: I will die and come to Thee.” Thus the blessed hope of resurrection and the coming of the Lord have been well nigh blotted out from the belief of the Churches; and the promise of the Lord been made of none effect by the ravages of Tradition.
There is no doubt in my mind that Christians who hold to the traditional view are sincere in their beliefs, but nevertheless, they are in error. The issue is an extremely emotional one particularly when you tell a Christian that they do not “go to heaven” when they die. As Bullinger well stated, the orthodox view on death has come forth from the first lie that the soul really doesn’t die at death, but lives on forever. The doctrine of the “immortality of the soul” gives to man something he does not possess, and at least in this point, makes him an equal with God. The truth of the resurrection of the dead, as taught in the scriptures, puts man in his proper place, and causes “dying” man to look only to God as the only One who has immortality. Beloved, God has always gone after man—beginning with the moment Adam realized he was naked, all the way through the history of wayward Israel, and up until this present day of apostate Christianity. It has been and always will be God pursuing man. “We love Him only because He first loved us.”
The plain truth is that God is coming for man…man is not going to God. Man will die, and his only hope is that the Lord, who is over all things, will one day come again and call his name. It is our hope. It is often said that the reason why Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” was because if He hadn’t, all the dead would have awakened from their graves. This very well may be true. God has numbered the hairs on each one of His children’s heads (the good and the wayward), and the most wonderful news is that God in Christ has made life after death possible for all men. He will come, and He will call each one of our names just as He did with our brother Lazarus, and we will all hear the voice of the Son of God—and we will awake—and we will rise. Some will obtain unto the resurrection of life, others unto the resurrection of judgment—but nevertheless, all men will be raised. There is hope for all men, for God has given us the assurance through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us go out boldly and tell men the good news that Jesus Christ is risen! Let us preach the remission of sins through His Cross, and the abolishing of that last dreaded enemy—death, through the resurrection of Christ.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. (Rom. 14:9)