State of the Dead

  • Everyone eventually dies. But the gospel says that everyone will be resurrected — brought back to life. When will this happen? The resurrection will occur when Christ returns (John 6:40; 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). We will be given new and dramatically different bodies—imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:35-51). Therefore, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
  • Now, what happens between a believers’ death and the resurrection, is the person conscious, or not? Most Christians believe that the believer is conscious, in heaven. However, some say that the soul is unconscious until the body is resurrected. This is known as the doctrine of psychopannychism or “soul sleep”. Some verses suggest one view, and some verses suggest the other view. Let us examine some of these verses used by both views.

Let us examine the verses put forward by those who believe in soul sleep to show that the dead must be unconscious.

1. The dead know nothing.

Ecclesiastes 9:2,5,6,10, “It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked…The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Indeed, their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. In the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” 

Examination: The dead cannot think; they are unconscious as per the above verses! It appears that this text is describing afterlife, however, verse 5 says that the dead “have no further reward“. Now is that true about those who die? Of course not. In fact, dead do have future rewards; they wait for the resurrection rewards. Similarly, verse 6 says that the dead will never again have a part in anything “under the sun“. The perspective shared in Ecclesiastes is limited to this life, and we cannot use these verses as accurate descriptions of the afterlife. In fact, the context of this passage is not about life after death. It’s about the vanity or the emptiness of life. It teaches that if all you have ever lived for is the stuff of this earth, when you die, you have got nothing “under the sun”.

Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 also say, “There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked.” This is also not true. Righteous will live with Christ. If we allow verses from Ecclesiastes as evidence about the afterlife, then they would show that there is not any afterlife, or future reward at all. Therefore, we can begin by noting that Ecclesiastes is poetry, and poetry often uses figures of speech and exaggeration and much of Ecclesiastes is written from an earthly perspective, pertaining to things that happen “under the sun”, not what happens “before the Son”. So Eccl. 9:5-10, “The dead know not any thing,” is limited by the context to “any thing that is done under the sun,” verse 6.

2. Humans are dead as animals are.

Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, “The fate of human beings is like that of the animalsthe same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” 

Examination: This verse suggests that humans are just as dead as animals are — unconscious — and divine intervention would therefore be necessary if anyone is to be conscious again. But wait. Ecclesiastes 3:19 says that humans have the same fate as animals, and their life is no better than animals. No! Humans do not have the same fate as animals. Here again, we cannot pull verses out of context and take some of the verses as the final word on after life and ignore others. That is not a good way to build a doctrine. Therefore, this is yet again poetry, and not a definite word about after death.  

3) No one praises God from the grave

Psalm 6:5 “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?

Examination: Here, it seems that David did not think that he would go immediately to heaven to enjoy and worship God. He would worship after he is resurrected (Psalm 16:9-10), but until then he would be in the grave, unconscious. But wait a minute. See Psalm 88:5: “The dead, whom you [God] remember no more”. Is God unaware of the dead? Of course not. If we take this out of context, it means that God is unaware of the dead, which is not correct. When Psalm 6:5 says that dead people do not remember God, we need not take it any more literally than Psalm 88:5, which says that God does not remember them. The perspective is from this physical life (and what happens in the grave to dead “bodies” which goes down there). Psalms like Ecclesiastes use poetry, and poetry often uses figures of speech and exaggeration.

Similarly, Psalm 30:3 says, “O Lord, you brought me up from the grave.” Was the writer of the Psalm who is writing while living actually in the grave? Probably not.

Psalm 49:12: “Man is like the beasts that perish.” Like Ecclesiastes, this comment has a restricted perspective, showing that poetry is not a good source of doctrine about the afterlife.

Psalm 86:13: “You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” Was he really in the grave? No.

Psalms 86:16: “Your terrors have destroyed me.” Was he actually destroyed by God? No. The poetry is impressionistic, not literal.

Psalm 115:18: “We extol the Lord, both now and forevermore.” This verse could be used to argue that no one ever stops extolling or praising the Lord. Not even death stops the exaltation. We use this verse not to argue for consciousness, but to show that contradictions occur if we take verses out of the psalms and treat them as statements of fact.

3. His thoughts perish

Psalm 146:4 (NKJV), “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day, his plans perish”.

Examination. Some translations say “thoughts”, but the hebrew says more appropriately, “plans perish” or come to nothing meaning their earthly plans perish, without referring to the state after death. When a person dies, his earthly plans, ambitions and thoughts perish with him. When you are dead, you cannot contribute anything to fulfill your earthly ambitions under the sun. Again Psalms 146 is talking from an earthly perspective.

4. Grave cannot praise God

Isaiah 38:18, “The grave cannot praise you; death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.”

Examination: Isaiah also speaks poetically about death. Isaiah 14:9 says that sheol, “is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed.” Some translations say, “It stirs up the dead for you”. This makes it sound like the people in sheol can be awakened – but this may be spoken in irony or sarcasm against the king of Babylon, using beliefs of Babylon to mock him. So, one passage describes sheol as silent; another describes conscious people in sheol (see also: Ezekiel 32:21; Job 26:5-6) . Which is figurative, and which is descriptive? Both are figurative, they are not meant to reveal the nature of the afterlife.  

5. Lazarus was sleeping.

John 11:11-14, “Jesus said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples though he meant natural sleep. So, Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”  

Examination. In John 11, Jesus said that a dead man was “asleep”. Jesus called death sleep. Being dead is like being asleep — unconscious. Lazarus never said anything about where he was — and if he had been conscious in heaven, then Jesus made his condition worseby bringing him back to life on earth, right? So, Lazarus was asleep, unconscious. But wait a minute.

However, pagans used this figure of speech too. Even pagans who believed in a conscious afterlife referred to death as sleep. A figure of speech does not prove anything. There is of course a difference between death, unconsciousness, and sleep. When we sleep, we are conscious (we can see dreams). Is that how “sleep” is used for the dead? Or are the dead unconscious unlike sleep? The analogy of “death as sleep” cannot tell us whether a dead person can have dreams (like sleep) or is unconscious (unlike sleep).

As we have examined above, we see that every soul-sleep scripture has a serious weakness. If people approach these scriptures cautiously, perhaps they would be open to the following Scriptures. Before that, let us see what the Bible teaches about man.

1. The Bible teaches that man has a spirit, and the Lord formed it. 

  • There is a spirit in man.” (Job 32:8)
  • What man know the things of a man, save (except) the spirit of a man which is in him?” (I Cor. 2:11). 
  • The Lord forms the spirit of man within him.” (Zech. 12:1). 

2. The word “soul” is used in varying senses in the Bible.

The word soul is employed in varying senses within the different biblical contexts in which they may be found. The Hebrew term for “soul” is nephesh. The Greek term is psuche.   

  • Soul is used for a living person. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground (body) and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being (soul)” (Genesis 2:7). “The soul (person) who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). But this is not its only meaning.
  • Soul is life itself such as all creatures have “life” Gen 1:30, “Everything that moves on the earth which has life”.
  • Soul is used as the aspect of man that is emotional and intellectual such as in Job 30:16, “And now my soul is poured out within me
  • Soul is used as an life aspect that is departing the person at death: “It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). “Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:21, 22).
  • Soul is also referred to as something distinct from the body of a person: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. but rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). 

Now some would argue that “Souls” die based on Ezekiel 18:4, 20, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” Howeveras we have seen above, “soul” sometimes means “person”, but sometimes it means something more than the body. Ezekiel 18:4, 20 says nothing about the nature of the afterlife. And Matthew 10:28 says the soul is something that can survive ordinary death: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” If the body is all there is of the man, if the soul is simply the life of the body, then men can kill the soul. But Jesus says they cannot kill the soul. But the question remains, is it conscious?

3. The word “spirit” is used in varying senses in the Bible.

As with soul, the word “spirit” may take on different senses, depending upon its contextual setting. In the Old Testament, “spirit” is ruach. The Greek term is pneuma.

  • Spirit can refer to the air we breath or wind as found in such as people pursuing empty goals are but striving after the wind (Eccl. 1:14, 17).
  • Spirit can refer to the breadth of life in me. “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3).
  • Spirit can refer to non-material being of God such as “God is a spirit” (John 4:24).
  • Spirit can refer  to a whole person himself or the spirit behind the person such as “Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 Jn. 4:1).
  • Spirit can refer to the character of the person. “But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).
  • Spirit can refer to non-material beings such as angels. “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service” (Hebrews 1:14).
  • Spirit can be used as a synonym for the soul such as “I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:1`).
  • Spirit does not have flesh and bones and is a non-material living thing. When disciples thought they had seen a spirit, Jesus said, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39).

Sometimes the spirit and soul, which are (non-material part of man), is used distinguishably from the body (material part of man). 

  • “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow [body], and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrew 4:12).
  • “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  
  • Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. but rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). 

Now some contend that man’s spirit is just breadth as we saw from Job 27:3. But that is not the case as seen from how the word spirit is used in the Bible. Here are a few more scriptures showing the difference between a person’s breath and spirit:

A.     “What man knows the things of a man, save except the spirit (not breadth) of a man which is in him?” (I Cor. 2:11). Then the spirit is that part of man that can think, reason, know.

B.     Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit (not breadth), I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11). Then the spirit is that part of man that can feel.

C.     “The spirit (not breadth) of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being.” (Proverbs 20:27). Then the spirit is that part of man that can search his inner being.

D.    The [Holy] Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit (not breadth) that we are children of God (Romans 8:15–17).

E.     “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man [body] is decaying, yet our inner man [spirit] is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16). So, there is a part of man that is “the inner man” that is being renewed daily, while the outer man is decaying.

Hence, the overall testimony of scripture is that man (a living soul) is not simply body plus breath, but body (physical nature) and spirit/soul (non-material nature). So if that is true, that man (a living soul) is not body plus breath, but body (physical nature) and spirit/soul (non-material nature), then the next logical question is, “What happens to the body and the spirit/soul when we die”?

4. The body is dead without the spirit

“The body without the spirit is dead.” (James 2:26).

The body is dependent upon the spirit to be alive. Therefore, the body is dead without the spirit. Now what happens to the “body” at death is not the same as what happens to the “spirits” of the righteous. The Bible often refers to death by the euphemism of “sleep”. However, that euphemism is only applied to the body, never to the spirit. “Sleep” always describes the appearance of the body at death, but never the state of the spirit.

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt. 27:52)

“Your dead will live; their bodies will rise” (Isaiah 26:19).

So, if the body sleeps at death and goes to the grave, where do you think are “the spirits of the righteous” men now? Hebrews 12:22-23 gives us a glimpse of, this is the already, not yet, part of our theology. My citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20), but I do not live there yet. I still live here. So, it is true of me being a citizen in heaven there, but I am not there yet. So, the author of Hebrews says while we are running the race on earth, all the angels are gathered in joyful assembly there in this magnificent scene in heaven, Jesus is there, and also “the spirits of the righteous men”:

“You have come to…the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn… You have come to God… to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-23).

Why are “the spirits of the righteous” there in heaven if they are not supposed to be there until the resurrection? Now the text does not say the “spirits” are conscious or unconscious. However, if the spirits are unconscious, it would be also anti-climactic to mention them. The angels are conscious, Jesus is conscious, why not the spirits, too? Their ‘spirits’ have been made perfect. They are perfectly holy, and righteous, and virtuous; they are described as “spirits” as they are yet to receive their resurrection bodies. 

So, the dying Stephen said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).Of course, Stephen was not saying receive my breadth.

“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” (Eccl. 12:7).

Therefore, not once in all the Bible is it said or intimated that the spirit ever dies, while it is distinctly stated that it does not go down to dust with the body. Instead it returns to God.

5. He who believes in me will never die

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?.” (John 11:25-26).

If death means sleep, then this means that “He who believes in me will never sleep”. Instead, this text is teaching us that though our bodies may die, believers will continue to live, even while awaiting the resurrection of the body. Note this promise of “never die” is only for “believers”. This promise of “not die” therefore do not apply for the wicked, in the sense “of eternal life” that applies to the righteous.

·         One thing needs to be stated about immortality. As for the question of man’s original state, man was created neither immortal (see Gn. 3:22–24) nor mortal (see Gn. 2:17) but with the potentiality to become either, depending on his obedience or disobedience to God. While not created with immortality, he was certainly created for immortality. 

·         Regarding “immortality”, three Greek terms are used in the New Testament to express the idea of immortality: athanasia, ‘deathlessness’ (as in 1 Cor. 15:53–54); aphtharsia, ‘incorruptibility’ (Rom. 2:7); and aphthartos, ‘incorruptible’ (Rom. 1:23). It is significant that the terms are never used in association with the word ‘soul’ (psyche) or spirit, although Christ says there is something about the “soul” that cannot be “killed” at the death of the body (Matt. 10:28). For Paul, immortality is a natural attribute of God alone (1 Tim. 6:16). For believers, immortality is conditional, but only in the sense that there is no “eternal life” except in Christ.

Some say that when Christians believe that believers “do not die”, they are actually believing the devil’s lie that “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Well, Jesus says believers will never die. Was Jesus lying too? Of course not. God said, “on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen 2:17). Gen 2:17 is no evidence for what happens after death, but what happened to our first parents “on the day” that they ate it. Adam and Eve died on that day, in a real sense! They died spiritually and how long they would live in the body was cut short. Because their “spirit” died that day, and everyone is born “dead” (Col. 2:13), and require to be born again (John 3:3).

6. He is not God of the dead but of the living.

Matthew 22:31-32, “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

Jesus is talking about the afterlife in the above passage. Jesus is saying that the patriarchs are living, even centuries after they died. Jesus does this while arguing that a resurrection will take place in the future, but he still uses “living” to refer to people who had died such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.

7. Away from the body and at home with the Lord.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, Paul explains something like this. Let us review it verse by verse.

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

We know. This is not some wishful theory, some speculative idea, but it is stated as well-established Christian theology in Scriptures.

If the earthly tent which is our house is torn down: Paul is talking about his body which is decaying. Paul uses “earthly tent” here to refer to the body. It is the temporary “house” in which we dwell. In other words, the “body” is the home of the “spirit”. Peter used the same language: “As long as I am in this tent.” “Knowing that shortly I must put off my tent.” 2 Pet. 1:13, 14. If this tent is torn down (body destroyed in death), what do we have?

We have a building from God. If this tent is torn down (body destroyed in death), Paul states categorically that we are going to go from a tent to a building.

A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We are going to go from something that is a part of this creation to something that is not, a house not made with hands, which is a phrase referring to something not of this creation. It is from heaven, from God. 

“For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).

For indeed in this house. This “tent-house,” our present body.

We groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. We long to be transformed into our eternal existence to escape the deterioration, pain and suffering experienced as this “tent” is being torn down. Paul is mixing his metaphors. He is comparing the house from heaven being put on by us as if it were clothing. What is Paul talking about? He is talking about his resurrection body (which is the dwelling from heaven), the glorious body we will receive at the second coming of Christ.

“Inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3).

Inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. When we put that “resurrection body”, we would not be found naked. So, being naked would be a condition in which you did not have your resurrection body, right? Nakedness would be a condition when you did not have your resurrection body, because when you put it on you are not found what? Naked. Also, nakedness is not your condition in this tent now, or mortal body either, because you are clothed with a tent that you now have as a mortal. So, what is Paul talking about by “not be found naked”? He is talking about that his hope as a believer is not some spiritual life to come, but a life that also involves a resurrection body. Bodiless-ness to Paul, and to any thinking Christian, is a repulsive thought. We are to be a person, not a spirit without “flesh and bones” (this is not the same as ‘flesh and blood’ mind you).

“For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4).

For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan. While we are in this “tent” or body, we are groaning for the redemption of our body, being burdened, weighed down by afflictions, and weakness, because. Why?

Because we do not want to be unclothed. We do not want to be “unclothed” or “naked”. We do not want to be in that condition of a bodiless soul. We do not want to just exist as disembodied spirits, naked and unclothed.  

But to be clothed. Paul wants the second coming of Christ to happen so that he will not have to die and be without a body, but rather have his present body swallowed up, or clothed in the glorious resurrection life of the new body, “so that what is mortal [body] will be swallowed up by life [resurrection body]”. In Greek and pagan culture, they taught that when you died, you continued to exist like a bodiless spirit, but Paul rebukes that Greek teaching, and teaches that we will not remain “unclothed”, but we will be “clothed” with resurrection bodies.

“Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge” (2 Corinthians 5:5).

God is the one who has been working for us and in us for the express purpose of mortality [body] being swallowed up by eternal life [resurrection body]. The Holy Spirit, given to all true believers, is the great down payment, guaranteeing the coming change.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— [7] for we walk by faith, not by sight— (2 Corinthians 5:6–7).

Therefore, being always of good courage. The “Therefore” refers to the fact that we have already received the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our coming inheritance, that is the hope of resurrection of the body.

Knowing that. Again, note the assurance, “knowing”. This is not speculation or wishful thinking; it is “knowing.”

While we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. Means while our ‘spirit’ or “inward man” is living in our “tent” or body. Now Paul clearly says that during this life in the body or tent, we are “absent from the Lord.” He inserts, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Physical sight or visible evidence does not easily prove the afterlife. We must grasp it by faith: (1) a faith which rests upon the literal resurrection of Jesus who is our life; (2) the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God and (3) the reality of our new birth—being born of the spirit.”

“We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

We are of good courage. Paul now reaffirms that he and his companions are of good courage, meaning that they are walking by faith because they already know they have a glorious body waiting at the resurrection.

Prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Paul cannot be speaking of an existence at the “resurrection of the body” at the second coming, for then he would not be “absent from the body”, instead he would be in the body [the resurrection body] and at home with the Lord.By being absent from the body, Paul is talking about a condition of man being “naked” and “unclothed” without a body, yet present with the Lord.This is the condition that man appears to be in between death and resurrection.Paul knew that Christ was with him even in this age, but he preferred to leave his body so he would be with the Lord in a better way. However, he did not want to be in the condition of “naked” or “unclothed”, as disembodied spirit, but he was willing to, for a period, if necessary, if he could be with the Lord as soon as possible. Would Paul prefer unconsciousness with Christ as better than consciousness with Him now?

“Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Paul’s ambition is to be pleasing to the Lord both now in this life and in the after life including the time between death and the resurrection of the body.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleepwe will live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10)

Here is the crucial point: If Paul had his preference, he would choose to receive his new resurrection body (to be clothed) at the second coming of Christ without having to die. And the reason he gives is that the experience of “nakedness” — that is being stripped of his body — is not something as good as having his body swallowed up by life as he is changed in the twinkling of an eye at the second coming of Christ.

This means that the great final hope of the Christian is not to die and be freed from our bodies, but to be raised with new, glorious bodies, or, best of all, to be alive at the second coming so that we do not have to lose our body temporarily and be “naked” as souls or spirits without bodies (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 12:23).

8. The possibility of being “in body” or “out of the body”

This is an interesting verse. While it does not teach anything about after life, it does teach that a man could be in his body and go to heaven and hear words like in vision, or man could be out of his body and go to heaven and hear words there. 

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

9. Depart and be with Christ

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better (Philippians 1:21-23).

When he wrote to the church at Philippi, he was in prison, thinking about the possibility of death. Paul had Christ in this life, yet he apparently felt he would have more of Christ if he died and “departed” from this life. Would he count departing from this body, and sleeping (unconscious) since the second coming of Christ as “depart and be with Christ”?

10. John the Revelator sees “souls” in heaven.

Revelation is a symbolic book, so one must be careful when interpreting it. Interestingly, John sees “souls” in heaven, not bodies, and they are depicted as conscious. Are they the “spirits of the righteous” that Hebrews speaks about?

 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10)

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).

John sees souls, not bodies. First, they are described as martyrs (they had been beheaded). These souls were seen by the Apostle “under the altar,” (Revelation 6:9) that is, before the throne of God in heaven. Though the language of “souls” need not require that these saints are no longer dwelling in the body, the reference to their beheading implies that this is the case. Now the Adventist would say God does not keep literal souls under a literal altar in heaven. Of course, God would not. The imagery of souls slain and crying in heaven is to convey a reality of the cry of all martyrs who died for Christ. Now John also saw for instance, a “Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). Now does Jesus always stand in heaven as if slain with seven horns and seven eyes? Of course not. This is imagery, and such imagery does not deny the existence of Jesus as a person or the existence of souls.

11. Does not the Bible say David is not ascended into the heavens?

David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” (1 Kings 2:10)

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… he [David] looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand ” (Acts 2:29-34).

Was David’s spirit or soul buried in the tomb? No, only the body sleeps. The context shows plainly that this is said of the body. David “is both dead and buried [his body] and his tomb is with us.” Peter is not speaking of David’s soul here, but of his body. Since David’s body has not yet been raised, it is clear that he has not yet “ascended” in the bodily resurrection that happens at the second coming. David’s spirit returned to God, just as his body returned to dust, and is awaiting ‘bodily” resurrection and ascension at the second coming of Christ.

12. The comma of Luke 23:43

Jesus told the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

Is the comma in the right place? Jesus did not need to stress the day of his promise. That was already known. Jesus stressed how soon the thief would be in paradise. Both Jesus and the thief went that day to paradise. But the passage does not say whether they were conscious. The word paradise is a synonym of heaven (Revelation 2:7; 2 Cor. 12:2-4). The three times it is used in Scripture all refer to the presence of the Lord.

Moreover, the verb tense is a present tense verb, “I say to you”, meaning I say to
you right now. That verb tense means that I’m not talking to you yesterday; I’m not talking to you tomorrow, I’m talking to you today. So, it is grammatical nonsense to say, I say to you today. The sentence is appropriately, “I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”.

Did Jesus rob Lazarus of the bliss of heaven? 

Anyone who was resurrected by Jesus or a prophet was raised for God’s glory. They were special cases. So, you think if God used them for His glory, they would consider it a blessing and a privilege to come back to earth and serve Him or they would consider it being robbed of a blessing – heavenly bliss? As a born again believer, if you were brought back to earth from heaven, will you serve God on earth, just like Jesus left heaven, and all glory, and came as a servant?

Why don’t the resurrected (e.g.: Lazarus) share their testimonies?

Whether Lazarus told his neighbors about heaven is only speculation.

  • What if Lazarus shared their testimonies, but the Holy Spirit did not think it was important to include it in the recorded Scriptures?  
  • What if Jesus commanded them to be silent about it like after healing a man of leprosy (Mark 1:41-42), “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ’see that you don’t tell this to anyone…‘” (Mark 1:43-44).
  • Will you only believe if the resurrected shared their testimonies? 

What about the Rich man and Lazarus? Parable or not, Jesus plainly used this story to teach that after death the unrighteous are eternally separated from God. see: Rich man and Lazarus.

13. I have not ascended to my Father

Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).

The day Jesus died, Jesus’ spirit was committed to the Father just like Stephen, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” (Luke 23:46). Jesus also told the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

So, Jesus’ ‘spirit’ had been with the Father, but His ‘body’ (just like David’s) had not yet ascended into heaven when he spoke to Mary. The bodily ascension of Jesus took place several weeks later.

But why did Jesus say to Mary, Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17). What does Jesus mean, do not cling to me? Do not forget that the other Mary’s ‘held Him [Jesus] by the feet and worshiped Him’ (Matt 28:9) on the resurrection day. So touching Jesus should not be an issue. The Greek word here means to “cling to” to “fasten on” to “grasp” an object. The tense is present, and the prohibition is, therefore, not of an individual act, but of a continuation of the act without stopping, “Do not continue clinging to Me”. Mary was holding to Jesus, as a lover would hold, without letting go of Him ever again, as we may see in Song of Solomon 3:4.”Scarcely had I left them When I found him whom my soul loves; I held on to him and would not let him go”. Jesus is telling Mary, do not hold me like that continuously, I am still with you for a while, I am yet to leave you and ascend to the Father.

13. Other verses.

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9). If God is the Father of spirits, then, necessarily, his children must partake of that spiritual nature.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Notice the marked contrast between flesh and spirit. They are of different natures. 

The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things” (Acts 23:8). The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, in angels and in spirits, and so did Paul. Many Christians believe the first two and deny the third.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him [Jesus]” (Mathew 17:3). Elijah was taken to heaven without seeing death, but Moses died, and his body was buried on earth (Deuteronomy 34:6), and nowhere are we told Moses’ body was resurrected. Michael disputing with Satan over Moses’ body does not reveal that Moses was resurrected bodily (regarding this incident in Jude 1:9, no specific reason is given in the context, but several theories have been suggested). Even If Moses was resurrected bodily, then he becomes a special bodily resurrection case, and this again does not affect the spiritual reality of the soul of believers.

15. At the second coming God will bring those departed “spirits of the righteous” saints with Him when He comes.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus”(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

In verse 14, the resurrection of the bodies has not happened. This coming of the Lord with the saints is the signal for the dead—i.e., the bodies that sleep—to rise in verse 16:

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16).

Similar to the Lord “will bring with Him” the saints at the second coming, Revelation 19 describes the second coming of Christ, and when He comes, he will come with an “army” of saints who are clothed in fine linen.

“And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (Revelation 19:14).  

Fine linen is what is worn by the “saints” 6 verses ago in the same chapter.

“It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8).

16. He will then raise up for them “the spirits of the righteous” imperishable bodies in the resurrection.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised [resurrection] imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

17. The concept of ‘soul sleep’ intends to do justice to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, but it undermines the spiritual reality of the soul. However, when doctrines of new age, and “Isms” that promote reincarnation are in the air, we must affirm the spiritual reality of the soul with discretion.

18. Some have rejected the distinction between body and soul, and soul’s survival after death pointing to Greek Platonism. This is not accurate as Scriptures present “spirits of the righteous” in heaven.

19. The truth that to be absent from the body means we will be present with the Lord refutes 1) the false doctrine of “purgatory” (saying that the believing dead must be “cleaned up” through their own suffering before coming into the presence of God). 2) the false idea that “spirits” are stuck in this world to haunt people or the pagan idea that people can communicate with the dead spirits or dead loved ones from earth.

20. The final reward for believers is the “resurrection of their bodies”, and blessings of living with Christ in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 20-21). Yet, the Bible appears to teach that the “spirits of the righteous” go to be with God at death and remain with Him till the resurrection of the “bodies” where immortality and incorruption is granted. This reality as “spirits” “unclothed”, “naked” before God’s presence is possible only for the righteous because, “Truly, truly, I [Jesus] say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment [condemnation], but has passed [paste tense] out of death into life” (John 5:24). 

21. The Bible only reveals a limited amount of information about what goes on in the presence of the Lord for believers between death and resurrection of bodies (similarly for the wicked in the absence of God’s presence).

22. The Scripture teaches that man is more than body + breadth. This teaching that man has both a material nature “body” and a non-material “spirit” nature, is not a peripheral issue. However, no matter whether we are unconscious or fully conscious, for believers in “Christ”, they will be with the Lord.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleepwe will live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10)

2 responses to “State of the Dead”

  1. […] in the grave till the resurrection of the body at Christ’s second coming. See our study on The state of the dead. While the Bible do not mention angels carrying spirits to heaven elsewhere (besides in this […]

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State of the Dead


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