THE PRESENT STATE OF THE DEAD
That men do not enter into the final state at death is too evident to require detailed proof. The resurrections, which are yet future, prove an intermediate state for the present dead. The thing we are specially concerned with is the nature of the intermediate state, and it is to this matter that we now address ourselves.
Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and some others, teach what is known commonly as "soul sleeping." But the real substance of this false teaching is that the spirit of the dead is non-existent between death and the resurrection. This is logically true of this theory, and it is so admitted by Adventists, at least. It is logically true, because a sleeping spirit (if such were possible) would be a non-existent spirit. The idea of the spirit being alive and being unconscious when free from the body is the limit of absurdity. And that this teaching amounts to a non-existence of the spirit is shown from the following words from "Signs of the Times," a Seventh Day Adventist paper (issue of December 1931): "Surely no more forceful expression could possibly be used to show utter cessation of existence than this. In death 'I shall not be'" (Comment on Job 7:21, by Carlyle B. Haynes, on of their noted writers).
Against this theory we assert and undertake to prove from the Scriptures that man's spirit does not cease to exist in death. By the term, "spirit" we mean the immaterial nature of man in its higher relationship. We use the term "spirit" in preference to the term "soul" because we believe spirit best expresses the immaterial part of man in distinction from bodily life.
"The immaterial part of man, viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism is called psuche (soul); viewed as a rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling, this same immaterial part is called pneuma (spirit)" (A. H. Strong). The spirit is man's immaterial nature looking Godward. "The spirit is the highest, deepest, noblest part of man. By it he is fitted to comprehend eternal things, and it is, in short, the house in which dwell faith and the Word of God. The . . . soul is this spirit, according to nature, but yet in another sort of activity, namely, in this, that it animates the body and works through it" (Luther). "Soul is spirit modified by union with the body" (Hovey).
Sometimes both the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit denote wind or breath; but that they do not always do so is evidenced by Matt. 26:41; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; 1 Cor. 2:11; 5:5; 7:34; 14:14; and 1 Thess. 5:23. Let those interested study these passages and substitute breath in the place of spirit and see what sort of sense is made. Then we know that spirit may signify more than breath because "God is a spirit" (John 4:24).
1. Physical death does not bring about the non-existence of man's spirit, because it is not subject to physical death.
We have the proof of this in Matt. 10:28. If man cannot kill the spirit, then physical death has no power to end the existence of the spirit. Man can kill anything that is subject to physical death. In physical death the body ceases to function and begins to disintegrate, and man ceases to be a "living soul" in the distinctive sense of the term "soul." But the spirit cannot be killed and is never spoken of as ceasing in death. Instead we find Jesus at death committing His spirit into the hands of God and Stephen committing his spirit into the hands of Jesus (Luke 2,3:46; Acts 7:59). Physical death is merely the separation of the spirit from the body.
2. The representation of death as sleep does not teach that the spirit sleeps, and is, therefore, non-existent.
Sleep is purely a physical phenomenon. Death is sleep only by analogy; not actually. And the analogy is in the appearance of the body, and not in the state of either the body or the spirit. In sleep the spirit is still united with the body, and, therefore, conditioned by it. But in death, as all are forced to admit, the spirit and the body are separated. And the spirit separated from the body is no longer conditioned by the body.
Stephen fell asleep (Acts 7:50), but his spirit did not cease to exist, because he committed it into the hands of Jesus; and a non-existent spirit could not be committed into the hands of anybody. Paul described death as sleep (1 Cor. 15:6; 1 Thess. 4:14), but he did not teach the non-existence of the dead. Paul looked upon death, not as a cessation of existence, but as a departing to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). To Paul, being absent from the body meant not to be non-existent, but to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6). That which is non-existent cannot be present anywhere or with anybody.
3. Reference to the wicked dead as "spirits in prison" shows that the dead are not non-existent (1 Pet. 3:20).
4. Moses did not cease to exist when he died, for centuries afterward he appeared with Christ on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:3).
Will some say that Moses was resurrected immediately after burial? If so, a refutation for them is waiting in 1 Cor. 15:20. Christ's being the first fruits of the dead forbids the theory that Moses was resurrected immediately after his burial.
Jude describes them in New Testament times as "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The word for suffering in this passage is a present participle, and a present participle expresses progressive, durative action. And that this is not a historical present is shown by the present tense of the verb "are set forth."
6. The rich man and Lazarus did not cease to exist when they died (Luke 16:1941). This is not a parable, but no matter if it were. The Son of God did not resort to misrepresentation even in parables. All of His parables are true to facts.
7. Christ and the penitent thief did not cease to exist when they died. Christ was not dependent on the body for life, for He lived before He had a body (John 1:1,2,14). And on the Cross Christ asserted that He and the thief would that day be together in paradise. Non-existent spirits could not be anywhere, much less together.
8. The spirits that John saw under the altar had not ceased to exist (Rev. 6:9).
9. The resurrection proves that the dead are not now non-existent.
If they were non-existent, then there would need be a re-creation instead of a resurrection. And this would wholly destroy the basis of rewards, for those who come forth from the grave would be different individuals from those who wrought works here in this world.
10. The fact that the righteous dead have not attained to their highest state of bliss, and must yet pass through the resurrection does not prove that they are now non-existent.
"That blessed hope" (Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:2,3) is the union of the spirit with the glorified body. This only will bring the full satisfaction of the believer's longing (Psa. 17:15). But God has chosen to suspend the realization of this hope until a future time. And while the disembodied state is not the ideal one, yet it is better than continuing in the flesh (Phil. 1:23); and those who are in this state are present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
11. The fact that the wicked dead are yet to be judged and cast into the lake of fire does not prove that they are now non-existent. It has pleased God to confine the spirits of the wicked dead in prison (Isa. 24:22; 1 Pet. 3:19), finally to bring them forth and consign them altogether to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). But that the wicked dead are already in conscious fiery torment we have previously shown (Luke 16:19-31; Jude 7). The final misery of the wicked, like the final bliss of the righteous, awaits the resurrection of the body; at which time the wicked will be cast, both body and soul, into Hell (Matt. 10:28).
12. The fact that eternal life is received through faith does not prove that those who do not possess it do not have eternal existence.
Eternal life in the Scriptures means more than eternal existence. It is in contrast with spiritual death (John 5:24; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; 1 John 3:14). Spiritual death is inner slavery in a state of sin and separation from God, in which one is devoid of divine spirit life, although he possesses human spirit life. Eternal life is freedom and fellowship with God. Spiritual death makes one subject to the second death, which "is a continuation of spiritual death in another and timeless existence" E. G. Robinson). Eternal life is exemption from the second death.
13. The fact that immortality is revealed in the gospel and attained only in the resurrection does not prove the men by nature do not have eternal existence. See Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15. 53,54; 2 Tim. 1:10.
While in both Classical Greek and English, "immortality" is used synonymously with "endless existence," it is not so used in the Scripture. In the Scripture, immortality means incorruption, deathlessness. The disembodied human spirit is not deathless, for it is held in that state by death; nevertheless, as already shown abundantly, it has endless existence.
14. The ascription of immortality to God alone (1 Tim. 6:16) does not mean that no others possess eternal existence.
This passage of Scripture means that God alone possesses essential and underived immortality. It does not deny that the elect angels now possess immortality (Luke 20:36). Neither does it prove that men by nature do not possess endless existence. As already pointed out, immortality, in the Bible, means more than endless existence.
Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Scripture. Therefore, the first passage above cannot be taken with absolute literalness. For in 2 Kings 2:2, 11 it is twice stated that Elijah was taken up into Heaven. The meaning of Christ's statement here then, can be no more than that Jesus alone had ascended up to Heaven and came back to reveal the mysteries there communicated to Him. The second passage is explained by the thirty-sixth verse. Christ meant merely that for the time being those to whom He was talking could not follow Him; not that they were never to follow Him, for in that case they could never go to Heaven.
16. The statement of Peter in Acts 2:34 does not mean that David was non-existent.
This statement concerning David is elucidated by the statement of Christ to Mary Magdalene concerning Himself (John 20:17). Christ said: "I have not yet ascended unto the Father." But Christ's spirit had ascended to the Father (Luke 23:43,46; Rev. 2:7; 22:1,2). The meaning, then, of Peter's statement about David, and that of Christ about Himself is that they had not ascended in body.
Scripture must be explained by Scripture. The incomplete and indistinct revelations of the Old Testament must be explained by the fuller and clearer revelations of the New Testament. And in the light of these fuller and clearer revelations some statements in the Old Testament concerning the state of the dead can be taken only as the language of appearance. Old Testament writers, not having a clear revelation concerning the state of the dead, often spoke of the dead from the standpoint of this life. It is in this sense that we are to understand such Scriptures as Job 3:11-19; 7:21,22; Psa. 6:5; 88:11, 12; 115:17; Eccl. 3:19, 20; 9:10; Isa. 38:18.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS DEAD ARE WITH THE LORD
We have alluded already to the state of both the righteous and wicked dead. But, for sake of clearness, we restate the teaching of Scripture on this matter.
The righteous dead are with the Lord. This is proved by the following Scriptures:
"Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; ... we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Thus for the righteous to be absent from the body-that is, to be in that state brought about by death- is to be in the Lord's presence.
"I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). Paul was unable to decide whether he preferred to remain in the flesh, that is, to continue to live here on earth, or to die in order to be with Christ. Thus, for the righteous, a departure from this life is an entrance into the presence of Christ.
To the dying repentant thief Jesus said: "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Paradise is the third heaven of the Jews, the place of God's throne (3 Cor. 12:2,4). Further proof of this is found in the fact that the tree of life is in paradise (Rev 2:7), and it is near the throne of God (Rev. 22:1,2).
III. THE WICKED DEAD ARE IN CONSCIOUS, FIERY TORMENT
This is shown by the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Some reply that this is only a parable. But there is not one hint that it is. And the fact that one of the persons involved is named is inconsistent with all other parables. But suppose it is a parable. Did Christ misrepresent facts in His parables? What purpose could He have had in doing so? Would not a misrepresentation of facts in the Scripture under discussion teach an error? Those who seek to evade this on the ground that it is a parable, show the hopelessness of their theory by such a miserable dodge.
This fact is also shown, as we have pointed out already, by the words of Jude in verse 7 of his epistle concerning the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He describes them as "suffering (present tense) the vengeance of eternal fire."
The place where the wicked are confined is called a prison (1 Pet. 3:19). They are as condemned criminals waiting in prison until the time of their being placed in God's eternal penitentiary, the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). This is to take place at the judgment of the great white throne. At that time both the body and the soul of the wicked will be cast into fire (Matt. 10:28).
IV. NO PROBATION AFTER DEATH
The notion that there is probation after death takes two forms. The first is contained in-
1. THE CATHOLIC TEACHING CONCERNING PURGATORY
"The Catholic Church teaches the existence of Purgatory, where those who die with slight sins on their souls, or who have not satisfied the temporal punishment due their sins, are detained until they are cleansed sufficiently to enter Heaven" (What The Protestant Bible Teaches About The Catholic Church, Patterson).
The passages given to substantiate this teaching are: Matt. 5:26; 12.32; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; Rev. 21.27; 1 Pet. 3:18.
Before briefly commenting on these passages, it is in place to remark that the above teaching clearly contradicts all that the Scripture teaches about justification and salvation wholly by grace through faith in Christ. We have seen that God does not charge sins to the believer (Rom. 4:8; 8:33). The believer has been everlastingly acquitted of all sin. Furthermore, Heb. 9:27 clearly implies that no change is possible between death and the judgment. These passages, not to mention many others, show that Purgatory is a human invention.
As to the passages used to substantiate the doctrine of Purgatory: Matt. 5:26 is manifestly to be taken as referring to the Roman prison. Matt. 12:32 makes simply "a strong and expanded declaration" that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. To find here the implication that some sins may be forgiven in the age to come is to found a far-reaching doctrine on an uncertain inference. Such a doctrine, if true, would certainly find a clearer statement than this passage affords. In 1 Cor. 3:13-15 we have only a strong allusion to the testing of men's works in the days of Christ. There is here no purging or cleansing, as Catholics suppose to take place in Purgatory; but only a stripping of unacceptable works. Rev. 21:27 declares only that the wicked cannot enter New Jerusalem. The spirit and glorified body of the believer have no sin in them. The spirit is purged of all sin in regeneration. The last passage (1 Pet. 3:19) will find treatment under the next head.
2. THE BELIEF THAT CHRIST PREACHED TO THE WICKED DEAD
This belief is based on 1 Pet 3:19,20. This form of the notion of probation after death is different from the Catholic teaching of Purgatory, in that it includes only unbelievers, while the Catholic teaching includes only believers, as having probation. According to this form of the doctrine of probation after death, unbelievers will have opportunity to repent and he saved after death.
It must be admitted that the common translations of 1 Pet. 3:19, 20 lend encouragement to this belief. But even at that, it is strange that Jesus should have preached only to those who were disobedient during the days of Noah, or that, if all were preached to, these alone should be mentioned.
And the verb "went" cannot be insisted on as indicating that Jesus came into personal contact with the spirits in prison. "Great weight has been attached to this word in support of the view that Christ went in person to the prison of the lost. But the word does not necessarily imply personal locomotion (N. M. Williams, Com. in loco). Instances of a similar word where personal locomotion is not indicated are found in Gen. 11:5-7 and Eph. 2:17.
Furthermore it is not at all necessary to translate the Greek as in the common versions. The clause, "who aforetime were disobedient," in the Revised Version, is the translation of just two words in the Greek-"apiethesasi pote." The first Greek word is a participle in the first aorist tense, expressing past action. The second Greek word is a pronominal adverb, expressing indefinite time, and may have the general meaning of formerly. If the participle "apiethesasi" were preceded by the article, then it would be definitely attributive; and the relative clause of the Revised Version would be unquestionably the correct translation. But this participle is without the article, therefore it can be considered predicate. See Robertson's Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 194. As a predicate participle it may be considered circumstantial, as expressing time relative to the main verb, which is "ekeruxeit" (preached), another first aorist. Now an aorist participle (especially when used, as in this case, with an aorist verb) may express "time coincident with that of the verb." See Goodwin's Greek Grammar, p. 276, also Robertson's, p. 197.
The conclusion of the whole matter is that it makes perfectly good Greek to adopt the following translation. ". . . in which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, WHILE FORMERLY THEY WERE DISOBEDIENT, when the longsuffering of God waited. . ." This means that Christ in spirit preached in the days of Noah, through Noah and others, to the spirits that were in prison at the time Peter wrote, which spirits were at the time of preaching disobedient. For further and extended discussion of this passage in line with the foregoing, see An American Commentary on the New Testament.
It may be asked why the King James, the Revised, and the Bible Union Versions all translate this construction with a relative clause. We answer that this is evidently because of the influence of the Vulgate, and the theological bias of Christendom that has favored the notion of probation after death. But the New Testament is everywhere opposed to the idea of probation after death, without which this supposed preaching to the wicked dead was useless. Such probation is not needed to vindicate the justice of God, for even the heathen without the gospel are "without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).
1 Pet. 4:6, which is another passage used to teach probation after death, means that the gospel was preached to the dead while they were living.