|Death is a subject that most people seem to avoid discussing. It would seem that people fear death because of the mystery that surrounds it. On the other hand, whenever someone claims to have had an out-of- body experience, people will listen intently about the story. Television shows about people who have supposedly died and come back to life with these out-of-body stories are very popular. People are looking for something to comfort them concerning the here-after. We know that the comfort lies in Christ. So, lets take a look at what the Scriptures have to say about the dead and where they are. Our comfort lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11:25,26) This Scripture is not referring to eternal life in the physical state that we now exist. It is talking about eternal life in the spiritual since, in that our spirit shall live on for eternity with Christ if we obey the gospel. However, we shall receive a new body (See John 14:1-4 & II Corinthians 5:1-5).|
We must recognize that "death" does not mean cessation of life, but separation. Death in the physical since is the separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. Life, in the real since, is contained in the soul. The capacity to experience love, joy, understanding, loneliness, excitement, and so forth is the expression of life. Our physical body is merely a place of residence (a house if you will) for our soul to stay while we are here on earth.
Where does our soul go upon death of the body? To fully understand the answer to that question, we must first know where we are before death. Where we go after death depends upon where we are before death.
Those of us living on earth that are of the age of accountability are in one of two places: the church, or the world. The church was founded by Christ, "...on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18b) The church is made up of all those who have obeyed the gospel and are repentant baptized believers. These that remain faithful to the end shall live for eternity with Christ as is indicated in John 11:25,26.
Those who have reached the age of accountability and choose not to obey the gospel are of the world. They are subjects of Satan and reside in his kingdom (the world). They are sinners who enjoy and lust after things of this world. They refuse to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Baptism is the dividing line between the world and the church. By being baptized (immersion) the repentant believer comes into contact with the saving blood of Christ. Salvation is thus realized through the forgiveness of our sins and we are in Christ.
Where did souls go before the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ? To understand this we must realize that three different words are translated as "hell" in the King James Version. These three words are Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Hades means the abode of the dead, not a place of eternal punishment. We can see this by reading Acts 2:27-31 where it is reported that Jesus went to Hades at death. We also see that Hades will be eventually cast into the lake of fire -- Hell if you will -- at the last day. (See Revelation 20:14) Gehenna means place of eternal punishment as seen in Mark 9:43-47. The word translated as hell in these verses is the word Gehenna. Tartarus is an intermediate state of punishment. "For God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgement;" (II Peter 2:4) The word translated as hell in this passage is Tartarus.
Remember that we said that Hades was the abode of the dead. Paradise was a part of Hades. This is indicated by the fact that Jesus went to Hades after He died on the cross. He told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise. Therefore, paradise must have been a part of the abode of the dead at that time.
So, we see that at the time Jesus was crucified, Hades consisted of Paradise and Tartarus. This fact is supported by the story of the rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus. This account shows that the dead were either in a place of bliss or paradise (Abraham's Bosom) or a place of torment with a gulf separating the two. Tartarus will eventually be cast into the lake of fire -- Gehenna.
When Jesus ascended into heaven He took paradise and all the Old Testament faithful with Him.
What happens to the souls of the dead today? Those who have been saved and remain faithful will go to be with the Lord. Paul plainly states this: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor, yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." (Philippians 1:21-23) "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." (II Corinthians 5:8) These verses clearly show that Paul fully expected to go directly to be with the Lord upon his death. For Paul to say that it would be his gain to be dead, and to say that to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord indicates this. Paul would surely not have made these statements if he was going to spend a long period of time in some intermediate state away from Christ.
Paul also states that the saints will come back with Christ: "so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." (I Thessalonians 3:13) Saints in the New Testament always refers to Christians. In order for the saints to come back with Christ, then they must go to be with Him before that day. There are those who would have us believe that the term saints used in this verse means angels. It is true that the angels will come with Christ at His second coming. However, in as much as all other occasions of the New Testament writers using the word saints to refer to Christians, it is hard to believe that Paul would deviate just this one time and use the word to mean angels.
The fact that our souls will go to be with the Lord upon our physical death is also supported by this passage: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus." (I Thessalonians 4:14) The word "sleep" here refers to the dead, not a form of soul sleep. This is supported by the story of the rich man and Lazarus, for it is evident that both were conscience while yet dead. And also, when Jesus rose Lazarus (brother of Mary and Martha) we believe that Lazarus was conscience when Jesus spoke to him to rise from the dead.
When the saints return with Christ as indicated in the passages noted above, they shall be united with their resurrected body. And those that shall remain on earth at the time of His coming will be changed as well. They too, will receive a new body: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (I Corinthians 15:51,52)
Not only will the saints be resurrected on this day, for all that are dead will be resurrected. "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:15) ; "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5:28,29)
We also see that the earth and all the worldly things associated with it will be destroyed when Jesus returns. (See II Peter 3:10) There will be a general judgement where the righteous shall be separated from the unrighteous. The righteous will be welcomed into heaven while the unrighteous will be ushered into hell.
Then a new heaven and a new earth will be introduced, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Revelation 21:1) and "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (II Peter 3:13)
Death is not to be feared for those of us who are saved by the blood of Christ. It is to be feared, and rightly so, by those who refuse to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Personally, I do not fear death, but consider it as Paul did, looking forward to the day I can be with my Lord. If you are without Christ won't you please consider these things. Give your life to the One who can save it, give it to Christ.
About the Author
Stephen Kingery is an author, preacher, teacher and founder of The Home Bible Study Institute.
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