Appendix C: The Unconscious Intermediate State.



These writings were published previously in Afterlife website and/or From Death To Life magazine. They appear here as further evidence for the Advent Christian teaching that all are unconscious during the intermediate state between death and the resurrection.

Away From The Body

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 ESV

“For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

This is one of those passages that have been so hijacked by traditionalist thought that the wording appears to reject much of what the same author (Paul) says elsewhere. Before addressing 5:8 itself, it is helpful to review the theology of 5:1-10, to see that it is consistent.

What Paul believed about the Resurrection

This passage looks forward to the resurrection body. If the earthly body is a tent, that resurrection body is a building fashioned by God himself (1). This earthly body can be destroyed. The resurrection body is permanent (aionios). It is a house not made with hands. But the glorious eternal body is not a present possession. It is an inheritance. This future immortal life is guaranteed (5), and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee.

Paul is not saying that he has mortality (the tent) and immortality (the eternal house) at the same time. The reason he groans (2) is that he only has this present mortal body, which suffers persecution and hardship, shipwrecks, floggings, etc. He is longing to put on that heavenly dwelling. Here Paul mixes the building metaphor with that of putting on clothing. Paul had used that metaphor in his previous letter to Corinthians, where he was addressing the same subject: the resurrection.

“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory”” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54 ESV).

The translators have added the word “body” to the text, but it would be just as appropriate to supply the word “me” instead. It would then read “For this perishable me must put on the imperishable, and this mortal me must put on immortality. When the perishable me puts on the imperishable, and the mortal me puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Paul is talking about the future when Christ comes to give him the immortality he promised. He is longing for that time, not the intermediate state. He is looking forward to life, not death. In this present life he expects to continue to groan, being burdened (4).

With this promise of the resurrection in mind, he considers his present state in the (mortal) body. He does not feel at home. He feels away from the Lord. He would rather be away from his mortal body, and at home with the Lord (8), but that is not his choice. As long as Christ tarries, he makes it his aim to please the Lord (9). He knows what is done in this life matters because Christ is going to judge and reward when he comes (10).

In summary, in 1 Cor. 5:1-10 Paul argues that the resurrection is essential because believers do not yet have the eternal, immortal existence that God promised them.

What Paul believed about the Second Coming.

The second coming of Christ is the event Paul has in view. The building from God is in the heavens. The only way Paul is going to experience it is for Christ to come down to earth and bring it with him. When Jesus ascended, angelic messengers told the disciples that Jesus would come back in the same way that they saw him ascend: literally, physically (Acts 1:10-11). They did not promise that the disciples would see Jesus before that event. Paul, likewise, expected the second coming to be the next time he would see Jesus. Paul said “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). That was his hope.

It was at the second coming that Paul expected to get his new house, his heavenly dwelling (2). He talked about “what is mortal” being “swallowed up by life” (4). He had previously told the Corinthians that this transformation would happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). The heavenly dwelling that Paul expected was not a disembodied existence, but a resurrected life. This could not happen at death. It required the second coming of Christ.

Paul is walking by faith, not by sight (7). He is not relying on what some Greek philosopher has told him about human nature. He is trusting in Jesus, that he will keep his promise. By faith, he lets the Holy Spirit inside him operate. That Holy Spirit is the guarantee of what is to come (5), not what Paul already possesses. If Paul got what he wanted, he would be “at home with the Lord” (8). But if Christ does not come in his lifetime, he is willing to remain “at home in the body” until he does.

What Paul believed about the intermediate state.

Paul repeats one idea in this passage in order to stress it. He is adamant about this one thing, so he does not want the Corinthians to misunderstand him. For that reason he says he does not want to be “found naked” in vs. 3, and repeats that he does not want to be “unclothed” in vs. 4. Both statements mean the same thing. Being clothed means getting his resurrection body. Thus, there is only one thing that being unclothed could mean: the intermediate state. Paul is not looking forward to the state between death and the resurrection. That is not his hope. That is not the event that he refers to when he wants to encourage other believers (1 Thess. 4:18). That is not what he is longing for (2). That is not the time when what is mortal is going to be swallowed up by life (4). That is not what the Holy Spirit guarantees (5). A disembodied existence is not what Paul means by “being home with the Lord” (7). For Paul, home is the building from God (1). Being “with the Lord” is not going to happen until the second coming (1 Thess. 4:17).

Paul does affirm a judgment after death, but it is the “judgment seat of Christ” (10). Christ does not judge anyone during the intermediate state. He will raise the dead and then judge them. He will judge the living and the dead at the same time (Acts 10:42). This will happen only after Christ returns (Rev. 20:12-13). Humanity is right to expect a judgment of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Heb. 10:27). But that judgment will not occur during the intermediate state. Paul taught that the judgment is an event yet to come (Acts 24:25). It is not going on now.

Paul treats the intermediate state as both existentially and theologically insignificant. He skips over it, concentrating instead on the more important issue of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that the intermediate state is one of darkness (Job. 7:9; 10:20; 17:13; 18:18; Psalm 13:3; 49:19; 88:12; 143:3; Prov. 20:20; Eccl. 6:3-5; Lam. 3:6), and silence (Eccl. 9:5,6,10; Job 21:13; Psalm 6:5; 30:9; 31:17; 94:17; Isaiah 38:18-19). It is no surprise, then, that Paul would not look forward to it.

What Paul does look forward to is the second coming, when Paul will be both away from his (present suffering, mortal) body and at home with the (returned, triumphant, sovereign) Lord. That is the hope he describes in 1 Cor. 5:8. That is our hope.

To Be Gathered

What does it mean for someone who has died to be “gathered to his people”? In Genesis 25:8, Moses tells us that “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people”(ESV). This is a particularly common expression in the Old Testament. It also describes the death of Isaac,[1] Ishmael,[2] Jacob,[3] Aaron,[4] and Moses.[5] It was applied to good King Josiah,[6] and to the entire generation of Israelites who grumbled against Moses during the exodus:

And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:8-10 ESV).

Since this expression implies an equal status of all those who have died – regardless of whether or not they pleased the LORD during their lives – it has been seen by conditionalists as one more piece of evidence in favor of soul sleep.

Some have argued that this expression is inconsistent with the notion of an unconscious intermediate state. John Calvin argued that “Scripture, in speaking thus, shows that another state of life remains after death.”[7] He is suggesting that there is theological content in that ancient expression. He is saying that it provides humanity with more than a statement about death, but gives us a theological answer to those who want to know about the hereafter. Likewise, Swedenborg says that the expression meant that the departed “had actually come to his parents and relations in the other life.”[8]

Ancient Near Eastern tradition does contain some talk of life after death, but there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that these expressions about being gathered to one’s people are affirming that tradition. Those who see these expressions as providing assurance of life after death appear to be reading that idea into these texts.

Some opponents of an unconscious intermediate state approach these expressions more exegetically. Hamilton points out that in Gen. 25:8, the phrase “was gathered to his people” is separate from both the description of Abraham’s death and his burial. He argues on that basis that “being gathered to one’s kin precedes burial. Therefore, to be gathered to one’s kin cannot mean to be entombed in the grave.”[9] He points out that neither Abraham, Ishmael, Moses nor Aaron were buried in their respective ancestral graves. He agrees with Clinton in his conclusion that the expression “does not mean simply to die or to be buried in the family tomb, but it meant joining them in the other world.”[10]

We are in debt to these exegetes for pointing out that this expression does mean more than the fact that a person has died and was buried. But, in so doing, they reveal the mistaken assumption that those of us who disagree with their theology (of a conscious intermediate state) read nothing more into the expression than seeing it as synonymous with “he was buried.” By setting up that straw man it is very easy for them to defeat it, and then triumphantly declare their theological conclusion the winner of the fight.

The fact is, most of us who hold to an unconscious intermediate state do not do so because we deny the possibility of an intermediate state. We simply do not see the logic in jumping from statements like “he was gathered to his people” to theological statements that deny human mortality, and subvert the hope of the resurrection. There is an intermediate state, but the case has not been made that it is a conscious one. The dead are united in death, but that does not imply any awareness of their surroundings.

A more appropriate way of dealing with this expression theologically is to compare it to other expressions found in scripture which touch on the same topic. Conditionalists see the expression “gathered to his people/fathers” as ambiguous, so when we are looking for more content about the intermediate state, we compare such statements with “lie down (or rest or sleep) with (one’s) fathers.” That expression is used by Jacob to refer to his expected death.[11] The LORD uses it to refer to Moses’ expected death.[12] The LORD also uses it to describe David’s death when he tells him “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.”[13] The expression is used repeatedly (35 times) in the books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Sometimes the expression does refer to the place of burial, but not always. Its essential meaning must be “that the deceased is united in death with his fathers or relatives who died before them.”[14]

This also appears to be the origin of the word “sleep” as a metaphor for death, which appears in the New Testament as well. Before raising a little girl from death, Jesus said that she was sleeping.[15] Jesus told his disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [16] At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, some of the saints “who had fallen asleep” were raised.[17] Peter tells of scoffers who argue “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”[18]

There are two major metaphors, then, which originate in the Old Testament and speak to the issue of the intermediate state. One speaks of the dead person being gathered to his or her relatives. The other speaks of that person lying down or sleeping or resting with those same relatives. When these two expressions are combined, they help establish a basis for some theological principles about what happens at death.

1) All who die go to the same place. Death is not a place of judgment. It is a state where one is reduced to the same status as one’s ancestors. This does not preclude a day of judgment later, but neither does it establish that judgment is taking place during the intermediate state.

2) Since death is described as sleep, the natural assumption is that the intermediate state is unconscious. The scriptures verify this assumption by describing the intermediate state as one of darkness,[19] and silence.[20]

3) The hope of the believer is found in neither of these realities, but looks beyond them. To be true to the scriptures, the believer does not look forward to death or the intermediate state. The believer anticipates the resurrection, just as someone who lies down and sleeps looks forward to the morning light.

Abraham: Macpelah

(These are devotional thoughts on Genesis 23).

Princess Sarah falls asleep in the LORD, and Abraham, whom the Hittites call a “prince of God” negotiates with them a burying place. He wanted the field of Ephron, son of Zohar. He purchased the field and the cave of Machpelah on it. This would serve later as a burial ground and resting place for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,

Rebekah and Leah as well.

Like Sarah here, their story does not end with their being transported somewhere else at death. The patriarchs did not see death as their salvation. At death, they sleep in the dust of the earth and – like us – await their Savior who will come down and rescue them from death by raising them to eternal life.

LORD, come quickly and rescue us from the enemy, death. Many of your saints await their reward – and their rewarder.

Analyzing Ecclesiastes 9:5

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 KJV).

Ecclesiastes 9:5 has been used as a proof-text by conditionalists from the very beginning of the debate on the afterlife. With texts like this, believers who hold to an unconscious intermediate state have suggested that one does not have to borrow a pagan cosmology to explain what happens at death. It implies that the dead are not aware of what passes, and that a resurrection will be necessary before anyone lives forever.

Barton calls the verse a “classic statement” indicating that the state of the dead is one of “a state of unconsciousness” although he warns that it is “by no means alone decisive.”[21] One has to look at what the whole of Scripture teaches in order to find answers. The problem with much of modern Christendom is that they are willing to negate the clear implications of such texts as Ecclesiastes 9:5 because they are presupposed to accept Greek anthropology, which rejected the reality of death, and redefined it as the soul going somewhere. If this “classic statement” from the Hebrew Bible is taken at face value, it suggests that death is not about going someplace. It is more about the life shutting down until God has use of it again.

Nichols listed the verse among eight Old Testament texts which uphold “the conclusion that death is a condition best described as sleep.”[22] Here are those eight texts in modern versions:

“If (the dead person’s) sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it” (Job 14:21 NET).

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV).

“For the dead do not remember you. Who can praise you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5 NLT).

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything. They no longer have a reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 LEB).

“For Sheol cannot thank you; Death cannot praise you. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18 HCSB).

“The dead cannot sing praises to the LORD, for they have gone into the silence of the grave” (Psalm 115:17 NLT).

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

“Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you? … Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?” (Psalm 88:10-12 NLT).

The point of all these Old Testament saints is that they are seeking a resurrection because death is not the answer to their problems. It may not be the end of all existence, but it is not the eternal life which we all seek. There is hope beyond death, but not in it.

But many modern Christians stare that evidence in the face and then choose to walk away from it. They choose the doctrine of humanity that some in the early church borrowed from their teachers of Greek philosophy. That doctrine taught that death really is the answer to our problems – that we don’t need a resurrection because some part of us will continue to think and praise God in the intermediate state. Popular theology seems content with a combination of the resurrection to eternal life that the Bible teaches, and the continued conscious life that Plato taught.

Fudge has pointed out that this marriage of doctrines has not produced an altogether unified Christianity. He states that “some orthodox writers have continued to affirm the immortality of the soul, though often with a look over their shoulder, (because) many others have charged that the doctrine has serious deficiencies.”[23] He argues that this “uneasiness within the orthodox ranks” cannot be solved by affirming or denying a doctrine. In the end, “the issue really becomes a matter of exegesis.”[24]

Such will be the case only if theologians on both sides of the divide are willing to carefully examine the texts of Scripture about which we disagree. Ecclesiastes 9:5 can serve as an example. Rather than simply offering this text as a proof of our view, conditionalists need to present a careful analysis of the text, offering evidence that it does support the concept of an unconscious intermediate state for all prior to a resurrection.

The Hebrew Text with transliteration


Ki hachayyim yodeim sheyyamutu


Vehammetim ‘eynam yodeim me’umah


Ve’eyn—‘od lahem sachar


Ki nishchach zichram.

The text of Ecclesiastes 9:5 is not in dispute. There are no major differences within the various extant versions of the Hebrew Bible that would suggest another wording, or a change in grammar. An observer can look, for example, at the Westminster Leningrad Codex version, and see that there are no appreciable differences between it and the BHS version cited above, even if that observer could not read the Hebrew text.

Having established that the differences in understanding the import of this text are not caused by differing versions of the text itself, readers can then address other avenues of exegesis.

Careful exegesis involves seeking answers to certain questions within the text itself, rather than trying to read into the text what one wants it to say. Without those questions, anyone might be tempted to simply use a text for his own purposes. But exegesis requires that the reader step back from his or her own agenda, and actually seek the purpose of the original author of the text.

the book as a whole

The author of Ecclesiastes was seeking to show that life apart from God was futile, vain, meaningless. If, as tradition asserts, the author was Solomon, that argument would make sense. Who else but Solomon would be in the particular position to try out all that life has to offer, and then conclude that it all was essentially unsatisfying? Who else but Solomon would qualify as a person who had it all, yet in the end of his life would be listened to as a speaker for the congregation who urged people to seek God above all?

the passage in particular

The FaithLife Study Bible outlines Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 this way:

· 1-3 The same fate – death – awaits everyone.

· 4-6 Death deprives humans of everything in life.

· 7-10 Enjoy life while it lasts.

The phrase “I looked again…” in verse 11 shows that it begins a new line of thought. So, the passage in particular that is the immediate literary context of verse 5 is verses 1-10.

The author’s purpose of the verse is to establish that death does indeed deprive all humans of everything in life. There is no hint that this is the language of mere appearance. The author is not saying that death only appears to rob us of conscious existence. In fact, if death ushers all human into a new state of conscious existence and awareness, the author of Ecclesiastes has lost his argument all together.

Solomon argued that it is best for the godly not to focus on any hopes of an afterlife in the intermediate state, but to make the best of life now. He was not addressing the question of whether there would ever be life after the grave. Instead, he was arguing that one’s objective should be making the best of life now. That explains why he later instructs his readers not to “let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NLT). If one is caught up in the hopes and dreams of the future, one is liable to forget that his or her present relationship with God is what really matters.

In Ecclesiastes 9:5, Solomon uses a description of what happens at death to show that dying should not be a person’s goal. It is not the solution to humanity’s problem, God is. Death ends the pursuit. death ends the race. Solomon begins the verse with the Hebrew conjunction Ki, which establishes the grounds for the statement in the verse before: “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion” (verse 4, ESV).

Solomon compares two groups: those who are presently alive (hachayyim) and those who are presently dead (hammetim). He does not distinguish between different groups within these groups. All people who are presently alive have hope, but all those presently dead do not.


Solomon compares these two groups in three texts. Before comparing them in 9:4 and 9:5, he begins the comparison in chapter 4:

“Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead (hammetim) who are already dead more fortunate than the living (hachayyim) who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 ESV).

His first conclusion is that it is better to be dead than alive because of all the injustice, oppression and suffering that the living face. Even better than being dead is not having been born at all. Solomon looks at all there is “under the sun”[25] and his first conclusion (“I thought” [vs.2]) is that life is just not worth it. In spite of all the great things that a person can do (most of which Solomon did) and the joys of life that a person can experience (which Solomon experienced) his first judgment is a negative one.

His explanations for this cynical attitude include the following:

· “for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (2:17).

· “because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it” (2:21).

· “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income” (5:10).

· “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (5:15).

· “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (7:15).

then, again…

Observations like these lead Solomon to conclude at first that the struggle of life for enjoyment and accomplishment is just not worth it. But then he changes his mind. His final conclusion is that it is better to be alive (and to have been alive) than to be dead. He prefers to be among the living (hachayyim) and not the dead (hammetim). His reasons have nothing to do with what one might experience or accomplish. He has already concluded that such things are meaningless. They are meaningless because of the reality of death.

three reasons

His reasons for reversing his previous judgment are also tied to the reality of death. It is better to be alive than dead because of three things all dead people lack: awareness, reward, and something he calls memory.


It is better to be alive than dead because living people have awareness of life. They are conscious of what they are doing, while the dead are not. In contrast to the living, who know that they will eventually die, the dead do not know anything.

Supporters of a conscious intermediate state exert a great deal of effort to negate the import of such a statement. Barnes says “Solomon here describes what he sees, not what he believes; there is no reference here to the fact or the mode of the existence of the soul in another world, which are matters of faith.”[26] There is no reference to such things because Solomon is not privy to the teaching of Plato and Socrates. Those teachings are indeed “matters of faith” but that faith does not have its basis in the Word of God. Solomon must speak of death and the afterlife from within the limits of Scriptural revelation.

So, Solomon says, “The dead know nothing.” Gill responds,

“this is not to be understood of their separate spirits, and of the things of the other world; for the righteous dead know much, their knowledge is greatly increased; they know, as they are known; they know much of God in Christ, of his perfections, purposes, covenant, grace, and love; they know much of Christ, of his person, offices, and glory, and see him as he is; they know much of the Gospel, and the mysteries of it; and of angels, and the spirits of just men, they now converse with; and of the glories and happiness of the heavenly state; even they know abundantly more than they did in this life: and the wicked dead, in their separate spirits, know there is a God that judgeth; that their souls are immortal; that there is a future state; indeed they know and feel the torments of hell, the worm that never dies, and the fire that is not quenched.”[27]

What an amazing amount of information the dead are aware of! Gil asserts that the lack of awareness Solomon speaks of only has to do with what is happening on earth. The awareness Gil speaks of is taking place either in heaven or hell. Solomon mentions heaven four times in Ecclesiastes, and never once mentions that people’s souls go there at death.[28] Like the rest of the Old Testament authors, he never mentions the word hell at all.[29] Yet Gill would insist that Solomon’s argument simply excludes any awareness of anything that happens one second after death.

But Solomon’s argument demands that his readers take into account the present state of the dead, and requires that they understand that the dead are presently aware of nothing. If (as Gill supposes) the actual awareness of the dead increases, then Solomon’s argument is a wash. If one’s awareness at death actually increases, then Solomon was right in his first assessment, and he should not have changed his mind. He had previously argued that being dead was better than being alive. He changed his mind and is now arguing that being alive is better. He based that correction on the fact that death ends one’s awareness of everything.


The second reason Solomon asserts that being alive is better is that a living person can expect a reward for what he has done. The dead get no reward.

Solomon has a great deal to say about rewards elsewhere:

· “The wicked person earns deceitful wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a genuine reward” (Proverbs 11:18 NET).

· “The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches, honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4 NASB).

· “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV).

· “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 ESV).

· “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NKJV).

His writings were part of that genre known as biblical wisdom literature, which encouraged people to be faithful to God now and expect him to bless you for it now. There was no mention of rewards after death because that was not the point.

But in Ecclesiastes 9:5, Solomon goes beyond that simple assertion. He talks about why it is better to be alive, and he asserts that the reason is that if one is alive, he can continue to receive rewards for living righteously. But he also asserts that at death, that process ends. After death, rewards and punishment have come to an end.

According to the New Testament, that system where the sovereign God rewards people for their faithfulness and genuine good deeds in this life is still in effect.

· “Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4 NLT).

· “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NET).

· “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong”” (Luke 23:40-41 NKJV).

But the New Testament also speaks of rewards that believers will receive at the return of Christ:

· “”But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35 ESV).

· “If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:14 NLT).

· “because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24 NET).

· “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward” (2 John 1:8 ESV).

· “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14 NASB).

· “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12 KJV).

So, the Bible teaches that there are two different kinds of reward. there are rewards in this life that a gracious God gives those who live as they should, and there is the reward at Christ’s return that believers will receive from him. Solomon’s statement agrees with this cosmology. That is why he affirms that being among the living is better than being among the dead.

But some read a third kind of reward into the equation. They say that people are rewarded (or punished) not only during this life and after Christ’s second coming, but that people are also rewarded immediately after death and before the resurrection. The assertion is that the intermediate state (between death and the resurrection) is a time of conscious blessing or misery prior to judgment day.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus[30] appears to teach that, but it actually does not. Jesus was using one of the stories of the Pharisees (who held to rewards during the intermediate state) and turning the end of the story against them. When Jesus actually taught his disciples about life after death, he always made reference to a resurrection.[31] He never referred to the believer’s reward as “Abraham’s bosom”, but called it eternal life,[32] and his coming kingdom.[33]

Somewhere between Solomon’s day and that of Jesus and the apostles, many Jews had bought into a pagan cosmology which included the belief in a conscious intermediate state. Solomon may have anticipated such a belief, because his words teach against it. He is saying not simply that the old reward system ends at death, but that during death there cannot be another. He asserts that the dead are incapable of being rewarded, good or bad.


The final reason Solomon asserts that being alive is better than being dead is that dead people do not have something called memory. At first glance, this seems to have two possible meanings. Either it refers to the capacity of the dead to remember, or it refers to the ability of others to remember them.

The Hebrew noun zecher is related to the verbal root zachar, the usual word for “to remember.” That means that Solomon could be saying that the capacity of the dead to remember stops at death. He would essentially be repeating what he said before – that the dead know nothing, they have no awareness. It would be in agreement with Psalm 146:4 which describes the dying this way: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

Probably, however, Solomon is speaking about the capacity for others to remember someone who is dead. The other Old Testament uses of the actual word zikram (their memory) relate to this usage.[34] If this is the meaning Solomon had in mind, he obviously took the long view. People actually do memorialize the dead, and often to the extreme. But eventually, given enough time, even the names of rock stars and presidents will fall into disuse.

Solomon’s point is that death makes a sudden and actual end to all those things that we call life. When all is said and done, Solomon is arguing that it is better to have lived than to have not lived at all. The reality of death ends our life, but it does not end our significance. Life is worth living because God lives forever. What we do matters not because we are immortal and live forever but because what we do matters to God.

Solomon’s initial approach to life was pessimistic. He argued that life was not worth living because death is real and it will happen to everyone. Upon further investigation, Solomon changed his outlook. He still believed that death is real, and it happens to everyone. But he adds two words to the equation: “except God.” If God lives, my living in the present can be worthwhile. If God lives, my having lived in the past can be significant.

The New Testament teaches that Jesus “broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.”[35] We now know far much about our future than Solomon did. We now have clear teaching of a resurrection, an eternity in God’s new creation – an immortal existence in the future!

But Solomon still has much to teach us about what is really important. He stared human mortality in the face, and chose not to deny it. Instead, he put his trust and his hope in the LORD, who is immortal. His philosophy became theocentric, not anthropocentric. He taught his listeners to “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”[36] And he based that command not on the illusion of an immortal soul surviving death, but the reality of an immortal God who can never die. He is the reason life is worth living!

Calvin on Psalm 31:5

clip_image010 “Into your Hands I commit my spirit.”

David’s statement of trust in the midst of trial was so spiritually significant that the Lord Jesus himself quoted it on the cross. Later, Stephen quoted the same text at the moment of his own death by martyrdom. What does it mean to commit one’s spirit into God’s hands. Does this affirm the immortality of the soul?

John Calvin thought so. He was convinced that “man consists of a body and a soul; meaning by soul an immortal though created essence, which is the nobler part.”[37] He concluded that “Christ, in commending his spirit to the Father, and Stephen his to Christ, simply mean that when the soul is freed from the prison-house of the body, God becomes its perpetual keeper.”[38]

Calvin did not come to that conclusion by reading Psalm 31. He rightly commented on David’s statement by saying “Whoever commits himself into God’s hand and to his guardianship, not only constitutes him the arbiter of life and death to him, but also calmly depends on him for protection amidst all his dangers.”[39] David was asserting his trust in God to deliver him, not his confidence in possessing an indestructible spirit.

Yet Calvin could not resist taking David’s words out of their context, and teaching that Christ and Stephen asserted something not about theology but about anthropology. His belief in Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul was so strong that it led Calvin to forget his rules of exegesis.

Christ quoted from Psalm 31:5 while dying on the cross. He said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”[40] In doing so, he was expressing the exact same sentiment that David had expressed when he had used those words. He was not saying that his body was going to die, but that the real him was going to fly to heaven to be safe in his Father’s hands. He was saying that he trusted his Father to rescue him.

His Father did rescue him. He was raised from the dead three days later. His spirit had not gone to heaven to be with his Father at death. He told Mary “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”[41] Christ went to the grave. He had committed his spirit – that is, his life – into the hands of the one person who could redeem it.

Stephen’s quote of Psalm 31:5 was also true to its context. Stephen knew that he was going to die. The prison-house was not his alive body, but death itself. But he also had confidence that his death would not be the end. God would rescue him from the prison-house of death in the same way that he had rescued Jesus – by a resurrection. Luke records, “as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.””[42] I heard a preacher at a funeral of a friend of mine say that Stephen did not sleep in the grave because God received his spirit. The preacher had quoted this verse. Later, I had to remind my students (who also heard this sermon) that the preacher forgot about the next verse! Luke continued “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”[43] Stephen’s committing his spirit to Christ was not a rejection of the reality of death. It was an expression of confidence that death would not be permanent.

Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 31 also quoted Paul’s reflection on death. He says “What David here declares concerning his temporal life, Paul transfers to eternal salvation.”[44] He was referring to where Paul says “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”[45] What Calvin did not point out is that Paul’s words in 2 Timothy are not words of someone who denies death. Paul’s words imply that his death would come, but he has entrusted himself to God who can rescue him from that death. Paul’s trust was not in his possessing an immortal soul, but in his possessing a resurrecting God.

That is the sentiment expressed in Psalm 31:5 by David, and reflected in the words of Jesus on the cross, and those of Stephen at his death. It is not that God has made a part of our being that will never die. It is that God has promised to restore his own by a complete resurrection. It is not about something inherent within us. It is about the faithfulness of God.

Debugging Luke 23:43

Synopsis: The traditional translation of Luke 23:43 is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, and poses theological, biblical, historical, and grammatico-syntactical problems. It gives the wrong answer to the questions “how can we get to heaven?” and “where does the spirit go after death?” and “what happens after we die?” The verse should be debugged: that is, retranslated.

When traditionalists read our lord’s promise to the penitent thief, the result is an assurance that as soon as believers die, they will join Christ in heaven. Since that belief fits the traditionalist worldview, it poses no problems. So, the traditionalist keeps on reading. Most conditionalists are convinced that believers’ reunion with Christ will not occur until the return of Christ. Reading Luke 23:43 poses problems for us. The text as it appears in the standard versions stands out like bugged code, and we are challenged to stop and debug it.

It is not actually the text as it appears in the original Greek that is the problem. Rather, it is the text that appears in the translations that seek to convey its meaning. Those translations appear to have Jesus promising the thief an immediate reward in paradise on the same day as the crucifixion. Since Jesus went to Hades that day,[46] and both thieves were apparently still alive the next day,[47] we see theological and biblical and historical problems with Jesus making such a promise.

theology: reunion at the return, not death

Bible: Christ went to Hades, not paradise

history: Christ died a different day than the thief

The typical translations of this text are based on an analysis that looks something like this:

clip_image011I am saying YOU WILL BE in paradise


truly today

to you with me

In this analysis, the promise to the penitent is that he will be in some place called paradise. The word “today” indicates when that will happen.

this day

A simple solution to the problem is found in the fact that the word translated “today” can also be rendered “this day.”[48] Jesus could be simply referring to the day that the thief had asked about, assuring him that they would be reunited on the day that Jesus came in his kingdom. The grammatical analysis would be the same:

I am saying YOU WILL BE in paradise


truly this day [of Christ’s return]

to you with me

The word in the text translated “today” would be rendered “this day” – a reference to the second coming, not the day of the crucifixion. It is possible, then, to solve the problem without a change in textual analysis. This involves some speculation, however, since there is no biblical record of the word being used to refer to a day in the future.

I am saying today,

A much more satisfactory, and biblically defendable solution is found in a slight reanalysis of the text. If the adverb translated “today” modifies the verb “to say” rather than the verb “to be,” the analysis looks more like this:

clip_image014clip_image015I am saying YOU WILL BE in paradise


to you with me


The translation would remain exactly the same, except that the comma would be placed after the word “today” rather than before it. The meaning would be the same except that Jesus’ assurance to the penitent thief would not include a specific time reference. This reading is much more acceptable to conditionalists, since it involves no reward before the resurrection. The penitent thief will be with the Lord on the same day that we are.

The apostle Paul described that day: He said “For the Lord himself will

descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”[49] We

conditionalists look forward to being with the Lord as much as traditionalists do.

But we find no reason to disagree with Paul as to when the reunion will occur.

Luke 23:43 (in all modern translations) needs to be debugged because it

appears to have Jesus promising the reunion at death, instead of the resurrection. The question is, are there grammatical and textual reasons for the above reanalysis, as well as theological, biblical, and historical ones? If there can be found good reasons for retranslating the text within the syntax and lexicography of the text itself, then that new translation should be adopted, regardless of

how comforted some have felt from the verse as it stands. There is no integrity in

allowing a mistranslation to remain unchanged. But there must be solid syntactical

and lexicographic evidence to show that it is indeed a mistranslation.

Luke 4:21; 5:26

The first two instances of the Greek word sémeron (today) in Luke’s

Gospel seems to be consistent with the traditional translation of Luke 23:43. If

these texts were analyzed according to the pattern set above, they would appear

like this:




They were saying WE HAVE SEEN extraordinary things



Yet, appearances can deceive, because in Luke 4:21 and 5:26 there

is an important word in the text that goes untranslated. That word is hoti, a

coordinating conjunction. The purpose of this grammatical term is to introduce

“an objective clause after verbs of knowing, saying, seeing, feeling, etc.”[50] It

appears with “verbs of expression or perception” and introduces a “specialized

object” clause.[51]

This term does not need to be translated in English because it is indicated

by using quotation marks around the objective clause. The problem is, in Luke 23:43 there is no hoti. That means that while it is clear in Luke 4:21 and 5:26

what the full quotation is, it is not as clear in Luke 23:43 what is being promised, and when.

Mark 14:30

Jesus’ words to Peter are especially pertinent since they involve a

direct promise to an individual – just as the words of Luke 23:43 do. Jesus’ tells

Peter that “this very night” he would deny his Lord three times. Again, this text

seems amazingly similar in construction to Luke 23:43. The words “this very night”

are clearly modifying the prediction, not the words “I tell you.” But this is merely

another instance of an untranslated hoti which makes that clear.

Luke 19:9

Jesus is assuring Zaccaeus that salvation had come to his house on

that very day. Readers of this verse who are looking for connections to Luke 23:43

see an exact match: they see Jesus promising Zacchaeus salvation today, and

promising the penitent thief entrance into paradise today. Yet, this exact match

disappears when the text is read in Greek. For, just as in the previous two texts,

the date of Jesus’ promise is made clear by the insertion of the conjunction hoti

before the word sémeron. That construction makes the word today part of the

promise, not simply the day that the promise is made.

Yet, that construction is omitted by Luke in 23:43. The Gospel writer singles

that text out as a more ambiguous quotation. He gives no other texts with similar enough wording for readers to use in concluding which verb the adverb sémeron is modifying. Yet, the Bible as a whole comes to our rescue. There are numerous texts in the Bible, with similar wording, and without the hoti conjunction. Here are some examples:

“I command you today,…”

The exact phrase “I command you today,…” in Greek is found 24

times in the Septuagint Greek translation of Deuteronomy.[52] It

contains the word sémeron as part of a direct address from one

person to another (or others), but does not contain the word hoti.

It would make sense for the translators of Luke 23:43 to use these

16 verses as a pattern for translating the more ambiguous text, but

they clearly have not. If they did, they would render it “”Truly, I say

to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus is simply

following a pattern of an authoritative announcement, by including

the date of the announcement.

“I declare today”

A similar pattern is found in the Old Testament statements where

the word “declare” is used with the word sémeron.[53] In each case,

the adverb modifies the verb of communication, not the subsequent

verbs. Jesus’ declaration to the penitent thief would make perfect

sense if translated in the same light. He is making a declaration,

giving the date of his declaration, and then following with the full

details of the declaration. Again, the translators of Luke 23:43 have

chosen not to follow this pattern.

“hoti sémeron”

There are only seven texts in all of the Scripture where the words “hoti sémeron” appear together. In each of these texts, it is crystal clear that the adverb sémeron modifies the verb within the statement of declaration, and not anything else. These are:

· “today the LORD will appear to you” (Leviticus 9:4).

· “today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel” (1 Samuel 11:13).

· “Adonijah shall be put to death this day” (1 Kings 2:24).

· “I will surely show myself to him today” (1 Kings 18:15).

· “today the LORD will take away your master” (2 Kings 2:5).

· “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

· “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

This establishes an alternative pattern of grammatical construction for authors who wish to convey that the action within a declarative statement is taking place on the day the statement is made. Luke 23:43 is not one of those seven texts. It does not follow that syntactical pattern. The fact that it is systematically translated as if it did can only be attributed to either theological bias or lack of awareness of these syntactical distinctions, or both.

resurrection hope

Having established that there is a case against the traditional translation of Luke 23:43 on biblical, historical, and grammatico-syntactical grounds, it is important to revisit the theological basis of the text. Jesus is assuring the penitent thief that his sins have been forgiven, and that – when he comes again – his Lord will raise him from the dead, and reunite with him in paradise. That assurance is consistent with the promises Jesus had made to that point.

· He promised to raise all believers “on the last day.”[54]

· He defended the doctrine of the resurrection against the skepticism of the Sadducees.[55]

· He encouraged charitable acts because those who do them will be “repaid at the resurrection.”[56]

· He agreed with Martha’s doctrine that the saved will “rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”[57]

· He called himself “the resurrection and the life.”[58]

There is no biblical record of Jesus teaching his disciples that they would reunite with him at their deaths. There is no biblical record of Jesus teaching believers that they will be rewarded at their deaths. Instead, Jesus promised “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”[59] The reunion he promised was to take place at his second coming, not at death.

The parables of the second coming which Jesus taught also emphasized this principle:

· The bride and bridegroom will be united at the coming of the bridegroom.[60]

· The master went on a journey, and settled accounts with his servants when he returned.[61]

· People will be separated like a shepherd separates his sheep and goats when “the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him.”[62]

The apostles agreed with this eschatological emphasis. Paul taught that the believer’s blessed hope was “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”[63] Peter encouraged believers to “look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.”[64] James told the brothers to be patient “until the coming of the Lord.”[65] John commanded his listeners to abide in Christ now, so that they would “not be ashamed before him at his coming.”[66] He saw Jesus in a vision saying “I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done!”[67]

So, the Bible consistently teaches that all believers will be rewarded with eternal life by Christ at his return, and that our reunion will take place at that event. Luke 23:43, as it is presently translated, seems to teach otherwise. It seems to have Jesus promising that immediately at death both he and the penitent thief would be reunited, and presumably conscious of the reunion. But when Jesus described a young girl who had died, Luke records that he said she was sleeping.[68] He did not put her in paradise. His statement agreed with the Old Testament writers, who described the dead as sleeping with their ancestors.[69] Paul taught that Jesus was the first to be raised from that sleep, and that took place not when he was on the cross, but when he came out of the tomb – three days later.[70] He went on to say that the rest of us will be raised from that sleep “at his coming.”[71]

Some of the early Christian teachers had been taught a Greek philosophic concept called the immortality of the soul. When they saw texts like Luke 23:43, they took it as proof of that concept. Yet, the Bible rejects it. In the Bible, we learn that only God has immortality.[72] Believers are promised that they will “put on immortality,” but that will happen at the resurrection, not at death.[73] Luke 23:43 is a mistranslation that has kept a lot of good Christians from seeing this truth. It is time we debugged it.

If you died today…

The billboard on the interstate highway asked “If you died today, where would you spend eternity?” The question was never asked in the Bible. It reflects a theology based on some assumptions that are not held by biblical authors. I would be uncomfortable asking the question to anyone, for fear that they might assume that I hold the theology.

First, asking where would you spend eternity assumes that everybody is going to be alive to spend eternity somewhere. The Bible does not teach that. The Bible teaches that God’s gift of eternal life is available only to those who put their trust in Christ. Eternity is not a given.

John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life”

John 6:40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’”

John 6:47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”

John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

1 John 5:11-12 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Jude 1:21 “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.’”

Second, asking if you died today indicates that it is the time of one’s death that seals their fate. A more biblical question would be Who is your LORD today? A person’s fate is not based on the time of her death but the quality and commitments of her life.

Matthew 10:25 “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”

Matthew 10:42 “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Acts 9:10 “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.””

Nevertheless, the question is an honest one. My brothers and sisters in Christ who put up that sign may be somewhat confused about their theology, but their heart is in the right place. The question on the billboard reflects an urgency. It implies that thousands will drive that road every day who have never seriously considered their eternal fate. It is correct.

Perhaps you are one of those people who have never taken seriously the claims of Jesus Christ. Maybe you have thought about what would happen to you if you should die today. Probably nothing. You would probably be buried, and rot in the grave for a very long time. But one day the same Jesus who was raised from the dead the first Easter Sunday will come back and raise you from the dead

too. Then you will really face the moment of truth. It will not be the day of your death, but the day of your resurrection which you should be concerned about.

Matthew 13:47-50 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The evil ones who trust in their own ways will suffer, be discarded and destroyed. The righteous who put their faith in Christ will be gathered and saved for eternity. If you were to die tonight, which resurrection would you be a part of? Would you have a chance to spend eternity in God’s new heaven and new earth?

Commit your life to Jesus Christ today. Then you will not have to worry about whether you die today or tomorrow. You can be safe in him.

A Better Place?

I overheard two men talking the other day, and caught the last bit of a conversation they were having. I do not really know what they were talking about, but I can hazard a guess. They concluded their talk with “she’s in a better place.” My guess is that they were talking about a loved one who is now dead. Perhaps they were consoling themselves with thoughts that their loved one was no longer suffering and in Jesus’ protection until his return. But I wonder if those men knew what they were talking about. Does the Bible describe death – even the death of a believer – as “a better place”?

The first recorded death in the Bible was that of Abel, who was killed by his brother, Cain. The Bible states that “the LORD had regard for Abel.”[74] Did that mean that Abel was taken up to heaven when he died? No, the Lord told Cain “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”[75] Abel did not go to a better place when he died. He went to the ground where his brother had buried him. That was the very reason that the Lord cursed the ground for Cain. He told him that “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”[76]

The great saint and father of the Israelite nation was Abraham. When he died, did the Bible say that he went to a better place? No, it says that “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”[77] We went where his pagan ancestors had gone: the grave. The Bible says that “Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife.”[78] Of course, it is popular for people to speak of burying a body, but still believe that the real person has gone elsewhere. Moses, the author of Genesis, entertained no such delusion.

David was called a man after God’s own heart.[79] Surely if anyone was to be granted a residence in a better place at his death, it would be David. But the Bible declares that “David himself never ascended into heaven.”[80] It was his descendant, Jesus Christ, that would sit at God’s right hand until his enemies are made his footstool.[81]

When Jesus faced the death of his friend Lazarus, he wept. He knew that death was not a better place for Lazarus. He did not console Lazarus’ sister Martha with the notion that her brother was not really dead. Instead, he told her that “your brother will rise again.”[82] He had told his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”.[83] If Lazarus had gone to a better place, it would have been cruelty to bring him back.

Even Jesus did not go back to his Father at death. After his resurrection, he told Mary Magdalene “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”[84] He had been in the tomb, and he was raised from that tomb. His ascension forty days later came not as a result of his death, but because of his victory over death. His words to us now are not “do not fear death because it will take you to a better place.” His words to us are “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[85]

Christians can be comforted at the death of a loved one. Our comfort comes not because we believe death takes us to a better place. The Bible says “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing”.[86] David prayed that the LORD would deliver his life because “in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[87] Our comfort comes because we know death is not the end. It is a terrible prison where our body decays into nothingness while our personhood exists in a state of unconscious sleep. But our Savior has the keys to that prison. When he comes again, he will raise us from the dead and set us free from death forever.

The world needs honest Christians. It needs people who do not hide behind fairy tales, and deny the existence of death. It needs people who will tell them that death is real, but that Jesus is real too. The world needs hope that extends beyond the cemetery. Believers can offer that hope, but we have to do so with integrity. It is wrong to say that death is a friend when the Bible calls it an enemy.[88] It is wrong to imply that the blessed hope is a better place at death when the Bible says Christ’s second coming is the blessed hope.[89]

When the Thessalonians wanted to know about their loved ones who had fallen asleep in death, Paul told them not to “grieve as others do who have no hope”.[90] His instructions for them to teach each other were as follows:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven

with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel,

and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the

dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive,

who are left, will be caught up together with them in

the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will

always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one

another with these words. ”[91]

That is all the encouragement we need. Our hope is not in some mythical place that believers supposedly go when they die. Our hope is Jesus. He will not forget us. Death is real, but so is he.

Learning to Trust

(Devotional thoughts on Ecclesiastes 3:9-22)

All go to one place: Sheol, the state of death. This is not altogether bad news. It puts us into a place where we must depend on God for a resurrection. We have to learn to trust that our LORD knows what he is doing. We begin by being thankful for the work the LORD allows us to do. Being grateful for life now is one of the lessons we can learn from its shortness. Life is a gift from He who gave it to

everyone. Ultimately, we are learning to trust him, even when the work leaves us,

and all we see is an open grave. We have to trust God for life on the other side of

the grave. Demonstrating that trust to others as we draw near our divine

appointment (Hebrews 9:27) is a way of testifying of our faith.

LORD, teach us to trust in you. Thank you for the honor of demonstrating that

trust as we face our divine appointment.

Looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:10

The Holy spirit has given us a masterpiece of precision in the Bible. Its words are crafted with such care that readers usually stumble upon the correct meaning of texts without much preparation and study. On the other hand, the human brain is a complex organ, and capable of creative interpretation. Sometimes we get rather creative in how we read the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 provides evidence of this proposition. Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that Christ “died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”[92] Exegetes need to ask (at least) two questions of the text here: “What does ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’ mean in this context?” and “Is this verse an affirmation of dead believers consciously living with Christ before the resurrection?”

“awake” and “asleep”

The passage within which this verse is found is 4:13-5:11. The primary subject matter is the second coming of the Lord. Paul writes “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”[93] In that verse, those considered awake are alive, and “those who are asleep” have died. The question had begun to present itself to believers as to what is happening to their loved ones who died after Jesus’ ascension. Paul does not tell them that it is none of their business. He has an

answer to their questions. He does not want his readers assuming (as the godless do) that the dead are gone forever. He wants them to have hope, and a specific hope – not just the anticipation of some kind of life beyond the grave.

The basis for the believer’s hope in life after death is the fact “that Jesus died and rose again.”[94] It is not based on something about human nature, or the existence of something essentially immortal within all human beings. If Jesus had not physically rose from the dead and walked out of his tomb, the hope would not be there. Jesus had been asleep in the tomb, and brought out of that sleep by a resurrection. Paul promises that Jesus will be the means by whom God will bring all the dead in Christ out of their sleep. Jesus said the same thing to Martha. He

said that he is “the resurrection and the life.” He spoke of that coming resurrection day when he said that whoever believes in him, will live then, even if he is dead now.[95] He went on to promise that whoever is living at the time of that resurrection, and believes, will never die. So, for both Jesus and Paul, there are only two classes of believer, the living (or awake) and the dead (or asleep). Both await Christ’s second coming.

Paul assures his readers that Christ is not going to return and set up his kingdom on earth without first raising those asleep in him. He says that “that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”[96] Perhaps someone had taught the Thessalonians that the dead would stay buried until after the millennial reign, or some other event. Paul says, no, when Jesus returns, raising the dead is the first thing on his list.

The second coming will be an unmistakable cataclysmic event. It will be preceded by three unmistakably loud sounds: a command shouted from the Lord himself, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call. Then, all the dead will burst from their tombs.[97] When God acts to raise the dead, everyone will know it. It has not happened yet, but we will know it when it does.

with the Lord?

Those believers who are “awake” at the second coming of the Lord will be caught up in the air, together with the resurrected believers. From that time on, all believers will be “with the Lord” always.[98] This is an interesting way for Paul to put it. Many today assume that all believers have to do to be “with the Lord” is to die. But for Paul, being “with the Lord” requires Christ’s return. Until then, neither the “awake” or “asleep” believers are with the Lord. The awake are alive “in the Lord” and the dead die “in the Lord” (en kuriō),[99] but neither are “with the Lord” (sun kuriō) until his return.

So, what did Paul mean when he told the Corinthians that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”?[100] He meant, simply, that he would rather be away from his present mortal body (his earthly tent) and, at the same time at home with the Lord (pros ton kurion). That is not going to happen until the resurrection, when this temporary mortal “tent” is replaced by his eternal “building from God”.[101] Since this resurrection does not occur until the return of Christ, Paul’s theology is consistent. The hope he speaks of to

Corinth and to Thessalonica is the same: a reunion with Christ at his return.[102]


The New Testament describes the coming of the Lord as a “parousia,” his physical presence, as opposed to his physical absence. It is the combination of ousia, meaning substance or being, and para, meaning close proximity.

It’s opposite is apousia, meaning absence.[103] This meaning is implied throughout the uses of parousia in the New Testament. It always applies to Christ’s physical reappearance at his second advent. This is made clear by the New Testament uses of the word when it do not refer to the second coming, but to someone else’s physical presence.[104] For Paul, the hope of the saints is not some spiritual presence at death, but the actual physical presence of Christ at his second advent. At this parousia, those who belong to Christ will be raised to life again.[105] At this parousia, Paul will rejoice over those he has won to Christ.[106] That is because the parousia will be the time when our Lord will appear “with all his saints.”[107] In this verse, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, the English word “coming” – the most popular word used to translate parousia – leads us astray. Popular teaching – based

on this mistranslation – has Jesus coming from heaven with the disembodied souls of his saints. Then he reunites these souls with their resurrected bodies. Paul is not saying that Jesus will come with the saints. He is saying that Jesus will appear with the saints. One little word shows that this is the correct interpretation: the word all. All the saints includes those who are alive (awake) as well as those who are dead (asleep). At the parousia, these two groups will be reunited with the Lord.

alive or alert?

Midway in Paul’s description of the second coming, he starts using the words asleep and awake in a different sense. He teaches that Christ will come suddenly, like a thief. On the basis of that sudden coming, he instructs the Thessalonians “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”[108] His contrast has changed. Instead of contrasting the two categories of believers (living saints and dead saints), he now contrasts unbelievers (those who will be caught sleeping at the parousia) and believers (who live in the light, and so will be ready

when Christ comes.

This change in the use of the awake/asleep metaphors has some interpreters concluding that Paul is not referring to the death state at all. The New English Translation renders 1 Thessalonians 5:10 as “He died for us so that

whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.” This translation takes Paul as rendering assurance to believers who are not ready for Christ’s return! One commentator writes “This destiny not only belongs to those Christians who are wide awake when Christ comes, but also to those who are sound

asleep.”[109] But Paddison argues that even though the verb translated “to be awake” in 2 Thessalonians 5:10 can mean to be alert, the theological logic of Paul in the entire section argues that Paul is using it in reference to the alive in Christ.[110]

Christ will come for all believers, regardless of their spiritual condition at the moment of his coming. Yet, it is not clear that Paul is giving that assurance in this text. He is, in fact, warning the Thessalonians not to be caught sleeping. It would make no sense for him to turn around and say, in effect, that regardless of their obedience to this command, Christ will accept them anyway.

the intermediate state

What does this verse tell us about the intermediate state – the state of the dead between death and the resurrection at Christ’s parousia? It does not say that believers who are asleep in Christ are presently living with him. It affirms that Christ died “for us” – and that his death is applied equally to all believers, whether living or dead. But only (as the context makes clear) at the parousia will the subjunctive clause become indicative. Only then will both categories of believers live with him. The NLT puts it well: “Christ died for us so that, whether we

are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever.”

What this passage does affirm about the intermediate state is that there is a contrast between believers who are living and those who are dead. While both will live with Christ when he returns, only those who awake are living now. The dead in Christ are asleep. While their eternal inheritance is assured, their present walk has been cut short by death. They are unconscious, awaiting the parousia, when we will all be “gathered together to him.”[111] Those of us who have lost loved ones can take courage, because Christ’s death on the cross assures us that their rest is temporary, not eternal.


Recently, my pastor and his family went on vacation, and he asked me and my family to house-sit their residence. It was an interesting experience. His house is much larger, and in a much nicer neighborhood than any I have lived in. When I went on my daily walks, I found myself contemplating the beauty and orderliness and spaciousness of the neighborhood. I was not exactly envious – God has taken care of me and mine; I have never had a reason to complain. But I could not help but be struck by the extravagance of it all.

As I was musing over this one morning on one of my walks, I found myself praying to God. He asked me to take a good look at all this wealth, blessing and provision. Then he asked me to imagine myself (as he often does) a million years into the future. Looking back on those few days in the pastor’s neighborhood helps me to keep things in perspective. It helps me to realize that my entire life is simply a short temporary stay in (as it were) a borrowed house. What my Father has in store for me, when I get where he wants me, will be so magnificent that those few days among the well-off will seem like slumming.

God planted a garden

God had taken the elements of the ground (Hebrew: ‘adamah) and created a man (Hebrew: ‘adam).[112] He picked a spot of ground on the same planet and planted a rich and beautiful garden.[113] The garden was given to Adam for three expressed reasons:

1. enjoyment.

The trees and other contents of the garden of Eden were designed to be “pleasant to the sight.”[114] Long before scientists would invent the word ecosystem God had created one, and Adam had the pleasure of watching it work. The interplay between flora and fauna was – no doubt – amazing.

Even now, after thousands of years of corruption and dysfunction caused by sin – the planet is a marvel to behold. This planet’s ecosystem combines a varied geography with the peculiarities of myriads of species of plant and animal life, and produces an unsurpassed beauty. But it is more than just beauty. Our planet is a delight to behold because it all fits together in such an orderly system.

The ancients looked at creation and saw evidence for the existence of God because the world is a design that functions well. They reasoned from the design to a designer. They argued that if one found a watch in the sand, he would never imagine that the watch just emerged out of nothingness. Its design was too complicated for that. Just looking at the planet leads people back to its creator.

Eden was like that. Every blade of grass, every tree, every marvellous species of animal life – caused Adam to reflect upon the one who created it all. It was all “pleasant to the sight” and reminded Adam of the one who gave him eyes to see. Rather than distracting Adam, all this stuff enhanced Adam’s relationship with God. That is what the next paradise will be for.

2. life

The trees of the garden were designed to be “good for food.”[115] God had

created Adam – not immortal like he was, but mortal: dependant upon the ground from which he was made. The ground would produce plants which would sustain the life of his soul. God had created him from the ground, and then breathed into his body the breath of life. The resulting combination was a living soul.[116] If Adam had not eaten, his body would have starved to death, and returned to the ground from which it had been fashioned. God wanted to preserve the man he created. He gave Adam what he needed to sustain his life.

Paradise was more than just a nice place to look at. It was designed to sustain life. That is also what the new heavens and new earth will do. Death and all associated with it will pass away.[117] Look at our future home and you will see a river of life flowing through it, and a tree of life in the midst of it.[118] Paradise will be eternal life for redeemed humanity.

3. meaning

Adam was placed in Eden “to work it and keep it.” That marvellous ecosystem

will require the human touch to ensure that it continues to be all that God intended it to be. Adam enjoyed his work. Each day brought new discoveries. He “gave names to all the livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.”[119] Every new discovery brought Adam even more appreciation of his God, as he categorized and celebrated the magnificent provision.

That is what the next paradise will be like. We will have an eternity to continue seeing what we have never seen before, and marvelling at the elaborate richness of our inheritance.

God performed surgery

Nevertheless, the paradise of Eden was missing something that led God to pronounce it “not good.”[120] Adam needed “a helper fit for him.” Instead of forming this creature out of the ‘adamah as he had done all the others, God decided to perform the first recorded surgery, and fashion her out of ‘adam himself. Have you ever stopped to ask why the creator did so? He was creating a bride for his son, Adam. She would prefigure the bride for his Son, Jesus. She must be “a helper fit for him.” She must fit the criteria for the bride of Christ.

1. She must be IN HIM.

Eve began as part of Adam. She was in Adam. She literally came from him. If

there had never been an Adam, there could never have been an Eve. She depended upon him for her life and for her destiny. The LORD God took her from Adam and brought her to Adam. Adam called her “bone of (his) bones and flesh of (his) flesh.”

In the same way, the next paradise (the new heavens and new earth) will be populated only by those who are in Christ. To be in him then, we must be in him now.

2. She must be FIT TO RULE.

Adam was a servant of God, and a ruler for God. He had been created so that

he could have dominion over the “fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that was moving on the earth.”[121] God had placed all of his domains under man’s dominion. If Eve was going to be “a helper fit for him” she must be able to rule at his side, to help him rule, to reign with him.

Does not the Scripture say that we, the bride of Christ, will reign with him[122] in his eternal kingdom? The next paradise, the new heavens and new earth will only be populated by kings and queens. We learn to serve under Christ so that we can someday rule with him.

3. He must sleep before SHE CAN LIVE!

The most remarkable picture that this surgery presents us with is a picture of

Christ’s sacrificial death. “The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man.”[123] Sleep in the Bible is a metaphor for death. Adam’s deep sleep was not death, but it was described in terms that prefigured Christ’s sleep in the tomb. Just as Adam had to fall asleep in order for Eve to be created, so Christ had to die on the cross in order to give life to his bride.

It was also essential that Adam wake from his sleep. He had to experience his resurrection so that he and his bride could come together and enjoy paradise together. So, the surgery in Eden prefigured the atonement, and the aftermath of the surgery prefigured the next paradise: the new heavens and the new earth.

Genesis 2 concludes with the record that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”[124] This would be the last time something like that could be said, for shame and sorrow followed on the heels of sin – which was introduced into humanity’s story in the very next chapter. But the picture of paradise in Genesis 2 rightly ends with both bride and bridegroom enjoying the garden and each other’s company without shame. Humanity’s shame will be replaced with God’s glory. John describes the holy city as shining with the glory of God, the glory of kings, and the glory and the honor of the nations.[125]

I enjoyed my recent stay in the neighborhood where “the other half lives.” It has got me to thinking about my destiny. Do you share that destiny? Are you in Christ? Are you his bride? There will be a paradise tomorrow, but it only awaits those who are in Christ today.

Scaling the Wall (part 1)

Few people actually take the time to consider arguments for an unconscious intermediate state because as soon as those arguments appear, a wall of contrary evidence is immediately thrown up around them. Numerous passages from Scripture are used, so that readers are assured that an unconscious sleep until the Lord returns is just unthinkable. In spite of the fact that sleep is the predominant metaphor the Bible uses for death, this wall of evidence seems to indicate that there must be some sort of conscious survival at death.

When we conditionalists say that we hope for a resurrection, not survival, our opponents just assume that we ignore that wall of evidence. They assume that we quickly skip past those texts when we are doing our devotions, and try to pretend that they are not there. On the contrary, we have had to look long and hard at those texts. We stay with those texts until we can reconcile what they actually teach with what the Bible states elsewhere.

What we look for is consistency. If a biblical author states one thing in one text, we do not expect him, or another biblical author, to contradict it in another. If the popular understanding of a particular text seems to be inconsistent with another, we look for an alternate understanding. This is merely doing good theology. Once we come to an alternate interpretation that does not contradict what is taught elsewhere, then we have scaled that portion of the wall.

Our belief is that every portion of that wall can be overcome. We do not believe that any of the evidence presented in favor of a conscious intermediate state is incontrovertible. We are convinced that the popular interpretations of those texts are misinterpretations. We are determined to scale this wall of evidence because we are convinced that it has led our brothers and sisters in Christ to believe something the Bible does not teach.

These articles will address some of the more popular texts which are part of that wall of evidence. They are intended to reveal those inconsistencies that exist with the popular interpretations of the texts when compared to the actual texts themselves. At no point will it be conceded that the actual text itself is in error. We expect the Bible to present a coherent, consistent theology of the intermediate state.


(2 Corinthians 5:1-10).

This is not the first text in which the apostle Paul has revealed his hope of life after death. He addressed the issue extensively in his previous letter to the Corinthians. He told them that the future resurrection was a reality, and that if it were not so, then “those … who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”[126] Now, the popular interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5 has Paul saying that every believer goes immediately and consciously to heaven when he dies. So, he first teaches that the resurrection is necessary, and then he teaches that it is not. First he teaches that without a resurrection we perish, then he teaches that without a resurrection we will continue to live. Here is one of those inconsistencies that make us take a closer look at that wall of evidence.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul taught that believers who have died will be made alive again at the second coming of Christ.[127] The popular interpretation of 2 Corinthians has Paul contradicting that, and saying that believers will remain alive after their deaths and go to be with the Lord. Paul did speak of believers being raised imperishable at the last trumpet,[128] but in 2 Corinthians 5 he appears to teach that something survives which is already imperishable, “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”[129]

We are told that this survival is actually what Paul wants. He wants to be absent from the body (by means of his death) and present with the Lord. After all, he says “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”[130] Five years later, he told the Philippians that all his hard work and suffering was so that “by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[131] So, apparently Paul changed his mind again.

Or, there is another interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5 – one that does not contradict what Paul teaches elsewhere. What Paul actually teaches is that believers long to put on their resurrection bodies, which are their building from God, their houses not made with hands, which will be eternal. Their present lives are mortal, perishable, like a tent that is destined to be destroyed. While in these tents, believers groan, not because they want to die, but because they want to put on their resurrection bodies and live.

The popular interpretation of this text completely ignores the words “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”[132] This is where Paul corrects the possible misunderstanding that he is seeking the intermediate state. That state between death and the resurrection is not what Paul longs for. Here is how Paul describes the three states:

1. In the present state, believers are at home in the body, but away from the Lord.[133] He is not visibly here with us, but has gone to heaven, and will return to raise us. He has left his Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will not leave us in this mortal state forever.[134] So we “we make it our aim to please him”[135] no matter what state we are in.

2. In the intermediate state, believers are dead, and unclothed.[136] They have not yet put on their heavenly dwellings.[137] This is not what Paul wants.

3. In the final state, believers will be raised to life by Christ at his second coming. This is what Paul wants. He would rather be away from his present, mortal body, and already at home with the Lord.[138]

Nowhere in this entire passage does Paul speak of going someplace when he dies. He never mentions the soul or spirit – except the Holy Spirit, who is given to us now as a guarantee of the resurrection to come. Paul is not recommending or commending or anticipating his own death. He does not anticipate an afterlife, but the resurrection life. Yet the popular interpretation of this text centers on the assumption that Paul is saying he would rather die than keep on living.

There is nothing Christian about wanting to die. Life – even this present, mortal life – is a gift from God, and should be preserved and cherished. Any philosophy or theology that teaches otherwise is unchristian, and any text that appears to represent a desire for death is misinterpreted.

“THERE WAS A RICH MAN…” (Luke 16:19-31).

Those who use Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as proof of a conscious intermediate state fall into two camps: those who insist it is not a parable, but a true story, and those who realize that it is a parable but still say that its depiction of a conscious afterlife is accurate anyway.

Conditionalists agree with most biblical scholars who recognize that the passage is a parable. It begins with the very same words as the parable of the dishonest manager: “there was a rich man.”[139] A parable is any story that can be placed (Gk. ballo) alongside (Gk. para) something else to illustrate it. There are two parables in Luke 16, each illustrating a different message, and each having a different intended audience.

Jesus taught the parable of the dishonest manager to his disciples.[140] It involved a story of a steward who faced his immanent dismissal. He decided to adjust the debts owed his master so that his kindness to the debtors would encourage one of them to hire him later. When the master found out about it, he commended him, because even though he had been dishonest toward him, he had (in a sense) been faithful to the debtors.

Jesus used this parable to teach them to be faithful with their money. The teaching that the parable is intended to illustrate is this: “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”[141] In other words, Jesus taught his disciples to be faithful to God, and invest their money in his kingdom.

Now, if one were inclined to take this parable as doctrine describing how believers should communicate, there is a problem. Jesus appears to be commending dishonesty. The hero of the parable is a person who succeeded because he did not do what he was supposed to. He told lies and broke promises. There was a possibility that the disciples might not understand that he was teaching about faithfulness to God, and they might think he was teaching deception as moral good. Such is the case with parables. If one does not keep in mind the main point, a parable can be misinterpreted and lead the reader to the wrong conclusions.

The intended audience of the second parable is not the disciples, but “the Pharisees.”[142] These men were enemies of Jesus and the gospel. Unlike the disciples, they were not repentant. They were not seeking to be faithful. In the story, the rich man, who dies unrepentant, pleads with Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead and send him back to his father’s house. He has four brothers who are still alive, but he knows that they too are heading to “this place of torment”.[143]

But Abraham refuses, because the brothers “have Moses and the prophets,” and if they do not hear them, “neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”[144] The message of this parable is that those who refuse to heed the warnings of scripture will not be convinced even if they see someone (like Jesus) who is raised from the dead. He is telling the Pharisees that they already have all the evidence they are going to get. They will face judgment someday, and there will be no excuses.

The story that Jesus uses to convey this message – like the previous one – can be misinterpreted if the reader does keep in mind its purpose. This rich man did not go to hell. He “was buried.”[145] Yet, somehow in the grave he is able to see Lazarus, who is not in heaven, but was carried (bodily) to Abraham’s side. The story turns Hades – the intermediate state – into something that the Bible says that it is not. Elsewhere, the Bible describes Hades as a place of darkness[146], silence[147], and sleep[148].

In fact, eight chapters before this, Luke has Jesus describing the death of a little girl. He told the mourners that she was sleeping.[149] When his friend (also called Lazarus) died, Jesus told his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”[150] So, either Jesus has changed his mind about the nature of death, or the story he is telling the Pharisees is not intended to teach that kind of doctrine. Why, after all, would Jesus throw his pearls (of new truth about eschatology) before the swine of the Pharisees?

The Pharisees were probably already familiar with this story, but were surprised at the ending Jesus gave it. They expected the rich man to be blessed in the afterlife, the same as he was in life. They expected the beggar to be cursed in the afterlife, the same as he was in life. The Pharisees believed what the Hindu religion teaches: that the next life carries over the judgments of this one. But Jesus’ story taught them that the blessings they are experiencing now are preventing them from seeing what God’s judgment will bring. Its dramatic reversal of fortune is the reason Jesus chose to tell the story.

The Bible consistently places judgment after the resurrection. Jesus himself had said “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[151] This story places judgment before that event. Surely Jesus would not contradict himself. So, in order to take this parable literally as a description of the intermediate state, one has to assume that there will be two judgments: one during the intermediate state, and one after the resurrection.

Since Lazarus is (ostensibly) already experiencing “good things” and being “comforted” at Abraham’s side, it also appears to teach that believers are rewarded at death. But Jesus taught (above) that believers will be rewarded at the resurrection. So, in order to accommodate this story, a doctrine of multiple rewards (as well as punishments) must be devised.

If this parable is not permitted to walk on all fours, it accomplishes what Jesus intended: warning the Pharisees that they are not blessed simply because they are rich. But allowing this parable to rewrite the Bible’s clear anthropology and eschatology elsewhere is gross abuse of its words. Those who use it to teach that the intermediate state is conscious – in direct opposition to the many clear, didactic passages that teach otherwise, are allowing the obscure text to overrule the clear ones.

They also read into the story elements that are not there. There is no mention of heaven or hell. There are no spirits or souls: the rich man’s body is in torment – unless spirits have eyes and tongues. Moreover, Jesus is telling the story, but he is not in it. Judgment takes place without the only divinely appointed judge. Also, there is no mentioning of faith in the story. The rich man is judged because he was rich but not compassionate; Lazarus is blessed (apparently) because he was poor. Yet those who use this parable insist that it describes the hell that unbelievers will face, and the heaven that believers can expect when they die.

No, we will not take this parable “literally.” Doing so requires a complete rework of biblical theology. Only if one’s mind is already made up about the intermediate state would such a passage be actual evidence in favor of it being conscious. In other words, if it were not for the teaching of Greek philosophy which introduced the notion of disembodied souls in an underworld, those reading this story would never have used it to defend such a concept.


Our Lord’s assurance to the penitent thief on the cross sounds so obviously in favor of a conscious intermediate state that for some that settles the argument altogether. Yet even that evidence is not incontrovertible. The Greek of the original text contained no punctuation. By merely placing the comma after the word “today” instead of before it, the reader finds Jesus saying “I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Thus Jesus gives assurance to the penitent thief that he will remember him when he comes in his kingdom, which is what the thief had asked for. In fact, two early manuscripts of Luke have the thief asking Jesus to “remember me on the day of your coming.” This may have reflected a more literal rendering of what the thief had said in Aramaic. Jesus’ response, then, might have been a specific reference to that day. The word “today” can also be translated “this day.” Jesus may have been telling the thief that “this day” (the day I come again) “you will be with me in paradise.” So Jesus’ words could be translated in such a way as to convey something different than assurance that the thief would join him in heaven that day.

There is also evidence to suggest that the thief did not die that day. That would make Jesus mistaken if he had assured the thief that both of them would go to heaven that day. John records that since Jesus died on the day of Preparation, the Jews asked that those crucified be taken down from their crosses so as not to be hanging on Passover. The soldiers intended to break the legs of each person on a cross, so that neither could revive and escape. They did so to each of the thieves on either side of Jesus because they were both still alive.

When they came to Jesus, he was already dead. To ensure that he was really dead, they plunged a spear into his side. John mentions these things because they actually fulfill two prophecies. John records “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.””[152]

The cruelty of the cross was that it was a painful and embarrassing way to die. However, since the pressure of gravity usually made it impossible to breathe, it was a relatively quick death. The two thieves were removed from the cross, and their legs broken. They would endure a slow death of exposure. They probably died after sundown, which would have been considered the next day by Jewish reckoning.

Jesus had taught his disciples that death was a sleep that required a resurrection to wake up from. Also, after his resurrection, he told Mary Magdalene “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”[153] So neither the thief nor Jesus made it to heaven on that day. That combination of evidence shows that Luke 23:43 as it stands in our English Bibles is a mistranslation.

{to be continued}

Scaling the Wall (Part 2)

Sleep is the predominant metaphor that the Bible uses to describe death. That leads conditionalists to assume that death is a period of un-consciousness that everyone will experience until resurrected for judgment. Yet when we assert that assumption, opponent are often quick to build a wall of evidence, consistenting of texts which appear to support some kind of conscious survival after death.

We do not believe that any of the evidence presented in favor of a conscious intermediate state is incontrovertible. We are convinced that the popular interpretations of those texts are misinterpretations. We are determined to scale this wall of evidence because we are convinced that it has led our brothers and sisters in Christ to believe something the Bible does not teach.

These articles address some of the more popular texts which are part of that wall of evidence. They reveal those inconsistencies that exist with the popular interpretations of the texts when compared to the actual texts themselves. At no point will it be conceded that the actual text itself is in error. We expect the Bible to present a coherent, consistent theology of the intermediate state.

In part 1, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 was examined, and the text was shown to be in agreement with Paul’s theology in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere. His desire to put on his heavenly dwelling was notr adesire to go to heaven when he died, but a desire to be reurrected when Jesus returns.

The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) was shown to be a parable that Jesus taught the Pharisees. Its purpose was not to explain the inter-mediate state, but to warn the Pharisees not to presume that since they are rich in this life it is proof that God approves of their behavior. Jesus’ clear teaching is that death is a sleep from which one must be raised to live again.

Jesus’ words to the theif on the cross as they appear in our English Bibles “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) are a mistranslation. Neither Jesus nor the theif went to heaven that day. Jesus assured the theif that they would be in Paradise on the day about which the theif asked: the day he comes in his kingdom.


The Bible consistently describes the intermediate state between death and resurrection as an unconscious sleep, from which good and evil must be awakened before beginning to experience their eternal destiny. The story of Saul’s consultation with the medium at Endor seems to contradict that theology, but it really does not.

If this was really a revival of Samuel, it was a miracle of God. The medium herself was surprised to see him.[154] She probably expected a demon pretending to be him. The demons are deceivers, and one of their favorite forms of deception is pretending to be dead relatives, or ghosts. They use this tactic to incite fear, bring confusion, and keep their control over people. The LORD knows of this tactic, and for that reason expressly forbids attempts to communicate with “the dead”. Saul, himself, prohibited all such attempts at necromancy. [155] When faced with an absence of communication from the LORD due to the death of Samuel, Saul attempted to break his own rule.

Note that she did not see Samuel descend from heaven. She said she saw him “coming up out of the earth”.[156] This makes sense in light of biblical cosmology which has all the dead in Sheol, the grave, awaiting a resurrection. Normally, the only way to awake from this state of unconscious sleep is to be resurrected. Apparently Samuel was allowed to wake up without being raised, but this is an obvious exception, which should not be taken as evidence against the normal biblical cosmology.

Samuel’s question to Saul was not “why have you interrupted my bliss in heaven and brought me down”? It was “why have you disturbed me by bringing me up”?[157] These are the words of an old man aroused from a deep sleep. They are certainly not what one would expect from someone already experiencing eternal joy at God’s side. Samuel’s partial resurrection was not at all what God had promised. He did not appreciate it. Like Paul, he did not enjoy this idea of being alive apart from his promised resurrection body. Paul made it absolutely clear that he did not desire to be “unclothed” – that is, to be a disembodied spirit.[158]

By contrast, many today seem to cherish the idea of being set free from the confines of their bodies so that they can fly to heaven, released from their physical prison. When people talk like that, they sound more like Plato than Paul. The eschatological blessed hope of the return of Christ appears to be replaced by an anthropology – or even a thanatology. But the Christian hope is Christ himself. Christians put their hope in Christ, not death.

If Samuel had been in heaven when aroused by Saul, why did he tell Saul “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me” (19)? Was God judging Saul for his disobedience, and then accepting him in heaven anyway? If that was the case, why did that lead to such fear for Saul? The evidence does not match the traditional concept of death. It makes perfect sense if Samuel intended to resume his sleep in Sheol awaiting a resurrection. Saul and his sons (including Jonathan) would join him in that sleep, and be raised at the return of Christ.

There is only one other option that fits both what is said in 1 Samuel 28 and the traditional cosmology of going to heaven or hell at death. If Samuel had been “brought up” instead of “brought down” he must have been in hell. Samuel served God well in life, but just for the sake of argument, let us assume that it was not enough and he wound up being tormented in hell. Would that scenario rescue the text of 1 Samuel 28 from its apparently contradictory state? No, even if we assume Samuel is in hell, it doesn’t explain what Samuel actually said to Saul:

“And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me,

since the LORD has turned from you and

become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done

to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has

torn the kingdom out of your hand and given

it to your neighbour, David. 18 Because you

did not obey the voice of the LORD and did

not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek,

therefore the LORD has done this thing to

you this day. 19 Moreover, the LORD will give

Israel also with you into the hand of the

Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons

shall be with me. The LORD will give the army

of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.””[159]

These are the words of a prophet who defends God for his justice, who condemns Saul for his disobedience, and who champions David for his faithfulness. Perhaps one might imagine Samuel in hell gloating over the fact that Saul and his other sons would soon be joining him, but that would include Jonathan as well – a man whom the Scriptures approves.

No, Samuel could not be in hell. He is approved by God, yet he is somewhere that requires him to be “brought up” so that he can communicate with Saul. Sheol is that place.

People sometimes casually cast forth this story as part of that wall of evidence proving that people are alive after they die. They go on to use this as prove of their assumption that this disembodied state is part of God’s reward to believers. Death should not be the reward for which the believer seeks. We should seek our reward in resurrection life.

The story of the medium at Endor is the exception that proves the rule. It is an example of someone who apparently did experience life apart from his resurrection body (although briefly). Samuel went back to sleep. He is part of that group who were “all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us.”[160] He will experience resurrected life when all believers do – at the second coming. His unusual experience at Endor is not the norm.


Yet another Old Testament prophet appears to have been sent to the wrong place. The King James Version of Jonah 2:2 reads “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” Some actually have the audacity to quote this text as proof, not only that there was such a thing as hell in Old Testament times, but that people were alive in it.

Most modern translation correct the foul-up, which is merely a translation issue. The King James translators were apparently all traditionalists, and sought every opportunity to place the concept of hell-at-death in the Bible. When they encountered the Hebrew word Sheol, and the context made it possible for them to translate it as hell, they did so. But numerous times the word Sheol obviously referred to the place that a righteous person went at death. No fear, they simply translated Sheol in those passages as “the grave.” For example:

“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”[161]

“The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.”[162]

“O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.”[163]

But when the bad guys were getting theirs, these KJV translators saw a good opportunity to show people that when a bad guy dies, he goes consciously to hell, not unconsciously to the grave. So they translated the same Hebrew word – Sheol – as hell. For example:

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”[164]

“Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.”[165]

“Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.”[166]

Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?”[167]

Translating the same word in such a different way was dishonest, and – to be fair – some modern translations have sought to correct it. The NLT has Jonah speaking from “the land of the dead” which is OK, except that it gives the impression that Sheol is some kind of physical territory. The NIV simply says “From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” That is a much better translation, since it parallels the previous stich “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.”

But most modern translations (e.g. ESV, NASB, NET, NKJV, NRSV, HCSB, LEB) simply choose not to translate the word Sheol. Not wanting to appear as watering down the traditional concept of hell, they leave the word untranslated – which leaves its interpretation up to the reader. The problem with that is it refuses to correct the misconceptions that readers have had in the past. So, people are still free to imagine Jonah and David and Jesus and others in some place called hell, when all the Scripture says is that they all went to the grave. The difference is that Jesus was raised from Sheol (or its Greek equivalent, Hades).[168]

Those of us who are convinced of the unconscious intermediate state are not going to change our minds because others quote texts which have been mishandled and abused. We ask for actual didactic evidence from the Bible that people survive death. Lacking that, we will trust what the Bible actually says about our hope. It is not survival of the soul, but the return of the Saviour.

{to be continued}

Scaling the Wall (part 3)

When anyone dares to suggest that sleep is an appropriate way to describe someone’s death, opponents are often quick to respond. They tend to build a wall of evidence, consisting of texts which appear to support some kind of conscious survival after death. Those of us who hold to an unconscious intermediate state have scaled that wall. We see inconsistencies that exist with the popular interpretations of the texts when compared to the actual texts themselves.

Some of the texts have simply been misinterpreted, like …

1. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, which expresses Paul’s desire to put on his resurrection body at the return of Christ, not to go to heaven when he dies.

2. Luke 16:19-31, in which Jesus employs a scary tale about woe in Hades to show the Pharisees that just because they are rich today, their eternal state is not secure.

3. The bringing up of Samuel by the Medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28) was a miracle God allowed to rebuke Saul for his disobedience. It was an unusual event – all miracles are. It cannot prove that people are normally conscious at death.

Other texts have been mistranslated.

· There is some evidence to show that neither Jesus nor the thief on the cross actually went to heaven on the day that Jesus died. The traditional translation of Luke 23:43, then, is a mistake. Jesus was assuring the repentant thief that they would be together on the day about which he asked: the day Christ comes in his kingdom.

· Jonah’s cry “out of the belly of hell” (Jonah 2:2 KJV) was the cry of a man who felt he was about to die, and go to Sheol, the grave. It says nothing and proves nothing about the intermediate state.

Many of the remaining texts that serve as that wall of evidence fall into the misinterpretation category. They include the following:

“Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:3).

The transfiguration involved a number of miracles, including the sudden appearance of two great men from Israel’s past. The Bible specifically tells us that Moses had died and was buried.[169] Many think the Bible teaches that Elijah never died. However, there is some evidence that his ride into the heavens on a fiery chariot was a round trip. Some time after his famous trip to outer space[170] — possibly as much as two years after – king Jehoram gets a letter from Elijah.[171] Unless one argues that the Israelite postal service was really efficient, it appears that Elijah returned to write that letter. In other words, Elijah lived a normal life and presumably died a normal death.

All of this is to say that if Moses and Elijah reappeared physically to talk to Jesus at the mount of transfiguration, then both had been resurrected for that purpose. Their appearance was miraculous, and it proved the power of God, but it did not prove that they had been conscious in the intermediate state.

Yet the Bible does not specifically say that they had been resurrected. It says they appeared. Then, after talking with Jesus for some time, they disappeared. Later, when Jesus spoke to his disciples who saw it, he told them that it was a vision.[172] The appearance, and then disappearance of these two Old Testament saints was a vision designed to draw attention to the one who believers today should be paying attention to. As the voice said from the cloud “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”[173] This story is about the doctrine of revelation: how God has definitively spoken to us through his Son. To make this story about consciousness after death is to highjack it.


(Matthew 22:32)

Among the many opponents to Jesus and his message were the Sadducees. They had emerged as a sect from Second Temple Judaism who had jettisoned all belief in the supernatural. Chief among the supernatural concepts that they had rejected was the idea that God would resurrect the faithful. After a group of Sadducees learned that Jesus was in town, they approached him with a question. It was an elaborate question that (they felt) showed how ridiculous it is to believe that God would resurrect anyone.

“Now there were seven brothers among us.

The first married and died, and having no

children left his wife to his brother. 26 So

too the second and third, down to the

seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died.

28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the

seven, whose wife will she be? For they all

had her.”[174]

Perhaps these Sadducees imagined that Jesus would say “Now that you mention it, resurrection does seem a silly idea doesn’t it?” But Jesus attacked these Sadducees. He told them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” He was arguing that resurrection was not so silly. The Bible promises it, and God is able to deliver on that promise.

In defense of the resurrection, Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, where God identifies himself to Moses as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” While the text does not tell us whether Amram was alive at that time, it is quite clear that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had been dead for some time. So how can that text prove the legitimacy of the resurrection? Jesus said that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living.”[175] what legitimizes the hope of resurrection is not that people survive their deaths, but that God does.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will live again, because God always lives.

Again, this text says absolutely nothing about the intermediate state. It does not say that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are asleep, but neither does it assert that they are awake. The proof of the resurrection that Jesus puts forth in answer to the Sadducees’ question is the existence of God. Since God is alive, those who died are alive to him. This is much like Jesus’ response to Martha who weakly told Jesus that she knew her brother would be raised at the resurrection on the last day. Jesus responded “I am the resurrection and the life.”[176] Her problem was not her concept of the resurrection, but her failure to see that the Resurrection was standing in front of her.


2 Corinthians 12:2

Arguing for the legitimacy of his apostleship to some obstinate Corinthians, Paul decided to prove that he was acceptable as a spiritual leader because of the “visions and revelations” he had received.[177] He told of a time some fourteen years earlier when he had been caught up to heaven and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”[178] Paul’s experience was so real to him, that he was unsure whether he was transported to heaven bodily, or whether it was a vision. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that Paul had been transported bodily to heaven. Would that event teach us anything about the intermediate state? Obviously not. It would only prove that such a trip is possible, for someone who is alive. It would teach us nothing about a person’s state at death.

Or, for the sake of argument, let us assume the opposite — that Paul’s experience was a vision in which Paul was allowed to see heaven, but his body did not travel there. That would not be substantially different from any of the other visions of heaven recorded in the Bible. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Paul was dead. Ergo, this statement teaches nothing about the nature of the intermediate state.


Paul unashamedly used the sleep metaphor to describe the death of believers. In this text, he divides the Christian population into two groups. There are two groups today whom Jesus has died for: those who are awake, and those who are asleep. Those of us who are awake are obviously believers in Jesus who have not yet died. Those who are asleep are those who have already fallen asleep in death and await resurrection day so that they can live again.

What is the hope of these two groups? Our blessed hope is that the Lord will return some day and reunite both groups. Jesus died for us in order to make that possible. He died for us on the cross so that whatever group we are in (dead or alive) we can be with him in eternity. There is no statement about the state of consciousness that dead believers are experiencing. In fact, this passage is about what Jesus has done, and our assurance of what he will do for us.

Those who use this passage as part of that wall of evidence hope to convince readers that it is saying that all believers are presently alive with Christ. However, behind that hope is a theological tradition that says that everyone is alive, Christian or not. The tradition affirms the concept that everyone has an immortal soul, which cannot die, and must remain alive forever. This text says nothing of such an innate immortality. The only immortality it promises is for those who are in Christ, who have benefitted from his sacrificial death on the cross.


It is really pulling from the bottom of the barrel to take a passage from an apocalyptic vision and try to use it to prove a doctrine, but people continue to consistently do it. We have no right to assume that beheaded souls can normally cry out than to assume that God’s throne normally has a literal lamb on it who is also a lion. The book of Revelation tells God’s truth using symbols, and to take those symbols as proof of their own existence is to misuse the text.

However, John probably knew some of those souls that he saw depicted in the vision. Some of them might have been his close friends. When he saw them crying out to God for justice, he was identifying with their cry. He wanted Christ to return and bring his judgment. But those who use this text merely as proof that disembodied souls remain alive do not believe that such souls are really crying out for justice. They think that once those souls were separated from their bodies they went to heaven and are experiencing the reward of eternal bliss. You cannot have it both ways. Either the righteous remain alive and go to their reward at death or they do not. In this passage, the righteous who have died are not yet vindicated. They wait for a resurrection.


Paul was contemplating the ramifications of his eventual death. He knew that whether he continued to live, or he died, either way Christ would get the glory. “Christ will be honored in (his) body, whether by life or by death.”[179] “For (him) to live is Christ, and to die is gain”[180] because all he has to look forward to is being raised at Christ’s second coming. That resurrection hope had become Paul’s obsession. His explained the “gain” that he hoped for later in this same letter to the Philippians:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because

of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ

Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered

the loss of all things and count them as

rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

9 and be found in him, not having a

righteousness of my own that comes from

the law, but that which comes through faith

in Christ, the righteousness from God that

depends on faith- 10 that I may know him

and the power of his resurrection, and may

share his sufferings, becoming like him in

his death, 11 that by any means possible

I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[181]

As Paul was contemplating the consequences of whether or not he died in Christ’s service or continued to live, a third option emerged in his mind which he said was “far better.” He said “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”[182] He was saying that the best thing to happen for him is for Jesus to break the clouds and call him to himself. Then Paul would depart and be with Christ. That would be more glorious than either of the other options. But, until that happens, Paul is content to continue serving the Christ of the resurrection.

How stable is that wall of evidence looking now? God’s word proves many things, and it is profitable for doctrine. But it nowhere proves the conscious intermediate state. Our hope in Christ is not found in human nature, it is found in a divine rescuer. We hope not to survive death but to be raised to new life.

Set Free

In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates is in prison, awaiting his execution. A number of his faithful disciples are gathered around him, discussing his fate. Socrates seeks to cheer them up by explaining his belief that he will soon be set free from his incarceration. The prison he expects to be released from is that of his body. Plato uses the dialog between these people to prove his belief that the soul is set free from the prison of the body at death.

“Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?

To be sure, replied Simmias.

Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion if this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death?”[183]

“And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body … the release of the soul from the chains of the body?”[184]

So, Socrates could comfort his disciples by assuring them that death would not be a defeat for him. He could confidently drink the hemlock because it would offer him true freedom – not just a physical release from his body’s bondage, but a greater release – release from the prison of his body itself.

Many Christian theologians and preachers have suggested that Socrates was right in that confidence. They teach the same thing about death that Socrates taught: that it brings freedom. Does the Bible affirm this, or did these theologians and preachers borrow the idea from pagan philosophers?

Death to be Feared

The Bible consistently teaches that death is an enemy to be feared,[185] rather than a solution to our present problems. God’s warning to the residents in Eden was “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[186] If death were a good thing, bringing release from the prison of their body, God’s warning would not make sense.

Death is Darkness

The Bible associates death with darkness, not freedom and light.[187] It is pictured as a place void of all awareness, a place where the souls and bodies lie and await the next event – a resurrection and its accompanying judgment. The dead are described as unconscious of what is going on around them. This is not freedom.

Death is Sleep

The term “sleep” is the single most used description of death in the Bible. It is used in the Old Testament and in the New. It is used of believers and unbelievers. It is used of people before the atonement and afterward.

“Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death”[188]

“After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died”[189]

“The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised”[190]

“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”[191]

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[192]

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”[193]

The image of sleep is especially important as a description of death because it speaks of the reality that death is not permanent. To die is to sleep, but to be raised is to be awakened. In the interval, people reside in a state of unconsciousness called (in Hebrew) Sheol, and (in Greek) Hades. In a previous article I wrote on this intermediate state, I concluded:

“Sheol, then, is a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD. It is always contrasted with heaven, and never equated with it. It is not the hope of the saints; rescue from it is the hope of the saints.”[194]

Resurrection: rescue from death

The biblical hope is not death itself, but rescue from it. Jesus is the one who has the keys to set people free, and the prison that we are incarcerated in is not our physical body, but death and Hades.

“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[195]

“And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”[196]

The New Testament consistently presents the hope of believers as their resurrection to full bodily life by Jesus at his return.

“for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”[197]

“Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.””[198]

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection”[199]

“that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[200]

Paul made it clear that his hope was not a disembodied state (being unclothed) but a resurrection to eternal life.

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”[201]

Believers will be set free only at that time. Until then, we are still suffering the consequences of our ancestors’ sin – we die and return to the dust.[202] But Jesus can raise us to life again. That is the blessed hope: “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”[203] who comes to rescue us from death.


Teaching that death sets people free fails to reflect the Bible in three crucial areas. It is inconsistent with what the Bible says about death, it contradicts the Bible’s description of the intermediate state, and it detracts from the importance the Bible places on the resurrection.

Sheol: The Old Testament Consensus

There were 400 silent years – a gap between the closing of the Old Testament prophets and the writing of the New Testament. During this time the doctrine of the intermediate state (that state between death and the resurrection) underwent a sort of evolution. Jews became immersed in pagan communities which held to the doctrine made popular by Greek philosophy: the immortality of the soul.

The Judaism that emerged from this period was not consistent on the issue of the intermediate state. Some Jews adapted the Greek concept almost whole cloth. They conceded that all human souls are immortal, and understood “that the souls of the righteous proceeded immediately to heaven at their deaths, there to await the resurrection of their bodies, while the souls of the wicked remained in Sheol.”[204] For them, Sheol became a place entirely associated with the punishment of the wicked, although their own scriptures insist that Sheol contains the righteous as well.[205]

Other Jews were not willing to concede that Sheol was exclusively for the wicked. Instead, they imagined “that there was a spatial separation in the underworld between the godly and the ungodly.”[206] These retained the Old Testament idea that all souls go to Sheol at death, adding only the Greek concept that these souls are immortal, and conscious of being in Sheol – or as the Greeks called it — Hades.

By the New Testament era, a third view (or a variation of the second) apparently became popular among the Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Jesus must have accommodated one of their own stories when he told the Pharisees about the rich man and Lazarus.[207] In that story, the rich man dies and ends up in Hades, while Lazarus is carried bodily to a place called Abraham’s Bosom. The irony was not lost on the Pharisees, who would have expected just the opposite. For them, riches were a sign of the LORD’s blessing, while poverty was viewed as a curse. Jesus used the story to warn the Pharisees that their godless greed was disobedience to the very laws they were trusting in for their salvation.

By using that story, Jesus was by no means condoning its theology. After all, he was not declaring doctrine to his disciples. He was speaking to a group who stood in opposition to his teachings. If Jesus were teaching his disciples about the intermediate state, his words would have conformed to the Old Testament consensus.

The best place to look for answers about the intermediate state is in the Old Testament. God’s people struggled with this question for millennia before Plato was born. One has every right to expect God’s word to provide answers, and for those answers to be consistent. The vast majority of biblical references to the intermediate state are in the Old Testament.[208] By the time the Old Testament was completed, a theological consensus was clearly revealed. This Old Testament consensus reveals that Sheol is a much different place than that imagined by syncretistic 2nd Temple Judaism.

Sheol is Down There

When Jacob was told that his son Joseph had been killed by some wild animal, he was distraught. He imagined that Joseph was dead, down underneath the earth somewhere. Jacob was so upset that he thought he would die of grief. He tells his children who are trying to comfort him “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning”[209] This first reference to Sheol in the Bible reveals that the intermediate state is not a mystery that no one knows about. Jacob apparently knew that all people go there at death.

Jacob also knew that in some way Sheol is down there. The rest of the Old Testament has a number of references to Sheol that utilize the verb root that Jacob used: yarad – to go down or descend.[210] Other verb roots used with Sheol portray the same idea: nachat – to go down[211], and shafel – to be or become low.[212] Both people from within the covenant community and those without went in the same direction at death.

Some have suggested that these are all references to being buried in the grave, and that Sheol is merely a reference to what happens to the body. Thus Sheol would be taken as a synonym for Qever – the grave or tomb. But Jacob could not have been referring to a literal grave, since Joseph’s body was not found to bury.

Also, Sheol is normally associated with death in poetic parallels, not the grave. Of all the references to Sheol in the Old Testament, none directly parallel with Qever. However, the term Sheol is often paralleled with synonyms for the grave, like Bor, the pit,[213] and Abaddon, destruction.[214] This leads to the conclusion that the term Sheol has something in common with the grave, but cannot be equated with the actual grave itself. Although Sheol is often described as if it were a location, its Old Testament use leads to the conclusion that it more specifically refers to the human state after death. The location for the dead (at least those who are buried) is the grave. Their condition is Sheol.

This was the conclusion of Eric Lewis, whose examination of the 65 references to Sheol in the Old Testament led him to the conclusion that the term specified “not the place of interment, nor a presumed locality of departed spirits, but the condition of death, the death-state.”[215] Lewis suggested that a synonym for Sheol emphasizing this connotation is Gravedom. But how does one reconcile the idea that Sheol is a state with all these references to a direction (down there)?

Sheol is of Extreme Depth

Sheol is to down as heaven is to up. It is not simply six feet under. Moses spoke of the fire of God’s anger burning to the depths of Sheol.[216] Zophar said that God’s limit is higher than heaven and deeper than Sheol.[217] David described the LORD’s deliverance as being from the depths of Sheol.[218] When describing God’s omnipresence he said “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”[219] The LORD complained through Isaiah that Israel prostituted herself by sending envoys to all far-off lands, even sending them down to Sheol.[220]

His words through Amos describe the extent to which God was determined to go to bring punishment upon his own disobedient people:

If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.[221]

Here again, Sheol is contrasted with heaven – not because it is a place of suffering and heaven a place of pleasure. Heaven is listed because it is a high place – like the top of Mt. Carmel. Sheol is mentioned because it is a low place, like the bottom of the sea.

Perhaps the ancient Hebrews imagined Sheol an extremely deep place because of the mystery surrounding it. Perhaps it was thought so because people went there and did not come back. Perhaps it was regarded so because it was a mystery – hidden to everyone except God himself.[222] Regardless, when the Old Testament saints spoke of Sheol it was obviously not synonymous with heaven. It was the exact opposite. Yet this is the place that all souls entered at death.

Sheol is Silent

Another stark contrast the Old Testament presents when comparing Sheol to heaven is the activity they describe to each place. Heaven and earth are places where God is praised continually.[223] But when the soul reaches Sheol that praise stops abruptly. David prays for God to “let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol.”[224] The deaths of his enemies would not only silence them upon earth, it would silence them in the underworld as well. Sheol is a place where the once mighty now lie still.[225] It is the land of silence, where the dead go down to silence.[226]

Hezekiah prays that God would rescue him from his sickness because “Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.”[227] What he was saying was that if he died, his praises would stop. Sheol was a place of silence for both the believer and the unbeliever. For that reason, it makes sense for King Hezekiah to plead with God to rescue him from death. His death would not glorify God. His rescue would — and did.

David had a similar experience when he was in threat of death, and he prayed for God to deliver him “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[228] His plea is so like that of Hezekiah that they mark a certain approach to the whole concept of Sheol. To these two people of God, there was no afterlife. There was merely silence and stillness – a waiting on God to perhaps rescue by resurrection. To neither of these Old Testament saints would a residence in Sheol be considered a goal to attain. For both of them it was an inevitable consequence of their own mortality – to be avoided at all costs.

David’s son Solomon had an insatiable curiosity, and set his mind to study everything that could be studied. He wrote thousands of proverbs encapsulating his wisdom, and composed over one thousand songs.[229] His “wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.”[230] Yet when he described Sheol, he merely warned his readers to do whatever they wanted to do before death, because “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”[231] His studied assessment of Sheol agreed with the Old Testament consensus. He saw it as a place where the thoughts are silenced.

Sheol is Dark

Other characteristics of Sheol found in the Old Testament consensus do not match modern views of the afterlife. Job described a person in Sheol as spreading out his bed in darkness.[232] He described Sheol as “the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”[233] David describes those “long dead” as “sitting in darkness.”[234] Jeremiah described “the dead of long ago” as dwelling in darkness now.[235] If Sheol is a place, then darkness might only imply a lack of visual awareness in that place. If Sheol is a state, then these references to darkness would imply a lack of cognitive awareness in that state.

Sheol is Sleep

David prayed to the LORD, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”[236] He anticipated that his death would find him in Sheol and doing what all others in Sheol are doing: not praising, not singing, not playing golden harps. He defined existence in Sheol as sleeping the sleep of death. The exact phrase “slept with his fathers” is found 36 times in the Old Testament.[237] It was a common expression used to describe the fact that someone had died.

Daniel described existence in Sheol as sleeping in the dust of the earth.[238] It was a condition which required an awakening – a resurrection. This sleep was never the hope of Old Testament saints. The resurrection and restoration to life was the hope. Sleep was simply a way of describing the state of death itself. Jesus used the same terminology to describe the death-state of Jairus’ daughter.[239] He said of Lazarus (in Sheol) that he had “fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”.[240]

Conditionalists prefer to use the term sleep to describe the intermediate state for several reasons, among them: 1) it is used by the scripture itself; 2) it emphasizes the need for resurrection; 3) it places the hope of humanity not in the death-state itself, but in the LORD who will raise (awaken) the dead.

Sheol is Universal

The thing most stressed in the Old Testament concerning Sheol is that it is synonymous with death itself. In the New Testament, this is seen by the terms death and Hades appearing next to each other.[241] All those who die (the event) experience Hades (the state). In the Old Testament, this fact is seen in numerous passages where death and Sheol are placed in parallel. David, for example says “the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.”[242] He also says “in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[243]

Other psalmists reflect the same association between death as an event, and Sheol as the state it initiates. The sons of Korah say of the foolish “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd”[244] Ethan the Ezrahite proclaims “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”[245]

Hannah prayed “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.”[246] The theology of her prayer is impeccable. To die is to be brought down to Sheol, where all the other dead are. To be rescued from that condition is to be brought back to life, and that is something that only the LORD can do.


Sheol, then, is a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD. It is always contrasted with heaven, and never equated with it. It is not the hope of the saints; rescue from it is the hope of the saints. That is the Old Testament consensus.

Did You Say “Sleep?”

Popping off, croaking, buying the farm, pushing up daisies, biting the big one, kicking the bucket, assuming room temperature, … these are some of the more colorful euphemisms for death. Not a one of them is found in the Bible.

Instead, the Bible consistently uses a metaphor for death that is viewed as neither socially or theologically appropriate among evangelicals. It calls death a sleep. But if a believer slips and refers to the dead as sleeping, judging from the reaction among traditionalists, you would think that he had shot God.

A long standing tradition within evangelical Christianity asserts that death is a move to a new level of consciousness, that those awaiting Christ’s return for reward or punishment do so in a state that looks very much like they are already being rewarded or punished. Consequently, anyone who dares to imply that the intermediate state is one of unconscious sleep runs the risk of being branded a heretic or cult member.

Nevertheless, it would do us all well to return to biblical terminology and perhaps jettison some of these traditions that keep us from using it. The biblical authors knew what they were talking about. The Holy Spirit inspired them to write words which expressed the way things really are. It is not their fault that the popular church has chosen to see and say things differently.

But in this current atmosphere where the biblical word “sleep” sparks such a response from otherwise biblically grounded saints, if conditionalists want to revive the term as a metaphor for death, they had better be prepared. Conditionalists need to know just where in the Bible the term is used for death, and what “sleep” means in the contexts of those passages.

Adam’s sleep a picture of Christ’s death

“So the LORD God caused a deep sleep

to fall upon the man, and while he slept

took one of his ribs and closed up its

place with flesh. And the rib that the

LORD God had taken from the man he

made into a woman and brought her to

the man. Then the man said, “This at

last is bone of my bones and flesh of

my flesh; she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man””

(Genesis 2:21-23 ESV).

The first place in the Bible where sleep is used as a metaphor for death apparently occurs before death existed. While in the garden paradise of Eden, Adam is anesthetized by God and surgery is performed, the result of which is Eve. Thus the Bible says that man comes from woman, and woman also comes from man.[247]

One curious thing about this incident is that it seems to have a parallel in the gospel message. Just as Eve came into existence because of the sleep of Adam, so the Church of Christ comes into existence because of his death. Because Christ slept in the tomb, his bride came into being.

If there is anything to this assumption, notice what it is telling readers about the nature of death itself. Adam’s sleep was a state of unconsciousness. He was “put under” so that he would not experience the changes taking place in his body. The purpose of this unconscious state was not to heighten his awareness, but to suppress it. One might conclude, then, that the purpose of the intermediate state is the same.

Job describes death as lying down and sleeping, not being awaken

“But a man dies and is laid low; man

breathes his last, and where is he?

As waters fail from a lake and a river

wastes away and dries up, so a man

lies down and rises not again; till the

heavens are no more he will not awake

or be roused out of his sleep. Oh that

you would hide me in Sheol, that you

would conceal me until your wrath be

past, that you would appoint me a set

time, and remember me! If a man dies,

shall he live again? All the days of my

service I would wait, till my renewal

should come” (Job 14:10-14 ESV).

In chapter 14 of Job’s story, he laments that human beings are not like trees. A tree may be cut down, but given the right conditions, it may sprout back again from the apparently dead stump. But, Job complains, human beings are not like that. When a man’s life comes to an end, he lies down and sleeps, not to wake up again.

Job is not arguing against the concept of the resurrection. Even in this chapter, he pleads with God to hide him in Sheol (death) until his wrath is past, and then remember him, causing him to live again (13-14). One cannot ask for a more clear statement of the hope of resurrection. Later, Job asserts that he has a Redeemer who lives, and that he (Job) will see God in a resurrected body, long after his present body has been consumed.[248]

So, since Job is not arguing against the notion of a resurrection, why does he insist that death is a sleep that one does not wake up from? He is contrasting the fate of humans with that of trees. Trees have something within their nature that allows them to bounce back from apparent death. God has not put such a nature within us. If we want to live again, we will need a resurrecting God. Sleep is an appropriate metaphor for death because if you see people sleeping, you expect them to wake up. Think about that the next time you walk through a cemetery. These “sleeping places” are monuments to the fact that we all depend upon God for our future life.[249]

David calls death a sleep

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me

forever? How long will you hide your face

from me? How long must I take counsel in

my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the

day? How long shall my enemy be exalted

over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD

my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the

sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have

prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice

because I am shaken. But I have trusted in

your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in

your salvation. I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me”

( Psalm 13:1-6 ESV).

David’s lament in Psalm 13 is the complaint of a soldier who keeps losing battles, and wonders how long he can continue to hold out. The shame of the losses is coupled with the embarrassment of the taunts he hears from his enemies. They are exalted over him. They rejoice because he is shaken. Nevertheless, David is forced to trust in God’s steadfast love, and hope in his salvation. He has no one else.

David’s question to his LORD in Psalm 13 is “will you forget me forever?” If the LORD does forget his servant, he will “sleep the sleep of death” and his enemy will have prevailed over him. Death would be the ultimate failure. It would mean that God had lost a soldier, and the enemy had gained a decisive victory, and a reason to boast.

How could David have said such a thing if he believed that death was “going to his reward” or “going home to be with the LORD” or “getting promoted to heaven”? The Holy Spirit speaks of death here, not as a victory but as a defeat. Granted, it is only a temporary defeat. In Psalm 16, David predicted that the Messiah would die, but that he would not be abandoned to Sheol. He would triumph over death.

Peter, preaching at Pentecost in Acts 2, reminded his listeners of that triumph. Death is real, but Christ has overcome it. But David himself did not overcome it. He sleeps, and awaits a resurrection. In Peter’s words, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.”[250] The old warrior did indeed sleep the sleep of death, but not before the LORD heard his cry and delivered him from his enemies.

Jeremiah speaks of Babylon’s perpetual sleep

“Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,

the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing,

without inhabitant. “They shall roar

together like lions; they shall growl like

lions’ cubs. While they are inflamed I will

prepare them a feast and make them

drunk, that they may become merry,

then sleep a perpetual sleep and not

wake, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah


“for a destroyer has come upon her,

upon Babylon; her warriors are taken;

their bows are broken in pieces, for

the LORD is a God of recompense; he

will surely repay. I will make drunk

her officials and her wise men, her

governors, her commanders, and her

warriors; they shall sleep a perpetual

sleep and not wake, declares the King,

whose name is the LORD of hosts”

(Jeremiah 51:56-57).

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the enemies of God’s people were the oppressive Babylonians. Jeremiah predicted that the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar would get drunk and fall to sleep, never to wake up again. He was prophesying the empire’s destruction,[251] in which it will fall,[252] come to an end,[253] perish,[254] and become a heap of ruins without inhabitant,[255] “a land of drought and a desert, a land in which no one dwells, and through which no son of man passes.”[256]

Jeremiah described the death of a people. It makes sense that he would use that metaphor that his ancestors did to describe that fall into a state of nothingness: sleep. It would not make sense if Jeremiah actually believed that death was a passing from one state of consciousness into another. He could have threatened an even more violent state of conscious torment in hell for God’s enemies, but he does not.

Babylon will rise no more, but someday, each individual Babylonian will stand before God and be judged for his personal sins. That day is not what Jeremiah is predicting. The end of Babylon’s judgment is death: a state of perpetual sleep. Judgment day for the individual Babylonians will come later.

In the New Testament book of Revelation, John picks up on this same imagery to describe another Babylon, doomed to destruction. He warns God’s people to come out of her …

“lest you take part in her sins, lest

you share in her plagues; for her sins

are heaped high as heaven, and God

has remembered her iniquities”

(Revelation 18:4-5 ESV).

“her plagues will come in a single day,

death and mourning and famine, and

she will be burned up with fire; for

mighty is the Lord God who has judged

her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV).

John describes the ultimate judgment day, which Babylon’s perpetual sleep only serves to predict. He is describing ultimate punishment, ultimate destruction. Jeremiah had spoken of the first death, John warns of the second.

Daniel describes resurrection from sleep in the dust

“And many of those who sleep in the dust

of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting

life, and some to shame and everlasting

contempt. And those who are wise shall shine

like the brightness of the sky above; and those

who turn many to righteousness, like the stars

forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3).

It is not clear what Daniel is predicting in chapter 12, but it is clear that he uses resurrection language to describe it. He speaks of those who are sleeping in the dust, awakening to everlasting life. Others who awake will not see life, but suffer shame and everlasting contempt. Jesus used the same language to describe the resurrection. He said “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[257]

So, to both Daniel and Jesus, the anthropology and cosmology are the same: death is a sleep. The resurrection awakens all from that sleep. Judgment and eternal destiny occur at the resurrection, at the awakening. Judgment does not occur during the intermediate state, but afterward.

There are some who claim that all this talk about death as a sleep is simply Old Testament language of appearance, and that the New Testament corrects that misunderstanding by showing that the intermediate state is a conscious one. But the New Testaments speaks even more clearly than the Old in describing death as a sleep.

Jesus describes a dead girl as merely sleeping

“When they arrived at the house, Jesus

wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except

Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s

father and mother. The house was filled

with people weeping and wailing, but he

said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead;

she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed

at him because they all knew she had died.

Then Jesus took her by the hand and said

in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” And at

that moment her life returned, and she

immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them

to give her something to eat” (Luke 8:51-55


This story, which appears in all three synoptic Gospels, shows Jesus’ attitude toward the dead. He knows the pain that death causes, and will have opportunity to demonstrate his own grief at the death of his friend Lazarus.[258] Yet he also knows that death is only a temporary phenomenon. In that since, it is not really a death, but a mere sleep.

Make no mistake. This girl was really dead, and the scripture makes it clear that she was. Yet Jesus was there. He is the resurrection and the life. He knew that this day would not end in mourning, but a miracle. He chased all the mourners away, and woke up a little girl from her nap.

Now, if this little girl were with the angels in heaven, or even in Abraham’s bosom, and Jesus knew that, it would not have been such a nice thing for him to return her to this world of woe. But the language that Luke (and Matthew and Mark) uses matches that which the Old Testament writers had used of death. It describes this girl’s state as one of sleep, not wakefulness. Luke presented her as one who needed to be woken.

Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31) contradicts the view that the Old Testament presents, and that which Jesus himself ascribes to. In that parable, Jesus speaks of the dead being conscious in the death –state, and aware of what is going on in the land of the living. Advocates of a conscious intermediate state have simply chosen to accept this view of death, instead of the one proposed in Luke 8.

Conditionalists refuse to accept the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as definitive teaching on the intermediate statement for several reasons, some of which can be seen in the contrast between these texts:

1. Luke 8 reflects a literal event in the life of Jesus and a real human being, a small girl. Luke 16 reflects a story that Jesus told, which probably did not originate with him. He used one of the Pharisees’ stories, and ended it with a twist that they did not expect.

2. The focus of Luke 8 was a real death and a real resurrection. The focus of Luke 16 was the selfishness of the Pharisees and their refusal to follow the law by having compassion on the needy. In which passage would it be more natural for Jesus to convey didactic teaching about the intermediate state?

3. The witnesses of the event described in Luke 8 were Jesus himself, the young girl and his parents, and some of his disciples. The hearers of the story in Luke 16 were the Pharisees, who “were lovers of money” and “ridiculed him” because he taught that “you cannot serve God and money.”[259] In which context would it have been more appropriate for Jesus to share insight about the mystery of the intermediate state?

4. The literary context of each passage is also important to consider. Luke 8 appears in a conjunction with a group of passages which emphasize who Jesus is. His authority and power are expressed in the chapters immediately preceding and following the story in chapter 8. In that context, it makes sense to show Jesus as having power to raise the dead. Luke 16 is within a group of chapters emphasizing the opposition and antagonism of those (like the Pharisees) who wanted to see Jesus done away with. In that context, what Luke wants to show is the reason why these people hated Jesus, and why his journey to Jerusalem would lead to the cross. A literal description of the intermediate state would not add to Luke’s purpose for Luke 16.

5. In the final analysis, it must be admitted that these two texts do represent two alternative views of the intermediate state. In the one, people are asleep, and must be awakened by resurrection. In the other, people are awake, and are experiencing some sort of afterlife. In Luke 8, there is no reference to judgment. In Luke 16, all those who have died are already being judged.

6. One cannot combine these two views of the intermediate state without distorting one into insignificance. Conditionalists accept the teaching of Luke 8 as normative, and choose to see the description in Luke 16 as representing what the Pharisees believed — not what Jesus believed — about the intermediate state.

Matthew described saints who were raised from sleep

“And behold, the curtain of the temple

was torn in two, from top to bottom. And

the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The tombs also were opened. And many

bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep

were raised, and coming out of the tombs

after his resurrection they went into the

holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew

27:51-53 ESV).

Adding to the confusion of the events taking place on the night in which our Savior died, a number of God’s saints who had died before he did were raised to life at the moment he died. These presented themselves to the wonderment of those who had seen them die, be buried, and mourned their passing. These resurrections were demonstrations both of the power of God to raise the dead, and of the significance of the death of Christ.

Yet there are no descriptions of what these saints had experienced while being dead. They were not noted as having experienced any afterlife, but for having been raised to life again. In fact, Matthew describes them as “saints who had fallen asleep.” It was not merely their bodies who had fallen asleep, but the saints themselves. This is seen in the Greek construction of the sentence, where the word “bodies” is neuter nominative plural, and the words “the saints” and the participle translated “who had fallen asleep” are masculine genitive plural.

The anthropology/cosmology of Matthew agrees with that of Luke 8. These people had been dead, and are described as having fallen asleep. The miracle of Christ’s death on the cross caused these dead saints to revive.

Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and the disciples misunderstand Jesus description of his death as sleep

“After saying these things, he said to

them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen

asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The

disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has

fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now

Jesus had spoken of his death, but

they thought that he meant taking

rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them

plainly, “Lazarus has died”” (John

11:11-14 ESV).

Jesus comes face to face with the reality of death when his friend Lazarus dies as recorded in John 11. It is in this context that we read the shortest verse in the New Testament – “Jesus wept.”[260] Death is real, and it is a real tragedy. Yet Jesus describes Lazarus’ death with that same metaphor that appears throughout the text of scripture. He said that Lazarus had fallen asleep.

His disciples did not get it. They thought that he was describing the beginning of Lazarus’ recovery. They assumed that if he were (literally) sleeping, then the worst of his illness was over, and he would soon be getting better. So Jesus had to spell it out for them and explain that his friend was already dead.

Now that we can read all of John chapter 11, we understand what Jesus was doing. He was explaining to his disciples that death is not the end, because he (the Resurrection and the Life) will not allow it to be. But make no mistake about it – if there were no Jesus, death would be the end. We can call death sleep only because there is a Jesus who intends to raise the dead. Calling death sleep is a statement of faith in Christ.

Refusing to call death sleep is also a statement of faith. It reflects a faith in death itself. It joins Plato and other pagan philosophers in affirming that God created the human soul indestructible, and therefore it must remain alive after the death of the body. So the real person never sleeps but remains conscious during the intermediate state, and indeed for all eternity. Conditionalists urge our brothers and sisters to put their faith in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.

Stephen falls asleep (dies) after being stoned

“And as they were stoning Stephen,

he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive

my spirit.” And falling to his knees

he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord,

do not hold this sin against them.”

And when he had said this, he fell

asleep” (Acts 7:59-60 ESV).

A few years ago in the Philippines, my best friend died. One of his memorial services was preached by a pastor of a denomination which teaches a conscious intermediate state. This pastor explained (using Acts 7:59) that my friend was not really dead because God had received his spirit, which flew to heaven the moment he died. The pastor explained that some people teach soul sleep, but that this text teaches against it.

Sitting in the service that day, I held my tongue. Funerals are not the place for theological debate. But later, I brought up the passage again to my students at the Bible college. I showed them that the pastor had failed to look at the context. The next verse says “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Luke’s description of Stephen’s death does not argue against death as sleep, but is evidence for it.

Paul teaches that most will sleep, some will be changed without it

“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

imperishable, and we shall be changed”

(1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV).

Paul contributes to the doctrine of the intermediate state by affirming what readers have seen elsewhere in the Bible. Death is a sleep from which believers will be awaken. This awakening will take place “at the last trumpet.” But he also teaches that there are two exceptions to the general rule that all will sleep in death:

1. Some will not experience the sleep of death because they will be alive when Jesus returns. They will not sleep in death because they will be immediately changed: made immortal without ever having experienced the sleep of death. Oh, what a glorious thing it would be to be part of that group. Come, Lord Jesus!

2. The other exception is Jesus himself. He slept in death, but he has already been raised from the dead. Paul calls him “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[261] He is the only one who has presently been raised immortal. His resurrection is the guarantee that we also will be raised to life some day. So, even if we miss the opportunity to be a part of that special group who will be changed into immortal beings without ever tasting death, we still have reason to celebrate. Christ’s resurrection gives us hope.

Long after the revelation of the gospel, Paul continued to speak of those who had died as having fallen asleep.[262] He was not ashamed to use that metaphor to describe what takes place at death. We should not be ashamed to do so either. To “fall asleep” or to “go to sleep”, or merely “to sleep” is an accurate, biblical statement describing the reality of death. On the other hand, to “go to heaven” or to “go home” or to “go to one’s reward” are statements which are neither biblical nor accurate.

The Christian hope is not going somewhere at death, but a Savior, who is coming to wake us up from death. That is why to “fall asleep” is a statement of faith for the believing Christian. It says that we have put our trust in a Savior who cares for us, and will not let our defeat by the enemy death be the last word.

The Body Apart From the Spirit

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:26 ESV

James is the apostle from Missouri, because Missouri is the “show me” State.[263] James taught that it is not enough just to claim that you have faith in Christ, you need to prove that faith by your actions. He asserts this by two means in the last two verses of what we call James chapter two: a reference to Rahab (2:25) and the assertion that a workless faith is as dead as a spiritless body (2:26).

Rahab’s story can be found in Joshua 2. She was a Canaanite prostitute who (together with all the other inhabitants of Jericho) was afraid of Israel because she knew that the LORD was too powerful for them to resist. So, she did the only wise thing to do. She changed sides. She helped the Israelite spies, hid them from their pursuers, and orchestrated their escape. It was this action that earned Rahab a place among the Israelites, and preserved her and her family.

James uses Rahab as an example of someone who has faith, and acts out that faith by doing something. He is teaching that a true believer is someone who both has faith and proves it by his actions. James is not teaching that works alone saves. If he were, he would be in contrast with the teachings of Paul. What James teaches is that although faith must exist, or there is no salvation, that faith must also produce works, or it is not genuine faith.

Both James and Paul agree that genuine faith is necessary or there is no real salvation. James is concerned with defining what genuine faith does. Paul was concerned with the same thing. He encouraged the Corinthian Christians to test their faith to see if it was genuine.[264] He encouraged the Galatians to put to death the deeds of the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit.[265]

Both apostles would agree with this definition:

real salvation = faith proven by works

James uses his “body apart from the spirit” analogy to prove the exact same thing. He is arguing that “‘faith’ that has no results, or ‘works’ is not real faith at all. It is ‘dead faith’.”[266] It is only apparent. It is a faith which does not really exist. Another way of saying what both James and Paul teach is:

Faith without works does not exist

Those who teach against conditionalism see much more in this verse. They see a confirmation of their definition of death as a separation of the mortal body from the (supposed) immortal spirit. Wiersbe states (based on this verse) that “death takes place when the spirit leaves the body,” but that “death is not the end. It is the beginning of a whole new existence in another world.”[267]

Likewise, Lahaye argues that, in scripture, “death never refers to the cessation of life, but rather to the separation of something from that to which it belongs.” So, he argues that the second death cannot be destruction, but must imply “separation of a man from God.”[268]

Both of these interpreters latch on to the idea that death is defined as separation (“the body apart from the spirit”) and conclude that James implies their view of humanity by what he said about faith. They conclude that the Greek philosophers were correct in asserting that death is not the cessation of life, but its return to its pure bodiless state. They conclude that human life continues to exist, and use James’ words to defend that conclusion.

How scripture defines death

Conditionalists refuse to accept those presuppositions. Our approach toward understanding this verse involves two studies. First, we ask ourselves how James represents death, and does his description agree with what had been said about death in prior biblical texts. James is not describing the mere death of a body, and the continued life of something called the spirit. He is describing the death of a person. He says that a person is dead when the body (what you can see) is no longer animated by the spirit (what you cannot see). By doing so, James is not describing humans as being made up of two parts. He is merely pointing out the fact that death is real, and that its results can be observed by the living. The living can tell if a dead person’s spirit has ceased to animate his body.

The creation of Adam was described in this way: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”[269] Death is described in scripture this way: “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”[270] So, yes, death can be described as separation. But nowhere in the Bible is this separation described as the continuation of existence. The separation of the body from the spirit is the separation of the person from life itself.

Life does not return until the resurrection. Jesus teaches “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[271] The location of all those who await that resurrection is not heaven or hell, but “the tombs.” Death is not described as the continuation of life, but of its cessation.

James’ statement in 2:26 is in complete agreement with this description of death. It does not require any further speculation about what happens to the spirit after the body is separated from it. It does not pursue any rabbit trails about the nature of the body in comparison with the spirit. It simply affirms that death is real, and that a dead body is obviously dead. This affirmation makes sense because James is talking about the reality of faith – how it can be authenticated by observation, just like a corpse shows that a person is really dead.

James’ logic

After studying the scriptural context, conditionalists then move to a study of the logical argument James is making in his letter. To make James’ words teach that death is not real is to totally destroy the logic of his argument about faith. He is stating that faith proves its authenticity by producing works, and that an inauthentic faith cannot. True faith produces true works, but false faith cannot. Rahab could have proclaimed her faith in God, but it would not have saved her if she had not acted on it by protecting the spies.

James’ description of the saved person is:

real salvation = faith proven by works

James’ description of the living person is:

real life = the body animated by the spirit

Once the separation has occurred, life no longer exists, just as once you take away the works, there is no authentic faith. It ceases to exist.

Traditionalist interpreters have taken James’ statement and turned it into something that rejects his premise. They make James assert that the spirit in man continues to live after the body dies. James makes no such assertion. He was concerned to show that a corpse proves that life is not there, just as an inactive profession proves that real faith is not there.

If James believed that a person’s spirit continued to consciously survive the body’s death, his argument would have missed its point. His words do not affirm anything more about the nature of death that what is revealed in the other scriptures. Anyone looking for evidence of immortal souls or spirits must read it into James’ words, because he merely states that a body dies. He does not affirm that the spirit is the real person, and that it lives on after death. If James had made such a statement, it would have defeated the logic of the actual argument he was making.

We conditionalists take a dissenting view from what is popularly believed about questions of life and death. We do so because we understand that the traditional view is often supported by flagrant misrepresentations of biblical texts like this one.

The Waiting Station


Solomon taught that “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5). For him, the intermediate state between death and resurrection was not a time to look forward to. Like all other biblical authors, he looked forward to the resurrection unto eternal life. He never denied the reality of death. Indeed, he taught that all people now living know that their death is coming. But after death, no one knows anything.

He taught that the intermediate state is universal. everyone will experience it, and all will experience it the same: a state of unconscious survival. It is not non-existence. It merely is a state of existence where one is not conscious or aware of the passage of time and cannot know anything.

This was Solomon’s view, and he held that view with other Old Testament writers: “Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind” (Psalm 49:10 NLT).

Death happens to everyone, and no one can “take it with them.” It is a universal event that all will experience. Being wise will not keep you from experiencing death. The wise will join the foolish in that one place. The Hebrews called it Sheol.

It was the place of waiting on God. Sooner or later, we will all meet at that station and await the resurrection train to take us to our next destination. The station (Sheol) itself is not our destination.

“But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol”” (Genesis 42:38 ESV).

Jacob did not want his sons bringing Benjamin down to Egypt. He thought he had already lost Joseph to Sheol, and didn’t want to lose Benjamin as well. Such a loss would only mean death for Jacob, and joining his sons in Sheol.

But – wait a minute. Isn’t Sheol just another word for hell? No, it is not. The Hebrews did not see Sheol as a place of punishment for anyone. Sheol is the station where everyone waits in an unconscious state for resurrection to their final state: either eternal life or eternal death. Jacob expected to one day go to Sheol. He would never have expected to go to hell, and he would have never expected Joseph to go to hell.

“Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!” (Job 14:13 ESV).

Job actually looked forward to death and the intermediate state (Sheol). He wanted to forget the pain and unfair treatment he had experienced in life. His hope was not that he would be rewarded at death, but that death would be hidden (in a state of unconsciousness) and the resurrected back to life at an appointed time when God remembered him. That is the hope of the New Testament as well.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29 ESV).

We are all waiting for that hour. For some of us, we will be alive when the train comes in. Others are in their tombs, and waiting at the station. The Greeks called the station Hades. And it corresponds to the Hebrew Sheol. It is a state of unconsciousness where the dead wait for life. It is not the final state. Ears which have long since crumbled to dust will one day hear again. They will hear their master’s voice, calling them to their eternal destiny.

Even Jesus himself waited at the Hades station between his death on Good Friday and his resurrection to life again on Easter Sunday.

“For David says concerning him, “‘ I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:25-32 ESV).

Peter preached that Jesus waited at the Hades station, but was not allowed to wait long. After three days God raised him from his state of unconscious sleep and gave him life again. Unlike everyone else who has gone there, Jesus was not abandoned to Hades, and his body never saw corruption. His resurrection is our guarantee that we, too, will one day be raised to life.

Paul put it this way:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV).

Paul knew very well when the resurrection would come. It would take place “at his coming.” He was using a harvest metaphor to explain what happens at death. Death is a kind of planting of a person in Hades until the time of harvest comes. For Christ, his time of harvest has come, for he was the Firstfruits. For us, we await our time of harvest, which will happen at the second coming of Christ. The point is, our reward does not come at death. We are planted in the ground, and await the one who has the power to raise us up again. Until that happens, we sleep. Christ experienced this sleep as well. He did not cease to exist, but he did cease to function, and was absolutely dead from Good Friday until Easter Sunday.

The intermediate state is not a time of purgatorial purging of sin, nor is it a time of reward or punishment. Jesus told a story where he seemed to be saying that (Luke 16:19-31) but he was not teaching his disciples doctrine about the intermediate state. He was teaching the Pharisees about true riches (16:11). He adapted a story from their own folklore and twisted the ending so that the Pharisees “who were lovers of money” ((16:14) could see that God cares more about people like Lazarus than he does about their money. Jesus never intended this story to contradict all that the Bible teaches about the unconscious state of death. To use this story in that way is to take it out of its original context intended purpose.[272]

The Bible teaches that the waiting station of Sheol/Hades is a time when the eyes see no light: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3 ESV).

There is no awareness of things that are happening. There is no consciousness of either good or evil. And that is how it really should be. God’s people could not experience joy if they saw their loved ones suffering and falling into the devil’s traps.

The Bible teaches that absolutely no worship takes place in Sheol/Hades: “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Psalm 6:5 ESV). If you want to worship God, you had better not wait until you die. You will be invited to no angelic choruses. That is all the more reason for you to raise your voice in praise to the God who promises you a resurrection unto eternal life – a chance to praise his name for eternity in a resurrected body with resurrected lungs that can shout, and resurrected hands that can clap, and resurrected feed that can dance!

Death is a waiting station. It is not a time of reward. It is a time where we all pay the price for our ancestor’s rebellion, because the wages of their sin is death for all. But the waiting station is not the end of the journey. Thanks be to God who promises a resurrection unto eternal life at Jesus’ second coming. See you there!

[1] Gen. 35:29.

[2] Gen. 25:17.

[3] Gen. 49:29,33.

[4] Num. 20:26; 27:13; 32:50.

[5] Num. 27:13; 31:2; 32:50.

[6] 2 Kings 22:20; 2 Chron. 34:28.

[7] John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. (Charleston, SC: LLC, 2009), 38.

[8] Emanuel Swedenborg, Swedenborg Concordance. {John Faulkner Pitts, ed.} (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 27.

[9] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapter 18-50, vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995), 168.

[10] Peters Madison Clinton, Hebrew Types of Heaven (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazzar, LLC, 2009), 9.

[11] Gen. 47:30.

[12] Deut. 31:16.

[13] 2 Sam. 7:12.

[14] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmar Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 10.

[15] Matt. 9:24.

[16] John 11:11.

[17] Matt. 27:52.

[18] 2 Pet. 3:4

[19] Job. 7:9; 10:20; 17:13; 18:18; Psalm 13:3; 49:19; 88:12; 143:3; Prov. 20:20; Eccl. 6:3-5; Lam. 3:6.

[20] Eccl. 9:5,6,10; Job 21:13; Psalm 6:5; 30:9; 31:17; 94:17; Isaiah 38:18-19.

[21] Freeman Barton, Heaven, Hell, and Hades (Charlotte NC USA: Advent Christian General Conference, 1981), 58.

[22] James A Nichols Jr., Christian Doctrines (Nutley, NJ USA: The Craig Press, 1970), 220.

[23] Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes (Carlisle UK: The paternoster Press, 1994), 22-23.

[24] Fudge, 22, 26.

[25] Eccl. 1:3, 9, 14; 2:11, 17ff; 3:16; 4:1, 3, 7, 15; 5:13, 18; 6:1, 12; 8:9, 15, 17; 9:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 10:5.



[28] Eccl. 1:13; 2:3; 3:1; 5:2.

[29] The Old Testament uses the word Sheol to describe where all go at death. See Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; Num. 16:30, 33; Deut. 32:22; 1 Sam. 2:6; 2 Sam. 22:6; 1 Kgs 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13, 16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Psa. 6:5; 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14f; 55:15; 86:13; 88:3; 89:48; 116:3; 139:8; 141:7; Prov. 1:12; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11, 24; 23:14; 27:20; 30:16; Eccl. 9:10; Isa. 5:14; 7:11; 14:9, 11, 15; 28:15, 18; 38:10, 18; 57:9; Ezek. 31:15ff; 32:21, 27; Hos. 13:14; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Hab. 2:5. It cannot refer to hell in the traditional sense, because it includes all the dead, not just the unrighteous or unbelievers.

[30] Luke 16:20f.

[31] John 6:39,40,44,54.

[32] Matt. 19:29; 25:46; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; John 3:15f, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2-3.

[33] Matt. 8:11; 16:28; Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29.

[34] Deut. 32:26; Psa. 9:7; 34:17; 109:15.

[35] 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT.

[36] Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV.

[37] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. (Forgotten Books), 190.

[38] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. (Forgotten Books), 190.

[39] John Calvin, Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Psalms, Part I. (Forgotten Books), 429.

[40] Luke 23:46 ESV.

[41] John 20:17 ESV (emphasis mine).

[42] Acts 7:59 ESV.

[43] Acts 7:60 ESV (emphasis mine).

[44] John Calvin, Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Psalms, Part I. (Forgotten Books), 431.

[45] 2 Timothy 1:12 NIV.

[46] Acts 2:27,31 states that Jesus was in Hades until his resurrection, not paradise. Paul, in Eph. 4:9-10 calls it the “lower parts of the earth” and says that Christ descended there. Yet he says that a person having visions from God might be “caught up into paradise” (2 Cor. 12:3).

[47] John 19 says that the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves because they were still alive, but Jesus had already died that day. The thieves were taken down from their crosses alive, and left to die of exposure after dusk (which, according to Jewish reckoning, would have been the next day).

[48] Genesis 22:14 LXX; 2 Corinthians 3:15.

[49] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV (emphasis mine).

[50] H.E. Dana, and J.R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1957), 252.

[51] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond The Basics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 762.

[52] Deut. 4:40; 6:2, 6; 7:11; 8:11; 10:13; 11:8, 13, 22; 12:14; 13:1, 19; 15:5; 19:9; 27:4, 10; 28:1, 13ff; 30:2, 8, 11, 16.

[53] Deut. 26:3; 30:18; Zech. 9:12.

[54] John 6:39, 40, 44, 54.

[55] Matthew 22:23, 28, 30, 31.

[56] Luke 14:14.

[57] John 11:24.

[58] John 11:25

[59] John 14:3 NLT (emphasis mine).

[60] Matthew 25:1-13.

[61] Matthew 25:14-30.

[62] Matthew 25:31-46 (emphasis mine).

[63] Titus 2:13 .

[64] 1 Peter 1:13 NLT.

[65] James 5:7-8.

[66] 1 John 2:28.

[67] Revelation 22:12 NET.

[68] Luke 8:52.

[69] 1 Kings 2:10; 11:21, 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2 Chr. 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2, 23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20.

[70] 1 Corinthians 15:20.

[71] 1 Corinthians 15:23.

[72] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[73] 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[74] Genesis 4:4 ESV.

[75] Genesis 4:10 ESV.

[76] Genesis 4:12 ESV.

[77] Genesis 25:8 ESV.

[78] Genesis 25:9-10 ESV.

[79] 1 Samuel 13:14.

[80] Acts 2:34 NLT.

[81] Psalm 110:1.

[82] John 11:23 ESV.

[83] John 11:11 ESV.

[84] John 20:17 ESV.

[85] Revelation 1:17-18 ESV.

[86] Ecclesiastes 9:5 ESV.

[87] Psalm 6:5 ESV.

[88] 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[89] Titus 2:13.

[90] 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV.

[91] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV.

[92] 1 Thessalonians 5:10 ESV.

[93] 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV.

[94] 1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV.

[95] John 11:25.

[96] 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

[97] 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

[98] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[99] Revelation 14:13.

[100] 2 Corinthians 5:8 (NIV).

[101] 2 Corinthians 5:1.

[102] For a more comprehensive treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, see “Away from the body”


[103] In Philippians 2:12, Paul contrasts his presence (parousia) with his absence (apousia).

[104] 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7; 10:10; Philippians 1:26; 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

[105] 1 Corinthians 15:23.

[106] 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

[107] 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

[108] 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

[109] Keith Krell, “No Sleep Walking” (

[110] Angus Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics and 1 Thessalonians, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 186.

[111] 2 Thessalonians 2:1.

[112] Genesis 2:7.

[113] Genesis 2:8.

[114] Genesis 2:9.

[115] Genesis 2:9.

[116] Genesis 2:7.

[117] Revelation 21:4.

[118] Revelation 22:1-2.

[119] Genesis 2:20.

[120] Genesis 2:18.

[121] Genesis 1:28.

[122] 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6; 22:5.

[123] Genesis 2:21.

[124] Genesis 2:25.

[125] Revelation 21:22-26.

[126] 1 Corinthians 15:18.

[127] 1 Corinthians 15:23.

[128] 1 Corinthians 15:52.

[129] 2 Corinthians 5:1.

[130] 2 Corinthians 5:8.

[131] Philippians 3:11.

[132] 2 Corinthians 5:4.

[133] 2 Corinthians 5:6.

[134] 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.

[135] 2 Corinthians 5:9.

[136] 2 Corinthians 5:4.

[137] 2 Corinthians 5:2.

[138] 2 Corinthians 5:8.

[139] Luke 16:1-13.

[140] Luke 16:1.

[141] Luke 16:9.

[142] Luke 16:14.

[143] Luke 16:27-28.

[144] Luke 16:31.

[145] Luke 16:22.

[146] Job 10:21-22; 17:13; Lamentations 3:6.

[147] Psalm 31:17; Ezekiel 32:21,27; Psalm 94:17; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiastes 9:10.

[148] Psalm 13:3; 1 Kings 2:10; 11:21, 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2 Chr. 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2, 23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20.

[149] Luke 8:53.

[150] John 11:11.

[151] John 5:28-29.

[152] John 19:36-37 ESV.

[153] John 20:17 ESV.

[154] 1 Samuel 28:12.

[155] 1 Samuel 28:3.

[156] 1 Samuel 28:13.

[157] 1 Samuel 28:15.

[158] 2 Corinthians 5:4.

[159] 1 Samuel 28:16-19 ESV.

[160] Hebrews 11:39-40 NET.

[161] Genesis 37:35 KJV (also Genesis 42:38; 44:29, 31).

[162] 1 Samuel 2:6 KJV.

[163] Psalm 30:3 KJV (also 49:15; 88:3; 89:48).

[164] Psalm 9:17 KJV.

[165] Psalm 55:15 KJV.

[166] Proverbs 5:5 KJV.

[167] Proverbs 15:11 KJV.

[168] Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-31.

[169] Deuteronomy 34:5-7.

[170] 2 Kings 2:11.

[171] 2 Chronicles 21:12.

[172] Matthew 17:9 (ESV, KJV, NASB, NET, NKJV, NRSV, HCSB, LEB).

[173] Mark 9:7 ESV.

[174] Matthew 22:25-28 ESV.

[175] Matthew 22:32.

[176] John 11:25.

[177] 2 Corinthians 12:1.

[178] 2 Corinthians 12:4.

[179] Philippians 1:20.

[180] Philippians 1:21.

[181] Philippians 3:8-11.

[182] Philippians 1:23.

[183] Plato, Phaedo, Kindle version, location 705.

[184] Plato, location 754.

[185] 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[186] Genesis 2:17 ESV.

[187] Job 38:17; Psa. 107:10, 14; Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79.

[188] Psalm 13:3 ESV.

[189] John 11:11-14 ESV.

[190] Matthew 27:52 ESV.

[191] 1 Corinthians 15:6 ESV.

[192] 1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV.

[193] 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ESV.

[194] Jefferson Vann, Sheol: The Old Testament Consensus.

[195] Revelation 1:18 ESV.

[196] Revelation 20:13 ESV.

[197] Luke 20:36 ESV.

[198] John 11:24 ESV.

[199] Philippians 3:10 ESV.

[200] Philippians 3:11 ESV.

[201] 2 Corinthians 5:2-4 ESV.

[202] Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psa. 90:3; 104:29; Eccl. 3:20.

[203] Titus 2:13 ESV.

[204] Richard N. Longenecker, “Grave, Sheol, Pit, Hades, Gehenna, Abaddon, Hell” in Donald E. Gowan, ed. The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2003), 189.

[205] Hezekiah, for example, lamented that at the age of 39 he must walk through the gates of Sheol, being deprived of the rest of his years (Isaiah 38:10). And David spoke of his hope that God would rescue him from death by saying confidently that God would not abandon him to Sheol (Psalm 16:10). Both of these men of God understood entering Sheol as synonymous with dying.

[206] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), 99.

[207] Luke 16:19-31.

[208] References to Sheol in the Old Testament outnumber those of Hades in the New Testament over 6 to 1. Also, most of the New Testament references merely use the term Hades without explaining it.

[209] Genesis 37:35.

[210] Genesis 42:38; 44:29, 31; Num. 16:30, 33; 1 Sam. 2:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 17:16; Psalm 55:15; Prov. 1:12; 5:5; 7:27; Isaiah 14:11, 15; Ezekiel 31:15, 16, 17; 32:21, 27.

[211] Job 21:13

[212] Isaiah 57:9.

[213] Psalm 30:3; Prov. 1:12; Isaiah 14:15; 38:18; Ezekiel 31:16.

[214] Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11; 27:20.

[215] Eric Lewis, Christ, The First Fruits (Boston: Warren Press, 1949), 48.

[216] Deuteronomy 32:22.

[217] Job. 11:8.

[218] Psalm 86:13.

[219] Psalm 139:8.

[220] Isaiah 57:9.

[221] Amos 9:2-4.

[222] Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11.

[223] Psalm 69:34; 113:3; 145:3-7; 148:2.

[224] Psalm 31:17.

[225] Ezekiel 32:21, 27.

[226] Psalm 94:17; 115:17.

[227] Isaiah 38:18.

[228] Psalm 6:5.

[229] 1 Kings 4:32.

[230] 1 Kings 4:30.

[231] Ecclesiastes 9:10.

[232] Job 17:13.

[233] Job 10:21-22.

[234] Psalm 143:3.

[235] Lamentations 3:6.

[236] Psalm 13:3.

[237] 1 Kings 2:10; 11:21, 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2 Chr. 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2, 23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20.

[238] Daniel 12:2.

[239] Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52.

[240] John 11:11.

[241] Rev. 1:8; 6:8; 20:13-14.

[242] 2 Samuel 22:6.

[243] Psalm 6:5.

[244] Psalm 49:14.

[245] Psalm 89:48.

[246] 1 Samuel 2:6.

[247] 1 Corinthians 11;8-12.

[248] Job 19:25-27.

[249] The word cemetery comes from the Greek koimeterion, which is related to the word koimesis, used in the New Testament for both death and natural sleep.

[250] Acts 2:29 ESV.

[251] Jeremiah 51:1, 3, 20, 48, 53-54.

[252] Jeremiah 51:8.

[253] Jeremiah 51:13.

[254] Jeremiah 51:18.

[255] Jeremiah 51:37.

[256] Jeremiah 51:43 ESV.

[257] John 5:28-29.

[258] see John 11.

[259] Luke 16:13-14.

[260] John 11:35.

[261] 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23.

[262] 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15.


[264] 2 Corinthians 13:5.

[265] Galatians 5:19-24.

[266] Wayne A Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 322.

[267] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament. (), 194.

[268] Tim La Haye, The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 137.

[269] Genesis 2:7 ESV.

[270] Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV.

[271] John 5:28-29 ESV.

[272] For more information about the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, see Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes (Cascade Books, 2011) chapter 14: Jesus: Fire (Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus).

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !

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