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Resurrection or immortality of the soul? (PDF) PDF version

Resurrection or life immediately after death?

In this as well as in a series of other articles, we will touch a very serious topic that has been the source of long discussions and many questions. This topic refers to what happens after death and it will be approached from the point of view of the Bible, which we honestly believe that, being what God has said, is the only source that can give us reliable information.

1. Death: God does not want us ignorant

Starting the research on our subject, we will go to I Thessalonians 4:13 where we read:

I Thessalonians 4:13
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep..."

As it is obvious from this passage, God does not want us ignorant about those "who have fallen asleep" i.e. the dead ones. In contrast, He wants us informed, which in turn means that He has also provided all the information that is necessary for the elimination of any ignorance or misunderstanding. The only that is needed from our part to receive this information is simply to continue reading on the same passage. Really, verses 13-18 of the same chapter tell us:

I Thessalonians 4:13-18
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

As it can be seen, this passage refers to the "dead in Christ" or those who "sleep in Jesus" i.e. to those who died believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though these are only a category of the total of the dead ones, the conclusions drawn from the above passage regarding the state of the dead have general application1.

Moving now to what the above passage tells us, i.e. to the information that God gave us, to eliminate our ignorance and misunderstanding about the dead ones, we can see that no reference is made to a supposed life immediately after death. In contrast, what this passage clearly points out is the resurrection as the ONLY exit from the death state and the only way to enter again into life. Really according to the above passage, the dead in Christ will be raised in the day of the Lord's coming, while the alive Christians will be caught up that day with them in heaven to meet the Lord in the air. "AND THUS WE (all Christians, dead and alive) SHALL EVER BE WITH THE LORD", which in turn means that since we SHALL (future tense) be with the Lord, no dead is with the Lord now nor if we will die, will we be immediately with the Lord. Instead, we SHALL be with him at his coming.

Apart from the above passage of I Thessalonians 4:13-18 that was given to us so that we may be fully aware about the dead in Christ, God's Word contains more passages that corroborate what I Thessalonians 4:13-18 told us. Such a passage is I Corinthians 15:20-24, where starting from verses 20-22, we read:

I Corinthians 15:20-22
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man alsocame the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ ALL SHALL be made alive."

From this passage two things are made clear. The first is that ALL will be made alive, though, as verse 23 that follow tells us, "every man in his own order" i.e. not all simultaneously. Apart from this, something else that the above passage makes also clear is that the dead SHALL be made alive, which in turn means that THEY ARE NOT alive now, and thus the doctrine that teaches the contrary i.e. that they are alive now, cannot be correct. When now shall the dead be made alive is something that is answered in verses 23-24 of the same chapter, where we read:

I Corinthians 15:23-24
"But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at his coming. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father; when he puts an end to all rule and all authority and power."

The first - and the only one till now - that was raised from the dead is Christ. However, his resurrection will not be unique for ever, for in the future it will be followed: in a first place by the resurrection of those who are Christ's i.e. those who died believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and then, by the resurrection of the remaining ones. The time that the first of these resurrections, i.e. the resurrection of those who are Christ's, will happen is defined as the time of Christ's coming, which is what I Thessalonians 4 also told us. From this, it can be concluded that since, according to the "timetable" of the above passage, the dead in Christ will be the first that will be made alive and since the day that this will happen will be the day of Christ's coming, which is still future, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is NO dead that is alive now. In contrast, all SHALL be made alive in the future, and each one in his own order.

2. "With what body will the dead come"?

The Bible not only tells us that those who died believing in Christ will be raised in the day of his coming, but it also tells us with what body they will be raised. Really, starting from I Corinthians 15:35-41 we read:

I Corinthians 15:35-41
"But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but bare grain - perhaps wheat, or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differs from another star in glory."

The reason that Paul makes all these references to the seed that grows to something different, a plant, and to the differences among bodies and "fleshes" etc. is shown in the beginning of the passage, where we are explicitly told that all these are said with reference to "how the dead are raised up, and with what body they come", as well as in verse 42 where we read:

I Corinthians 15:42
"SO ALSO is the resurrection of the dead....."

The phrase "so also" connects what precedes it (verses 35-41) with what follows it ("the resurrection of the dead"). In other words, as a seed, though it "dies" it gives a whole plant, so also though this earthly body will die another body will succeed it in the resurrection. And as the bodies are not all the same, so also the resurrected body will not be the same with this earthly body. Moreover, as the celestial and the terrestrial bodies differ in glory so also the resurrection body will differ from the earthly body. As verses 42-45 tell us:

I Corinthians 15:42-45
"So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. THERE IS A NATURAL BODY, AND THERE IS A SPIRITUAL BODY. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul. The last Adam a life-giving spirit."

In this passage, the phrase "natural body" is a translation of the Greek phrase "soma psuchikon, where the word "psuchikon" is the adjective form of the noun "psuche" that means "soul". Thus, "soma psuchikon" means "soul body" i.e. a body whose life is based on soul2. This is the body that we have now, the body that "is sown" (I Corinthians 15:44). However, this body is inappropriate for the eternal life that God has promised us. Really as I Corinthians 15:50 tells us:

I Corinthians 15:50
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption."

This body of flesh and blood, being corruptible, is unable to inherit incorruption, and thus it has to be changed. As verses 53-55 say:

I Corinthians 15:53-55
"this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."

Only when the mortal and corruptible body we have now will put on immortality and incorruption, death will have been swallowed up in victory. For the new body - the body that is raised (I Corinthians 15:44) - that will take the place of the present corruptible soul body - the body that is sown (I Corinthians 15:44) - will be incorruptible, death will have no power over it. It will not be a soul body i.e. a body whose life is based on soul, but a spiritual body i.e. a body with the same properties and abilities as the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only one that till now has a body like this. As verses 44-49 of I Corinthians 15 tell us:

I Corinthians 15:44-49
"There is a natural body (soma psuchikon), and there is a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon). And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, earthly: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As was the earthly, so also are they that are earthy: and asis the heavenly, so also are they that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." (NKJV-KJV)

Any man that has passed from the face of the earth, Adam and Christ included, had a soul body. However, Jesus is the only one that went further than this, for though he died, he did not remain dead as all the others, but he was raised, after three days and three nights, with an incorruptible, spiritual, body. Thus, the spiritual body is not a theoretical concept, but a reality since it is the body that the Lord Jesus Christ has now3. And as we now wear Adam's "uniform", the soul body - "the image of the earthly" - so one day, the day of Christ's coming, we will also wear his "uniform", the spiritual body, - "the image of the heavenly". When will this happen is something that is answered in verses 51-52 of the same chapter of I Corinthians, where we read:

I Corinthians 15:51-52
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

And as I Thessalonians 4:15-18 also told us:

I Thessalonians 4:15-18
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

Concluding therefore, from what we have seen by now:

God does not want us ignorant about those who died and for this reason, He has supplied in His Word all the relevant information for our benefit. Thus, according to this information, Christ is the first and the only one that though he died he is alive NOW, as God raised him from the dead. As I Corinthians 15:23 characteristically told us, he is the FIRSTfruits, the FIRST one. Following him, the next that will be made alive will be those who are Christ's i.e. the dead Christians, while in a later time the remaining dead will follow (I Corinthians 15:23).

Regarding now the time that the dead in Christ will be made alive, the Word defines it as the time of the Lord's coming. In turn, this means that since the Lord's coming is still a future event, the dead can by no means be alive now. Instead, they SHALL be made alive that day. However, this will not be the only event that will happen that day, as along with the raising of the dead Christians, those Christians that will be alive that day will be caught up with the raised ones in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17). And as I Thessalonians 4:17 tells us: "AND THUS WE (all Christians) SHALL ALWAYS BE WITH THE LORD".

Regarding now the body that the dead will have that day, this will be what the Bible calls "spiritual body" i.e. an incorruptible, immortal body like the body that Jesus Christ has now. This will also be the body that the alive Christians that will be caught up in the clouds that day will get, in substitution of the present corruptible soul body. According to the Word, all this will take just "a twinkling of an eye" (I Corinthians 15:52), and can happen anytime, even in the next moment from now. The exact time is not something that God has revealed in His Word and therefore no-one can know it (see I Thessalonians 5:1-2, Mark 13:32, II Peter 3:4-13)

3. Some further analysis regarding the dead

Despite the fact that the Word of God states very clearly the truth about the dead ones, a look at what most Christians believe shows great differences. Really, for many Christians when one dies his soul continues to live and after it is judged, it goes to heaven where it is with the Lord and its loved ones, having full consciousness and praising the Lord in a blissful state. Thus, according to this "common view", death is actually a friend by which we obtain a better life in "the other side". A comparison of this view to what we saw that God revealed for our benefit, makes its faultiness obvious. However, apart from the passages we have seen by now, the Word contains even more that make the wrong of the "common view" and its claims more than evident. Below, the main claims of this view will be examined and put against the Word of God4.

3.1. Is heaven the place where the dead go after death?

As we saw in part 1, the first group of dead that will go to heaven will be the raised Christians, in the day of the Lord's coming. From this, it can be easily concluded that no dead is in heaven now - apart of course from the raised Christ - and no-one goes there after his death. Where therefore do the dead go after death? The answer that the Bible gives is in the gravedom, as this is the meaning of the words "Sheol" and "Hades" that the Bible uses to denote the place of the dead. A complete understanding of the characteristics of the gravedom can be obtained by a word study of these two words. For this purpose appendix 2 contains a complete list of their occurrences in the Bible.

3.2 Do the dead have consciousness and knowledge?

Another claim of tradition is that after death, the dead continue living, having full knowledge and consciousness and helping the living ones. Again, from what God told us so that we may no longer be ignorant it is obvious that a claim like this cannot be right. Really, according to what we saw, the dead are not alive now which in turn means that they cannot do things that can be assigned to and characterize the living ones only. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 9 truly leaves no space for any different opinion. Thus there we read:

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 9
"But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living KNOW that they will die; BUT THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; NEVERMORE WILL THEY HAVE A SHARE IN ANYTHING DONE UNDER THE SUN. ....... Whatever your hand finds top do, do it with your might FOR THERE IS NO WORK OR DEVICE OR KNOWLEDGE OR WISDOM IN THE GRAVE (Sheol) WHERE YOU ARE GOING."

As it is obvious from this passage, the dead are not conscious, and "nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun" i.e. in anything done in life. This not only refutes the claim of consciousness and knowledge after death but it also refutes the claim of many denominations that "holy" dead men appeared to other "holy" men and spoke to them, or that such persons as Mary hear and answer prayers. As we saw, according to the Bible, with the exception of the raised Christ there is no man that died and is alive now. Thus there is no dead that can appear to alive people or hear and answer prayers for, being dead, he has no consciousness and cannot "have a share in anything done under the sun."

3.3 Do the dead praise God?

Another claim of tradition regarding the dead, is that when one dies he goes to heaven where he praises God. Though from the examination of the information that God gave us so that we may be informed and not ignorant, it is obvious that this claim is again false, as the dead are neither in heaven nor they are alive so that they can praise, the Word answers this claim directly as well. Thus Psalms 6:5 tells us:

Psalms 6:5
"For in death there is no remembrance of You [God]. In the grave [Sheol] who shall give you thanks?"

Contrary to the tradition's ideas, the Word makes clear that "in death there is NO remembrance" of God. In Sheol, the gravedom, no one will give Him thanks for no one is alive there so that he can do that. In contrast, it is the LIVING and only they that will praise God and give Him thanks. Really, Isaiah 38:18-19 tells us:

Isaiah 38:18-19
"For SHEOL CANNOT THANK YOU [God], DEATH CANNOT PRAISE YOU; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth. THE LIVING, THE LIVING MAN, HE SHALL PRAISE YOU...."

It is the living and not the dead that will thank and glorify God. It is now that we will thank Him and praise Him and not when we will die.

3.4 Is death a friend sent by God?

In addition to the above, another claim of tradition is that death is a friend sent by God to bring us nearer to Him. Again, what we have seen in parts 1 and 2, is enough to show that this claim is again false. Really, if death was a friend sent by God then there would be no reason for God to cancel its effects with the resurrection. This shows that death cannot be a friend, as tradition supports. Really, in I Corinthians 15:26 we read:

I Corinthians 15:26
"The last ENEMY that will be destroyed is death"

Death is not a friend, as many present it, but an enemy and as such it will be destroyed5. From this we can additionally conclude that death being an enemy that God will destroy, cannot have God as originator. Who is then the real originator of death? The answer is given in Hebrews 2:14 where we read:

Hebrews 2:14
"He himself (Jesus) likewise shared in the same that through death he might destroy him WHO HAD THE POWER OF DEATH THAT IS THE DEVIL"

It is the devil therefore that has the power of death. As John 8:44 characteristically tells us:

John 8:44
"You (He means the Jews with whom he was speaking) are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He (the devil) was MURDERER FROM THE BEGINNING"

Devil was a murderer from the beginning. In contrast, God not only He never desired death, but working to exactly the contrary direction, supplied a complete solution to the death problem. What is this solution? The believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Really as Jesus said in John 11:25

John 11:25
"Jesus said to her, "I am the RESURRECTION and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, HE SHALL LIVE"

When shall he live? We have already seen it: in the day of the coming of the Lord when "the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (I Corinthians 15:52).

4. Conclusion

In this article, we studied the subject of what happens after death. As we saw, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ that was raised from the dead, there is no other dead that is alive now. The next ones that will be made alive, will be those who are Christ's i.e. the dead Christians, in the day of the Lord's coming. The body they will have that day, will not be a soul body, like the one they used to have up to their death, but a spiritual body, like the body that the Lord Jesus has now. The resurrection of the dead Christians will be followed by the catching up of those Christians that will be alive that day, and whose body will also be changed from soul to spiritual. After all this, "WE (all Christians, dead and alive) SHALL ALWAYS BE WITH THE LORD" (I Thessalonians 4:17).

Having examined what the Bible says about the dead, we moved on and examined some common claims of tradition in the light of what God's Word says. Thus, we saw that the dead:

i) do not go to heaven but to gravedom.

ii) have no consciousness and no share to what happens in life

iii) do not praise God neither give Him thanks.

Moreover, we saw that:

iv) death is not a friend that brings us nearer to God, but an enemy that will be destroyed and that

v) it does not have God as originator but the devil.

From all the above, it should be clear that death is not a hope that as Christians we should have. Instead, our hope is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which, if we are dead we will be risen, and if we are alive will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17). As Christians therefore, we should not wait for the day of our death but for the day of the Lord's coming. As Philippians 3:20-21 characteristically tells us:

Philippians 3:20-21
"For our citizenship is IN HEAVEN, FROM WHICH WE ALSO EAGERLY WAIT FOR THE SAVIOUR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO WILL TRANSFORM OUR LOWLY BODY (the soul body) THAT IT MAY BE CONFORMED TO HIS GLORIOUS BODY (the spiritual body), according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself."

May we therefore open our ears and hearts not to the false "comfort" of the religion but to the true comfort of the Word, so that we may wait not for the day of the miserable event of death but for the day of the glorious coming of the Lord, in which our present corruptible soul body will be transformed "that it may be conformed to his glorious body" and after which "we shall always be with the Lord".

 

Anastasios Kioulachoglou

 

 

 



Footnotes

1.Really, as we will see though there are differences regarding the time that each category of dead (believers, unbelievers, people lived under other administrations) will be raised as well as what will follow these resurrections (eternal life, condemnation, judgment according to the law) there is no difference among them regarding the present state of the dead that compose them.

2.For more about soul, see: The Journal of Biblical Accuracy, Vol.1, Issue 5, May 1996

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3.Since after his resurrection Jesus Christ has a spiritual body, a reasonable way to get more information about the properties and abilities of this body would be through a study of the post-resurrection gospel references. By doing this we can see that: the spiritual body is a body with supernatural abilities since the raised Christ could automatically and suddenly appear and disappear (see Luke 24:31, 37). Moreover, it is a body with variable form (Mark 16:12), though it has both flesh and bones and it can be touched, i.e. it is a literal body (Luke 24:39)

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4.For the examination of what the Bible defines as soul, and the relative claim of "soul's immortality" the reader is referred to the articles: "Body, Soul and Spirit" and "The origins of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul"

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5.See Revelation 20:14 for the exact record of its destruction

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