One question which first year students at a theological seminary want to know is what the Bible teaches on the state of the dead. What happens to a man when he dies? Is he still conscious, and is a man's soul naturally immortal?
1) I too want to know the answers to these questions, I feel we don't study the Bible enough to find the truth.
Answer: It is deplorable that some who read the Bible don't have the right answers to these questions. The first thing we should do is to confirm our faith in the teachings of the Bible. Please read 2 Pet. 1:21 and 2 Tim 3:16.
2) "Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. And is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." What does "given by inspiration of God" mean?
Answer: "Given by inspiration of God" means that the Holy Spirit inspired the men who wrote the Bible; this makes it a unique book. It is not the product of human talent, but was written and compiled under God's guidance. It is the word of God; so it should be our norm of faith. In John 17:17 Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth." Since man was made by God, God's book should tell us all we should know about man's life, death and resurrection.
3) That's right! The resurrection must be related to eternal life. Why is it some Christians seldom talk about it?
Answer: Perhaps it is because they think they go to heaven when they die, so feel no need for the resurrection. Since a man is in heaven already, it makes little difference whether his body rises again from the grave or not!
4) So the first thing we all need to clarify is: What happens to a person when he dies? Does he go to heaven?
Answer: Chinese Christians often say of a believer who has died, that he has been "Called back to heaven." It is comforting to the bereaved to know that their loved one is in heaven. But this expression is not in the Bible. The earliest record we have in Genesis are the words, "Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, . . .and was gathered to his people." (Gen. 25:8) The Bible says nothing of him going to heaven. Next we read that "Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people." (Gen. 35:29) Not a word on going to heaven. Gen. 49:33 says, "When Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he . . . breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." Gen. 50:26 says, "Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old, and they embalmed him." 1 Sam. 25:1 says, "Then Samuel died; and the Israelites . . .lamented for him, and buried him." 1 Kings 2:1,2 says, "The days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying, 'I go the way of all the earth." "The way of all the earth" is the title of our talk.It recognizes that all men, good or bad, go the same way at death; the difference is in the time and nature of their two future resurrections: Christ calls them "the resurrection of life" and "the resurrection of condemnation."(John 5:28,29)
A thousand years after king David, when Peter preached about David's prophecy of Christ in Psalm 16, he said, "For David did not ascend into the heavens." (Acts 2:34) The Bible never says a man goes to heaven when he dies.
5) What about the story of the rich man going to Hades and Lazarus going to rest in the bosom of Abraham?
Answer: That story will be our special topic next time. Now let us continue reading how the Bible records the death of its men. 1 Kings 11:43 says, "Solomon rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David his father." 2 Kings 20 records the story of Hezekiah's life extended by God: "In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah . said to him, 'Thus says the Lord: "Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live."' Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, 'Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.' And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then, . . before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, . . . the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 'Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: 'I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. . . And I will add to your days fifteen years.'" Now if a good man goes to heaven at death, Isaiah should have told Hezekiah that he was soon to enter heaven. And Hezekiah need not weep if he believed he would go to heaven when he died. Likewise, all who believe that they will go to heaven when they die should welcome death instead of fearing it.
6) Please read some Bible texts to clarify the problem of the immortality of the soul, which many people believe in.
Answer: One Bible verse is enough to clarify this: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) This says nothing of the soul, but it has the word "perish", which means extinction. Now if a man's soul is immortal, it already has everlasting life, and will not perish, so it does not need to believe in Christ. The Bible truth is: whoever wants eternal life must believe in Christ; who died that we might live. Satan's first lie was, "You shall not surely die." You are immortal gods without Christ. So the natural immortality of the soul is based on Satan's lie. It denies that God can destroy a soul which He has made.
7) Can we discuss the original Hebrew and Greek words for "spirit" and "soul"? Will that help solve the problem?
Answer: Because of the abstract nature of these terms, there is no exact Chinese equivalent for the Hebrew and Greek words for "soul" and "spirit". The Chinese habitually combine ling and hun into one term ling hun, which is not done in Hebrew or Greek, where "spirit" and "soul" are two distinct terms. When the present Chinese Union Version was translated, they did not follow a strict rule in rendering the Greek pneuma as ling, and psuche as hun. For instance, in Luke 23:46 Christ said, "Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit." The Greek word here is pneuma, the Chinese should be ling, but is here translated ling hun. Most readers think that Christ went to heaven when He said those words. But they are wrong; Jesus said on the day of His resurrection, "I have not yet ascended to My Father."(John 20:17)
Christ once equated "life" with "spirit", saying, "The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life."(John 6:63) In another verse He said, "It is the Spirit who gives life." Here He identifies the Holy Spirit with His words. They are one life-giving force, yet when Christ said, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit", He evidently referred to the life force in His body; yet it was not His person, who rested in the grave over the Sabbath and rose the third day.
We may compare the body to the matter in an electric lamp, electricity to the spirit, and light and heat to the soul. This explains how "the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."(Eccl. 12:7)
"Soul" is distinct from "spirit" in both Hebrew and Greek. The spirit, which is the life of a man, leaves him at death, but the soul in both Hebrew and Greek is identified with his person. In the Chinese Bible about half of the number of "souls" are translated ren (man), and often omitted. An example is seen in Ezek. 18:4,"Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die." The NKJV Bible translates the four occurrences of "soul" here, but the Chinese Bible omits all four. Perhaps the translators believed the soul to be immortal. So they translated the last clause, "he who sins shall die." God who made the soul is certainly able to destroy it.
The translation problem is first met in Gen. 2:7, "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."(NKJV) The KJV follows the Hebrew: "man became a living soul." The word "became" indicates that man does not have a soul; he is a soul.
The Chinese version says, " and he became a living man having a spirit." which is not true to the Hebrew. It shows that the translators followed no strict rules in translating "soul" and "spirit". Rev. 20:4 says that the "souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus . . . lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." The Bible teaches that souls can die and live again. They are not naturally immortal, but become immortal by receiving life from Christ.
8) People tell stories of how their souls departed, saw strange things and came back again. Can they be true?
Answer: Eccl. 9:5 says, "The living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing." All the teachings of the Bible agree with scientific facts. One fact is that whatever a man remembers is stored in his brain cells. So the brain is the material seat of the soul, which embraces the thoughts, sensations, and emotions of a human being. One who says he has been to some place and come back, proves that his brain was active during the time he was "away". He was not dead. For a dead brain has no memory. On the other hand, a living man's brain can stop functioning for a time due to concussion. I was once hit by a car and taken to the hospital, where I woke up several hours later. I still cannot recall all that happened when I was unconscious. Where was my soul at that time? It was also unconscious----blacked out. Now suppose the car which hit me ran away, and another car came and killed me, do you suppose my soul would then gain consciousness and go to heaven? No; that is prepostrous. Soul sensibility cannot be separated from the brain functions.
Take Princess Diana's death. Three persons in her car died and one lived. When he revived he could not recall what happened in that accident. The brain concussion blacked out his memory of those crucial minutes. Where was his soul during that time? It was unconscious. Could it be that he who survived the crash lost consciousness for a time, but they who died became conscious and went to heaven? No. All facts show that soul consciousness resides in the brain.
9) How do you explain the case of the penitent thief who heard Christ say that he would be in Paradise "today"?
Answer: This is a question of syntax. The verse reads, "Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." The Greek text had no punctuation, all punctuation in modern versions was inserted by the translators. Here the meaning depends on where you place the comma. If you placed it after the "today" it would refer to the time of promise, not the time of being in Paradise. In Chinese syntax, "today" should be placed before "I say to you", Here is the actual order of words in the Greek text: ."Truly to you I say today with me you will be in Paradise." In Greek "today" can modify "say", and can modify "you will be". Circumstances would favor placing the comma after "today". For Christ did not ascend to His Father that day; and the thief, who was not fatally wounded, could not have died that day.
Normally, crucified victims lingered many days The spear thrust in Jesus' side proved that he died of a broken heart..
10) What about Paul's words in Philippians 1:23,24 "I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you."
Answer: To understand this text, we need to read what Paul wrote on the state of the dead. In 1 Cor. 15:16-18 he said, "If the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." Note this last remark: If those "fallen asleep in Christ". are "with Christ" in heaven, how could Paul say that they have perished? He means that their only hope is to rise again.
With this in mind, we ask, What did Paul mean when he said, "having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better"? In the light of the above remark, this seems to be a contradiction. But in the same epistle Paul writes of his desire to be "conformed to His death." He says, "I also count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."
( Phil. 3:8-10) That is, Paul wants to die a martyr's death. That was what he had in mind when he said, "having a desire to depart and be with Christ." Where? With Christ in martyrdom! Note that this paramount desire of Paul is in the same epistle where he writes of his "desire to depart with Christ, which is far better". If we enter fully into Paul's desire, we will not think that the "far better" thing is to rest with Christ in heavenly bliss, but to stand with Christ before the executioner's sword. Only thus can he realize his desire to be conformed to Christ's death. In 2 Tim. 4:6-8 Paul's says: "the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." His hope is: "if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
11) Is there a Bible text that says all final rewards for the righteous are reserved for the day of Christ's appearing?
Answer: Heb. 11:13,39 says, "These all died in faith, not having received the promise, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, . . all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us." So they are waiting for us.
12) Some people say that after Christ died He went to hell to preach to the souls of men who died in Noah's flood.
Answer: This has to do with a text which many mystify. It reads, "Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved . . ." (1 Pet. 3:18,19)
Some think that Christ went to preach to the souls of the men who died in Noah's flood, to make them repent. If so, Christ's commission to preach the gospel is nonessential. For if men are lost, they still have a second chance---to hear Christ Himself preach. The absurdity of this doctrine is evident. It is a misinterpretation. What then is the correct view?
The crucial term is "spirits in prison". Paul wrote, "The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit"(2 Tim 4:22), which is much the same as "The Lord be with you." So "soul" and "spirit" stand for a living person, not for a dead one. And the "spirits in prison" refer to living, not dead people. Then let's look at "prison". No Bible text uses "prison" to refer to hell or Hades. So here it is used figuratively. Isa. 61:1 says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me . . to proclaim . . the opening of the prison to those who are bound." So we take "spirits in prison" to mean people bound in sin. This Biblical interpretation is much more reasonable than the idea of souls shut up in hell.
Note that "spirits in prison" relates to Christ preaching "by the Spirit". It harks back to Gen. 6:3, where "the Lord said,' My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred twenty years.'"
How did the Spirit of God strive with men? Through Noah the "preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5) 1 Pet. 1:10,11 says, "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, . . .searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." So the problem in 1 Pet. 3:19 finds solution in Peter's two epistles, plus Gen. 6:3 and Isa. 61:1. They help us harmonize this obscure text with the consistent Bible teaching on the state of the dead. The 120 years in Gen. 6:3 indicate that God had declared a term of probation before He executed the death sentence on the "spirits in prison".
13) Can you find one Bible text that says a man's soul can be destroyed and therefore is not immortal?
Answer: Matt. 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." This makes us think of the resurrection, which restores both body and soul. The lake of fire destroys body and soul forever. 1 John 5:11 tells us, "This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." Next time we will study the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Be sure to join us again.