BUT WHAT ABOUT…?
I can hear them now – some of the Bible scholars I know challenging my argument with a few scriptures that do not seem to fit the premise. At first glance these passages may appear to pose a problem, so I am just going to lay them out on the table and save my friends some trouble:
But, What About…
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7 KVJ
Those six chemicals we spoke of earlier dry out and get blown over the ground when the body becomes lifeless. Nephesh is the original Hebrew here and can be translated “life” and is the same word used in the Genesis account of the creation. God formed the man from the dust of the ground – molded the clay and breathed in his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). This passage is saying that the breath of life is returning to God who gave it. There is no evidence here of an immortal soul.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: Revelation 6:9 KJV
The book of Revelation is written using intense symbolism, generally believed to be depicting events that have yet to occur. We cannot say that John’s glance under the altar revealed the immortal souls of those martyred for the testimony of Christ. What does an immortal soul look like anyway? I believe, based on the definition of psuche’, that what John saw under the alter were people, and those people represented the lives of those martyred. I do not know how he knew it, but he did.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 1 Peter 3:18-20 KJV
*God’s Spirit raised Christ from the dead. That same Spirit preached through Noah to the wicked generation of his time. The spirits (Greek: nuema), when used regarding human beings means “rational souls”, or here, the disobedient people of his generation who were in prison, slaves to their sin, while Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2:5), warned them of the coming flood for 120 years while he built the ark. Eight souls (people) were saved from the water, by the water. For context, see 1 Peter 1:10-11, where the Spirit is said to speak through the prophets. Also see Hebrews 1:1; 11:7.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 KJV
An answer that is certainly possible is the moving of the coma (inserted by the translator anyway). “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.” Also, Jesus did not enter paradise on that day. He was buried and spent three days in the tomb.
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. 1 Peter 4:6 KJV
The gospel was preached to Christians who are now dead but who heard and responded to the gospel before they died and lived walking with God in the Spirit. They, being now gone, have been judged according to the appointment of men once to die – then the judgement.
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished. 2 Peter 2:9 KJV
Some see here that the unjust are being detained conscious somewhere awaiting judgement to be punished. This passage just does not say that. Reserving judgement on the unjust does not require that they be held somewhere.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 KJV
Consider another rendering: For God has not destined us to [incur His] wrath [that is, He did not select us to condemn us], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died [willingly] for us, so that whether we are awake (alive) or asleep (dead) [at Christ’s appearing], we will live together with Him [sharing eternal life]. Amplified Bible
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 KJV
Of course, Stephen did not say “soul”, he said “spirit”. Stephen prays that the Lord receive his spirit, not his soul. Spirit is simply the life energy of a person. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:21-24 KJV
*Paul is saying that for him to live is better for his disciples, but to die is better for him. Dying means rest from his labor and ultimately to be with Christ. There is only one way to be with Christ and Paul described that to his disciples in Thessalonica (4:16-17). The dead in Christ rise first, then we which are alive at His coming will be caught up together with the dead to meet the Lord in the air, and so (in this manner) we shall ever be with the Lord. There is no other way this happens.
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 KJV
*From the beginning of the chapter, the context is set in a contrast between the tent we live in now and the house in which we will dwell eternally with the Lord. Paul is saying that while we are here in this tent, we cannot have that house, because that house is not available to us until after the resurrection which puts to rest the notion that being “present with the Lord” immediately follows being “absent from the body”.
And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:38-21 KJV
Jesus met with Moses and Elijah, two dead Old Testament prophets on the Mount of Transfiguration. Far from being proof for uninterrupted consciousness after death, it shows that Christ is the God of the living and of the dead through His resurrection power. Not only did he raise the dead son of the widow of Nain, Jarius’ daughter and His friend Lazarus, but He reached into a 1500 year old grave and one that was 900 years old and raised Moses and Elijah from the dead and transported them to the mount to meet Him. Martha told Jesus that she believed that her brother, Lazarus, would rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus responded by saying, “I am the resurrection.” By uttering this truth, Jesus showed His power over the living and the dead all the way to the last day. But, there is nothing in this passage to point to consciousness after death.
But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Matthew 22:31-32 KJV
Jesus is speaking to the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection of the dead. He’s not saying that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are awake somewhere, but that God has power to raise them from the dead and will do so at the judgement, therefore He is the God of the living. (See also Romans 14:9)
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) Ephesians 4:8-10 RSV
Leading captivity captive (KJV) and descending into the lower parts of the earth are associated in the minds of some as Christ preaching in hell to the antediluvians to give them a second chance. There are two parts to how I might answer this interpretation: (a) the captives and (b) ascending/descending.
Who are the captives? Jesus paid a ransom (Mark 10:45) and we are the redeemed (Romans 3:23-24; Colossians 1:12-14). Paul spoke of us as slaves to Christ who were slaves to sin (Romans 6:16-18). We are the captives being led captive.
Jesus, teaching in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), read Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Some may say even here that the “captives” are those that are in hell. I do not know about that. Jesus then closed the book, sat down and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised – all of them, were right there in Judea, and right then as He taught.
Ascending and descending can refer to the incarnation and subsequent ascension on high. But, to ascend required first that He descend “into the lower parts of the earth”, which could easily be translated, “lower parts, the earth.” However, I believe the descending refers to His burial, as the “lower parts of the earth” is typically descriptive of the grave (Psalm 63:9) as can also be seen in Paul’s question, “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (That is, to bring Christ down from above.) Or, who shall descend into the deep? (That is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)” in Romans 10:6-7.
It should be noted that it is God’s general plan that we each live life, die and then, when it comes time – the judgement. There is no provision for a second chance (Hebrews 9:27) this way,
*In addressing some of these passages of scripture, I relied on Frank Tamel, Between Death and Eternity, Oak Creek: Mana Ministries, ©2000