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Many Bible students recognize that the dead in Christ sleep until the resurrection, at His second coming. Yet some continue to be puzzled by several scriptures which apparently suggest that people continue in a conscious state immediately after their death. These passages are easily resolved by letting Scripture be its own interpreter.

1. Doesn't the story of the rich man and Lazarus prove that the wicked are in hell now and the righteous are in heaven? See Luke 16:22-31.

If parables are to be taken literally, we would believe that trees can talk. See Judges 9:7-15; 2 Kings 14:9.

If we are going to take this parable literally we have to believe that:

1. Abraham's bosom is large enough to accommodate all the righteous dead.
2. The righteous in heaven can see and talk to people in hell.
3. One drop of water could relieve the thirst of the wicked burning in hell.
4. The dead can return to earth with messages. (The Bible says this is impossible. See Job 7:9, 10).

Christ's point in this parable was that during this life time we decide our destiny for eternity. Death holds no second chance to be saved. He was illustrating to the priests and rulers what their final end would be if they didn't repent. He told them. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Later He did awaken His friend Lazarus from the dead and they still didn't accept Christ's Lordship.

[For a comparison of the above Bible understanding of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with another popular view, click here.]

2. What about Moses and Elijah when they appeared to Christ on the mount? They weren't sleeping in the grave. See Matt. 17:1-5.

Elijah never died; he was translated without seeing death. See 2 Kings 2:1-11. Rom. 5:14 says "Death reigned from Adam to Moses." because Moses was resurrected. See Jude 9. They represent the two groups Christ will save at the second coming; Moses typifies the righteous dead, and Elijah the righteous living.

3. Didn't Jesus, while dying on Calvary, promise to take the repentant thief with Him that day to Paradise? See Luke 23:43.

Christ's use of the word "today" signifies the triumph of His sacrifice. He was ruling from the cross as the Redeemer of humanity and dispensing salvation to the repentant thief. He who in all other eyes appeared to be conquered was a Conqueror. It is His royal right to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.

Rotherham's translation of this text is:

"Verily. I say unto thee this day: With me shalt thou be in Paradise." The original Greek text did not have any punctuation in it. The phrase, "I say unto thee today shalt thou be with me in paradise", harmonizes best with the rest of scripture if the comma is placed after "today."

Jesus Himself did not go that day to Paradise; He slept in the tomb until Sunday morning. When He rose He said, "I am not yet ascended to My Father." John 20:17.

At His second coming, Christ will resurrect the repentant thief (with all the redeemed) and at that time take him to paradise. See I Cor. 15:22, 23.

Quite possibly the thief did not die that day. It usually took several days for the victims of crucifixion to die.*

4. Didn't the witch of Endor raise the spirit of Samuel to talk to king Saul? 1 Sam. 28:7-20.

Scripture says that the witch of Endor "had a familiar spirit." 1 Sam. 28:7. 1 Chron. 10:1 3 states: "Saul died for his transgression. . . against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit to inquire of it." This text reveals that: (1) Saul was in rebellion against God's word, (2) Saul consulted a witch, who did not call Samuel. but rather "a familiar spirit," which Webster's dictionary defines as "an evil spirit, more or less under the control of a witch." Further, God's word (1) forbids all attempts to contact the dead, see Dent 18:10-12; (2) condemns witchcraft as evil, see Lev. 19:31; 20:6; (3) teaches that the dead know nothing, but are unconsciously asleep, Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 9:5, 6; (4) consequently the spirits of the dead are only "spirits of devils working miracles." Rev. 16:14.

5. Doesn't the Bible say Christ went and preached to lost souls in hell between His burial and resurrection? See 1 Peter 3:18-20.

This is a misinterpretation. What it says is that Christ's gospel was preached "by the Spirit" through Noah to the people living before the Flood. Compare with 1 Peter 1:10-12 where the gospel was also preached by the Spirit. The "spirits in prison" were people whose lives were in bondage to Satan. This "prison" was not some mystical, otherworldly detention center, but the condition of spiritual bondage. See Ps. 142:7; Isa. 42:6,7; 61:1; Lk. 4:18. Scripture also states, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this, the judgment," not "after this a second chance to hear the gospel." See Heb. 9:27, cf. 2 Cor. 5:10.

6. What did Paul mean when he wrote, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord"? See 2 Cor. 5:8.

Actually the text says, "We are . . . willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord." This text in no way proves or suggests that immediately after death we go into the presence of the Lord. Paul clearly taught that the dead remain unconscious until Christ returns from heaven to resurrect them. See 1 Thess. 4:13-16; 1 Cor. 15:21-23, 50-55. If you read 2 Cor. 5:1-9 with the understanding that "earthly house" means our mortal bodies, "house from heaven" means our glorified immortal bodies, and "naked or unclothed" means dead or in the grave, then the entire passage represents the Christian's intense longing to be in a glorified body with Christ in his soon-coming kingdom.

7. Doesn't the reference to souls crying under the altar (Rev. 6:9, 10) indicate that souls do not die?

No, the language is symbolic and figurative, like the reference to the voice of Abel's blood crying out from the ground. See Gen. 4:10. Abel's blood had no tongue or voice, but the record of his martyrdom called for divine justice. Would God confine redeemed souls under an altar, and would they be crying out for revenge? Scripture teaches that godly people pray for their enemies' conversion rather than for revenge. See Matt. 5:44; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60.

Rev. 6:9, 10 signifies that the record of the martyrdoms of God's true witnesses demands redress through divine judgment. See Jer. 5:9; Ps. 9:11-18.

* If the thief didn't die on Good Friday, the assumption is that he was taken down from his cross on that day and put back up on the first day of the week (Sunday) to complete the process of dying. It is sometimes also thought that the victims legs were broken so they could not easily get away alive. Others suggest that death by suffocation would follow quickly after the legs were broken since the victim probably could not then push with his legs to assist in expanding the lungs to get a breath of air. Considering the above, it is the webmaster's view (contrary to that of the author of the magazine) that the footnoted statement does not contribute to a correct understanding of the Bible evidence.

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Created: 8/1/01 Updated: 07/16/07