THE DEAD AND THEIR RESURRECTION
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 32)
One of the wonderful things about having everlasting life is the comfort of the knowledge that even though you may die you shall live! For Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” John 11:25&26a.
Jesus said those words just before he raised Lazarus from the dead. And in raising Lazarus, Jesus was demonstrating that He was indeed who He said He was. Notice that Jesus is the resurrection AND He is the life. He’s not just the resurrection only. He is the resurrection in that He has the power to raise the dead. And He is the life in that He has the power to grant life to people before they die. Therefore, like Lazarus, the physical death of the believer is not the end of their life. For, as Jesus says, “…whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” In other words, if you die believing in Jesus for everlasting life, you don’t lose that everlasting life.
Physical death just means that you have lost the use of your physical body for a period. It doesn’t mean the end of your existence, which means then that there is far more to man that just a physical body. For Jesus says elsewhere, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” Matthew 10:28.
So, we see then that the killing of the body is not the killing of the soul. Therefore the soul survives the death of the body. Thus there is a period between the death of the body and its resurrection. We call this period the Intermediate State.
The Intermediate State is different for believers than for unbelievers. As believers await the resurrection of their bodies the Intermediate State is a state of bliss for them. But unbelievers await their resurrection in order to be cast body and soul into Hell where they remain forever in a state of torment – just as the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus attests.
In Genesis 2:7 we read the following good news, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But in Genesis 3:19 we read the following bad news, which was spoken by God to man after Adam had broken the covenant, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And, speaking of death, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
So we see then that the penalty for Adam sinning against God by eating the forbidden fruit is death. We might say then that after death the bodies of human beings return to dust and see corruption. But their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.
Now, what happens to the soul upon the death of the body? Well, there are only two places disembodied souls can go. One is a place of bliss. And the other is a place of torments. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus was in a place of bliss, while the rich man was in a place of torments.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came licking his sores.
“So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house. For I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” Luke 16:19-31.
Notice that neither the Rich Man nor Lazarus was unconscious. Notice that neither was asleep. And notice that neither was in Roman Catholic Purgatory, or any state of Limbo! For none of these states of the soul or places for disembodied souls are found in Scripture. Therefore there is no such thing as soul sleep, Purgatory, Limbus Patrum, or Limbus Infantum.
To be sure, there are verses of Scripture that liken the dead body to that of a person asleep – which would seem to be an apt description! But, upon the death of their bodies the souls of the righteous, which neither die nor sleep, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens. There they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. But the bad news is that the souls of the wicked are cast into Hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved for the judgment of the great day.
The Bible tells us far more about the Intermediate State for Christians than it does for that intervening state for non-Christians. The repentant thief on the cross died the same day as Jesus Christ. The thief must have been fortified very much as he was dying by the words Jesus spoke to him. “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” Luke 23:43. Thus we see that the repentant thief was not expecting soul-sleep or Purgatory, but was expecting to go directly to Heaven and be awake enough to see Jesus there.
The Apostle Paul refers to Paradise as the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:3b. If Paul is speaking of himself he says “…he was caught up to Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which is not lawful for a man to utter” 2 Corinthians 12:4. The first heaven is the place where birds fly up in the sky. The second heaven is the place where rockets and spaceships fly up in space. The third heaven is the place where God dwells and where Christ sits upon His throne. As the psalmist says, “The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven…” Psalm 11:4.
The Apostle Paul seems to be referring to himself being transported to Heaven, to Paradise (though he’s not sure whether he was in his body or out of it at the time!) But when he was there he didn’t see anyone sleeping or hear anyone snoring! Rather he heard inexpressible words, which is not lawful for a man to utter. And we know that what he saw and heard in Paradise was a blissful experience for him. For he says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” 1 Corinthians 12:7. Thus we conclude that the Paradise the thief on the cross was going to be with Jesus the very day he died, is a place of conscious bliss.
Indeed the Apostle Paul taught that for the Christian to depart from the body is to be present with the Lord. For he says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” And in Philippians he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” Philippians 1:21-23.
So clearly the Apostle Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit is teaching that when he dies he immediately goes to be with the Lord in Paradise, just as it was with the thief on the cross. Therefore all Christians say along with Paul, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” 2 Corinthians 5:8.
Notice that he says that we will be present with the Lord. Notice that this concurs with what the Lord said to the repentant thief of the cross. “Today, you will be with me, [i.e., will be present with Me] in Paradise.” Therefore we refute the opinion of those such as the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and Seventh Day Adventists and others who allege that the soul sleeps upon the death of the body.
To be sure the dead body sees corruption, but the souls of believers go to Paradise where they behold the face of God in light and glory while waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. For as the writer to the Hebrews says to all true Christians, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” Hebrews 12:22-24. So, at death the Christian’s spirit is made perfect, and he sees God in heaven.
But what about the non-Christian? Well, the non-Christian too has, or better, is, an immortal soul. However, the non-Christian, like the Rich Man in the Parable, goes to a place of torments. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus we’re told that there is a great gulf fixed between the two places, i.e., the place of bliss, Heaven, and the place of torments, Hell, (Luke 16:26).
The Apostle Peter speaks of “spirits in prison”. Now, we acknowledge that all kinds of weird interpretations have been put on 1 Peter 3:19: “…by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison…” But there’s no getting away from the fact that here Peter is at least speaking of the spirits of dead people being held in prison, “…who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…” 1 Peter 3:20a. Therefore the text is speaking of people who were disobedient to God in Noah’s day and are now in prison.
And Luke speaks of “…Judas [who] by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” Acts 1:25b. And Jude speaks of the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, “…being reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day, as Sodom and Gomorra, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” Jude 6&7. The NIV makes it explicit when it says, “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” Jude 7b. So, the Rich Man is in Hell as an example of one of those suffering the punishment of eternal fire.
Now, whether the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a picture of the Final State or the Intermediate State makes no great difference to what we’re looking at for the moment. However, it’s clear the Parable is teaching us about the Intermediate State. For, the Rich Man wanted his five brothers testified to “…lest they also come to this place of torment” Luke 16:28. Thus his five brothers hadn’t even entered into the Intermediate State, never mind the Final State. The picture does present the urgency for people to repent and believe in the Gospel before they die.
So, we’ve seen then that all true Christians immediately go to be with the Lord upon the death of the body, where they experience conscious bliss in Heaven. And the non-Christian goes to a place of conscious torment called Hell upon the death of the body.
The Resurrection of the Dead
The resurrection has always been the belief of the Church since the Fall of Man. There’s a statement about the resurrection of the body incorporated into the so-called Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
When we speak of the resurrection of the dead we are speaking of the general resurrection. The general resurrection takes place on the last day, i.e., the day Christ returns to earth bodily. Therefore, the resurrection of the dead has to do with the Last Judgment, Judgment Day.
But the question necessarily arises: What of those who are still alive on earth when Jesus returns? The Apostle Paul answers this question in a couple of places. He says in First Corinthians, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, be 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” 1 Corinthians 15:50-52. And he says much the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:16&17, “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.”
To be sure, these two passages are speaking of Christians who are alive at the time of Christ’s physical return being changed in the twinkling of an eye. But before Christians are instantly changed, we are told that the dead rise up first. And together, those who are resurrected and those who are changed in the twinkling of an eye, meet the Lord. So, it’s all happening almost at the same time – dead raised, then those living instantly changed. Then they meet the descending or returning Lord together.
It’s with the raising of the dead first that the general resurrection takes place. For Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” John 5:26-30.
The so-called ‘Second Coming’ is when Jesus is coming to as Judge to judge. Therefore, He will call all the dead out of their graves, just as He called Lazarus out of his grave. Thus, there are only two types of resurrection, viz, the resurrection of life, and the resurrection of condemnation. The prophet Daniel speaks of this day, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” Daniel 12:2. So, at the general resurrection of all mankind, i.e., of everyone who has ever lived, all will be consigned, body and soul, to their final destination.
Now, on the great resurrection day everyone will given back their selfsame bodies. To be sure, our resurrection bodies will have different qualities, for they need to be fitted for either a heavenly or a hellish eternity. Nevertheless it will be the body we started life with that will be changed. Therefore, those who are alive when Christ returns will also have their bodies fitted for eternity.
Job, who lived way back somewhere around the time of Abraham, says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” Job 19:26&27a. Job believed that even after his flesh was destroyed or “Though after my skin worms destroy my body, (KJV) yet in his flesh he shall see God. Thus, Job believed that his selfsame body would be resurrected. He held that it was he himself who would behold God with his own eyes. And didn’t Jesus go to some lengths to prove to His disciples that He had been raised with the selfsame body – the body that had previously been nailed to the cross?
To be sure, the Bible gives us more information about the qualities of the resurrected bodies of believers than it does of the resurrected bodies of unbelievers. But we take it that all, whether believer or unbeliever, will be raised with adult or mature bodies, like Adam and Eve upon their creation. Therefore those who died in infancy or at a hundred or nine hundred years of age, will be resurrected with the selfsame body they would have had had there been no sin in the world.
Now again, we’re not given much information at all about the resurrected bodies of unbelievers. But since we know that unbelievers will be resurrected too, and knowing that like us Christians, they too are human beings, we might presume that some of what applies to believers applies also to them. But the main difference will be our final destination. Believers will be fitted body and soul for Heaven, and unbelievers will be fitted body and soul for Hell.
But referring to believers the apostle John says, “Beloved, now we are children of God: and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” 1 John 3:2.
So, as Jesus, Elijah, and Moses were in the transfiguration, so believers will be transfigured when they are resurrected. But we’ll have to wait till that time to find out all about transfigured bodies! We do know, however, that whereas the bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour, the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, shall be raised unto honour, and shall be made conformable to His own body.
In the Bible, Jesus spoke about the torments of Hell more than any other. Mark records Jesus graphically illustrating the seriousness of sin with this warning, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hellfire – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” Mark 9:43-48.
Jesus isn’t necessarily telling us to mutilate ourselves! But He is telling us to take drastic measures so that we don’t find ourselves being cast into Hell for our sins. Therefore, always remember these words of Jesus, “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.