Studies In New Testament Eschatology: No. 4: The Abode Of The Spirit After Death
In preceding articles, it has been established that man has a soul, that inherent in the soul's existence is endlessness and, therefore the soul of man is conscious from death to the resurrection. Solomon tells us that at death the flesh returns to the dust of the ground, while the "spirit shall return unto God" (Eccl. 12:7). What is meant by "return unto God"? Does this mean that the souls of just men go directly to heaven at death? If this is true, what of the souls of the wicked? Do they go directly to hell? To be specific, just where do the spirits of men go at death?
While there may be some differences with reference to minor details, most people who believe that the soul has existence beyond death, take one of three positions: (1) That there is an intermediate state between death and the resurrection, known as "hades;" that hades is the abode of the souls of all men, whether just or unjust. (2) That at death, "particular judgment" takes place creating three classes of people. The first class enters into heaven, for it is argued that they are without sin. The second class are those who have committed venial sin. These enter into what is called "Purgatory." The third class are those guilty of mortal sin and these, we are told, enter directly into hell itself. (3) The third position is that taken by many Protestant faiths (so-called), viz., That the spirits of men do not go into an intermediate state at death, but rather go directly to heaven or hell.
It will be the burden of this writing to establish the first position as the scriptural position and the one. most consistent with New Testament teaching. The second position will be discussed in a later article on "Purgatory." As to the third position, our readers will be interested in knowing that William Hendriksen in his publication, The Bible on the Life Hereafter, presents a number of arguments in an effort to sustain this idea (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1959; it may be purchased from Truth Magazine Bookstore). He says, "That the soul of God's child goes directly to heaven at death is the clear and consisting teaching of Scriptures" (p. 51). Later in the book, Mrs. Hendriksen discusses the abode of wicked souls. Concerning them, he says, "We must be careful." He throws his caution to the wind, however, when he says, "Scripture teaching on this point, though not extensive, is clear enough" (p. 81). The author's position on this point is that hades is hell, and that hell is to be identified with the Old Testament sheol which in turn is said to be "the place where God's wrath burns, and to which the wicked at death descend" (pp. 85-86). Not much weight can be attached to this position due to the vagueness and ambiguousness of the arguments used to sustain it. Hendriksen has tried in vain to use such passages as 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Heb. 11:10, 16 and 2 Cor. 5:8 to sustain his position.
That the soul of man does not go directly to heaven or hell at death is clearly taught in the Scriptures. The New Testament teaches that those going into "everlasting punishment" and those going to "life eternal," will do so when/and only when "the Son of man shall come in his glory" (Matt. 25:31, 46, italics mine, JT). Since heaven and hell are places of everlasting reward and punishment, and men enter into these abodes at the Lord's coming, it should be evident that they reside some place prior to the judgment which is in contradistinction to heaven and hell. When the Lord comes a second time, He shall appear with "a shout, and with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16). At the sound of this voice, the dead shall come forth, "they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). Thus, if one argues that, at the time of death, men go to heaven or hell rather than to an intermediate state, he is forced to repudiate these passages (cf. John 14:16; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). He is forced to deny the need for a judgment predicted upon the resurrection of all the dead.
Where Are The Souls Of Men?
Since men enter into heaven or hell after the second coming of Jesus, the spirits of those who have departed this life are in existence somewhere due to their immortal natures. What happens to them? Where do they go? Turn to the account of the "rich man and Lazarus" in Luke 16. Jesus, according to this context, is reproving the Pharisees by portraying them as the "rich man." The believing publicans and sinners are portrayed as "Lazarus." The characters in the story were not in a state of unconsciousness, nor were they in non-existence, for they could see, speak, remember and feel pain (vv. 23-25, 27-28). If they were in a state of unconsciousness or extinction after death, then the entire story loses its significance. Furthermore, it is fruitless to argue that the conditions described are descriptive of conditions after the resurrection, for the statement, "if one rise from the dead" implies that the resurrection had not occurred. Observe also that the object of the rich man's concern was five brothers living on earth (vv. 27-28). This would not be, possible if the resurrection had occurred and the final state had been ushered into existence. The diversified conscious existence pictured symbolically in the account is a reflection of conditions during the intermediate state between this life and the judgment. The departed ones do enjoy either happiness or a form of punishment in this intermediate state, but this is provision and by no means the eternal state in heaven or hell.
"And In Hades He Lifted Up His Eyes"
When the rich man died, his soul entered into hades (hell, KJV). Since "hell" is a place of everlasting punishment, and hades denotes an intermediate state it is improper to translate hades into the English word "hell." Hades we are told, is "the region of departed spirits of the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ)." To this definition given by Fine (Vol. 2, P. 187), Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon adds the fact that hades is "the invisible abode of mansion of the dead" (p. 6). Thayer says that hades is "the nether world, the realm of the dead . . . common receptacle of desembodied spirits" (p. 11). Not only was the rich man in the realm of disembodied spirits, but he was in a special section of the nether world, i.e., in a region of woe. Hades in this passage takes the sense of tartarus though the word is not used in the text (Future Punishment, Moses Stuart, p. 134). The word tartarus occurs only once in the New Testament. Of it, Peter said, "For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to tartarus (hell, KJV), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Pet. 2:4). In the Greek, tartarus "is employed to designate a supposed subterranean region, as deep down below the upper part of hades as the earth is distant from heaven" (Ibid., p. 137). The rich man entered into hades, but more specifically that part of hades known as tartarus, where all the wicked are confined and tormented between death and the resurrection. Of this state, Jude says that men are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). This demonstrates that the "everlasting chains" and/or tartarus is not hell, for men do not enter into hell until the judgment of that "great day."
"Carried By Angels Into Abraham's Bosom"
In spite of the fact that some ridicule the idea that hades has two divisions, one for the wicked and one for the righteous, the story of the rich man and Lazarus teaches that Lazarus-went into "Abraham's bosom" which is also a part of hades (Lk. 16:22). Abraham's bosom stands for paradise. "To repose on Abraham's bosom is to be in paradise, for Abraham is there" (Alfred Plummer, Commentary on Luke). Paradise originally meant "an enclosed park, or pleasant garden," but in time it became known as "the department of Hades where the blessed souls await the resurrection; and therefore, equivalent to Abraham's bosom" (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, p. 431). Paradeisos (paradise) occurs in Lk. 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4 and in Rev. 2:7; and always denotes the abode of the blessed. Paradise is not heaven, though in the true sense of the term, it is a pleasant park leading into the heavenly mansion. It is not possible to describe the beauty of paradise, for even those who have viewed it were not allowed to describe it to us (2 Cor. 12:2). We will have to satisfy our curiosity by accepting the facts that are revealed, i.e., that paradise is separate from the earth, and by far more delightful than anything in this life. It is not heaven, but is an earnest of heaven itself. Though our knowledge of the thrilling existence of the hereafter is limited, there is no reason why our faith in such an existence cannot be sure. This is certainly true if our grasp on revelation is firm and steady.
When our dear companions in life die, their spirits enter into hades. The righteous abide in that part of hades known as Paradise until the day of resurrection. The wicked have their place in tartarus, which is also a part of hades. There is no turning back from the realm of hades due to the fact that death seals our destiny. We learn from God's own word that "working out salvation is limited to the period of man's earthly existence." "And it is appointed for man once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:27-28). Prepare for eternity now by becoming a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27). Live faithfully until death (Rev. 2:10). Someone said, "The years seem to rush by now, and I think of death as a fast approaching end of a journey. This affords every reason for living, as well as working while it is day." Amen!
Truth Magazine XXIV: 47, pp. 758-759