By Larry Ray Hafley
For centuries, sages, seers and soothsayers have attempted to answer the question that is the basis of our topic and title. However, fools and philosophers stand on equal footing when they seek to reply to our query. Human wisdom, reasoning and ingenuity cannot fathom the vast sea of mystery that envelopes the dead. The only source of light is the word of God, the Bible. It alone lifts the veil that obscures our view of the dead.
Use Of The Term “Dead”
(1) Dead In Sins. One may be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2: 1; Jn. 5:25). To be dead in this sense is to be separated from God because of sin. It means one is unforgiven; hence, he is “dead in … sins” (Col. 2:13; Isa. 59:1,2). One may be dead, spiritually speaking, while he fives in the flesh (1 Tim. 5:6; Eph. 5:14). This is not, though, the subject of this essay.
(2) Dead To Sins. The saved are “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:2; 1 Pet. 2:24). The body, the life of sin, has been put to death, “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20; 5:24). One is “dead to sin” when he is forgiven and walking in newness of life (Rom. 6:2-7; Col. 3:1-3). Again, this is not the object of this study.
(3) The Physically Dead. “The body without the spirit is dead” (Jas. 2:26). Where are those whose spirits are separated from their bodies? When the soul departs the body, the body is dead (Gen. 35:18; Lk. 23:46). Where are the dead? This is our theme.
Where The Dead Are Not
They are Not:
(1) Unconscious. John said, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain (thus, physically dead) . . . . And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:9,10). They were dead, but conscious; they could feel frustration and appeal for vindication. They were spoken to and expected to understand (Rev. 6:11).
In Luke 16:19-3 1, a rich man “died and was buried.” His body was in a grave, but after physical death, he could see, recognize, feel, speak, plead, reason, desire, and remember. If the Lord Jesus told the truth, this man was not unconscious.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul spoke of a man who may have been “out of the body.” Out of his body, the man could hear and understand that some things were “not lawful for man to utter.” If the apostle Paul told the truth, one may be out of or apart. from his body and remain conscious.
True, “the dead know not anything . . . . neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun” (on earth), “for there is no work, nor device nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest” (Eccl. 9:5-10). However, while the body is dead and in the grave and knows nothing of what is done on the earth, the spirit has gone to God and is conscious (Eccl. 12:7; Lk. 16:19-3 1; Rev. 6:9,10).
(2) Out Of Existence. The dead are neither unconscious nor out of existence. In Luke 9:28-36, Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory, and spake.” They could be seen, recognized and identified; they talked. They knew of Jesus’ impending death and where it was to take place (Jerusalem). They both had been dead for several hundred years, but they were not out of existence.
“Now Samuel was dead . . . and buried” (1 Sam. 28:3). After his death and burial, he appeared to Saul. He spoke and reasoned with Saul and told him, “Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me” (I Sam. 28:19); that is, in death. Saul and his sons did die and joined Samuel (1 Sam. 31:2-6), but Samuel was not non-existent.
The rich man and Lazarus both died, but they were not out of existence (Lk. 16:19-31). This text shows that the righteous and wicked exist after physical life is terminated.
(3) In Heaven or Hell. Matthew 25:31-46 clearly shows that the righteous and wicked enter into heaven and hell after the final judgment. The banishment “into everlasting fire” and the acceptance “into life eternal” occurs after “all nations” are gathered before the Son of man who is seated upon the throne of His glory.
God will repay indignation and tribulation to the disobedient; He will reward the obedient with rest and eternal life (Rom. 2:6-9; 2 Thess. 1:6-10). But when? “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, . . . in that day” He will determine each soul’s eternal destiny (2 Thess. 1:7-10).
The “destruction of ungodly men” and the “new heavens and a new earth” of the godly is realized when the Lord comes again and destroys the universe (2 Pet. 3:3-14). Therefore, the dead are not now in either heaven or hell.
Where The Dead Are
(1) Concerning The Body. The dead body is placed “in the grave” (Eccl. 9: 10). The rich man’s body was dead and 6 ‘was buried” in a grave on earth. The sea contains the bodily remains of some of the dead (Rev. 20:13). Jesus’ dead body was placed in Joseph’s tomb (Matt. 27:57-60). “All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust” (Job 34:15). This is the ultimate end of the dead body.
(2) Regarding The Spirit. “The spirit returns unto God who gave it” as the body decays in the grave (Eccl. 12:7). While Jesus’ body was in Joseph’s tomb, His spirit was in God’s hands (Lk. 23:46). While the rich man’s body “was buried” on earth, his spirit was in hades (Lk. 16:19-31).
Hades and Hell
The King James Version (KJV) of the Scriptures has muddled the understanding of many regarding the words “hades” and “hell. ” The KJV translates “hades ” as “hell” and “grave” (Lk. 16:23; Acts 2:27; 1 Cor. 15:55). The word gehenna or “hell,” the place of everlasting punishment, the lake of fire and brimstone, is not the same as hades, but the KJV uses the word “hell” to translate both. The American Standard Version (ASV) makes the distinction clear between “hades” and “hell.” A comparison of the texts which use “hell” in the KJV and ASV will serve to clarify the issue.
“Sheol is a Hebrew word which is used numerous times in the Old Testament and is translated hell 14 times. Contrary to popular opinion, this word does not refer to what we mean when we use the word hell. The word sheol has reference to the unseen world where the dead abide and is equivalent to the Greek word hades (ISBE). There is no idea of unconsciousness, punishment or “hell” in the word.
“Hades is transliterated in ASV but is never translated hell, but it is translated Hell in the KJV which cause considerable confusion in the minds of people. Thayer (an eminent Greek scholar) defines the word to mean the unseen world which is the realm of the dead. It occurs four times in the gospels (Matt. 11:23; 16: 18; Lk. 10: 15; 16:23).
“The Greek word hades and the Hebrew word sheol are equivalent. A study of two passages will demonstrate this. The Psalmist predicts in Psalms 16: 10 that the Christ’s soul would not be left in Sheol. This passage is quoted in Acts 2:27 and the sheol is rendered by the word hades. When Luke, the inspired writer of Acts, quoted the Old Testament word sheol, he used the word hades to translate it. (Another example is seen by comparing Hos. 13:14 and I Cor. 15:55 – LRH). Thus, the two words have the same meaning.
“There is no idea of punishment of hell in either term, though the wicked are tormented in hades (Luke 16:19-3 1). Christ now has the power over death and hades (Rev. 1: 18) and will cast both of them into the lake of fire at the judgment (Rev. 20:14).
“The Term Gehenna”
“This word occurs some 12 times in the New Testament and is uniformly translated hell. It refers to the eternal punishment (Matt. 18:8,9; Lk. 9:47,48). This word is a transliteration from the Hebrew ‘Valley of Hinnom’ and refers to a place of refuse where once children had been burned to Moloch (2 Kings 23:10). It was a burying place of punishment to Jews (Jer. 7:32).
“From this study of the words, one can easily see that there would not be so much confusion had the original words been uniformly translated by the appropriate words. The word gehenna occurs in the following passages: Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mk.. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; Jas. 3:6. The word Hades occurs in the following passages and is translated hell and grave in the KJV: Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lk. 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31; 1 Cor. 15:55; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14” (Clinton D. Hamilton)
The Rich Man, Lazarus, Jesus, and Hades
The rich man in Luke 16:23 died. His body was buried in a grave on earth. Still, the sacred narrative says, “In hell (hades) he lift up his eyes, being in torments.” Lazarus, the beggar, died, “and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom,” where he was “comforted” (Lk. 16:22,25). There was “a great gulf which separated the rich man and Lazarus. It was “fixed,” impassable (Lk. 16:26).
When Jesus died, His body went to the grave of Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-60). Jesus’ soul went to hell, or hades (Acts 2:27,3 1). Now, are we to suppose that Jesus was “tormented” in hades? The Bible says, according to the KJV, that He went to “hell’ as did the rich man (Lk. 16:23; Acts 2:27). Remember that “hell” is hades, not gehenna hell, the place of eternal punishment. See the ASV. Jesus had told one of the thieves on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” So, “paradise” is a section of hades. It is the place where Lazarus’ soul was located. It is a place of comfort and pleasure. The other compartment of hades is a place of torment. It is called tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4), which means “a place of punishment. ” This is the segment of hades where the rich man’s soul was deposited.
“In Hades then, the receptacle of all the dead, there are rewards and punishments. There is a paradise or an Abraham’s Bosom, and there is a tartarus, in which the evil spirits are chained, and the spirits of wicked men engulfed. Hence, the rich man in tartarus, and Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom, were both in Hades. Jesus and the converted thief were together in Hades, while they were together in Paradise” (Alexander Campbell).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9, pp. 257, 276-277
May 3, 1984