As we began to consider this age-old question last week we asked two questions: (1) What is man? and (2) What is death? Now let’s consider another question: “Are the dead conscious?”
The Lord’s narrative of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 17:19-31 teaches us a number of things. Among those things is that the spirit is conscious between physical death and the resurrection. They are either happy or miserable depending upon how they lived in the body. Paul viewed death as a gain, not as a loss (Phil. 1:21-24). “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The righteous dead are said to be “blessed” or “happy” (Rev. 14:13). These same things can be said of every faithful child of God that passes from this life to the next by means of death (separation of the spirit from the body). Man’s soul or spirit does not sleep in unconsciousness after death until the resurrection. Sleep refers to the bodies, not the spirits (Matt. 27:52-53). Daniel 12:2 tells us, “Any many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” That’s the body, not the spirit. At death the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecc. 12:7). The dust (body) “shall return to the earth as it was.” Notice the use of the word “dust” in both passages. Before we leave this passage in Daniel, let me point out that the difference between the two types of resurrections mentioned here is based on our free will. The choices we make while in the body (alive) will determine whether our resurrection shall be to “everlasting life” or “shame and everlasting contempt.” The statement in Ecclesiastes 9:5 which says, “the dead know not any thing” refers solely to what the dead can know or do “under the sun.”
This brings us to our fourth question: “Where are the dead?” The Bible says that the embodied spirits are in hades (Luke 16:23 NKJV). David’s statement about Jesus also shows this: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades” (Acts 2:25-31 NKJV). Hades is not the final heaven or hell that shall be ours after the resurrection and final judgment. Hades is divided into two compartments: (1) paradise, the abode of the righteous dead (Luke 23:43); and tartarus, the abode of the wicked dead. Hades only signifies the region of disembodied spirits, the unseen or invisible world. Gehenna is the Greek word used to denote the final abode of the wicked, the “lake of fire,” which is also referred to as “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). It is always translated “hell” in the King James Version. Christ’s spirit did not go to gehenna when He died. His spirit was in hades while His body was in Joseph’s new tomb. Neither were the rich man and Lazarus in their final destination, but were in hades. “Paradise” is also used for the eternal home of the redeemed, which they shall inherit in their resurrected bodies following the final judgment (Rev. 2:7; Rev. 22:1-5). The word primarily means “a pleasure garden, a place of delight.” The Garden of Eden is also referred to as paradise in The Septuagint Version in Genesis 2, but paradise in hades is not heaven. Jesus and the penitent thief were together in “Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Christ’s spirit came out of hades, and His body was raised from the tomb. The spirit of that penitent thief is still today in “paradise” and will remain there until the resurrection. Separated by a great gulf, the rich man was in tartarus in “torments” and Lazarus was in “Abraham’s bosom” and both were in hades. They remain there at this time awaiting the resurrection. The punishment of gehenna will be that of “both soul and body” after the resurrection and judgment (Matt. 10:28; Matt. 25:46). This should enable us to understand better statements such as, “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment” (II Pet. 2:9 ASV). Men’s spirits will leave hades when Christ returns at the last day, and the bodies will be raised (I Thess. 4:14; John 5:28-29; Rev. 1:18; 20:13). Then there will be a great day of judgment when all will be judged (Rev. 20:11-15; Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31; II Cor. 5:10). The New Testament Greek word hades is parallel to the Old Testament Hebrew word sheol. Both mean the unseen realm of departed or disembodied spirits. “For you will not leave My soul in Sheol...” (Psalm 16:10 NKJV). Much error could be avoided if the religious world had the proper understanding for the words hades, sheol, paradise, tartarus, and gehenna. They NEVER refer to the grave; ONLY the body goes to the grave.
(Continued next week.)
Paul M. Wilmoth