"Where are the dead, and what is their condition?" Are the dead immortal and in a conscious state either in heaven or in a subterranean vault known as hell? Or are the dead in the grave, awaiting resurrection, knowing nothing? Here are two diametrically opposite views. One says, "Thou shalt not die, but you will just change form and become like gods." The other says, "The soul that sinneth it shall die" and "he is both dead and buried."
Let us examine some of the Bible texts which concern the intermediate state, the condition of those who have died and await the bodily resurrection of the dead.
First Corinthians 15:52, 53, records, "In a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
Commenting on this verse, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says, "Here only, besides 1 Timothy 6:16, the word 'immortality' is found. Nowhere is immortality of the soul, distinct from the body, taught; a notion which many erroneously have derived from heathen philosophers. Scripture does not look for the anomalous state brought about by death, as the consummation to be earnestly looked for (2 Corinthians 5:4), but the resurrection." This comment acknowledges that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is pagan in origin. It acknowledges that resurrection, not death, is the time of change and reward for the believer.
Some interpreters make an artificial distinction between soul and body, and maintain that these verses refer only to the body of the believer. Such a distinction is not seen in Scripture, for the body is part of the soul. God "breathed into his nostrils the breath [or spirit] of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). Notice, not a living body; not that the soul entered the body and he became a living man; but God breathed spirit into the body and "man became a living soul."
Other church leaders have stated their beliefs on the state of man in death: "In AD 150, Justin Martyr wrote, 'If you meet some that are called Christians, who say there is no resurrection of the dead, but immediately when they die their souls are received up into heaven, take care that you do not look on these as Christians.' " Justin was a recognized leader in the first century after Christ, a man still known to have been firm in the true Christian faith.
S. D. McConnell, in his book, "The Evolution of Immortality," states: "Of the early Christians, those who were Greeks brought to the new religion the Platonic idea that the soul was indestructible, and the Greek influence gained the domination in the early church. The Platonic doctrine (doctrine of Plato) of natural immortality came to be accepted. The notion was withstood from the very beginning as being subversive of the very existence of Christianity.
"Theopholis, Irenius, Hacses, Clement of Alexandria, and, most weighty of all, Athanasius, all fought strenuously against it as pagan error which brought to nought the work of Christ."
These men were all pastors in the early church, recognized leaders, who resisted as pagan philosophy, and unscriptural, the idea that man continues a conscious existence between death and the resurrection yet to come.
William Tyndale who, with Coverdale, translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English for the first time in 1535, said this, when debating with a Roman priest about resurrection: "Ye, in putting departed souls in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection. If there should be a heaven, tell me why they are not in as good care as the angels be, and then what cause is there of a resurrection?" The same error causes people today to ask- "If the dead are already in a blissful paradise, why must there yet be a resurrection?" If, however, we accept the Bible truth that the dead know not anything, that they sleep in death, then the resurrection at Jesus' return assumes the importance the Bible places upon it.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, said in a sermon on Luke 16:31, "It is indeed generally supposed that the souls of good men as soon as dislodged from the body, go directly to heaven, but this opinion has not the least foundation in the oracles of God."
"At the Council of Lateran, in 1513, Pope Leo X first pronounced the doctrine of the immortality of the soul to be a Christian doctrine." It was this dogma, along with other errors, which enraged Martin Luther and caused him to post his 95 theses four years later.
We are in good company when we stand firmly upon the Bible truth that man is a mortal creature, who sleeps in death, and whose only hope for conscious existence after death is in resurrection to immortality when Jesus comes again. This company includes the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, the leaders of the early church, Luther, Tyndale, and John Wesley. These are only a few of the leaders who have resisted the devil's lie; "Thou shalt not surely die."
What does the Bible say about the place and state of the dead? Let us take the example of David, a good man. The Apostle Peter, speaking on the Day of Pentecost, a few days after Jesus' ascension, tells us about David who had then been dead about a thousand years.
Peter said first, "Let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day" (Acts 2:29). This tells where David is: he is dead and buried. Notice the present tense -" he is" both dead and buried - not "he was." Remember, this was 47 days after Jesus\rquote resurrection and a week after his ascension. It is a popular theory that when David and other good men of pre-Christ days died, they went into a compartment of Hades known as paradise. Then when Jesus ascended to heaven they all ascended with him. However, a week after Jesus' ascension, Peter said that David is still dead and buried. Then Peter went even further and said, in Acts 2:34, "David is not ascended into the heavens." David, like all those who have died, sleeps in death, awaiting the resurrection to come when Jesus returns to earth. David said, "I will be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psa. 17:15).
Immortality is a condition for which men seek, not a condition into which they are born. Romans 2:7 reads, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life." We seek for it now! Immortality will be bestowed at the resurrection as we already have read in 1 Corinthians 15:53, and as Jesus promised when He said in Luke 18:29, 30: "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world [or age] to come life everlasting." Now that life is "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). It is accounted to us now but, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Cot. 3:4).
There are those who will say, "But I have always been taught I will go to heaven as soon as I die and that is what I want to believe." Eve wanted to believe that too. She hoped against hope that sin would not result in death but in translation to a new state of existence. The devil encouraged her. Why not forget this devil's lie, and the pagan philosophies of men, and the popular theories of modern religionists, and return to the Word of God to see what it says about the state of the dead?