Life After the Grave
Many people believe and are comforted in the thought that when a loved one dies they will go straight to heaven. The deceased will be in a better place. They will be with the angels and God and will be able to look down upon those they left behind. This is a popular but widespread misconception of life after death. The truth is there will be a resurrection to life and a heavenly dwelling but it will only occur at the last day (the time when Jesus returns for his people). Once a person dies his soul remains dormant. A deceased person has no knowledge, thoughts, or emotion, nor is he capable of any work in the grave. Several verses of scripture will support this understanding. We will look at a few of these.
In Daniel (12:13), Daniel is told that the vision he has seen is for many days to come but, he should continue on in faith as he always has to his last days on earth. After that he will rest and will later arise to his inheritance.
"But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days."
In Job (14:10-12) we find that man does not rise up after death until the heavens are no more. The heavens, as we know them, will be no more at the return of Jesus. The dead, referred to as being asleep, will not waken until Jesus returns.
But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he? As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep.
Ecclesiastes (9:5,10) shows us that no kind of work or knowledge is possible in the grave. The dead know nothing in the grave.
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
John (11:23-24) records Martha's understanding of the resurrection as it pertained to her dead brother Lazarus. Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. Martha, not knowing that Jesus was going to bring her brother back to life that moment, answered Jesus. She said she knew her brother would be resurrected on the last day. Lazarus' last day was when he died. The last day Martha is thinking of is the day when God is to resurrect the righteous.
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
1 Corinthians (15:51-52) and 1 Thessalonians (4:16-17) give us clear understanding concerning the resurrection of the dead. Paul tells us that all the dead in Christ will rise at the last trumpet. This is the time when Jesus returns to gather the saints. Revelation 11:18 reveals this last trumpet and the gathering of the saints. A common sense question to ask yourself here is this; "If the dead are already risen then who is Jesus to resurrect when He returns?"
1 Cor 15:51-52 -- Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but 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.
Hebrews gives us the most direct understanding of the resurrection of the dead. In 11:39-40, we see that the faithful saints, since the beginning of time up to the time this book was written, did not receive the promise. The clue to this promise is in 11:13-16. Here we see that a heavenly promise was made to the faithful servants of God. God was preparing a city or a homeland for them. However, none of them received this promise but knew it was in the future (13). They knew a better resurrection was to come (vs. 35). This promise is the resurrection to eternal life. None of the dead would receive this promise apart from us who are still alive (vs. 39-40). Therefore, those still alive at Jesus' return and all the dead - those in Christ and those under the law (prior to Jesus' first coming), will be rewarded with eternal life at the same time.
Heb 11:13-14 -- These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.
The belief that souls enter immediately into their heavenly abode of life after death is probably due to the translation of the scripture in Luke 23:43. Here, it is read as Jesus telling the man on the cross that he would be in paradise today. However, there are two things two understand about the scripture in Luke. First, the simple explanation is to know that there is no punctuation in the Greek. The word 'today' is usually capitalized and has the comma before it. As it is written, it will certainly contradict all the other verses of scripture in the Bible and as presented above already. However, this is not nesscessarily the accurate transcription. The Greek reads quite differently than our modern translations. The word 'today' could easily be in small caps with the comma after the word 'today'. Therefore, it would read as follows; ‘Verily I say to thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise." With this punctuation the scripture would have the understanding that Jesus was telling the malefactor that today or at this time his soul would be in the palce of the righteous. In otherwords, the repentance, humility, and hope of the malefactor was expressed before his Saviour and he was granted his peace of mind at that very moment. He was given the comfort of knowing that his soul would be in a place of blessedness awaiting the resurrection to life. This brings us to the second understnding which is necessary to this scripture and teaching. The word 'paradise' is naturally assumed in our time to mean heaven. However, this was not the understanding during the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. The word paradise (paradeison) occurs but three times in the New Testament, Lu 23:43; Re 2:7; and in 2 Co 12:4. It is a word which had its origin in the language of eastern Asia, and which has been adopted in the Greek, the Roman, and other western languages. Of Persian origin, it means a garden, particularly a garden of pleasure, filled with trees, and shrubs, and fountains, and flowers. The word came to denote any place of happiness. Hence, it denotes in general a garden of pleasure; and in the New Testament is applied to the abodes of the blessed after death. The Romans spoke of their Elysium, and the Greeks of the gardens of Hesperides, where the trees bore golden fruit. Likewise, the Jews supposed that the souls of the righteous would be received into such a place, and those of the wicked cast down to Gehenna until the time of the judgment. Therefore, when we die our bodies will return to the ground but the souls of the righteous will sleep in Jesus, the place Jesus calls Paradise. Jesus arose from this place to enter into His heavenly dwelling place, to be the firstborn from the dead. All others will remain asleep in Him until the time of the resurrection to life. Whether the abode is a place of consciousness or not or a place experienced at the time of death only is not clear nor can it be proven at this time. What is sure though is that the malefactor was promised that his soul would be in a state of acceptance into the kingdom of Jesus. He was promised this 'today' by Jesus meaning, at this time he was judged worthy of life. For those who understand the word 'today' to be literal, as in "Today you will be in paradise", the teaching will still be similar. Here, Jesus would be telling the man that today he would die but his soul would be preserved in the abode of the righteous until the resurrection. This could be an accurate use of the transcription of the Greek because it was usual that those crucified would linger on for a few days before they finally died. Here, Jesus lets the man know that he is going to die this same day and He promises to keep his soul. The important thing to remember though is that the word 'paradise' has to be used in the context and understanding as it was at the time of Jesus' death. Paradise referred to a place where the souls of the righteous were preserved for the resurrection to life. Gehenna was the opposite abode. It was the place were the souls of the unrighteous were reserved until the time of the judgment and punishment. If you use the understanding that paradise means the place in heaven where we will live forever, then the rest of the scriptures will contradict this one passage in Luke. This in itself should alert one that the passage in Luke needs to be clarified. Finally, the most obvious question to observe about this teaching is this; if we die and go straight to life into our heavenly abode then who is Jesus going to resurrect at the time of His return?
As one can see, it is clear that the souls of the dead remain in the
grave until it is time for the resurrection. This will be the time of Jesus'
return. At this time only the righteous will be resurrected. This is the
first resurrection. A resurrection of the unrighteous will occur at the
end of the reign of the thousand year period (Rev.20:5). At this time the
rest of the dead will be judged according to their works. Those to whom
it is due will be cast into the lake of fire along with Death and Hades
(Rev.20:11-14). There will be no more death or storage of souls. All the souls
of the righteous who have died, since
the beginning of time to the present, are still in the grave. However,
they are not forgotten by God. They are only asleep in His eyes in Jesus, for God
is the God of the living (Mk. 12:27). They will be raised to eternal life
Jesus' return to enter into their heavenly abode.