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STUDIES ON THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
By Davis W. Huckabee
This study first prepared in 1965 and published serially in The Orthodox Baptist
paper published in Ardmore, Oklahoma, in the September, October and November
Issues of 1965.
The English phrase “Intermediate State” is not to be found in Scripture, as indeed no English word or phrase is, for Inspiration used only the Hebrew and Greek languages—both dead languages that are no longer subject to change or modification of meanings. By definition, “intermediate” means being or happening between; in the middle. Scripture is clear beyond any question that there is an intermediate state for man between death and the final states of both the saved and the lost. However, this state is not of the character that religious imagination has sometimes made it.
On the death of the body the departing spirit is transported into a condition which, in the light of the Gospel, can just as little be conceived of as one of unconscious sleep, as one of already completed happiness or misery. Rather must it be looked upon as a state of self-consciousness, and of preliminary retribution, but, at the same time, one of gradual transition to a great final decision—a transition experienced in a world of spirits, in whose various circles Salvation and Perdition is determined above all by the inner state of each. [J.J. van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, p. 779.].
The intermediate state of the soul between death and the resurrection has always been the subject of curiosity and inquiry by man. This is natural inasmuch as almost every person realizes that eventually he must be brought to death, “the house appointed for all living,” (Job 30:23. Cf. also Heb. 9:27). However in man’s inquiries and searching into this subject some far-fetched theories have been brought into Christian theology and some of these are pure paganism. It shall be our purpose to examine these, and see whether they will stand the light of the Word of God.
It must be said in the beginning that it is all too easy for man to see in the Scriptures only what he wants to see, and to interpret the Word of God in the light of a preconceived idea. This writer acknowledges that he has been guilty of this in regard to this very subject. For a time he held one of the following theories of the intermediate state—held it against all other ideas, and was even guilty of endeavoring to twist the Scriptures to compel them to fit that theory. This is a failure that is all too common among believers, and so, is a danger to be constantly guarded against. Satan loves any lie however innocent seeming it may be for the least lie is a step toward damnable lies.
A word of praise to the Lord is in order at this point, because He will not suffer His children to remain in error without bringing conviction and even chastisement upon them. It was only after resisting all the arguments of others against this theory that the Spirit of truth brought a quiet, but firm, conviction of the error of this theory. How thankful we should be that it is promised that “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth,” (John 16:13). And how careful should we be not to resist the guidance of the Spirit on any subject. When we are torn between two interpretations of a passage or topic, we need to first study every other passage bearing upon it. In most instances, this will quickly eliminate all but one interpretation. However, when, after such a studious comparison of Scriptures, a doubt still remains, one should then seek the guidance of the Spirit in determining which the right one is. When this is done a definite conviction will come in time regarding one or the other of the interpretations, unless, of course, one gives himself over to his own preconceptions. Open mindedness toward the Spirit’s teachings and guidance is an absolute necessity.
Only the blind, infants and those journeying through a strange land need to be guided, and God’s people fall into each of these categories. This guiding would be much more than merely teaching them, for teaching often is not understood, received or absorbed, but when one is led into the truth he receives and partakes of that truth. But he must be fitted for this. [Davis W. Huckabee, Studies On A Harmony of the Gospels, p. 1068. Unpublished manuscript studies at Heritage Baptist Church, Salem, Ohio.].
Before he can see, man must have both sight and light. Eyes cannot see in the darkness, and light shows nothing to the blind. So with regard to the Truth; there must be the seeing eye and illuminating light. For an interpreter we need a trustworthy guide, an infallible teacher; and he is to be found not in the “Church,” the “voice of tradition,” the “intuitive facility,” or in reason, but in the Spirit of God. He it is who quickens, illumines, interprets, and the only instrument which He uses is the written Word. Therefore is He called “the Spirit of the truth. [A. W. Pink, Exposition of John, on John 16:13.].
Doubtless some will disagree with the writer on some of these theories just as The writer would probably have done years ago. But the reader is requested to only give the Scriptures an unbiased consideration, and then allow the Holy Spirit to give a conviction as to which is the truth.
I . THE THEORIES PROPOSED.
There are several theories proposed as to the state of the soul during the interim between death and the resurrection, and the first of these to be considered is that which is generally called SOUL-SLEEP. This theory regards the soul as inactive and unconscious from death to the resurrection, and seems to be founded upon the supposition that the soul must have a body in order to be active and conscious. But this is a supposition that is wholly without foundation in Scripture.
Surely Luke 16:19-31 alone is a refutation of this view. The view of soul-sleeping is extremely uncommon among those that are orthodox in their theology, being more commonly held by those of Socinian inclination. Those that hold this view apply those texts to the soul that are applicable only to the body. This theory, as well as the others, will be examined more at length under our second head.
The doctrine of an intermediate state between death and resurrection has occasioned many perplexities, and the doctrine of a sleep of the soul during that period has been accepted by many as a relief from them. But no such relief is needed, and no such doctrine is possible, if we think of a man as going at once to his judgment and his destiny. [W. N. Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology, p. 466.].
The second theory of the intermediate state of the dead is that which is commonly called PURGATORY, and is peculiarly the doctrine of the Catholic church, being generally rejected by all non-Catholics. After the doctrine of baptismal regeneration became so common and so many of the early churches were filled with people that expected their baptism to save them, there came to be a great inconsistency between profession and practice, and the “Church Fathers” were hard put to explain it. An escape from this difficulty was found in a heathen mythology from Persia. In this mythology, it was thought that there was to be a conflagration that would consume everything impure before the victory of the Persian deity Ormuz. This idea was carried over into Christian beliefs, and each soul, upon its departure from the body was thought to have to enter into the infernal regions to undergo purgation by the fires of hell until it was fit to enter into heaven. Many of the so-called “Fathers” of the third and following centuries held this view.
They made it the privilege of all that believe in the true God, even though they had led bad lives, to attain salvation by this purifying process. In the Western Church (Roman Catholicism—DWH) the doctrine of a purgatory was held in connection with that of Hades. [J.A.W. Neander, The History of Christian Dogmas, p. 262.].
Thus, this doctrine was an actual connivance at sin. It gave license to a person to commit sin on the presumption that it could be purged by suffering hereafter. It was a sort of early day “Sin now and pay later” philosophy, but its whole concept was a repudiation of the sufficiency of the blood of Christ to put away all sin.
A third theory is that which may be called the TWO COMPARTMENT OF HADES theory. It too had a pagan origin, although most people do not know that, and probably many who hold this theory will be angered to have this said of it, but it is true nonetheless. Upon this theory, the soul, upon departing this life, enters into one of two compartments of Hades, there to await the resurrection (or, as some hold, the resurrection of Christ). It was to this theory that the present writer ascribed for a time.
Long before most of the Bible was written, this theory had been worked out in minute details by Pagan writers, and this mythological theory was imbibed by early day Christian writers, and they tried to accommodate it to Christian beliefs. According to this theory there are two compartments to the underworld, and these two parts are called in pagan mythology Elysium (or Paradise) and Tartarus. The two of them together were called Hades or Orcus. The name was taken from the god of the lower region, which was Pluto, otherwise called Hades. In the Christian theory, the two compartments are called respectively Paradise and Hades, and the two together are called Hades. This view of the intermediate state is especially prominent in the pagan writers Homer (circa B. C. 900), Plato (circa 400 B. C.), Virgil (circa B. C. 70), the Egyptian “Ritual of the Dead,” and others. And the early “Church Fathers,” being great readers of these pagan writings, found it easy to adopt this view as Christian truth.
The fourth theory, which is, in fact, not a theory, is that which is taken from the Scriptures, namely: “ABSENT FROM THE BODY—PRESENT WITH THE LORD,” (2 Cor. 5:8). That this writer, or any other person, could have held any of the foregoing theories in the face of this plain declaration is amazing, yet in this we may see the weakness of the flesh when pride and preconceived ideas are united. May God in his grace deliver us all from such willfulness?
This interpretation recognizes that for those that have a personal interest in Christ’s atonement, death is but a door through which one passes from this life upon the earth into the immediate presence of the Lord. Not indeed in the physical body, for that is interred in the earth to await the resurrection, but “absent from the body,” yet “present with the Lord” in full consciousness.
Death is simply birth into another world, in which we must henceforth live, i.e., grow and become developed, but in which also the beginning cannot possibly be the same as the continuation and the end. If, in thus speaking, we carry over the notion of time into the domain of the World Beyond, we follow in this the unequivocal guidance of Holy Scripture, which teaches us clearly to distinguish between the condition of the departed before the Parousia, and that after it. [J.J. van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, p. 780.]
What a comforting doctrine is this. There is to be no unconscious sleeping for many ages before the end of faith is realized! No enduring of purgatorial fires to prepare one for Christ’s presence! No age-long waiting in expectancy of Christ’s return ere we can enjoy His blessed presence! But a confident expectancy that at the moment of death, we shall be consciously ushered into the immediate presence of the Lord. Little wonder that the apostle had a desire “to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better,” (Phil. 1:23).
These are the principle theories of the intermediate state of the soul after death. We have barely mentioned them, but it now becomes us to look into them more fully.
II. THE THEORIES EXAMINED.
The theory of SOUL SLEEP was advocated by Socinus, and certain other unsound writers of the sixteenth century who applied those passages to the soul that were applicable only to the body. Such a passage is: “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in destruction?” (Ps. 88:10-11). From which it is inferred that the soul must be inactive and unconscious because there is expressed the fact that it does not praise God. However, the Psalmist had already interpreted the meaning to be the praise of the body in Psalm 30:9 when he said: “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? Shall it declare thy truth?” The body is formed of the dust of the earth, (Gen. 2:7), and to dust it returns when the soul departs from it. Hence, the body cannot praise God after the soul departs it.
They also lay hold upon those passages that speak of sleeping with one’s fathers, or of sleeping in death, and make them do service for them in substantiation of their theory. It is well said concerning this that—
Death being designed by these expressions, if they prove anything in this controversy they prove too much; for if they prove that the soul sleeps with the body, they would prove that the soul dies with it, since the sleep meant is no other than death. [John Gill, Body of Divinity, pp. 598, 599.].
Again, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 is sometimes quoted in defense of this notion. “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun.” Verse 6 is often left out, yet it is the verse that interprets verse 5. It is said of things “under the sun,” a phrase often occurring in the Book as designating things upon the earth, of which the dead know nothing, but of things in the presence of God this cannot be said. Job expresses this same thought concerning death, (see Job 14:1-2) with the added thought that the soul mourns, (vv. 20-22). This is something that would not be true if the soul were sleeping.
But to consider the matter positively, we find souls in the separate state are declared to be conscious and active in several passages, as, for example, “The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell (hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water” and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember...” (Luke 16:22-25).
From which it is obvious that the rich man was completely conscious, being not only capable of pain, but also of speech, recognition, memory, etc. And it matters not that some design this to be a parable. That does not lessen its force in the least, for all parables were designed to teach truth. Nor is consciousness and activity predicated only of the wicked in the intermediate state. For this passage speaks of Lazarus as fully conscious and capable of activity, for he was “comforted,” (v. 25), and the rich man wished him to bring him water, and to go testify to his brothers, which is hardly suggestive of unconsciousness and inactivity.
Not only so, but we also read: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth,” (Rev. 5:8-10). “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 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). All which goes to prove that the souls in the intermediate state are fully conscious and active, and that the theory of soul-sleep is without foundation in the Word of God.
The theory of PURGATORY is another that has slender biblical support, being, as we have before observed, brought in to explain the inconsistency of those whose lives were in contrast to their profession. This is not only an erroneous doctrine, but it is a damnable one as well. As A. H. Strong observes, it “gives hope that men may be saved after death; prayer for the dead has influence; the priest is authorized to offer this prayer; so the church sells salvation for money.” [Systematic Theology, p. 1001.]. Is not this the making merchandise of the souls of men that is spoken of the great spiritual whore in Revelation 18:12-13? “The merchandise of... slaves, and souls of men.”
This theory was first suggested by Cyprian in the third century. It was thought “not incredible” by Augustine, and Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, pronounced it worthy of belief, and it has become at the present, the most powerful weapon held by the Catholic Church. All this apostate church has to do to bring the most recalcitrant member back into line is to threaten to withhold its prayers for the release of a loved one from the fires of purgatory. The Catholic doctrine relative to the intermediate state is summed up as follows.
1. That the souls of unbaptized infants go to a place prepared expressly for them, called the limbus infantum where they endure no positive suffering, although they do not enjoy the vision of God. 2. That all unbaptized adults, and all those who subsequently have lost the grace of baptism by mortal sin, and die unreconciled to the church, go immediately to hell. 3. That those believers who have attained to a state of Christian perfection go immediately to heaven. 4. That the great mass of partially sanctified Christians, dying in fellowship with the church, yet still encumbered with imperfections, go to purgatory, where they suffer, more or less intensely, for a longer or shorter period, until their sins are both atoned for and purged out, when they are translated to heaven; during which intermediate period they may be efficiently assisted by the prayers and labors of their friends on earth. 5. That Old Testament believers were gathered into a region called limbus patrun, there they remained, without the beatific vision of God, yet without suffering, until Christ, during the three days in which his body lay in the grave, went and released them, (1 Pet. 3:19, 20). (From Cat. Rom., part 1, chap. 6, question 3; Council of Trent, Session 25, De purgatoria.) [A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, pp. 443, 444.]. Hodge further observes that: They confess that this doctrine is not taught directly in Scripture, but maintain, —1. That it follows necessarily from their general doctrine of the satisfaction for sins. 2. That Christ and the apostles taught it incidentally, as they did infant baptism, etc. They refer to Matthew 13:32; 1 Cor. 3:15. [Outlines of Theology, p. 444].
Thus it may be seen that the Catholic doctrine of the intermediate state of the soul isn’t even claimed to be founded upon Scripture, and even those references that they make to the Scriptures are not applicable to the subject, and are misinterpreted as to meaning as well. Because of the absurdity of this theory, which took its rise from paganism (Cf. Virgil’s Aeneid, vi. 739, 43), we will not even take the time to refute its wild suppositions. It is sufficient to say that for the Christian, the Word of God contains everything for which he is accountable, and there is nothing for which he is accountable but what is found in the Word of God either by precept or example.
Concerning the third theory of the intermediate state, we trust that ere any person becomes angered at our presentation of it, he will honestly and prayerfully weigh the Scriptures presented against it, as well as the facts of its origin. Because this writer held this theory for some time, and was biased against all other views, and was led to reject it only after a considerable time of study and prayerful seeking of the Lord’s will, he feels an honest concern and sympathy for those that still hold it. It is always hard to give up a cherished belief, for it requires an inward admission that we have been wrong before, something that naturally goes against the grain of the flesh.
Concerning the meaning and appearance of the word Hades in the New Testament, which bears significantly on a proper view of the intermediate state, we cannot do better than quote the following.
Haides, from a privative, and idein, designates generally the invisible world inhabited by the spirits of dead men. Among the ancient classical heathen, this invisible world was regarded as consisting of two contrasted regions; the one called Elysium, the abode of the blessed good; and the other Tartarus, the abode of the vicious and miserable. It was used by the authors of the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word sheol, (compare Acts 2:27, and Ps. 16:10. In the New Testament this word occurs only eleven times, Math 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; 1 Cor. 15:55; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14). In every case, except 1 Corinthians 15:55, where the more critical editions of the original substitute the word thanate [death] in the place of hade, hades is translated hell, and certainly always represents the invisible world as under the domination of Satan, as opposed to the kingdom of Christ, and as finally subdued under his victorious power. [A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 441.].
From a consideration of the appearances of this word in the New Testament, the reader will observe the following things. (1) The literal meaning of Hades—the unseen world—gives enough leeway to the word that it could be legitimately used simply of death or the grave, into which no one in this life can see. (2) In every appearance it is used in a bad sense, something that would be misleading if this were the abode of the saved between death and the resurrection. (3) Never once is the believer seen in Hades, or in danger of being in Hades. Some may take exception to this on the basis of Acts 2:27, 31. Yet (i) In purchasing our redemption, Christ had to suffer the guilt of sin as if He had been the most abandoned and unregenerate sinner on the earth. But, (ii) The word translated “leave” may also be translated “leave unto” or “forsake to,” and indeed the usage of this word with the preposition eis, which is more commonly translated “unto” or “into” might seem to favor the translation “Thou wilt not forsake my soul unto hades... his soul was not forsaken unto hades.” This would make considerable difference in the meaning of these verses. This would intimate that Christ’s soul never even entered hades, for it was not “forsaken unto hades.” The Authorized Version suggests that Jesus’ soul was actually in Hades, but just wasn’t left there. (iii) In any case, Christ’s death being vicarious, that is, in our stead, and His resurrection being unto our justification, this cannot have application to believers’ condition between death and the resurrection. (iv) This quotation is taken from Psalm 16:10, and is an example of Hebrew parallelism, which is simply repeating the same truth in different words—a very common practice in the Bible. This being the case before us, then the leaving of the soul of Christ in Hades is parallel with not suffering the Holy One to see corruption. Nor is this uncommon in the Old Testament, for sheol (the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word Hades) is very commonly taken to mean death, or the place of the dead, without any reference to the persons being either good or evil. Thus Jacob says, “I will go down into the grave (sheol) unto my son mourning,” (Gen. 37:35). He meant that he would mourn for his son unto the day of his death. (v) The New Testament interprets this verse for us in both of its parts, for Acts 2:31 says very clearly, “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” Both statements referred to His resurrection, which had to do only with His body. During this interim His spirit was with the Father, not in Hades or in limbus patrum or anywhere else, (Luke 23:46). (vi) The whole sermon that Peter preached in Acts 2 was to prove by the resurrection of Christ, that the Jesus whom the Jews had crucified was really the Messiah The intermediate state of the soul was not the subject of this sermon, isn’t even alluded to in it, and nothing can be proved concerning it therefrom.
But to get back to our original premise, we may also note from the eleven appearances of this word Hades: (4) It is always concerned with wicked individuals and the kingdom of Satan. (5) It is not eternal, but is a creature of time, finding its end in the lake of fire and brimstone at the end of the millennial reign. This is when every wicked individual, wicked angel, and Satan himself will be judged and cast into the lake of fire, the eternal abode of the wicked, (Rev. 20:13-15).
Concerning this theory some say that it is taught in Luke 16:19ff, but it not only is not taught there, but that passage will not reasonably bear this interpretation. In fact, it is doubtful in the extreme if any person would ever even have conceived of this theory from this passage had not a pagan superstition not been first laid along side of it, and used as a commentary on it. The reader may object that “I didn’t get this view from any pagan!” No, probably not, but you probably did get it from some Christian writer who, through many links of writers, did get it therefrom, for that is where it originated, long before the New Testament was written.
A brief but unbiased consideration of this passage in question will show that it will not bear the “two compartment” theory. (1) Lazarus dies and the angels, the ministering spirits of heaven (Heb. 1:14) convey him from the earth.
Death, to the departing saint, is not a journey through a solitary way. He is no sooner separated from earthly friends, than he finds himself in a company of celestial spirits, who offer themselves as his attendants and guides, to his eternal and blissful home. [John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology and Church Order, p. 342-343.].
But what of the rich man? “In Hades he lift up his eyes,” (v. 23). Why was he not also conveyed by the angels, if both men went to different compartments of the same place? (2) In Hades the rich man “lift up his eyes...and seeth Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom,” (v. 23). This was not only not in the same place it was a great distance above him. (3) “Beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed,” (v. 26). Does this sound like it is the same place, with only a wall of partition between the two compartments? In our present condition, a “great gulf” might be a few hundred miles, or a few thousand, but who can say what might constitute “a great gulf” in the spirit world? Indeed, we know from other Scriptures that this great gulf spans the distance between earth and heaven, (2 Cor. 12:2-4). The language here employed certainly gives ample scope for this vast distance, but who can conceive of it being used of two compartments of the same place?
Some might object, as this writer once did, that this theory must be true inasmuch as Scripture declares that David is not yet in heaven. But the passage in Acts 2:34 from whence this objection is taken does not so state. It does say, “David is not ascended into the heavens.” But as the whole subject there is the resurrection of the body, and the apostle would prove that this was prophesied of Christ beforehand by proving that it is not applicable to David, he being not yet resurrected, it has no force in the present matter. Let the reader search all he pleases, but he will not find the intermediate state of the soul so much as even alluded to in this passage.
The Paradise to which the departing spirit goes, is not a place distinct from the heaven in which God makes the most glorious manifestation of himself, and in which the glorified body of Christ has been received until the restitution of all things. The idea, that the disembodied spirit has a separate existence in sheol or hades, shut out from the glorious assembly near the throne, has originated from a misinterpretation of Scripture. Sheol or hades means the unseen world into which the spirit enters, when it leaves the body; but nothing is determined, by the use of the term, respecting the place or condition of the departed. [John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology and Church Order, p. 343.].
Another text that throws light upon this subject is Luke 23:42-43. “And he (the penitent malefactor) said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” This turns upon the meaning of the word “paradise,” and some would rush to the pagan classics, others to the Jewish rabbis, and still others elsewhere too learn the meaning of this word. However, for the Christian there must be only one source of explanation for this—the Word of God itself. It is not to be doubted that many of the Jews at the time of Christ’s crucifixion had imbibed the notions of the pagans concerning the intermediate state of the soul, but this does not prove that all, nor even that a majority of them had. Neither would it make that belief true if the whole world believed it, if it were contrary to God’s Word. Vox populi, Vox Dei— “the voice of the populace (the majority) is the voice of God” is not a true maxim, for the voice of the people is seldom the voice of God for man’s congenital depravity generally puts him out of step with God’s truth.
The word “paradise” appears only three times in the New Testament; (viz., Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7). There is nothing to indicate that any of these were used in either the Jewish or pagan sense of the word. The appearance of this word in 2 Corinthians 12:4 clearly locates paradise in the third heaven. “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” (vv. 2-4). This was another instance of biblical parallelism.
It is manifest from this language that the third heaven and paradise are the same place. This is so undeniable that even Dean Afford, who might have been expected to take the opposite view, says in his commentary, “The paradise here spoken of cannot be the Jewish paradise... where the spirits of the just awaited the resurrection... but the paradise of which our Lord spoke on the cross—the place of happiness into which he at his death introduced the spirits of the just.” In reply to this it may be said that the word paradise is used but three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7), and it is gratuitous to assume that it has different meanings. If it has, let it be shown, for it has not yet been done...It was to the third heaven, the highest heaven, even into paradise, that Paul was caught up. There is in the term paradise, as used in the New Testament, nothing that requires us to believe it is a place distinct from heaven. [J.M. Pendleton, Christian Doctrines, pp. 374, 375.].
To evade this all but overpowering proof, it has been suggested by some that caught up to paradise inasmuch as Paul speaks of visions (plural) that being caught up to heaven and being caught up to paradise were distinct events. However, Paul’s visions, and this rapture are shown to be distinct, for he says “I will come to visions,” speaking in the future tense. But of his rapture he says, “I knew... fourteen years ago... such an one caught up... he was caught up into paradise... heard unspeakable words,” all of which he speaks of as being past facts. This rapture was a past event in his life, but he yet expected to “come to visions.”
Not only so, but even had they been two distinct raptures, it would have done the advocates of this theory but little good. For he says he was “caught up to paradise,” which certainly cannot be predicated of Hades, which is in the heart of the earth, the way to which is downward according to Scripture, (Luke 10:15).
But to get back to the passage in Luke 23, Jesus said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” and of what disposition of His spiritual nature do we read in the sequel? “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost,” (v. 46). He dismissed His spirit unto the Father in heaven and shortly His body was taken down and placed into the unseen world of the grave. What part of Him could have been in Hades?
On the theory now under discussion, the following questions present themselves to us. Did Jesus lie to the malefactor when He promised him that he would be with Him in paradise that day? I think no one will advocate that. Did Jesus then think the Father was in one compartment of Hades? I doubt if anyone will take this view either. If neither of the foregoing questions are answered affirmatively, then we must ask this, Was Jesus’ commendation of His spirit unto the Father refused, or was it received into the Father’s presence in paradise in the third heaven?
Some confusion has resulted from a misunderstanding of where Jesus’ spirit was during the three days and nights in which His body lay in the tomb. If His prayer was heard, then Jesus’ spirit was received into the immediate presence of the Father at His death, together with the spirit of the believing malefactor. The bodies of both were interred in tombs, but after three days and nights Jesus’ body was raised and was reunited with His spirit. His statement in John 20:17, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father,” meant simply that in His risen and glorified body He had not yet ascended to the Father. However, He did ascend shortly thereafter, because He later appeared to the disciples, and allowed them to touch Him.
Much confusion has been added to this, and a false support added to the theory before us by a misinterpretation of 1 Peter 3:19-20. Catholicism cites this in support of its belief that Christ went to the region that they call limbus patrum and preached the gospel to the Old Testament saints, which, being believed by them, they were released from prison. Unfortunately, many non-Catholics have also imbibed this error. This is called the Descensus ad Infernos, and was incorporated into many of the ancient creeds after the third century.
Some endeavor to support the “two compartment of Hades” theory by citing this passage. Jesus, says they, came to preach of His triumph over sin and Satan, and to release them (so some) or to comfort them in their waiting for the time when they would be released (so others). Some also teach that Jesus was here giving the antediluvians a second chance to be saved. The interpretations of this passage are legion (this is but a sampling), which manifests that this is certainly a poor foundation upon which to found any doctrine.
The meaning of this is that Christ was put to death in the flesh, (v. 18), but He was quickened (made alive) by the innate power of His own spirit, which He had declared that He had, (John 10:17-18). This was not the Holy Spirit (there is no definite article “the” in the inspired Greek text), but His own spirit. It was in His spirit in which also He had preached through Noah to the antediluvians who were disobedient at the time the ark was being prepared, but who are now in prison for their disobedience. There is no disharmony of this interpretation with other Scriptures, as there is with other views, and it certainly does not lead into the confusion that some other interpretations do.
J. R. Graves (John’s Baptism, p. 60ff) would make these “spirits in prison” to be the saints in the paradise compartment of Hades, holding that the word translated “prison” should be rendered “in safe-keeping.” Yet of the forty-seven times that it appears in the New Testament, it is never used in this sense. In fact, it is used but two ways. (1) Forty-three times it is used in a bad sense, and is translated “prison” generally, and “hold,” “imprisonment,” “ward,” and “cage,” less frequently. (2) Six times it has a chronological sense. That is, it is used to designate one of the four periods of the night into which the Romans divided the night. It is translated in these places “watch.” In no place in Scripture does it bear the sense that Dr. Graves suggests, which would be to make it read “In which He went and preached to the spirits who were standing their watch in the night.” The word translated “sometime,” (v. 20) (pote)means simply in time past, and is so translated several times, (Gal. 1:13; Eph. 2:2,3, et al). This passage connects their past disobedience with their present imprisonment as was shown by an old English commentator.
Quest. When were these spirits, to whom Christ preached by Noah, in prison? Answ. Then when Peter wrote this Epistle. The Greek participle of the present tense is here to be supplied, and the word thus read, preached to the spirits which are in prison, viz. Now at this time; and so the time of their being in prison is opposed to the time of their being disobedient; their disobedience going before their imprisonment; q. d. They were disobedient then, they are in prison now. Sometime, viz. In the days of Noah, when they were upon earth. Were disobedient; would not believe what Noah told them in God’s name, nor be brought to repentance by his preaching. When once; not always, but for a determinate time, viz. one hundred and twenty years; which term being expired, there was no hope left for them that they should be spared. [Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, p. 910.].
Ephesians 4:8 has occasionally been suggested as proving that the saints who were confined in the Paradise compartment of Hades were transferred to heaven after the resurrection of Christ. But proper understanding of this and its context will show that this is not the subject under discussion in this chapter. The first half or more of this chapter deals with the fitness of the ministry of the churches to perfect the churches so that they may keep the unity of the Spirit. Thus the apostle first appeals to this church to keep the unity of the Spirit, (vv. 1-3). He then proceeds to give a resume of the doctrinal basis of unity, (vv. 4-6). And finally he shows that by His resurrection Christ triumphed over all the hosts of evil, led them in captivity before all, and brought all of the spoils to be distributed to His people. Thus, these captured spoils of this spiritual war are given for the “perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (vv. 7- 11, 12-13).
The imagery employed here was of the common ancient practice of a victorious king leading all the defeated hosts of the enemy in captivity before his rejoicing people as he returns from war and bestows the spoils of the war upon the home folks. Thus, “captivity,” (v. 8), is in contrast with the “men” of His people, to whom are given the gifts that He has for His church’s spiritual development, (Ps. 68:18), from whence this is quoted, bears out this aspect of it. There He is said to “receive gifts for men,” while here, after the fulfillment of this, He is said to have “given gifts unto men.” But in none of this is there any reference to the intermediate state, and it is to wrest the Scriptures to try to make it do so. After citing Matthew 22:32; Luke 16:22; Luke 23:43; John 11:26; 3 Corinthians 5:1; Philippians 1:23 and Revelation 6:9-11, E. Y. Mullins sums the matter up as follows.
From these Scriptures we draw the following conclusions: (1) At death the Christian goes directly into the presence of Christ and of God. There is not a long delay between the moment of death and some future time. (2) The state in which they exist there is a conscious state... (3) The disembodied dead who are thus present with Christ and conscious are also in a state of happiness and rest... (4) There is no basis in the New Testament teaching for what is known as the doctrine of “soul-sleeping” ... (5) The teachings presented give no warrant for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory... (6) The intermediate state is not the final state of believers. It is represented as a relatively imperfect state. [The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, pp. 460-461.].
After consideration of all (as far as we are aware) of the Scriptures bearing upon this theory, we find that they are inconclusive, to say the least. A consideration of the fourth view, which is the Scriptural one, will go even further to show that the above theory is untenable. We take up this fourth view under our third heading.
III. THE TRUTH EXPOUNDED.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that there are two and only two options in regard to the believer’s present existence. He said, “We are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord,” (2 Cor. 5:6, 8).
Who can or would deny this truth that believers are either “at home in the body and absent from the Lord,” or else they are “absent from the body, and present with the Lord?” What a blessed truth is this that we are as close to the immediate presence of the Lord as His willingness to call us home. David once rather pessimistically said, “There is but a step between me and death,” (1 Sam. 20:3), but the saint can truly say that there is but a step between me and eternal glory with the Lord. For the saint there is no age-long soul-sleep, no long purgatorial fire to be endured ere he can enter the Lord’s glorious presence, no expectancy of waiting until the second coming of Christ to enjoy His presence. But, we have the confidence—notice Paul’s repetition of this—that when this soul and body are parted, we shall go immediately to be with our blessed Lord. Who would trade this hope for any of the theories that we have examined?
Nor is this hope exclusively the New Testament saints’ hope, for we find the same truth presented of the Old Testament saints. The Psalmist had this hope, and he expressed it in Psalm 73:24. ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” That this “glory” refers to heaven we learn from the Apostle Peter who tells us, “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard...” (2 Pet. 1:17-18). “Glory” is a Hebraism for heaven as the parallelism here shows.
Was the wise man deceived as to the place his soul would go when it left the body? Surely not, for he declares, “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” (Eccl. 3:20-21). He declares what becomes of the physical nature of man—it returns to the dust of the earth whence it was taken, (Gen. 2:7). And of the spiritual—that it goes upward to stand before God, (12:7), to there be judged as to whether it can be allowed into heaven or must be confined to Hades, (Heb. 9:27). Apparently, in the case of the unsaved, this judgment happens so quickly that the wicked hardly realize what has happened until they find themselves in Hades, (Luke 16:22-23).
The same teaching is found in Isaiah 57:15, where this falls directly from the mouth of the Lord Himself. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
It is to be noted that this passage does not say “I shall dwelt” etc., as if this were a promised future hope, but it speaks in the present tense. Nor is this applicable prophetically, for when the Lord returns to earth, the saints will be with Him, not in heaven, but in the air, where they shall receive their glorified bodies, (1 Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:51-57). If the saints are not in heaven before the coming of Christ back to the earth they never will be, for thereafter they are always on the earth with Him.
And what can we say of Enoch and Elijah, those two translated saints? Were their bodies translated to heaven, but their spirits locked out? Or confined to a compartment of Hades for the duration of time? Or were they carried complete into heaven, body, soul and spirit? And what of Moses, who appeared with Elijah upon the mount of transfiguration? Whence came he, from heaven or from Hades? Such questions are unanswerable except upon the supposition that believers’ spirits go to be with the Lord at the moment of death.
Nor is the New Testament any less explicit upon the subject. We are made to ask, “Was Stephen deceived when he looked up into heaven and saw the Lord Jesus standing to receive his spirit as he was being martyred?” (Acts 7:55-56, 59). And the Apostle Paul speaks more plainly upon the subject than any suppositions of man. He says, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you,” (Phil. 1:23-24). The context shows that he was speaking of the departure of the soul to be with the Lord at death.
Paul was also inspired to reveal that those that have died in Jesus are with Him between death and the resurrection, when he says of Christ’s return: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him... For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,” (1 Thess. 4:14, 16-17). We observe from this passage: (1) Jesus comes down from heaven with the spirits of the saved who have died previous to His coming, (v. 14). (2) At the sounding of the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, every sleeping body of a saint will be raised and reunited with its spiritual counterpart, (v. 16). (3) Then those saints that have not died, but remained alive unto the coming of the Lord shall be instantaneously enwrapped in a renovated and glorious body, (v. 17). “The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed,’ (1 Cor. 15:52). (4) All then shall be united with the Lord, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Brethren, we are on praising ground here! What cause for rejoicing we have! What a blessed hope is ours!
The teaching of the Scriptures on the subject of the intermediate state is one to inspire fear and dread in the unbeliever, and encouragement and joy in the believer. When the believer holds the Scriptural view of the intermediate state, he will have no fear or dread of death, and, like Paul, will only be hindered from a desire to depart and be with Christ by his duty to stay below and serve, (Phil. 1:24). The following summary concerning this is well stated.
Almost all Christians feel a particular solicitude about the condition of human souls immediately after death. The proximity of that state to this invests it with double interest. Friends accompany their friends to the very borders of it, and know that, when the latter close their eyes here, they open them at once there,—know that in a moment their loved ones are in the state that lies between time and eternity,—between existence in a natural body and existence in a spiritual body. Besides, that is a profoundly mysterious life which connects the one before death with the one beyond the judgment,—a life of waiting for the Lord, with how much of blessed service on the part of the righteous, no one knows; for the teaching of Scripture concerning the middle state is neither full nor explicit, but it assures us of these facts: —1. That the spirits of the departed are bodiless in that state... 2. That the spirits of the departed are conscious in the middle state... 3. That unbelievers are in a state of misery... 4. That believers are in a state of happiness... 5. That neither believers nor unbelievers are on probation in that state. [Alvah Hovey, Manual of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, pp. 346-348.].
Baptists have always professed to be guided by the principle that the Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. If this be true, then there will be no need to try to establish any doctrine by tradition, Christian, Jewish or Pagan, nor by rationalism, nor yet by suppositions, inferences, or any other dubious arrivals at conclusions. When Jesus taught, it is recorded that the common people heard Him gladly, (Mark 12:37). This was because He spoke simply enough for even the young and unlearned to understand Him, and not like the Pharisees and Sadducees who multiplied mysteries, and added to the darkness of the text.
There are those today that would establish human doctrines by analogies, suppositions and inferences. But for us common people, it is enough for us to find our doctrines in the Word, and come to our conclusions simply by being taught of the Spirit as we “compare spiritual things with spiritual,” (1 Cor. 2:13). Whatsoever is more than this is going beyond what is written, and will only multiply confusion. Let us take our doctrines from the Bible and only from the Bible, and bring our all our beliefs and practices into harmony with the Bible.
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