Bible Truth Examiner

Studies

STUDY 4: WHERE ARE THE DEAD?

 

Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

 

WHERE are our family members, friends and neighbors who have died? If the ordinary affairs

of life, such as food, clothing, finance, politics, etc., which concern us for only a few years are

considered worthy of our thought and study, how much more concern should we have for the

eternal future of ourselves, our loved ones and mankind in general?

 

Before presenting the Scriptural answer, let us consider the conclusions of some of the great

thinkers on this subject:

 

The Agnostic Answer

 

They answer, “We do not know. We would like to believe in a future life, but we have no proof

of it. Lacking the evidences, we conclude that man dies as does the brute beast.”

 

This answer does not satisfy our heads or our hearts, which instinctively cry out that there must,

or should be, a future life. Man was created with powers of mind and heart so superior to the

brute that his pre-eminence in the Divine Plan should be expected. Furthermore, the brevity of

the present life – its tears, its sorrows, its experiences, its lessons – would be practically useless,

unless there be a future life, an opportunity for making use of these lessons.

 

The Non-Christian Religions

 

Two-thirds of the world is non-Christian, so the sheer weight of numbers should hold some

weight. They offer two general answers:

 

(1.) Prominent among them is Transmigration. They say, “When a man dies he does not die, but

merely changes his form. His future estate will correspond to his present living, and give him

either a higher or a lower position. We believe that we lived on earth before, either as cats, dogs,

mice, elephants, or what not, and that if the present life has been wisely used, we may reappear

as men of nobler talents, but if life has been misspent, at death we will be remanded to some

lower form of being, such as an elephant, a worm, etc.”

 

(2.) The other class believes in a spirit world with blessings for the good and a hell of varied

torments for the wicked. They say that when people seem to die they really become more alive

than ever, and that the very moment they die, they either go to the realms of the blessed or the

forever doomed. When asked where they received these views, they answer that they do not

know, but that they have been handed down to them from the past and have been accepted as

truths.

 

The Catholic Answer

 

We now turn to the one-third of the world’s population known as Christendom. They answer,

“Our opinion is divided, with more than two-thirds of us holding the Catholic, and nearly one

third the general Protestant view.” Let us consider the Catholic view (Greek and Roman) first.

 

They respond, “Our teaching is that when one dies he goes to one of three places: First, the

saintly go immediately to the presence of God, to Heaven. These saintly ones do not include our

clergy, not even our bishops, cardinals and popes. We also do not teach that many go to eternal

hell, but only the incorrigible heretics, persons who have had a full knowledge of Catholic

doctrines and who have willfully and deliberately opposed them.”

 

Billions to Purgatory

 

“According to our teaching, the dead in general pass immediately to Purgatory, which is a place

of purgation from sin – a place of penances, sorrows, woes, and anguish, but not hopeless. The

period of confinement here may be centuries or thousands of years, depending upon the

individual and various conditions. The great Catholic and poet Dante graphically describes the

tortures of Purgatory. Billions are there because ignorance does not save anyone. Millions of

Protestants are also there because they could not enter Heaven except through the Catholic

Church, nor would they be subjects of eternal hell because their rejection of Catholicism was due

to the confession of faith under which they were born.

 

“Nearly all Catholics go to Purgatory also, because the vast majority, not having attained a

saintly character, could not be admitted to Heaven until the distressing experiences of Purgatory

would prepare their hearts for Heaven. Catholics will not, however, need to remain in Purgatory

as long as will non-Catholics.”

 

Our hearts are heavy with the thought that our poor race, because of original sin, is already, as

the Apostle says, a “groaning creation,” and the present life of a few years is full of trouble. It is

sad and discouraging to think that when present trials and difficulties are past, such awful

experiences as Dante portrays, will for centuries be necessary in order to prepare us for

Heavenly glory.

 

The Protestant Answer

 

Protestants received their name from their forefathers, who were Catholics, when they believed

they had discovered inconsistencies and unscriptural thoughts in the Catholic doctrines they had

been taught. They protested against these, and therefore were called Protestants. One of their

points of protest was that they could not find anything about Purgatory in the Bible, so they

discarded their views of Purgatory, which left them with Heaven and Hell, into one of which

every member of the race must go at death and there spend eternity. Each Protestant

denomination had hoped that it was God’s Elect, His Little Flock, who would go to Heaven,

while the remainder of mankind would be consigned to an eternity of torture.

 

Since coming out of the Dark Ages, more generous views have prevailed. Very few would now

accept the thought that the vast majority of mankind will suffer eternal torment, however, the

creeds remain unchanged in large part.

 

The creeds have perplexed thinking Protestants, for although they resist the thought that two

thirds of our race are bound for a hell of eternal torment, they also reason that they are not fit for

Heaven. Surely, if we must object to Purgatory as being unscriptural, we must also object to the

eternal torment of most of the families of the earth as being unscriptural, especially when the

Bible declares that all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12: 3) through Christ –

blessed with a knowledge of the Truth and an opportunity to come into heart-harmony with God

and to attain eternal life.

 

There are two main Protestant theories on this subject:

 

(1.) The Calvinistic thought is that Divine Wisdom and Power planned for man’s creation in

advance, knew of the fall of man in advance, and therefore created a great place called hell, and

that it is manned by fire-proof devils for the torment of the race, except for the Elect. Love and

Justice were left out of this plan.

 

(2.) The other prominent theory, the Arminian, which is probably held today by the majority,

insists that both Love and Justice created the world and arranged the torment, and that Wisdom

and Power were not consulted; therefore, God has gotten into difficulty because while seeking to

be just and loving toward His creatures, He lacks the power to give them the needed aid.

The entire difficulty has been that only the opinions of man have been consulted instead of the

Word of the Lord. Let us now consider the clear, plain, reasonable, just, loving and wise program

of the Heavenly Father, Who through the Prophet declares: “As the heavens are higher than the

earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”

(Isaiah 55: 9).

 

And what else should we expect than this, that God would be better than ourselves? Our Lord

said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for

them which despitefully use you” (Matthew 5: 44). “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst,

give him drink” (Romans 12: 20). In view of this, how strange to think that God would torture

His enemies eternally; and even those do not become believers under present adverse conditions!

From only the one standpoint can we get order out of confusion and regain the proper respect for

our Creator and His dealings with our race. That is the standpoint of the Truth as revealed to us

in the Bible.

 

What Say the Scriptures?

 

All of the above theories are based upon the assumption that death does not mean death – that to

die is to become more alive than before death. In Eden it was God who declared to our first

parents, “Thou shalt surely die,” and it was Satan who declared, “Ye shall not surely die.” Our

common mistake has been that we have followed the wrong teacher, the one of whom our Lord

said, he “abode not in the Truth,” and he is the father of lies (John 8: 44).

 

These false doctrines have prevailed for many centuries, but gained an ascendency in the Church

during the Dark Ages, in fact, they caused much of the darkness. Had our forefathers believed

God’s testimony, there would have been no prayers for the dead, masses for their sins and

frightful thoughts respecting their torture. The Scriptures agree from beginning to end that “the

dead know not any thing” (Ecclesiastes 9: 5), and that “His sons come to honour, and he

knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them” (Job 14: 21).

 

It is the Scriptures that tell us that the dead experience neither joy nor sorrow, pleasure nor

suffering; that they will have no knowledge of anything until their awakening in the

Resurrection. The wise man said, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for

there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave (sheol), whither thou

goest” (Ecclesiastes 9: 10). The dead are perished in the tomb; and the perishing would be

absolute, complete, unless a resurrection be provided for their deliverance from the power of

death. Hence we read, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that

whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).

 

The Bible teaches that man was created in the image and likeness of his Creator; that he

possessed perfect life in Eden and might have retained it by full obedience. But he failed in his

trial and came under the death sentence: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely

die” (Genesis 2: 17). There the dying process began, and after 930 years brought Father Adam to

the tomb and involved all of his children in his weakness and death sentence. He died in the very

day which the Apostle Peter explains was not a 24-hour day, but a thousand-year day: “One day

is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3: 8).

 

During six of these great Days, the death sentence has rested upon mankind, though God hinted

at relief by the statement that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head

(Genesis 3: 15); and it was further elaborated to Abraham, saying, “In thee and in thy seed shall

all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12: 3) (Genesis 28: 14). But not until four of the

great thousand-year Days had passed did God send forth His Son to redeem the race, by meeting

Father Adam’s penalty, by dying, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”

(1 Peter 3: 18). As a result of that redemptive work accomplished at Calvary, there is to be “a

resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” – a recovery from the death sentence, the

tomb (Acts 24: 15).

 

Death, not Torment, the Penalty

 

It has been a mistake in assuming eternal torment as the wages of original sin, when the

Scriptures explicitly declare death to be the penalty. By searching the Genesis account of man’s

fall and the sentence imposed, there is no suggestion of a future eternal torment, but merely of a

death penalty. How, then, did the Adversary deceive our fathers during the Dark Ages with his

errors, which the Apostle describes as “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4: 1)? None of the

prophecies mention any other than a death penalty for sin. The New Testament declares the

same. The Apostle Paul, who wrote more than one-half of the New Testament, assures us, “I

have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 27), yet he does not say a

word about eternal torment. On the contrary, he says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into

the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”

(Romans 5: 12).

 

Some might suggest that death would not be a sufficient penalty for sin, but that conclusion is

illogical. For the sin of disobedience, Adam lost his paradisiac home, his perfect life and Divine

fellowship, and instead got sickness, pain, sorrow and death. Additionally, all of his posterity,

reasonably estimated at 40,000 million, have inherited weaknesses, mental, moral and physical,

and are, as the Apostle declares, a groaning creation (Romans 8: 22). Surely, no reasonable

person would say that the penalty has been insufficient, and that Justice could and does further

demand that these millions shall at death be tormented by demons to all eternity!

 

God’s Penalty a Just One

 

The death penalty is neither unjust, nor too severe. God could have blotted Adam and the whole

race out of existence instantly; but He determined that present trials and experiences shall prove

useful as disciplines to prepare us for a wiser course than Father Adam took, when we shall be

privileged to have one full individual trial. Our race has hope of a future existence because of

God’s compassion and the work of redemption.

 

Our Lord died for our redemption. If the penalty against us had been eternal torment, our

redemption from it would have cost our Lord that price – He would have suffered eternal

torment, the Just for the unjust. But eternal torment was not the penalty, therefore, Jesus did not

suffer that penalty for us. Death was the penalty, for “Christ died for our sins.” By the grace of

God, He tasted death for every man (1 Corinthians 15: 3) (Hebrews 2: 9). Adam alone had been

tried and condemned. We, his children, were involved through him. The Scriptures assure us that

God condemned the whole world for one man’s disobedience, in order that He might have mercy

upon all through the obedience of another – Christ. The wisdom and economy of our Creator

shine brightly in this arrangement!

 

So, Are we without responsibility? Will there be no individual penalty upon us for individual

wrong doings? We answer that our eternal destiny can only be determined by ourselves, by

individually accepting or rejecting the grace of God. The Scriptures declare that every sin, in

proportion to its willfulness, brings a measure of degradation which involves chastisements,

corrections, in order to regain the lost standing (Matthew 12: 36) (Luke 12: 47, 48). The meaner

one may be, the greater will his disadvantage be in the resurrection time, and the more he will

then have to overcome, to get back to all that was lost in Adam and redeemed by Christ.

 

“And the Dead came forth”

 

During His First Advent, our Lord’s miracles foreshadowed the great work which He, with His

glorified Church, will accomplish for the world during the Millennial Age. Then all the sick,

lame, blind and dead will be revived, and if obedient, will ultimately be brought to full

perfection; and the disobedient will be destroyed in the Second Death (Acts 3: 23). Our Lord’s

most notable miracle was the awakening of His friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Jesus had been

gone for several days when Lazarus became sick. Though He knew about Lazarus’ condition,

Martha and Mary sent Him a special message, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is

sick” (John 11: 3). They knew that Jesus had the power to heal, even by the word of His mouth,

but He remained where He was and allowed Lazarus to die. Then He said to His disciples, “Our

friend Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11: 11). To clarify, He finally added, “Lazarus is dead. And I am

glad for your sakes that I was not there” (John 11: 14, 15).

 

Jesus was glad to let His friend fall asleep in death, because it would provide an opportunity to

perform a special miracle. When He and His disciples arrived in Bethany three days later,

Martha’s gentle reproof was, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Our Lord

said unto her, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Martha said unto Him, “I know that he shall rise

again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11: 21, 23, 24). Note that Jesus did not say that

Lazarus was in Heaven or Purgatory. Purgatory had not yet been invented, and our Lord’s

testimony is, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven”

(John 3: 13).

 

Jesus explained that the power of resurrection was vested in Himself, that He could awaken their

brother. Martha insisted that it was too late, that putrefaction had already set in, but Jesus

insisted on seeing the tomb. He cried, “Lazarus, come forth” and “He that was dead came

forth” (John 11: 43, 44).

 

“All that are in the Graves”

 

What Jesus did for Lazarus He implied He would do for Adam and his entire race. He stated,

“The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his [Jesus’] voice, and

shall come forth” (John 5: 28, 29). The remainder of verse 29 explains that there will be two

general classes of the dead to come forth: First, those who have had their trial and who have

passed it successfully; second, all the remainder of mankind who have thus far failed to have

Divine approval. The approved will come forth from the tomb unto a resurrection of life –

perfection. The disapproved will come forth “unto a resurrection of judgment” (see Revised

Version). There is a difference between a coming forth and a resurrection. The disapproved, on

being awakened, will have the privilege of rising up out of present degradation – mental, moral,

physical – to the glorious perfection which Father Adam enjoyed in the image and likeness of

His Creator. St. Peter refers to the uplifting or resurrection work as “the times of restitution of all

things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world

began” (Acts 3: 21).

 

Not Universalism Either

 

This does not imply universal eternal life, for the Scriptures declare that those who refuse to

profit by the opportunities of the Millennial Age, who refuse to be uplifted to perfection, shall be

destroyed from amongst the people in the Second Death – “They shall be as though they had not

been” (Obadiah 16). When our Lord entered the synagogue at Capernaum and was asked to read

the lesson, He chose the 61st chapter of Isaiah. There He read about Himself and His work, a

part of which was to open the prison doors and set at liberty the captives. He was not referring to

literal prisons, but the great prison-house, the tomb, which now holds approximately forty billion

persons. At His Second Advent, our Lord will open this great prison-house and cause all the

prisoners to come forth, just as truly as He did in the case of Lazarus, when He declared,

“Lazarus, come forth,” – so “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.”

 

Where Are the Dead?

 

We have found all earthly authorities on this subject unsatisfactory. The Bible alone provides a

satisfactory answer, assuring us that the dead are really dead, and that all their hopes respecting

the future are centered, first, in the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus, accomplished at Calvary;

and secondly, upon the work of resurrection which He will accomplish for those whom He

redeemed, at His Second Advent.

 

Soon Satan will be fully bound and his unholy, invisible kingdom destroyed. Then the rule of the

holy, invisible Millennial Kingdom will come, and through its earthly representatives, agencies

will be established for enlightening and uplifting the whole race.

 

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