“But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” Job 14:10. This is a question people have been asking for centuries. It is the mystery of death, the realm of the unknown, as many call it. To those of us who are Christians, the mystery of death is not a mystery. Jesus said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell [the grave] and of death.” Revelation 1:18.
Jesus has the keys to unlock the door to help us understand what lies beyond the grave. Although many people today are confused over the mystery of death, there is no need to be confused, because the Bible gives us the answer.
But, you might ask, What about 2 Corinthians 5:8 where Paul said, “We are . . . willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord”? Is that confusing? I know that sometimes when studying the Bible, we may come across a passage that is not quite clear to us. On the surface, it appears that it could be taken this way or maybe another way.
We need to remember when we study the Bible, that there are two kinds of Bible verses. There are what we call “black and white” verses. In other words, when you read that text it is very clear what it is saying. Then there are texts that we call “gray.” On the surface they appear to mean this or that. What we have to do in order to understand the “gray” passages is allow the “black and white” texts to help interpret or unravel the mystery of the “gray” ones. It is not that you cannot understand these texts or that they are vague, you just need the other passages, that are clear,to help unravel the mystery.
First we will study some “black and white” texts on the state of man in death. “These things” said He [Jesus]: and after that He saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may wake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.” John 11:11, 12. At this point, Lazarus is dead, but the disciples do not know it. They still think he is sick. Think for a moment: If you are sick, what is one of the best things you can do in order to recover quickly? Get plenty of rest. So here Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to wake Lazarus up out of his sleep. But the disciples said, “Lord, if he sleep, he will do well.” This is a sad story in relation to the disciples, because they should have been well familiar with the doctrine of the state of the dead. Throughout the Old Testament, there are scores and scores of passages dealing with that particular truth. Yet, somehow, this truth escaped the disciples.
One of the reasons why the disciples failed to recognize the language of Jesus was because, too often, tradition supercedes the Word of the Lord. How many of those who claim to be Christians are taking tradition above a “Thus saith the Lord”? The church is not above the Bible. The word of the Lord is the highest authority. A “Thus saith the Lord” is not to be set aside for a “Thus saith the church” or “Thus saith the state.” The Word of God must be obeyed. By taking the name Christian we claim to be followers of Jesus. But how do we follow Jesus? We follow Him, by obedience to His words.
“Howbeit, Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” John 11:13, 14. These texts are a simple commentary on the doctrine of the state of the dead. Jesus compared death to sleep.
We can see the same thing in Acts 7:57–60: “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him [Stephen] with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this he fell asleep.” There are two ways to interpret this passage. Either at the time that Stephen was being stoned, he laid down and took a nap, or he died. The sleep made reference to in this Scripture has to do with his death, as can be shown in Acts 8:1 “And Saul consenting unto his death . . . ”
Death is compared to sleep. And what do we mean by that? “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” Ecclesiastes 9:5. The living know, are consciously aware, but the dead do not know 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 5, 6. The dead are not aware of what is going on in the earth. They have no knowledge of anything that takes place underneath the sun. This particular passage very clearly indicates that it is impossible for anyone to communicate with the dead. For the Bible says they have no memory. They have no love, nor hatred. How can you communicate with people that cannot communicate with you? They cannot even communicate with each other. They are dead. They are unconscious of anything that is going on.
The Scripture also clearly teaches that they will not always remain in that condition. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28, 29.
The Bible discusses two resurrections: the resurrection of life and the resurrection of damnation. There will come a point in time when all that are in the grave will hear His voice and they will come forth; some to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of damnation. By the grace of God, we need to be in that first resurrection. What a sad day it will be for so many who think that they are in the first group, when they rise up in the second? I wish that for no one!
The Thief on the Cross beside Jesus
Now let us study some of those “gray” texts on this subject. The thief who was crucified beside Jesus said, “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.” Luke 23:42, 43.
There seems to be a difference of opinion regarding the passage, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” Does it mean that when he died, he would be on that day with Jesus in Paradise? Let us assume just for the sake of illustration, that it was on that day when Jesus was crucified that the thief was to be taken to heaven.
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Verse 42. So in order for the thief to go to Paradise on that day, Jesus would have had to have gone that day also.
But did Jesus go to heaven on that day (Friday)? Notice John 21:1: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” This is Sunday, two days after Friday, and Mary comes to the sepulchre. When she gets there the stone is rolled away and a man stands nearby. Thinking he was the gardener, Mary asked him where the Lord had been taken. The man was Jesus, and when He says her name, she immediately recognizes Him. In great excitement Mary rushes up to Jesus and says, “Rabboni [Master]. Jesus saith unto her, touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father.” Verse 17. This is two days after Friday! How could the thief go to Paradise with Jesus on Friday when Jesus said two days later that He had not yet gone to heaven?
The confusion here lies with the comma. I know there are those who take the position that the commas, the chapters, the paragraphs, and the periods are all inspired. That is an extreme position to hold. Chapters, commas and verses were put in by man to make it easier to locate texts. When you read the original Greek and Hebrew, there are no chapters or commas, it is just one flowing, continuation.
In this particular case we need to look at the comma. In verse 43, this is how the passage should be read, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” In other words, Jesus was saying, I promise you today, that you will be with Me in Paradise.
Let us take the premise that the comma was inspired. If that is the case, I would like someone to explain to me Acts 19:11. (KJV) If that comma is inspired, then this comma in Acts 19:11, 12 must be inspired also. Speaking about the apostle Paul and the things that he was doing, it says this: “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” According to the way the comma is placed, diseases and evil spirits were departing from the aprons and the handkerchiefs!
How can the comma in Luke 23:43 be inspired when we see the inconsistency according to Acts 19:11, 12? The comma should not be placed after the words “handkerchiefs and aprons.” It should be placed after the word “sick,” so it should read: “So that from his body were brought unto the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them [meaning the sick] and the evil spirits went out of them [the sick].”
The Rich Man and Lazarus
There is another interesting story given in Luke 16:19–31 about a rich man and Lazarus. Some say this story proves that when you die you go straight to heaven or to hell. The position that is taken is that this is not a parable, but a true story illustrating what Jesus teaches about the subject of death. “And there was a certain rich man,” Underscore that, because it is very, very important. If this is a literal story, then you must take everything in the story literally. If it is a symbolic story to illustrate a literal truth, one must decipher the symbolism in order to understand the literal meaning. Let us look carefully and see if we can discover if this is a real story or a parable?
How did Jesus usually begin His parables? “And He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree . . .” Luke 13:6. “And he said, A certain man had two sons . . .” Luke 15:11. “And He said also unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man . . .” Luke 16:1. This is the language Jesus used over and over again.
The evidence clearly reveals that the story in Luke 16:19, beginning with “A certain rich man,” is a parable consistent with all the ones that Jesus told previously. However, even though the evidence proves that it is a parable, let us assume that this is a literal story. The story goes like this: The rich man goes to hell, and Lazarus, who is sitting next to the dogs, goes to rest in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man cries out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.
Remember, we are supposed to take everything in this story literally. Here is a man burning in hell and he requests that the tip of Larazus’ finger be dipped in water, and somehow this will cool him.We have all worked on a hot day outside, maybe in the garden or washing our cars. When I am doing us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 5:3–5. By giving us the Spirit, God has given us a down payment on heaven.
We do not have the fullness yet. That will come when this mortal shall put on immortality. God says, I will give you a sample of what it is like to have life and to have a little bit of heaven. “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” Verse 6. As long as I am in this tabernacle I am physically absent from Jesus, but we have the hope of glory.
“(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Verses 7, 8. Paul would rather be absent from this physical, earthly house in order to be with Jesus. But that can only take place when this earthly house is exchanged for that heavenly one at the last trump. Then all those who are faithful, will be present with Jesus.
That is why Paul said: “For. . . 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 Thessalonians 4:16, 17.
” . . . Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20.