[Please click the links as you go through this article, since they will take you to my scriptural references, as well as to articles containing extended exegesis on my various points.]
What is death? The answer to this question is simple: death is the absence of life. In fact, this is such a simple concept that a child could tell you this. At the end of the day, it takes religion or the occult (is there a difference?) to truly get someone to believe that death isn’t really death after all, but is instead actually life. (Religion also lies abut why we die, I should add, and I’ve already written about that topic — as well as why we should reject the serpent’s lie that “ye shall not surely die” — here in this post, and I highly recommend reading that first before continuing with this one.)
One of the reasons that so many Christians believe in the concept of the immortality of the soul is because they’ve misapprehended various passages in Scripture to be about “events” or judgements that take place after one dies. And so they read passages that talk about heaven and “hell” in certain less literal translations of Scripture, not realizing that heaven is actually not a place the dead can even go (which I wrote about here in this post — read it if you’re interested in learning why only those with living bodies can go to heaven, at least in a conscious state), and that the “hell” one is said to go to when they die doesn’t actually exist as a location at all (the word “hell” is actually a figurative translation of multiple words, and they each refer to different places and concepts from one other, none of which are what most Christians have assumed for the last 1500 years or so).
What few Christians seem to understand is that, when Jesus spoke about the future and about judgement, He wasn’t talking about non-corporeal, spiritual, afterlife “states” in other dimensions called heaven and hell (the reason I mention only Jesus here, even though Paul is our apostle, is because Paul never once threatened anyone with any of the words that some versions translate as “hell” anywhere in his recorded words in the book of Acts or in any of his epistles; and even in the one instance that he used the Greek word ᾅδης/“hades,” even the KJV translated it as “grave” rather than “hell,” which brings up all sorts of questions if those of us in the body of Christ are supposed to model ourselves specifically after his example and after his teachings, yet he was never once recorded as having taught that anybody will suffer without end, or even as having mentioned a place called “hell”). Rather, everything Jesus said in person when speaking about the future takes place on a planet called earth in the physical universe (albeit on two different earths; some taking place on our current planet, and some on the New Earth, or third earth, after this one has been destroyed).
First of all, He spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, which begins as an actual, physical 1,000-yearlong kingdom here on Earth (not in a supposed afterlife dimension), specifically in Israel (or at least with Israel at its centre), that is sometimes referred to as ”the eon” (or “the age”), the Millennium, or the Millennial Kingdom, which comes into being after the Tribulation period ends.
He also spoke of paradise (παράδεισος/“paradeisos” in the Greek), which is simply a reference to a future state of the earth where the tree of life will be, both during the Millennium and on the New Earth (which makes sense considering there would be no need to eat from the tree of life in an ethereal afterlife dimension as a ghost).
As far as the negative future He talked about goes, it was in this universe as well. His primary threat was Gehenna (γέεννα/“Géenna” in Greek), also known as the Valley of Hinnom (or the Valley of the son of Hinnom), which was an actual physical valley in Israel (again, not in another dimension one enters after death). I’ve already written about this topic here, so please read that article to learn what Jesus was actually talking about when He warned people about the ”hell” (or “hole”) known as Gehenna, but the main thing to remember here is that Jesus’ Jewish audience would have immediately recognized His mention of worms that “die not” and fires that “are not quenched” as a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy about the place the corpses of future lawbreakers here on Earth would be burned up and devoured by worms in (almost everybody has somehow failed to notice the word “carcases” in the passage in Isaiah that Jesus was referencing, missing the fact that he was writing about dead bodies that living people would be able to see here on Earth in the future, and not about conscious souls in some afterlife dimension, and that Jesus would have then been speaking about the same thing). Simply put, the threat was a lack of burial, with a public cremation instead, which would have been one of the most dishonourable outcomes you could threaten an Israelite with back then (you wouldn’t even threaten the worst criminal alive with such a fate back then, so for Jesus to do so for certain sinners demonstrated that He meant business, and connected His warnings with those of the prophets as well), and also missing out on getting to enjoy living in the kingdom during “the eon.”
In addition, He sometimes also referred to ᾅδης which is simply “the unseen,” and is the Greek equivalent of the word שְׁאוֹל/“sheol” used in the Hebrew Scriptures for “the grave,” or “the unseen,” and is just speaking of the state of no longer being conscious because one is dead (when it’s not being used figuratively in parable form). Unfortunately, most members of the Christian religion are unaware of the fact that the immortality of the soul is not only an unscriptural concept, but that it’s an entirely pagan idea. At this point, I’m going to link you to a number of articles on the topic of life after death, and what certain passages of Scripture that are commonly misunderstood by many Christians actually mean, so please read them before proceeding, in order to get the full picture:
- Life After Death? Part 1: The Nature of Man
- Life After Death? Part 2: The State of the Dead
- Life After Death: Part 3
- About Death – What is it?
- What Is Death?
- God’s Eonian Purpose, chapter 19: Death and Hell
- You Shall Be With Me In Paradise
- The Second Death
- The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
- The Rich Man and Lazarus (Part 1)
- The Rich Man and Lazarus (Part 2)
- The Rich Man and Lazarus (Part 3)
- Lazarus and the Rich Man
- The Rich Man and Lazarus
- The Rich Man and Lazarus as an “Admission”
- A Pillar of Partialism Shaken and Removed – The Rich Man and Lazarus
If one has carefully gone through those articles I’ve linked to above, it should now be clear to anyone who allows themselves to read Scripture without letting preconceived doctrinal bias to colour their interpretations that Scripture doesn’t actually teach what most Christians have assumed about what death (and the second death) is.
“Ye shall not surely die” might be the first recorded lie the devil told (or, ”Not to die shall you be dying,” as the serpent technically put it), but today it’s being taught by many leaders in the Christian religion who are trying to convince us that death isn’t actually death at all, but is rather just a change in our state of consciousness (and, in fact, that death is really life, ”eternal life,” even, according to most Christians), seemingly unaware of the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures tell us the dead know nothing, meaning they aren’t conscious at all (many Christians will do all sorts of theological and mental gymnastics trying to prove that these assertions made in Ecclesiastes don’t literally mean what they say, but there had been no passages in Scripture prior to those which said the dead are conscious, so there’s no basis for the idea that anyone who read these statements at the time they were written could have possibly understood that the writer instead meant the dead actually do have knowledge — although, for those who believe in the immortality of the soul, if Solomon was trying to get across to us that the dead don’t have knowledge, I’d like you to tell me what he would have needed to have written differently there in order to convince you he actually did mean that they indeed don’t have knowledge). Even in the Greek Scriptures, death is compared to sleep, not to being awake in an afterlife existence (outside of one very misunderstood story in the book of Luke, which I’ll discuss shortly). The book of Acts didn’t say Stephen died and went to heaven, for example. While his spirit was returned to God — not as a conscious being, though, because our spirit is just the breath of life that generates a conscious soul while in a body and isn’t conscious itself, since it’s actually our soul that is our consciousness, and spirits and souls aren’t the same thing — the book of Acts says that he himself went to sleep, not that he remained awake.
Scripture says that David and others fell asleep — referring to their actual persons being asleep or unconscious in death — not that just their bodies decayed while they themselves remained conscious (when Scripture speaks of a person dying, it doesn’t just say their body died while they themselves continued to live; instead, it says that they themselves have died, and that the location of their very person is now “in the grave” or “in the dust,” in the very same place that everyone ends up, including all animals as well, in fact, and there’s no scriptural basis for reading these verses in any other way, at least not that I’m aware of). Similarly, bodily resurrection is likewise compared to waking up from sleep in Scripture, and not to a person being returned to their body to continue to be awake as they supposedly still were while they slept as well.
It’s important to keep in mind what E. W. Bullinger explained when he wrote: “When the Holy Spirit uses one thing to describe or explain another, He does not choose the opposite word or expression. If He speaks of night, He does not use the word light. If He speaks of daylight, He does not use the word night. He does not put ‘sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet’ (Isaiah 5:20). He uses adultery to illustrate idolatry; He does not use virtue. Thus, if He uses the word ‘sleep‘ of death, it is because sleep illustrates to us what the condition of death is like. If Tradition be the truth, He ought to have used the word ‘awake,’ or ‘wakefulness’ – but the Lord first uses a Figure, and says ‘Lazarus sleepeth,’ and afterwards, when He speaks ‘plainly‘ He says ‘Lazarus is dead.’ Why? Because, sleep expresses and describes the condition of the ‘unclothed‘ state. In normal sleep, there is no consciousness. For the Lord, therefore, to have used this word ‘sleep’ to represent the very opposite condition of conscious wakefulness would have been indeed to mislead us. Yet all of His words are perfect, and are used for the purpose of teaching us, not for leading us astray.”
All that being said, it should really go without saying that consciousness, at least for biological beings such as humans, can obviously cease to exist anyway, since one can be rendered unconscious, either by going to sleep, by fainting, or by being knocked out (and when someone is unconscious, they are no longer conscious, meaning they are no longer aware of themselves and their surroundings, which means their consciousness has temporarily ceased to exist, which is something I can’t believe I have to explain, but somehow many people I’ve discussed this with seem to miss this fact, so here we are), and if we can lose our consciousness under those common circumstances, with it ceasing to exist while we’re alive (which means we aren’t in a never-ending state of consciousness), there’s no reason to believe our consciousness could return after we die without a living and active brain to bring it back into existence the way our brains do when we awaken from unconsciousness, thus regaining consciousness. To make this really clear, let’s say that somebody was sleeping, and hence had no consciousness existing at that point (and before someone brings up REM sleep and dreaming, the subconscious processes of a physical brain that cause us to dream while asleep aren’t the same thing as the consciousness we have while we’re awake, nor is there any reason to believe the neurological processes that generate dreams can occur without a living, biological brain; and one doesn’t dream the whole time they’re asleep anyway — in fact, we only dream about 20% of the time we’re asleep at night, so for approximately one third of our lives we aren’t conscious at all), or was even knocked unconscious with a hard object. If they were to suddenly die right then while unconscious (and this hypothetical person is not in a state of REM sleep, and hence isn’t dreaming in this scenario, just to remove any doubt), would their consciousness just snap back into existence at the point of their death? There’s absolutely no reason to think it would, and the idea that death can recreate a consciousness that had stopped existing (as would be the case if this happened) really makes no sense at all.
But getting back to Scripture, it’s also important to remember that the first time those in the body of Christ are said to meet the Lord is in the air in our newly immortal bodies at the Snatching Away (or at the resurrection of the just, 75 days after the the Second Coming, for those in the Israel of God — compare the numbers in Daniel 12:11–13 to the numbers in Revelation 13:5 if you aren’t familiar with the 75 day difference), which is the point from when we’re said to finally “ever be with the Lord” (and not from a previous point such as our physical death, which would be when those in the body of Christ actually began to “ever be with the Lord” if the immortality of the soul were true). In fact, the blessed hope we’re told to comfort one another with isn’t that the dead get to live happily with the Lord as ghosts in another dimension called heaven — which we now know is actually a reference to outer space — but is rather the expectation that the dead in Christ will eventually be resurrected, and that all of us in the body of Christ (both those still living and those newly resurrected) will then be vivified and caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, which is when we’ll finally be in the heavens. (And the reference to “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” in verse 14 is just talking about the spirits of the dead members of the body of Christ that had “returned to God” now coming back to rejoin their bodies, and isn’t meant to imply that they were already enjoying being “ever with the Lord” in heaven, since our spirits aren’t actually conscious; it’s our souls that are our consciousness — the word translated as “soul” is ψυχή/“psuchē” in the original Greek, which should be enough explanation in and of itself for those people who recognize the word that our English word “psyche” is based on — generated by a brain in a body which is being kept alive by our spirit, and our soul can’t exist so long as our spirit is not residing within our physical body, keeping our brain alive.) It’s important to remember that the reason Paul even brought this up to begin with was to comfort those who had lost loved ones to death. If the immortality of the soul were true, he would have instead needed to have written something more along the lines of, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus are with Him now, enjoying the bliss of heaven, which is where you’ll go to ever be with the Lord when you sleep as well. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Of course, Paul also makes it quite clear that the immortality of the soul can’t be true when he wrote, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” as well as when he talked about all the dangers he faced while evangelizing, and pointed out that there would be no reason for him to do so if there were no resurrection from the dead, because if there was no resurrection then nobody could be saved, in which case he might as well just go live life without worrying about evangelizing. This wouldn’t be true if those who are saved go to another dimension called heaven when they die. The fact that we don’t is why he could make that claim: because without the physical resurrection we would have absolutely no hope at all, since we would cease to exist for good (we wouldn’t even have the hope of continuing on as ghosts in another dimension called “heaven” with God, since those who died in Christ would have “perished,” meaning they’re no longer existing at all, and have no hope of ever existing again either, according to this passage), which was basically the entire reason Paul wrote that chapter in his first epistle to the Corinthians to begin with.
This is also backed up a little further on in the chapter when he said that “this mortal must put on immortality,” which tells us that we don’t inherently have immortality (in fact, Paul is clear that Christ Jesus is the only human to currently have immortality — no, I don’t believe this passage was talking about the Father, since otherwise it would seem to mean that Christ Himself, as well as the angels and other celestial beings, could die at this point, so it appears it has to be a passage about a human and how that human is the only human who is currently immortal), but only gain it when our bodies are vivified — to be “vivified,” or “quickened” (depending on your Bible version), by the way, simply refers to having our mortal bodies be made immortal as happened to Jesus after His resurrection, being given life beyond the reach of death, which means being incapable of dying, as well as never being subject to the corruption and the humiliation of mortality ever again — which is not until after the resurrection of those in the body of Christ who have died, not from the time they died (or really from the time they were born, if the “immortality of the soul” were true).
In addition, we know that not only has David himself not gone to heaven, at least not as of the time Peter made that speech recorded in the book of Acts (which was after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, which means we also have no reason to believe he’s ended up there since then), but that nobody other than Christ Himself had either as of the time John wrote that assertion in his commentary in the book of John, which was also written after Jesus ascended into heaven (Jesus’ “red letters” quote should really end at verse 12 based on the fact that verse 13 says the Son of man was in heaven at that point, which we know Jesus wasn’t at the time He had His discussion with Nicodemus, so everything from verse 13 to 21 presumably had to have been John’s personal commentary on the topic, written after Jesus had left the earth; it’s important to remember that the book of John was a theology book rather than a history book and, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, used historical quotes of Jesus to prove theological points instead of primarily being a historical record in and of itself the way the three Synoptic Gospels were, and that John often added his own commentary to the book, even though this commentary would have indeed been inspired by God), so it seems pretty obvious that heaven is only for those who have been vivified (aside from people who fly in aircraft, and certain astronauts who visit it for a short period of time in their space shuttles, but they all return to earth relatively quickly) and isn’t for those who are currently dead.
In fact, if people were to remain conscious after death, God would cease to be their God while they waited for their physical resurrection, since He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, which would make things strange for people in the supposed afterlife if they no longer had a God (although, if the immortality of the soul were true, that would be a good explanation as to why the dead do not praise God, or even remember that He exists, since He’d no longer be their God while they were still dead). Strangely enough, though, some Christians actually try to use this statement to support their view that the dead remain conscious, mistakenly thinking that Jesus’ statement meant the dead aren’t actually dead, but are actually alive. If they just took the time to examine the context of the whole passage in Luke 20, however, they’d discover that it was really about how the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a physical resurrection in the future, were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about who a hypothetical person would be married to after being resurrected from the dead during the impending kingdom in the next “world” (referring to the next eon, when the kingdom of heaven exists in Israel for 1,000 years) here on earth. They weren’t asking about a ghost in an afterlife dimension and whether or not she’d have to be polygamous in that imaginary realm, but were asking their question about her various marriages in order to make the idea of resurrection seem ridiculous. However, Jesus corrected them by not only pointing out that those who are resurrected from the dead at the beginning of that “world”/eon will be immortal like the angels and hence will not be married anymore at that time (because procreation, which was normally done by married people in Israel, isn’t something immortal beings are meant to do, as we know from Genesis 6), but also by using the fact that the Lord could not legitimately claim the title of “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” as Moses revealed Him to be, if the dead weren’t going to be physically resurrected someday, because He’s technically not the God of those who are currently dead, but is rather actually only the God of the living (Jesus was using prolepsis in that statement — which is a figure of speech meaning “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished,” calling what is not yet as though it already were, in other words — to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will definitely be resurrected someday, because otherwise that statement about them would have been a lie since it would mean they’ll never exist again, when in fact “all live unto him” already, since, as far as God’s concerned, they’ve already been physically resurrected from His timeless perspective).
The passage just can’t be read as saying they were actually still alive at that time. Verse 37 of Luke 20 (“…that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush…”) makes it very clear that Jesus is talking about the fact that these three patriarchs would eventually be physically resurrected, not that they’re actually still alive in another dimension (He didn’t say, “that the dead are living in another dimension”; He said, “that the dead are raised,” referring to a future resurrection). Jesus’ whole point is that, if they aren’t going to be raised from the dead to live again, God could not be said to be their God, because He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. If they were actually still alive in some afterlife dimension, God would have still been their God from a literal perspective rather than just a proleptic perspective at that time (and they could still thank and praise Him, contrary to what the book of Psalms says), but Jesus’ whole point was that, without a physical resurrection, He couldn’t be their God, since they’d be dead and would never exist again. Because they will be resurrected, however, God actually can be said to be their God, even if only from a proleptic perspective at present.
There’s just no way to read verses 37 and 38 as meaning anything other than Jesus saying that those who have “gone to sleep” are indeed dead and unconscious until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them have ceased to live and consciously retain knowledge for the time being. If the three of them are actually still alive in an afterlife dimension somewhere, and if Jesus’ statement about God being the God of the living rather than the God of the dead was actually Him trying to prove the idea that God is still their God because they’re actually still alive somewhere, then the resurrection of the dead would be entirely unnecessary for God to be their God, and Jesus’ argument couldn’t possibly help prove a future resurrection at all, which means they have to no longer exist as conscious beings for now or else Jesus’ entire argument proves nothing. (Of course, the parallel telling of this discussion in Matthew 22 makes it even more obvious, since Jesus is recorded in that book as saying, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” making it even more clear that this statement about God not being the God of the dead, but of the living, is entirely about the resurrection; when Jesus said, “the living,” He could only have been referring to living in a physical body in the future, as this particular rendition of the discussion makes clear.)
However, before moving on, if you still believe in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul after reading about Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees, I’d like you to explain how, exactly, Jesus’ argument about God not being the God of the dead, but rather of the living, could possibly still prove the resurrection if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually are still alive in an afterlife realm somewhere. Because, unless you can do so, this statement by Jesus seems to be definitive proof that the dead aren’t actually conscious, which means that no other passage in Scripture one might believe teaches a conscious afterlife can possibly actually be intended to be interpreted that way unless one can first explain that.
And speaking of dead “Old Testament” saints, some people also try to use the appearance of Moses and Elijah on “the Mount of Transfiguration” to try to argue that the dead are conscious. But aside from the fact that this would make Jesus guilty of the sin of necromancy if He was talking to the ghosts of these two dead men (and Jesus never sinned, so it’s clear that this couldn’t have been what was happening there), we know that this was simply a vision to fulfill the prophecy made immediately before this passage that they would “see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” or “be perceiving the Son of Mankind coming in His kingdom,” as the CLV puts it, because Matthew 17:9 outright tells us that it was simply a vision. (It’s also important to note — for the sake of Preterists, who know why I’m pointing this out — that Jesus didn’t say in Matthew 16:28 that they themselves would be entering His kingdom at that time, but rather that they’d only be perceiving the Son of Mankind coming in His kingdom at that time, which is exactly what happened when they had that vision of Jesus in the glorified form He’ll exist in when the kingdom of heaven comes fully into fruition in Israel in the future.)
And before someone tries to use Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor to prove the immortality of the soul, whatever the witch saw (remember, Saul didn’t see anything here), she described it as “gods ascending out of the earth,” so this was far more likely to have been a spiritual being of some sort than actually being Samuel (although the way this sort of thing was performed back then, from what I’ve been led to understand, involved a witch looking into a pit and pretending to speak to the dead in the pit, so I suppose it’s possible that God temporarily resurrected Samuel from the dead in that pit, but that wouldn’t prove the immortality of the soul either since he wouldn’t have been dead while in that pit).
Those aren’t the only passages they misuse, though, to try to prove the immortality of the soul. For example, many like to also claim that Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Aside from the fact that this isn’t actually what Paul said at all (his actual words — at least as translated in the KJV — were, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord”), if you look at the context of what he said in the previous verses, and also remember that a physical resurrection in an immortal, glorified body is what Paul was, and the living members of the body of Christ currently are (or at least should be), looking forward to, you can see that he was figuratively comparing our current mortal bodies to earthly houses, and saying that he was looking forward to no longer being “at home” in his mortal body, but instead wanted to be at home in his glorified “house not made with hands.” When Paul talked about “houses” and “homes” in these verses, as well as when he referred to being clothed there, he was talking about physical bodies, with the “house not made with hands” being a reference to his future immortal body, not to him existing as a ghost in another dimension after he dies. And so, when he wrote that he was “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord,” he couldn’t possibly have been talking about hoping he’d die so he would be with Jesus, since he specifically wrote in verses 3 and 4 that he was not hoping for death at all (when he wrote that he wasn’t looking to be “naked” or “unclothed”), but rather that he was hoping to be given an immortal body, or to be “clothed upon” (“with our house which is from heaven,” as he explained in verse 2) so that “mortality might be swallowed up of life,” confirming that this whole passage is about mortal bodies vs immortal bodies rather than about existing as ghosts in an ethereal afterlife dimension, and that he simply meant he was desiring to trade in his mortal body for his future immortal body, which won’t happen until the Snatching Away (at least for those of us in the body of Christ).
This is similar to the way they misuse Paul’s quote that, for him specifically at that particular time (it’s important to note that this verse isn’t talking about believers in general, but was about Paul’s unenviable circumstances at the time he wrote these words), “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” to try to prove that he believed his death would bring him immediately to be with Christ in heaven, once again ignoring the context of the verses before these words, not to mention the verses after them as well, and the context of the surrounding verses make it pretty obvious that the “gain” Paul was referring to there would be a gain to the furtherance of the message he was preaching while in bonds, which his martyrdom would surely accomplish (the idea that the “gain” referred to going to heaven as a ghost is reading one’s presuppositions about the immortality of the soul into the passage). I’ll admit, verses 22 and 23 in the KJV aren’t the easiest for people today to understand (17th-century English isn’t something 21st-century people always find easy to grasp), and some people will assume that by, “yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul meant he hadn’t yet decided which option he was going to select, as if it was up to him. But whether he lived or died wasn’t actually up to him at all — it was up to the Roman government (at least from a relative perspective, although it was ultimately up to God from an absolute perspective). Literally all Paul was saying there is that he wasn’t going to let it be known whether he’d personally rather continue living as a prisoner in bonds, which seemed to be helping the word to be spread more boldly, or whether he’d prefer to die and let his martyrdom help the cause even more than his state as a prisoner was doing, and that he was pretty much “stuck between a rock and a hard place” either way (which is basically all that “in a strait betwixt two” means in modern day colloquialism), since his only options at that point appeared to be equally undesirable for him as an individual, which is why he then went on to say that he’d prefer a third option over either of the seemingly available two options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” because if Christ were to come for His body while Paul was still alive, he wouldn’t have to suffer through either of the two likely options, but would instead get to depart the earth without dying, to “ever be with the Lord” in the heavens in an immortal body, which is a far superior option to living as a prisoner in a mortal body or to being put to death. He couldn’t possibly have been referring to dying and being with Christ in an afterlife when he wrote, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,” since he’d just finished telling his readers that he wasn’t going to say whether he’d rather live or die, and that neither of the two likely options were particularly desirable. Now, some Bible translations make it look like he simply couldn’t decide whether he’d prefer to live or die, but he outright said that his desire was “to depart,” so those translations don’t actually make any sense if “to depart” meant “to die.” Besides, he’d already told the Corinthians that he didn’t want to be “unclothed,” meaning he didn’t want to die, but instead wanted to be “clothed upon” with the immortal body that he’ll only receive when he’s vivified, so either way, the traditional interpretation of this verse just doesn’t work. Bottom line, there’s just no excuse for interpreting it in a way that contradicts the rest of Scripture, which the teaching that Paul would live on after his death and “ever be with the Lord” from that point rather than from the time the body of Christ is caught up together to meet the Lord in the air does in spades. It’s easy to get confused about verses like this if you ignore the context (of both the surrounding verses, and of Scripture as a whole), but once someone comes to realize the truth that death is actually death, and that “ye shall not surely die” is a satanic lie, they can then begin to interpret these passages in ways that are consistent with the rest of Scripture.
Christians don’t only misquote Paul in order to try to prove the immortality of the soul, however. Many also misquote Jesus as well, making Him out to have said, “If you die in your sins, whither I go, you cannot come.” This isn’t what Jesus said at all, though. He actually said, “I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.” This was a proclamation of fact, not an if/then proposition, as many misunderstand it to be (it helps to notice the plural “ye” in Jesus’ statement, since He was talking to, and about, all the unbelieving Pharisees at the time, prophesying that all those Pharisees hearing that statement would indeed die in their sins and miss out on eonian life in the kingdom when He returns). Now, yes, in a follow-up statement, He did say, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” but aside from what I already pointed out (that the Pharisees to whom Jesus made the first prophetic statement definitely would die in their sins), this doesn’t help prove the immortality of the soul either. All it proves is that certain people would die in their sins.
Likewise, they misread passages such as Revelation 6:9–11 and Revelation 14:9-11 to defend the idea of the immortality of the soul as well, but if the first passage was meant to be read literally it would mean that martyred ghosts are all trapped underneath an altar and that these ghosts can wear physical clothing, so this passage is obviously meant to be interpreted symbolically, with the “souls” of the martyrs no more literally talking to God than Abel’s soul was talking to God from the dirt in Genesis 4:9–10 (which would have been just as unusual a place for a soul to reside, if the immortality of the soul were true, as it would be for a soul to reside underneath an altar until its resurrection). And the second passage in Revelation is obviously just as figurative since it can’t simply be about being cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement because the lake of fire will be located in a valley down here on earth, not up in heaven where it would presumably have to be in order to be tormented in the presence of “the holy angels” and the Lamb, and even if it was about those who worship the beast during the Tribulation getting cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement, the lake of fire will be outside the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, not inside it where it would have to be for those words to make sense (plus, no humans will be alive in the lake of fire anyway, so the reference to torment here tells us it can’t be about that). As for what it means, I’d suggest that it’s simply extreme hyperbole about those who take the mark and worship the beast, and the intense suffering they’ll go through while still alive during the Tribulation for doing so, as described just two chapters later.
Some also attempt to argue that the reference to the Gospel being preached to them that are dead, as 1 Peter 4:6 mentions, and to Jesus preaching to spirits in jail, as Peter also wrote about in 1 Peter 3:19-20, means the dead must be conscious. At this point it should go without saying, based on all the passages we’ve already looked at, that there’s no question the dead are unconscious, so any passages one brings up to try to argue that they remain conscious have to be interpreted in light of the facts we’ve already covered, which means that the people mentioned in this passage who had the Gospel preached to them had to have still been physically alive at the time it was preached to them, meaning the Gospel was preached to them and then they later died. As far as the spirits in jail go, Jesus didn’t preach to them until after His body was vivified, or quickened (which obviously couldn’t happen to His body until after He was resurrected from the dead), as we can see from the verse before that one. But regardless, Peter said He was preaching to spirits, not to souls. Since the spirits of dead humans return to God in heaven (just as Jesus’ spirit did when He died, unlike His soul, which instead was said to have figuratively gone to “hell,” demonstrating that human spirits and souls are not the same thing), the spirits He was preaching to couldn’t have been humans, which means they must have instead been spiritual beings, exactly as Peter said they were. They weren’t the spirits of humans, but rather were the spiritual beings who sinned in Noah’s time by breeding with humans (and creating the giants who became mighty men of renown, also sometimes referred to as the Nephilim), and who were then locked up in yet another “hell” from the ones we’ve already discussed (this one sometimes also referred to as “Tartarus” in some Bible translations, being transliterated from the Greek ταρταρόω/“tartaroō”), because of their sin.
So, rather than going to literal afterlife realms called heaven or hell after we die, Scripture instead tells us that death is a return:
- The body returns to the dust, meaning to the ground.
- The soul returns to “hell” (the phrase “is turned into” in Psalms 9:17 in the KJV is simply a poetic expression meaning “is returned to,” telling us that one’s soul does a U-turn back into some place or state referred to as “hell” in the KJV, also transliterated as “sheol” from the Hebrew שְׁאוֹל or sometimes even translated as “the unseen,” depending on your Bible version; this verse just tells us that our consciousness returns to the nonexistence from whence it came, which is all that most of the passages in the KJV which talk about people going to a place called “hell” after they die are referring to — and before someone brings up the fact that this verse is talking about “the wicked,” keep in mind that it still tells us they’ll return to “hell,” which means they had to have come from there to begin with, so regardless of who this particular verse is talking about, it still means that the “hell” the dead end up in can’t be what most Christians assume it is because it means they’ve already “been there” before, figuratively speaking, meaning they didn’t exist at one time, and will return to that state of nonexistence again in the future, with their soul, meaning their consciousness, being “hidden or unseen” at that point, which is why it’s said that one’s soul is in “hell” when one dies).
- The spirit returns to God Who gave it, although not as a conscious entity, since our spirits aren’t conscious on their own without a body (soul, or feeling and consciousness, is an emergent property of combining a spirit with a body, just like combining the colours yellow and blue creates the colour green — the human spirit is our “breath of life,” but it doesn’t experience consciousness when it’s not inside a physical body).
This presents quite a dilemma for the popular view, of course. If the soul of a dead person were existing consciously in an actual place called hell and the spirit were with God, would the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery location while the spirit enjoyed being with God in heaven? Remember, Scripture doesn’t discriminate between “saved” and “unsaved” spirits when it says they return to God upon death (to claim that only the saved spirits return to God is to read one’s presuppositions into the text). And what does that say about us if our spirit and soul can go to separate places but are both conscious (are we made up of two conscious beings that can be split up when we die, yet only one will be punished for sin in hell while the other is in heaven with God)? This is just one more reason why the common view makes no sense. Instead, it’s better to believe what Scripture actually says: that souls can actually die. On top of that, if those who are saved (relatively speaking) “go to heaven” as soon as they die, then death isn’t really an enemy to be defeated (and, really, destroyed) at all, as Paul told us it is, but is instead actually an ally finally bringing us to God (and causing us to “ever be with the Lord” before the time Paul said this would actually occur), with our eventual resurrection just being icing on the cake rather than being the actual cake itself that it’s supposed to be (the resurrection and vivification of our human bodies has become nothing more than a small side note in most of Christendom, when it’s what we’re actually supposed to be looking forward to).
Of course, nobody mentioned in the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures was ever recorded as looking forward to an ethereal afterlife state anyway, nor had any Scripture prior to the story of the rich man and Lazarus ever suggested people would go to one while dead either (and the fact that the concept of an afterlife realm for ghosts wasn’t ever even hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures tells us everything we need to know about the idea — although I should quickly mention passages which some Christians who don’t want to let go of this doctrine like to use to claim they do, such as Genesis 15:15 which says, “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace,” but the second half of that verse tells us exactly what statements like this are referring to when it says, “thou shalt be buried in a good old age,” meaning they’re simply talking about physical death and burial; this is what’s known as a Synonymous Parallelism in Scripture, which is where the second part of a passage confirms what the first part says, using slightly different wording). What they were looking forward to was a physical, bodily resurrection in the distant future, so figurative passages such as that one, and symbolic statements such as those in the book of Revelation have to be interpreted in light of that (although it should probably also be noted that, as symbolic as parts of the book of Revelation — or the Unveiling of Jesus Christ, as it should actually be called — can be, it still has to be interpreted as literally as possible if we want to actually understand it). The story in Luke 16 wasn’t a new revelation to replace the Scriptural doctrine of unconscious death until resurrection, so one has to figure out what it means without creating an entirely new theology that hadn’t ever even been hinted at prior to it, which also means that any scriptural references to the dead in hell can’t be talking about a place anyone will actually suffer in, and neither can any passages that talk about the lake of fire (at least they won’t be able to suffer there any longer than it takes for a mortal body to die in that fire).
Of course, even if we did ignore what the rest of Scripture says about the state of the dead and pretended that Luke 16 wasn’t entirely figurative, John and Paul both tell us that the rich man wouldn’t have stayed in hades (which is the Greek word Jesus used that is translated as ”hell” in less literal versions) forever anyway — John in Revelation when he tells us hades is “emptied” (and, along with death, is then cast into the lake of fire itself) so the dead in it can be resurrected in order that they can be judged at the Great White Throne before the fifth eon begins, and Paul in 1st Corinthians when he tells us how everyone will be vivified at the end of the fifth and final eon as previously discussed — which means taking this story literally doesn’t actually help the traditionalist view of never-ending torment in “hell” anyway, since the rich man wouldn’t stay in hell/hades without end regardless. (At most, Infernalists can try use the story to support the idea of the immortality of the soul; but based on everything else you’ve just read, it should now be quite clear just how untenable that concept actually is.)
If someone does want to keep using the word ”hell,” though, and saying that people can go to heaven or hell, even after everything they’ve just learned, that’s technically okay as long as one realizes that every single person who dies actually goes to the “hell” of less literal Bible versions, whether they’re a believer or not, since the word “hell” in this case simply refers to the state of being unconscious because one is dead (just don’t confuse it for the “hell” that refers to the valley in which certain carcases will be consumed after Jesus returns). Unlike the fact that everyone who dies ends up in that ”hell,” however, only those who believe Paul’s Gospel will get to go to heaven, but not until after they’ve been resurrected (presuming they’ve died before the Snatching Away, of course) and/or vivified, because the only way for someone who is dead to go to heaven would be to put their corpse on an airplane or space shuttle, but they wouldn’t enjoy it particularly much (although this does mean that someone who has died can technically be in heaven and “hell” at the exact same time, not that they’d know they were in either “location”).
This also means that Enoch and Elijah didn’t go to heaven rather than dying (at least not the same “level” of heaven that Jesus is now living in, which is presumably the New Jerusalem), contrary to the way Christians assume they did, since whatever happened to them can’t contradict what you’ve already learned so far. Genesis 5:24 is not an easy verse to understand, but based on everything we‘ve covered so far, we know that Jesus is the only human living in heaven (at least in the part of heaven outside our solar system that certain humans will go to live in eventually), so they couldn’t have, which means that Enoch had to have gone somewhere other than heaven when he “was not” and was “taken by God.” The most probable explanation is that he was “caught away,” likely from a dangerous situation where he would have been killed, to live out the rest of his life in safety somewhere else, similar to the way Philip was “caught away” after baptizing the eunuch, which seems to line up with the fact that the book of Hebrews includes Enoch in a list of people who lived by faith while also saying that everyone in the list died. And it’s recorded that King Jehoram received a letter from Elijah after the time that Elijah was caught up in the whirlwind to heaven, so, again, based on everything we now know about who is in heaven, this means that Elijah pretty much had to have been deposited somewhere else on earth to live out the rest of his life in safety too, just like Enoch, and that he then also eventually died.
Aside from Gehenna and hades, Jesus also used parables to warn of things such as outer darkness, a furnace of fire, and eonian fire (which less literal Bible versions render as “eternal fire” or “everlasting fire,” but the word rendered along the lines of “eternal” in those versions is technically an adjective that refers to specific periods of time with an eventual end, and is best translated as ”eonian fire”). When one considers the fact that the reward Jesus was promising His audience was to live in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth rather than in some ethereal afterlife realm, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the outer darkness and other such negative judgements were also just referring to places and experiences here on Earth as well, specifically parts of the planet other than Israel. Since Israel is where the Kingdom of Heaven will be centred when it arrives on Earth, those parts of the world far from the light of the King and His Kingdom will be in “outer darkness,” which is a grave punishment indeed for any Israelite who hoped to finally live in that kingdom when it comes to Earth. The eonian fire of Matthew 25 might seem a little trickier, but it isn’t referring to the lake of fire as most Christians assume either. I’ve already written about the judgement of the sheep and the goats in another article, though, so please go read that if you’re curious why it can’t possibly be teaching an afterlife (or even never-ending punishment) either.
And finally, in addition to all the threats of judgement I’ve already covered, while Jesus Himself never spoke of it during His time on Earth, we all know there is the threat of the lake of fire written about in Revelation that has already been mentioned many times in this book as well (although the term “the lake of fire” is pretty much just a figurative reference to “Gehenna,” so what I’ve already said about that topic basically applies to it too). But, aside from everything else I’ve already said about it so far that demonstrates it isn’t a place that people will suffer forever in, there’s one more reason that’s impossible, and that’s the order of vivifications written about by Paul. Remember, people are resurrected in physical, human bodies for the Great White Throne Judgement prior to being cast into the lake of fire (if their name happens to not be written in the book of life), but Scripture tells us that only true believers will have been vivified (resurrected to immortality) at this point, and that there aren’t any more resurrections to immortality until the consummation of the eons at a much later time (and that the final vivification is to live with God forever, not to suffer forever, particularly since it doesn’t happen until the time that death — which would have to include the second death — is abolished), so those who will be resurrected from the dead only to be cast into the lake of fire shortly thereafter will just be regular mortal humans, or at least there’s nothing in Scripture to indicate that anybody other than those who are saved are ever given immortal bodies (especially since humans being made immortal in Scripture always appears to be connected with experiencing salvation), so there’s absolutely no reason to believe that any of them could possibly continue to live while in the lake of fire. Of course, the only passage in Scripture that even talks about anyone other than the adversary, the wild beast, or the false prophet being cast into the lake of fire doesn’t actually say they’ll be conscious or tormented forever in there anyway, just that they’ll be cast into it. What happens to them afterwards has to be determined based on a proper interpretation of the rest of Scripture, and properly interpreted Scripture says that everyone is eventually going to be resurrected and vivified, which lines up perfectly with it being the second death, meaning just more of the same as the first death for regular humans (non-existence until one’s next resurrection, and this time also vivification to enjoy God forever).
So no, Jesus wasn’t promising an existence in a spiritual realm called heaven for the supposed ghosts of the righteous when He spoke, nor did He ever offer anybody literal everlasting or eternal life either, since eventual everlasting life (at least from a literal perspective) for everyone is already a given thanks to His death for our sins and subsequent entombment and resurrection, which is actually what the Good News that is the Gospel of the Uncircumcision is proclaiming. Likewise, neither was He warning anyone about never-ending torture in a spiritual realm called hell for sinners (or even just permanent non-existence for sinners). Instead, He was A) teaching the people of Israel how to be sure to enjoy eonian life on Earth (primarily in Israel, which is where the Kingdom of Heaven will be at that time) during the next eon or two in the messages He gave while on Earth, and teaching those elected for the body of Christ about the fullness of salvation — including eonian life in the heavens among the celestials during the next two eons — in the messages He gave Paul after He physically left the Earth (while everyone eventually gets literal everlasting life, only a relatively small number of people will experience figurative “everlasting life,” or eonian life as it actually refers to), and B) warning the people of Israel how to avoid weeping and gnashing their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in the “outer darkness” (meaning they’re not allowed to live in Israel, possibly having to live as far away as the other side of the planet), or even how to avoid being killed and suffering the humiliating sentence of having their dead bodies displayed and destroyed in public in Gehenna (also on Earth), both of which would result in missing out on the joys of the Millennial Kingdom in the fourth eon (and quite possibly the next eon after that as well) because they’d either be living outside of Israel or possibly even be dead for the remaining eon or two (which would be what the figure of speech of having one’s “soul destroyed in Gehenna” means, and also along the lines of what eonian extermination, or “destruction age-during,” refers to — and the fact that their extermination is only eonian tells us that, when the eons are concluded, so will their extermination be also, which reveals that the Annihilationists who believe that the extermination of the “unsaved” will last forever are just as wrong about judgement as the Infernalists are).
Why does all this matter, though? Well, if you believe in the immortality of the soul, it means you haven’t actually fully believed Paul’s Gospel, and hence haven’t been saved yet (from a relative perspective, at least), so I recommend reading the following two articles, which explain even further why you need to believe that the dead know nothing if you do want to enjoy membership in the body of Christ:
[Just as a quick side note, if you’ve read my eBook, you’re likely experiencing some déjà vu right about now. That’s because I included parts of chapters 2 and 4 of the book in the above post.]