[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 poorly translated versions of the Bible, 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 “hell” doesn’t actually exist at all (the word “hell” is a bad translation of multiple words that actually refer to different places and concepts from each 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 at all (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 word hades — one of the Greek words mistranslated as “hell” in some Bible versions — even the KJV translated it as “grave” rather than “hell”). Rather, pretty much 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, the second Earth, 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 Millennium or Millennial Kingdom, which comes into being after the tribulation period ends.
He also spoke of paradise (paradeisos [παράδεισος] in Greek), which would be a reference to a future state of the Earth as well since the tree of life is there, and there would be no need to eat from the tree of life (which we know will be on Earth in the future anyway) in an ethereal afterlife dimension.
As far as the negative future He talked about goes, it was in this universe as well. His primary threat was Gehenna (Geenna [γέεννα] 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 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).
In addition, He sometimes also referred to hades ([ᾅδης], which should generally be translated simply as “the unseen,” and is the Greek equivalent of the word sheol [שְׁאוֹל] used in the Hebrew Scriptures for “the grave,” although sheol doesn’t literally mean “grave” but rather likely means “ask,” being used in reference to something that is unseen), which 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, 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), seemingly unaware that the Hebrew Scriptures tell us the dead know nothing (meaning they aren’t conscious at all). Even in the Greek Scriptures, death is compared to sleep. The book of Acts didn’t say Stephen died and went to heaven. While his spirit was returned to God (not as a conscious being, though, since our spirit is just the breath of life that generates a soul while in a body), the book of Acts says that he himself went to sleep, not that he remained conscious. Death isn’t compared to being awake in an afterlife existence at all, outside of that one parable which seems to confuse so many (although that was the purpose of parables — they weren’t told to make things obvious to the religious — so I suppose it’s doing its job there).
Scripture says that David and others fell asleep — referring to their actual persons being asleep or unconscious in death — not that just their bodies, which are referred to separately as having decayed, fell asleep 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 they themselves have died, and that the location of their person is now “in the grave” or “in the dust,” in the very same place that all animals end up as well, in fact). Similarly, bodily resurrection is likewise compared to waking up from sleep in Scripture, and not to a person being returned to their body.
As E. W. Bullinger explained, “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.”
Anyway, we know that consciousness, at least for humans, can cease to exist, since one can be rendered unconscious by either going to sleep or by fainting or by being knocked out. So if consciousness can cease to exist under those common circumstances, the soul isn’t in an eternal state of consciousness (which means the soul could technically be said to cease to exist each time we go to sleep, since the soul itself actually is our awareness or consciousness — the word translated as “soul” is psuchē [ψυχή] 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), and if we can lose our consciousness, with it ceasing to exist while we’re alive, there’s no reason to believe it goes on after we die without an active and awake brain to keep it going. For example, 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, living brain aren’t the same thing as true consciousness, nor can these physical processes 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), or was even knocked unconscious with a hard object. If they were to suddenly die right then while unconscious (this hypothetical person is not in a state of REM sleep and hence isn’t dreaming in this scenario), 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 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 vivified (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), which is the point from when we’re said to finally “always be together with the Lord” (and not from a previous point such as our physical death, which would be when we actually began to “always be together with the Lord” if the immortality of the soul were true). In fact, the blessed hope we’re told to comfort one another with is the expectation that the dead in Christ will eventually be resurrected and that all of us in the body of Christ (still living and newly resurrected) will then be vivified and snatched away by Christ to finally go live in the heavens, not that the dead are currently living happily with the Lord as ghosts in another dimension called Heaven.
Of course, Paul also makes it quite clear that the immortality of the soul can’t be true when he said, “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 dangers he faced to spread his Gospel and pointed out that there would be no reason for him to do so if there were no resurrection from the dead since otherwise 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 can live on as ghosts in another dimension when they die. The fact that we don’t is why he could make that claim, because without the physical resurrection we would have no hope at all and would cease to exist forever (we wouldn’t even have the hope of existing in another dimension called Heaven with God since we would have “perished”), which was basically the entire reason Paul wrote that 15th 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, 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), but that nobody other than Christ Himself has either (at least as of the time John wrote that), according to John’s commentary in the book called the Gospel according to John (Jesus’ “red letters” quote should really end at verse 12 based on the fact that verse 13 says the Son of Mankind was in Heaven at that point, which we know Jesus wasn’t at the time He had that discussion with Nicodemus [and for those who are familiar with it, yes, I’m also aware of the dual, “spiritual” meaning of this verse, and how it’s connected to the other double entendres in the chapter, but I believe the literal meaning still stands as well, or else it wouldn’t be a double entendre like the other references in the chapter that are doing the same thing], so everything from verse 13 to 21 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, only used historical quotes of Jesus to prove theological points instead of being a historical record in and of itself as the three other “Gospels” were), 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 (even though, to Him, all are considered alive from a proleptic perspective, which was the point of this statement), 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 — the real reason the dead don’t praise or thank or remember Him, though, of course, is simply that they’re unconscious and can’t do anything while dead), so it seems safe to say that nobody remains conscious while dead (believe it or not, some people actually try to use this passage to support their view that the dead remain conscious, misapprehending the statement to mean that the dead aren’t actually dead, but if they took the time to examine the context of the preceding verses, they’d discover that Jesus was actually using the fact that we cease to exist upon our death to prove that there will indeed be a physical resurrection in the future (I already wrote about that in this article here, though, so please go read that before proceeding, if you haven’t already).
That’s not the only passage they misuse, though, to try to prove the immortality of the soul. 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, if you look at the context of what he actually said in the previous verses, and also remember that a physical resurrection in a glorified, vivified body is what Paul and the body of Christ are looking forward to (and not to living as ghosts in an afterlife dimension), you can see that he’s comparing our current mortal bodies to earthly houses, and saying that he’s looking forward to no longer being “at home” in his mortal body, but instead wants to be at home in his vivified “house not made by hands” (meaning in his glorified body), where he’ll also finally be present with the Lord because he’ll be in his immortal body in heaven (which, as you’ve already learned — at least if you read my article on heaven I linked to near the beginning of this post — just refers to outer space) with Him.
So, rather than going to afterlife realms called heaven or “hell” after we die, Scripture instead tells us that death is a return. The body returns to the soil or earth, the soul returns to hades/the unseen (meaning back to the non-existence/unconsciousness from whence it came), and the spirit returns to God who created 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, and our spirit is our “breath of life” as well as our “essense,” so to speak, which would likely include the memories that make us who we are, but it doesn’t experience consciousness until it’s reunited with a resurrected body). This presents quite a dilemma for the traditional view, of course. If the soul of a dead person is existing consciously in an actual place called hades and the spirit is with God, does the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery “hell” while the spirit enjoys being with God? Remember, Scripture doesn’t discriminate between “saved” and “unsaved” spirits when it says they return to God upon death. 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 traditional 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, abolished) at all, as Paul told us it is (although this doesn’t find its ultimate fulfilment until the end of the fifth eon, but that’s a whole other topic), but is instead a friend finally bringing us to God, 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 sidenote 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 figurative figments of the rich man and Lazarus story ever suggested people would go to one while dead either. What they were looking forward to was a physical, bodily resurrection in the distant future, so parabolic 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). 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.
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 most Bibles mistranslate as “eternal fire” or “everlasting fire,” but the word rendered along the lines of “eternal” in those versions is actually an adjective that refers to specific periods of time with an eventual end). 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 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. This goes for the eonian fire of Matthew 25 as well (it isn’t referring to the lake of fire as most Christians assume either; nearly everyone has been taught that the sheep in that parable are those who believe and are saved, while the goats are non-Christians who will be cast into the lake of fire, but this couldn’t be further from the truth), although I don’t have room to get into all the details here. However, Aaron Welch wrote a great study on the topic, which I highly recommend reading in full, where he explains that the eonian fire, as well as the furnace of fire in an earlier parable, is actually the exact same thing as the outer darkness.
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 was He warning 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 everlasting life, only a relatively small number of people will experience eonian life), 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.
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 haven’t been saved yet (from a relative perspective, of course), 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 chapter 2 of the book in the above post.]