[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 the apostle to the nations, 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 written epistles; and even in the one instance that he used the word hades — one of the Greek words translated as “hell” in less literal 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, 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,” 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/Geenna 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” 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 (hades), which is simply “the unseen,” and is the Greek equivalent of the word שְׁאוֹל (sheol) 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 why “hades,” which literally means “unseen” when it’s broken down, is such a great Greek equivalent of this Hebrew word), 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 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, for example; 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 — Acts says that he himself went to sleep, not that he remained conscious), not to being awake in an afterlife existence, outside of that one story which seems to confuse so many (although that was the purpose of parables — they weren’t told to make things obvious to the religious — and so, presuming the story of the rich man and Lazarus actually was a parable, it seems 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 very 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.”
It’s important to remember that consciousness, at least for humans, can cease to exist, since one can be rendered unconscious by either going to sleep (which is why the aforementioned expression is used in the Bible) or 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 — 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), there’s no reason to believe it could return after we die without a living and active brain to bring it back into existence the way our brains do when we wake up from sleep. 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 can these physical processes that generate dreams 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 is 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 just resurrected) will then be made immortal and caught up to the Lord to finally go live in the heavens, not that the dead get to live happily with the Lord as ghosts in another dimension called Heaven. (And the reference to “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 is just talking about the spirits of the dead 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, and our soul doesn’t exist so long as our spirit is not residing within our physicial body.) 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 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 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 — to be “vivified” simply means “to be made immortal,” by the way — 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, which means we have no reason to believe he’s ended up there since then either), 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, being simply that they’re unconscious and can’t do anything while dead since they have no thoughts at all). Believe it or not, though, some Christians actually try to use this statement to support their view that the dead remain conscious, misapprehending the statement to mean that the dead aren’t actually dead. If they just took the time to examine the context of the preceding verses (in Luke 20:27-37), however, they’d discover that it was really about the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a physical resurrection in the future, 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 Millennial Kingdom in the next eon here on earth (and not about a ghost in an afterlife dimension and whether or not she’d have to be polygamous in that imaginary realm; it wasn’t the concept of an ethereal afterlife state that the Sadducees were trying to trip Jesus up on) in order to make the idea of a physical resurrection seem ridiculous, but Jesus turned it around on them 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 not the God of the dead but of the living (which is where the figure of speech known as prolepsis comes in; prolepsis in Scripture is where God calls what is not yet as though it already were — when God makes a statement that tells us something is going to be, it’s already as good as done — so Jesus was using prolepsis there to tell us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will definitely be resurrected someday since otherwise that statement about them would have been a lie because it would mean they would have ceased to exist forever when they died).
The passage just can’t be read as saying they’re actually still alive in our time period. Verse 37 (“…that the dead are rousing, even Moses divulges at the thorn 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 still actually alive in another dimension (He didn’t say, “that the dead are living in another dimension”; He said, “that the dead are rousing,” referring to a future resurrection). Jesus’ whole point is that, if they weren’t going to be resurrected and 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 still be their God (and they could still thank and praise Him, contrary to what the book of Psalms says), but Jesus made it clear that, without a physical resurrection, He couldn’t be their God, since they’d be dead and gone forever. Because they will be resurrected, however, God actually can be said to be their God.
There’s just no way to read verses 37 and 38 as anything other than Jesus saying those who have ”gone to sleep” are indeed dead and gone until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them are currently gone 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, and Jesus’ argument couldn’t possibly help prove the resurrection at all.
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 obviously this isn’t what was happening there), we know that this was simply a vision to fulfill the prophecy made immediately before this passage because Matthew 17:9 outright tells us that it was simply a vision. And speaking of necromancy, 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 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, 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 was, and the living members of the body of Christ currently are, looking forward to, you can see that he’s figuratively 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). When Paul talked about “houses” and “homes” in this chapter, he was talking about bodies, so the “house not made with hands” is a reference to his future immortal body, not to him existing as a ghost in another dimension after he dies. In fact, Paul specifically says in verses 3 and 4 that he was not hoping for death at all, when he wrote that he wasn’t looking to be “unclothed,” but rather that he was hoping to be given an immortal body, or to be “clothed upon,” 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.
This is similar to the way they misuse Paul’s quote that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” to try to prove that Paul believed his death would bring him immediately to be with Christ, once again ignoring the context of the verses before these words, not to mention the verses after them as well. Of course, we’ve already determined that Paul was well aware of the fact that the only way he would be with Christ forever was through resurrection (or through the vivification of his mortal body, if the Snatching Away occurred while he was still alive), not through death. As we already covered, Paul’s teaching was that, apart from resurrection, those who have died will have perished (which means they would have ceased to exist forever, based on what we’ve already covered), so we have to interpret this passage in light of that fact, and the context of the surrounding verses makes it pretty obvious that the “gain” Paul was referring to there would be a gain to the cause of the Gospel, which his martyrdom would surely accomplish. I’ll admit, verses 22 and 23 aren’t the easiest verses for people today to grasp, especially if you’re using a translation like the KJV (17th century English isn’t always something 21st century people find easy to understand), 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. 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 cause the Gospel to be spread more boldly, or whether he’d prefer to die and let his martyrdom help the cause of the Gospel even more than his state as a prisoner was doing, and that he was pretty much “caught 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 two undesirable options 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 options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” since if the Snatching Away were to occur 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. 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 Snatching Away 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 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, 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 they misunderstand it to be (it helps to notice the plural ”ye” in Jesus’ statement, since He was talking to, and about, the unbelieving Pharisees at the time, prophesying that all those Pharisees hearing that statement would indeed die in their sins and miss out on ”eternal life” during the Millennium).
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. And the second passage 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 He was vivified (which didn’t happen until after He was resurrected from the dead), as we can see from the verse before that one. Besides, He was preaching to spirits, not souls, and since the spirits of dead humans return to God in heaven rather than go to some prison, the spirits He was preaching to must have been angels, which is exactly what Peter tells us they were: they were the spirits who sinned in Noah’s time by breeding with human women and creating the giants (sometimes referred to as the Nephilim), and who were then locked up in the ”hell” known as Tartarus because of their sin.
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 sheol/hades/“hell”/the unseen (meaning our consciousness returns to the non-existence 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 — the spirit is our “breath of life” as well as our “essense,” so to speak, which would 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 “hell” and the spirit is with God, does the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery location 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 (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 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, 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 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.]