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Builders of Faith Explorer I:  Exploring Bible Truth

Lesson 20—Objections to the Truth about Death

 

 

1.  Don’t the “near-death” experiences of many people indicate that an immortal soul or spirit survives the death of the body?

 

“…Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him [Jesus], ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.  John 11:39.  “…He [Jesus] cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’”  John 11:43-44.

 

Answer:  Lazarus did not have a “near-death” experience because he had been dead for four days.  But notice that there is absolutely no testimony from him about what heaven was like.  In fact, if he had been in heaven for four days, he surely would not have wanted to return to earth.  Yet he said nothing.  Concerning “near-death” experiences, while there is much that we don’t know about the brain, we do know that when the brain is partially deprived of oxygen (as in traumatic circumstances, including surgery), the person can hallucinate about any number of things.  Therefore, “near-death” experiences prove nothing about the state of the dead.

 

 

2.  Isn’t there a text that says Jesus brings the dead with Him at His Second Coming?

 

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”  I Thessalonians 4:14.  “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”  I Thessalonians 4:16-18.

 

Answer:  First, note that the word sleep is used to describe those who died in Jesus.  Second, the Greek word for “so” means “in the same way or manner”, thus indicating that just as God raised Jesus from the dead (and took Him to heaven), so He will raise the dead in Christ and take them to heaven.  This is confirmed by the context that declares that resurrection occurs first, and then it is followed by the bringing of the saints into the presence of Jesus.  Finally, these facts are used by the apostle Paul to comfort the saints.  If God’s people’s soul or spirit went immediately to heaven upon the death of the body, we should have expected Paul to comfort them by telling them so.  Instead, the comfort is in the knowledge that our dead loved ones are awaiting the resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus.

 

 

3.  But doesn’t I Thessalonians 3:13 say plainly that all the saints come with Jesus at His Second Coming? 

 

“…He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”  I Thessalonians 3:13.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him….”  Matthew 24:31.

 

Answer:  This first text is often cited as proof that Jesus will bring the souls of His saints with Him at His Second Coming in order to reunite them with the correct resurrected bodies.  But first, this text would clearly contradict what Paul said just one chapter later (see Question #2).  Second, the Greek word for “saints” can also be translated as “holy ones”.  Matthew’s gospel above tells us that all the holy angels will come with Jesus at His glorious return.  Therefore, the saints in I Thessalonians must also be angels that accompany Jesus.

 

 

4.  The Old Testament says that King Saul visited a witch, who brought up Samuel for him.  Doesn’t that prove that the souls or spirits of the dead are immortal?

 

Answer:  Read the entire story in I Samuel 28:3-25.  King Saul had been rejected by God as king of Israel and was facing a major battle against the Philistines the next day.  The prophet Samuel had already died, so in desperation Saul went to the Witch of Endor to see if he could get advice by talking to Samuel.  But it wasn’t Samuel that Saul spoke to for the following reasons:

 

A.  Leviticus 19:31; 20:27:  “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them….”  “A man or woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death….”—A merciful God would not place a death sentence on anyone attempting to communicate with the dead if it were actually possible to do so.  Therefore, any spirits called up would be evil spirits, fallen angels under Satan’s direction.

 

B.  I Samuel 28:6:  “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.”—God had refused to communicate to Saul by any means.  Yet are we supposed to believe that God then used a means which He had condemned in order to speak to Saul?

 

C.  I Samuel 28:14:  “…And Saul perceived that it was Samuel….”—Demons can certainly change their appearance, so the fact that Saul perceived the apparition to be Samuel means nothing.  Moreover, it was only after Saul had asked the witch “…What did you see?...What is his form?...” that Saul perceived it to be Samuel.

 

D.  I Samuel 28:11, 13-14:  “…bring up….  …ascending out of the earth.…is coming up....”—Note the language about “Samuel’s” spirit has him coming up out of the earth.  But if the faithful prophet Samuel had an immortal soul, it would have to come down from heaven, not up from the earth.

 

E.  I Samuel 28:19:  “Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel into the hand of the Philistines.  And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me….”—Really?  Would both the wicked Saul and the righteous Samuel end up in the same place after they died if everyone has an immortal soul or spirit?  This does not compute.

 

 

5.  If the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can say that He is the God of the living, not the dead, doesn’t this prove that the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in heaven?

 

“But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  Matthew 22:31-32.

 

Answer:  Supporters of the immortal soul doctrine conclude that this text means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive in their essence—which means they must have their immortal souls in heaven.  But the entire context from verse 23 onward concerns the issue of the resurrection, which the Sadducees did not believe in.  In His answer in verse 32, Jesus quotes from Exodus 3:6, when the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  How did Jesus prove the truth of the resurrection by quoting God as saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”?  Clearly, He anticipated a resurrection in which they would rise from the dead.  In Luke’s version of this encounter, he adds that Jesus said, “…for all live to Him….”  The future is as clear and certain to the eternal God as is the present.  Thus, He “…gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did…” (Romans 4:17).

 

 

6.  Since the word “parable” is not used in the text, then isn’t the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus a literal account of what happens to people after they die?

 

Answer:  Read the entire story in Luke 16:19-31.  Truly, this story must either be a parable or a literal description of the state of the dead.  And if it isn’t a parable, then its details should be interpreted literally except in a case where an obvious figure of speech is employed, such as the use of Abraham’s bosom as a Jewish metaphor to represent heaven.  But it is indeed a parable for the following three reasons:

 

A.  Luke 16:22-24:  “…The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue….”—It was definitely not the disembodied souls or spirits of these two men because the rich man in Hades is described as having eyes and a tongue, and Lazarus as having a finger.  In fact, the passage says that the rich man was buried, obviously in the grave.  Yet his body was in Hades, referred to as a place of torment.  A body cannot be in both the grave and hell at the same time!

 

B.  Luke 16:24:  “…send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…”  It is absurd to assert that any water obtained by dipping the tip of a finger in it could possibly cool the tongue of anyone being tormented in the flames of hell!

 

C.  Luke 16:22-24:  Read the text under “A” above.—The gulf between heaven and hell is sufficiently narrow for conversations to occur between people in both places.

 

For all of these reasons, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is indeed a parable despite the fact that the word parable is not used to introduce the story.  This conclusion is based on the obvious figurative language that permeates this story.

 

 

7.  What is the point of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

 

Answer:  A parable is a story used to teach one or two major spiritual points.  This parable has two major spiritual points, as follows:

 

A.  Luke 16:25-26:  “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”—It is in this lifetime that a person determines his eternal destiny by his own decisions; there is no second chance at salvation after death!

 

B.  Luke 16:27-31:  Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”—If the messages in the Bible are not sufficient to cause someone to repent, then such a person would not repent even if someone rose from the dead!

 

 

8.  Why would Jesus use a story that refers to an immediate conscious state after death unless He believed that people’s souls or spirits are immortal and thus conscious?

 

Answer:  Scholars know that Jesus borrowed the heart of this story that was well-known in His day and simply used it as a vehicle to teach His spiritual lessons.  There is no reason to assume that Jesus believed this popular notion of heaven and hell and the afterlife.  It was simply a convenient vehicle to make the points He wanted to make.  Therefore, since His subject here was not about heaven and hell, we can draw no conclusions at all about Jesus’ teachings on an afterlife and/or hell.

 

 

9.  Didn’t Jesus promise one of the thieves on a cross next to Him that he would be in Paradise with Jesus that very day?

 

“Then he [one of the thieves] said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”  Luke 23:42-43.  “Jesus said to her [Mary Magdalene], ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father….”  John 20:17.

 

Answer:  First, please note that there was no punctuation of any kind in the original documents of the New Testament.  These were added several centuries later by scholars in order to help people find places in the Scriptures more easily.  Let’s illustrate the importance of where a comma is placed:  “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”  OR “A woman, without her, man is nothing.”  You see how important it is where a comma is placed in a sentence!  Second, we do know that the comma in verse 43 should be placed after the word “today” rather than before it, as follows:  “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”  How do we know that?  Jesus made His promise to the thief on the cross on Friday, the day Jesus and the other two were crucified.  Mary Magdalene and Jesus spoke to each other (John 20:17) on Sunday morning, the day of His resurrection.  And Jesus told Mary that He had not yet been to His Father in heaven.  So if Jesus had not gone to Paradise even as early as Sunday morning, then He could not have been with that thief in heaven on Friday!

 

 

10.  Didn’t Jesus preach to certain people in hell between His crucifixion and resurrection?

 

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah….”  I Peter 3:18-20.  “…and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly….  …the Lord knows how…to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment….”  II Peter 2:4-9.

 

Answer:  The interpretation given by supporters of the immortal soul doctrine is that while Jesus’ body was in the tomb, His spirit went and preached to certain spirits in hell.  However, the verb “made alive” is a clear reference to Christ’s resurrection.  That’s how we know that “…made alive by the Spirit…” correctly refers to the Holy Spirit rather than some supposed spirit or soul of Jesus.  In other words, the passage simply teaches that Jesus preached by the Holy Spirit through Noah to the people in Noah’s day.  This conclusion is confirmed by the same apostle Peter, who in his second epistle included the wicked in Noah’s day as part of those who are reserved “for the day of judgment”.  In other words, Jesus’ “spirit” could not have preached to those people in hell because their eternal destinies are already sealed “for the day of judgment”.  Thus, preaching to their souls or spirits in hell would be pointless.  Therefore, the phrase “the spirits in prison” refers to real flesh-and-blood people in Noah’s day who were spiritual prisoners of Satan.

 

 

11.  Doesn’t II Corinthians 5:1-8 teach that the righteous go to heaven immediately after death?

 

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been found clothed, we shall not be found naked.  For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”  II Corinthians 5:1-8.

 

Answer:  Please notice the parallel terms under the following headings in order to better understand this passage:

 

We Groan We Desire We Don’t Want
earthly house building from God Naked
this tent house not made with hands (in heaven) Unclothed
mortality life (immortal life)  
in the body absent from the body  
absent from the Lord present with the Lord  

 

These contrasting terms mean that the phrase “absent from the body” means to be absent from the sin-affected body because it cannot be equal to “naked” or “unclothed”, since those are things we don’t want.  Moreover, being “naked” or “unclothed” must refer to death, which evidently does not place the believer in the presence of the Lord, or else Paul would have said that he wanted to be naked or unclothed.

 

This interpretation is confirmed by a comparison between II Corinthians 5:1-8 and Romans 8:22-23:

 

II Corinthians 5:1-8 Romans 8:22-23  
we groan groan within ourselves  
the Spirit as a guarantee firstfruits of the Spirit  
earnestly desiring waiting for  
further clothed redemption of our body  
     

 

The “further clothed” experience associated with our future presence with the Lord in heaven is equated with the “redemption of our body”.  Thus, being present with the Lord occurs only after we have received glorified bodies at the Second Coming of Jesus.

 

 

12.  Can you explain the related text of Philippians 1:23?

 

“For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ….”  Philippians 1:23.  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also all who have loved His appearing.”  II Timothy 4:6-8.

 

Answer:  First, the Greek root is the same for the word “depart” in Philippians 1:23 and the word “departure” in II Timothy 4:6, where both clearly refer to Paul’s imminent death.  Second, “that Day” and “His [Lord’s] appearing” obviously refer to the Second Coming of Jesus.  Therefore, Paul understands that he will not be with the Lord immediately after his death, but that will occur at the Second Coming of Jesus.  So why does Paul use the language of departing and being with Christ, or to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, as if the first event led immediately to the second event?  As explained in the previous lesson (Lesson #19), death is like sleep—only it’s a dreamless sleep since there is no brain-wave activity.  This means that when a person dies, he is not conscious of the passing of time.  Instead, one moment he dies, and as far as he is concerned, the very next moment he is awake!

 

 

13.  The souls under the altar in Revelation indicate that we have immortal souls that survive the death of the body, don’t they?

 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”  Revelation 6:9-10.

 

Answer:  First, the confinement of the alleged souls of martyrs at the base of an altar is hardly a literal picture.  Second, the symbolism of this picture is explained by the Old Testament sanctuary system, in which the blood of sacrificial animals was partly poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice (or altar of burnt offering)—See Leviticus 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34.  According to Leviticus 17:11, the “soul” (Hebrew word for “life” in the NKJV) of a sacrificial animal is in its blood.  Thus, when the blood was poured out at the base of the altar, which was the same thing as pouring out the soul there.  Therefore, the fifth seal in Revelation 6 points symbolically to Christian martyrs as having been sacrificed to God.  In this way, absolutely nothing can be learned about the state of the dead from this passage.

 

Special Note:  This Lesson #20 has examined the known passages of Scripture that are used in opposition to what we learned about death in Lesson #19.  And as explained in this lesson, we have just learned that these opposition texts do not contradict the truth of the Bible that death is a dreamless sleep of the whole person, and that there is no separate, conscious, immortal part of a person that survives death.

 

 

Quiz for Lesson 20—Objections to the Truth about Death

 

1.  Which of the following statements about near-death or other related experiences are true? (2)  

  In traumatic circumstances, often the brain is deprived of sufficient oxygen, which gives rise to hallucinations.

  After Lazarus was raised from the dead, he told about his wonderful experiences in heaven.

  Near-death experiences tell us nothing about the state of the dead.

Answer

In traumatic circumstances, often the brain is deprived of sufficient oxygen, which gives rise to hallucinations.
Near-death experiences tell us nothing about the state of the dead.

2.  Who are the “saints” that come with Jesus at His Second Coming? (1)

  God’s saved people

  Holy Angels

  His people and his angels

Answer

Holy Angels

3.  Which of the following statements about King Saul’s experience with a witch are correct? (3)

  God had refused to communicate with Saul by all other means, so He surely would not have used a witch to communicate with him.

  Saul perceived that Samuel was coming up out of the earth, but wouldn’t Samuel the prophet have come down from heaven if the dead go to their reward immediately?

  God used this one exception to give a message to Saul.

  What Saul saw was a demon impersonating the prophet Samuel.

Answer

God had refused to communicate with Saul by all other means, so He surely would not have used a witch to communicate with him.
Saul perceived that Samuel was coming up out of the earth, but wouldn’t Samuel the prophet have come down from heaven if the dead go to their reward immediately?
What Saul saw was a demon impersonating the prophet Samuel.

4.  Which of the following statements about the Rich Man and Lazarus are true? (4)

  The Rich Man and Lazarus are in their different places as whole persons, not as disembodied souls or spirits.

  A little water on the tip of a tongue could not literally cool the tongue of one who is in hell.

  The gap between heaven and hell in this story cannot be literally accurate.

  This story proves that Jesus believed that people go to hell or heaven immediately after they die.

  The details of this story mean that it must be a parable.

Answer

The Rich Man and Lazarus are in their different places as whole persons, not as disembodied souls or spirits.
A little water on the tip of a tongue could not literally cool the tongue of one who is in hell.
The gap between heaven and hell in this story cannot be literally accurate.
The details of this story mean that it must be a parable.

5.  Which of the following statements accurately describe the primary meanings of Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. (2)

  Under some circumstances, people have an opportunity to repent and get out of hell.

  There is no second chance after death.

  People in heaven are very sympathetic to those in hell.

  If people don’t believe the Bible, then they wouldn’t believe even if someone rose from the dead.

Answer

There is no second chance after death.
If people don’t believe the Bible, then they wouldn’t believe even if someone rose from the dead.

6.  What are the true statements about one of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus? (3)

  Jesus promised one of the thieves that he would be with Him in Paradise that very day.

  Jesus promised that very day that one of the thieves would be with him in Paradise.

  Punctuation was not inspired but added later, and it can sometimes change the interpretation of a text.

  The thief could not have been with Jesus in Paradise that same day, because Jesus had not yet gone to Paradise even by early Sunday morning.

Answer

Jesus promised that very day that one of the thieves would be with him in Paradise.
Punctuation was not inspired but added later, and it can sometimes change the interpretation of a text.
The thief could not have been with Jesus in Paradise that same day, because Jesus had not yet gone to Paradise even by early Sunday morning.

7.  When we outline II Corinthians 5:1-8, what does being absent from the body mean? (1)

  It means that we are with the Lord in heaven without a body.

  It means that we are absent from this corrupt body when we are with the Lord in heaven.

  It means that we are naked in heaven, clothed only with holy light.

  It means that we are in the grave awaiting the resurrection.

Answer

It means that we are absent from this corrupt body when we are with the Lord in heaven.

8.  When we compare II Corinthians 5:1-8 with Romans 8:22-23, what does being “further clothed” mean? (2)

  This state describes our future presence with the Lord, proving that God’s people are not disembodied souls in heaven.

  It means God’s people go immediately to heaven, where they are “further clothed”.

  It is equated with the “redemption of our body”, proving that God’s people don’t go to heaven until they experienced glorified bodies at the Second Coming of Jesus.

Answer

This state describes our future presence with the Lord, proving that God’s people are not disembodied souls in heaven.
It is equated with the “redemption of our body”, proving that God’s people don’t go to heaven until they experienced glorified bodies at the Second Coming of Jesus.

9.  What does the phrase, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ” really mean? (1)

  The word depart there refers to going to heaven at one’s death.

  The word depart there refers to a believer’s death and his immediate presence with Christ in heaven.

  The word depart there refers to a believer’s death and the fact that the next thing he knows is that he is in Christ’s presence.

Answer

The word depart there refers to a believer’s death and the fact that the next thing he knows is that he is in Christ’s presence.

10.  What do the souls under the altar in Revelation tell us? (3)

  Having souls of martyrs at the base of an altar is obviously not a literal picture.

  The souls are figuratively at the base of the altar because the soul of a sacrificial animal was in its blood.

  As martyrs, it was as if they had been sacrificed to God on the altar and had their blood (soul) poured out at the base of that altar.

  This picture tells us that the souls of God’s saved people are in the heavenly sanctuary.

Answer

Having souls of martyrs at the base of an altar is obviously not a literal picture.
The souls are figuratively at the base of the altar because the soul of a sacrificial animal was in its blood.
As martyrs, it was as if they had been sacrificed to God on the altar and had their blood (soul) poured out at the base of that altar.