Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead Part 6: Where Do the Righteous Go When They Die?

Where do Christians go when they die?  Pretty standard question with a pretty simple answer, right?  Or maybe not. After all, consider how much of that pretty simple answer may be assumed, rather than exegeted from Scripture.

Genesis 1:30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 2:7  then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Presumption was the first obstacle we encountered when we first began discussing the subject of conditional immortality.  We presumed that what we had learned from childhood about immortality and eternal punishment were true even after we discovered that everything else we had learned about God as a child was a lie.  Well, here we are again, facing off against long lost Sunday School lessons.

We were told that what God breathed into Adam was an immortal spirit that cannot die and that will someday continue to live and act and think apart from the body.  Yet not even the text itself will allow such thinking, for we are told in the verse that upon breathing the breath of life into the man’s nostrils the man became a living creature. Without this breath of life in his nostrils, is he still a living creature?  What of the beasts of the earth, the birds of the heavens and everything that creeps on the earth, are they too immortal?

The Hebrew word translated life and soul is the same word.  “Nephesh.”   נָפַשׁ  Sometimes it is translated “soul”, as in Psalm 22:20, 1 Samuel 25:29 and 1 Samuel 26:21,  “Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my soul was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.'” In other instances it is translated “life”, as in 1 Samuel 19:5, 1 Kings 3:11 and Judges 16:30, And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.

In Scripture, nephesh is sometimes used to indicate one’s mental faculties, such as in Deuteronomy 4:29, 6:5, 10:12, 11:13 and 11:18, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

However, the most common use for nephesh in Scripture is in indication of life.

Genesis 1:20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”

Genesis 1:30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”  And it was so.

Genesis 19:17  And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.”

Joshua 2:14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

The Bible uses the words life and soul in ways we have not been conditioned to think.  Gnosticism tried to divide us into a body and soul by condemning all matter as inherently evil.  It rejected the truth that Christ Himself had a body, and it told us that our true selves are immaterial only.  Rome carried this forward and even developed an entire false doctrine of purgatory around it.  The papists taught us to think of ourselves as a spirit warehoused in a body.  We were told to scourge the body, to abuse and mistreat it, for it was evil thing to be despised, a thing not part of our true selves.

Today, most of us tend to still think of ourselves this way, as a creature that is two different things at once – an immortal, immaterial consciousness, and a mortal, material body.   We think we can shuck off one while maintaining the other.   The breath of life is not immortal though; the birds and the snakes share it alike with man.  Nor is it present without a body.

Which takes us back to our original question.   What happens to the righteous when they die?

There are two prevailing answers to this question.  The first is what we might call “the traditional view”.  This is the view everyone is familiar with.  It is the view we learned in Sunday School and from our parents.  It is the view that was handed down to us from Rome after the Greeks and Gnostics finished with it.  It is the view which asserts that since everyone, both elect and non elect alike have an immaterial part of them that is inherently immortal, therefore this immaterial inherently immortal part takes leave of the body at death before being transported either to a place of eternal torture or to a place of eternal paradise.

The other prevailing answer we might call “the conditional view”.  Simply put, this is the view which asserts the righteous do not go immediately to heaven to be conscious with Jesus when they die, but instead remain unconscious, asleep in death and kept safe in the Lord until He returns to raise them to immortality.  Although this view does not necessarily require agreement with conditional immortality, it is a logical and Biblical extension of it.

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[a] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

— 1 Thessalonians 4





About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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5 Responses to Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead Part 6: Where Do the Righteous Go When They Die?

  1. Julien says:

    Interesting, I’ve taken much for granted. I guess, from man’s point of view one is about the same as the other as far as whether we “sleep in death” until we are resurrected or if we go immediately upon death, as a spirit, to be with The Lord. For if we sleep in death, the resurrection will seem to us as if it happens instantly anyway, right?
    Didn’t Paul say to be absent from the body is to be present with The Lord though?
    Revelation 7:9-16 talks about a multitude no one could number from every tribe and nation who came out of the “great tribulation”. That makes me think that maybe the “great tribulation” could be the time we are living in since Christ ascended into Heaven, but I don’t know. I know most people seem to teach that the “great tribulation” is a future event. Personally I do not think that God is going to come get us so we don’t go through it, that makes no sense.
    Then Revelation 20: 4-6 does talk about the first resurrection being at the beginning of the millennial rule of Christ and the saints who were beheaded… but the rest of the dead do not live until the 1,000 years is done. That is pretty clear that at least some dead do not live for a time.
    Sometimes I feel like all I know is Christ and Him crucified.
    Thank you for making me think.

    • David Bishop says:

      Are you on Facebook, Julien? There are a bunch of us sovereign grace folks there. My name is David Bishop in case you didn’t see the About Me post.

  2. Julien says:

    Yes I did. Thank you! Yes I am on Facebook but I don’t spend a lot of time there I am a member of several reformed groups. I will find you and send you a friend request unless I should look for a group or your ministry.

  3. Pingback: Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 5 (To Die Is Gain and the Thief on the Cross) | Cornbread & Bourbon

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