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Gospel Gazette Online

Vol. 11 No. 6 June 2009

Page 15

Where Are the Dead? (2)

E.N. Melott

Ed MelottJames, the half brother of our Lord, taught that the body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26), but the opposite cannot be said to be true, for the spirit without to body is not dead! Though the body “returns to the dust” (Genesis 3:19), “the spirit shall return to the God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Jesus more than demonstrated this when referring to God as being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, uttering, “God is not the God of the dead [though dead physically, ENM], but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32). Clearly implied within His astonishing words is a glimpse into the afterlife. Though these great patriarchs had been physically dead for many years, they lived on. Perhaps the most revealing section of Scripture as to the state of the dead is found in Jesus’ teaching about the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even a cursory reading of this great text reveals a great deal of information regarding life after death (Please turn and read Luke 16:19-31).

The following relevant observations can be drawn from the facts of this text: (1) both the righteous and the wicked are conscious after death; (2) after death, some men are comforted, and other men are tormented; (3) this comfort and torment occur while life is still being lived upon the earth and therefore previous to the judgment. (4) The Hadean world, in which these departed spirits find themselves, is divided by a great gulf; (5) one, the Lord stated, is in Hades, and (6) the other is in the bosom of Abraham.

In this great section of Scripture, Jesus employs the use of the word “Hades” (23). Vine states that this word signifies “all-receiving” (Vine, W. E., Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 187). Thayer defines this unseen or invisible world as “the realm of the dead, or the common receptacle of disembodied spirits” (Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 86). Every person’s spirit, upon physical death, goes into Hades, but the righteous go into one division and the wicked into another. Sometimes the word Hades is used only in reference to the place of torment (cf. Luke 16:23) and in other instances it is used to refer to the Hadean realm with its respective divisions (Matthew 16:18; Psalm 16:10, etc.).  From the Lord’s words in Luke Sixteen and other New Testament references, God has revealed the existence of Paradise (Luke 23:43) or so-called by the Master, “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), and that section of Hades which tormented the rich man. Though the King James Version appears to place the Lord in Hell for three days (Acts 2:27), the New King James and many other more correct renderings translate the word Hades as it is in the original. If the Lord, therefore, was in Hades, was He in the presence of the rich man of Luke sixteen or rather poor Lazarus? This query can easily be answered by the Lord’s answer to the penitent thief: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The “paradise” that the Lord here mentioned seems not to fit the description given of that place of torment and flame that plagued the rich man. Paradise is rather the place of the departed spirits of those men and women who were righteous in their physical lives or who passed away before reaching beyond the age of innocence.

The rich man’s location becomes more clear when compared with the apostle Peter’s statement: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). The word here translated “hell” is the word tartarus. M. R. Vincent says that this word “represents the Greek hell, though treated here not as equivalent to Gehenna [The Greek word properly translated hell, but not employed here, ENM], but as the place of detention until the judgment” (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 691). If the proper translation of this word is “hell,” one wonders what, if any reason, there would be for a judgment, if they are already in their eternal place of punishment. Second Peter 2:4 mentions Tartarus as the place where wicked angels are being held until the judgment, and it is reasonable to suppose that Tartarus is that part of Hades reserved for the wicked until their judgment. David Pharr commented:

Unless there are compelling reasons for concluding otherwise, a word in Greek should be understood as meaning what it would have meant to the Greek-speaking world of the New Testament times. We should, therefore, understand Peter’s use of tartarus (translated “hell” in the KJV), to refer to what it ordinarily meant to the Greeks—a place of punishment for disembodied spirits. While the word tartarus itself is not used in the New Testament regarding the spirits of wicked men, the idea of such a place is clearly implied. We find it in Peter’s statement about disobedient men, long since dead, whose spirits were “in prison” at the time Peter wrote (I Pet. 3:19f) (Pharr, The State of the Dead, 25).

One fundamental difference in the punishment of the Hadean realm and that of Hell (Gehenna) is that Tartarus is the punishment of those wicked disembodied spirits, whereas the punishment of Hell consists of both body and spirit. Jesus profoundly stated, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

The disembodied spirits of both the wicked and the righteous will dwell in the Hadean realm until that great call from Him who comes with the clouds (Revelation 1:7) during the resurrection (John 5:28-29). The New Testament gives much emphasis to the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15, etc.), and therefore, implies that something, as far as rewards are concerned is lacking without the resurrection. When the graves burst open, on that Day (John 5:28-29) eternal rewards will be given. Paul taught that the crown of righteousness will be given “on that Day” (2 Timothy 4:8) both to him and “all who have loved His appearing.” We must conclude therefore that Paul has not entered heaven, for claimed he, all will receive their reward on “that day.”  It is apparent from many New Testament Scriptures that no one, except Jesus has gone into Heaven. John wrote, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). In fact, after the Lord’s resurrection, He told Mary: “I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17). Though in the care and keeping of God, Jesus and those other righteous departed spirits had not yet ascended to heaven. Hades will continue until the judgment, at which time it will give up its dead and death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14).

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