Between death and resurrection
Adam’s sin brought death to the whole human race. There are a few exceptions to this. Enoch and Elijah never experienced death and all believers who are alive when the rapture takes place will never die, but for most who have ever lived life ends with death.
Everyone who has died or who will die in the future will be resurrected.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voiceand come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)
But what will it be like between death and resurrection? Most Christians believe the dead will continue to exist in a state of consciousness but some believe they are be in a state of soul sleep and not aware of anything that is going on.
The Bible teaches that the dead are conscious and one evidence of this is an encounter with someone who had died, the prophet Samuel. After Samuel died, King Saul needed God’s guidance and couldn’t get it because of his sins. In desperation he decided to consult a medium to get in touch with Samuel.
Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.”
The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?”
And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”
He said to her, “What is his appearance?”
And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.”
And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. (1 Samuel 28:11-14)
The woman was frightened when Samuel appeared. This shows she couldn’t really communicate with the dead but was planning to deceive Saul as she deceived her other clients. God intervened and actually brought Samuel back.
Believers in soul sleep claim that this wasn’t really Samuel but a demon impersonating him. They point out that he came up from the earth rather than coming down from Heaven. But before the death of Jesus all of the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, went to a place called Sheol. The first mention of Sheol in the Bible is in the words of Jacob when he was told that Joseph was dead.
Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:34,35)
The Bible also tells us that Sheol is located under the earth.
But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord. (Numbers 16:30)
In the New Testament Sheol is called Hades. In his account of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus gave us a glimpse of what it was like for the inhabitants.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” (Luke 16:22-26)
Sheol (or Hades) was divided into two parts, one a place of torment and the other a place of comfort. The inhabitants of the two parts could see and communicate with each other but no one could go from one part to the other. Some people say this was only a parable and not a description of a literal place. I have discussed that in this post: Lazarus and the rich man – parable or actual event? .
The death of Jesus brought about a change in the status of the dead. Since then the righteous dead go to Paradise to be with Jesus while awaiting the resurrection. This is revealed in the interaction between Jesus and the two criminals who were crucified with him.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
The dying criminal went to Paradise rather than Hades and so do all today who die with their sins forgiven. Those who die without being forgiven still go to Hades to wait for the final judgment.
Of course those who believe in soul sleep have an explanation for this. They say the comma in Jesus’ statement is in the wrong place and he actually said, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” I have dealt with this in this post: A controversial comma .
Unless the rapture takes place soon all of you reading this will experience the death of your body. When this happens you won’t cease to be conscious. If you have repented of your sins and placed your faith in Christ you will find yourself in Paradise with Jesus and the others who believe in him. If you have not you will find yourself in Hades where you have nothing to look forward to except your final judgment and condemnation to the lake of fire.