What Happens To The Soul When One Dies?
The condition of man in death has intrigued Christian scholars and theologians throughout the centuries. Most of the religions today, including Christianity, accept the commonly held belief that at death man goes either to heaven or to hell. Do the Sacred Scriptures teach that at death, man goes to his reward immediately or rest in the grave awaiting the morn of the resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ? Immortality is the state or quality of not being subject to death. The translators of Scripture used the word immortality to translate the Greek terms
athanasi, "deathlessness," and aphtharsia, "incorruptibility." How does this concept relate to God and human beings?
Lets examine the creation of man in Genesis 2:7, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The NKJV and NIV say, "man became a living being." Some Bible students read the word "soul" in the Bible, they think it means a special entity in each one of us that will never die. But is this Biblical? Lets review the formula for creation. Then God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and "man became a living soul." What is this breath of life that God breathed into Adam's nostrils? According to Job, "All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils" (Job 27:3). We can see this illustration:
You might ask what happens to the soul at death? The Bible tells us, "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19). The Bible is crystal clear that when a man dies, he returns to dust, the very element out of which God formed man. We can illustrate it this way:
No where in the Bible does it indicate if we take the body away, that the spirit continues to live on. In fact, the Bible tells us "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). It is clear from Scripture that man does not possess immortality. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
The next question one might ask is what happens at death? Only the Bible can accurately answer that question. "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they anymore a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun" (Ecclesiates 9:5, 6). "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalms 146:4). "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Ecclesiates 9:10). The Scriptures are emphatically clear that the dead know nothing! Now, there are people who say, "the dead are up in heaven praising God." Notice what the Bible says, it is so plain: "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (Psalms 115:17). According to Peter, the patriarch David--a man after God's own heart was still in the grave a thousand years after he died. "Brother, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here today. For David did not ascend to heaven." (Acts 2:29,34) NIV. The Bible is clear, isn't it?
Centuries ago a Greek philosopher named Socrates taught that there are two kind of existences, the seen and the unseen. He said, "what you see is the body, the unseen part is the soul." The soul he says is immortal--it always lives. Then came Plato, a student of Socrates, who wrote about the two parts of man, the body and the soul. The false teachings of separating man into body and soul by the Greek philosophers has permeated the entire world to this day. This is not Biblical. The Bible is clear that the body (dust) + Spirit (God's breath) = living soul. We are a unit--a complete being. Scripture reveals that the eternal God is immortal (I Timothy 1:17). In fact, He "alone has immortality" (I Timothy 6:16). The term "soul" or "spirit" occurs more than 1,600 times in the Bible, but never in association with the words "immortal" or "immortality."
One well known theologian of our time, Oscar Coleman, recognized that the teachings of Socrates and Plato concerning the immortality of the soul were not found in Scripture. In 1955, Oscar Coleman presented His Biblical findings regarding immortality of the soul to Harvard University. Later he said that he never experienced such violent hostility against himself. He said he was called many names but he continues to appeal to his critics to prove him wrong from the Bible. He said no one has been able to prove that the soul was immortal. Why did so many people get angry with him? Because they have been told that when their love ones die, they went straight to heaven. And if Oscar Coleman was right - it meant they weren't there and people wanted to think that their love ones were in heaven. But if that is true then the unrighteous would go straight to hell or purgatory. According to the Bible, those who die are not burning in hell either.
Think for a moment, suppose that a young man had died in a car accident leaving his wife with three children. Picture in your mind that he was able to see everything that happens here on this earth. He saw that his wife had remarried and the new husband moved into their home and abused his three children. Month after month, he witnessed this tragic pain and suffering of his dear children and yet unable to do anything about it. Would that be heaven or hell?
It is comforting to know in God's Word that our loved ones who died in Christ are resting asleep quietly and undisturbed by the perplexity of life waiting for the glorious hope of the resurrection. Jesus Himself called death a sleep. In fact the word sleep is refer to death over 100 times in the Bible. Jesus told His disciples, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep" (John 11:11). The disciples misunderstood this, They thought that if Lazarus was sleeping, he's going to get well. But Jesus perceived in the disciples' heart in that they did not understand what he meant by using the word "sleep." Then Jesus said unto them plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:14).
The next question one might ask, when do believers receive their immortality? The moment of bestowal of the gift of immortality is described by Paul in I Corinthians 15:51-54. "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." The Bible says God will "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). This makes it very clear that God does not bestow immortality upon the believer at death but at resurrection when Christ comes with majesty and power. The apostle Paul also describes the reunion of our beloved dead. "we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 4:15-18). What glorious hope! Both the righteous living and the righteous dead will rise up to meet our Lord in the air. We will then receive the priceless gift of eternal life promised to everyone who accepts Christ as his Saviour and Lord. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (I Corinthians 15:53-55).
There is one text in the Bible that many use in their attempt to prove that at death, people go straight to heaven in Luke 23:42, 43. It is amazing how one can do away with all the clear Bible texts that refer to death as a sleep, an
eternally peaceful time until the resurrection and then use one or two obscure texts on which to build a whole theory. Notice what the thief said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise." On the surface, it would seem to indicate that Jesus Himself would meet the thief in heaven on that very day. But notice Jesus did not ascend to heaven that very day, nor did He ascend upon His resurrection three days later. Jesus said to Mary, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17).
When the Bible was originally written there was no punctuation and no division into verses and chapters. These have all been added by men to make it easier to read the Bible. However, perhaps these men have not punctuated correctly. By changing a comma in Luke 23:43, we can see how the text now harmonizes with the rest of the Scripture. "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise." Do you see the vast difference? The comma should have been placed after the word today. Another word, Jesus made a promise of eternal life to the thief that day. But the thief didn't go to heaven that day. It was only the promise that was made that day. If you were a Bible translator, where would you place the comma on the text? Before the word today or after the word today? I know exactly where you would put it. You would put the comma in the place to make the sentence agree with your understanding of what happens at death. That's how Bible translators work. Make no mistake about it the punctuation was added by man; it was not inspired.
Spiritualism originated with Satan's first lie when he told Eve, "You shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). This great arch deceiver had echoed this concept of "immortality of the soul" to this very day. Spiritualistic seances, New Age, reincarnation and many religions of the world including Christianity have unwittingly repeated this error. This erroneous doctrine was incorporated into the Christian faith from pagan philosophy. These beliefs became the prevailing view within Christianity and continue to be the dominant view today.
Belief that the dead are conscious has prepared many sincere Christians to accept spiritualism. If the dead are alive and in heaven, why could they not return to earth as ministering spirits? And if they can, why not try to communicate with them to receive their counsel and avoid misfortune, or to receive comfort in sorrow? The Bible clearly warns against it. "For they are the spirit of demons performing miracles" (Revelation 16:13, 14; I Timothy 4:1; II Thessalonians 2:9; II Corinthians 11:13-15). The Bible also strongly forbids any attempt to communicate with the dead. "When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn" (Isaiah 8:19, 20) NIV.
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, . . . And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:13-18). Only these who are kept by the power of God, having their minds fortified with the truth of Scripture, accepting it as their only authority will able to escape the wiles of Satan. Look to Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).