A Closer Look at Texts Sometimes Used to Promote the Idea
of Consciousness in Death - Supplement to Lesson 9
- 1. Being Absent from the
Body (2 Corinthians 5:8)
- 2. Pauls
Desire to Depart and Be with Christ (Philippians
- 3. The
Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3)
- 4. The Thief on the Cross
(Luke 23:42, 43)
- 5. Jesus Preaching to
Dead People (1 Peter 3:18-20)
- 6. Stephens Spirit
(Acts 7:59, 60)
- 7. Baptism for the Dead (1
In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul speaks of
being absent from the body and present with the Lord. Does this
mean that when a person dies, he leaves his body and goes to be
with the Lord? Lets read the whole context to see what the
apostle is saying.
In Chapter 4 Paul discusses the trouble and
affliction which come to us in this life. Yet, he says, this
trouble is nothing when compared to the far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory (4:17) which we will receive in the
future life. We dont need to worry about what happens to
this body. We are now but earthen vessels (4:7). The Lord will
one day give us new bodies which will never deteriorate.
In Chapter 5 Paul discusses the two bodies,
the earthly, and the eternal. He metaphorically refers to them as
houses. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle
were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens (5:1).
Next, the apostle speaks of his longing to
be clothed with the immortal body. For in this we groan,
earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is
from heaven (verse 2). To be clothed here means to be living in a
body. In this life we are clothed in a mortal body. In the next
life we will be clothed in an immortal body.
Now notice Pauls emphasis in verse 3.
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. If
clothed means to be in a body, to be naked is to be without a
body. Notice that Paul makes it very clear that the future life
is a clothed state and not a naked state! He gives absolutely no
support to the teaching of life without a body. Speaking of the
future life, he says, Being clothed we shall not be found naked.
In verse 4 he re-emphasizes the same thing.
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not
for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon. It was not an
unclothed, bodiless state which Paul anticipated, but a clothed
state in a body.
The next question is, When will we receive
the immortal body? When will mortality be swallowed up of life
(verse 4)? To the Corinthians this was no question. Paul had
already told them in his first letter. He had devoted the whole
of 1 Corinthians 15 to the subject of the resurrection. There
Paul had clearly told them when mortality is swallowed up in
immortality: "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" (1 Corinthians 15:52-54).
When does it happen? At the last trump, at
the resurrection, at the coming of Jesus. Then it will be said, O
death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ
shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ
the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christs at His
coming (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23).
So far we have learned that:
(1) There is no life in the unclothed,
bodiless state; and
(2) It is at the time of Christs
coming that we will be made alive.
Lets go back to 2 Corinthians 5. At
this point in our passage Paul begins an evaluation of the two
bodies the mortal body which we have now, and the immortal body
which we will receive at the resurrection. Keep in mind that the
setting of this whole discussion is Pauls encouragement to
his readers not to become discouraged with present afflictions.
Not only will the resurrected body be incorruptible and eternal,
there is another factor which will make it far more to be desired
than the present life. That factor is the presence of the Lord.
This theme of being with the Lord is found
also in Pauls first letter to the Thessalonians: 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
As Paul considered the two bodies, the
present and the future life, he longed for the privilege
available only in the future life, of being bodily with the Lord.
Therefore, he continues in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, we are always
confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the [present]
body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by
sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent
from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Keep in mind that Paul is not describing an
unclothed, bodiless state. He is referring to the time when he
will receive the immortal body. The body from which he will then
be absent is his present earthly body, but he will not be
bodiless (naked) at that time. He has made that very clear in the
Notice again in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17,
how Paul expected to get present with the Lord. He describes the
glorious coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the
translation of the living saints. Then he says, And so shall we
ever be with the Lord. That word so means, thus, in this way, or
by this means. He is saying, This is how we will get with the
If, therefore, it is by means of the coming
of Christ and the resurrection that we will get to be with the
Lord, then it is obvious that we will not be with the Lord before
It is clear from the above facts that when
Paul spoke of being absent from the body and present with the
Lord, he was not thinking of the time when he would be dead. He
was not earnestly desiring death. He was looking beyond the
grave, beyond the resurrection, to that glorious moment when he
would greet Jesus face to face, and live with him for ever.
Another passage which has confused some
people is Philippians 1:20-25. Some have used these verses
to promote a doctrine which is contrary to Pauls own clear
teachings on the subject of death. But when we look at it
objectively we find the passage to be fully consistent with the
rest of the Bible.
Highlighting a few phrases in the passage
will show us Pauls train of thought. He is discussing my
earnest expectation, my hope, what I shall choose, having a
desire, and what is more needful. These are not expressions one
uses when presenting a doctrinal discourse. He is opening to his
readers his deepest personal aspirations.
Pauls greatest desire in this passage
is that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by
life, or by death. The problem is that he cannot tell which is
best, to live or to die. He wants to do that which will best
He longs to be with Christ. He knows that
he will be with Him in the next life. This thought is wonderful
to him. Yet, realizing that his labors are still needed in this
life, he concludes, I know that I shall abide and continue with
you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.
The phrase which some people have stumbled
over is Pauls desire to depart, and to be with Christ.
Notice that he does not say that he will depart and immediately
be with Christ. Neither is he discussing a bodiless presence with
Him; for his desire was that Christ shall be magnified in my
For the purposes of his present discussion
he sees no need to digress into the details of the decomposition
of his body, the oblivion of deaths sleep, and the
specifics of the resurrection. That is not the subject at hand.
Yet, even so, the words he uses describe the experience of death
most explicitly. To the individuals consciousness, death
does not register at all. Thousands of years may pass. The dead
know nothing of it. Their first conscious moment at the
resurrection knows of no lapse since their last conscious moment
before death. After Pauls death, the next thing he would
know, he would be with Christ. His description is experiential
rather than technical, and thus perfectly harmonizes with his
direct doctrinal instruction on the state of the dead.
When did Paul expect to be with Christ? In
2 Thessalonians 2:1 he clearly explains that the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him take place
at the same time.
In Colossians 3:4 Paul says, When Christ,
who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him
in glory. We will not be with Christ in glory until His
appearing, His glorious return in power and majesty.
Paul also speaks of the appearing of Christ
in 2 Timothy 4:8. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me
at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love
his appearing. Paul realized that his crown of righteousness
would be laid up in store for him, until the coming of Christ,
not to be received until that day.
Does the appearance of Moses and Elijah at
Christs transfiguration (Matthew 17:3) prove that
the saints of olden days are now in heaven?
The case of Elijah is easy when we remember
that Enoch and Elijah never died, but were translated to heaven
(Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11).
Moses, however, did die (Deuteronomy 34:5);
but then something very interesting happened. Jude 9 mentions a
dispute between Michael and the devil over the dead body of
Moses. The devil was rebuked, and the Lords plan prevailed.
Deuteronomy 34:6 says that Moses was buried, "but no man
knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." David, on the other
hand, "is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us
unto this day" (Acts 2:29). Why the difference? Moses
appearance on the mount of transfiguration indicates that he was
bodily resurrected from the dead.
Moses did not go to heaven as a bodiless
spirit; the Lord claimed his body as well (Jude 9). Neither did
Elijah leave his body on earth; for fifty strong men searched for
him for three days and found nothing (2 Kings 2:17). Jesus
Himself ascended bodily to heaven. In all the Bible there is not
a single example of anyone ever going to heaven except as a
Moses is not the only one who has been
resurrected and taken to heaven. When Jesus died, "many
bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the
graves after his resurrection" (Matthew 27:52, 53); so that
"when he ascended up on high, he led a multitude of
captives" (Ephesians 4:8, margin).
The fact that Moses was alive and bodily
present when Jesus was transfigured provides support, not for the
doctrine of natural immortality, but for the doctrine of the
Some people have suggested that the dialog
recorded in Luke 23:42, 43 indicates that the righteous go
immediately to paradise when they die.
If so, in order for Christ to be true to
His promise, both He and the thief would have had to make it to
heaven before the sun set that very day.
Lets see if they actually did. First,
did Jesus go to heaven that day? The Bible tells us that He did
not. For when He was resurrected He said, I am not yet ascended
to my Father (John 20:17).
So Jesus didnt go to heaven that day.
What about the thief, did he? The Bible tells us in John 19:31-34
that at the end of the day the soldiers went and found the two
thieves still hanging there on the cross, both still alive. Then
they broke their legs and let them down off the cross for the
Sabbath. So the thief didnt make it to heaven that day
Well then, did Jesus tell a lie? No. The
problem is easily solved when we realize that when the Bible was
written, there were no punctuation marks. Commas were added
hundreds of years later when the Bible was translated into
English. In Luke 23:43 the comma should have been placed after,
rather than before, the word today. It actually reads, Verily I
say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.
Jesus promised him that day a promise He
will not break. For when the Son of man shall come in his glory,
and all the holy angels with him,... then shall the King
say...Inherit the kingdom prepared for you (Matthew 25:31-34).
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his
angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works
And thats all the thief was asking
for anyway. He didnt ask to go to heaven that day. He
simply said, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom
Some have wondered if while Jesus was dead
He could have taken the opportunity to preach to other people who
were also dead. The question comes from 1 Peter 3:18-20, a
passage which now deserves our close attention.
It is always important to remember that the
Bible does not contradict itself. Whatever this verse says must
be in harmony with what the rest of the Bible teaches on this
subject. Otherwise it could not be the inspired word of God.
Isaiah 38:18 says, The grave cannot praise
thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the
pit cannot hope for thy truth. There would be no point in Jesus
preaching to those who cannot have hope.
The Bible also says that the dead know not
any thing (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Preaching to the dead does not fit
in with the Biblical description of death.
Lets look at 1 Peter 3:18-20 to see
what it says and does not say. Verse 18 tells us that Jesus was
put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. The word
quickened means brought to life. It is when they are raised to
life again that the dead are quickened (John 5:21).
Our passage in 1 Peter 3 does not tell us
when Jesus was quickened. We are simply told two things: (1) that
Jesus was put to death, and (2) that He was brought back to life.
To find out when He was brought to life we must go to the actual
account in the gospels. It tells us that He was crucified on the
day of the preparation (Matthew 27:62), and brought back to life
on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1). The Scriptural
account is clear.
Our passage says that Jesus was quickened
by the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself declared
that it is the spirit that quickeneth (John 6:63).
So by comparing Scripture with Scripture we
have a very good explanation of verse 18. Jesus was put to death
in the flesh on Friday afternoon, and raised to life again by the
Spirit on Sunday morning.
The next three words in our passage are by
which also. The word also indicates the introduction of a
different event, the common factor being the involvement of the
Holy Spirit. Christ was resurrected by the Spirit, He also by the
Christ, by the Spirit, preached unto the
spirits in prison. The word spirits in this verse simply means
people. Often in the Bible a figure of speech is used by which a
characteristic part of a thing stands for the whole. Since the
spirit or breath of a person is a characteristic part of the
person, the word spirit is sometimes used to represent the
person. For example, in 1 Corinthians 16:18 my spirit simply
means me. In Galatians 6:18 and 2 Timothy 4:22 your (thy) spirit
simply means you.
The prison concept is elsewhere used in the
Bible in reference to the condition of those who are entrapped in
sin. The wicked . . . shall be holden with the cords of his sins
(Proverbs 5:22). For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he
brought in bondage (2 Peter 2:19). The work of the gospel is to
proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison
to them that are bound (Isaiah 61:1. See also Isaiah 42:7, 22).
With that thought, 1 Peter 3:19 simply says
that it was through His Holy Spirit also that Christ preached to
people bound in sin. Notice that verse 19 does not tell us when
this preaching took place. To find that out we must go to verse
20 which says: Which sometime were disobedient, when once the
longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark
was a preparing. There it is. Verses 19 and 20 are talking about
what happened in the days of Noah!
Noah was called a preacher of righteousness
(2 Peter 2:5). Through his preaching the Holy Spirit worked upon
the hearts of the people. But because of the wickedness of that
generation and their refusal to obey God, the Lord said, My
spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is
flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years (Genesis
6:3). For 120 years Noah preached. Those people had more
opportunity to hear and accept the gospel than any other
generation. Yet, few, that is, eight souls were saved. When those
120 years were up, their opportunity for salvation was forever
gone. They would hear no more preaching.
Peter does not say that Jesus did anything
while He was dead. He, by the Spirit, preached to the people in
the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.
And thats all the text says. It says
nothing about a purgatory. It makes no mention of disembodied
spirits. It says nothing about preaching to dead people.
1 Peter 4:6 tells us that the gospel was
(past tense) preached to people who are (present tense) dead.
They are dead now, but nowhere does it say that they were dead at
the time the gospel was preached to them. Such a claim would
contradict everything the Bible teaches about death, salvation,
and the justice of God. The living, the living, he shall praise
thee, . . . the father to the children shall make known thy truth
What happened to Stephens spirit when
he died? The same thing that happens to everyone elses
spirit when they die. The verse is Acts 7:59, 60. As
Stephen was being stoned, he was calling upon God, and saying,
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Your spirit is simply the spark of life
which belongs to God. You lose it when you die. When the Bible
says that the breath of life returns to God, it does not say that
it carries with it any portion of your mental capacity. Human
consciousness is a physiological process which is dependent upon
nerve and tissue. In reference to man, the Bible never speaks of
any consciousness of disembodied spirits.
Does Paul teach in 1 Corinthians 15:29
that we should be baptized for the dead? No, he does not.
This chapter is discussing the
resurrection. Whatever conclusion we reach as to the meaning of
the verse, we must recognize it as an argument in favor of the
resurrection. The line of reasoning goes as follows: Else what
shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise
not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? He is
promoting, not consciousness during death, but resurrection after
Paul here may have been referring to a
pagan custom of being baptized for the dead. Notice that he uses
the word they rather than we. He does not say, we should be
baptized for the dead. He simply says that they are. Without
actually endorsing their practice, he was saying, Even the pagans
who are baptized for the dead believe there will be a
resurrection. Else why would they be baptized for them? The
argument is similar to verses 16-18 where Paul says, For if the
dead rise not, . . . then they also which are fallen asleep . . .
are perished. The only hope for the dead is in the resurrection.
The Bible clearly teaches that a man must
personally repent, believe in Christ, confess his sins, and be
baptized in order to be saved (Acts 2:38; John 3:16; 1 John 1:9).
You can only work out your own salvation (Philippians 2:12). They
shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver
their own souls by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:20). None of
them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a
ransom for him (Psalm 49:7). The soul that sinneth, it shall die.
The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall
the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the
righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked
shall be upon him (Ezekiel 18:20).
Those who die in sin have no more
opportunity to repent. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold,
now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). 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 (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Now, while we are still alive, while
the blood still flows in our veins, while we are still capable of
responding to Christs invitation now is the time for us to
give ourselves fully to Jesus.