First we must understand that man is body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5 v 23, Hebrews 4 v 12), when we die the body goes back to the dust of the ground and the spirit goes to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12 v 7). When God created man from the dust of the ground there was no life in him, he was just clay or earth. Then God breathed in him the ‘breath of life’ and man became a living soul. What is this ‘breath of life’ that God gave to man that caused him to live? Well, as we have just read in Ecclesiastes 12 v 7 when we die the body goes back to the ground and the spirit goes back to God who gave it. When someone died in the Bible the term is often used that they ‘gave up the ghost’. When Jesus died on the cross He prayed, “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit and having said this he gave up the ghost” Luke 23 v 46. The word spirit and ghost are different translations of the same Greek word.
The soul is the life of man that is a result of the spirit coming into the body. It is the Spirit that gives life. How the soul behaves in this life depends on its choice to either follow the desires of the flesh or submit to the spirit. The spirit of man is the part of man that was in touch with God until man sinned and died to God. When man believes on Jesus Christ then the Holy Spirit quickens man’s spirit and becomes one with man’s spirit making man alive to God once more.
Man’s spirit and soul are not the same but are so much part of each other that it is difficult to distinguish the different functions of each. The spirit is the inner man that the Holy Spirit strengthens (Ephesians 3 v 16). Proverbs talks about the innermost depths or chambers of the soul (Proverbs 18 v 8), possibly this is where the spirit resides. The spirit is the part of man that worships God and is communicated to by the Spirit of God. Before the fall man communed naturally with God, after the fall he had to seek the Lord. Isaiah 26 v 9 says, “With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me I seek thee early.” Often when the bible talks about the soul or spirit it doesn’t separate them as such and sometimes uses the word soul while another time it uses the word spirit for the same function. The soul/spirit after death is waiting for the resurrection of the body in order to fulfil its final destiny.
There are many scriptures that show that when our soul/spirit departs, our body dies. Genesis 35 v 18 tells us that when Rachel died her soul departed. In 1 Kings 17 v 21-22 we read that Elijah prayed for the dead boy’s soul to come into him again. 2 Corinthians 5 v 8 tells us we are absent from the body and present with the Lord. James 2 v 26 says that the body without the spirit is dead. Matthew 10 v 28 says that man can kill the body but not the soul, whereas God can destroy both soul and body in hell. 1 Corinthians 5 v 5 says that our flesh can be destroyed but our spirit saved in the day of the Lord.
So although man can kill the body he cannot kill the soul yet God can destroy both soul and body in hell. The word ‘hell’ is often a bad translation of the Greek word for Hades. When man dies his body is placed in a grave. This is the resting place for the body. Hades, which is often mistranslated ’hell’, is where the soul went to after death. However, after Christ’ resurrection believers go to Paradise in heaven when they die. Unbelievers still go to Hades to await judgement. 'Hell' or 'hellfire' is another place, where the fire never goes out, sometimes called a lake of fire where both the body and soul of unbelievers are cast, after the judgment, to be destroyed. Now what does the Bible mean when it uses the word destroy?
Some wrongly say it means annihilation, in other words extinction. What it means is, according to Vine, not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being. This same Greek word, translated destroy in Matthew 10 v 28, is translated ‘perish’ in Luke 5 v 37 when talking about the wineskins (not annihilated), and translated as ‘lost’ when talking about the lost son and lost sheep of Luke chapter 15. So we can see quite easily that the Bible is not talking about extinction but a loss of well being or a loss of that which should have been.
Hades’ is a place where the souls of the dead go to, it is equivalent to Sheol in the Old Testament. Before Christ ascension all the dead went to Hades’ where there was a great gulf, on one side was Paradise where the saints were and on the other side were the lost souls (Luke 16 v 23) who were in torment. After Christ death He first descended into the lower parts of the earth (Acts 2 v 27,31) where Hades’ was, He proclaimed His victory to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3 v 19), then went into Paradise and brought out the saints (Matthew 27 v 52-53), He then ascended on high and brought captivity captive, in other words all the righteous came out of Hades’ and ascended with Him into heaven (Ephesians 4 v 8-10). Paradise also was relocated in the third heaven. Since that time when the righteous die they go to a place reserved in heaven. The unrighteous still go to Hades to await judgment. Now, the bible says that when death goes round claiming who it can, Hades follows it (Rev 6 v 8). This is, it would seem, in order to take the souls of the dead down into its depths. The good news is that it cannot now claim the Christians because Christ has the keys of death and Hades’ so Hades’ has no right over those who have put their trust in Christ, they now go to heaven when they die. Death and Hades’ will one day be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20 v 14-15) along with all those whose names are not found written in the book of life.
The question is, are all those who are unbelievers to suffer eternal punishment or just for a limited period of time? Wuest says there are two Greek words used to describe this punishment, the noun, aion, and the adjective, aionios.
Aion can mean a specific period of time or an unending period of time depending on the context. Often in the word of God, aion is used in a context that can only mean “eternal”.
The meaning of aionios is, everlasting, eternal, eternity.
There are many passages in scripture where both these words are used for the believers eternal life. There are also many passages in scripture where both these words are used to describe the unbelievers time in the lake of fire. In other words it is an eternal punishment.
(See Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 3).
If we see ourselves as just a body then of course when the body dies we no longer exist. If we recognise that scripture says we are more than a body, then, although the body decays we go to a place of waiting for the resurrection of the body (Acts 2 v 31), either at the coming of the Lord for the saints, or at judgement day for the lost. Jesus Christ died for us in order that all who put their trust in Him, whether alive or dead, might live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5 v 10). While we are alive we are with Him, when we die physically our soul/spirit goes to live with Him.
One day our dead bodies will be resurrected, God knows our DNA. For the Christian that day will be when the Lord Jesus returns, our mortal bodies will put on immortality and be like His glorious body. For the unbeliever that day will be at the great white throne of judgment when they stand before God to be judged. After judgment all unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire for eternal punishment.
The Apostle Paul had an experience where he was taken to the third heaven whether out of the body or in the body he wasn’t sure (2 Corinthians 12 v 1-4). However he was convinced that, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1 v 21-24). Paul said it was much better to die and be with the Christ yet it was necessary to remain in the flesh for the sake of others. How can dying be gain if it is obliteration? Paul would be no use to man or God if he went the way of his body, so there is no gain there.
Jesus said that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and He is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matthew 22 v 32). In other words they are living right now. Now their bodies are dead of course, just as the body of David is dead, but they themselves are alive in a place of waiting, a place that according to Paul is “gain”. A place where he would much rather be.
Moses appeared on the mount of transfiguration talking to Jesus. How long had Moses been dead? Yet here he was alive.
When Stephen was martyred the Lord Jesus stood up and Stephen called upon God asking Jesus to receive his spirit. He expected to die and for His spirit to leave his body. Was Stephen deceived? No of course not.
Revelation 6 v 9-11 tells us that the souls of them that had been slain were resting under the altar in heaven (they are possibly the Old Testament saints) waiting for the rest of the martyrs to join them. These saints actually talked with God while they were waiting.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is told by Jesus (this Lazarus is not the same Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha). After they had died, Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom for safe keeping, but when the rich man opened his eyes he was in torment and begged for help but it was too late. To deny that part of us is still conscious after death is making Jesus deceitful. (Luke 16 v 19-31).
When Jesus returns for His bride, He brings with Him those who have fallen asleep in Christ, There bodies are dead but just as the sleeper continues to exist while the body sleeps so too does the Christian exist while his body sleeps in death. When Jesus brings these saints back with Him they are reunited with their sleeping (dead) body. 1 Thessalonians 4 v 13-18.
Scripture does not contradict itself. Scripture must be understood in the light of scripture, so, is Ecclesiastes 9 v 5, when it says ‘the dead know not anything’, contradicting the rest of scripture? No, of course not, it has to be read in the light of scripture and the context that it is written in. Jamieson Fausset and Brown’s, 'Commentary on the Whole Bible', says, “dead not know anything- i.e., so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14 v 21, Isa. 63 v 16); also, they know no door of repentance open to them, such as is to all on the earth. ------ what he is at death he remains forever”.
The dead do not know anything of what is going on in the world. When Ecclesiastes was written all the souls of the dead went to Hades or Sheol as it was then known to the Jews. All that the dead were conscious of was either the torment or the bliss depending what side of the gulf they were on.
Now when the Christians die they go to heaven and are in the presence of the Lord where there is fullness of joy.
By Mark Greenwood. July 2009