We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Monday, March 27, 2017

Where Do We Go When We Die?

Many teachings about where we go when dead can be totally unbiblical, including the ideas of “soul sleep” and annihilation, as promoted by cults such as the Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as by many individual false teachers.  Along with these teachings is usually the claim that there is no hell (as the place of eternal torment and separation from God).

If the scripture tells us the abode of the soul after death, that it is still conscious and aware, then the idea of the soul sleeping until resurrection is proven wrong, as is the idea that the souls of unbelievers are annihilated.  One could actually write a whole book on the topic in order to cover what the Bible says about the grave, the afterlife before and after Christ, etc, but here I can only highlight the most important and concise arguments against the “anti-Hell”, “soul sleep” and “annihilation” teachings.

As an opening thought, I want to address one of the main passages used to “prove” soul sleep, Ecclesiastes 9:5:  For the living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything.  There is no longer a reward for them because the memory of them is forgotten.

So what is the context, and what does it mean?  Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon to teach things he had learned about life in general, and is not a doctrinal treatise.  He is explaining things from the perspective of humans on earth.  The overall passage which includes this verse is about the futility of life’s striving, and that we all know that we will die.  After we die there is nothing more to know about life, and our earthly rewards are finished.  The memory of the dead by the living is forgotten.  So let’s not twist this into claiming that the soul is asleep at death — the soul isn’t even the context.

First we have to understand that the soul is immortal, whether it is the soul of an unbeliever or of a believer, and it survives death in a conscious state.

2 Sam.12:23 David speaks of his dead child and how he will know him after death when he joins him.

Matt. 10:28 says, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  This a plain statement that the soul is separate from the body and does not die with it.

Luke 16:19-31 is a story where Jesus discusses conversations by people who are dead.

Philippians 2:10:  "under the earth" are the dead, and they are worshiping Jesus so they MUST be conscious.

Rev. 6:9-10 John sees the souls of those slain for their faith in Christ, and they are crying out asking God how long it will be before He judges and avenges their blood.

Another point to make is that very often in the New Testament a believer is said to be asleep rather than dead.  In context it is plain that it is not talking of literal sleep, rather it is speaking of the hope that a Christian has of the soul and body being reunited at the resurrection.  In Acts 7:59 Steven asked the Lord to receive his spirt and his body was said to fall asleep, demonstrating the separation of body and soul.

So let’s see what the Scripture actually says about the soul after death, starting with what it says about believers.

Luke 23:42-43:  The criminal hanging on a cross next to Jesus asks Jesus to remember him when He comes in His kingdom.  Jesus told that “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  TODAY, the day he dies, his soul will be with Jesus.

Acts 7:59: As noted above, Steven’s spirit (soul) went to be with Christ.

2 Cor. 5:8:  Paul says that to be out of the body [i.e. dead physically] is to be at home with the Lord.

Php.1:23: Paul says his desire is to depart [die] and be with Christ.

1 Thes. 4:14  Jesus will return with those who have “fallen asleep through Jesus [died as believers],” meaning their souls have been with Him since death.

Where do the souls of unbelievers go after death?

Daniel 12:1-2 says that some will be raised to “eternal life, and some to shame and eternal contempt.”

Matt: 10:28:  As noted above, they go to hell.

Matt. 18:6-9, discusses the contrasts of doing away with what brings temptation rather than being punished with eternal fire of hell.

Matthew 25:46 compares eternal punishment with eternal life.  If the evil are annihilated, then how can they be eternally punished?

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, like Matthew, says the unbelievers will be punished with "everlasting punishment," but if the dead are annihilated, how can they be eternally punished?

Jude 7:  In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Rev. 14:9-11 tells of the eternal torment of those who have rejected God by worshiping the beast.

The Bible teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment on the day of judgement (Matt. 10:15, 11:21-24, 16:27; Lk. 12:47-48; Jn 15:22; Heb. 10:29; Rev. 20:11-15, 22;12, et al).  The fact that people will suffer varying degrees of punishment in hell proves annihilation is not possible by Scripture.

Many more passages may be brought to bear but, in order to keep this article fairly concise, we will leave with the subject with the following:

If the unbeliever just ceases to exist, then one of two things have happened:
1.  God's wrath has been satisfied
2.  God's wrath has not been satisfied.

If God's wrath has been satisfied, then it would be unjust to terminate the unbeliever's life.
If God's wrath has not been satisfied, then it would be unjust to terminate punishment.


Anonymous said...

Well explained.


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that hell is being prepared 'for the devil and his angels' - it not being God's intention that human beings should ever end up there. Nevertheless, it is the final destination of unbelievers, but only after the final judgment. It would not therefore be strictly true to say that anyone 'goes to hell when they die'.

I remember the late John Stott being given grief for arguing for the possibility of annihilation, though the article I read by him set out the strengths and weaknesses of both this and the traditional interpretation. If the former were true, it would be no less eternal in its consequences.

Personally, I wonder if man being created in the image of God means the human spirit, separated from the body at death, is indestructable as its creator is indestructable, and therefore will continue to exist separated from God, having reaped what it has sown by loving wickedness and hating righteousness. This is apart from those scriptures that do indicate a continued conscious existence.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Strictly speaking, I agree that the unbeliever's soul does not go to hell at death, rather it is in "torments," the name of the "chamber" opposite of "paradise," both being the holding place of the dead prior to the Resurrection when Christ took the souls from paradise to eternal life.

I also agree that our soul, as part of the human spirit, is indestructible at death, since God created it for immortality.

Annihilation would actually have no eternal consequences -- you just cease to exist with no punishment. That's the point of the end of this article; to show the injustice of annihilation.

Jesse said...

I wonder what Glenn thinks of this article?:


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Glenn says that has been discussed by theologians, to my knowledge, only in recent centuries due to heretics wanting to fix the Bible to support their ideology.