(The following article deals with a subject (the state of the dead) which we have not covered since 1998. For a thorough study on this subject please refer to the June and July 1998 issues of Present Truth. We also have these studies in tract form. If you would like to receive them, please contact us and request the tracts entitled “What the Bible Says About Hell” and “The Reward of the Wicked.” Editor)
The long digression through which we have passed on the Sabbath question, should not cause us to forget that the subject still under consideration [In previous lectures by the authors]is the third angel’s message of Revelation 14. We have been led to an examination of the Sabbath question from the fact that that message brings out a class distinguished as commandment-keepers; and we have found that to be thus distinguished we must keep all the commandments of God, besides the faith of Jesus; for while we can be commandment-breakers if we break only one of them, to be commandment-keepers we must keep them all. There being no controversy on any point but the Sabbath, that must be the distinguishing commandment. And such in our investigation we have found it to be; for it is an institution which had its origin in the beginning, and from its very nature must exist without change to the end; and the forth commandment of the decalogue confines us to the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. The great Sabbath reform is borne upon the front of the message; and it is bringing out a people of whom it can truly be said, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
The message also brings to view the punishment of those who reject the message and practice the sins against which it warns us; and this will, therefore, next engage our attention. It says of those who worship the beast and receive his mark, that they “shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation;” and they “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
This is considered one of the strong texts to prove the eternal misery of the lost, and consequently the immortality of the soul. The whole question, therefore, of the nature of man, the condition of the dead, and the destiny of the wicked, comes up for examination.
Is the soul immortal? What saith the Scripture? The word “immortal” occurs but once in the English version of the Scriptures; 1 Timothy 1:17; and there it is applied, not to man nor any part of man, but, to God. The original word, however, from which this comes, aphthartos, occurs seven times in the New Testament; and in the six other instances of its use it is rendered incorruptible, but is never applied to man. Its entire use is as follows, the rendering of the word being in italics:
- Romans 1:23, the glory of the uncorruptible God.
- 1 Corinthians 9:25, crown; but we an incorruptible.
- Chapter 15:52, dead shall be raised incorruptible.
- 1 Timothy 1:17, unto the King, eternal, immortal.
- 1 Peter 1:4, to an inheritance incorruptible.
- Verse 23, incorruptible, by the word of God.
- Chapter 3:4, that which is not corruptible.
It will thus be seen that in Romans 1:23, it is applied to God; in 1 Corinthians 9:25, to the crown of immortality which we seek; in 1 Corinthians 15:52, to the incorruptible bodies we receive in the resurrection; in 1 Peter 1:4, to the future inheritance of the saints; in verse 23; to the principle by which conversion is wrought in us; and in 1 Peter 3:4, to the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which we put on through Christ.
But, although man is nowhere called immortal, is not the equivalent declaration somewhere made that he has immortality? The word immortality occurs in the English Scriptures but five times; but it comes from two words in the Greek; and these occur in the aggregate eleven times. The first of these, athanasia, occurs but three times, and is every time rendered immortality as follows:
- 1 Corinthians 15:53, this mortal must put on immortality.
- Verse 54, shall have put on immortality.
- 1 Timothy 6:16, who only hath immortality.
- In these instances the word is applied to what we are to put on in the resurrection, and to God, who, it is declared, is the only one who by nature hath it. The word, aphtharsia, occurs eight times as follows:
- Romans 2:7, glory and honor and immortality.
- 1 Corinthians 15:42, it is raised incorruption.
- Verse 50, doth corruption inherit incorruption.
- Verse 53, must put on incorruption, and
- Verse 54, shall have put on incorruption.
- Ephesians 6:24, love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
- 2 Timothy 1:10, brought life and immortality to
- Titus 2:7, uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity.
In all these instances it will be seen that the word is not once applied to man, but to that for which we are to seek, to that which we obtain by the resurrection, to our love to Christ, to what Christ has brought to light, and to the doctrine we are to cherish. The way in which these words are used is very significant, and should have great weight in deciding this question.
Soul and Spirit
There is another fact perhaps more stupendous still. The words, soul and spirit, so often in modern theological parlance joined with the words, immortal, deathless, and never-dying, come from two words in the Hebrew, nephesh and ruach, and two corresponding words in Greek, psuche and pneuma; and these words are used in the aggregate in the Old and New Testaments seventeen hundred times, and yet not once are the terms immortal, deathless or never-dying, applied to them, or any other term which would convey the idea of an imperishable nature or continued existence in either the soul or spirit.
But man was made “in the image of God,” Genesis 1:26, therefore, say our popular theologians, he was made immortal. But this image did not consist in immortality any more than it did in omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, or any other attribute of God. It had reference to outward shape and form and certain other personal characteristics; for God is a person and has a form. Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 5:1; Daniel 7:9; Exodus 24:10; 33:20-23. Where the word image is used in a figurative sense, it is applied to something which we do not possess by nature, but which we must put on. Colossians 3:10, explained by Ephesians 4:23, 24.
It is further said that when God created man, he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, or, as it is interpreted, imparted to him a deathless spirit, or immortal nature. Genesis 2:7. But this breath of life cannot denote an immortal soul, unless we admit that immortality is also an attribute of the brute creation; for all animals have the same breath of life. Genesis 7:22. If it be urged that the word life in Genesis 2:7 is plural, “breath of lives,” from which some attempt to argue both the animal life and immortality, we reply that the word is also plural in Genesis 7:22. and in Genesis 2:9.
But man became a “living soul,” which proves that he was endowed with an immortal soul. We answer, not unless we are willing to grant the same to all the lower animals; for they are all called by the same Hebrew terms. In Genesis 1:22-24, the “living creature” is from the same Hebrew words that are translated “living soul” in Genesis 2:7. And in verse 20, the word “life” is from the Hebrew “soul,” margin, and in Revelation 16:3 we read about “living souls” in the sea.
A Departing Soul
Genesis 35:18: “And it came to pass as her soul was in departing; for she died.” The word here rendered soul, nephesh, is sometimes rendered breath, and Parkhurst, the distinguished lexicographer, says that it should be so translated here. A parallel case is found in 1 Kings 17:17-24. “The soul of the child came into him again.” Verse 22. We are told in verse 17 what it was that had left the child. It was his breath; and this, the breath of life, returned, and he lived again.
The Spirit Returns to God
Ecclesiastes 12:7: “The spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Very well, what is this spirit, or what did God give to man? The only record we have of man’s creation says that God gave him the “breath of life.” How could the breath of life go to God? It could go to him in the same sense in which it could come from him. But if we say, according to the popular view, that the spirit goes to God as a separate conscious, intelligent entity, it commits us to the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls; for, on that ground, it must have come from him in the same condition.
The Spirit of Man Goes Upward
Ecclesiastes 3:21: “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” The spirit of man goes upward to God who gave it. Whether the man was the vilest of criminals, or whether he was the most righteous saint, his spirit goes back to God who gave it. Man will live again, hence it is necessary for God to keep the record of what that man was like. A beast, on the other hand, will not live again, so his spirit goes down to the earth, never to be revived.
Samuel and the Witch of Endor
1 Samuel 28:3-20. It was not Samuel’s immortal soul which appeared on this occasion; because it was an old man covered with a mantle that came up; and immortal souls are not of that age or form, nor clothed in that manner. Again this old man came up out of the earth, but immortal souls are not down there, they’re up in Heaven, we are told. Moreover it is not probable that God, having prohibited necromancy, this pretended communication with the dead, and having forsaken Saul so that he would not answer him by prophets, nor in any legitimate way, should now permit this abandoned woman to summon at will the soul of his servant Samuel from the upper sphere. The whole transaction was simply a piece of ancient spiritism, Satanic deception played off upon God-forsaken Saul.
Man Cannot Kill the Soul
Matthew 10:28: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Because the term soul is used here, and it is said that it cannot be killed, the conclusion is at once drawn that here is an immortal part of man that lives right on in death. But this text is conclusive against the immortality of the soul, whatever it is, in as much as it is a declaration that God will destroy in hell the souls of all those who do not fear and serve him. And it does not necessarily prove an intermediate conscious state; for the word soul here is from psuche, which is forty times rendered life in the New Testament, and the word to kill, may be rendered to destroy. Now what has the Christian which man cannot destroy? man can destroy the body, he can deprive us of our life here; but he cannot deprive us of our future life, which we have by the promise of the Son of God. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:11. “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3. This life man cannot touch this soul they cannot destroy.
Matthew 10:28, furnishes an excellent comment on Matthew 10:39. Thus, “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” The word here rendered life is psuche, the same that is rendered soul in verse 28. He that findeth his psuche, life, shall lose his psuche, life. What does this mean? Simply this: He that seeks, at the expense of truth and moral integrity, to save his life, psuche, here shall lose his life, psuche, in the world to come; but he who is willing to lose his life, psuche, here, willing that men should destroy it, for the sake of Christ and his truth, shall find his life, psuche, in the world to come. Here is the psuche, life, soul, which man cannot destroy, and therefore we are not to fear him, for our present life is of no account compared with the eternal life of Heaven: but God can deprive us of this future life, and him we are therefore to fear, instead of fearing men. There is therefore no conscious state brought to view here between death and the resurrection.
Matthew 17:1-9. On the mount of transfiguration Moses and Elias appeared with Christ. Moses had died hundreds of years before this; hence it is claimed here was his immortal soul. But this will not do; for this was a representation of the kingdom of God, 2 Peter 1:16-18, and there will be no disembodied immortal souls there. We claim that Moses had been raised from the dead, and was there in his resurrected body, as a representative of all those who will be raised from the dead, as Elias was a representative of those who will be translated without seeing death. Dr. Clarke, and other commentators, admit this. The allusion to the body of Moses in Jude 9, proves this. The only objection to it is that Christ was to be the first to rise from the dead.
In the 88th Psalm, we read concerning Christ that He was “free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.” (Psalm 88:5) Christ was counted with the transgressors whom the LORD remembers no more. This can only be those who suffer the “second death;” those who will be as though they had not been. (Obadiah 16) Christ is called the “first begotten of the dead.” (Revelation 1:5) Was Christ the first one who was raised from the dead? No! Moses was raised from the dead long before Christ and so was Lazarus and many others. The only way I can understand this verse is that Christ was the first, and only one who was raised after suffering the“second death.”
The scene of the transfiguration to be accounted for, demands the resurrection of Moses. And the objections all being removed, that hypothesis stands.
Christ and the Sadducees
Matthew 22:23-32: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” From this it is claimed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, though their bodies had been laid in the grave ages before, were still alive when Christ spoke these words, and it must have been as disembodied spirits in the spirit world. But hold on a moment, this was not the point under discussion. The question up for discussion was the resurrection which Christ taught and the Sadducees denied. They bring up the case of the woman who had had seven husbands, and inquire whose wife she shall be (not whose wife she now is in the spirit world, but whose she shall be) in the resurrection when she is raised, and all the seven men who had been her husbands here, are raised also.
Christ first nullifies their objection by telling them that in the resurrection we are raised to a higher state of being, and the marriage relation no longer exists. Then he appeals to a source of authority which they acknowledged, the writing of Moses, to show that their doctrine of no resurrection, and consequently no future existence, was contrary to their own scriptures. “But as touching the resurrection of the dead [that is, that the dead will be raised, which you deny] have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” These words are found in Exodus 3:6; and let it be marked that they were not spoken while Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were living, but to Moses, long after they were dead. Now if they were forever dead, as the Sadducees believed, then God called himself the God of something which did not exist, which would be an impeachment of his wisdom and power. But if they were to have a resurrection and future existence, God could still call himself their God; for he to whom both past and future are an eternal present, can speak of “those things that are not” (but are to be) “as though they were.” Romans 4:17. These words of God respecting Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were therefore, under the circumstances, conclusive proof that they will live again; and if they, then all the righteous dead; and hence the doctrine of Christ against the Sadducees was maintained. But no conscious intermediate state is here taught.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Luke 16:19-31: “The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.” With the utmost confidence it is claimed that this was the rich man’s soul; but the narrative says nothing about his soul. The word rendered “hell” is hades, but hades is not the place of punishment, not the hell, gehenna, of the wicked. It is simply the place of the dead, where all alike go, both righteous and wicked. The narrative says nothing about the soul of Lazarus, but says that he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. When do the angels carry the saints into the kingdom of God? At the second coming of Christ, but not before. As literal events, this scene must have its location beyond the resurrection, and hence prove nothing respecting the intermediate state. But if it is not a literal narrative, it is simply a parable; and then it proves nothing for consciousness in death; for in a parable language is used figuratively, and life and intelligence are attributed to inanimate objects; and no doctrine can be based on parables; it must have the most literal and explicit language.
The narrative of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable; for it stands in connection with a notable list of narratives which are all acknowledged to be parables. Its object was to rebuke the Pharisees for their covetousness, verse 14, and to correct their false idea, that riches in this world were a mark of God’s favor, and a sure passport to bliss hereafter. And having represented the rich man as awaking from his terrible delusion, and desiring that his brethren might be informed, it is shown that Abraham does not send one raised from the dead to instruct them, but refers them to Moses and the prophets. While the Jews were thus referred to Moses and the prophets more especially in reference to future reward and punishment, modern theology needs to go to Moses and the prophets for instruction respecting the place, hades, where this scene is located.
What have these inspired writers told us about hades, and the condition of those who go there? The word in Hebrew which corresponds to the Greek word hades, and means the same thing, is sheol. This word is used sixty-five times in the Old Testament, and is translated hell and grave thirty-one times each, and pit three times; and we are taught respecting it, 1) That all alike go there. Numbers 16:30, 33; Psalm 89:48. 2) That the whole man goes there. Genesis 42:38; Psalm 30:2, 3; Acts 2:27, 31. 3) That it holds dominion till the second coming of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. 4) That it is located in the earth beneath. Ezekiel 31:15-18. 5) That the righteous dead do not praise the Lord there. Psalm 6:5; 146:1-4; Isaiah 38:10-19. 6) That the wicked are all silent there. Psalm 31:17; 1 Samuel 2:9. 7) That it is a place of silence, secrecy, sleep, rest, darkness, corruption and worms, in which there is no work, device, wisdom or knowledge. Job 4:11-19; 17:13-16; Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 10.
We have also in the Old Testament, representations precisely similar to this in Luke 16, respecting the inhabitants of sheol. Multitudes who have gone down to the grave through the oppression of tyrannical kings, are represented as lying with their swords under their heads, and worms covering them, and yet as rising up and paying mock obeisance to their oppressors when they come into sheol, and taunting them with becoming weak as themselves. See the address to the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:9-11, and the lamentation for Egypt in Ezekiel 32:18-32. So in the case of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man in hades, where, as they were fully instructed, there was no knowledge, consciousness, nor life, is nevertheless represented by the figure of personification, as living and acting as there represented. And the object was to show that the next state of being after the present (passing over the intermediate unconscious state) will be one of torment and suffering to the ungodly, covetous rich man, but one of happiness and bliss to the righteous poor. With the language of the Old Testament before them respecting sheol, and the parables respecting the kings of Babylon and Egypt, the Jews would readily understand it. It was not given to show the nature of hades, nor the condition of those who go there, and hence is not to be used for that purpose.
The Thief on the Cross
Luke 23:39-43 is supposed to contain another strong proof of the conscious state of the dead, in the words of Christ to the thief on the cross. The thief’s request was, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” To which Christ made answer, “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” How could the thief be with Christ in paradise that day, it is triumphantly asked, unless by means of a disembodied conscious spirit? If he was to be with him in paradise that very day, it must have been in the form of an immortal soul, unless he had been raised from the dead, or been translated. But there is a strong objection to the common view of this matter. That is that Christ did not go to paradise that day. When this proposition is established it destroys entirely the popular view of the passage; and we know that Christ did not go to paradise that day; because he told Mary, on the day of his resurrection, three days after his crucifixion, that he had not yet ascended to his Father. But where his Father was there was paradise. 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; Revelation 2:7; 22:1, 2. He had not therefore at that time been to paradise; and consequently the thief could not have been with him in paradise on the day of his crucifixion.
If, then, the Lord did not go to paradise that day, how can the passage be explained? Place the comma after to-day, instead of before it, and all is clear. With this change, Christ does not say to him that he shall be with him that day in paradise, but he simply says to him that day that he shall be with him in paradise when he comes in his kingdom, and this is just what the thief requested. As to the punctuation, we have a right to make this change, if the sense demands it; for the punctuation of the Bible is but the work of men and of comparatively recent origin, the comma in its present form not having been invented till the year 1790. A parallel expression is found in Zechariah 9:12. Some Greek manuscripts, according to Griesbach, place the comma after to-day, in Luke 23:43. Thus punctuated it is consistent with itself and with other scriptures.
Absent from the Body
In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul says: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather, to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” This text is urged with great assurance as proving a conscious intermediate state. But the essential point in the argument is lacking; for Paul does not say that we are present with the Lord just as soon as we leave the body. Granting that by absence from the body he means our condition in death, he does not tell us how long it is after we are thus absent from the body that we are present with the Lord. The first part of the chapter explains this verse. In our earthly house of this tabernacle, in this present mortal state, we groan, desiring, not to be unclothed, as we are in death, but to be clothed upon with our house from Heaven, or to reach the eternal immortal state promised to the believer. And when we reach this, “mortality is swallowed up of life.” Verse 4. But when is mortality swallowed up of life? When all that there is mortal is made immortal. Paul had written to the Corinthian church very plainly on this subject in his first epistle. He had spoken about this mortal being made immortal, and this corruptible being made incorruptible, which is the same thing as mortality being swallowed up of life. And when is this? Not when we die, but at the last trump, when Christ appears, and the dead are raised. 1 Corinthians 15:52-55. Then is the time when we are present with the Lord, not before, nor by any other means. John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
In the Body and Out
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul speaks of a man, “in the body or out,” he could not tell which, caught up to paradise, &c. Here, it is said, such a condition is recognized as “out of the body.” Very well, what does it mean? Believers in the immortality of the soul say that it means that the soul or spirit is separated from the body. But what condition is a person then in? According to popular theology, the person is dead when he is out of the body; for the separation of soul and body is death. Now what is Paul’s subject? Visions. Verse 1. He here describes the visions with which he had been favored; and while he was in vision he did not know whether he was in the body or out. If he was out of the body, according to our friends, he was dead; and when he came into the body again he had a resurrection. Do they believe that Paul, when he had a vision, died, and was raised from the dead when he came out of vision, or that he designed to teach that such a condition of things was possible? They must accept this absurdity, or surrender this text.
Departing and Being with Christ
Philippians 1:21-24: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.” The only way in which this text can be made to do service in behalf of the conscious intermediate state is to connect the being with Christ immediately with the departing. But Paul does not so connect them. The next thing of which the person is conscious after departing is being with Christ. But this does not preclude the idea that a long space might be passed over in unconsciousness. And such a period the apostle would of necessity pass over in silence, as it is an utter blank to the individual, and the change from one state to the other seems to him to be instantaneous. Bishop Law says: “The Scriptures, in speaking of the connection between our present and future being, do not take into the account, our intermediate state in death; no more than we, in describing the course of any man’s actions take into account the time he sleeps. Therefore the Scriptures (to be consistent with themselves) must affirm an immediate connection between death and the Judgment.”
Paul has in other places told us very definitely when we go to be with Christ. Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 11:39, 40. His testimony in Philippians 1:23, must not therefore be interpreted in such a way as to contradict these statements. Hence it cannot be used in support of the theory of the conscious intermediate state.
Spirits of Just Men Made Perfect
Paul uses this expression in Hebrews 12:23; and this is supposed by some to be a confirmation of the idea of the separate conscious existence of the spirit of man. But Paul speaks of no such thing. He does not speak of spirits made perfect, but of men made perfect. And when are men made perfect? If we take it in the absolute sense, it is not till after the resurrection, when the body is redeemed, and mortality is clothed with immortality. Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2. If it is in an accommodated sense, then it must refer to the perfection of Christian character we are able to acquire under the gospel, through the offering of Christ. Many, following Dr. Clarke, think it refers to this, as Paul is here setting forth the superiority of the blessings and advantages we enjoy under the gospel, over those enjoyed under the former dispensation. But in either case this scripture would have no bearing on the question of consciousness in death. It is either fulfilled entirely in the present state, or it has its application beyond the resurrection.
The Spirits in Prison
1 Peter 3:19: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” This is supposed to be a strong text in favor of the intermediate conscious state of the dead; for here were spirits in prison, supposed to mean in the grave, or in death and they must have been conscious and intelligent, because they were preached to. We inquire who these spirits were? The following verse says: “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.”
The persons meant by the word spirits are therefore the wicked antediluvians (before the flood). But what is meant by their being in prison? In Isaiah 61:1 is found a prophecy concerning the work of Christ, and it is said that he should proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. This prophecy is quoted by our Lord himself in Luke 4:18 and an application made of it to his own work. The situation of the antediluvians while Noah was preaching to them was similar to that of those to whom Christ preached. They were in darkness and error and under the condemnation of death. Therefore the antediluvians may likewise have been said to be in prison, while Noah was preaching to them.
We inquire further who it was that preached to these spirits? It was Christ. When did he preach? In the days of Noah while the ark was preparing. Through whom did he preach? Through Noah. Dr. Adam Clarke takes the same view of this passage, that the preaching was done by the spirit of Christ in Noah. It therefore has no bearing upon this question of the intermediate state of the dead.
If it be supposed that the term “in prison” means that they are dead, there is another way to look at this verse. Peter wrote that Christ “preached [past tense] unto the spirits in [present tense] prison.” It is obvious that Jesus preached to these people through Noah (1 Peter 1:11). The preaching was done long ago while Noah was still alive. There is nothing in the verse that requires that these antediluvians were being preached to while they were in prison, but they were preached to in the past, while they were still alive, but they are now in prison, or dead.
There are some absurdities connected with the common view which deserve to be noticed. If these spirits were the spirits of the wicked antediluvians, and the preaching was done by the spirit of Christ while his body lay in the grave, these spirits were then in hell; and we inquire, Why should the spirit of Christ go down into hell to preach to the antediluvians? Could they be benefitted by it? Here is a difficulty which popular theologians are not able to solve.
But further, before the preaching is spoken of, the quickening or resurrection of Christ is brought to view, verse 18, therefore it could not have been by the disembodied spirit of Christ that this preaching was done while he lay in the grave.
The Souls Under the Altar
Revelation 6:9: “And when he had opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for their testimony which they held.” Here it is claimed are souls brought to view in a disembodied state, conscious, and active, crying unto God for vengeance. These souls were seen under the altar. What altar? Evidently the altar of sacrifice where they were slain. Is there such an altar as that in Heaven? and are the saints there shut up under such altar? Dr. Clarke says this altar was upon the earth, and that these souls were the victims of papal persecution; and they are represented as having fallen down by the altar where they were slain. But if they are not conscious in Heaven, it is asked, how could they cry to God for vengeance? We answer, By the figure of personification, just as Abel’s blood is represented as crying to God, or the stone out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber, spoken of by Habakkuk 2:11, or as the wages of the laborers spoken of by James 5:4.
These souls cried for their blood to be avenged; but do immortal souls have blood? And who were those upon whom they called for vengeance? Their persecutors. And where were these persecutors? If dead, according to the popular view, they were in hell. And as that view further represents, they were right before the face and eyes of those saints in Heaven. This, it is claimed is taught by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. How then could they call for vengeance upon them? Was it not vengeance enough for them to be tormented in the flames of hell? How amiable does this make these righteous souls appear! And if we say that those persecutors were not then dead, in the natural course of thing they would soon be in hell, tormented, it would seem, as fiercely as any one could wish. Such is the absurdity that is attached to the popular view of this text.
But how, it is asked further, could white robes be given unto them? These could not have been given them until after their judgment, which takes place after their death. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. We find, therefore, in this testimony no evidence for the doctrine of the conscious state of the dead.
In Revelation 19:10 and 22:9 John fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who was employed in giving him his revelation. In restraining him, the angel said, “See that thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant and of thy brethren, the prophets.” Here it is claimed that the angel asserted that he was one of the old prophets, of course communicating with John in his disembodied state. But the angel does not say this. He says simply, “I am thy fellow servant and the fellow servant of thy brethren, the prophets.” He had been employed in imparting divine revelations as he was now doing to John.
“Gathered to his People”
We notice one more text that is supposed to teach the conscious intermediate state of the dead. Genesis 25:8: “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” It is said that Abraham was not buried where his fathers were buried, therefore, this could not apply to his body, but it must be that his spirit went to be with the spirits of his fathers in the spirit world. We therefore inquire where his fathers were? We learn from Joshua 24:2 that his fathers were idolaters and died such. They were, consequently, according to the popular view, in hell. Now if the spirit of Abraham went to be with the spirits of his fathers, he went, according to this view, inevitably to hell. But the theory which leads to such absurdity must be abandoned. We have a parallel expression in the case of David. Paul says in Acts 13:36, that David was laid unto his fathers—which of course means the same as being gathered to his people; but Paul continues—after he was thus gathered unto his fathers, he saw corruption. This explodes the idea of the conscious existence of the soul in the spirit world. ?
(This article was taken from a series of lectures delivered at the Biblical Institute, held by Elders James White and Uriah Smith, in Oakland, California, April 1-17, 1877. These lectures were printed in a book entitled, The Biblical Institute, written by James White and Uriah Smith. This particular article was taken from pages 174-200 of this book and has been edited for printing inPresent Truth. A few short sections have been deleted and some have been added. This article lays the groundwork for the next article entitled, “The Destiny of the Wicked.” Editor)