What Happens at Death to the Soul



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  • What Happens at Death to the Soul

    With your knowledge of the word pastor, what happens at death to the soul?

  • #2
    That question could entail a long and complex series of discussions. I will attempt to encapsulate it with some generalizations along with discussing faiths that deviate from the biblical counsel on the subject.

    "Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken." Ecclesiastes 12:6
    The general break-up of life is here delineated. From my long study of OBE (out of body) and NDE (near death experiences). The cord is what we should call the thread of life, on which hangs the body lit by the animating soul; when the connection between these is severed, the latter perishes, like a fallen lamp lying crushed on the ground. In this our view the cord is the living power which keeps the corporeal substance from failing to ruin; the bowl is the body itself thus upheld. The mention of gold and silver is introduced to denote the preciousness of man's life and nature.

    As long as the silver cord of life remains intact between the corporal body and the soul, return is possible. However when the body is exhausted, the soul moves swiftly out, breaking the silver cord rendering separation complete. The "bowl" (gullah) is the reservoir of oil in a lamp (see Zechariah 4:3, 4), which supplies nourishment to the flame; when this is broken or damaged so as to be useless, the light, of course, is extinguished.

    First, for the believer in Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that after death believers’ souls/spirits are taken to heaven, because their sins are forgiven by having received Christ as Savior (John 3:16, 18, 36). Paul seemed certain that after he died he would be present with the Lord. To be present with someone obviously means that they would have to be with them. Paul says to be absent from the body (dead) is in the next moment to be “present with the Lord.” In 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8 Paul wrote that, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

    At the resurrection of believers, the physical body is resurrected, glorified, and then reunited with the soul/spirit. This reunited and glorified body-soul-spirit will be the possession of believers for eternity in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21-22).

    Unbelievers are sent immediately to a temporary holding place, to await their final resurrection, judgment, and eternal destiny. After this temporary realm, at the final resurrection, a person’s eternal destiny will not change. The precise “location” of that eternal destiny is what changes. We read of Lazarus in Luke 16:24, "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom." He was in a temporal hell, a place of waiting.

    We read in Rev. 6:9-11 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been." Here, believers faithful unto death were being retained in a temporary place, paradise as the Lord called it when mentioned to the thief. Therefore, after death, a person resides in a “temporary” heaven or hell. Heaven cannot be fully realized as we do not yet have our immortal bodies as Jesus experienced at the resurrection, the first soul immortalized with a glorified body.

    False Teachings About the Soul

    To go beyond the teaching of scripture, there are groups that promote the false idea of a “soul sleep” or Christian mortalism. Since the phrases "soul sleep" or "soul death" does not occur either in the Bible or in early Anabaptist materials, an explanation is required for the origin of the term. Historically the term psychopannychism was also used, despite problems with the etymology.

    When the Bible mentions that they slept with their fathers or they had fallen asleep, that meant that they were dead…but not gone (John 11:1-14). When the Bible describes a person “sleeping” in relation to death (Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6), it does not mean literal sleep. Sleeping is just a way to describe death because a dead body appears to be asleep. Present-day defenders of soul sleep include the Seventh Day Adventist church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Church of God (Seventh Day), Worldwide Church of God and other splinter groups. Christadelphian's deny the existence of hell and they hold to what is called conditional immortality, as do the Seventh Day Adventists. What these groups do, who deny an immortal existence either with the Lord or in punishment in the hereafter, end up camping on the Old Testament Scriptures to prove their points.

    One proof scripture often used is Daniel 12:2, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt." The word for sleep here is not the same as one sleeping in everyday use. yashen ( from 3462; sleepy: KJV-- asleep, (one out of) sleep slept. One is hard pressed to make a case for souls sleep even from the old Testament, certainly it cannot be done from the New Testament that reveals much more on man's state after he dies. Does the believer wake up in the resurrection? Is he put back in an immortal physical body? Yes, he is, yet, we never see an example of a spirit resurrected because it does not die like the body. The term resurrection only applies to the body, not the soul.

    John the Deacon (eleventh century) attacked those who "dare to say that praying to the saints is like shouting in the ears of the deaf, as if they had drunk from the mythical waters of Oblivion." The debate has raged on for centuries, and the value of the argument is moot whereas the real definition that a Christian must contend is the solidarity of their soul under the blood of Christ. Rather a person's soul sleeps, floats or has awareness after death is not a cardinal doctrine that merits dissension.


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