Chapter 31: Of the State of Man after Death and Of the Resurrection of the Dead
This chapter concerns itself with eschatology, which is the doctrine of the last things. It discusses questions concerning what happens after we die, the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and the resurrection of the just and unjust.
I hold to the Amillennial view of eschatology, therefore what is written here will reflect that eschatology. Basically, Amillennialism teaches that the thousand years of Revelation 20 are symbolic for the whole time between Christ's Ascension and Second Coming. When He comes that will be the end of everything. The rapture, general resurrection and final judgment will take place, then God will usher in the World to Come. There are neither multiple resurrections nor multiple judgments. There are no 7 years of Great Tribulation. There are no two peoples of God, Israel and the Church. Rather, the Church is the Israel of God. The promises of restoration and blessing pertain not to the Fallen World, but to the World to Come. We do not believe that the Bible teaches a golden age on this Fallen Earth.
In paragraphs 2-3 there is a case for Amillennial eschatology and a critique of Premillennialism throughout the sections.
§1 The Intermediate State
- The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; 1 but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. 2 The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; 3 and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day; 4 besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
- Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Acts 13:36; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22
- Gen. 2:7; James 2:26; Matt. 10:28; Eccles. 12:7
- Ps. 23:6; 1 Kings 8:27-49; Isa. 63:15; 66:1; Luke 23:43; Acts 1:9-11; 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; 12:2-4; Eph. 4:10; Phil. 1:21-23; Heb. 1:3,4:14-15; 6:20; 8:1; 9:24; 12:23; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:13; 20:4-6
- Luke 16:22-26; Acts 1:25; 1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:9
The body returns to the dust from whence it came, but the souls are immortal from the time they begin to exist; they cannot just disappear and go out of existence. They will exist without body in heaven or Hades until Christ comes to end the world and bring in the New Heavens and New Earth. The elect then will receive a glorious body like that of Jesus and enjoy endless fellowship with the God Triune, while the reprobates will receive physical bodies just to be tormented in the lake of fire.
The Intermediate State describes the time between death and the resurrection of the body, this includes a discussion of the immortality of the soul, heaven and Hades.
The Immortality Of The Soul
While people are buried and their bodies return to the dust from whence they came, their souls do not cease to exist, they are immortal. While the body decomposes and returns to dust, the soul of man lives evermore. It is important to define the usage of the word “immortal” and “immortality” here. This immortality which the souls of men and angels possess is obviously not like the essential immortality of God. In 1 Timothy 6:16 we read that God “alone has immortality”. This speaks about God essentially and by nature having immortality. He ever was and ever will be immortal, i.e., undying. Albert Barnes noted on that passage that God has immortality “by his very nature, and it is in his case underived, and he cannot be deprived of it. It is one of the essential attributes of his being, that he will always exist, and that death cannot reach him”. But this word is often used in reference to men and angels, so what does it mean? It means that the souls of men and angels are undying from the moment that they come to exist. It means that the soul of man does not simply decompose or disappear after death, like the physical body does. Rather, the soul is unable to die, because God designed it to be so. There is no “must-ness” that the souls of man or of angels be immortal except that God had willed them to be so. It is not essential, as it is in the case of God, that our souls be immortal. Rather, this immortality is derived from God and is dependent upon His power. Louis Berkhof writes, ‘the word “immortality” designates, especially in eschatological language, that state of man in which he is impervious to death and cannot possibly become its prey.’ The word “immortal”, though it may be controversial to some, is used simply to indicate that the souls of men “neither die nor sleep”, while their bodies sure do until the resurrection.
While the Bible does not have a statement saying “the soul of man is immortal,” it very much, I believe, assumes and does not question it. For example, had the Fall not taken place, man would have lived forever in body and soul, but the Fall brought physical death to the body, yet it did not destroy the soul of man. The soul of man remained, but now in enmity with God, no longer walking in fellowship and peace with Him. Death is said to have come because of sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). Therefore, if sin had not come there would be no death. Notice that we're speaking here not only of the immortality of the soul, but of the body. If the Fall had not taken place and the time of probation was passed, then man would have been immortal in body and soul. Yet as it is, man did fall and bring spiritual and physical death into the world, yet this death is never spoken of in terms of the cessation of the existence of the soul. The Bible again and again assumes the immortality of the soul. To say that death existed prior to the Fall is to insult God and His declaration that His creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It is to make death, which is any enemy (1Cor. 15:26), a friend. Death presupposes sin, but there was no sin prior to the Fall, therefore, there was no death. This means that if man had passed the time of probation, he would have eat from the tree of life and lived forever in body and soul. This means that God's original design was for man to be immortal in both body and soul.
The immortality of the soul is also assumed when the Bible speaks of eternal punishment or bliss (e.g. Matt. 25:46; see also chapter 32). For how can a person be eternally punished or be eternally in bliss if their soul is not immortal? Christians are said explicitly to “put on immortality” at the resurrection (1Cor. 15:53-54). Our souls will be united to our glorified and immortal physical bodies. At that time, not only will our souls be immortal, but our glorified bodies will likewise be immortal and perfect. The immortality of the soul is likewise assumed when the Bible teaches about the resurrection of the dead (e.g. Acts 24:15). The souls of men do not go out of existence once they die, but they wait either in heaven or in Hades to their final fate.
Death brings the separation between body and soul/spirit. As we noted above, death would have not come if man did not sin. Death exists because of sin. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that “death is the wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23; 5:12). Therefore, had there been no sin, there would not have been death. The Bible speaks in various ways about death. Sometimes it is said to be the termination of life (Matt. 2:20; Mark 3:4; Acts 15:26; 20:24; the word ψυχή [psoo-khay] being the word also for soul). Other times it is spoken in terms of separation of the spirit from the body (Eccl. 12:7; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; Jas. 2:26). Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. The physical body of man decomposes and returns to the dust from whence it came, yet his spirit/soul returns to the God who gave it. The soul of man does not cease to exist and decompose, rather goes either into bliss or into doom.
The Bible speaks of death in terms of sleep. In the beginning this may seem to support the idea that the souls of men are unconscious until the resurrection and the judgment, but this is not the way that Scripture uses this word. Rather, I believe that when used in connection to death, sleep means death. But, why use this word if it is directly synonymous? Well, sleep is not exactly synonymous to death. When a man sleeps we assume that at sometime he will awake, otherwise we will say that he's in a coma, dead or something else. This means that the idea of sleep in connection to death, assumes the idea that the one sleeping will one day awake. In other words, when the Bible speaks of people's death in terms of sleep, it assumes and it communicates thereby, that they will one day be raised. For example, in the resurrection of Lazarus we have our Lord telling His disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has f...