Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Where did the souls of OT saints exist after they died, before the redemptive work of Christ?

UPDATED: Check out the new chart at the bottom, helpfully systematizing the Bible's presentation of the afterlife, which was created by my friend Jerry Dorris.

[I once discussed the titular question of this post with a fellow teacher at Sayers Classical Academy, because it was posed by one of her students; it was a blessing to work at a school where such questions are considered by fifth and sixth grade students.]


As with some other important subjects- such as the Trinity, the nature of Satan, etc.- the state of souls after death is a matter that is much more clearly explained in the New Testament than the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the common term for the realm of the dead is "Sheol." This word seems to simply mean, "realm of the dead." The references to Sheol in the Old Testament do not give readers much indication of the nature of the realm of the dead, but are indicative of the idea that personality does not cease at death: that identity carries on into an afterlife.

Sheol Is Divided

In the New Testament account, we get some important information in terms of the state of affairs regarding the afterlife in the Old Testament era (the New Testament era not being inaugurated until the passion of Christ: see Luke 22:20). In the Parable of Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus pictures the afterlife as being divided between a place of joyful rest and a place of sorrowful torment, with a wide gulf set between these realms.

What has changed in the New Testament era?

Old Testament/New Testament: what's the difference for souls in the afterlife? Certainly, the saints on earth in the New Testament era- even into the present day- have a clearer view of our hope for life after death. We have heard and read the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43 ESV). We have read the Apostle's words that: "[T]o be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:8). Even the saints who had been in the afterlife from Old Testament times may have received a clearer view of God's redemptive plan upon the completion of Christ's work of salvation. At very least, saints who had been in the afterlife from ancient days would certainly have experienced great joy and celebration as Jesus faithfully endured the Cross, rose from the dead as the conqueror of sin, death and Hell, and then took His rightful place "at the right hand of the throne of God" (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It seems reasonable to suppose that those who died in the Old Testament era came either into an experience of increasing joy or increasing sorrow following the work of Christ.

A Future Hope and Warning

One day, the full number of God's elect sheep will have been gathered into the fold by the Good Shepherd (see John 10:16). One day, all of those "who have been predestined to be conformed to the image of [God's] Son" (cf. Romans 8:29) will have come to trust in Him. On that day, the Author of history will again step back onto the stage, descending in the way He ascended (see Acts 1:11). All of the dead will be resurrected and judged: those who are righteous in Christ- who have their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life- will experience the unparalleled joy of the "New Heaven and New Earth;" those who are outside of Christ- who are yet dead in their sins- will be condemned by their wicked deeds and will experience the unimaginable torment of the Lake of Fire (see Revelation 20-21).

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Blogger Tommy Jones said...

1. Eternity

Meaning no disrespect to the conclusions drawn here from the words written by the authors of the books of the bible, I always wonder about the possibility of humans having a greater capacity for thinking about, understanding, and explaining ideas about the afterlife (and spirituality, generally) as we build on an ever growing evolving working knowledge of the universe around us.

When I read John’s phrase “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” I get a portrait of a pre-creation existence of God in His three parts. This is expressed somewhat in Genesis 1:26 when The Word (to use the label consistent with John 1:1) invokes another presence with the first-person plural pronoun ‘us’. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Finally, 2 Peter 3:8 says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” From these examples, I begin to see God and Christ both described as outside of Time, and, having created Time, inherently unbound by its ephemeral nature and chronology.

Is it possibly unnecessary to reconcile the absence of the resurrection from the earlier covenants? If 1,000 years is like a day, or less literally if our sense of the passing of Time is irrelevant to God’s creation and dominance over it, can the revelation of Christ not be just as applicable to those who sought union with God “before” he came? Do we need to worry about a period of Time these people were “waiting” for admission to Heaven between their death and the resurrection of Christ, if upon their deaths they entered an Eternity that transcends creation’s perception of Time?

In less elegant words, could one not conclude that people were saved by Christ before Christ came? And taking the Christ story back to its sacrificial roots, do those saved by Christ’s blood, thus no longer “needing” to sacrifice animals for atonement of sins, believe or need to believe that murdering an animal ever actually had anything to do at all with one’s relationship with God or sin? It’s hard to think that if we came to a revelation that, say, ‘our bodies are the temples of God,’ or that we no longer needed a human mediator between us and God, that we ever actually needed it to begin with.

Generally, when thinking about life and the universe in terms of Time vs Eternity, I find all of this very interesting. I don’t find it strange at all that Jesus’ ideas were spiritually enlightening to many while conjuring fear in those who took solace in the materialism of scriptural dogma. Given the limited information and records available about Jesus and his teachings, I also can’t see how it would be heretical or dishonest at all to attempt to apply Christ’s mindset across all scripture instead of trying to piece it all together like a puzzle and expect it to both make sense and be an accurate account of The Divine.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Andrew Lindsey said...

In brief, I think that while some may over-emphasize the temporal aspects of God's working in Creation, you may be over-emphasizing eternality.

Barring specific revelation to the contrary, we might (for example) be justified in speculating that souls, upon death, are immediately transported temporally to the time of the resurrection, so that no "intermediate state" would be necessary. The reason I would assert, on the other hand, that, "At death, the personal, conscious, disembodied soul is brought immediately into the presence of Christ to await the resurrection," is because of texts like Luke 16:19-31 and 2 Corinthians 5:8 (which speaks of both being "absent from the body" as well as "present with the Lord"). In the vision of Heaven recorded in the Book of Revelation, John sees those who have come out of the "great tribulation" worshiping "before the throne of God" previous to the resurrection.

In the entire biblical narrative, God works not without regard to history, but through history. (This is why there is so much historical material- even genealogies- in Scripture.)

Philosophically speaking, God, in His nature, is eternal in a way that we cannot be eternal. God is spirit, is simple (not composed of parts), and is immutable. Anytime a physical body is present, movement occurs, or change occurs, time is also present, as we can speak of and measure the period "before" and "after" the event, movement, or change. While 1,000 years is like a day for the Lord, for us, 1,000 years is like 1,000 years.

Anyway, while these are interesting areas of discussion, and while I've presented what I believe to be an accurate depiction of the biblical presentation of the afterlife, not every detail is equally clear or equally important: what is crystal clear and vitally important is the good news that despite the fact that we will all (barring Christ's return) face death, and despite the fact that we have all willingly violated our own consciences and our duties to others, as well as God's law, in many ways, there is a hope for everlasting life and peace that transcends death: this hope is found in the ever-living Lord Jesus, who has conquered sin, death, and Hell through dying on the Cross and rising from the dead.

12:23 PM  

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