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New Wine for the End Times
Chapter 2
Three Intermediate States in the Grave

If this New Wine System is true, then there must be three types of people in the grave instead of two, as traditional beliefs dictate. Traditionally, the two types of people in the grave have been those destined for heaven and those destined for hell.  If there are three types of people in the grave, then it cannot be true that we go directly to heaven or hell when they die.  Where would the middle group go?

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, death is often referred to as being asleep (Isaiah 26:19, Psalm 13:3, Jeremiah 51:39, 51:57, Daniel 12:2, 12:13, Matthew 27:52, John 11:11, Acts 7:60, 13:36,  1 Corinthians 15:6, 15:18, 15:20, 15:51, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 4:14, 4:15, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:4).  Isaiah 26:19 is the first Old Testament passage about the resurrection.  It says, "Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust."  Sleep and dwelling in the dust of the earth is also equated with death in Daniel 12:2, which is the other major Old Testament passage that directly prophecies the resurrection.

In the New Testament, the use of sleep to describe the state of death is most often used when the passage places emphasis on the resurrection. Death is a temporary state.  The body is not asleep.  The body decays and disappears.  The state of sleep is in reference to the soul.  The soul sleeps as he or she awaits a new body at the time of the resurrection.

Traditional Christian theology states that sleep is a metaphor for death.  Many would say that it's a metaphor for the body being dead while the soul is alive in heaven or hell.  The teaching of "soul sleep" is a more literal understanding of Scripture.  Thus, the New Wine System is not only closer to Old Testament Jewish eschatology, it's also a more literal interpretation of the New Testament as compared with tradition.  The areas in which the New Wine System is more literal are as follows:

Israel is literally elected to literally reign over the nations of the earth.  Gentiles are grafted into literal Israel.  We are not a "spiritual" Israel.

The meek will literally inherit the earth.  Israel is a literal kingdom.

The dead are literally asleep.  It doesn't mean their bodies are figuratively asleep while their souls are awake.  It means their bodies are literally dead while their souls are literally asleep.

To be born again literally means you must literally have a new body.  A spiritual body is literally a body designed for heaven.  It’s not a spirit.  A spiritual body is a physical body with spiritual-like attributes.  Born again is not a figurative way of saying you are spiritually a new person.

Christ is literally the Savior of all people.  Salvation literally means being saved from death.

Heaven is literally up.  Hell is literally down.  Up and down are not figurative ways of talking about a spiritual realm.  Heaven is literally the sky above us, which is the universe.

The New Jerusalem is a literal city that will literally appear when Christ returns.  You must have a spiritual body in order to literally enter that city.

Figurative or allegorical interpretations are often used to make difficult passages of Scripture fit what one believes Scripture to be saying in the overall context.  But when a literal interpretation better fits the overall context and culture of the time, the literal interpretation should be considered as more likely to be correct.  Don't let tradition cloud one's judgment when the literal works quite well.

In this chapter we focus on point 3.  The dead are asleep.  In the Old Testament, both the righteous and the wicked went to Sheol, which is the Hebrew word for the grave.  Traditional theologians believe this was changed by God after the crucifixion.  The righteous, it is believed, now go straight to heaven when they die.  There are a number of New Testament verses on which this Christian belief is based.  In this chapter, we will examine each of these verses.  

It is my belief that the ancient Jew, with Old Testament training, would not have interpreted these verses to mean the righteous dead now are immediately sent to heaven.  With Jewish culture and the Old Testament background, these verses take on a very natural meaning that is not in conflict with Old Testament teaching about the afterlife.

It is important to interpret New Testament Scripture in the context of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament should not be re-interpreted by the New Testament.  Instead, we should suspend our beliefs in Christian traditions about heaven and hell, and instead should try to read the New Testament as an ancient Jew would have done.  As we will see, nothing has changed regarding the intermediate state between death and the resurrection.  Both the righteous and the wicked are still in Hades.  Scripture regarding the afterlife, and it's teaching about eternal life, has always focused on the resurrection.

2.1)  Death from the Ancient Jewish Perspective

The Encyclopedia Britannica has an article titled, “Death/Judaism.”  Here is an excerpt from that article.  (Underline emphasis mine.)

Saul’s request to the witch of Endor to “bring up” the dead prophet Samuel for him (I Sam. 28:3-20) implied that the dead, or at least some of them, still existed somewhere or other, probably in Sheol, “the land of gloom and deep darkness” (Job 10:21). In Sheol, the good and the wicked shared a common fate, much as they had in the Babylonian underworld. The place did not conjure up images of an afterlife, for nothing happened there. It was literally inconceivable, and this is what made it frightening: death was utterly definitive, even if rather ill-defined.

[Skipping two paragraphs.]

The notion of a resurrection of the dead has a more concrete evolution. It seems to have originated during Judaism’s Hellenistic period (4th century bc-2nd century ad). Isaiah announced that the “dead shall live, their bodies shall rise,” and the “dwellers in the dust” would be enjoined to “awake and sing” (Isa. 26:19) . Both the good and the wicked would be resurrected. According to their deserts, some would be granted “everlasting life,” others consigned to an existence of “shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). The idea that a person’s future would be determined by conduct on earth was to have profound repercussions. The first beneficiaries seem to have been those killed in battle on behalf of Israel. Judas Maccabeus, the 2nd-century-bc Jewish patriot who led a struggle against Seleucid domination and Greek cultural penetration, found that his own supporters had infringed the law. He collected money and sent it to Jerusalem to expiate their sins, acting thereby “very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead” (II Macc. 12:43-45).

Sheol itself became departmentalized. According to the First Book of Enoch, a noncanonical work believed to have been written between the 2nd century bc and the 2nd century ad, Sheol was composed of three divisions, to which the dead would be assigned according to their moral deserts. The real Ge Hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”), where the early Israelites were said to have sacrificed their children to Moloch (and in which later biblical generations incinerated Jerusalem’s municipal rubbish), was transmuted into the notion of Gehenna, a vast camp designed for torturing the wicked by fire. This was a clear precursor of things to come—the Christian and Islāmic versions of hell.

2.2)  Hades and Gehenna

In the centuries that followed Christ, the afterlife became equated strictly to two destinations: heaven and hell.  There was no middle-ground.  Even the word “Hades” was translated as hell in subsequent Bible translations such as the King James Version.  Perhaps our English word “hell” originates from the Greek word “Hades.”  However, the two words have very different meanings. The word “Hades” literally means “grave,” equivalent to the Hebrew word “Sheol.” In the Old Testament, both the just and the unjust were sent to Sheol when they died.

"George E. Ladd [was] Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Among his numerous books are The Presence of the Future, The Blessed Hope, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, and A Theology of the New Testament."  (From the back cover of "The Last Things.")  In his book, "The Last Things," the late George E. Ladd has a chapter on "The Intermediate State."  The intermediate state is the theological term for our state of being after death but before the resurrection and Christ's return.  Ladd writes at the start of this chapter (emphasis mine):

There's a land beyond the river
That they call the sweet forever,
And we only reach that shore by faith's decree;
One by one we reach the portals,
There to dwell with the immortals,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

This old evangelistic song expresses the idea many Christians have of life after death.  When we die, "we go to heaven."  The popular idea is that heaven is a state of blessedness - "the sweet forever" - through whose portals the man of faith passes when he dies and crosses the river of death.  There, in a state of disembodied blessedness, he will "dwell with the immortals."

Such thinking, popular as it is, is more an expression of Greek thought than of biblical theology.  The Greeks - at least many of them who followed in the philosophical tradition of Plato - believed in a cosmic dualism.  There were two worlds - the seen and the unseen, the visible and the invisible, the phenomenal and the noumenal.  The visible world was a realm of ebb and flow, flux and change, instability, having only the appearance of reality.  The unseen world was the world of permanence, of ultimate reality.  In the same way man was a dualism of body and soul.  The body belongs to the phenomenal world, the soul to the noumenal world.

A few paragraphs down, Ladd writes:

We must understand the Old Testament concept of man to understand its view of the intermediate state, and we must understand the Old Testament concept of the world to understand its doctrine of man.  Just as there is no trace of dualistic thinking about the world, so the Old Testament view of man is not dualistic.  Man is not, as the Greeks thought, a dualism of body and soul, or of body and spirit.  "Spirit" is God's breath, God's power, working in the world (Isa. 40:7; 31:3).  It's God's breath creating and sustaining life (Ps. 33:6; 104:29-30).  Man's "spirit" is man's breath which comes from God (Isa. 42:5; Job 33:4; 27:3; 32:8).

A few paragraphs down, Ladd writes:

What is seen in Sheol is not man's soul or spirit but the rephaim, translated "shades" in the Revised Standard Version, the "dead" in the King James.  "The shades below tremble, the waters and their inhabitants" (Job 26:5).  The shades are unable to rise up and praise God (Ps. 88:10).  "Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come, it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were kings of the nations" (Isa. 14:9; see also Prov. 9:18).

The shades are not to be identified with man's departed soul or spirit.  It seem to be some kind of pale replica of man himself.  It attests to the Hebrews' conviction, shared with other ancient peoples, that death does not mean the end of human existence.  It appears that God has implanted in the hearts of men everywhere the idea that somehow man will survive death.

However, the Hebrew concept of death also witnesses to the conviction that life is bodily life.  For the shades in Sheol, conscious fellowship with God has been lost; therefore descent to Sheol does not mean life.

The Hebrew word rephaim means shades or ghosts.  The Old Testament view of the dead is often referred to as "soul sleep."  Most of the rephaim (shades) do not stay dead forever.  Some do, but not all.

Isaiah 26:14 ESV They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise ; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.

This is in reference to the wicked (verse 10).  But a few verses down we read:

Isaiah 26:19 ESV Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the [shades] .

Sheol (Hades) is not a place of reward or punishment.  Of course, Jesus does mention a place of punishment in His teachings. The Greek word “Gehenna,” which was the name for the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, was used to describe a place of punishment. Garbage was constantly burned in this place. Thus, it was used as a metaphor for a place of punishment by fire.

Modern-day Bible translations distinguish Hades from Gehenna.  Hades is usually rendered simply as Hades, while Gehenna is rendered as hell.  However, the KJV renders both Greek words as hell.  This shows an apparent lack of understanding about ancient Jewish beliefs in the early Bible translations.  Traditionally, both Protestants and Catholics have believed that the dead go straight to heaven or hell.

In the book of Revelation, after the millennial reign of Christ, the Book of Life is opened.  Those who are not found in the Book of Life, at that time, are thrown eternally into the lake of fire (Rev. 14:9-11, 20:15).  Death and Hades is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  The second death is the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  Thus, Gehenna is associated with punishment, as in the lake of fire, after the final judgment.  Hades is associated with everyone’s death, while they await the resurrection or the final judgment.  The lake of fire (Gehenna) is not until a thousand years after the resurrection.

2.3)  The Gates of Hell (Hades) Shall Not Prevail

The KJV translated Hades as hell.  Jesus said to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [Hades] shall not prevail against it” (ESV Mat. 16:18 - with the word "hell" changed to "Hades").  Even the ESV, a very modern translation, uses hell in this particular verse, although all the other New Testament verses render Hades as simply "Hades" (or death). Church tradition interprets this verse to mean a demonic force from hell fighting against the Church. This is most likely the reason the ESV used “hell” instead of “Hades,” and demonstrates the depth of confusion which church tradition has imposed on the concept of Hades.

Peter would not have believed the gates of Hades host a demonic force.  They believed that both the just and the unjust are dwelling in separate regions of Hades.  One would not assume that the gates of Hades are controlled by the demonic.  Thus, the traditional church interpretation of this verse, with the gates of Hades guarded by demonic forces, would never have occurred to Peter, who grew up in first-century Jewish culture.  This is just an example of how much church traditions have caused misunderstandings of Scripture.

In Greek mythology, the underworld was known as Hades, and possessed an entry gate and a king of the underworld. Was the early church influenced by Greek culture when interpreting this verse?

Philo, Clemet of Alexandria, and Origen were famous early-church fathers from the school of Alexandria.  (Actually, Philo was Jewish and pre-dated Christianity.)  Their goals were to make Scripture, especially Old Testament Scripture, more acceptable to the Greeks.  Clemet and especially Origen interpreted Scripture in a very allegorical way.  Augustine was also from Alexandria.  With this purpose and tradition in mind, and their knowledge of Greek mythology, how would Clemet, Origen, and Augustine have interpreted, the “gates of Hades?”  How much influence did they have over the early Church?

It is very unlikely that Peter, a Jewish fisherman, would have been familiar with Greek mythology.  And even if he did, we should not assume that Jesus would have been referencing Greek mythology when speaking to Peter.

The Greek word Hades literally means “grave.”  I think Jesus was simply telling Peter, in a poetic way, that the Church itself will never die out.  It may have even been an idiom.  In other words, on the rock of Peter Jesus would build his assembly of believers, meaning Church.  And this Church would not die out, meaning it would not metaphorically fall to the grave.  It would not dwindle into a small footnote of history, as other Jewish sects of the time had done.

2.4)  The Intermediate State in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, both the righteous and the unrighteous went to Sheol, which means the grave (Psalm 89:48).  Jacob spoke of going “down to Sheol” when mourning for his son, whom he thought was dead (Gen 37:35, 42:38, 44:29, 44:31).  The righteous go to Sheol (Psalm 16:10).  The wicked also go to Sheol (Num.  16:30‑33, Psalm 9:7).  

There is a type of afterlife mentioned in the Old Testament.  However, it is described as a state similar to sleep.  There is “no work or thought or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).  In the Old Testament, the dead rest in Sheol until the resurrection.  

Daniel was told that he would rest until the end of the days (Daniel 12:13).  From the context of the chapter, the end is the time of the resurrection (verse 2), when “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”  Some believe that those in Sheol were brought into heaven after Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  However, Daniel was told that he would “rest” until the time of the end, which in the context would be the resurrection.  Daniel did not “rest” until the crucifixion.

In the Old Testament, the dead are always spoken of as being in the ground, or in a downward direction, and are thought of as asleep.  Yet, these dead also seem to have some awareness.  When Cain killed Abel, God said the voice of Abel’s blood was crying from the ground.

After Samuel had died, Saul went secretly to a medium in order to attempt to communicate with Samuel (1 Samuel 28).  The medium was able to bring Samuel up.  Samuel said, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" (Verse 15)  Some will say that it was a demon speaking, and not actually Samuel. But the Scripture makes no indication of this, and appears to say that Samuel was actually speaking to Saul.  Scripture directly attributes the words spoken as the words of Samuel.  Also, the words that Samuel spoke to Saul were not words Saul wanted to hear, but probably what Samuel would have said had he been alive. It is unlikely that these were the words of a demon.

Some traditional scholars have said the dead are no longer in Sheol, but that its inhabitants went to heaven or hell after the crucifixion.  The New Testament evidence that has been offered to support this claim includes the Scripture passages: (1) “Absent from the body is presence with the Lord,” (2) “Today, you will be with me in Paradise,” (3) the souls under the altar, (4) Elijah and Moses, (5) the angelic host in heaven, and (6) the captives set free. As we will see, all these passages are misinterpreted because they are read with Greek thinking.

2.5)  Absence from the body is presence with the Lord

An often quoted verse that is considered in this type of discussion is 2 Corinthians 5:8, in which Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Paul put a lot of emphasis on the resurrection. Did Paul believe that after his death he would be spiritually present with the Lord, alive in heaven? Or did Paul believe that after death, from his viewpoint, he would physically be present with the Lord at the resurrection?  

Paul did not say that if you are absent from the body then you will be present with the Lord.  The verse says that Paul "prefers" (NIV) or "would rather be" (ESV) absent from the body so that he will be "at home with the Lord" (at the resurrection.)  Let's look at the first eight verses without the Greek mindset:

Verse 1: "For we know that if the earthly house of our tent is dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens." (If we die we will get a spiritual body.)

Verse 2: "For most certainly in this we groan, longing to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven." (We desire to get a spiritual body.)

Verse 3: "If so be that being clothed we will not be found naked." (This is not just getting rid of the body and living as a spirit.)

Verse 4: "For indeed we who are in this tent do groan, being burdened; not that we desire to be unclothed, but that we desire to be clothed, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (We long for our spiritual bodies at the resurrection.  Death swallowed by life is a resurrection reference.  Compare with 1 Cor. 15:54).

Verse 5: "Now he who made us for this very thing is God, who also gave to us the down payment of the Spirit." (The Spirit is the guarantee of resurrection.)

Verse 6: "Therefore, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." (This verse gives us confidence even though we don't see it now.)

Verse 7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight."  (Paul's focus of salvation itself is to have faith in the resurrection.)

Verse 8: "We are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord." (This verse then uses a linguistic form known as metonymy, in which a part is referred to, implying the whole.  Paul is saying he would rather die and be resurrected because then he will be with the Lord.  This verb can be seen as a dynamic verb, meaning that it occurs over a period of time.  Paul does not mean that he will immediately be with the Lord.

Let's go back and unpack these verses a bit more closely.  A careful comparison between 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that Paul anticipated that he would rest until the resurrection.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1, the earthly home mentioned is our current physical bodies. We know this because Paul speaks of death as a destruction of the earthly home.  In 1 Corinthians 15:40 Paul compares heavenly bodies to earthly bodies. In this context, the heavenly bodies are spiritual bodies at the time of the resurrection. Therefore, the heavenly house of 2 Corinthians 5:1 most likely also represents our spiritual bodies at the time of the resurrection.

In 2 Corinthians 5:2, Paul says that we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  In Romans 8:22, the whole Creation groans, awaiting the resurrection. In Romans 8:22, the Greek word is a collective groaning. In 2 Corinthians 5:2, the Greek word means to groan within one’s self. Based on Paul’s focus on the resurrection, it would be logical to assume that Paul is groaning for the same thing in both passages.

In 2 Corinthians 5:2, Paul speaks of this groaning as being “further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life.”  Compare this to 1 Corinthians 15:54, where Paul says, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory .”  This comparison solidifies the conclusion that Paul was referring to the resurrection.

Compare Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 1:22 with 2 Corinthians 5:5.  All three verses speak of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing what is to come.  Ephesians 1:13-14 explicitly states that those who are God’s possessions are guaranteed redemption.  Based on Paul’s focus on the resurrection, most likely he is referring to the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the resurrection that is to come. Romans 8:23 clearly speaks of the “firstfruits of the Spirit” at time of the resurrection, when it speaks of the “redemption of our bodies.” If Paul is being consistent, then 2 Corinthians 5:5 would also be talking about the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection.  It is very unlikely that Paul was talking about an intermediate state. Paul’s teachings are consistent with Old Testament teaching about Sheol.

This is not to say that Paul didn’t believe the spirit could exist apart from the body.  When Paul talked about his trip to Paradise, he was uncertain whether his journey was made while the soul was still contained within his body (2 Cor. 12:3). Thus, Paul unquestionably believed the spirit could exist apart from the body, and could also have experiences such as a trip to Paradise.

However, this should not make us doubt that Paul’s focus was on the resurrection in 2 Corinthians 5. Daniel was told that he would rest until the time of the end, which by context is the time of the resurrection.  A spirit without a body simply waits and rests until the resurrection.  When we are naturally asleep at night, we do not experience much time.  We may wake up for short moments and then go right back to sleep.  By morning, it does not seem as if eight hours have passed.  Likewise, spirits in Hades would not experience much time.  This may be considered a form of “soul sleep.”  But there is no denying that the soul may have some short experiences while awaiting the resurrection.  My guess is that Paul believed that, after death, he would wake up at the resurrection.

Given the resurrection terminology that Paul uses in this chapter, I do not think the one phrase, "willing to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord," is sufficient evidence to establish a whole new paradigm for the intermediate state other than the Sheol of the Old Testament.  The New Testament certainly reveals more details about Sheol (Hades).  However, I do not think this one phrase is sufficient evidence to conclude that the dead no longer go to Sheol, but now go straight to heaven or hell.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-11, Paul promises relief for those who are suffering.  The relief spoken of comes when Christ returns.  Our problems of persecution are solved when Christ returns.  The sense is that it will be soon.  For those who live and die under that persecution, the relief from suffering will come soon.  For them, it's almost immediately after they die.  Paul was probably thinking along the same lines when he spoke of his own death, and being absent from the body.

2.6)  Today, you will be with me in Paradise

Most versions of Luke 23:43 are translated something like this: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  If Jesus was in heaven that very day with the thief on the cross, then why did He tell Mary some three days later to not cling to him?  Jesus said not to cling to him because he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17).

Some theologians have stated that Paradise was in the upper regions of Hades, and was later moved to heaven by the time Paul visited the third heaven (2  Cor. 12:2-3).  This view provides a solution to the dilemma.  If Paradise was in Hades, then Christ and the thief could have been together in Paradise, but would have still been in Hades.  Then later, Christ could have truthfully said to Mary that he had not yet gone to the Father, since he would have only been in Hades.  But this theory seems very strange.  There is no other Scriptural evidence that Paradise was ever in Hades, despite the arguments by Christian theologians.

One such author is Dr. Robert A. Morey.  In his book, “Death and the Afterlife,” on pages 85-86, Dr. Morey writes:  (Underline emphasis mine.)

Before Christ’s ascension, believers as well as unbelievers were said to enter Sheol or Hades.  After Christ’s resurrection, the New Testament pictures believers after death as entering heaven to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23), which is far better than Hades.  They are present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8), worshiping with the angelic hosts of heaven (Heb. 12:22, 23) at the altar of God (Rev. 6:9-11).  Thus believers do not now enter Hades but ascend immediately to the throne of God.

In the New Testament, there is, therefore, a development of understanding which took place after Christ’s resurrection.  Before Jesus was raised from the dead, the apostles assumed that everyone went to Sheol or Hades.  This Hades had two sections, one for the righteous and one for the wicked.  But Christ’s resurrection changed this picture.  Thus Paul uses the language of transition where he speaks of Christ taking the righteous out of Hades and bringing them to heaven (Eph. 4:8,9).

That Christ went to Hades, i.e., the world beyond death, is clear from Acts 2:31.  While in Hades, Peter pictures Christ as proclaiming to “the spirits now in prison” the completion of His atonement (1 Pet. 3:18-22).  Whereas “paradise” in the gospel account (Luke 23:43) referred to the section of Hades reserved for the righteous, by the time Paul wrote 2 Cor. 12:2-4, it was assumed that paradise had been taken out of Hades and was now placed in the third heaven.

According to the post-resurrection teaching in the New Testament, the believer now goes to heaven at death to await the coming resurrection and the eternal state.  But, what of the wicked?  The wicked at death descend into Hades which is a place of temporary torment while they await the coming resurrection and their eternal punishment.

One problem with this view is that "Paradise," meaning "garden," is the word used in the Septuagint for the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,9,10,15,16; 3:1,2,3,8*2,10,23,24; 13:10; Num. 24:6; Neh. 2:8; Joel 2:3; Isaiah 51:3; Ezek. 28:13; 31:8*2, 31:9 ).  Isaiah and Ezekiel refer to it as the Paradise (Garden) of God.  Was the Garden of God ever in Hades?  Was the Tree of Life ever in the Grave?

In the section 19.3 of this book, titled “The Seven Heavens,” there is a quote from Paula Gooder’s book titled, “Only the Third Heaven?: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 And Heavenly Ascent.”  She documents that the ancient Jews already believed that Paradise is contained within the third heaven.  Paul said that Paradise is in the third heaven because that was what he had been taught as a Pharisee.  And apparently Paul’s beliefs about that remained unchanged after his journey there (2 Cor. 12:2‑4).

Therefore, Paradise was most likely never in Hades, nor is it likely that Paradise was moved from Hades to heaven after the crucifixion.  Theologians like Dr. Morey have had to adopt this unlikely view because they believe Christ was with the thief on the cross in Paradise the very same day He was crucified.

A better answer to the problem is to take a close look at the Greek in Luke 23:43.  The adverb for “today” has two words between it and the verb for “be with.”  The adverb “today”, however, is right after the verb “to say or speak.”  Which of these two verbs does the adverb modify?  The answer to this question dramatically effects the meaning of the verse.

Luke 23:43 ESV Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Luke 23:43 Ἀμήν (Truly) σοι (to you)
λέγω (I say) σήμερον (today) μετ’ (with) ἐμοῦ (me) ἔσῃ (you will be)
ἐν (in) τῷ (the) παραδείσῳ (Paradise)

In Greek, adverbs can be placed either before or after the verbs they modify.  This adverb is between the two verbs. Therefore, the grammar is ambiguous as to which verb it modifies. If the adverb σήμερον (today) modifies the verb λέγω (I say), instead of ἔσῃ (you will be), then the translation would be something like, “Truly today I say to you, you will be with me in Paradise.”  In this case Jesus was just adding emphasis to the statement.

If the Greek grammar is ambiguous, and if there is clear precedent for the word usage in another verse, then the translator should turn to context.  Is there a contextual reason as to why Jesus might have wanted to say “today” in relation to him saying, "I say to you"?

Let’s compare Luke’s account of this event with Matthew’s account.  This comparison is often avoided because at first it appears to be a contradiction.

Matthew 27:38-44 Then there were two robbers crucified with him, one on his right hand and one on the left. (39) Those who passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads, (40) and saying, "You who destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!"  (41) Likewise the chief priests also mocking, with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said, (42) "He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.  (43) He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now, if he wants him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' " (44)The robbers also who were crucified with him cast on him the same reproach.

Matthew apparently believed that both the robbers were against Christ.  Luke said that one was for Christ, and one was against Christ.  Is this a contradiction?  Some have said there could have been four robbers.  However, both Matthew’s account and Luke’s account said that one was on Christ’s right and the other was on his left (Mat. 27:38, Luke 23:33).  

A better explanation is that both the thieves reviled Christ leading up to the crucifixion, but then one had a change of heart while he was hanging on the cross.  John was the only disciple to actually see Christ hanging on the cross.  The other disciples were fearful and hid.  Apparently Matthew was unaware that one of the thieves had a change of heart.

Here is another situation where a man has a change of heart:

Luke 19:8-10 Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. If I have wrongfully exacted anything of anyone, I restore four times as much."  (9) Jesus said to him, "Today , salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.   (10) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

The grammar usage in this statement is different than that of the previous passages, but Jesus is applying the word “today” to a very similar situation.  “Today,” salvation came into the house of Zacchaeus because of his change in heart - that day.  “Today,” Jesus told the thief about his salvation because of his change in heart - that day.

The grammar of Luke 23:43 is ambiguous. Use of the word “today” fits the context of a man having a change of heart during that same day. The final question a translator should examine is that of doctrine.  Are there doctrinal problems with Jesus entering Paradise on the same day as the crucifixion?

Scripture is clear that Christ spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).  Christ spent this time in Hades (Acts 2:31) and did not rise until the third day. After he rose, he told Mary that he had not yet been to the Father (John 20:17).  Therefore, Christ’s ascent to Paradise was impossible that first day in the grave unless Paradise was in Hades with him and the thief.  But Paradise was never in Hades.  The Garden of Eden was never in Hades.

I believe this is another case where church tradition causes us to misinterpret Scripture.  Church tradition says that everyone goes straight to heaven or hell when they die.  The thief was not going to hell.  Therefore, by the church tradition of heaven and hell, the thief must have gone straight to heaven. This makes translators assume that the adverb “today” was meant to indicate such.  This cycle of belief is reinforced by the translation, and the incorrect church tradition grows.

The teaching that everybody goes immediately to heaven or hell upon death probably developed as a result of the early Church trying to distance themselves from the Jews.  The school at Alexandria was very concerned with interpreting the Bible in a way that was more acceptable to the Greeks.  The Greeks believed in an immediate afterlife, not a resurrection.  

As mentioned in section 2.3, Philo, Clemet of Alexandria, and Origen were famous early-church fathers from the school of Alexandria.  (Philo was Jewish before Christ’s ministry.) Clemet and especially Origen interpreted Scripture in a very allegorical way. The events themselves were not as important as the moral meanings found in Scripture. This follows the tradition of Greek mythology, the purpose of which was not to be taken literally, but to demonstrate moral values.  This was especially true of the Old Testament, which Greeks considered to be barbaric.  The Old Testament was not considered important in the interpretation of the New Testament.  There was even a strong movement to eliminate the Old Testament from the canon.  Augustine was also from Alexandria.

Early church fathers obviously believed in immediate transportation to heaven or hell upon death. How much of this was originally influenced by Greek beliefs concerning the afterlife?  In Greek culture, ‘Hades’ was the place where immoral people went after death.  The Greeks did not believe in a resurrection. This diverted the Greek focus on death to what happens immediately after, in the afterlife.  On the other hand, in Jewish culture, Sheol (Hades) was the place for both the righteous and the wicked.  In this culture, the focus is on the resurrection.

Thus, the traditional view about the thief on the cross seems to have been derived from the Greek belief about the afterlife. An ancient Greek would have interpreted this verse with the mindset of events occurring immediately after death. Jewish thinking, however, focused on the resurrection, and would have interpreted the passage to mean that Christ would join the thief in Paradise sometime after the resurrection. The Jews understood Paradise to be in the third heaven.  But everyone waited for the resurrection. Before the resurrection, Paradise was inaccessible.

2.7)  The Souls Under the Altar

Traditional scholars have said the righteous dead are no longer in Sheol and that they went to heaven or hell after the crucifixion.  Another verse that is used to make this point is Revelation 6:9-11.  This verse was mentioned by Dr. Morey.  (See the quote section 2.6 above.)  In this verse the fifth seal appears, and John sees, under the altar, the souls of those who had been slain because of their testimony for Christ.  They cry out in a loud voice, saying “How long … until you … avenge our blood?”

Sometimes in Revelation it is difficult to determine exactly what is literal and what is symbolic.  How literally are we to take the first four seals?  What point is being made about the first four seals?  Does it represent four literal horses and four literal riders, or is their symbolic meaning what is important?  In the end times, do we really expect to see some guy riding around on a horse saying something about wheat, barley, oil, and wine?  Or do we understand that this means difficult economic times for a specific nation (Russia) during the end times?

No two theologians are going to agree on the exact meaning of these five seals. It is my belief that the four horses refer to the United States, Russia, China, and the one-world government during this end-time generation.  You might want to look ahead at section 22.3, the section on the four horses.  The point here is that the first four seals are not usually interpreted as literal horses and riders.  Likewise, are we to believe the souls are literally under a literal altar?  Or is the altar simply a symbolic way of saying their lives were sacrificed as martyrs?

The fifth seal tells us that many missionaries have died, and will continue to die, during this end-time generation.  The witnesses are told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants is completed.  More will die because of their testimony for Christ.  This generation is unlike any other generation because they have seen the gospel preached to all the nations. The deaths of many of Christ’s witnesses have been a consequence of modern-day missions.

How would the ancient Jews have interpreted this verse?  Remember that Samuel was awakened from his rest and spoke.  Even if these souls are literal, could they have likewise been temporarily awakened from their sleep?  The blood of Abel spoke from the ground. Yet the dead are at rest, in the heart of the earth, waiting on the resurrection.  I do not believe the ancient Jews would have read this verse, in its context, as different from their belief about the afterlife.  The dead are still in Sheol, resting and waiting on the resurrection.

2.8)  Elijah and Moses

Peter, James and John saw Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mat. 17:3-4).  This is not a parable.  They did not see ghosts, which were perceived as frightening to see (Mat. 14:26, Mark 6:49-50).  The Elijah and Moses are described as “talking with him.”  They appear to have looked very much the same as everyone else.  Does this mean that all the righteous dead can appear with bodies, just like anybody who is alive?  If so, then what is the point of the resurrection?

Elijah was a special case because he never died. He was taken up in bodily form and did not go to Sheol.  The “chariots of fire and horses” took him “up by a whirlwind into heaven” (ESV 2 Kings 2:11).

Enoch was also a special case, and never died.  “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (ESV Genesis 5:24).

Moses died, but Scripture indicates there is some mystery about his body by telling us that Moses was buried in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor (Deu.  34:5-6). The people were told this by God, but nobody knew where Moses was buried. Apparently an angel buried Moses. We can also see a bit of this mystery in Jude 1:9, in which the archangel Michael disputed with the devil about the body of Moses.

Moses died. Elijah didn’t die. Yet they are both seen together on the Mount of Transfiguration with spiritual bodies. Apparently God has an exception for a small number of people, who are either immediately resurrected when they die, or are caught up in a rapture event.

It’s my guess that the 24 elders (of Revelation 5) are these small number of people with spiritual bodies.  They are apparently in Paradise right now.  One could speculate that the number 24 indicates 12 apostles and 12 Old Testament saints. Paul is probably the apostle who replaced Judas.

Dr. Morey has claimed that, “After Christ’s resurrection, the New Testament pictures believers after death as entering heaven to be with Christ.” (See the quote in section 2.6 above.) Dr. Morey references all the New Testament verses that support a difference in the afterlife between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  However, he notably leaves the transfiguration out of his list.  Perhaps it was an oversight.  However, Elijah and Moses appeared before the crucifixion.  The mount of transfiguration cannot be used to say anything about a change in the afterlife after the crucifixion.

2.9)  The Angelic Host in Heaven

One passage that Dr. Morey used is Hebrews 12:22, 23.

Hebrews 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels,  (23)  to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

The author says, “YOU … have come to … the heavenly Jerusalem.”  Yet the audience is not yet literally in the heavenly Jerusalem.  This is a foreshadowing of the future for us.  Only those who already possess the mindset of going straight to heaven when they die would view this passage as a description of the present, rather than the future.

Other theologians have used Hebrews 12:1, in this same chapter.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

The cloud of witnesses is seen in the previous chapter. These are all the Old Testament saints who were saved by faith. But is this verse to be interpreted literally?  Are all these Old Testament saints literally surrounding us?  Or is the author simply referring to our written history in Scripture about the faith of these Old Testament saints? Again, I think that only those who already have the mindset of going straight to heaven when they die would see this passage as describing saints in heaven looking down upon us.

2.10)  The Captives are Set Free

Ephesians 4:8-10 contains what is probably the strongest scriptural evidence for the interpretation that after the cross, souls ascend directly to heaven instead of resting in Sheol.

Ephesians 4:8-10 NIV This is why it {Or God} says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." {Psalm 68:18}  (9) (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? {Or the depths of the earth}   (10) He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

This verse has been interpreted to mean that Christ lead souls out of Hades upon his ascent into heaven.  Whenever we see a New Testament author quote the Old Testament, the Old Testament passage should be considered and interpreted in its original context.  The Old Testament passage helps give a better understanding of what the New Testament author was thinking when he wrote the words.  Let’s look at the verse Paul was quoting.

Psalms 68:16-21 NIV Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever?  (17) The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.  (18)  When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious— that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.   (19) Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah(20) Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.   (21) Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.

Notice the difference in the quote?  In this Old Testament verse, God receives gifts from men.  Paul quotes it as to say that God is giving gifts to men.  Why the change?  The NIV study notes on Ephesians 4:8 has this to say:

Ps 68:18 speaks of God’s triumphant ascension to his throne in the temple at Jerusalem (symbol of the heavenly throne).  Paul applies this to Christ’s triumphal ascension into heaven.  Where the psalm states further that God “received gifts from men,” Paul apparently takes his cue from certain rabbinic interpretations current in his day that read the Hebrew preposition for “from” in the sense of “to” (a meaning it often has) and the verb for “received” in the sense of “take and give” (a meaning it sometimes has - but with a different preposition; see Ge 15:9; 18:5, 27:13; Ex 25:2, 1 Ki 17:10-11).  captives. Probably Paul applies this to the spiritual enemies Christ defeated at the cross.

Therefore, Paul is using a play on words.  The context of the passage in Ephesians is God’s grace and God’s gift of salvation.  Paul sees the crucifixion as a victory over our sins. He then quotes a verse that is about God ascending into heaven as a conqueror over rebellious sinners.  God saves us as he crushes the heads of his enemies.  The conqueror is figuratively depicted as receiving gifts from men, like a king would receive gifts from those he has conquered. Paul turns this around and changes the gift giver from men to God. Paul also adds the fact that Christ descended into the lower regions of the earth when he died, making more glorious Christ’s ascension into heaven. The dissension is God’s gift to us, and the ascension is our salvation.  We then, whether physically dead or alive, are the captives in his train.  We have been set free from sin.

Now, let’s look at the passage in Ephesians again to better see the immediate context of the gift from God.  This brings home the point that Paul was taking about God’s gift of salvation when he quoted this Old Testament passage.  And that gift is to each one of us, not just to those who were in Hades at the time.

Ephesians 4:7-13 NIV But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   (8) This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."   (9) (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?   (10) He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)   (11) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,   (12) to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  (13)  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It is not, then, captives of Hades that were set free, but captives of sin that were set free, by the crucifixion.  We were all set free, whether still alive or dead. I do not believe this verse should be interpreted as a literal train of souls moving from Hades to heaven.  To say this is talking about bring souls out of Hades, I think, is to take the gift out of the immediate context.

2.11)  The Earth Gives Birth to the Dead

In the Old Testament, the original verse about the resurrection is in Isaiah 26:17-21. Verse 19 (NIV) says, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You, who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”  This passage will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter.  However, the important point to see here is that the resurrection happens from the earth, not from heaven.  Those who dwell in the dust of the earth are still in the earth and will remain there until the resurrection.  If they had been moved to heaven, then it would not be the earth that will give birth to the dead.

This can also be seen in Daniel 12:2 (ESV).  It says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”  Both the wise and the foolish awake from the dust of the earth.  The ancient Jew would never have interpreted these New Testament verses to mean that souls had been moved from the dust of the earth to heaven.  They would have immediately objected to such an interpretation, because it violates the clear and basic Old Testament teaching that the dead are asleep in the dust of the earth and will remain so until the time of the resurrection.

Here is another Old Testament verse that strongly indicates the dead will be in their graves at the time of the resurrection.

Ezekiel 37:12-13 ESV Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  (13) And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves , O my people.

In the New Testament, Jesus said those in their tombs will hear his voice and come out (John 5:28-29). They are not coming out of heaven, but out of their tombs. The tomb, used here, is probably a metaphor for those who actually hear Christ’s voice.  Certainly many souls are no longer literally in tombs.  Nevertheless, this metaphor fits a resurrection from the earth much better than a resurrection from heaven.  Also, take a close look at the rapture verse in 1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  (17) Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up togetherwith them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Christ descends, and the dead are raised.  Then we all are caught up in the rapture together.  Again, the dead are raised from the dust of the earth.  So the New Testament remains in harmony with the Old Testament concerning the intermediate state of the dead.

2.12) Not the God of the Dead but the God of the Living

Some have argued against soul sleep by referencing the argument Jesus made to the Sadducees about the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-32, Mark 12:18-28, Luke  20:27-38).  All three of these accounts point out that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection.  Apparently the Sadducees only believed in the Torah because Jesus had to go to the story of Moses and the burning bush in order to find evidence for the resurrection.  We also know the Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8).  So for them, when you die there was no hope of an afterlife.  After responding to their hypothetical about the seven brothers, Jesus says God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.

Luke 20:37-38 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord 'The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'   (38) Now he is not the God of the dead , but of the living, for all are alive to him."

Some who argue against soul sleep interpret this verse as saying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are currently living.  Some of these same people will acknowledge that the Old Testament undeniably teaches soul sleep and that in Old Testament times the dead were asleep, but that they went from hades to heaven at the time of the crucifixion.  But Jesus used this argument before the crucifixion.

Jesus is using this argument specifically towards the point “that the dead are raised” as it says in verse 37.  The Sadducees did not believe in angels or an afterlife (Acts 23:8).  For Jesus to say to them that God is the God of the living is simply to deny their belief that there is no afterlife.  And since Jesus’ point was stated as being about the resurrection, there is really no reason to imply that Jesus was also addressing the existence of an afterlife immediately after death.

Verse 38 says, “Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him.”  In other words, all are alive to God because God intends to make them alive at the resurrection.  That is the point that Jesus is making because Jesus is arguing for the resurrection.  God calls things that are not as though they were.

Romans 4:17 NIV As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Paul puts all the focus of our hope in Christ on the resurrection.  Paul goes as far as saying that without the resurrection our faith in is vain.

1 Corinthians 15:12-14 Now if Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?   (13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.  (14)  If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain.

Who were these in the church at Corinth who denied the resurrection?  It’s unlikely that they were Jewish Sadducees.  They were most likely former pagans who still held onto some of their old Greek teachings.  Apparently there was a big debate going on in Corinth as to whether there is a resurrection.  The Greeks said there is no resurrection; but they nevertheless believed in an afterlife.  You either belied in the resurrection or you believed in an immediate afterlife in heaven or hell.  Apparently the early church compromised on this issue.

What really is the point in having a resurrection if the righteous are already celebrating in heaven?  Many say it’s because they are not complete.  They are celebrating in heaven but they don’t as yet have bodies.  But Paul clearly teaches that our hope is in the resurrection.  Without it, our faith in in vain.  If the righteous really go to heaven when they die, would our faith still be in vain without the resurrection?  No, our faith would be to go to heaven when you die.  And that’s exactly what we hear at funerals.  Preachers rarely mention the resurrection at funerals.  They speak of the hope that our loved ones are in heaven.

When Martha was grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, did she seek comfort in knowing Lazarus was in heaven?  Or did she seek comfort in knowing he would be raised on the last day (John 11:24)? When we start believing in heaven-or-hell when you die, the hope becomes that of going to heaven.  It’s only when you are taught soul-sleep that the hope becomes that of the resurrection.  Scripture teaches us to place our faith in Christ Jesus for salvation.  Scripture teaches us to have faith in salvation because we have hope for the resurrection.  In teaching about the resurrection, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."  (55) "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

Paul is making reference to Hosea 13:14 where it says Ephraim would not be ransomed from Sheol when the pain of childbirth comes.  The saying about death being swallowed up in victory only comes true at the time of the resurrection.  You see, our victory over death happens at the time of the resurrection.

Preachers also tells us that the wicked are currently in hell.  Then, at the time of the resurrection, they will be raised in order to be judged.  After they are judged they will go back to hell.  Why will they be raised to be judged if they have already been judged because they are already in hell? Instead, the wicked will remain asleep in Hades until the Great White Throne of Judgment at the end of the millennium.  Then, they will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is hell.

The focus of Scripture is on the resurrection.  But the modern-day Church seems to remember the resurrection only on Easter.  Every other day of the year we focus on going to heaven.  The resurrection becomes very anti-climactic since one is assumed to already be in heaven at the time of the resurrection.  People say we will be spirits in heaven but will get our “spiritual bodies” at the resurrection.  Where in Scripture does it say we will be spirits in heaven?  Just as in Scripture, the New Wine System puts the focus back on the resurrection.

2.13)  The Wise Group:  Souls under the Altar

The purpose of all this has been to allow for more than two types of people who have died.  If there is simply heaven and hell, then eternity is established for everyone when they die.  If everyone is still in Hades, waiting on the resurrection, then one’s final state in eternity might or might not still be undetermined.  

The New Wine System is based on three types of people in the grave. The wise are those who have completed their journey of righteousness before they die.  The foolish are the ones who are still maturing, whether or not they have faith in Jesus Christ.  The wicked are those who have hardened their hearts to the point where they can no longer hear Christ’s voice (Heb. 3:7, 15, 4:7).  Let’s take a look at a few more verses to see if we can identify these three groups in New Testament verses about the dead.

We have already talked about the souls under the altar.  We concluded these are not to be taken literally.  However, the souls under the altar can be representative of the wise who have given their lives for Christ.

2.14)  The Foolish Group:  Jesus Preaches to Dead Guys

In the following verse, Jesus preached to dead spirits of people who had died in the Great Flood.

1 Peter 3:18-20 NIV For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,   (19) through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison  (20) who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

If our final destiny of heaven or hell is determined when we die, then why did Christ preach to people already dead?  What good was he hoping to accomplish? Some will argue that Christ was preaching to demons, but this argument does not fit the context.  Verse 18 says Christ died for the unrighteous.  Those in prison who disobeyed long ago are very good examples of the unrighteous.  Only eight were found to be righteous, and consequently saved through the flood.  Christ died for the unrighteous people from before the flood as well, so he preached to them.  Why would Jesus preach to souls who are already dead, if they have no hope of eternal salvation?

For argument’s sake, suppose these spirits were demons.  Or, suppose they were the spirits of people who have no hope of salvation.  Would preaching to eternally condemned spirits fit God’s character?

Traditional thinking holds that when people die, they go straight to heaven or hell with no possibility given for their journey to continue after the resurrection. But these people are not in hell or heaven.  They are in “prison.”

This is further evidence that the eternal states of people are not generally determined at their time of death.  These people sinned greatly.  However, only the unpardonable sin condemns people to the lake of fire.  These people could not have rejected the Messiah while living before the Great Flood because they didn’t have special revelation about the Messiah.  

Here is another verse about the preaching to those who are dead.  This verse is just eight verses down from our previous quote in 1 Peter, and is therefore in the same context.  This context connection is sometimes missed because it’s in a different chapter.  This verse gives further clarification of what Peter was saying.

1 Peter 4:6 NIV For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

If the reader takes this verse out of context, given the way it’s translated in the NIV, they could argue that the preaching was done before they were dead.  The phrase “who are now dead” seems to imply they were not dead at the time of the preaching.  But if we see this verse in the context of 3:18-12 (quoted above), it becomes obvious that this preaching was done after they were dead.  Here is Young’s Literal Translation of the verse:

1 Peter 4:6 YLT For this also to dead men was good news proclaimed, that they may be judged, indeed, according to men in the flesh, and may live according to God in the spirit.

What does it mean for these dead men to be judged “according to men in the flesh?”  Why is it possible for these dead men to “live according to God in the spirit?”  Could it be that these dead men will someday have flesh?  Will they be given further opportunity to “live according” to God’s ways?

It’s obvious that the NIV translators misinterpreted Peter’s message.  The original Greek tells us that the gospel was proclaimed to dead people.  But that goes against tradition, so the NIV translators apparently rendered it “who are now dead” in order to make it fit these traditions.

In the New Testament, more distinctions are made for the destinations of people who die. The Greek word Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament. The word Gehenna comes from the name of the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where garbage was burned.  It’s generally translated as hell, and is always used in a context that implies punishment.

We also have one occurrence of the Greek word "Tartarus," which is a place of gloomy dungeons where angels who sinned awaited their judgment (2 Peter 2:4). We also have 1 Peter 4:18 20, quoted above, where Christ preached to the spirits in prison.  The word "Tartarus" is not used in this verse. The Greek word simply means prison.  

In the New Testament times, there were far more distinctions made for places souls went in the afterlife. Apparently, between the times of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the ancient Jews received a much greater understanding (or perhaps a much greater confusion) about the afterlife.  Nowhere in the New Testament does the writer simply sit down and explain it all.

Today, at funerals and in sermons, preachers speak of going straight to heaven or hell after we die. We speak of our dead loved ones as being in a better place, in heaven, even though the New Testament does not approach death in this way. The New Testament focuses on the hope of the resurrection.

The details of how the afterlife works may have to wait until the resurrection. We simply are not given enough information in Scripture.  One thing is for certain, however, it's more complex than simply heaven or hell after you die.

2.15)  The Wicked Group:  The Parable of Lazarus

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man depicts an after-life conversation between Abraham and a rich man who is in torment in Hades (Luke 16:19-31).  From the Jewish perspective, it's important to note that Lazarus, Abraham, and the rich man are in Hades and not Gehennah.  In every other case, hell-fire is associated with Gehennah.  Hades is the equivalent to the Old Testament Sheol, which is a place of rest for the dead.  Both the just and the unjust are in Hades awaiting the resurrection.  So this parable is more about the possibility of coming back from the dead, which is only possible for those who are still in Hades.

The Jews believed Abraham is in Hades awaiting the resurrection.  Those who are never resurrected from Hades will eventually suffer torment in Gehennah.  Therefore, the chasm between Abraham and the rich man in torment would be a chasm between Hades and Gehennah.  Thus, the chasm is a chasm of time.  That's why it would have been impossible to cross the chasm.

Do the dead souls undergoing punishment have bodies?  The rich man is described as having fingers and a tongue, but this should not be taken literally.  The fingers and tongue are merely devices used for building the parable. A parable is simply a fictitious story that is used to make a point.  The point is that the wicked will wake up in real torment in Gehennah, after the thousand years.

Some have said this conversation is not a fictitious story, but that it actually occurred.  The reason for this is that parables usually did not employ proper names, such as Lazarus.  However, I believe the reason for the proper name is to connect the parable to the real Lazarus of John 11-12.  (There are no other people called Lazarus in Scripture.)  The point of the parable is that even if Lazarus had been raised and sent back to the living, the rich would still not believe.

The teaching of this parable was demonstrated when Jesus raised the real Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead (John 11-12).  The raising of Lazarus did not cause the religious leaders to repent, just as Abraham had foretold in the parable. The chief priests even made plans to kill Lazarus (John 11:53, 12:10-11).  It is also important to note that the raising of Lazarus occurred just a few weeks prior to the crucifixion (John 11:55, 12:1, 12:13).

Luke 16:27-31 "He said, 'I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house;   (28) for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won't also come into this place of torment.'   (29) "But Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'   (30) "He said, 'No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'   (31) "He said to him, 'If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.'"

When one realizes the strong connection between the parable and the raising of the real Lazarus, we see that the rich man in the parable is representative of the chief priests who plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus.  Is it a coincidence that Jesus confronted chief priests about not believing Moses, and that this is also mentioned in the parable?  They would not believe Moses, even when Lazarus was raised from the dead.

John 5:45-47 "Don't think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you, even Moses, on whom you have set your hope.  (46) For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me.   (47) But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

Before Lazarus was raised, most of the other miracles were easier to ignore. Talk of healing the blind, sick, and crippled would have spread throughout Jerusalem. But these were poor people, and the rich could have easily ignored them.

However, not all the miracles of healing of the poor could be ignored. When Jesus was tested about healing on the Sabbath, He healed a man with a withered hand sitting in the synagogue (Matthew 12:9-13).  In response, the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, discussing how to destroy him (verse 14).

You may want to refer to section 7.1, titled "Blaspheming the Holy Spirit."  The section takes a close look at Matthew 12.  The conclusion of Matthew 12 is that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit constitutes seeing the miracles performed by the Holy Spirit, and attributing them to Satan.  When God personally reveals Himself in this way, a rejection of that personal revelation is unpardonable.

The chief priests could not deny the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. Many prominent people had seen it. The chief priests knew without question that the miracle had taken place.  The Lazarus in the parable was a poor beggar.  If a beggar had been raised back life, would the rich believe that it had happened?  They would reason, "Why would God bother with a poor beggar?"  But the real Lazarus was not a poor person.  Everyone in Jerusalem knew of its occurrence, and as a result they proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah when he rode in on a donkey.  In other words everybody, including the chief priests, knew Jesus must be the Messiah, because of this miracle and the many miracles proceeding this one. Jesus’ power was undeniable, yet the chief priests plotted to kill Him.  This is the unpardonable sin.

I do not believe the parable of Lazarus was referring to everyone who dies without having accepted Christ as their Savior.  The parable of Lazarus is talking about some of the rich chief priests whose hearts were so hard that even the raising of the dead would not convince them that Jesus must be the Messiah.

The parable of Lazarus, therefore, is about the wicked.  It was not focused on the foolish group.  Its purpose was to talk about the Pharisees who plotted to kill Lazarus and Jesus, even when Lazarus was sent back from the grave.

But are the wicked currently being punished in Hades?  Jesus speaks of the punishment in the fire of Gehenna.  But that probably refers to the lake of fire after the millennial reign of Christ.  Remember that in the Jewish culture, the dead are asleep.  They expect to wake up very soon at the time of the resurrection.  But the wicked will not be raised.  So for them, the Great White Throne Judgment would be perceived as very soon after death.

2.16)  Where Are The Saints?

Catholics might agree that those in the foolish middle group are asleep in Hades, awaiting life in the millennium instead of in purgatory.  However, the Catholics have a strong tradition that the saints are in heaven. They strongly believe in a communion with saints in heaven.  Could the souls of the saints be in heaven while the middle group is still in Hades?

A friend of mine (who was tragically killed in a car accident) once told me she had seen the spirits of three people who had died.  She had known each of them, but they did not speak to her. They simply stood there for a bit and then disappeared. One of these three was my grandfather.  All of them had attended Baptist churches. Before this vision, my friend had not been a Christian. This event convinced her there is an afterlife, and that she should be prepared for it.

All three had been Baptist, so she went to several local Baptist churches. When she told her story they either did not believe her, or attributed her vision to demonic influence.  But were these so-called demons driving my friend towards Christianity? Next, she attended the local Catholic Church.  They believed her because this kind of vision is much more in line with Catholic traditions.  Thus, my friend became a Catholic.

Personally, I believe her.  And I don’t think they were demons.  This was a life-changing experience for her.  So how does this fit with the New Wine System?  I think that God can use the saints who have departed to further His purpose.  I don’t, however, believe they can have a productive, enjoyable life until they again receive a body after the resurrection.  Otherwise, there would not be much point to the resurrection.  Any that appear have simply been temporarily awakened like Samuel (1 Samuel 28).  Or perhaps my friend simply saw a vision.

If Catholics and Protestants have a difficult time believing the saints are not yet alive and in heaven, such a belief would not destroy the New Wine System .  The system works as long as there are three types of people who have died: (1) the saints, (2) those still on the path of righteousness, and (3) the wicked.  If one were to insist that the saints are in alive and rejoicing in heaven, this would not be detrimental to the New Wine System.  Likewise, the wicked group could be in hell since their names are blotted from the Lamb's book of Life.  The view of (1) saints, the (2) foolish, and the (3) wicked can still fit traditional Catholic doctrine.  The difference being that those in the middle group are not in purgatory.  They are still asleep and await the resurrection and the continuation of their journey of righteousness during the millennium.

2.17)  What Is Paradise Anyway?

Earlier in this chapter, we examined the verse where Jesus told the thief on the cross that he will be with Jesus in Paradise, which Paul later visited in the third heaven.  What is Paradise?

The word Paradise comes from a Persian word meaning a walled or enclosed garden.  The Septuagint uses the word Paradise in Genesis for the Garden of Eden. When the Jewish people heard the word Paradise, they would have thought of the Garden of Eden.  Revelation 2:7 tells us the tree of life is in Paradise.

Revelation 2:7b To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of my God.

Revelation 3:12 He who overcomes, ...the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my own new name.

At the end of Revelation we see the tree of life in the New Jerusalem, which is described as a walled or enclosed garden, invoking the very meaning of Paradise. These verses say that Paradise, the New Jerusalem, is a reward for those who conquer (overcome) sin by the time of Christ’s return, not at the end of the millennium.  Also, the description of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 is very similar to that of the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  The tree of life is located in Paradise. Since the tree of life is in the New Jerusalem, Paradise must be the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation 21-22.

It is approximately 1400 miles wide, 1400 miles long, and 1400 miles high.  If it were to sit on the earth it would tower high into space, much higher than the space shuttle flights and the international space station.  In my opinion, it will not sit on the earth, but will be in orbit when Christ returns.

John 14:2-3 ESV In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  (3)  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

These rooms (dwelling-places) are apparently to be given to all who abide in Christ. They will be ready when Christ returns. Yet, the nations will live throughout the world during the millennium.

How big does the Father’s house need to be in order to have rooms for a countless number of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language?  Yet, Jesus will be here on earth, and we will reign with him.

Hebrews 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem , and to innumerable multitudes of angels,  (23)  to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

This verse says those in the Bride are “enrolled in heaven.”  The elect are “enrolled” to be at the wedding banquet.  However, those enrolled in the “heavenly Jerusalem” are only the “firstborn,” according to this verse.  If the Bride of Christ is only composed of the “firstborn,” many others are to follow. Therefore, many in the middle group will also become righteous and eternal life.

Hebrews 13:14 For we don't have here an enduring city, but we seek that which is to come.

We won’t have to wait until the end of the millennium.  The New Jerusalem will be with Christ when he returns.  Instead of us going to heaven when we die, the kingdom of heaven will come to earth when Christ returns.

Revelation 21:9-10 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were loaded with the seven last plagues came, and he spoke with me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the wife , the Lamb's bride."  (10) He carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

The New Jerusalem is “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  Also, Revelation 22:14-15 implies that only those with spiritual bodies can enter.  Sinners remain outside (verse 15).  The New Jerusalem is the place where the wedding banquet is held.

Revelation 22:14-15 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  (15)  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Thus, the New Jerusalem will have rooms for all those who will reign with Christ. The middle group will not be able to enter Paradise.  The wise, however, will be able to go between the earth and Paradise, which will be in orbit around the earth.

Philip Brown

If you find this book to be of interest, please send an email with a link to this website to all your Christian family and friends.  You could even include one to your pastor.

Philip Brown     Click to email me.

If you find this book to be of interest, please send an email with a link to this website to all your Christian family and friends.  You could even include one to your pastor.

Philip Brown     Click to email me.

If you find this book to be of interest, please send an email with a link to this website to all your Christian family and friends.  You could even include one to your pastor.

Philip Brown     Click to email me.