Chapter 7: ~ “The hour is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and shall come forth.”

Do you know what “hour” Jesus is referring to there? He tells us, numerous times, in the next chapter:

“This is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the last day.”  {John 6:39 NLT}

“It is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life—that I should raise them at the last day.”  {John 6:40 NLT}

“People can’t come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them from the dead.”  {John 6:44 NLT}

I imagine many of you see the can of worms I’ve opened. What Jesus said in those three verses, along with our title passage, doesn’t appear to harmonize with the almost universal belief that when Christians die they go immediately to heaven.

Because I’m going against such a universally held belief, and one that oftentimes has an emotional element combined with it, I would only say: please give me just a few short pages; if I haven’t won you over by then I probably won’t. And while I realize that the great majority of the Christian world thinks otherwise, I would at the same time say that there’s hardly a truth in the Bible that’s clearer or more consistently taught than this one.

As were going through this I hope you’ll take a little time to occasionally go back and compare what you’re reading with what Jesus said in those four passages up above.

I’ll start with two passages that I think you’ll agree are perfectly suited to our subject.

Here’s how the first passage begins:

“And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died.”  {1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT}

And here’s how it ends:

“Therefore comfort and encourage each other with these words.”  {Vs. 18}

Don’t you agree that this passage is perfect for our subject? And don’t you agree that what we’re going to find in-between those two verses is going to give us our answer?

So, “what will happen to the Christians who have died?” And what are “these words” that we’re supposed to “comfort and encourage each other with?”

“I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort and encourage each other with these words.”  {1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 NLT, NIV}

I have to say, those aren’t the words that I usually hear Christians comforting and encouraging each other with.

Although I really don’t believe I should need to point this out, I want to quickly address the idea that Paul there is only talking about the resurrection of the body, not the soul. If that was really the case wouldn’t Paul have told us that, so that we could “comfort and encourage each other with those words?” Surely he didn’t just happen to leave out that extremely important detail. On top of that, after telling us, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven and raise the Christians who have died,” he then says, “and so we will be with the Lord forever.” It’s this event, the Lord coming down from heaven and raising the Christians who have died, that brings about our being with Him forever. How could this be if Christians who have died are already up in heaven with Him?

Now for our second passage; and once again, notice how it starts:

“Let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us…”  {1 Corinthians 15:51 NLT}

And what was that wonderful secret God had revealed to Paul? The same secret he just made known to us in that last passage. (Surely that doesn’t surprise you does it?)

“Let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised.”  {1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 NLT}

Now I want to combine with those last two passages two more passages. They teach the same thing as the first two, but they add something that’s not specifically stated in the first two. (I would say that it’s there in the first two by implication, but it’s just not specifically stated in so many words.) These next two passages, both speaking of the resurrection, add the statements, “those who will be raised to life again,” and “they came to life again.” Now, if by the resurrection they’re “raised to life again,” and “they come to life again,” then would it not follow that before the resurrection they didn’t have life?

Here are the two passages:

“Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again… But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised first; then when Christ comes back all his people will be raised.”  {1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT}

“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus, and for proclaiming the word of God. And I saw the souls of those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”  {Revelation 20:4, 5 NLT}

I want to point out one thing from that Revelation passage before going on: Every single translation I’ve ever seen, and I’ve looked on the internet for as many as I could possibly find, says: “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded…” Not a single translation says, “I saw the bodies of those who had been beheaded…” And it’s of those very same “souls” who had been beheaded that the passage then goes on to say, “they came to life again.” Which means, and this is consistent with everything we’ve seen so far in this chapter, those “souls” that “came to life again” couldn’t have been living up in heaven before this “resurrection.”

Now I’d like to share two quotes that go along with those last two passages. I hope you’ll give some real consideration to what these two men say, especially in the light of all that I’ve just shared with you. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, William Tyndale was one of the great reformers who was martyred for spreading the Bible. He also translated the Bible into English; and from what I read, his translation was so accurate that possibly as much as 80% of the King James was taken from his translation.)

“I confess openly, that I am not persuaded that they be already in the full glory that Christ is in, or the elect angels of God are in. Neither is it any article of my faith; for if it were so, I see not but then the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh were a thing in vain.”  {William Tyndale, Preface to the New Testament, 1534}

“The doctrine of the resurrection appears to have been thought of much more consequence among the primitive Christians than it is now. How is this? The apostles were continually insisting on it, and exciting the followers of God to diligence, obedience, and cheerfulness through it. And their successors in the present day seldom mention it! …There is not a doctrine in the gospel on which more stress is laid; and there is not a doctrine in the present system of preaching which is treated with more neglect!”  {Dr. Adam Clarke, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15}

I don’t know what I could say to make those four passages any clearer. So how about I change directions and take a look at one of the main passages that’s often cited to prove that when Christians die they go immediately to heaven and see if after some closer examination that’s actually what it says. Interestingly enough, it’s something Jesus Himself said; and He said it in response to the request of the thief that was hanging on the cross next to Him:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  {Luke 23:43 NLT}

Admittedly, those words of Christ, taken just as they read, definitely support the belief that when Christians die they go immediately to heaven. But not only are we then faced with the problem of harmonizing them with everything we’ve looked at so far in this chapter, but we’re faced with the even bigger problem of harmonizing them with something else Jesus said, something not only extremely important and extremely well known, but something He said on numerous occasions; so numerous in fact, that at one point He said this in three consecutive chapters:

“Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man… would be killed, and three days later he would rise again.”  {Mark 8:31 NLT}

“He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.”  {Mark 9:31 NLT}

“He took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, saying… they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.”  {Mark 10:32, 34 KJV}

“As Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”  {Matthew 12:40 NLT}

While I believe that all of those passages say the same thing and go directly against the common understanding of Christ’s words in Luke 23:43, I think that last passage, “I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights,” is absolutely irreconcilable with the idea that Jesus and the thief on the cross went to paradise on the day they died—unless one believes that paradise is in the heart of the earth; and since that’s such a far out idea, as well as a completely unbiblical one, and since no one believes that (as far as I know), I won’t even address that.

The simple fact of the matter is, and this is something all Christians know and agree on: Jesus died and was resurrected on the third day just as He said He would be:

“They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day.”  {Acts 10:39, 40 NIV}

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me—that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said.”  {1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 NLT}

Unquestionably, Jesus didn’t go to paradise on the day He died. So what do we do with those words, “…today you will be with me in paradise?” I’ll show you:

First, an accepted fact, but one that’s not very well known:

“The earliest writing had no capitalization, no spaces, and no punctuation marks… Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Christian Bible started to be produced. These were designed to be read aloud and the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including…various punctuation marks.”  {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuation}

“How the Bible was Written: Originally the Bible was written in “uncial” writing. This type of writing consists of capital letters with no connection between letters, no spaces between words and sentences, no periods and commas, and no chapters or verses.”  {http://www.scborromeo.org/truth/b3.htm}

“The Four Gospels: Harmonizing the Teachings of Jesus Christ
The punctuation in the Bible is not a part of the inspired text. This is why churches run into a problem of where the thief on the cross is today. If we were to move the comma in Luke 23:43, it would give us a whole new meaning.” {http.//www.biblestudy.org/basicart/harmony-gospel.html}

It’s a well understood truth that the placement of one little comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. One of the above sites gave a cute example that’s certain to make both sexes smile:

“Woman without her man is helpless.”
“Woman, without her, man is helpless.”

Obviously, those commas change the entire meaning of that sentence. And as that last site said, the same thing happens in this case:

“Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“Jesus replied, “I assure you today, you will be with me in paradise.”

This is no different than if you were to say to a friend, concerning a very important event that they greatly desired you to attend: “I’m telling you right now I’m going.” They would naturally understand, and you wouldn’t have to explain to them, that you weren’t saying you were going right then, but that you were giving them the assurance—right then—that you were going to be there for the important event. And that’s exactly the case in those words spoken by Jesus to the thief on the cross.

I realize that for many of you what I’ve just explained is not only totally new, but cuts across something you’ve believed your whole life. I also realize that it’s not easy to give up something you’ve believed for a long time. But just remember: the old traditional way of understanding that passage is in direct contradiction to everything both Jesus and the apostles said in regard to His death and resurrection, and is also in direct contradiction to all of those earlier passages we looked at.

I’d like to take a brief look at another aspect of this subject of death before I bring this chapter to a close. I’ll begin by sharing a couple passages from the Old Testament:

“Do not let your people… call forth the spirits of the dead. For anyone who does these things is an object of horror and disgust to the LORD.”  {Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NLT}

“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death.”  {Leviticus 20:27 KJV}

FAMILIAR SPIRIT: “The spirit of a dead person invoked by a medium to advise or prophesy.”  {Webster’s Dictionary}

One question that naturally arises from those two passages is why did God consider it such an abomination to communicate with the dead? Because there’s no such thing as communicating with the dead:

“The dead know nothing… never again will they have a part in anything that happens on earth.”  {Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 NLT}

“Do the dead get up and praise you? Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness? Can they speak of your miracles? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?”  {Psalms 88:10-12 NLT}

Two quick things about those two passages before I continue on: #1—the psalmist is obviously saying that the answer to all those questions he puts forth is no. And #2—both of those passages are speaking of life on this earth as we know it—before Christ’s second coming and the resurrection.

Now, if “the dead know nothing,” and “never again have a part in anything that happens on earth,” which is what that first passage tells us, who is it that people are communicating with when they have supposed communication with the dead? They’re communicating with none other than the devil or one of his fellow fallen angels, which is why God considered it such an abomination. And that’s why God in that Deuteronomy passage also includes “witchcraft”:

“Do not let your people… engage in witchcraft.”  {Deuteronomy 18:10 NLT}
WITCHCRAFT: “communication with the devil or a familiar”  {Webster’s Dictionary}

And for those of you that are familiar with the story of Saul and the “witch of Endor” (1 Samuel 28), and believe that it was actually the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel that appeared to Saul, let me give you something to think about: Not only does that belief go directly against what those two passages we had a few paragraphs back said abut the dead, but it goes directly against something the story itself specifically tells us—twice:

“[Saul] asked the LORD what he should do, but the LORD refused to answer him either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets… God has left me and won’t reply by prophets.”  {1 Samuel 28:6, 15 NLT}

Now, if “the LORD refused to answer him by the prophets,” and “God had left him and wouldn’t reply by prophets,” are we to believe that Saul was able to then go to a witch, whom God had declared were “objects of horror and disgust” to Him, and of whom He had said they should be put to death, and the witch was able to accomplish for Saul the very thing the Bible tells us that God refused to do for him? Whose control would the dead Samuel be under, God’s or the witch’s? Surely you can see that God didn’t let that witch do for Saul what He Himself refused to do for him.

Let me approach this from a different direction: If the teaching is/was true that when people die their “soul” or “spirit” continues living (which goes directly against that Revelation passage we had earlier where John saw the “souls” of God’s servants come back to life again at the resurrection), but if it were true, according to the teaching the still living soul goes either up to heaven, or down to hell. So, according to the teaching, where would the soul of the faithful prophet Samuel have gone? Of course, up to heaven; which means if the witch were able to bring back the spirit of Samuel she would bring it down out of heaven. But that’s the opposite of what we read“And the woman said, ‘I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.” (vs. 13) So now what are we to believe, that the “spirits” of God’s dead servants are floating around in the earth somewhere (what would they be doing there all that time) and obey the beckoning of Godforsaken witches? Again, none of that makes a lick of sense and can’t possibly be true.

So, who was it that communicated with Saul? It was either the Devil himself or one of his fallen angels. (We’re told: “Satan can disguise himself.” 2 Cor. 11:14 Along with that, we saw up above that witchcraft is communication with the devil.) And the message the disguised devil gave Saul was perfectly calculated to destroy the last vestige of courage he had left before going to war with the Philistines: “Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, paralyzed with fright because of Samuel’s words.” (vs. 20) The very next thing we read about Saul is that he dies in battle.

With the desire to keep this point as short as possible, I’ll just say one more thing: I believe those truths, “the dead know nothing” and “never again will they have a part in anything that happens on earth,” if believed and remembered, will someday prove a mighty shield against “…him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:8, 9 KJV), for I believe that part of Satan’s “signs and lying wonders” will be to impersonate the dead in an effort to deceive God’s last day people.

In closing, I’ll go back to the beginning and say to you what I think the apostle Paul would now say to you:

“And now, brothers and sisters, you know what happens to the Christians who have died.”