We must recognize that “death” does not mean cessation of life, but separation. Death in the physical since is the separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. Life, in the real since, is contained in the soul. The capacity to experience love, joy, understanding, loneliness, excitement, and so forth is the expression of life. Our physical body is merely a place of residence (a house if you will) for our soul to stay while we are here on earth.
Where does our soul go upon death of the body? To fully understand the answer to that question, we must first know where we are before death. Where we go after death depends upon where we are before death.
Those of us living on earth that are of the age of accountability are in one of two places: the church, or the world. The church was founded by Christ, “…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b) The church is made up of all those who have obeyed the gospel and are repentant baptized believers. These that remain faithful to the end shall live for eternity with Christ as is indicated in John 11:25,26.
Those who have reached the age of accountability and choose not to obey the gospel are of the world. They are subjects of Satan and reside in his kingdom (the world). They are sinners who enjoy and lust after things of this world. They refuse to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Baptism is the dividing line between the world and the church. By being baptized (immersion) the repentant believer comes into contact with the saving blood of Christ. Salvation is thus realized through the forgiveness of our sins and we are in Christ.
Where did souls go before the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ? To understand this we must realize that three different words are translated as “hell” in the King James Version. These three words are Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Hades means the abode of the dead, not a place of eternal punishment. We can see this by reading Acts 2:27-31 where it is reported that Jesus went to Hades at death. We also see that Hades will be eventually cast into the lake of fire — Hell if you will — at the last day. (See Revelation 20:14) Gehenna means place of eternal punishment as seen in Mark 9:43-47. The word translated as hell in these verses is the word Gehenna. Tartarus is an intermediate state of punishment. “For God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgement;” (II Peter 2:4) The word translated as hell in this passage is Tartarus.
Remember that we said that Hades was the abode of the dead. Paradise was a part of Hades. This is indicated by the fact that Jesus went to Hades after He died on the cross. He told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise. Therefore, paradise must have been a part of the abode of the dead at that time.
So, we see that at the time Jesus was crucified, Hades consisted of Paradise and Tartarus. This fact is supported by the story of the rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus. This account shows that the dead were either in a place of bliss or paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) or a place of torment with a gulf separating the two. Tartarus will eventually be cast into the lake of fire — Gehenna.
When Jesus ascended into heaven He took paradise and all the Old Testament faithful with Him.
What happens to the souls of the dead today? Those who have been saved and remain faithful will go to be with the Lord. Paul plainly states this: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor, yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23) “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (II Corinthians 5:8) These verses clearly show that Paul fully expected to go directly to be with the Lord upon his death. For Paul to say that it would be his gain to be dead, and to say that to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord indicates this. Paul would surely not have made these statements if he was going to spend a long period of time in some intermediate state away from Christ.
Paul also states that the saints will come back with Christ: “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (I Thessalonians 3:13) Saints in the New Testament always refers to Christians. In order for the saints to come back with Christ, then they must go to be with Him before that day. There are those who would have us believe that the term saints used in this verse means angels. It is true that the angels will come with Christ at His second coming. However, in as much as all other occasions of the New Testament writers using the word saints to refer to Christians, it is hard to believe that
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