By Joseph R Holder
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. (Exodus 3:15 KJVP)I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32 KJVP)We have the benefit of Jesus’ own explanation of Exodus 3:15. In Exodus 3:15, God simply identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Matthew reference (Also contained in Mark and Luke), Jesus emphasized the present tense of the Exodus passage, “I am….” Then Jesus stated, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” The three patriarchs had been physically dead for around two thousand years or more. Yet Jesus specifically said that they were living; He is their God.According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. (Philippians 1:20-24 KJVP)Paul looks forward to visiting the Philippians and ministering to them. He also looks forward to “…depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better….” He struggled with the dilemma. Stay and minister to the Lord’s sheep here, or depart and be with Christ. This hardly depicts a state of soul-sleep or non-existence. I suggest that Paul was struggling with two conscious experiences; one was better for him, and the other was better for the Philippians.For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (2 Corinthians 5:1-6 KJVP)The time of the event of which Paul writes is when “…our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved…” death. It is impossible apart from divine grace for us to grasp the conscious existence of our soul apart from the body that it inhabits, so Paul writes these words to assure the Corinthians—and us—that our present struggle is no problem to God. God is Spirit, not material. (John 4:24) Does God have any kind of problem existing and working with no physical body? None whatever. Neither shall we during the intermediate time from our physical death till the Second Coming when the Lord shall raise our bodies and change them to dwell with Him for all eternity.There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Luke 16:19-24 KJVP)Typically, people who study and discuss this lesson debate whether it is a parable or not. For purposes of this topic, that question is irrelevant. Jesus never taught a parable based on anything immaterial or mythological. He always built His parables around commonplace, every day, literal settings; a farmer tending his crop, a shepherd watching over his sheep, etc. Even if this lesson is a parable, we must acknowledge the underlying literal reality upon which Jesus built it. If we accept that point, the lesson teaches us clearly about life after death, and life after death in two quite different places, one a place of contented joy and the other a place of torment. Despite neither of the men having a body, both men exist and experience a full array of conscious experiences, Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man in torment. The rich man has no body, but he speaks, he hears, he senses the torments of the fire, and he senses thirst.For the record, I do not believe the lesson is a parable for two reasons. 1) Jesus begins the lesson with “There was a certain…” not with “The kingdom of heaven is like….” 2) Every other parable that Jesus taught was, as noted, constructed with a comparison of a spiritual truth with a commonplace, material situation. This lesson in now way compares spiritual things with anything present and material, the stronger reason for my not viewing the lesson as a parable.And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9-11 KJVP)These are martyrs. They were killed for their faith. Yet they are clearly alive, conscious, in the presence of the Lord, and capable of thinking, speaking, hearing, at least remembering the cause of their death, and asking the Lord how long till He punishes the wicked for their death. While I do not believe that those who have died have any knowledge of present events in this world, it seems that Scripture does teach that they at least remember that the Lord saved them from their sins (Revelation 5:9). The Revelation 6:9-11 passage is the only one that I recall in which anyone who has died has any knowledge or sense of anything else, and, in this case, their knowledge seems limited to an awareness that they were martyred. Unless I’ve missed something, any claim of knowledge beyond this is speculative and not documented by Scripture. I’ll stick with Scripture.Based on these and many other passages, I believe Scripture teaches that, immediately upon the death of our body, our soul (or spirit, depending on how you define or distinguish the two) goes immediately and consciously into the presence of the Lord. And the wicked go immediately into a place of conscious torment.