State Of The Unsaved At Death
Does the Bible teach that the souls of the unsaved at death
are kept under punishment until their resurrection or are they in
some state of soul sleep? We will not present a definite
conclusion in this paper, but rather just some information about
what people believe and why.
Luke 16 - the story of the
rich man and Lazarus:
Based on Luke 16:19-26 and Revelation 20:13-15 some people
believe that the unsaved are kept in a state of torment until
Luke 16:19 - "There was a certain rich man, which
was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every
day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was
laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with
the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the
dogs came and licked his sores. 22 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; 23 And in hell he lift up
his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and
Lazarus in his bosom. 24 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. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy
lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil
things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And
beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed:
so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither
can they pass to us, that would come from thence."
Looking at Luke 16, can we be sure that it is NOT a parable?
We know from scripture that the dead (saved and unsaved) do not
have physical bodies until the second resurrection (John 5:28-29,
1 Cor 15:42-44) and yet the rich man had a physical body from the
description given in the account of Luke 16.
John 5:28 - "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are
in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
1 Cor 15:42 - "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
This should be
enough evidence to prove that Luke 16 is just a parable if it was
describing an event prior to the second resurrection. And we know
that it was describing an event prior to the second resurrection
since the rich man wanted God to send someone back to earth to
warn his brothers who were still alive.
Revelation 20:13 - the dead
are in 'death and hell':
Rev 20:13-15 - "13 And the sea gave up the dead
which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which
were in them: and they were judged every man according to their
works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.
This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written
in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
John Gill's commentary on this
- "and death and hell
delivered up the dead which were in them";
"death", which is here represented as a person,
and elsewhere as a king, reigning and having power over
men, signifies death in general, and every kind of death
of which men have died, whether natural or violent, over
whom it will now have no longer dominion, but will be
obliged to deliver up all its subjects; and
"hell" signifies the grave, which will now be
opened, and deliver up all its prisoners, all that have
been buried in the earth;"
It appears that Rev 20:13-15 provides little information about
the state of the unsaved prior to the resurrection of
their bodies, so we really have just Luke 16 for evidence to
substantiate the belief that the unsaved dead are in torment
prior to Judgment Day.
Revelation 20:4-6: The resurrection of
Revelation 20:4-6 seems to indicate that the unsaved dead are
just 'dead', in a state of soul sleep, awaiting the
resurrection of damnation mentioned in John 5:29:
Rev 20:4 - "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon
them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the
souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and
for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast,
neither his image, neither had received his mark upon
their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned
with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived
not again until the thousand years were finished. This is
the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath
part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no
power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall
reign with him a thousand years."
The "problem" with using the above passage from Revelation 20 is
that it speaks of the "thousand years" (in verse 5) and so for those
who preach a literal futuristic "millenial kingdom" on earth, the
phrase "the rest of the dead lived not again until" is not seen
as a reference to the state of all the unsaved dead from the beginning of
creation but as something else, namely the state of people who died during the
time period of the "millenial kingdom". Once we make a wrong
conclusion about the millenial kingdom in verse 5, we are going to make a wrong
conclusion about the "first resurrection" in verse 6. We will think
that "first resurrection" is the "rapture" that many people
believe is supposed to occur before the start of the "millenial
kingdom". But what if the "first resurrection" is just the point
at which a believer becomes saved as alluded to here:
Romans 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so
we also should walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Colossians 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Ephesians 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ
So then, "having a part in the first resurrection" is for those who
are "blessed and holy" which simply refers to those who are redeemed,
the elect of God, those whom God has chosen to be a people unto himself:
Psalms 65:4 Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
Believers have a part in the first resurrection because Christ raises up
their spiritually dead souls and makes them new creatures in Christ that they
might partake of the work God has laid out for them from before the foundation
of the world.
John 5:28: The Resurrection of Damnation:
John 5:28 - "Marvel not at this: for the
hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall
hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done
good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done
evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
In John 5 above, since we know that believers are with Christ, the phrase
"all that are in the graves" must simply be another way of saying
"everyone who ever died". And the point being made is about the
physical resurrection of everyone, not that souls of all the dead are in the
grave until that time.
Believers at death go
immediately to be with Christ in Heaven:
Luke 23: 43 - "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I
say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
2Cor 5:8 - "We are confident, I say, and
willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present
with the Lord."
Based on Luke 23:43 and 2 Cor 5:8 we know believers at
death are ushered into the presence of the Lord - minus their
Which of the dead "know not any
Knowing that ONLY believers go to be with the Lord at the moment of death, the verses listed below could
only be referring to the unsaved dead, NOT the saved
Eccl 9:5 - "For the living know that they shall
die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they
any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also
their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished;
neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing
that is done under the sun. --- 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to
do, do it with thy might; for ,
whither thou goest."
Psa 146:3 - "Put not your trust in princes, nor
in the son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His breath
goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his
If the above verses from Ecclesiastes and the Psalms are
referring to the unsaved dead, isn't the Bible saying that the
unsaved dead are in the grave in a state of soul sleep, awaiting
the resurrection of damnation? And if this is not the case, then
what do those verses in Ecclesiastes and Psalms refer to?
John Gill's commentary on
Psalm 146:4 says:
- "in that very day his
thoughts perish; in the day, hour, and moment
he dies: not that the soul ceases, or ceases to think at
death; it is immortal, and dies not; and, as it exists in
a separate state after death, it retains all its powers
and faculties, and, among the rest, its power of
thinking; which it is capable of exercising, and does, as
appears from the case of the souls under the altar, #Rev 6:9."
Gill's reference to Revelation 6:9
only accounts for the souls of the redeemed, not the unsaved:
Rev 6:9 - "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"
The unsaved dead go down
Here are two verses from the Psalms that tend to indicate the
unsaved dead are asleep in the grave awaiting the resurrection of
Psa 115:17 - "The dead praise not the LORD,
neither any that go down into silence."
Surely the spiritually dead do not praise the Lord and so the
above verse would apply to them rather than to the saved. Only
the unsaved dead could "go down in silence" because the
souls in heaven are praising God.
Psa 6:5 - "For in death there is no
remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee
Looking at Psalm 6:5 with Luke 16 in mind (which speaks of a
man who died lost and was very conscious of God), only a state of
"soul sleep" would account for the dead having no
remembrance of God. Likewise, the unsaved do not have a thankful
attitude towards God either in this life or the next, so Psalm
6:5 must only be talking about the unsaved.
A person's main concern should be the state of his soul with
respect to salvation. Even if the unsaved dead are in a state of
soul sleep until Judgment Day, that Judgment Day will come:
Heb 9:27 - "And as it is appointed unto men once
to die, but after this the judgment"
2Pet 2:9 - "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the
godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished"
2Pet 3:7 - "But the heavens and the earth, which
are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire
against the day of judgment and
perdition of ungodly men."
Matt 12:36 - "But I say unto you, That every idle
word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."
If the unsaved are in a state of sleep, it will appear to
them, when they awake, as if they had just died since that is the
last thing they would have remembered and experienced anyway.
What about YOU? Where will YOU be spending eternity?