THE STATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS DEAD
By Frank G. Allen
“Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their life time subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
In the New Testament there are two distinct classes of texts referring to the state of the righteous dead. These appear to be antagonistic. No theory can be correct that does not harmonize them. No theory that I have yet seen, except the one here presented, does this. Hence I can accept none. If that which I advance does not do it, it likewise will be unworthy of acceptance.
Previous to the death of Jesus there are several allusions to what is called the intermediate state. Hades expressed the state of the dead, without regard to their condition. At death the good and the bad alike went into hades. The rich man lifted up his eyes in hades, being in torment. Christ was in hades while His body was in the grave. David, referring to him, as quoted by Peter of the day of Pentecost, said: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades, neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). Hades included both paradise and Tartarus. These were its departments. That was the abode of the righteous, this of the wicked. To this the rebellious angels were cast down, to await the final judgment of the last day (2 Peter 2:4). Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. This was but a Jewish expression for paradise. Jesus said to the penitent thief: “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Acts 2:27). Jesus, Lazarus and the thief, then, all went to paradise at death. But Jesus and the rich man went to hades. The place of the rich man was a place of torment; paradise, where Jesus went, was a place of “comfort” (see Luke 16:23). It follows, therefore, that both of these places were in hades. Since these representatives of the two classes – the righteous and the unrighteous – went to these distinct departments of hades, it follows that all the race went to the same places.
Christ did not go to the Father while His body was in the grave. On the day of the resurrection He said to Mary: “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). Paradise, at that time, then, as we shall hereafter see, was not the dwelling place of the Most High.
From all of these statements it follows conclusively that previous to the ascension and coronation of Jesus, there was an intermediate state of the righteous dead called paradise, but which was not heaven itself, the holy habitation of God. Here the souls of the righteous abode in “comfort” awaiting the dedication of heaven by the blood of their “forerunner” and High Priest, Christ Jesus.
Before the ascension of Christ every passage in the word of God, both Old Testament and New, that alludes to the state of the righteous dead, recognizes this fact. After the ascension it is not once recognized in the New Testament nor can any passage after that time be reconciled with that idea. This is significant.
Having observed the teaching upon this point, previous to the ascension, let us now notice the other class and see how uniformly they indicate a different state of things.
When Stephen was stoned he looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). The natural inference is that he expected the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God, to receive his spirit. This would indicate that his soul was not going to paradise, as the souls of the righteous had been doing from the beginning, or, if so, that paradise now included the dwelling place of God and of His glorified Son. What we here find so plainly indicated, we find confirmed as we advance.
To the Corinthians Paul says: “For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; 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.” Here it is clearly affirmed that when one is absent from the body he is present with the Lord. The body is represented as our home while we remain in it; but when we depart from it, we are at home with the Lord. This body-house is exchanged for a house not made with hands. And this house is in the heavens. It is not, then, in paradise, unless paradise has been removed from hades to “heaven itself,” as Paul expresses it. And this house not made with hands, which we get in exchange for the body, is “with the Lord.” And the Lord is at “the right hand of the Father.” Hence Paul’s general statement corresponds with Stephen’s vision and prayer.
Another passage bearing upon the point is found in the same Epistle. Paul says” “I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
Paul speaks this of himself. It is not my purpose to dwell upon the teaching of this wonderful passage. That is done in another sermon. I only wish to call attention to the fact that Paul found paradise in the “third heaven.” He was “caught up into paradise,” “even to the third heaven.” The Jews had three heavens. The first was the atmospheric regions about us. “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so. And God called the firmament heaven” (Genesis 1:7). The second is the upper canopy, the place of the heavenly bodies. “And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth” (Genesis 1:16-17). The third was the dwelling-place of Jehovah. Macknight says: “In the language of the Jews, the third heaven is the seat of God, and of the holy angels, into which Christ ascended after his resurrection, but which is not the object of men’s senses as the other heavens are.” Paul makes paradise and the third heaven one and the same. Therefore paradise and he third heaven are one and the same. Therefore paradise was at that time in heaven itself, the holy habitation of God and the angels. Here the Lord reigns at the right hand of God. Hence Paul found in his experience what was indicated at Stephen’s death, and in every other passage after the ascension of Jesus.
Previous to the glorification of Christ paradise was in hades. Every passage in the Bible so teaches. Now it is in heaven. Every passage after the resurrection so teaches. Heaven and hades are two very distinct places. They stand out in bold antithesis in the Bible. How, then, shall we reconcile these two distinct classes of clear Scripture texts, one of which locates paradise, the home of the righteous, in hades, and the other as clearly locates it in heaven itself, in the presence of the Lord and the holy angels? I know of but one theory on which it can be done. Thus I now submit as my main proposition:
Paradise was the abode of the righteous in hades till the ascension and glorification of Jesus; then it was removed to heaven, and that department of hades was abolished.
I now invite your attention to a few reasons for affirming this proposition. For several reasons Paradise, the intermediate state of the righteous, was located in hades till the glorification of Christ. Till then it was a necessity. After that the necessity no longer existed.
- My first argument is that –
Previous to the Glorification of Christ There Was No Absolute
Remission of Sins.
On this point the great Apostle to the Gentiles clearly testifies. In the tenth chapter of Hebrews he says:
“For the law having a shadow of the good things to cone, and not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw nigh. Else would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more conscience of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.”
Here it is asserted –
(1) That the sacrifices of the law could never make the worshipers perfect.
(2) That the worshipers still had a conscience of sins.
(3) That, by repeated sacrifice, there was a remembrance made again every year of the sins for which sacrifice had been previously offered.
(4) That it was not possible for such sacrifices to take away sins.
(5) In the eleventh verse the Apostle adds: “And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins.”
(6) All this was said in full view of the relation of these sacrifices to the atonement of Christ. With all their typical significance, and borrowed virtue from the blood of Jesus, they could not take away sins. They could not reach the conscience. As this point of special significance and importance in the establishing of my proposition, I invite your attention to the words of that prince of Biblical critics, Prof. J.W. McGarvey. In his Commentary on Acts, 13:39, he says:
“The assumption is not that justification can not be procured by works of law, for this is equally true under Christ; but that those under the law of Moses did not obtain remission of sins at all.
“Paul argues this assumption at length in the ninth and tenth chapters of Hebrews. The only provisions in the law at all connected with the remission of sins were its sacrifices, and he asserts of them: ‘It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.’ It can not be rightly assumed that he contemplated these sacrifices as considered apart from their typical meaning; for he makes no such distinction. He takes them just as he finds them, with all that belongs to them when offered in good faith, and makes the assertion that it was not possible for them to take away sins.”
One of the main points of dissimilarity between the old covenant and the new, is that in the new our sins and iniquities are remembered no more. Under the old they were continually remembered, but under the new they are “remembered against us no more forever.”
The blood of Jesus Christ alone can cleanse the soul from sin; and it had no actual cleansing power till with it an atonement was made in the holy place on high. The efficacy of the blood of Christ is because of the atonement. Apart from this His blood was of no more value than that of others. Hence His blood had no efficacy before the atonement. The blessings derived from it, therefore, were prospective and borrowed. But when Christ, as our High Priest, with his own blood, entered the holy place, and atoned for the sins of the world, its efficacy reached back to Adam, as well as forward to the end of time. The forgiveness of the Jewish and patriarchal ages was only prospective, but now it becomes actual. The account that had been kept and carried forward year after year was now canceled. In past ages God promised His children remission; but it was a promise enjoyed in prospect, not in realization. There still remained “a conscience of sins.” Hence Paul says that while those ancient worthies obtained a good report through faith, they received not the thing promised. “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39). It is affirmed that they died without being made perfect, and that they could not be made perfect apart from the better thing which God provided for us. Hence their perfection awaited that “better thing,” and that is the consummation or perfection secured by the blood of atonement. This is clearly stated in the ninth chapter of Hebrews: “And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Here it is clearly stated that Christ’s death was for the remission of transgressions under the first covenant. Had they been remitted before His death, His death could not have been for their remission. Thus it was by His own death, as a means, that Christ remitted the transgressions under former dispensations, in order that the called – God’s faithful people – might receive the eternal inheritance promised.
In the third chapter of Romans, Paul affirms that God set forth Christ “to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God.” Here it is clearly stated that the sins committed previous to the shedding of the blood of Christ were passed over; and that now His blood is a propitiation for them, as well as for all sin till the end of time. The annual summing up of the sins of the people, and carrying them forward another year, to be remembered again at that time, and so on continually shows how they were “passed over,” till the death of Christ.
These scriptures clearly establish the fact that previous to the ascension and glorification of Christ, there was no absolute remission of sins. Those dying in faith in those ages obtained no absolute remission. They were not made perfect, but died awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of both through the atonement of Christ. Without this perfection by absolute remission, they could not go to heaven. No imperfection or unremitted sin can stand accepted in the presence of God. Hence an intermediate state of repose for the souls of the righteous till that perfection could be obtained was a necessity. They could not go into the immediate presence of God till made perfect. They could not be made perfect till the atonement was made. Hence their abode in paradise in hades was a necessity till Christ removed their disabilities and dedicated heaven by the blood of atonement.
- My second argument is based on
The High Priesthood of Christ.
In the tabernacle there were two distinct departments – the holy place and the most holy. That typified the church; this, heaven. The high priest went alone into the most holy place. The common priests could not go behind the vail separating it from the holy place. Into this the high priest went once a year, on the great day of atonement, and made atonement for the people. In the eighth chapter of Hebrews, Paul argues that Christ has not gone into the holy place made with hands, as did the earthly high priests, but into heaven itself, with His own blood, to make an atonement for the sins of the world. Then, as our High Priest, He is our “forerunner.” Hence the Apostle, in speaking of our hope which anchors within the vail – that is, behind the vail – in the most holy place, says: “Whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:19-20). That being true, it follows that Christ must be the first to enter “heaven itself.” As “forerunner” He had to be the first. As High Priest He must enter the holy place and dedicate it with His own blood, before it could be entered by others. The blood of atonement must be sprinkled behind the vail before it was opened as the terminus of the new and living way. If any went there before Christ, He could not be their “forerunner.” It follows, therefore, that God’s ancient people could not go to heaven till Christ was glorified, and made the atonement. Hence an intermediate state in paradise was a necessity till that momentous event in the history of the world’s redemption. This was most strikingly illustrated – typified – when the blood of atonement was shed. To this we invite your special consideration:
The holy place in the temple typified the church; the most holy, heaven. Between these there hung an impenetrable vail, behind which the worshipers in the holy place could neither see nor go. “This signifying,” says Paul, “that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while as the first tabernacle is yet standing” (Hebrews 9:6-9). The thing signified, as I understand it, is this: that the way between earth and heaven was closed while the first tabernacle stood – while that typical religion lasted. As God’s worshiping children could not go behind this vail, so they could not enter the holy place on high. And now do you remember what occurred when Jesus died? Do you remember how that when He bowed his sacred head to death and said, “It is finished,” the mountains were rent, the graves of the dead were opened, and the vail in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom? This showed that the vail which hitherto had separated between earth and heaven was taken out of the way. This suggested to Paul the following striking language: “Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:10).
The vail in the temple, separating the holy from the most holy place, typified the body of Jesus, which had to be “broken” before the way into the holy place on high was “made manifest.” But now, through the “rent vail of his flesh,” we have a “new and living way” into “heaven itself,” whither our “forerunner is for us entered.” It follows, therefore, that the righteous could not enter heaven till this new and living way was prepared. Hence the intermediate state in paradise, a department of hades, was a necessity till the rent vail of the tabernacle, as a type, found its fulfillment in the offering of the blood of Jesus. As our sacrifice His blood was shed, as our High Priest He with it made an atonement. The offering was made on earth, the atonement was made in heaven.
When Jesus, as our High Priest, entered heaven with the offering made on Calvary and dedicated it with His own blood, the efficacy of that atonement reached back over all the past and accomplished the perfection of which the faithful had received the promise. The way was now prepared, and their forerunner entered. Hence the obstructions and their disabilities were removed. The necessity for the intermediate state, therefore, no longer remained. Since the necessity no longer existed, we should expect its discontinuance. That it ceased to exist we have seen to be a clearly stated matter of New Testament teaching. To the removal of these long-standing disabilities we understand the Apostle to refer in our text. Read it again, as it appears in the Common Version:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life time subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14).
Christ took upon himself our humanity in order to die. He alone was born to die. We are born to live; but He was born to die. Here two objects are distinctly stated as having been accomplished in His death:
1. He “destroyed” the devil. That is, He broke his power, vanquished him. That is the meaning of the word destroy as here used. When Jesus died He went into hades. Its ponderous gates closed upon Him. He was a prisoner within its gates, and Satan held the keys. Could he have held Jesus as his prisoner, as he had held all the rest of the human race, the story of the world’s redemption would never have been told. Satan was clamorous to get the Son of God into the grave – under the dominion of death. He little dreamed that, in this, Jesus would only stoop to conquer. He voluntarily went within. He feared not to meet Satan in his own dominion. When, on the third day, He came forth, He wrested from Satan the keys of hades, unlocked its ponderous gates, and came forth a triumphant conqueror. Not only so, but He “dragged the captor captive.” Hence He says to John, on the Isle of Patmos: “I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Hitherto Satan had carried them, but now they suspend from the girdle of the Son of God. Hence in His own death the Son of God destroyed the power of Satan over the dominion of death.
2. He delivered them who, through fear of death, were during their life-time subject to bondage. You will observe that those delivered were not living at the time. Their earthly life was a thing of the past. Their deliverance was after death. During their life they were subject to bondage. This bondage was due to their fear of death. They feared death; and this fear amounted to a bondage of the spirit. The future was not clear to them as it is to us. Hence they enjoyed not the freedom of mind and spirit in regard to it that the informed child of God may now enjoy. Now this people who went into the dominion of death with this bondage of spirit were delivered. Delivered from what? We can see but one thing from which deliverance was possible. They were delivered from their condition at that time. They were delivered from hades. They had long been waiting the finished work of redemption, and, now that the glad hour had come, they followed in the train of their conquering King and Lord, and paradise in hades is eternally no more. The rent vail in the temple, at the death of Jesus, showed that the way into heaven was opened up through this “new and living way”; and no sooner is the way opened than it is filled by the thronging hosts that in the paradise of hades had been waiting a way of access to the Father.
As another evidence of this, your attention is directed to an expression in the twentieth chapter of Revelation. In describing the scenes of the last day, it is said that death and hades shall deliver up the dead that are in them; and death and hades shall be cast into the lake of fire. The whole tenantry of hades go into the lake of fire. Hence there are no righteous among them. But all the righteous were in hades previous to the death and glorification of Jesus. It follows, therefore, that the righteous have been or will be delivered from hades before the judgment day. Its wicked only remain. We conclude, therefore, that hades delivered up its righteous at the call of its conquering King and Lord, when he had through His death prepared the way.
The immense confusion of thought on this subject is due, I think, to the fact that it has not been studied in its relation to the death and glorification of Jesus. We are well aware of the blunders of the sectarian world in regard to the conditions of salvation, growing out of the fact that they were changed by the death and glorification of Christ. They go back to a former dispensation to find the conditions of salvation. By blending these with the Gospel of Christ they make everlasting confusion. Have we not been committing a like blunder in regard to the condition of the dead? Every passage of the word of God relied upon to prove that there now exists an intermediate state of the righteous dead, so far as we have seen, belongs to a former dispensation. Not a passage under the Christian dispensation hints at such a thing. This should make one very suspicious of his conclusions. We have failed to consider the effect of the death of Christ on the dead, as well as the living. It affected heaven, earth, and hell. With these facts all before us, we can readily see how it was that Lazarus and the thief went to paradise; and yet to be absent from the body now is to be present with the Lord. We can see now paradise has been removed to the “third heaven,” where God and the Savior and the holy angels dwell.
But now I invite your attention to some objections that may be urged against the theory. For while the arguments may appear conclusive, yet if you have in mind what you regard as irreconcilable objections, you are still in a state of doubt and uncertainty. I will, therefore, notice the most plausible objections I have ever heard against the position.
1 .Ten days after the ascension of Christ, Peter said, “for David ascended not into the heavens” (Acts 2:34). From this it has been argued that David was not in heaven at that time; and if he was not, of course others were not. And this was after the glorification of Christ. Hence this fact refutes the theory. We grant that this would have some force, but would be by no means conclusive, if Peter had been speaking simply of the spirit of David. But this was not the case. On the contrary, his argument includes the body of David. He is showing why the language of David concerning his soul not being in hades, and his body not seeing corruption, did not apply to him, but to Christ. Hence he reminds them that David was dead and buried, and that his tomb was among them. They had all seen it and knew it. Hence his body did see corruption. He did not ascend to heaven at death, for his grave, containing his body, had been among them since he was gathered to his fathers. The statement, therefore, does not refer to his spirit apart from his body; hence it has no bearing on our position.
2. Another objection is that it obviates the necessity for the final judgment. The argument is that if we go to heaven at death, the question of our eternal abode in heaven is settled. And if this be settled at death, there is no necessity for a final judgment. But I can see no force in this. The same objection might be urged against the old paradise in hades. When Lazarus went to Paradise and was “comforted,” carried there by the angels, was not the question of his eternal happiness in heaven settled? Would he have to wait till the judgment day to know whether he would be saved or lost? Certainly not. No one thus contends. Then our theory does not affect that question any more than the old one. The fact is, the final judgment is not a day to determine whether men will be saved or lost. That question is settled at death, whether our theory be true or not. It is a day of the final summing up of all the consequences of our lives, and a vindication of God’s righteousness in dealing with them as He has. It is a day of the “revelation of the right judgments of God.” It decides the size of one’s cup of bliss for all eternity, but not the fact that one is to have a cup. It is not a day to decide whether one’s name is to be put into the Lamb’s book of life – the names of the righteous are already there – but it decides the degree of honor to be conferred on these names. One can come from the immediate presence of the Lord to learn the results of that final reckoning, as well as from the old paradise in hades. Hence that objection amounts to nothing.
3. It is also objected that the theory I have advocated obviates the necessity for the resurrection of the body. I accept the resurrection of the body as a fact, because Paul so teaches. The philosophy of it I do not concern myself about. Paul says that when we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord, and that there we are “clothed upon with our house [or body]which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:3). This has to be accepted as well as the other. God’s purpose is to give us back our old bodies glorified, and fashioned like unto the glorious body of our Elder Brother. His purpose in this He has not revealed. Our theory contains nothing conflicting with it. Hence as an objection it is nil. This objection assumes that one can not go to heaven without this earthly body glorified; or that if he could, then he would have no further use for the body. But this is to assume that of which we know nothing. When Paul was caught up to heaven he did not know whether he was in the body or not. He may have been in. He may have been out. Then to be there out of the body is a possibility, and yet every thing be so life-like, and one so like himself, that he does not know he is out of the body. It follows, therefore, that being in heaven does not depend on our having our glorified bodies.
As to the eternal state, I think the Bible clearly teaches that this earth, regenerated by fire and adapted to our wants, is to be the future home of the saints. While the boundless universe may lie within their range, the earth will be their home. And if such naturalness and life-likeness characterize our abode till that final glorified earthly home is complete, what may we expect of that? It is the perfection, and must surpass in all respects any thing preceding. This is the picture which John saw as the consummation of all things. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:1-3).
At death the saints go to heaven to be with God. After the new earth is ready, God comes down to it to dwell with the saints. That life eternal in the new earth will be just as real as this. God hasten the day when it may be ours. When only the saints shall dwell upon it, and sin and pain and death shall be no more. When this frail, suffering, worn-out body will be purified and glorified and made like unto the glorified body of the dear Redeemer. Glorious finality! The soul grows wild with the thought. Heaven help us to be patient while we wait.