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Unveiling the Mystery of the Soul After Death

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            Mystery surrounds the destiny of the soul after death.  People want to know what happens after death and have gone to great lengths to expose that mystery.  Some have even tried to contact the dead in order to unravel that mystery, which is forbidden in the Scriptures (Deut. 18:10-12).  Many books and testimonies have been written about those who have had near-death experiences, or were pronounced dead and then came back to life.  Confusion even surrounds the topic because of numerous words (and different words) used in the Scriptures related to the topic.

            But the mystery unfolds when you study the words in their original meaning and map out what each of the verses reveal.  That’s the intent of this study.  Some questions that will be answered by this study are: What happens to the spirit or soul after death?  Is it the same for the Christian and the unsaved?  Does the soul remain in the grave until the day of Resurrection?  In not, what is raised on that day?

            To begin to unravel the mystery that surrounds death, we need to understand some definitions about Bible words that describe the spirit world.

Hebrew                       Greek                                                             Definition

Sheol                =          Hades                                                  =          Abode of the Dead

Gehenna           =          Tartarus                                                =          Torment Side of the Abode of the Dead

Paradise           =          Paradise & Bosom of Abraham            =          Comfort Side of the Abode of the Dead

That’s the short definitions.  Let me give you a slightly longer definition taken from Bible dictionaries for the words.

1.      Sheol – The abode of the dead in Hebrew thought.  Sheol was regarded as the abode of all the dead, both righteous and wicked.  The Old Testament affirms that God is there.  Ps. 139:8; Prov. 15:11.  The Old Testament also affirms that God has power over Sheol.  Ps. 16:10

2.      Hades – The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term “Sheol,” which refers in general to the place of the dead.

3.      Gehenna – The Greek word that is a transliteration of the Hebrew, meaning, “valley of lamentation” and came to be used in the New Testament as a word for hell.  The valley south of Jerusalem called the Valley of the son of Hinnom (Josh. 15:8; 18:16) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods.  Later it became the city refuse site where garbage was dumped and fires burned continually.  In the period between the Old and New Testaments, Jewish writing used the term to describe the hell of fire in the final judgment.  In some writings but not in the Bible, Gehenna was also seen as the place of temporary judgment for those waiting the final judgment.  The New Testament uses Gehenna to speak of the place of final judgment (Matt. 5:29; Mk. 9:47-48).

4.      Tartarus – The name of the doleful (causing grief) and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds.  It is the same as Gehenna to the Jews.  2 Pet. 2:4

5.      Paradise – Old Persian term which means literally “wooded park.”  New Testament occurrences (Lk. 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7) refer to the abode of the righteous dead (heaven).  The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) used “Paradise” to translate the Hebrew words for the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3.  Over the years, the terms became synonymous, and eventually Paradise came to refer to Heaven.  Jewish theology then developed an opposite place for wicked persons, Gehenna, a burning furnace.

6.      Abraham’s Bosom – The Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Paradise, the abode of the righteous dead.  In Luke 16:23 the use of the term “Abraham’s bosom” is metaphorical use of God’s bosom, where Abraham is type of God, the Father of all Jews.

As you can see from these definitions, the abode of the dead is one place, but has separate areas for the righteous and the wicked.  Individual translations of Bibles may not clearly indicate which original language word is used in these passages above.  Does Scripture back up this one place of the departed dead?  Absolutely.  The very words of Jesus describe very well the place of departed souls in the spirit-world; and He ought to know, because that realm is His specialty.  The passages are Luke 16:19-31 and Luke 23:43

            The Luke 16 passage describes the area of the departed dead (Sheol or Hades) as a place where the two compartments are visible to one another.  One side is a place of comfort, the other as a place of torment in flames, separated by a great chasm.  As Jesus says in this text, it seems that those on both sides of the chasm can see each other, but are separated.  Keep in mind these two areas are not Heaven and Hell that we think about as being the eternal home after Judgment Day.  Is there any evidence elsewhere in Scripture that these two places of the Abode of the Dead are in close proximity to each other?  Yes.  Take a look at the implications of these passages:  Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2; Lk. 22:31-32; Zech. 3:1; Eph. 6:12; Rev. 12:10  Gehenna and Paradise are only temporary places of the dead until we all appear before the Great White Throne of Judgment, Rev. 20:12-15.  Notice in this passage that all of Hades (the abode of the dead) appears before God on that day, along with any that might have perished at sea.  But the key thing in this passage is verse 14: death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire.  The reason is explained the in the first verse of the next chapter: the first heaven and the first earth have passed away.  Our eternal home in either Heaven or Hell does not begin until after the final Judgment.

            Does that mean Christians do not get to go to be with Jesus until after Judgment Day?  No, because upon death, the Christian immediately goes to be with Jesus in Paradise where we stay with Him until Judgment Day and then He takes us to Heaven, our eternal home or New Jerusalem.  Lk. 23:43; Phil. 1:21-24; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thess. 4:13-15, 1 Thess. 5:9-10; Rev. 2:7.

            Now to clarify another confusion: two births and two deaths.  This is explained in Rev. 20:4-6, 14.  What are the two births?  (Physical birth and spiritual rebirth.)  What are the two deaths?  (Physical death and eternal death.)  To help explain the confusion I have a helpful saying: Born once, die twice; born twice, die once.  If all we experience in this life is just our physical birth, we will die twice; the physical death of our body and the eternal death of our soul.  But if we are born again by accepting Jesus as Savior (John 3:1-6), that second birth allows us to escape the second death, eternal death of the soul, and we will be rewarded with eternal life.  Jn. 3:16-18; 1 Thess. 4:13-15

            Now for some various thoughts about the status of our soul upon death:

1.      Death ends life as we know it.  What activities are there in Sheol according to Eccl. 9:10?

2.      Can man separate the spirit, soul and body from each other?  What happens to the spirit & soul upon death according to Lk. 8:49-56; Gen. 35:16-18?

3.      Can we survive without our spirit?  What happens if our spirit has departed?  Matt. 27:50; Ja. 2:26; Eccl. 12:7

4.      Does our soul die when our body dies?  Can man kill the soul of man?  Matt. 10:28

5.      After death, is there any difference in what happens to the soul of the saved and the unsaved?  Lk. 16:19-31; Rom. 2:5-10; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 1 Thess. 5:9-10; Rev. 20:4-6; Rev. 20:11-15

6.      What happened to Jesus’ soul and spirit after His death?  1 Pet. 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 4:3-6; Rev. 1:17-18; Eph. 4:9-10; Jn. 5:25; Isa. 42:6-7; Isa. 61:1

7.      Will our body ever make it to Heaven?  1 Cor. 15:50-53

8.      What is the purpose of Judgment Day?  Matt. 13:30, 36-43; Matt. 25:31-34; Rev. 20:11-15

9.      Do Christians face judgment on Judgment Day?  Jn. 3:16-18; Jn 5:24; Rom. 14:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:10


            God’s Word is awesome.  It answers our questions and gives us insight into the spiritual realm where we cannot see.  But it also tells us of the tremendous value of the soul.  Matt. 16:25-26  Indeed, it is the soul of man that is to be saved, not the breath of life.  1 Pet. 1:6-9  The soul that is “in Christ” is the soul that is saved.  Rom. 5:1-2; Rom. 8:1-4  No wonder the Proverb writer wrote, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.”  (Prov. 11:30)

            Examine each of the following Scriptures and see if you are wise enough to catch the central theme that permeates each of them:  Proverbs 10:2; 10:27; 12:28; 14:27; 15:24; 16:17; 19:16,23; 21:21

            Benediction: May the Lord Jesus so satisfy your heart that you desire no one else…nothing less!

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