Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (4) The Intermediate State (continued)

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
Some Divergent (Wrong) Views
In the December 2001 instalment we discussed various Scriptural terms, which speak of the state of the soul after death. These terms are sheol and gehenna in the Old and hades in the New Testament. We have seen also that the souls of the dead go immediately to their place of eternal destination. Now we must consider some divergent, heretical views. It is necessary to do so, for these views keep coming back in different forms and usually form part of the doctrine of sects which try to win over many people, often with much success.

1. The Doctrine of "Soul Sleep"
a. Doctrine Stated: From earliest times in the New Testament church there were some who held to the view that after death there is no conscious existence of the soul, although it does continue to exist as an individual spiritual being, but quite unconsciously. The early church father, Eusebius, wrote about such wrongs views; in the Middle Ages there were many who held to this error and at the time of the Reformation some of the Anabaptists also held to this. Calvin wrote a pamphlet against this view. In the nineteenth century it came up again amongst the Irvingites in England and today it is held and actively taught by the "Jehovah's Witnesses."

The doctrine of the latter teaches something like this: At death, body and soul go into the grave and the soul really becomes non-existent. The resurrection is a new creation. During the millennium, the wicked will have a second chance but, if they show no marked improvement during the first one hundred years, they will be annihilated. If they do show some improvement, their probation will continue, but if they remain impenitent, they will be annihilated. There is no hell and no eternal punishment according to the Jehovah Witnesses. Seventh Day Adventists also teach the doctrine of Òsoul sleep.Ó This is in connection with their strange notion of the Òcleansing of the sanctuary.Ó This is not the only heresy they share with the Jehovah Witnesses.

Although there may be various other editions of this error on the market today, it is basically the same pagan view. Sad to say, it has been widely accepted in society. The doctrine of soul sleep finds acceptance especially with those who find it hard to believe that the soul can exist apart from the body or that conscious existence is possible without the brain.

b. Supposed Scripture Proof: Scripture often represents death as a sleep (Matt.9: 24; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor.15: 51; 1 Thess.4: 13). This sleep, it is claimed, cannot be a sleep of the body; it must, therefore, be of the soul.

ii. Other passages teach that the dead are unconscious, which is contrary to the idea that the soul continues conscious existence (Ps.6: 5; 30: 9; 115:17; 146:4; Eccl.9: 10, Isa.38: 18,19).

iii. The Bible teaches that our eternal destiny is settled by the final judgment and that this will be a surprise to some. Consequently, it is impossible to believe that the soul will enter this final destiny immediately after death. (Matt.7: 22,23; 25: 37-39,44; Jn.5: 29; 2 Cor.5: 10; Rev.20: 12 ff.).

iv. None of those who were raised from the dead gave any account of their experiences; we assume that their souls were unconscious in their state without the body.

These, then, are the supposed proofs for the "soul sleep" view. How do we answer these proofs?

c. These Proofs Examined:
i. "Death as sleep" - The Bible never specifies that either the body or the soul falls asleep at death but that the person who has died sleeps. This is simply a comparison based on the similarity between a sleeping and a dead person. We still say of someone in a deep sleep, "he is dead to the world." It may be that this is to suggest the hope of the resurrection--we awaken and begin again, although in a much different way. As sleep is a rest from the affairs of life, so death is, in that sense, a rest. The Bible clearly speaks of believers having conscious communion of life with God, immediately after death (cf.Lk.16: 19, etc. and passages referred to last time).

ii. The passages that seem to teach that the dead are unconscious stress the fact that in the state of death, men are no longer able to partake in the activities of this world. As one writer states, "The work of the artisan is arrested, the voice of the singer is hushed, the sceptre of the king falls. The body returns to dust and the praise of God in this world ceases forever".

iii. Man's eternal destiny does not depend on a trial at the last day. Although there are many mysteries here (and we hope to delve further into this subject later), it may now be said that this final judgement is to reveal the ground on which the judgment rests (Christ and His work) and to display publicly, before the angels and men, how God has saved His people and how He vindicates His righteousness.

iv. It is true that those who returned from the dead gave no account of their experiences. To argue from silence is weak, indeed, especially since the Bible teaches their continued existence. Again, we face mysteries here. Perhaps they were not allowed to speak of their experiences or could not express them in human language (cf.2 Cor.12: 4).

2. The Doctrine of "Annihilation"
a. The Doctrine Stated: Man was created "immortal" (we use the term as it is commonly used, i.e. meaning continued existence), but failure to repent results in the complete destruction of the soul, it being reduced to non-existence. Some believe in conditional immortality--the soul of the one who did not believe on Christ suffers for a limited duration and is then destroyed.

Also this was taught from the Middle Ages on and has again received acceptance in our age by various philosophers and theologians.

b. Supposed Scripture Proof: Is found in the idea that God alone has immortality (1 Tim.6: 16) and that immortality is a gift of God given only to believers (Jn.10: 27, 28; 17: 3) and further, that sinners are threatened with death and destruction (Matt.7: 13; 10: 28; Jn.3: 16; etc.).

c. These Proofs Examined:
i. Indeed, God only has immortality--but the immortality of man is derived from God--he does not possess it of himself.

ii. Immortality (continued existence) is not to be confused with eternal life, a far richer concept. The wicked do not receive this latter gift; this is not to say they will not continue to exist forever.

iii. "Death," "destruction," "the pit," and "perish" can only mean non-existence if we take these terms in the most literal way. The general teaching of the Bible proves this ought not to be done. Scripture teaches that sinners will continue to exist (Eccl.12: 7; Matt.25: 46; Rom.2: 8-10; Rev.14: 11; 20:10). These passages also teach that the wicked will be punished justly forever: they must exist to be punished.

iii. There will be degrees in punishment; if they were extinguished, this could hardly be.

Furthermore, annihilation goes contrary to the very idea of how God works--He does not destroy His work, although He may change its form. Life and death are opposites--life in the Biblical sense means much more than continued existence; death, too, is more than that. There will be glory in the one, damnation in the other.

3. Roman Catholic Views
a. Purgatory: Only the souls of those who are perfectly pure at death go straight to heaven; the others--and this is the condition of most of the faithful at death--must be cleansed before they can enter glory. In purgatory these souls suffer the pain of loss, that is the anguish resulting from the fact that they cannot see the blessed presence of God and they endure "punishment of sense," that is, they suffer pains of the soul. The duration and intensity of all this depends on the amount of cleansing needed. It can all be shortened and made lighter by the prayers and good works of believers on earth and, especially, by the performance of the mass. Some must remain there until the last judgment. The Pope has jurisdiction over purgatory and may grant indulgences, lightening or even terminating these sufferings.

The doctrine is based on 2 Maccabees 12:41-45. As few readers will have ready access to this book, included in the Apocrypha, I include this quote in full, being mindful of what we confess in Article 6 of our Belgic Confession: ÒÉthey [these Apocryphal books] are far from having such power and efficacy as that they may from their testimony confirm any part of faith or of the Christian religion--much less to detract from the authority of the other sacred books."

41. All men therefore praising the Lord, the righteous Judge, who
had opened the things that were hid,

42. Betook themselves unto prayer, and besought him that the sin
committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides, that
noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin,
forsomuch as they saw before their eyes the things that came to
pass for the sins of those that were slain.

43. And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to
the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to
Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and
honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection:

44. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have
risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the

45. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour
laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good
thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that
they might be delivered from sin.

Further Scriptural evidence is sought in the following passages: Isaiah 4:4; Micah 7:8; Zechariah 9:11; Malachi 3:2; Matthew 12:32; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 15:29. None of these passages in any way support this erroneous doctrine which has been (and still is) of such importance in the Church of Rome.

b. Limbus Patrum: "Limbus" is the Latin word for ÒfringeÓ or ÒedgeÓ and denotes the outskirts of hell. ÒPatrumÓ means Òof the fathers.Ó It is taught that the Old Testament saints were kept there (Òin limboÓ) in anticipation of Christ's resurrection. When Christ descended into hell, which descent Rome considers to be the first step in His exaltation, it was to release these souls and lead them into heaven in triumph. Heaven was not open to any until Christ had actually made atonement. Before that event took place, "hell" (hades) was considered to be the dwelling place of departed spirits and was divided into two sections--one for the righteous and one for the wicked. The righteous entered into Abraham's bosom (Lk.16: 23), also known as Paradise (Lk.23: 43) from where they then supposedly were delivered by the victorious Christ.

c. Limbus Infantum: The souls of all unbaptized infants go here, whether the parents are heathen or Roman Catholic, believers or pagan. It is held that unbaptized children cannot enter the kingdom of God. This ties in with their view that regeneration is worked through baptism.

If this were true indeed, then the LordÕs words that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again (Jn.3: 3,5) would take on a wholly different meaning. We do not believe that baptism works regeneration! The Bible does not teach this. This takes the entire ground away from believing in anything like the existence of this infant Òstore room.Ó

Roman theologians who do hold to this teach that although this, too, is on the outskirts of hell, these souls suffer no actual pain; they are simply excluded from full bliss. They know and love God by the use of their natural powers and have full, natural happiness. The Roman Catholic Church has not definitely stated the details of this doctrine and views vary with different theologians.

4. Pagan Views
Transmigration of the Soul: Basically, this is reincarnation: man is a being who, after his death, returns to this earth in another form. This includes the notion that what he is now, was also present in another form before his birth into this existence. The origin of this is found in Hinduism and Buddhism. In these pagan views, reincarnation takes place according to the law of "karma" (retribution or "just desserts"). The future of man depends on the good or bad he has done. There is a never ending circle of modes of existence (samsara) from which one is not released until one realizes unity with the "worldsoul".

This ancient eastern error found its way into the thinking of certain Greek philosophers such as Plato. In the nineteenth century these ideas came forward again in various "spiritist" circles and today, in the New Age movement. Add to this the idea of evolution and you come to the position that things will improve, also in the long run. The whole concept is to be rejected as being flatly in conflict with Scripture.

There are various other views that we need not deal with. Some of these are held by minor sects and are mainly the invention of one person. Most of them are variations of one of the above. Especially today these views are receiving much attention. There seems to be, with some, a distinct hunger for almost anything in this area. Let us be sober and watch and hold on to the Scriptures only.

1. If one holds to the idea of purgatory, what must one then necessarily hold about the doctrine of the work of Christ? Can it be that we can really communicate (have neighbourhood Bible studies, etc.) with Roman Catholics on the "basics" of salvation and leave such things as "purgatory" out of discussion since they are not "essentials"?

2. What effect would the doctrine of the "Limbus Infantum" have on the Roman Catholic element in the Prolife movement? Please look at Question 1--can we then work together with these people in such a movement?

3. Why would there be such a hunger for strange ideas in this area?

4. May we assume that the righteous and the wicked, at death, enter into some temporary state (we do speak of the "intermediate" state!) before entering upon their eternal destiny? What Scriptural proof can you give for your answer?

5. How can the souls of the saints mentioned in Revelation 6:9 be longing, if heaven is perfect?

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