[* Edited from writings by JOSEPH ELLISON.]
There is no charge of intentional misleading, on the part of those Bible teachers who assume, that the Christian enters into his final glory at death. Eschatological teaching would be greatly simplified if we were able to take that for granted. Assuming that to be a final statement of truth, then it would disqualify several important christian doctrines. The second advent of our Lord would be one of them. Why should it be necessary for Him to- “come again and receive you unto Myself,” if His people go to Him in a final sense at death? The New Testament doctrine of the resurrection of the Christian dead, when the Lord shall so come, would be redundant if we were able to say of all departed saints that “the resurrection is past already.” It would not be the first time in the christian era that such a disastrous thing has been taught (2 Tim. 2: 18).
Consider for a moment the evidence of this mistaken conception, in those well-known lines of Charles Wesley as follows:- “Come, let us join our friends above, who have received the prize ... Let all the saints terrestrial sing with those to glory gone.” Judge for yourself as to whether the perfect poet was also a perfect theologian, by an enquiry like.this : is “the prize received” in the hymn, the same as the one anticipated by Paul in Phil. 3: 10-14 - “I press toward the mark, for the prize of our high calling, of God in Christ Jesus”? If so, then there would be this difference between Paul and Wesley - the former expected it in the “out-resurrection from among the dead,” which he sought so diligently to attain, and the latter at the time of his death. It is one thing to sing:- “Around the throne of God in heaven, thousands of children stand,” but quite another thing to prove it from the Holy Swiptures.
Like the steam locomotive on its two steel rails, so our thoughts must run along the appointed track, if we are to reach the terminus of truth in safety. Alignment of truth is imperative, both for the in-working of our salvation, and the out-working of it in the future, and this is the alignment we follow. The first advent of Christ into this world, is the gateway into eternal salvation: His second advent, and ‘the resurrection out from the dead,’ is the gateway into age-lasting glory. The former is the controlling factor of grace, the latter is the governing factor of our expectations, which is to be consummated by a mighty, collective movement upward, on the part of all the ‘accounted worthy’ (Luke 20: 35) saints of all dispensations up to that time. It is, therefore, an axiom of Christian doctrine, that there is an interval of time lying between the Christian’s death, and the coming of the Lord to receive him unto Himself.
We stand like the mountaineer on a sort of promontory, looking across the distance to a higher elevation on the other side of the chasm, where all is radiant with light, and rich with Elysian delight. Between us lie the shadows of death, with possibilities unknown, if they had not been revealed by “The Spirit that searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” God has graciously bridged the chasm for us by uniting the strong girders of truth.
With these girder truths spread out on the draughtsman’s table, it is evident that they can be divided into three classes, with seven classified sections in each group. In the first group there are seven direct references to the reality of the intermediate state. In the second, there are seven declarations that are concerned with the Christian’s consciousness in the intermediate state. In the third, there are seven axiomatic deductions, establishing both the certainty of the place, and the self-evident occupations of the people in residence there.
The seven direct references to the reality of the
intermediate state follow an orderly and progressive course in this way - the
first four of the seven are given in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and
the last three in the inspired writings of Paul. The former arrange themselves successively
thus (a) in Luke 16: 19-31 the illustrative
story of the rich man and Lazarus,
reveals the state and the experience of two men immediately after death; both
in Hades, the one in a place of torment, the other in Abraham’s Bosom. That is sufficient authority for the
establishment of a continued life and self-consciousness immediately after
death, to all those who accept the full veracity of the Lord Jesus. (b) Then follows the further declaration, as
given to the Dying Thief in Luke 23 :43 – “Verily I
say unto thee, to-day thou shalt be with me in
(c) The third utterance of our Lord, takes us a step further. In John 14 : 2 He says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That is repeated in the next verse. That place is one of the “many mansions of My Father’s house.” The mansions, of course, are residential, abiding places for resurrected human souls; and if there were not many of them, then the Lord said:- “I would have told you.” Hence we are certain that it is so. In the experience of death, human souls are divided from one another, doubtless by the angels, who bear the saints to the place of the dead known to us as ‘Paradise’; while other souls go to another abiding place, to await their Master’s call - (at the end of the Millennium) - to final judgment, the opening of ‘the book of life’ and, in the case of the lost, to ‘the lake of fire’ after the Great White Throne Judgment, (Rev. 20: 11-15). Such appears to be the teaching of Holy Scripture: we must wait in Hades until the time comes for our Lord to take us to be with Himself.
(d) The final direct word of our great Teacher was sent by Him to the earth after His arrival at the right hand of God, and it takes us into another ‘Paradise,’ in this way:‑“To him that overcometh I give to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Not only does He give to us eternal life, and a place prepared where it is to be lived, but He provides for the continual sustenance of it. It is evident from the associations which accompany these truths that they all antedate the second advent.
To these must be added three direct references by
the Apostle Paul, as follows: (a) In 2 Cor. 12 : 2-4, he says that he was caught up to
“the third heaven”; and then he says that he “was caught away (not ‘up’) to
Our own impression is that ‘the Paradise of God’ is in the heavenlies; but
The next one (b) is found in Phil. 1 : 21-23, in the words:- “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain ... having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better”:- a better place, since it is freed from natural law and godless folk; a better fellowship with Christ, because free from earthly limitations: and a better understanding of ‘the salvation of the soul’ (1 Pet. 1:9, 10) - a nearer, clearer view of both millennial and eternal glory into which we are called. Add to this the reassuring words of 1 Thess. 5 : 9-10, (c) “God hath ... appointed us to obtain salvation, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”
From these seven direct references to the intermediate state we proceed to examine the seven declarations of truth that Support the Christian’s consciousness in the intermediate state. (a) In John 10: 27-30 our Lord gives a double guarantee of eternal life, tenure, and security, in the words:- “I give unto them (regenerate believers) eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand.” That is the first guarantee, and the second supports it:- “My Father who gave them Me is greater than all (possible snatchers), and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand”: neither natural law, nor man, nor Devil. That is to say, there is no third party in the case can do it. It is absolutely impossible for outside agency, to cut eternal life into two parts. Wherever it is, its function and blessedness is the same.
(b) Even though, “Not every one who says … ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 7: 21); the same continuity of consciousness applies to our Lord’s words in Hades: then the understanding of a “better resurrection” (Heb. 11: 35b), and the salvation of the spirit “in the day of the Lord Jesus,” (1 Cor. 5: 5. cf. Num. 14: 24.) will be given. In this respect the vital process is just the same in the intermediate state under the earth, as it is upon the earth.
(c) The perfect oneness with Himself, and with the Father, for which our Lord prayed in John 17 :16-17, is equally applicable to us in every location. “As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee,. that they all may be one in us,” is a prayer that will be continually answered, whether we are here or there, in this age or any other.
(d) The indwelling of The Spirit of Truth, promised in John 14 :16-17, is to be for ever. There it is stated that He is to “dwell with you, and shall be in you,” to teach, to guide, and even to “shew you things to come,” and thus enabling us to look forward with certainty into all the stages of advancement that await us.
(e) Place in this list the prayer of 1 Thess. 5: 21-22, - “I pray God your whole spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”; - preserved from the present hour of our experience, and continuously so right through the intermediate state, and unto the coming of our Lord. However short or long that interval of waiting may be, it is still emphatically certain that “God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption (even for 1,000 years); but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap everlasting [Gk. ‘aionian’ ‘age-lasting’*] life:” (Gal. 6: 7).
[* The context here determines this translation: we do not ‘reap’ what we are given as a ‘free gift,’ (Rom. 6: 23, Gk.; R.V. ; R.S.V.)! Here the same Greek word is used.]
(f) The “living hope” never dies when once it fills the soul. It is compared to “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entereth into that within the veil, whither The Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” Think you that the storm fiend of death ever drags that anchor from its mooring? It is sure, it is steadfast, and will continue to be until the personal appearance of the Person in whom it is cast, shall pilot the ship into the port of glory.
(g) There is a seventh declaration of truth, concerning the Christian’s consciousness in and through the intermediate state, and it is found in Rom. 8: 38-39, in these words:- “Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”