WHERE ARE THE BELIEVING DEAD?
These two letters, sent to a friend after attending a lecture on the subject to which the writer was invited, may prove helpful to a wider circle. - Ed.
It was really very kind of you to send a word appreciation about my Bible Class for the boys at school and also to endeavour to help me with the right presentation of the Truth. There is, indeed, a lot of error about, and we may assume, justly rather than generously, that those in error are nearly all unaware of it.
Honest before God, and having my senses exercised, I believe, as you do, that I hold nothing but the truth. You and I are bound to believe that of ourselves ; we are quite unable (even were we willing) to believe it of one another. Because, however sincere we may be, we do differ, and where differences are contradictions - mutually exclusive - they obviously cannot both be correct of the same thing at the same time.
We know only in part at present, and that part is obscure in places. Hence we must all be willing to learn, and, if need be, to unlearn ; but above all we must not cease to love one another with a pure heart fervently. All we are brethren, and the Lordís Word to us is not merely - See that ye: fall not out by the way; but, if we do - First be reconciled to thy brother. "For by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples."
I am prepared, upon proof, to believe I am in error. For we are all probably in error somewhere - but who and what shall convince us ? You are not in error because you differ from me, and I am not necessarily in error because I differ from you - or from anybody or any group. The Scripture is the only criterion, standard, and guide ; and not merely one verse of it, but the whole tenor and canon of Scripture.
No one is completely in error - even Satan feathers his arrows with truth. Some of our worst enemies may hold some truth, some of our best friends may hold some error; and it is doubly difficult to recognize error among our acquaintances and truth among those unknown to us.
Herein lies the danger of using a label, whether denominational or personal. For in spite of their admitted error, you and I both believe quite a lot that is shared by Roman Catholics and Bullingerites - though I am, of course, aware that those names represent to us distinctive errors. My point here is that we must not necessarily reject certain teaching just because it may be held by those who for other reasons are our opponents or adversaries. This was precisely the error of Luther and of other Reformers who, while they won for us the right of private interpretation - for which, under God, we are infinitely grateful - were thus at times misled into choosing not always what the Word said, but merely the opposite of what their enemies believed and held. "The Romanists emphasize works, therefore works are wrong ; but James too emphasizes works - then James is wrong as well." By such false reasoning did Luther come to decry the letter of James as an "epistle of straw." But our concern should be, not what Rome or Bullinger says, or does not say, but always and only : What saith the Scripture ?
There are those who declare that certain teaching about Hades or Paradise is purgatorial and therefore Roman - and therefore wrong. Purgatory is definitely not to be found anywhere in Holy Writ; but if it were, I should be bound believe it. Would not you?
The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, and the whole of the truth, if only we are brave enough to go forward with Him, and responsive enough to believe all that the prophets have spoken - both the pleasant and the distasteful (for to the carnal Christian - and we all in measure have the flesh with us - quite a lot of God's Word is unpalatable); but this may mean our leaving friends behind, as traditions, preconceptions, reputations. We might say that for three or four hundred years hardly any fresh light broke forth from His prophetic word until God moved the early Brethren, a century or so ago. Upon corresponding darkness correspondingly fresh light is breaking, thank God, today.
Well, I must apologise for this lengthy introduction, but I trust it will serve to clear the air and the issue. Summed up it comes to this: we are vitally one with all who love our Lord Jesus, and it is God's Word alone, - not our own or our friendsí interpretation - that is our sole guide to its own understanding and meaning.
The preacher you kindly invited me to come and hear had a clear-cut and vigorous style, and one agreed with practically all he said in connection with the latter part ofLuke 16., which I do not look upon as a parable, though I agree with you that the implications would still be the same if it were. His exposition was faithful and illuminating. As he himself suggested, there are certain difficulties even in connection with the "parable" - the qusestion of consciousness, for instance, in relation to the Old Testament references to Sheol (e.g. Eccles. 9: 10 "no knowledge . . . in the grave, whither thou goest"), and in relation to the literal "Bosom" of the undoubtedly literal Abraham. But of course this is not what we are mainly here concerned with - the place and state of the Blessed Dead.
Here, I think you will grant, your preacher did little more than quote two somewhat (as we may see) ambiguous passages - and by ambiguous, I mean, for the moment, passages reasonably capable, in the light of other Scriptures, of a different interpretation. The two well-known passages are :
(1) He led captivity captive(Ephes. 4: 8), and
(2) To be with Christ ; which is far better(Phil. 1: 23).
The speaker sought to make capital out of the fact that the Luke 16. narrative of Dives and Lazarus relates to the time before our Lord's resurrection, whereas the Ephesian and Philippian revelations were made known subsequently, Hades being meanwhile emptied of its saved inhabitants. But one may well ask whether this distinction is warrantable in view of the confirming words ofMatthew 18: 20: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you and of Luke 24: 44 :- "these are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you. "All pre-resurrection declarations apparently still hold good, everything being thus corroborated and reinforced. And one may well enquire whether such an emptying could be possible in view of what the apostle said about David at Pentecost (Acts 2: 29).
I am, etc.,
A. G. TILNEY.
Coming now, finally, to the first of the two references advanced as proof-texts to answer the lecturerís and our title question, it will doubtless be conceded that in any case some sort of captivity persists, the passage meaning either (a) that the captors are captured,* or (b) that the captives are transferred to a new captivity. If the latter be the true meaning, is the implication of all the captives or of just some of them? If a "host" or "multitude" of captives is intended, might not the solution be satisfactorily found in Matthew 27: 53, where we read:- "Many bodies of the saints which slept, arose . . . after His resurrection ?"
[* Dr. Weymouth's rendering of the seemingly parallel revelation inCol. 2: 13 is suggestively a propos! "And the hostile princes and rulers He shook off from Himself, and boldly displayed them as His conquests, when by the Cross He triumphed over them."]
But did they go straight away to heaven, or, like Lazarus of Bethany, probably, die again? - their resurrection being, in view of the "once appointed" ofHebrew 9: 27, more of the nature of a resuscitation, or temporary recall ?
Thank God, knees of "things under the earth" (and therefore, presumably, in Hades too) shall bow at the name of Jesus, and the gates (not of hell but) of the subterranean stronghold of Hades shall not succeed in keeping His church prisoners, albeit of hope, for ever(Matt. 16: 18).
Now if "David is not ascended," his tomb being still unbroken after the Saviour's ascension(Acts 2: 34, 39) - for that certainly seems the force of the declaration "with us unto to this day" - what right have I to assume that my own believing and beloved parents have ascended into the heavens? Yet my comfort is not lost, for "Asleep in Christ" gives both security and repose, and a sure promise of awakening.
Had one the time, it might be possible to show that this teaching of going straight to heaven at death arose partly through inadequate examination of Scripture ; in part, through over-eagerness to guarantee too much at once to the bereaved; through, further, a too facile and hasty contrasting of "black and white," saved and unsaved, heaven and earth, etc ; and finally, through fear of the doctrinal implications which are, of course, considerable and very important for our accurate understanding of Christian resurrection.
And lastly, where is Christ ? Evidently, in three places (1) first of all on earth, for "Lo, I am with you alway," and "where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst ; (2) secondly, in Sheol (that is, Hades), for "If I make my bed in Sheol, behold Thou art there" - said David, who, Peter implies, is sleeping there still(Ps. 139: 8).*
[* BothJob (26: 6) and Solomon (Prov. 15: 11) declare that the eyes of the Lord are upon this underworld with its precious freight (Ps. 116: 15), and it was into that Left Hand in which are the deep places of the earth (Ps. 95: 4) that our Lord committed His departing soul ( Acts 2: 27; Psa. 16: 10 ; Eph. 4: 9). - Ed.]
(3) Thirdly, He is, in His risen body, at the right Hand of the Majesty on high(Acts 7: 55 ; Heb. 1: 3).
From these considerations it should be clear that a glib and easy syllogism of the form: "Christ is in heaven, my father is with Christ, therefore my father is in heaven," is neither satisfactory nor sufficient. We must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God - a mechanism or rather an organism with no spare parts, or parts to spare.
The Authorized Version, even with an English Concordance, is often an incompetent guide to sound and detailed Bible study, upon which God does after all put a premium, that ignorance and prejudice must not be allowed to rob us of. It is up to every Christian teacher, at all events, to search out all that and exactly what the Lord Himself has been pleased to reveal to us, and not to remain content with beautiful though sometimes imperfect translations.
Now in French, German and Latin, as well as in the Greek original ofPhillipians 1: 23, the preposition "with" differs, in spite of its being unaltered in the English, from a word of another meaning and use. If I am in my house "with" your preacher, the French is avec, the German mit, the Latin cum, and the Greek sun (syn) ; but if I am "with" the preacher in his house, the French is chez, the German bei, the Latin apud, and the Greek Para - which is not the preposition employed in our text. Surely this Divine distinction cannot be without purpose and significance ? * Must it not mean that Christ is with us in our place, at death, rather than that we are with Him in His place - this latter presence in His abode being dependent upon His return, and rapture. "I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also?" (John 14: 3).
[* Reference to a Creek concordance (Young's, for instance) - and without even knowing the alphabet, the eye can see where different words are used by their Creator and Master show how distinct and how consistent is, as in everything else, the Scriptural usage of these two simple prepositions.]
The Word which tells us of our Lordís being in three places at once - and light, His creature, can travel seven times round the earth in one second of time - also informs us of three Paradises, a heavenly(Ezek. 28: 13), an earthly (Gen. 2.), and a subterranean - "in the heart of the earth" (Luke 23: 43; Matt. 12: 40), but a Paradise, an Eden, all the same, and therefore nothing fearful or distasteful, especially with our Lord there, for the blessed dead die "in the Lord" (Rev. 14: 13), sleeping "in Jesus" (1 Thess. 4: 14), "in Christ" (1 Cor. 15: 18), and shall first rise (1Thess. 4: 16).
There are, too, the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, so that, notwithstanding the ascension of Enoch and Elijah, our Lord could say(John 3: 13) No man hath ascended up into heaven" - and add, illuminating the mystery of His being in more than one place at a time : "No man hath ascended . . . but He that came down . . . even the Son of man which is in heaven." *
[* A glance at the Creek, the French, the Revised, Darby, etc., will show that the "us" ofRev. 5: 9-10 is a copyistís error, the heavenly harpers with the "prayers of the saints" not being men at all.]
Now let us ask the question : Why do Christians die? Why do Christians, saved, redeemed, still die? (rapture not having yet begun). The answer must be that death is a judicial stripping and exposure, undoing and unclothing, because of sin - as the apostle makes clear in2 Corinthians 5: 2-4 ; and though God's kings and priests were not to appear before Him unclothed (Exod. 28: 42-43), Paul makes it equally clear in the same passage in his epistle that we shall not "be clothed upon" till resurrection, when we receive a clothing "from heaven." This being suitably clad and appropriately attired for the Royal Presence is doubtless in the "change" of 1 Corinthians 15: 51, for language almost identical is used in both places (I Cor. 15: 53-54; 2 Cor. 5: 4).
The Law of God prohibited contact with a dead body(Num. 19: 16) and with a departed spirit (Deut. 18: 11, forbidding necromancy,), for death, in all its parts, is legal uncleanness. "For a naked spirit, Ļ judicially disembodied, to enter the presence of God on high would be to approach Him in the shrouds of the Curse." In spite of a number of our hymns, there is no such thing referred to in Scripture as a glorified human spirit - only persons, complete in spirit, soul and body; and this renewed entirety and reintegration, this reunion, is not until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5: 23), Who shall summon us, not from the skies, but from the tombs, to hear His voice (John 5: 28) ; for the dead in Christ shall first rise, not descend, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4: 16).
This will be when our High Priest comes out of His heavenly Temple(Heb. 6: 20; 9: 24, 28), and "until he come out," there shall be NO MAN * in the tent of meeting when he goeth in - within the veil - to make atonement, - says the type (Lev. 16: 17).
[* Again let it be reminded that the "Elders" around the Throne(Rev. 5: 9, 10) are not men, but angelic dignities.]
I have referred to the implications of a Paradise (or Hades) occupied now, and perhaps millennially, by Christians; a striking, a startling, fact is this: not only is Hades not at present empty, but even after the Millennium ("the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished " may, unpalatable as it sounds, include Christians!) - even after the Millennium, a company of saved souls apparently issue therefrom, to be judged "according to their works," for "death and hades (that is, both compartments of the underworld, on both sides of the "great gulf fixed" ofLuke 16.) delivered up the dead which were in them" (Rev. 20: 13).
And now let one familiar and ultimate word decide for us all that our being with our Lord in His heaven is dependent upon His return to rapture or resurrect us thither: "I will come again, AND receive YOU unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also"(John 14: 3).
Let us watch and pray that we may be accounted worthy to be set before the Son of man(Luke 21: 36).
I am, etc.,
A. G. Tilney
The Word "spirit" here should be "soul." The spirit ascends, (at the time of death) to God in Heaven ; the soul descends into Hades, from whence it ascends at the time of resurrection. - Ed.