Author: Ron Graham
Our previous lesson looked at the question, “Where Are the Dead?”. Now, in this present lesson, we consider three questions about what state the dead are in.
In one sense, the dead are destroyed. In another sense they are not.
The physical body of man returns to the dust of the ground, because it is made of dust (the elements of the soil) and like the bodies of animals and trees it is destined to return to the earth from which it came (Genesis 3:19).
Although a most wonderful creation, the bodies of Adam and Eve were bodies suitable for this natural world, not for a spiritual, immortal, heavenly, eternal world.
The same is true of our bodies, which we have inherited from Adam and Eve by procreation. Earthly bodies are incompatible with heavenly glory. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1Corinthians 15:50).
God promises new and immortal bodies, which are to our earthly bodies as a beautiful plant is to the seed that was buried to produce it. No dead person yet has such a body, but will receive it at the resurrection on the last day (1Corinthians 15:51-54).
The only exception to that rule is the man Jesus. He has already been resurrected and become "the firstfruits of those who sleep". So Jesus has become the second Adam. Just as we have inherited our earthly bodies from the first Adam, so our heavenly bodies will become our inheritance through the second Adam (1Corinthians 15:42-49).
The spiritual part of man is not destroyed at death. A person's soul or spirit, returns to God. Only God can destroy the soul, and for that reason we rightly fear Him and the everlasting fire he has prepared. However, he has prepared the everlasting fire for devil and his angels. He never intended it for mankind. Yet those who reject the second Adam will enter into that fire (Matthew 25:41).
Jesus knew that death does not destroy the spirit, and so he referred to death as a "sleep" (John 11:11-14)..
Scripture chain for further study
Genesis 3:19, 1Corinthians 15:20-53, 2Corinthians 4:14, 2Corinthians 5:1-5, Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 25:41, Luke 8:52-55, John 11:11-14, 1Corinthians 15:6, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18, cf 1Corinthians 7:39.
Some people think that because the Bible speaks of death as a "sleep" that the spirit becomes unconscious of its surroundings. They point out that Solomon said, "The dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).
However in the same verse Solomon said that the dead "have no more reward" and yet we know the dead in Christ have an inheritance reserved in heaven (2Timothy 4:8, 1Peter 1:4). This inheritance is the only thing a person can take out of this world. Solomon was speaking of that which is "under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:3), meaning that which is in this world.
The dead have no more reward in this world, and they know nothing of what is happening in this world "under the sun" because they no longer exist here. But they most certainly exist elsewhere. In fact the very point to be gained from the Bible's reference to dead people as being "asleep" is that they still exist and have not been annihilated. The question is simply whether or not they are conscious of their existence and surroundings in hades. The answer is simple too: We do not really know.
You should be aware that the term "soul sleep" is used by some people as a euphemism for anihilation or non-existence. Some believe that both body and soul are destroyed at death and "a man is like the little dog Rover —when he is dead he is dead all over". This is quite different to the doctrine that the souls of the dead exist in an unconscious state. That doctrine is also referred to as "soul sleep" and this creates a lot of confusion.
The "final state" for some people will be eternal life in heaven. For others it will be eternal death in hell. We are asking whether the dead are now in their final state. For all intents and purposes, and for all the difference it makes, the answer could be yes. But in the correct order of "last things", the answer is no.
The saved will go to heaven at the second coming of Christ when the resurrection and the rapture take place (John 14:1-3, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18).
The unsaved will go to hell when the saved go to heaven. This becomes clear when we compare the "whens" with the "thens" in the passages about the second coming and the day of judgment (eg 2Thessalonians 1:6-10, Matthew 25:31,34,41,46).