“Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die he will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never ever die.'”
The above scripture is often quoted in trying to prove that the dead are not really dead. Do we find anything in John 11:17-26 about the soul surviving the body at death? Not one word. We do find that both Martha and Jesus spoke of the resurrection as occurring in the “last day”. It is in the resurrection “at the last day” that he who lives and believes in Jesus will never die. In the resurrection will be, not only those who believe in the present age, but also those who do not believe at present. “As in Adam all are dying, so in the Messiah all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) “There will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just [justified] and the unjust [those not justified].” (Acts 24:15) And 2 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of some who now oppose the truth believing in that day.’ Thus John 11:17-26 produces no evidence whatsoever of the soul surviving death.
What about Ecclesiastes 12:7? Doesn’t this prove that the righteous go to live with God after they die? No, not at all. In fact, this scripture further supports Ecclesiastes 9:2: “All things come alike to all — there is one eventuality to the righteous and to the wicked, to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrifices, and to him that does not sacrifice; as is the good, so is the sinner; and he who swears, as he who fears an oath.” And in chapter 2:14 Solomon states: “One eventuality awaits them both”, that is, to both the good and the bad. What is this eventuality? “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit (Hebrew, rûwach, Strong’s No. 7307, wind, breath, power) will return to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) This is the reversal of Genesis 2:7: “And Jehovah God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong’s No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life, and man became a living soul.”
There are several things to note about Ecclesiastes 12:7:
1) It is spoken of all men — not just the righteous. If we should accept the traditional idea concerning this scripture we would also have to believe that the evil doers also go to live with God when they die.
2) It speaks of the spirit returning’ to God. This is complete agreement with the rest of Bible, which tells us that God has given man the spirit of life, so that he could live. If we should accept the traditional view we would also have to be believe that we lived with God before we became living souls. Such is nonsense, however. Adam was not a living soul [being, or person] until God blew into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) He was not a person before coming to the earth so that he would “return” to God as a person after death. Nowhere is such even hinted in the scriptures.
3) The structure of the sentence indicates that the word “spirit” does not represent life in any form. The spirit (Hebrew, rûwach, Strong’s No. 7307, wind, breath, power) God “gave” to keep us alive is taken away when we die. With this Psalm 146:4 agrees: “His breath (Hebrew, rûwach, Strong’s No. 7307, spirit, wind, breath, power) goes forth, he returns to his earth. In that very day his thoughts perish.”
4) The verse following (Ecclesiastes 12:8) indicates that Solomon is further reiterating the vanity of our present life, which ceases at death. This verse says: “Vanity of vanities,’ says the preacher, all is vanity.’
“He has set eternity in their heart.”
Another scripture used to try to prove that the soul survives the death of the body is Ecclesiastes 3:11. Again, no mention is made of the soul in this scripture, but only a reference to man’s longing to live forever. The statement that man has eternity in his heart in no wise even implies that the soul is inherently immortal. Most people continue each day, making plans for tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. He has a sense of perpetual life. God made man to live forever, as he was in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-31) Had Adam not disobeyed he would have continued to enjoy everlasting life. — Genesis 3:22.
“But,” someone might say, “even if the passage would mean that God has placed in man’s soul the urge to reflect or meditate on whatever happens during the course of time, the main conclusion would be the same, namely, that according to the solution arrived at even by the author of Ecclesiastes, man is not in every respect like the beast.” This, of course, is simply a diversion. It is not out thought, nor do we claim that man is in every respect like the beast. We know of no religious group whatsoever that teaches that Solomon was trying to say that man is “in every respect like the beast.” Thus the very premise of the above argument is meaningless. Nor does the fact that man is not in every respect like the beast prove that man’s soul never dies, or that any part of him continues to live after death.
“Spirits of Just Men Made Perfect”
Many believe Hebrews 11:13-16; 12:23 proves that the dead are not dead. Despite the fact that nowhere in the references is the soul or a continued existence while dead even mentioned, and despite the fact that Hebrews 11:13 says that the faithful ones of old all “died in faith, not having received the promises,” we often find some arguing that they actually reached the heavenly country that God prepared for them. This, however, is not so. Hebrews 11:16 tells us that “now they are stretching themselves for something better, that is, that which is from heaven. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Nor are they now living there as alleged immortal “spirits of just men made perfect.” This is a twisting of scripture to suit the traditions of men.
The context of Hebrews 12:23 throws some light on the meaning of this passage. “But you [not the faithful of old] are approaching [Strong’s 4334, to approach, come near] Mt. Zion, and to the city of the living God, Jerusalem from Heaven, and to an unnumbered assembly of angels, to the general assembly and congregation of the first-born, who are written in heaven, to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The ones spoken of as “approaching” in this scripture are especially disciples of Jesus. The context indicates that at the end of the age everything that can be shaken will be shaken, so that only that which cannot be shaken will remain. (vs. 27) The unshakable thing will be God’s kingdom, represented by the Mt. Zion from heaven. (vs. 22) The apostle Paul likens the time of its inauguration to the inauguration of the Law Covenant at Mt. Sinai, when all the people heard the thunderings, and the noise of the trumpets, and saw the lightnings and the mountain smoking; and when Moses “drew near to the thick darkness where God was;” and Moses went up into the mountain. All of this was typical — the sealing of the Law Covenant at the hands of the typical mediator – Moses. — Exodus 20:18-22.
The antitype is what we are approaching — what will be reached by all the justified at the end of the age. When the Law Covenant was given, Paul says that God’s “voice then shook the earth.” (vs. 26) Likewise here at the end of the age it will be as he promised: “Yet once more I will shake not only earth but also the heaven.” (vs. 26) When all that can be shaken is removed, then the New Covenant will be become operative towards bringing the world back to the paradise condition. The Mediator will be Jesus the Messiah, as the glorified Head, and the church his body.
All who truly belong to Jesus have been and are approaching to the heavenly Mt. Zion, not necessarily that they would go to heaven, but it is from the heavenly Mt. Zion that the kingdom blessing will flow. This is the same that Peter spoke of: “For according to his promise we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell.” At that time the New Jerusalem descends to the earth, and its kingdom fills the whole earth. (Revelation 21:1-3; Daniel 2:35,44,45) Thus we read: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Eventually all nations will flow to this mountain and war itself will cease. — Isaiah 2:2-4.
The apostle says we are approaching the time when “the spirits of just ones” will be made perfect. It would not be reasonable to suppose that he would first mention the church of the first-borns, including them all and then mention a part of them. Hence we conclude that this phrase refers to another class. The word “spirit” has several meanings, both in Hebrew, Greek and English. One of the meanings is “disposition” or manner of using our energy. Thus we read of the spirit of fear, of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) As a result of the fall of our race into sin and its condemnation, death, the whole world is unsound, imperfect in spirit. “There is none righteous [perfect, sound], no not one.” (Romans 3:10) Under the coming kingdom arrangements the world will be gradually brought out of its condition of unrighteousness and unsound mind. Eventually, those who come to develop the spirit of love perfectly will be fully justified to live forever. The word “spirits” in Hebrews 12:23 we understand to mean the dispositions of those who receive justification after being resurrected and after they have been made perfect. At that time they will no longer be disposed to fight or make war. “They will learn war no more.” (Isaiah 2:4) These must learn of Jehovah’s ways that their spirits might be changed to the perfect will of God. (Isaiah 2:3) For when Jehovah’s judgments are in the earth, the people will learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9) “And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.” (Isaiah 29:24) It is to these “spirits of the just ones made perfect” that we are now approaching and will eventually reach under the New Covenant to come.
2 Corinthians 12:2,4
Many tell us that heaven and paradise mean the same thing because in 2 Corinthians 12:2,4, because verse 2 says that a certain person was caught up to the “third heaven” and verse 4 says he was caught up to “paradise,” that the heaven and paradise mean the same thing. Not so! Peter outlines the three heavens in 2 Peter 3:5-13. The first heavens and the first earth existed before the flood of Noah’s day. That heavens and earth passed away in the flood of Noah’s day. The present heavens and earth will also pass away, but will be followed by the new heavens and new earth. The “new heavens” of 2 Peter 3:13 corresponds to the “third heaven” of 2 Corinthians 12:2. Likewise, the “paradise” of 2 Corinthians 12:4 corresponds to the “new earth” of 2 Peter 3:13. The paradise (Greek, Strong’s #3857, paradisos, park) spoken of here corresponds to the paradise, park, or garden (Hebrew, Strong’s #1588, gan, garden) of God spoken of at Ezekiel 28:13, where Jehovah speaks to Satan under the symbol of the King of Tyre: “You have been in Eden the paradise of God.” The Edenic paradise of God will be restored as shown in Revelation 2:7. This paradise will be on earth — the new earth — when all things are made new. — Revelation 21:1-5.
To support their claim that the dead are awake and alive, some refer to Psalm 16:11, stating that the redeemed are in heaven experiencing fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore, while they sleep. Psalm 16:11 says no such thing! How well the blind like to be led into blindness! This scripture refers to the resurrection, not immortal soul, of Jesus. (Acts 2:25-33) Since it does not refer to what happens to a believer at the instant of death, it has no bearing on their argument.
Another scripture presented to prove that the righteous go to heaven at death and will recognize each other there is Ezekiel 32:21. The strong (el – the mighty) among the mighty [Strong’s 1368 -the powerful nations that previously existed] shall speak [by the voice of history – compare Genesis 4:10] to him [Egypt – vs. 18] out of the midst of hell [sheol – the realm of death]. Again no reference whatsoever about any going to heaven and recognizing each immediately after death.
Luke 16:9 refers to the time when Jesus returns and receives his saints unto himself, thus it refers to the resurrection. (John 14:3) It does not refer to any one going to heaven at death.
Some believe that this scripture refers to heaven. But in looking at Revelation 21:27, we do not find any reference to heaven, or those who go to heaven at all. Rather we find that the reference is to the New Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven. (Revelation 21:2) The reference is to the establishment of Jehovah’s Kingdom over all the earth, when all nations will learn of Jehovah’s ways and walk in Jerusalem’s light for their own healing. (Revelation 21:24; 22:2; Isaiah 2:1-4) Of course, there will be progress during that thousand-year reign of Jesus, when the nations are judged. But it has nothing to do with being in heaven. It is true that none will be permitted into the holy city condition until he has cleaned himself up, both in mind and actions, to conform to the Kingdom. But the people of the nations who receive the healing will be making progress then, else how could there be any healing of the nations?
But some might say: “Love does not exclude wrath for those who stubbornly reject his love.” With this we agree. In fact, we say that God’s wrath remains upon those who have not even had a chance to hear about his love, for all mankind was sentenced under God’s wrath, not to eternal torture, but to death. (John 3:36; Romans 5:18; 6:23; Colossians 3:6; Ephesians 5:3-6) God’s wrath is and has been expressed upon all the world of mankind. At the end of this age, his wrath will be expressed upon all not under the blood of Jesus. (Revelation 15:1) But this wrath is expressed upon the earth, not while a person is dead. (Revelation 16:1) And in the final judgment, his wrath will be expressed upon those who willfully disobey by again returning them to death — the second death from which there is no return. — Revelation 20:15.