The State of the Dead

The State of the Dead

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The dead are completely unconscious. They are not cognizant of anything. When a person dies, all of his thoughts, knowledge and feelings come to a complete halt. Absolutely no awareness or consciousness continues in another location or state of being. The Bible likens death to sleep (Job 7:21; Job 14:10-12). Daniel 12:2 describes dead individuals as "those who sleep in the dust of the earth." They will awaken later in a resurrection (Isaiah 26:19). For much more information on this subject read the Bible study aid What Happens After Death?

Three different words for hell

We can now explore Luke 16:23. Speaking about the rich man it reads, "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Again, we must be careful not to presume the story means that the rich man died and went to an ever-burning hellfire. This is an incorrect assumption and not stated in this passage. It directly contradicts other biblical teaching on the matter. Jesus used the Greek word Hades ("hell" in the King James Version), which simply means "the grave." The Expositor's Bible Commentary (vol. 8, p. 992) states: "In the New Testament Hades is never used of the destiny of the believer. Neither is it identified with Gehenna, which is usually connected with fiery judgment as in Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29-30; Luke 12:5)."

It's important to also understand that in the Greek language, there are two other words in the Bible often translated "hell." One is tartaroo, which is used only once and refers to the present condition of restraint or imprisonment of fallen angels or demons (2 Peter 2:4). The other word is Gehenna, which is derived from the Hebrew expression Gai-Hinnom, or the Valley of Hinnom. This valley bordered Jerusalem on the south. One Jewish source relates that, in Christ's day, it was used as the city's garbage dump. When Jesus spoke of Gehenna His listeners understood that this "hell" was a destroying fire in which trash and even the bodies of criminals were reduced to ashes. He warned that this kind of fire would be the ultimate fate of those who remain unrepentant (Matthew 13:41). "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell [Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom]; yes, I say to you, fear Him" (Luke 12:5).

The rich man awakens from death

Continuing in Luke 16:23 we read about the rich man: "And being in torments in Hades [the grave], he lifted up his eyes." Once again we must be alert to read exactly what the passage says. Just how could the rich man have "lifted up his eyes" after he died? The Bible reveals the only way this can happen is through a resurrection. It explains that the dead can be raised to either immortal (Luke 20:35-36; Romans 8:13) or mortal (physical) life.

For example, Jesus raised another man named Lazarus to mortal life (John 12:17). Also, immediately after Jesus died on the cross many of His faithful followers who had died were raised to physical life (Matthew 27:50-53). In the case of the parable we are studying, the rich man would be raised from the dead as a mortal man, just as he was before he died. Revelation 20:4 explains that God's spirit-begotten children will be resurrected to immortal life at Christ's second coming. However, verse 5 continues by stating, "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished." So the rich man's resurrection to physical life would occur after that thousand year period (Revelation 20:11-15).

Abraham and the other faithful individuals, including Lazarus, would have been raised as immortal spirit beings at the return of Jesus Christ. Since the rich man would be resurrected near the end of the thousand year timespan as a physical man, it would seem to him as if it is the very next second after he died. He would know absolutely nothing of the vast number of years since his death.

When the rich man "lifted up" or opened his eyes, he immediately "saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:23). According to Bible language expert Dr. Lawrence Richards, writing in The Victor Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Jesus employed contemporary Jewish thought about the afterlife in this parable (which by this time was influenced by pagan mythology).

Dr. Richards wrote that Hades, the abode of the dead, was "thought to be divided into two compartments" and "conversations could be held between persons" in the abode of the righteous and those in the abode of the unrighteous. The New Bible Dictionary (p. 388) says, "Probably the story of Dives [meaning 'rich' {man} in Latin] and Lazarus (Luke 16), like the story of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9), is a parable which made use of certain Jewish thinking and is not intended to teach anything about the state of the dead."