Scripture shuts us up to the blessed hope of being reunited in
resurrection. That is why the death of believers is so often called "sleep"; and
dying is called "falling asleep"; because of the assured hope of awakening in
resurrection. It's language is, "David fell on sleep" (Acts 13:36), not David's
body, or David's soul. "Stephen ... fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). "Lazarus
sleepeth" (John 11:11), which is explained, when the Lord afterward speaks
"plainly", as meaning "Lazarus is dead" (v. 14).
Now, when the Holy Spirit uses one thing to describe or explain
another, He does not choose the opposite word or expression. If He speaks of night, He
does not use the word light. If He speaks of daylight, He does not use the word night. He
does not put "sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet" (Isa. 5:20). He uses
adultery to illustrate Idolatry; He does not use virtue. And so, if He uses the word
"sleep" of death, it is because sleep illustrates to us what the condition of
death is like. If Tradition be the truth, He ought to have used the word awake, or
wakefulness. But the Lord first uses a Figure, and says "Lazarus sleepeth"; and
afterwards, when He speaks "plainly" He says "Lazarus is dead". Why?
Because sleep expresses and describes the condition of the "unclothed" state. In
normal sleep, there is no consciousness. For the Lord, therefore, to have used this word
"sleep" to represent the very opposite condition of conscious wakefulness, would
have been indeed to mislead us. But all His words are perfect; and are used for the
purpose of teaching us, and not for leading us astray.
So effectually has Satan's lie, "thou shalt not surely
die", succeeded and accomplished its purpose that, though the Lord Jesus said "I
will come again and receive you unto Myself", Christendom says, with one voice,
"No! Lord. Thou needest not come for me: I will die and come to Thee". Thus the
blessed hope of resurrection and the coming of the Lord have been well nigh blotted out
from the belief of the Churches; and the promise of the Lord been made of none effect by
the ravages of Tradition.
In Phil. 2:27, we read that Epaphraditus "was sick nigh unto
death; but God had mercy on him"..So that it was mercy to preserve Epaphraditus from
death. This could hardly be called "mercy" if death were the "gate of
glory", according to popular tradition.
In 2 Cor. 1:10-11, it was deliverance of no ordinary kind when
Paul himself was "delivered from so great a death" which called for
corresponding greatness of thanksgiving for God's answer to their prayers on his behalf.
Moreover, he trusted that God would still deliver him. It is clear from 2 Cor. 5:4 that
Paul did not wish for death; for he distinctly says "not for that he would be
unclothed, but clothed upon (i.e. in resurrection and "change") that mortality
might be swallowed up of LIFE"; not of death. This is what he was so "earnestly
Hezekiah also had reason to praise God for delivering him from
"the king of terrors". It was "mercy" shown to Epaphraditus; it was
"a gift" to Paul; it was "love" to Hezekiah. He says (Isa. 38:17- 19):
"For the grave (Heb. sheol) cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: They
that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall
praise Thee, as I do this day."
On the other hand the death of Moses was permitted, for it was
his punishment; therefore, there was no deliverance for him though he sought it (Deut.
1:37; 3:23,27; 4:21,22; 31:2). Surely it could have been no punishment if death is not
death; but, as is universally held, the gate of paradise!
In 1 Thes. 4:15, we read: "This we say unto you by the Word
of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain shall not precede them which are
To agree with Tradition this ought to have been written,
"shall not precede them which are already with the Lord". But this would have
made nonsense; and there is nothing of that in the Word of God.
While we may draw our own inferences from what the Scriptures
state, we shall all agree that it is highly important that we should clothe these views in
Scriptural terms, and that we should ask and answer how far it is that these popular
sayings have practically, at any rate until recent years, blotted out the hope of
resurrection, the hope of the Lord's coming again to fulfill His promise, to receive us to
Himself. You remember how the apostle speaks to some in the 15th chapter of 1st
Corinthians, who say that there is "no resurrection of the dead"; and in writing
to Timothy he refers to Hymenaeus & Philetus, who had led some away from the faith by
saying that "the resurrection is past already".
The greatest comfort which the greatest Comforter that the world
ever knew had to give to a sister who had been bereaved of a beloved brother was,
"Thy brother shall rise again." All hope is bound up with this great subject:
and, if our Theology has no place in it for this great hope, then the sooner we change it
the better; for remember that this subject is one of revelation.
We are expressly enjoined by the Lord Himself: "Marvel not
at this: for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His
voice" (John 5:28). These are the Lord's own words, and they tell us where His Voice
will be heard; and, that is not in heaven, not in Paradise, or in any so-called
"intermediate state", but in "the GRAVES". With this agrees Dan. 12:2,
which tells us that those who "awake" in resurrection will be those "that
sleep in the dust of the earth"; from which man was "taken" (Gen. 2:7;
3:23), and to which he must return (Gen. 3:19; Eccl. 12:7).
Psalm 146:4 declares of man, "His breath goes forth, He
returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish." The passage says
nothing about the "body". It is whatever has done the thinking. the
"body" does not think. The "body", apart from the spirit, has no
thoughts. Whatever has had the "thoughts" has them no more; and this is
There is Eccl. 9:5, which declares that "The living know
that they shall die; But the dead know not anything". It does not say dead bodies
know not anything, but "the dead", i.e. dead people, who are set in contrast
with the "living". As one of these "living", David says, by the Holy
Spirit (Psa. 146:2; 104:33):"While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises
unto my God while I have any being". There would be no praising the Lord after he had
ceased to "have any being". Why? Because "princes" and the "son
of man" are helpless (Psa. 146:3,4). They return to their earth; and when they die,
their "thoughts perish": and they "know not anything".
This is what God says about death. He explains it to us Himself.
We need not therefore ask any man what it is. And if we did, his answer would be
valueless, inasmuch as it is absolutely impossible for him to know anything of death, i.e.
the death-state, beyond what God has told us in the Scriptures.