The afterlife! It is always a big question in the mind of many and a very interesting subject to study. Let us see what the Word of God would teach us about it.
Before we begin, let us establish one very important thing from the Word of God: the immortality of man's spirit.
As humans we know that man is composed of body, soul, and spirit. But where do we go in the Word of God to prove that? In Genesis 2:7, we have body, soul, and spirit mentioned in the third part of that verse. The Lord God formed man; that is, the formation of the body. The word "formation" in Hebrew is used for both the potter and the potter's vessel. In Jeremiah. 18, Jeremiah was told to go down to the house of the potter and see him making a vessel out of clay.
So we discover the word that is used for "form" in the Old Testament is also the word used for "potters." Just as the potter takes the clay and his fingers shape and mold it into the vessel he had in mind, so the Lord God, the creator potter, did when He formed the body of man from the dust of the ground. There also in the same verse we find that which speaks of the spirit, "He breathed in his nostrils the breath of live." And man became a "living soul." So we can see how man's body, soul, and spirit were created. There are other verses that show us that fact: see Isaiah 42:5, Job 32:8, and Job 33:4.
There was an occasion in the life of the Lord Jesus when the Sadducees came to test Him about the question of resurrection. He replied to them, "You do err because ye know neither the Scripture nor the power of God. Have ye not read…" Then the Lord Jesus quoted from Ex. 3 God's words to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Although these three patriarchs were long dead, God did not say, "I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
If we turn to 1 Thessalonians. 5:23,"Now the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly: and your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our lord Jesus Christ." we can establish from the New Testament also that man is body, soul and spirit.
It is also wonderful to see these three things are true of the eternal Son of God who became the perfect man, the Lord Jesus. As for His body, we read that Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus asked for the body of the Lord Jesus to bury Him. (Jn. 19:38-42). In Acts 2 and Ps. 16 it is said of the Lord, "thou shalt not leave my soul in Hades nor would thou permit thy Holy One to see corruption." Concerning the spirit of our Lord, we read that He said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."
We can gather from this that when death comes in, soul and spirit are separated from the body. The scripture's definition of death in James. 5 is that the body without the spirit is dead.
If we compare Ps. 16, written in Hebrew, with Acts 2, written in Greek, we find the same word used in both. In Peter's address in Acts 2, the word "hades" (translated as "hell") quotes the word "sheol" from Ps. 16. Those two words are exactly the same and mean the same thing. Sometimes the word sheol is incorrectly translated as "the grave" in the King James Version, rather than "hell" or "hades."
The first time this word is mentioned in Scripture is in Gen.esis 37. Jacob said, "I will go down to Sheol."
You will be interested to learn that Sheol is mentioned in the Old Testament 65 times.
In the New Testament it is only mentioned 10 times and those 10 times are of interest. Four of them are in the gospels, spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. Two are mentioned in the book of Acts 2, and the remaining four are found in the book of Revelation. Not once is Hades mentioned in the New Testament epistles. Do you wonder why?
Why is Hades mentioned so many times in the O.T.? Why is it mentioned from the lips of the Lord Jesus before the church was established, but not once in the epistles? Why does it appear again in the book of Revelation where we find the last mention of Hades in chapter 20 (when death and Hades give up their dead).
Let us now try to answer some of these questions.
What is Hades? Who is in Hades?
I believe that Hades or Sheol was, to the Old Testament people, the unseen, unknown world; the place for the departed souls of those who died, whether good or evil. Or, as Mr. Darby describes it, "a very vague _expression used in general to designate the temporary state of departed spirits the unseen or invisible world of spirits."
The Lord Jesus Himself gives us more light as to the kind of place Hades is. He reveals to us that Hades is divided into two sections (Luke 16:19-31): a place of torment (hell) for unbelievers of every dispensation, and a place of rest and comfort (Abraham's bosom) for the believers of the Old Testament. The two sections are separated by a great and fixed gulf; no one from one section could move to the other.
Why do we not read of Hades in the N.T. epistles?
I believe the Lord Jesus Himself revealed to us that the blessed part of Hades, the place of rest and comfort or Abraham's bosom, is now called, as a result of His spirit going there after His death, Paradise (garden of delight)!
There are only three occasions when the word Paradise is used in the New Testament. The first is in Luke 23:43 when the Lord said to the thief, "today thou shalt be with me in paradise". The next reference to paradise is in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul speaks of being taken to paradise. The third reference, in Revelation 2, is the promise to the overcomers found in the letter to the assembly at Ephesus.
From Psalms 16, Acts 2, and Luke 23 we can conclude that the blessed side of Hades, what the Jews called Abraham's bosom, became a paradise when the Lord Jesus entered it for the three days that His blessed body was in the grave.
So what will take place when the Lord Jesus will come for His saints (the rapture).
Let's look at 1 Thessalonians4:15-18 where we read of those that are alive and remain. No matter when the Lord returns for His own, there will be a company of believers who are alive and remain. Note that the apostle Paul put himself with them, since he expected the Lord to come in his lifetime. If this was true in his day, how much nearer is the fulfillment of this truth after over 2,000 years!
Next we read of those who are asleep. Note that we never read (after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) that a Christian died. Christians do not die - they fall asleep. Death has lost its power because the Lord defeated it, "and death by dying slew." The Lord Himself (see John 14) shall come with a shout.
Now let's look closely to this threefold shout:
A shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trump of God. What kind of shout is this?
It is an authoritative shout because it comes from Him; just as in John 11 the Lord with authority called, "Lazarus, come forth." It is with that same power and authority He will shout at His return.
I wonder what He will say ?
It is an authoritative shout! It is an awakening shout and it is an assembling shout, and there will be a response from the spirit of the sleeping saints in paradise. They will come down to their bodies which will be changed, and we who are still alive will also be changed and together we will be caught up in the air with Him.
What about the voice of the archangel?
Perhaps it will raise the Jewish saints of the Old Testament. I believe so because of the close connection Michael the archangel has with the Jewish people. When Satan disputed over the body of Moses, it was Michael that defended his body. In Dan. 10 we read, "Michael, your prince" in relation to Israel, and in ch. 12, "at that time Michael, that great prince which stands for the children of thy people (the children of Israel)."
If then, the shout is for the church and the voice of the archangel for Israel, perhaps the trump of God will raise every other believer lying in the grave that is not part of the children of Israel all the way back to Abel.
"We will be caught up together … to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."