Table of Contents
Journey Out of Time
THE NATURE OF THE INTERVAL
LIFE AND RESURRECTION
THE GATHERING OF THE SAINTS
day," in this life of each believer becomes, like the last
day of every other believer, the Last Day which marks the coming
of the Lord to receive us unto Himself.
"last days" are all kaleidoscoped into a single event
as each one of us passes out of Time into Eternity, together
marking that one and the same Great Day of the Lord.
It is the great
gathering which makes death for the departing saint not a separation
but a reunion a reunion with his resurrected body and a
reunion with all the other saints, past, present, and future!
Part III: The Nature of the Interval
THE INHERENT IMMORTALITY OF THE
It must occur
to every thoughtful reader that if the SOUL(1) is immortal even though the body is not, the
soul is quite capable of continuance while the body awaits the
resurrection. And by continuance what
else could be understood than conscious continuance?
Now, conscious continuance can
only be viewed as either requiring a body, or not requiring a
These are the only two possibilities. If the body is necessary,
then clearly conscious continuance
requires that the body must be reunited with the soul at once
-- without any interval of disruption
whatever. If the body is not necessary, then the resurrection
of the body seems pointless. What purpose
could it serve?
The dilemma: soul conscious or unconscious?
In a nutshell, this is the dilemma
that has always been faced by those who address themselves to
nature of a supposed intermediate state based on the immortality
of the soul and its self-sufficiency. But
the dilemma in this case exists only so long as we assume that
immortality of the soul also means its uninterrupted consciousness.
1. If one is to be theologically precise, the word "soul"
should be "spirit" (see chapter
7). Here, and subsequently, the author chose not to be theologically
precise in his use of the words "soul" and "spirit",
since the quotations used in this chapter did not do so.
it is clear that uninterrupted consciousness is not essential
to continued existence, since we sleep
at night and wake in the morning without any interruption of
our existence. Our identity remains intact.
Coma can last for months, with little or no disturbance of personal
identity when consciousness is
It may further be observed that,
surprisingly, the Word of God says nothing explicitly about the
immortality of the soul in the commonly accepted sense! The idea
is, in fact, not a biblical but a pagan one,
imported into early Christian theology from the Greeks; and this
be it noted in direct opposition to
categorical denials by some of the earliest Church Fathers. They
never denied that God guarantees the
soul's continuance, but they did deny that the soul is by its
very nature inherently indestructible.
Views held of the soul's state in this
In case this should seem an entirely
novel and unwarranted assertion, consider a few such statements
the following. Let us begin with the Jewish view based entirely
on the Old Testament. The Jewish people
equated heaven with the repossession of Israel's promised kingdom
on earth, and for this they
recognized not merely the survival of the soul, but that bodily
existence was also necessary. On this point,
B. S. Easton observed:(2)
Resurrection of the body was
the form immortality took, in accord with the religious
premises. As the saint was to find his happiness in the nation,
he must be restored to the
nation; and the older views did not point toward pure
[i.e., abstract] soul-immortality. The
'shades' led a wretched existence at the best; and St. Paul
himself shudders at the thought of
"nakedness" (2 Corinthians 5:3(3)).
. . . Where direct Greek influence, however, can
predicated, pure soul immortality is found. [Parenthesis
and emphasis mine]
2. Easton, B.S., under "Resurrection"
in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr,
General Editor, Chicago, Howard-Severance Co., 1915, vol. 4.
3. "For in this [tabernacle] we groan, earnestly desiring
to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so
be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." 2 Corinthians
5:2 and 3.
is important to recognize this conflicting stream of Jewish and
Greek tradition because the Christian
hope is based on an entirely different principle from that which
underlies all other religious faiths. Belief
in the world to come is by no means uniquely Christian, but belief
in a world to come in which a
resurrection of one's own body is as essential to personal identity
as a spirit made alive again, is indeed
uniquely Christian. Much of the visionary literature of Christendom
regarding the bliss of the saints in a
disembodied state between death and resurrection is little more
than a baptized reflection of the pagan
view of the matter.
Justin Martyr (c. 100165),
born only a few years after the death of the Apostle John and
representing a near-apostolic tradition, disputed the Greek concept
of the inherent immortality of the
soul. In his Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew, in a section
titled, "The Soul is not in its own nature immortal",
wrote that the soul participates in life "so far as God
wills it to live".(4)
Tatian (c. 110172) who was
his contemporary, seems to have been concerned that Greek influence
becoming too strong in the process of formulating the theology
of the early Church. He wrote a treatise
known as his Address to the Greeks. It is usually dated
about 160 A. D. In this he says plainly: "The soul is
not itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal."(5)
Irenaeus (d. 195) held that there
is no natural immortality of the soul. All depends upon the pleasure
God. As the soul's coming into existence depended upon the will
of God, so does its continuance.(6)
It was not, in fact, until after
the Renaissance, when the works of the Greek philosophers began
humanistic leaven of Christian theology, that the concept of
the inherent immortality of the soul became
part of the common faith of Christendom. Till then, the Church
seems to have been content to limit its
pronouncements to the fact of the reality of eternal life and
the resurrection of the body. Berkouwer
speaks of this "noteworthy caution on the part of the doctrinal
authority of the Catholic Church which
taught that the spirituality of the soul could be proved but
not its immortality."(7)
4. Justin Martyr: in his Dialogue with
Trypho A Jew, Chap. 5, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, New
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913, vol. 1, p.197; and also
Franz Delitzsch, System of Biblical Psychology, Grand Rapids,
Baker, 1966 (reprint), p.474.
5. Tatian: in his Address to the Greeks, chaps. 13 and
15, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, New York, Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1913, vol. 2, p.71, 72.
6. Irenaeus' actual words are: "When God therefore bestows
life and perpetual duration, it comes to pass that even souls
which did not previously exist should henceforth endure [forever],
since God has both willed that they should exist, and should
continue in existence.", in his Against Heresies,
Book 2, chap. 34, section 4 in Ante-Nicene Fathers, New
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, vol. 1, p.412.
7. Berkouwer, G. C., Man: The Image of God, Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans, 1962, p.270.
According to Basil F. C. Atkinson, Martin Luther listed
as the last of five cardinal errors of the papal Church the immortality
of the soul, and was followed in this view by William Tyndale.(8) Luther, in his Assertion
of All the Articles Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull of 29
November, 1520, rejected this Roman Catholic
doctrine, calling such an idea a "monstrous opinion"
out of the "Roman dunghill of decretals"!
In 1548 John Calvin published his
commentary on Paul's first letter to Timothy. He observed (at
6:16(9)) that the
soul's coming into existence and its continuance depend entirely
on God, so that "properly
speaking, it does not have an immortal nature"; and in support
of this he cited Acts 17:28.(10)|
In 1893 James Orr wrote at
some length on this matter and concluded that the "Bible
knows nothing of an
abstract immortality of the soul, as the [Medieval] schools speak
He insisted that only when the
soul was reunited with the body as a whole person, is there immortality;
and this only because it will be
forever sustained by God Himself.
In 1901, Herman Bavinck argued
cogently that Scripture adopts a position which, to use his own
first sight cannot but astonish us." Even though the importance
of the doctrine of the immortality of the
soul seems paramount for the Christian, yet Bavinck holds that
Scripture never treats of it specifically,
never announces it as a revealed truth, never places it in the
foreground, and never makes any attempt to
maintain its truth against opponents. Yet Bavinck himself does
not deny it. It is only that, objectively, he
denies it to be a strictly biblical doctrine. Later on, he observes
that "Scripture does not deny but neither
does it specifically teach the immortality of the soul: and it
surely does not intend, as deism held, to make
this immortality known to us as one of the more important truths
Thomas B. Strong in his Manual
of Theology wrote in 1903: "The doctrine of the immortality
of the soul is
precarious and obscure in a very high degree."(13)
8. Atkinson, Basil F. C., Life and Immortality,
published privately in England, 1970, p.iii.
9. ". . . [God] only has immortality." 1 Timothy 6:16.
10. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being. .
. ." Acts 17:28.
11. Orr, James, The Christian View of God and the World,
New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893, p.196.
12. Bavinck, Herman, Gereformeede Dogmatic, 1901, vol.
4, p.567, 591: quoted by G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The
Image of God, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1962, p.242, 243.
13. Strong, Thomas B., Manual of Theology, London, Adam
& Charles Black, 1903, p.400.
In 1915, when James Orr contributed
the article on Immortality in the International Standard
Encyclopedia (vol. 3, p.1459), he had not changed his earlier
In hardly any subject is it
more necessary to be careful in the definition of terms and clear
distinction of ideas, especially where the Biblical doctrine
is concerned, than in this matter of
By "immortality" is frequently
meant simply the survival of the soul or spiritual part of man,
after bodily death. It is the assertion of the fact that death
does not end all. The soul survives.
This is commonly what is meant when we speak of "a future
life," "a future state," "a
hereafter". . . .
[Among the heathen] it is a state
peculiar to "death"; in most cases shadowy, inert,
dependent, joyless; a state to be dreaded and shrunk from, not
one to be hoped for. . . . Among
the [more advanced] heathen it is conceived as, for some, a state
of happiness the clog of
the body being shaken off and this yields the idea, which
has passed into so much of our
modern thinking of an "immortality of the soul," an
imperishableness of the spiritual part. . .
an inherent indestructibility.
It will be seen as we advance,
that the Biblical view is different from all of these. . . .
Bible, "immortality" is not merely the survival of
the soul. . . . The "immortality" that the Bible
contemplates is an immortality of the whole person
body and soul together. It is not a
condition simply of further existence, however prolonged, but
a state of blessedness, due to
redemption and to the possession of the "eternal life"
in the soul; it includes resurrection and
perfected life in both soul and body. . . .
One use which the Greeks made of the
metaphysical argument was to prove the
indestructibility of the soul its immortality in
the sense of having no beginning and no
end. This is not the Christian doctrine. The soul has no such
As Orr observed,
the soul is entirely dependent on God for its creation, "and
for its continued existence as
everything else is. Did He withdraw his sustaining power it would
cease to exist. . . . The contrast between the Biblical view
of immortality, and that of heathenism and of the [philosophers]
will now be obvious. It is
not mere future existence;
not a bare abstract immortality of the soul; it is the
result of redemption and
of renewal by God's spirit; it embraces the whole personality,
soul and body." [emphasis mine](14)
And in 1962 G. C. Berkouwer does
not find "natural" immortality or "indestructibility
of the soul" in
Scripture. The soul is a creation of God and remains dependent
upon his good pleasure. The opposite view,
he notes, is a heritage of Greek philosophy, primarily through
Platonism. "The Christian outlook is
resurrection, not the immortality of the soul."(15)
David Kerr, in 1960, in an article
on Immortality in Baker's Dictionary of Theology, observed:(16)
It may be said that immortality
in the biblical sense is a condition in which the individual
not subject to death or to any influence which might lead to
death. God is uniquely immortal
in that He is without beginning or end. . . . Man, on the other
hand, is immortal only by
derivation and when his mortal body has been replaced by one
which is immortal. . . .
The biblical idea of immortality thus
differs from all others in certain important respects. One
of these is that in non-biblical teaching man is inherently
immortal. Another is that it is the
spiritual aspect of human nature only which is thought to be
immortal. . . . In biblical thought
man is not inherently immortal: it is the whole man, body and
soul, that is immortal even
though the body must undergo a transformation in order to achieve
We thus see
from the evidence of Scripture that it is the whole man who is
to achieve immortality, and
THIS ONLY BY REASON OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. In this
process the body also undergoes transformation, even as by rebirth
the spirit has likewise been transformed.
As Kerr observes: "In the
Old Testament as well as in the New, man is a complete being
only as his body
14. Orr, James: in International Standard
Biblical Encyclopedia, Chicago, Howard-Severance Co., 1913,
vol.3, p.1459, 1461.
15. Berkouwer, G. C., Man: The Image of God, Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans, 1962, p.253.
16. Kerr, David: under "Immortality" in Baker's
Dictionary of Theology, edited by E. F. Harrison, Grand Rapid,
Baker, 1960, p.280, 281.
and spirit are in union.
He is then a living soul or person (Genesis 2:7(17)). . . . Immortality, for the Christian
involves the resurrection and may be fully attained only after
Franz Delitzsch underscores the
fact that the body and the soul or spirit live or die together.(18)
Where Scripture speaks of death as a
common to men, it is
everywhere the whole man who suffers it. Death is a breaking up of the
substance of a living being. Body and spirit fall away from one another,
and the spirit finds
itself, in so far as it is disembodied, in the condition of death. Even
of the spirits of the just
made perfect this is the case. . . . The resurrection is a restoration
of the personal condition
that is dissolved by death.
concerned to emphasize that death is not merely death of the
body. The spirit suffers too. Yet
for all that, the insult to the spirit by which it is robbed
of its medium of expression does not terminate its
existence. It only effectively silences it. For, as he says,
"death and annihilation are by no means
coincident ideas. Actual continuance of being and self-conscious
continuance of being are far from
necessarily related."(19) [emphasis mine]
The point is a very important one.
The soul may have continuance after death but this does not necessitate
conscious continuance. The absence of consciousness is
not to be taken as evidence of annihilation.
When a patient recovers from the total unconsciousness of deep
anesthesia in the operating room, he
gives every indication that he was by no means non-existent during
the interval, nor has he surrendered
his identity, whether as viewed introspectively or as known to
his friends. It is not known how long such
a condition might be sustained without serious disturbance of
personal identity, but certainly the mere
fact of the interjection of a period of unconsciousness is by
no means to be equated with the automatic
annihilation of personal identity.
The same is true of the body which
is to "sleep in the dust" (Daniel 12:2(20)). Its identity will surely
17. "And the LORD God formed man of the
dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath
of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7.
18. Delitzsch, Franz, A System of Biblical Psychology,
Grand Rapids, Baker, 1966 (reprint), p.474
19. Delitzsch, Franz, ibid, p. 475.
20. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth
shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and
everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2.
recovered as was the
identity of Lazarus' body in spite of its incipient disintegration.
God can restore it
recognizably: or, as we are assured He will at the last Day,
He can re-create it anew recognizably,
despite its disintegration.
Unconscious existence is still
real existence if God wills it. The spirit that returns to God
does not need to
have consciousness in the interim between death and resurrection
of the body in order for its identity to
be preserved. God preserves both its identity and the identity
of the body; and it is within His power and
purpose to raise both into a far more glorious continuance of
that identity. If there is a period of
unconsciousness as the soul or spirit awaits the body, it cannot
be known to the individual: there is no
such thing as a conscious state of unconsciousness! So experientially,
the interim is unknown because
there could never be a consciousness of it so long as body and
spirit are separated. Personally, I am
persuaded that there will not be any such interval of
A resolution proposed
Let me try to state this even more
explicitly. We know from Ecclesiastes 12:7 that the spirit returns
when the body returns to the dust.(21) The Lord Jesus commended his spirit to the
Father's keeping (Luke
as (in Acts 7:59) Stephen commended his spirit to the
There, in God's keeping, the human
spirit is preserved in a condition which Scripture designates
as undoubtedly even the Lord's human spirit was
also preserved till He Himself raised his own body as
He said He would (John 2:19, "this temple"(24)) and thus reconstituted
his humanity. As each redeemed
spirit is taken into God's care, these "spirits of just
men" (Hebrews 12:23(25)) are freed of all imperfections,
imperfections which are instantly left behind in departing from
this world. Their spirits thus made perfect
await a like glorification of the body (Philippians. 3:21(26)). The ultimate immortality
of the redeemed spirit
21. "Then shall the dust return to the
earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave
it." Ecclesiastes 12:7.
22. "When Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father,
into your hands I commend my spirit, and having said this, he
gave up the ghost." Luke 23:46.
23. "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying,
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts 7:59.
24. "Jesus answered them and said unto them, Destroy this
temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews,
Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you
rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body."
25. "[But you are come]. . . to God the Judge of all, and
to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus. . . ."
Hebrews 12:22a, 23b.
26. "[Christ] who shall change our vile body, that it may
be fashioned like unto his glorious body. . . ." Philippians
guaranteed by the promise
of never again perishing (John 10:28(27)) once the body has been reunited the with
reunion is the "making alive" of 1 Corinthians 15:22f.,(29) a term meaning to place
the power of death.(30)
It is therefore unconditional because God's promise is unconditional.
But as we shall see, this "sleep"
which seems to intervene does not actually involve the slightest
delay in is experience of the departing saint with respect to
his entering joyously and consciously into his Lord's
presence: for he is at once united with his own glorified and
resurrected body and so made truly a whole
person instantly. There is no waiting, for there is no
passage of time on that side of Jordan. It is only as
an accommodation to our present time-bound consciousness that
this interim is spoken of as "sleep."
How else could Scripture have revealed what happens in the transition
out of time into eternity?
I am convinced that this is the
prospect for the believer. There is no loss of consciousness
spirit is never left without its appropriate body, and our mortal
state is, as soon as we depart this life,
exchanged at once for an unconditional immortality. As we shall
see, not merely the simple logic by which
a number of apparently contradictory statements in Scripture
can be beautifully reconciled, but the
nature of eternity as distinct from time guarantees
that the spirit is not actually introduced "unclothed"
into the Lord's presence, but clothed in a body like His. For
each departing saint, this departure from the
earthly body means immediate union with the heavenly body.
27. "And I [Jesus] will give them eternal
life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck
them out of my hand." John 10:28.
28. This was the whole import of the Lord's assurance to Mary
and Martha with respect to Lazarus. It was with the promise of
his being resurrected at the last day that He tried to comfort
them, but at that moment their grief could only be satisfied
with his immediate restoration: "Jesus said to her [Martha],
Your brother will rise again. Martha said to him, I know that
he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus
said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes
in me, though he were dead, yet
shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never
die. Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes, Lord: I believe
that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into
the world." John 11:23-27.
29. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection
of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall
all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the
firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."
1 Corinthians 15:21- 23.
30. It is this sense that Christ, as a Man, was the "firstfruits"
the first man to be lifted from the "not needing to
die" category into this "impossible to die" category
(1 Corinthians 15:23). The Lord was by no means the first one
to be raised from the dead, but He was the first to be placed
beyond the power of death.
death of the saint thus signals for him the return of the Lord,
that point in experience when He promised He would come again
to receive us unto Himself (John 14:3(31)). It marks, in fact, "that last day"
for the departing believer; and I think it must also mark the
last (but fearful) day for the unbeliever as
well. The death of the believer carries that happy soul instantly
forward with all other saints to the Great
Day of his coming to earth in triumph. If this seems a difficult
concept, I agree! But as we shall see in the final three chapters,
it can be approached by more gradual steps in such a way as to
be entirely conceivable and wonderfully agreeable to many passages
of Scripture which appear in an entirely new light.
The resurrection and transformation
of the body into a state of perfection appropriate to the perfected
spirit is the climax of the Plan of Redemption. Regeneration
of the spirit in this life is only the beginning of
Let us now test this hypothesis
by examining the data supplied by Scripture on this subject.
31. "And if I go and prepare a place
for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that
where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:3.) Yet Peter
assures the believer that "the trial of your faith, being
much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be
tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory
at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7) which, being
at the end of time, seems to contradict the assurance given in
John. Then surely the answer is that both events the dying
of the saint and the appearing of Christ are one event!
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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