& What REALLY Happens
When You Die
Soul, Spirit, & What Really Happens When You Die, by John Lilley
See the companion article to this, Soul Sleep - Is It Scriptural? by clicking here.
Most Christians don’t understand what the Bible actually says about what happens when a person dies because of the strong leftover influence of paganism/Catholicism on the religion of Christianity and a few important Greek and Hebrew words that are blatantly mistranslated in our English Bibles due to that leftover pagan tradition. To make matters worse, Christians throw around the words “soul” and “spirit” without having a Biblical definition in mind of what those words actually mean, and they don't understand the Biblical definition of death either. But it's not too difficult to clear up all the confusion.
I suggest you watch the video below before reading the rest of this article. The rest of the article will give you more detail, and the real verse-by-verse detail is in my book Hell Is a Mistranslation which I am making available for free. I mention the book a lot in the video and on this website because I believe the complete explanation in the book is vital for the true student of Scripture to understand these things thoroughly.
But to begin with I'm far more concerned that you get a mental picture of the eight common misconceptions that must be corrected before a person can truly understand what the Bible says about soul, spirit, what happens at death, and God's ultimate plan for humanity. Just press play:
HOW LEFTOVER PAGANISM CAUSES UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS
Some Christians might say, “There's no confusion about what happens when you die! It’s easy – if you’re saved, when you die you go to heaven, and if you’re not saved, when you die you go to hell.”
OK then, let me ask you a couple of simple questions:
If you go to heaven consciously to enjoy your reward the moment you die, why would you need to be resurrected at the rapture?
Jesus said in John 3:13, "No man has ascended into heaven." So where did Enoch and Elijah go? (See the book and the video above for explanation of this!)
In Daniel 12:13 an angel told Daniel that he would not receive his reward until the rapture. Why would the angel say this, if (as Catholicism has taught Christianity) you get your reward consciously in heaven immediately upon death?
Hebrews 11:35 says that the heroes of faith lived their lives in hopes of a "better resurrection". Ditto to previous question.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:32, "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." If (as Catholicism has taught Christianity) we receive our reward or punishment immediately upon death, then why would Paul say it doesn't even matter how we live our lives if there is no resurrection?
How could God justify sending people to hell before they have a chance to be judged at the white throne (Rev. 20:11-12)?
How could God justify sending millions of people to hell who never heard the word “Jesus” in their lifetimes, when the Bible itself says a person must hear the message of Christ in order to have a chance to get saved? (Rom. 10:14)
After you read this article, you can read my article The 10 Most Difficult Questions For Christians and the Bible’s Simple Answer in the Hell articles section of this site for more impossible-to-answer questions caused by attempting to superimpose a pagan/Catholic-inherited belief in eternal punishment on top of the Bible (and accompanying this artificial insertion of a false doctrine with blatant mistranslations of certain Greek and Hebrew words to make it appear as if the words "hell" and "eternal/everlasting/forever" appear in the Bible when really they do not).
See, it’s not so simple as "when you die you go straight to heaven or straight to hell". Modern Christianity believes a lot of good and correct things, but they also believe a few things that directly contradict specific Scriptural statements (e.g. John 3:13, Dan. 12:13, Heb. 11:35, 1 Cor. 15:32), don’t make any logical sense, and to be honest, make our God seem like a monster.
Let's be brutally honest with ourselves here. What kind of a God has an inner need to see billions of people created in His image tortured for trillions of years and can't bring Himself to stop it? What kind of God would create billions of people knowing beforehand that most of them would end up burning and screaming in agony for eternity, and the only way for them to avoid this fate is to make a choice to believe something (the gospel) that most of them never even had a chance to hear (see Rom. 10:14)? Not to mention that billions of them lived before Jesus came and died, thus having zero chance to hear the gospel because the gospel was not even enacted yet?
Atheists are happy to point out these logical and philosophical dilemmas and the fact that our God seems to be a monster. Meanwhile, Christians close their ears, close their minds, and try to drown out the sound with praise music. Then the atheists rightly accuse us of having a belief system that doesn't make any sense.
We can shout at the top of our lungs, "People choose to go to hell!" but that doesn't change the fact that God set up the system and the rules of the universe, and thus it is His decision what the punishment for sin should be. (Thankfully, the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death", NOT "the wages of sin is hell"!)
And I again must point out that although the Bible says humanity is without excuse for its sin (Rom. 1:20), the vast majority of people throughout history (and even billions today) never had a chance to hear the gospel (which according to Romans 10:14, they must hear if they are to have the opportunity to be saved).
I've only mentioned a few of the many seemingly unanswerable questions for the typical modern Christian who is the victim of leftover pagan/Catholic "eternal punishment" teachings masquerading as "Christianity" and superimposed on our Bible through blatant mistranslations of a few Greek and Hebrew words in our English Bibles.
But the good news is, the true message of the Bible (which comes clear when you simply translate certain important Greek and Hebrew words accurately into English and sort it all out) is the only God-based belief system that does not have a tragic ending for most of humanity (most people ending up in tortured agony, reincarnated as a cow, etc.).
You see, or the first several hundred years of the church, Christians did not believe in hell or eternal punishment.
That pagan concept only became associated with "Christianity" when the Roman Catholic Church was founded by purposefully mixing paganism and Christianity (in order to control both groups). Modern Christianity inherited it from the Catholic church, and this "tradition" causes the blatant and uncalled-for insertion of certain key words ("hell" and "eternal/everlasting/forever/forever-and-ever/never") in our English Bibles that don’t even appear in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
I’m not going to go into full detail on this subject in this article – I do that in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation. Here I only have room to cover the very basics of what happens when a person dies and what “soul” and “spirit” are – according to the accurately translated Bible rather than according to our imaginations or religious ideas.
It’s important for you to understand that what most Christians believe about death is completely contrary to what their own Bible teaches. Much of what “Christianity” preaches about death is “leftovers” from paganism.
So let’s look at what the Bible says about death.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT SOUL, SPIRIT, AND WHAT HAPPENS AT DEATH
Many Christians are confused by Paul talking about “going to be with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8) at death or Jesus saying to the thief on the cross “today you’ll be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43) because they think Jesus and Paul are talking about being with the Lord consciously.
However, if Jesus and Paul were talking about being with the Lord consciously immediately at death, they would contradict not only their own words spoken at different times, but also the testimony of the rest of Scripture.
The Bible repeatedly tells us in straightforward language that death = unconsciousness.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 says plainly, “The dead know nothing”.
Psalm 115:17 says, "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence".
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "There is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in sheol." (Sheol is a Hebrew word for the place/state of the dead. You may see it mistranslated as "hell" sometimes in the Old Testament depending on what English version you are reading. This word does not mean "hell" by any stretch of the imagination. Even if it did, according to this verse there is no activity or knowledge there, so it certainly wouldn't be hell as most Christians would imagine it! If there were people there they wouldn't even know they were suffering, because there is no knowledge there!)
Psalm 146:4 says (talking about a person who dies), "His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
(Psalm 146:4 is the first clue to why Jesus and Paul could talk about "being with the Lord" immediately at death without contradicting these Scriptures I'm quoting...they meant that at death the spirit returns to God UNconsciously. I'll explain more about this in a moment.)
The fact that death is unconscious is confirmed all throughout the Bible through the use of the analogy of sleep.
Jesus, Paul, and many others (including an angel of the Lord in Daniel 12:2) repeatedly refer to death as “sleep”. When you’re sleeping you’re unconscious. You “know nothing”. Simple. The analogy of sleep for death would make no sense whatsoever if death was conscious.
Acts 7:60 tells us that when Stephen died he “fell asleep”, and Acts 13:36 uses the same terminology about ancient King David.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:10 Paul tells us that whether we are “awake” (alive) or “asleep” (dead), we WILL (future tense) live together with Him. (WHEN will we live together with Him? See 1 Thess. 4:15-17 and 2nd Cor. 4:13-14! At the rapture - not before!)
In John 11:11-14 Jesus makes it ultra-clear to His disciples that Lazarus died, using the terminology of “sleep”. (And if you read on to John 11:25-26, be sure to do it in the accurately translated Concordant Version – Jesus didn’t say you’ll “never” die if you believe in Him, He said you won’t be dead during the “eon” – during the next age. See my book Hell Is A Mistranslation).
All these verses line up perfectly with Ecclesiastes 9:5, which plainly states that "the dead know nothing", and the other Scriptures I quoted above, which say the same thing in slightly different language or with more detail.
There are other verses I could quote, but you get the point. Over and over again the Bible makes it clear that death is unconsciousness, and it frequently uses the metaphor of “sleep” to describe it.
(By the way, if you're wondering about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Enoch & Elijah, etc. read to the end of the article - I give a brief explanation of how that parable and the stories of Enoch & Elijah do not contradict the Scriptures I just quoted.)
Now let's talk about soul and spirit. Careful Biblical study demonstrates that
a) Soul and spirit are two different things. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete.” Much of Christianity’s confusion comes from thinking of soul and spirit as interchangeable, when they are two entirely different things!
b) “Soul” refers to consciousness or conscious experience. Soul, Biblically, is the ability to interact with your environment, to feel, etc. – to be conscious. For example, the Bible says that even animals have souls. Genesis 1:30, talking about animals, says, “every living thing in which is a living soul”.
c) “Spirit” (or the underlying Greek/Hebrew word for “breath”) does not refer to consciousness but rather to the “God part” of a person and/or simply the fact that they are breathing in and out, and thus alive. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, quoted above, the spirit is separate and distinct from the soul/consciousness. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that death the “spirit/breath returns to God who gave it”.
The best analogy I’ve heard about soul and spirit, which is not perfect but comes closest to visually explaining the true teaching of the entire Bible on this subject, is the analogy of a light bulb. The physical parts of the light bulb are the body. The electricity is the spirit/breath. The light is the soul. The light comes on when electricity joins with the physical parts of the bulb. In the same way, you are conscious when your spirit/breath is united with your body. Smash the light bulb – hurt the body badly enough – and the light goes out; you die. Or, turn off the electricity – remove the spirit/breath from the body – and the light goes out; you die.
Let me make it clear that the above analogy is not the basis of what I’m saying about this subject, it’s just an analogy that somewhat accurately depicts what the Bible itself teaches about the makeup of human beings and what happens to them at death.
The Bible says that at death the soul goes to the “unseen” (Acts 2:27-31). The Greek word “the unseen” is “hades”, “un-perceived”, the equivalent of the Hebrew, “sheol”. We know this because the Greek word "hades" is used to translate the Hebrew word "sheol" when the New Testament quotes an Old Testament verse in Acts 2:27-31. (Also keep in mind that when Acts 2:27 says "You will not abandon My soul to hades/sheol" in reference to Jesus' death, it obviously doesn't mean his soul didn't go to hades/sheol, it means God didn't abandon it or leave it there permanently.)
The soul (which as I said, in the Bible equates to consciousness) going to the “unseen” or “unperceived” ("sheol"/"hades") is a fancy/poetic way of saying you become unconscious. This of course matches up perfectly with all the references to death as “sleep” in the Bible, and the many plain statements in the Bible that say that death is unconscious.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD "HELL"
The Old English (English in the middle ages) word “hel” (that is not a typo, it used to be spelled with one “L”), a few hundred years ago, simply meant “the unseen”. So back then, “hel” would have been an accurate translation of the Greek word “hades” (“un-perceived”) or sheol (its Hebrew equivalent).
However, as paganism was combined with Christianity and became more and more an accepted part of "Christian/Catholic" beliefs, this Old English word “hel” began to have its meaning twisted until it eventually took on a pagan meaning (burning forever in the conscious afterlife) in the minds of most people. So today, the modern English word “hell” (which everyone takes to mean burning forever in the conscious afterlife, a pagan concept) is no longer an accurate translation of “hades” (“un-perceived”) or its Old Testament equivalent “sheol”.
Today, due to pagan/Catholic-inherited traditions in the minds of Bible translators, the Greek word “hades” (“un-perceived”) and its equivalent Hebrew word “sheol” are still sometimes ridiculously mistranslated as “hell” in your English Bible, even though there is no indication anywhere in Scripture of any consciousness or suffering in the “unseen” or “sheol” in Scripture, and in fact the Scriptures state explicitly that there is no such thing going on there (Ecc. 9:5 & 10, Ps. 6:5, 146:4).
THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH, NOT HELL
The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death”, not hell (Rom. 3:23). The punishment for sin is not hell, it is death. Death is a very humane, yet just, punishment for sin.
Unconsciousness, “sleep”, death, your soul (consciousness) going to “the unseen” or “the grave” – pick your word or phrase – is a very just punishment for sin. The punishment of death fits the crime of sin perfectly.
On the other hand, the pagan concept of eternal (trillions upon trillions of years of) torture, burning and screaming, as a punishment would be way out of proportion with any crime it is possible to commit in a measly 100 years – max – on this earth.
Yet death (unconsciousness, inability to operate and interact with your environment) is a just – perfectly fair and reasonable – punishment for sin.
Sin is simply to operate incorrectly, in a manner that is contrary to God's design. The word “sin” means “missing the mark”. When a person sins they are operating in a way that God did not design people to operate (even though He knew beforehand they would try sin and made provision for it before He even created the world – see later chapters where I explain God’s plan for humanity). Let me explain this concept a bit more, because it is important.
If I buy a BMW and it ignores my driving input on the steering wheel and does its own thing, insisting on driving into a lake every time I try to drive it, I’m eventually going to have to put it out of commission at least temporarily. Sorry, Beemer, I can't drive you for a while. You’re not operating the way you were designed to operate and therefore you’re dangerous to yourself and others. I designed you to operate in a certain way, for a reason. And since you're not operating that way, you're a pain-causer. You will hurt yourself and others. You’re a “sinner”. The just, fair, and logical “wages” (Rom. 3:23) or consequences of sin, is to be put out of commission for a while. Death. Unconsciousness.
Everything we've discussed so far in this article makes perfect sense Scripturally, logically, and philosophically as far as I can tell. But unfortunately modern Christians get all confused and create all sorts of unanswerable questions and contradictions in their own Bible and their own belief system because they artificially superimpose the pagan idea of eternal punishment on the Bible and ignore the entire testimony of Scripture about what happens at death including exceedingly plain statements such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 10, Psalm 115:17, and others (which I list in my E-Book Hell Is A Mistranslation), as well as repeated references to death as sleep.
This unnecessary confusion occurs because most Christians have been trained (through indoctrination and artificial insertion of the words "hell" and "eternal/everlasting/forever" into their Bible) to believe in the pagan concept of conscious death which is nothing but a leftover from the Catholic church. The Catholic church was purposefully designed by the powers-that-be in the middle ages to be a combination of paganism and Christianity, and some of the pagan aspects were never fully purged out of "Christianity" by the Reformation.
So today, instead of looking at the overall testimony of Scripture including multiple straightforward statements that death is unconscious and the repeated use of the analogy of sleep for death, modern Christians often take a couple of comments by Paul and Jesus and read a pagan-originated idea (conscious death) into those comments to make them mean something Jesus and Paul didn’t mean at all. Jesus and Paul would never contradict their own statements! Nor would they contradict the rest of the Word of God!
Now let’s look at a few verses where Paul and Jesus make it extremely clear what they believe about death.
Learn more from my book Hell Is a Mistranslation, which I'm making available for free.
JESUS AND PAUL MAKE IT CLEAR WHAT THEY BELIEVE ABOUT DEATH
There are a couple of statements made by Jesus and Paul in the Bible (such as Jesus saying to the thief on the cross "Today you'll be with me in paradise" or Paul saying "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord") that can be confusing because those statements by themselves are not extremely clear or complete in their explanation of what happens at death. What those statements leave out is whether a person is conscious or not when they are immediately "with the Lord" at death.
So we must look at the rest of Scripture and other statements by Jesus and Paul to see what they meant by these statements; we do not have the right to make those statements mean whatever we want them to mean.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 Paul makes it clear that at the rapture “thus we shall always be with the Lord”, and that Christians who are still living at the time of the rapture will not be with the Lord before a person who is “asleep” or vice versa – they will be caught up together at the rapture, at the same time. "Thus we shall always be with the Lord". Not before then. Right then - at the rapture.
In 2nd Corinthians 4:13-14 Paul makes it clear that when we are resurrected at the rapture we shall be presented to God (not before).
In I Corinthians 15:52-54 Paul makes it clear that only when we receive our immortal body at the rapture will “death be swallowed up in victory”.
This brings up a simple point: Why would the rapture be necessary if we are hanging out in heaven consciously the moment we die?
Paul makes the point even more clear in 1 Corinthians 15:32, "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." Paul said it doesn't even matter how we live our lives if there is no resurrection! This is in direct contrast to the pagan idea of conscious death that much of modern Christianity has inherited from Middle Ages Catholicism, which teaches that a person receives their reward or punishment immediately upon death.
Paul's sentiment is confirmed by other statements in Scripture, for example Daniel 12:13 where an angel tells Daniel that he won't get his reward until the resurrection, and Hebrews 11:35 which states that heroes of faith lived their lives in hopes of "a better resurrection" (not a better conscious death).
Jesus Himself made it extremely clear in John 3:13 when He said, "No man has ascended into heaven." (If you're wondering what happened to Enoch and Elijah, see my free book Hell Is a Mistranslation for the explanation.)
Yet in 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul says, "I prefer to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord", and in Philippians 1:21-23 he says, "To live is Christ and to die is gain...I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."
Is Paul confused? In a couple verses he seems to say you're with God immediately at death, yet in another couple verses he says you're not with God until the rapture, and if there is no resurrection it doesn't even matter how we live our lives! Which one is it?
This confusion is easily cleared up when you understand what Paul understood, which is made ultra-clear by the Old Testament Scriptures he had studied his whole life: the fact that your spirit (the essence of you, like a computer's hard drive) goes to be with God unconsciously at death while your soul (consciousness) becomes unconscious. This is taught clearly in Ecclesiastes 9:5 ("the dead know nothing") and 12:7 (at death the breath/spirit "returns to God who gave it").
Also keep in mind that Paul was in jail at the time he wrote Philippians 1:21-23 (and in fact his whole life was hard because of the tremendous persecution he faced), so going to be with Christ unconsciously (and the next thing he knows the rapture is occurring), would certainly be preferable to anyone in that situation.
The two "giants" of the New Testament, Jesus and Paul, both agree with the direct statements in Scripture that death is unconscious. As the verses above show, repeatedly Paul tells us that we – whether dead or alive – will be with the Lord (consciously) at the rapture, not before.
Jesus concurs. In John 3:13 He said, "No man has ascended into heaven." And in John 11:23-26 (accurately translated) He affirms Martha’s statement that a person who believes in Him (like Lazarus) will “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” by saying to her that “everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon” (eon means age – Jesus is referring to the next age, His millennium reign on earth, stating that those who believe in Him now in this age will not be dead during the millennium - obviously a correct statement).
All of these statements match up perfectly with each other. However, as soon as you try to artificially introduce the idea of conscious death into the Bible, and ignore the distinction between soul and spirit, many of the Biblical statements suddenly contradict each other!
I encourage you to read my free book Hell Is a Mistranslation, which contains a detailed explanation of all this. It will be good for you to “test” what I’m saying here and “hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Let's take a moment to more closely examine a couple other potentially confusing statements about death made by Jesus and Paul. It is important that we do this because these "pet" verses about "the afterlife" (an unscriptural term, there is no life in death according to Scripture) are thrown around carelessly by Christians (and...gasp...preachers) without careful study of what they actually mean in the light of the entire testimony of Scripture.
CHRISTIAN "PET" VERSES ABOUT "THE AFTERLIFE" EXAMINED CLOSELY
The Catholic version of the afterlife (conscious death) depends on cherry-picking a few inherently unclear Scriptural statements and adding assumptions on top of them that are the exact opposite of what Godly people in Bible days would have assumed about those statements.
Let's start with Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
This statement does not contain a comma in the Greek, so He could just as easily be saying “Surely I say to you today, (comma!) you will be with Me in paradise” – in other words, “Today you locked in your future spot in paradise with Me”.
It’s also possible (and in my mind, probable) that the translators put the comma in the right place and Jesus was talking about the thief’s (and His own) “breath/spirit” being with the Lord that very day, but unconsciously according to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 12:7 and other combinations of Scriptures that tell us that at death a person becomes unconscious and their spirit/breath returns to God unconsciously.
Just a little while later, immediately before He died, Jesus said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." His spirit went to God unconsciously according to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 12:7 etc. So did the believing thief's spirit. This is not rocket science once you understand the Bible's clear definitions of death, soul and spirit.
Again...I repeat this because it is so important to deprogram your mind from Catholic-inherited pagan "eternal punishment and conscious death" nonsense"...Ecclesiastes 12:7 says that when a person dies their breath (this is sometimes translated "spirit") "returns to God who gave it". Obviously this cannot mean a person goes to hang out with God consciously, because that would directly contradict Ecclesiastes 9:5, which says at death a person "knows nothing" along with many other Scriptures that testify that death is unconscious (E.g. Ps. 6:5, Ps. 115:17).
Anytime the Bible talks about the spirit/breath going to or returning to God, it must mean unconsciously if the rest of Scripture is not to be contradicted.
When Jesus said right before He died, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," according to the rest of Scripture He must have meant that His spirit returned to God unconsciously according to Ecc. 12:7, His body returned to the ground, and His consciousness disappeared (or His soul/consciousness "went to sheol/hades/the-unseen", a poetic way of saying you become unconscious) according to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and various other plain Scriptures including His own repeated use of the analogy of sleep for death.
Death is a return. Simple. The body returns to the ground. The spirit/breath returns to God who gave it. The consciousness/soul (which is produced at conception when spirit/breath from God is combined with a physical body) returns into nothingness, disappears (goes to "sheol", "hades", "the unseen", "the un-percieved").
All of Scripture lines up when you realize that your spirit/breath (the essence of you) returns unconsciously to God who gave it, and you become unconscious at death just as many plain statements in Scripture declare. But as soon as you try to impose a pagan "conscious-in-death" idea onto Scripture, you have tons of problems and contradictions.
So we see that a proper interpretation of Jesus' statement to the thief on the cross lines up perfectly with the rest of Scripture.
Mainstream Christianity's other favorite "life immediately after death" verse, Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, doesn’t say what most (good-hearted but not careful enough) preachers make it out to say either.
In verse 6 Paul only makes the obvious statement that when you’re in your physical body you’re absent from being directly with the Lord, and in verse 8 he simply says that we would prefer to "with the Lord" rather than in our physical body. That’s it.
What the phrase "with the Lord" does not state clearly is whether he was talking about being "with the Lord" consciously, or your spirit being with Him unconsciously. All Godly people in Bible days would have assumed this phrase referred to a human's spirit going to be with God in heaven (a.k.a. paradise) unconsciously. This is because the only Bible Jesus and Paul (and every other Godly person in Bible days) had was the Old Testament, which clearly and specifically teaches unconscious death and contains nothing remotely resembling the Catholic version of the afterlife.
When we place the assumption on top of 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Luke 23:43 (the phrases "with the Lord" and "with Me in paradise/heaven") that Paul and all Godly people in Bible days would have made, these passages do not prove or refer to conscious death in any way. If you try to interpret them that way you then have to ask yourself why Jesus and Paul would directly contradict Ecclesiastes 9:5, Psalm 115:17, many other similar verses, and their own straightforward statements in other places in Scripture (e.g John 3:13, 1 Cor. 15:32).
But if you interpret it carefully without reading a meaning into it that Paul did not make clear, and assuming that Paul knew the Scriptures and their definition of death, soul, and spirit...it lines up perfectly with the rest of the Bible.
The Old Testament Scriptures clearly explain Jesus’ and Paul’s words, and tell us without a shadow of doubt what they meant by their statements in 2 Cor. 5:6-8 and Luke 23:42-43. Don’t you think Jesus and Paul knew the Old Testament Scriptures? Of course they did. They knew the Old Testament Scriptures far better than today’s Christians know either the Old or New Testaments – and of course, they were not affected by leftovers from paganism (the Catholic church) like today’s average Christian is.
Learn more from my free book Hell Is A Mistranslation: God's Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible. It contains a tremendous amount of fascinating information and explanation that cannot fit in this article or on this website.
It never hurts to test and study a subject on your own – it will either correct you (a good thing), fine-tune your knowledge (also a good thing), or reinforce your current knowledge and beliefs as being correct (also a good thing). You can’t lose when you test. The truth is not afraid of being tested.
So, the main point I want you to realize about the most-quoted verses in Christianity about “life after death”, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (Paul saying he'd rather be with the Lord than his current state) and Luke 23:42-43 (Jesus telling the thief on the cross they would be together in paradise), is that we can’t just make them mean whatever we imagine them to mean without looking at the Scriptures I just quoted above and the rest of the testimony of Scripture.
Jesus and Paul only seem to contradict themselves because Christians have an inherited pagan "conscious death" mindset which causes them to erroneously assume Jesus in Luke 23:42-43 and Paul in 2 Cor. 5:6-8 are talking about being with the Lord consciously at death.
As we’ve seen, if they were talking about being with the Lord consciously, they contradict themselves, not to mention the entire testimony of the rest of Scripture!
But as soon as you throw the pagan-originated concept of conscious death out the window and realize that Jesus and Paul were not talking about being with God consciously, but rather they meant UNconsciously according to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 12:7 (and/or not immediately according to their other statements and the rest of the Bible’s testimony), suddenly they are not contradicting themselves or the rest of Scripture. Suddenly their statements match up exactly with the rest of the Bible’s statements about what death is and what happens at death.
Now let's look at some of the other questions that may be lingering in your mind about the fact that death is unconscious.
LINGERING QUESTIONS SUCH AS THE PARABLE OF LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN, ENOCH AND ELIJAH, ETC...HAVE SIMPLE ANSWERS
Let's start with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
Every Israelite who heard Jesus tell the fictional (illustrative made-up) story of Lazarus and the rich man would have easily picked up on the fact that Jesus took the setting of the story from the Pharisees' pagan Talmud, not the Scriptures, and thus was mocking the Pharisees' pagan beliefs about the afterlife, not teaching those ideas.
Ridiculous ideas like "heaven is within shouting distance of hell" (how are we supposed to party in heaven with all that gut-wrenching screaming going on?) and "when you die you go to 'Abraham's bosom'" come directly from the Talmud, and Jesus' Israelite audience would have known this as naturally as modern Christians know that the "when you die you get 70 virgins" idea comes from Islam, not our Bible.
But modern Christians don't know that the setting of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is from the Talmud (and directly contradicts everything in the Bible about death), so we ignorantly superimpose our pagan/Catholic-inherited "conscious death mindset" on the story and assume Jesus was teaching about conscious death even though literally everything else in Scripture contradicts that notion!
Jesus was mocking the Pharisees' pagan ideas (with the little joke about the rich guy supposedly in flames asking for a drop of water on his tongue instead of a swimming pool to jump into), and simultaneously using the little made-up story set in a fake/ridiculous Talmudian "conscious afterlife" setting, to simultaneously mock the Pharisees' pagan Talmudian beliefs and teach the Pharisees and the rest of His Israelite audience that day a lesson about the next age of life on earth.
The next age of life on earth (the kingdom of God, Jesus reign on earth that we now call the millennium) was what Jesus' main message to Israel was about. See my article The Kingdom Time-Gap in the More Questions section for more details on this and for a thorough explanation of why Jesus constantly preached to the Israelites 2,000 years ago about something that has still not happened yet as of today. I also give a complete explanation of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the book Hell Is A Mistranslation.
Now let's look at the two fire-events in Scripture that everyone is so afraid of because they (erroneously) think they are "eternal/everlasting" (blatant mistranslation) nebulous spirit fires.
The Lake of Fire and Gehenna Fire Are Physical Fires That Destroy/Kill Physical Bodies
As I explain thoroughly in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation there is no such thing as "eternal" fire or fire that lasts "forever" or "forever and ever" in the Bible; these are horribly wrong translations of the Greek word "eon" which means "age" (this can be conclusively proven beyond the shadow of a doubt). There is no word in the Bible that refers to eternity or endlessness (with the exception of the reference to our resurrected bodies as "incorruptible" which obviously implies immortality as well, see 1 Cor. 15).
The two words that are sometimes mistranslated as "forever" or "eternal" or "forever and ever" or "everlasting" or even "never" are "olam" in the Old Testament and "eon" or "eons" in the New Testament.
The Hebrew word "olam" does not refer to eternity or endlessness. There is no English equivalent word to "olam"; I explain exactly what it means in Hell Is A Mistranslation.
Nor does the Greek word "eon"/"eons" refer to eternity or endlessness in any way. (Satan is the god of this "eon" in 2 Cor. 4:4 - is he the god of this "forever"? I think not. And it is impossible to have plural "forevers", even though the plural form of "eon", "eons", occurs multiple times in Scripture.)
This knowledge helps us to understand that the two fires everybody is so afraid of in the Bible are not nebulous "spiritual fires" that are "eternal" or "everlasting" or "forever" or "forever-and-ever". They are both physical earthly fires that cause physical death and are only "eonian" (pertaining to an age - the adjective form of "eon"). I prove this thoroughly, Scripturally and logically in the book.
The fire in Gehenna (a physical place in Jerusalem - it's still there! - sometimes horrifically mistranslated as "hell") that Jesus talked about is also "pertaining to the eon/age" (referring to the millennium age, the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth). It will be the equivalent of the electric chair for very evil people at that time.
The "worms that don't die" are typical Isaiah-the-prophet (whom Jesus was quoting, see the end of Isaiah 66) flowery language for fly larva around dead bodies. The fire doesn't burn forever, it is simply "not quenched"; the Greek word used in the New Testament passage by Jesus is not "unquenchable", it is "unquenched", meaning nobody puts it out on purpose but rather lets it burn itself out (a good idea for rotting dead bodies).
All this is proven conclusively by the passage Jesus was quoting from Isaiah which clearly declares that "all flesh" (obviously, all physical humans on earth at that time during the millennium) "will see" the burning "corpses".
Jesus and Isaiah were talking about something that will happen on earth at the beginning of the millennium reign of Christ. (Again, to understand why Jesus would warn Israelites and Pharisees living 2,000 years ago about something that has still not happened yet, see my article on The Kingdom Time Gap in the More Questions section of this site or read my book.)
The lake of fire will also be a physical fire. It is possibly but not necessarily the same fire as the Gehenna fire; I say this because the term means "a lake or pond of fire" and so it could refer to the same fire as the fire in Gehenna because Gehenna/Gehinnom is a valley in Jerusalem.
You see, Jesus will reign from Jerusalem during the last two (and greatest two) ages God has planned before His ultimate goal is met (1 Cor. 15:20-28 outlines His ultimate goal). Now, "for the ages of the ages" (sometimes grotesquely and super-creatively mistranslated as "forever and ever") is a specific term that uses the same speech convention as "king of kings" or "best of the best" (the greatest of a group). This term refers to the two greatest ages of the five ages of human history God has planned.
I explain these five ages in the book Hell Is A Mistranslation. They are seen clearly in Scripture when you translate "eon" consistently and correctly throughout the New Testament).
The millennium reign of Christ and the New Jerusalem age (see the end of the book of Revelation) are the greatest two out of the five ages outlined in Scripture.
The lake of fire (possibly the same physical fire as the Gehenna fire) will burn throughout these last two ages ("the ages of the ages" of God's "learning stage" (my word) plan for humanity before the "consummation" (fulfillment) of His plan (where He becomes "all in all", see 1 Cor. 15:20-28).
The lake of fire will be the second death (remember that in Scripture death = unconsciousness) for the humans who don't have faith in Christ during our current "now" age. (This will obviously be most of humanity that ever lived).
After the millennium these people will be temporarily resurrected (awakened from unconscious death) into mortal physical bodies to be judged (Jesus will give each of them a talking-to) - see Revelation 20:6, 12-15. These people in mortal physical bodies will die (for the second time in their experience, becoming unconscious) when thrown into the lake of fire after being talked to by Jesus and will remain dead/unconscious during the New Jerusalem age. (The New Jerusalem age will essentially be a party for Christians as a reward for putting up with so much garbage in this age).
The phrase "death and hades - Greek 'the unseen' - were thrown into the lake of fire" is just a fancy/poetic way of saying the same thing as the adjacent verse: these people who were dead a while ago will be thrown into the physical lake of fire to DIE a second time; this will be their second death, their second time becoming unconscious in death.
You see, when you understand the Scriptural definition of death (unconsciousness), all of this is much easier to understand, makes perfect logical sense, and is much less mysterious.
In the book Hell Is A Mistranslation I also explain the fascinating reason why Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet will not die or become unconscious in the lake of fire, while regular humans will die and become unconscious. The short answer is that the antichrist and false prophet will not be fully human, they will be fallen-angel/human hybrids as described in Genesis 6 - although they will look like normal humans due to watered-down fallen-angel DNA compared to the Genesis 6 giants - and thus unlike regular humans they will stay conscious as evil spirits/demons (who as Jesus said don't like waterless places...like fires) when their physical bodies are burned up in the lake of fire.
Please do not judge what I said in the last paragraph until you read my book and my article about giants and demons and "aliens" in the More Questions section of this site! It's weird stuff but it's all in the Scriptures my friends! Just because your pastor or favorite TV preacher don't preach about it doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because it's supernatural mixing with natural doesn't mean it isn't true. The whole Bible is about that! You are supernatural mixed with natural! Please read my book Hell Is A Mistranslation and my article on this site about Biblical Old Testament giants etc., before judging what I said in this paragraph.
What about Enoch and Elijah? Some of you astute Bible students have probably been wondering about them as you’ve been reading this article. You may be thinking, “Doesn’t the Bible say Enoch and Elijah went to heaven where God lives – alive, and conscious?” Well…the short answer is no. It does not say that. If it did say that, Jesus is a liar! Let me explain.
Enoch and Elijah Went Into The Sky And Were Taken Away From Where They Were On Earth To Another Location On Earth - They Were NOT Taken Into Heaven Where God Lives
The Bible’s phrases “caught up to the heavens” or “caught away” in reference to Enoch and Elijah are often misunderstood. When we read the word “heaven” or “the heavens” in the Bible we can’t just make it mean whatever we want it to mean, we have to figure out what the Biblical writer meant by it. “Heaven” or “the heavens” to the ancient mind often simply meant anything you saw when you looked up. That’s why, for example, it talks about “the birds of heaven” or “the birds of the heavens” (1 Ki. 14:11, etc.), or “the stars of the heavens” (Deut. 4:19).
Now, sometimes the ancients did refer to “heaven” where God lives. This is why the apostle Paul made it clear that he was caught up to “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2) when talking about being caught up (he doesn't know whether he was in or out of the body) to heaven where God lives. Heaven where God lives is probably in another dimension outside the physical universe. Paul used the term "third heaven" to differentiate it from the first two heavens - the atmosphere around earth (where birds fly) being the first heaven, and outer space (where the stars and the sun and the moon are located) being the second heaven.
So when the Bible says Enoch and Elijah were caught up into “the heavens” or “caught away”, we have to figure out from the rest of Scripture, exactly which heaven was being referred to. So let’s do that.
First of all, if they did really go to the heaven where God lives, then Jesus is a liar, because He said many years after Enoch and Elijah lived:
“No man has ascended into heaven.” (John 3:13)
From the context of Jesus’ statement we can see He was clearly referring to the heaven where God the Father lives. So Enoch and Elijah cannot possibly have gone there. (When the died their "spirit returned to God who gave it" UNconsciously according to Ecc. 12:7 and 9:5, but a complete "they" - a body connected to a spirit producing a soul/consciousness - "did not ascend into heaven" according to John 3:13.)
John 3:13 by itself is enough for us to conclude that Enoch and Elijah never went (consciously or in a body) to the heaven where God lives, but instead, while they were alive on earth were simply taken into the sky (where the birds are, the first “heaven” to use the ancient and Biblical terminology) and plopped down on earth somewhere else. But let’s look at some other Biblical proof, just in case you’re not convinced yet.
In Enoch’s case, the Bible says he was taken away “so he would not taste death” (at that moment in time). It does not say he would never taste death, just that he wouldn’t taste death right then. This is another one of those tricky statements like Paul's where it can seem to go either way depending on what your starting assumption is - so we must assume that this statement about Enoch "so he would not be acquainted with death" agrees with the rest of Scripture and means "so he would not be acquainted with death RIGHT THEN, AT A PARTICULAR MOMENT WHEN HE WAS IN DANGER FOR SOME REASON", but was lifted into the sky and plopped down somewhere else on earth to continue living for a while.
Read Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5 carefully in an accurate translation, such as the Concordant Version in which Hebrews 11:5 says “By faith Enoch was transferred, so as not to be acquainted with death, and was not found, because God transfers him. For before his transference he is attested to have pleased God well.” When we read an accurate translation, we realize that nowhere does the Bible say Enoch never died; it simply says he was transferred at some point (the Scripture obviously implies it was to get him out of a dangerous situation) so he wouldn’t die right then. If this interpretation is not correct and this passage is saying that Enoch went consciously to heaven where God lives, then Jesus is a liar – see John 3:13!
And here's the real clincher as if there wasn’t enough proof already. We know 100% for sure Enoch eventually died, not just because of John 3:13, but also because he is listed in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith, of whom it says “all these DIED” (Heb. 11:13).
Genesis 5:23 tells us exactly how long Enoch lived – 365 years, after which, according to Hebrews 11:13, he died.
So what about Elijah? Again, we know 100% for sure that Elijah did not go to heaven where God lives because of John 3:13.
First I should make sure you realize, in case you were wondering about the vision the three disciples had with Jesus where they "saw" Moses and Elijah, Matthew 17:9 makes it clear that it was a “vision”, which is not reality. The disciples and Jesus saw Moses and Elijah in a vision, not in real life.
So now let's look at 2 Kings 2 which describes Elijah being taken away from Elisha’s side into “heaven” or “the heavens”. There is absolutely no indication or proof in that passage that the author is talking about heaven where God lives. If there was – remember John 3:13 – the Bible would contradict itself and Jesus would be a liar! We must assume that this passage agrees with the rest of Scripture and Elijah was simply taken up into the "sky where the birds fly" "heaven" and plopped down somewhere else on earth.
Notice that in 2 Kings 2:3 Elijah says that God would take away Elisha’s “master from over him today” – in other words, Elijah is declaring that the major purpose of that day’s occasion was to transfer the ministry to Elisha. God did not have to take Elijah to heaven where God lives to accomplish that – not at all. All He had to do was take Elijah up into the sky and plop him down somewhere else. And that’s exactly what He did.
Maybe this was necessary because Elisha stuck to Elijah like a fly on flypaper, and such a dramatic parting was necessary to help Elisha get the point that he was anointed to go on his own now. Maybe if Elijah had just taken his cloak and put it on Elisha and said “here you go mate, go for it”, Elisha would’ve protested and said “No, master, I’m gonna stick with you, you’re an awesome anointed prophet of God”.
I think you get my point. Elijah makes it clear in 2 Kings 2:3 that the main goal of the day’s events was to remove Elijah’s leadership from Elisha’s life and transfer his anointing to Elisha. Yet modern Christians with their pagan-influenced conscious-death-heaven-or-hell-immediately-at-death mindset, often place the emphasis of these events on “Elijah being taken to heaven where God lives”, not understanding that the word “heaven” to the ancients often meant “the sky where the birds are” and that the main point of the event was to move Elijah physically away from Elisha (which would not at all necessitate taking him to heaven where God lives).
In 2 Kings 2:15-16 we see that the other prophets assumed Elijah had been dropped off somewhere else on earth. They couldn’t find him right then of course, but that doesn’t in any way prove that Elijah went to heaven where God lives – God could have just dropped him someplace on earth where they didn’t look. (That would be the whole point - if they found him right away, wherever God dropped him, Elisha might have come running back to him.)
On other interesting thing I’ll note about Elijah is that the Bible seems to record him acting on earth in 2 Chronicles 21, chronologically AFTER his dramatic exit away from Elisha’s side. 2 Chronicles 21 along with 2 Kings 1-3 seems to show that as the reign of King Jehoram began, Elijah handed his mantle to Elisha. Yet 2 Chronicles 21 records Elijah writing a letter to Jehoram, even though his primary ministry and mantle had been handed over to Elisha already. I am not 100% sure about this point, but I thought I would at least mention it in case you want to study it on your own. To be honest I simply haven’t taken the time to study it in depth, because the testimony of the rest of Scripture is so clear that I don’t need any additional proof that Elijah died.
Regardless, Elijah cannot possibly have gone to heaven where God lives because of what Jesus said in John 3:13. On the day he handed his mantle to Elisha, he was simply taken into the sky, plopped down somewhere else on earth, and died later on – just like Enoch.
The testimony of Scripture is clear. Death is unconsciousness. At death the spirit/breath returns to God who gave it, the body returns to the ground, and the soul/consciousness returns to "the unseen" (a fancy way of saying you become unconscious). When God restores a body to each human being in the future (Christians at the rapture, others later, etc.), He will combine the spirit/breath with a resurrected body, and the result will be a living soul – a conscious entity capable of interacting with its surroundings, a living human being.
(Keep in mind Christians will get an incorruptible/immortal body at the rapture while non-Christians will get a mortal body at the white throne, die again physically in the lake of fire, and then get a "vivification" incorruptible/immortal body like Jesus and Christians at the consummation - see 1 Cor. 15:20-28, I recommend reading it in the accurate Concordant Version which you can read for free online at www.concordant.org.)
All of this makes perfect logical sense as far as I can tell – unlike the nonsensical self-contradictory and Bible-contradicting beliefs of the pagan-influenced religion of “Christianity”. God and the accurately translated Bible make sense. It’s leftover paganism that causes all the confusion.
Again, I recommend you read my E-Book Hell Is A Mistranslation, which explains it all, Scripture-by-Scripture, in a logical and easy-to-understand way. You’ll see that God and His plan as revealed in the Bible make perfect logical and philosophical sense.
One more quick question I'll address here: What about Jesus supposedly preaching to the “spirits” in “hell”?
Well, He didn't preach in "hell" - the word is "prison". The Bible never says the “spirits” are human - they are fallen angels. This is clarified perfectly in 1 Peter 3:19-20 and Jude 6. And the Bible doesn’t say Jesus went and talked to these angels after His death on the cross and before He rose again (while He was dead) - it says He did it after He was "made alive in the Spirit" (resurrected - see 1 Pet. 3:18-19 & also compare it to 1 Cor. 15:20 & 22).
The common Christian misunderstandings of many things such as this are based on trying to artificially superimpose the false pagan idea of eternal punishment and conscious death on the Bible, which just causes confusion. For more of these common but failed attempts at artificially superimposing the idea of conscious death on top of the Bible, see the companion article to this one,
Soul Sleep - Is It Scriptural?
The true message of the (accurately translated) Bible is perfectly coherent and cohesive. It all becomes perfectly clear, causing all those pesky "unanswerable questions" to simply disappear, when you
1) understand the Scriptural definitions of soul, spirit, and death,
2) translate a few important Greek and Hebrew words accurately into English (which causes the artificially-inserted words "hell" and "eternal/everlasting/forever/forever-and-ever/never" to disappear from your English Bible translation), and
3) sort out all out.
When we do this we realize that modern Christianity’s three or four “pet” verses about "life after death" upon careful examination do not actually say what most Christians think they say. If they did, we'd have a serious problem because our Bible would blatantly contradict itself!
Thankfully, the Bible does not contradict itself as soon as you stop trying to artificially superimpose the pagan/Catholic-inherited ideas of eternal punishment and conscious death on top of it. And even better, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Bible is not a monster, but in fact is the only God preached by any religion that has a good plan for all humanity, not just a select few.
The amazing message of the (accurately translated) Bible is that God will eventually defeat both sin and death so that death is no longer necessary and everyone will have an immortal (undying) body. (See 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Col. 1:20, 1 Tim. 4:10, Rom. 3:24, Rom. 5:18 among others.) I explain this thoroughly in the book Hell Is A Mistranslation.
I'm so glad God doesn’t leave us in the junkyard! God’s “death junkyard” is actually a parking lot at His mechanic shop! Some cars get picked to “get fixed” before others, but He ends up fixing everybody! (Again, see 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 1 Tim. 4:10, Romans 5:18, Col. 1:16-18, Eph. 1:10 and my book Hell Is A Mistranslation; if you haven’t read it yet, please don’t judge what I’m saying until you do! I give you thorough Scriptural proof in the book.)
God has made too big an investment in humanity to burn us to a crisp (eternally) – that’s ridiculous. Why would He ever have brought us into existence in the first place if He knew that would be the end of most of us?
Fortunately the (accurately translated) Bible doesn’t teach that God will burn most of His precious creations to a crisp, torture them eternally, or annihilate them. It teaches that eventually God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), that He has reconciled all created things to Himself through the cross (Col. 1:20, Rom. 5:18, Rom. 3:23-24), and that He is the "Savior of all mankind" (1 Tim. 4:10).
By the time God’s done with His plan for the ages, there will be no more death (which also means there will be no more sin, since death is the consequence of sin), and we’ll all be in immortal bodies enjoying God and each other (1 Cor. 15:20-28), living the way God designed us to live.
Again, for a full, detailed, verse-by-verse explanation of God’s plan for humanity, read my book Hell Is A Mistranslation - God's Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible. I keep referring to it out of fear that you will still have questions in your mind about all this that this article or this website doesn't answer; there simply isn't room to answer it all on a website in a few articles. That's why I wrote the book and covered every possible question or argument that I could think of on the subject in a thorough, Scriptural, and logical manner.
Click on the book below to learn more:
Soul, Spirit, & What Really Happens When You Die Copyright 2010 John Lilley
Return from Soul Spirit and What Really Happens When You Die to Is Hell A Real Place (Hell Mistranslation Section)