The State of the Righteous Dead

Many theories about it. "Soul sleeping" (Adventists). Complete non existence (JW). Among brethren there are two main ideas; the most pervasive (in my experience) has been that the righteous go to a holding place called "Paradise" located in Hades, and separated by a great gulf from torment, also a part of Hades. This idea comes from Jesus' account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.

The other (and the one I am presenting today) is that the souls of the righteous dead go to be with Jesus when separated from the physical body at death. Since Jesus is not in "Hades" (Acts 2:31,32), then neither are the righteous dead. "Paradise" is no longer located in "Hades" but is now in the presence of Jesus. One other point; I am not saying that Luke 16 is untrue; or a parable. I believe that it accurately portrays the state of the righteous dead (albeit with some figurative language) before Christ's own resurrection/ascension. But I also believe that the Bible shows that many things changed with the death, burial & resurrection, and one of those is the state of the righteous dead. They're not descending to Hades any longer. Rather they now go to be with Christ.

Note before we begin: two "provocative" statements:

No New Testament Christian is ever spoken of as being in Hades, or as headed there when he dies, or as ever coming from there, period.

Every person mentioned in the New Testament as still being in Hades after the resurrection and ascension of Christ are said to be being 'kept under punishment' awaiting the judgment where they will be 'cast into the lake of fire'.


1. (PSA 68:18) Prophecy of Christ's victory over the grave. The Psalmist prophesied of a time when the Lord would lead "captivity captive" Frankly, I would have no idea what this verse means if not for the announcement in the New Testament explaining its fulfillment. We'll look at that later, except to say it was yet in the Psalmists future.

2. (LUKE 16:22,23) The Rich Man and Lazarus. Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek- "unseen place") both refer to the place of the dead. Jesus plainly talked of two segmets of Hades; one was a place of relative comfort, the other of torment

3. (LUKE 23:43) The Penitent thief. Jesus promised the penitent thief that both He and the thief would be together in paradise that very day. This was before Christ's own resurrection.


1. (MATT 27:50-54) Tombs opened; Righteous resurrected. Jesus was not the only one to return to earth from paradise on that best of all first day of the week. He brought company with Him. The saints who had died also made their appearance at Jerusalem at that time. Where did they come from? Obviously from Hades; specifically from paradise. That is where they had been. Matthew does not tell us where these saints went after their appearances in Jerusalem.

2. (EPH 4:8-10) Prophecy fulfilled. But Paul does later shed more light on the subject. He refers back to the prophecy we discussed earlier from the Psalms and says it was fulfilled at the resurrection and ascension of Christ. So Paul affirms that the "captives were led captive" when Christ was raised. We know from the above passage from Matthew that "many" of the spirits of the saints held in paradise were brought forth from there, and it was by the power of Christ. But I do wish to point out one thing which shows that the word "many" in the Bible can refer to "all" as it does in my take on the Matt 27 passage. For example, "many" can refer to "all" who have sinned; or "many" can refer to "all" who have been made righteous. Rom 5:19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (see also verse 18 where the "many" of verse 19 are referred to as "all men").

Bottom line, "many"="all" in some instances.


1. Souls of wicked still in Hades (torment) (2 PET 2:9; 1 PET 3:18,20) There is a prison holding the spirits of the wicked following their departure from this earth. This is Hades.

2. Souls of the Righteous

a). The righteous still awaiting the change (redemption of our bodies) (ROM 8:22- 24; 1 COR 15:50-54)

b). John's vision of the souls of the martyrs (REV 6:9- 11); those that have "come out of the great tribulation" (REV 7:14-17). (Rodney Miller noted the following):
1) "The ones that have come out of the great tribulation."
2) "For this reason they are before the throne of God."
3) "They serve day and night in His temple."
4) "He who sits on His throne spreads His tabernacle over them."
5) "They will hunger no more...thirst no more...sun will not beat down upon them."
6) "The Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd."
7) "Shall guide them to the springs of the water of life."
8) "God shall wipe all tears from their eyes."

Miller asks: "Where are they now? Are they in a separate paradise that is not heaven? The answer is NO NO NO!!!" and later states: "This is not after the resurrection... this is the home of the righteous dead... around the throne of God to live and serve Him." Wendell Avenue Bulletin; 5/31/76.

3. The Expectation of the Righteous: To be with Jesus

a). Stephen's request (ACTS 7:59)

b). Two states for the righteous: in the body > Absent from the Lord; absent from the body >at home with the Lord (2 COR 5:6,8)

c). Two states for the righteous: live on in the flesh >not with Christ depart (leave the flesh behind) > Be with Christ (PHIL 1:21-24)

d). Is there a "third" state for the righteous? "Absent from the body" AND absent from the Lord?

e). The righteous dead in a disembodied, but conscious state (2 COR 5:1-9). Eternity

4. If the souls of the righteous dead are "with Christ", then what will happen when Christ comes again?

a). They will come with Him when He returns. Jesus will return with: His angels (2 THESS 1:7) and those of His whom have fallen asleep (1 THESS 4:14).

b). These are the "holy ones" who will return with Jesus (1 THESS 3:13; JUDE 14) Angels: will execute the Lord's judgment (MATT 13:41-43) while the redeemed will descend, be clothed with new bodies, and rise, to be followed by the righteous living (1 THESS 4:13-18)

5. What happens with Hades at the End?

a). Only the wicked are there now. "Death and Hades" will be cast into the "lake of fire" (REV 20:13-15)


As to Phil 1:23, the Greek argument is: "The preposition -eis to- plus the infinitive shows 'true purpose or end in view'--the strong desire which causes Paul's dilemma. Both infinitives (-analusai- and -einai-) have one construction, so are one thought, one grammatical expression; literally, 'my desire is unto the, -to depart-, and unto the, -to be with Christ-.' In simple English, Paul's one desire has a twofold object: departure and being -with- Christ! If departure did not mean his immediately being with Christ, another construction would have been employed. ...Most translators and recognized Greek authorities contend that Philippians 1:21-23 teaches the historic position of the Christian Church, i.e., the conscious presence of the believer with Christ at the death of the body. ...If this departure did not mean immediate presence with Christ, he would have used a different grammatical construction as previously noted; but as it stands, it can have -no other meaning.-"

W.R.Martin, "The Truth about Seventh Day Adventism", Zondervan, p. 124-125, or see Martin's book The Kingdom of the Cult, Bethany Fellowship, p.389-390. Martin called himself a "Conservative Baptist", and his comments above were intended to defeat the SDA doctrine of 'soul sleeping'.

I checked on his statement concerning translators/Greek authorities concerning whether the construction of the Greek meant an immediate presence w/Christ at death.

"One may note here that Paul speaks as if he expected to be with Jesus at death without an interval." A.T. Robertson, Paul's Joy in Christ, Baker, p. 97.

Vincent, in his Word Studies of the New Testament, simply refers to 2 Cor. 5:6,8; Acts 7:59 and 1 Thess. 4:14,17, all which speak of the righteous expecting to be with Christ when they die.

Additionally, Lipscomb, rather vaguely, put it this way: "He(Paul - JQ) expected to be with him (Christ - JQ) in some very important sense when he departed this life." Gospel Advocate New Testament Commentaries - Lipscomb; Shepherd; comments on Philippians 1:23

McGarvey suggests the saints which had "slept" but appeared in Jerusalem following Christ's resurrection then ascended to heaven. He calls it "the natural presumption." Commentary on Matthew - Mark; Gospel Light Publishing; comments on Matthew 27; 52,53.

Fowler also suggests a possibility that these saints "eventually joined Jesus for the ascension" by equating that with the prophecy in Psalm 68:18 and its fulfillment (Ephesians 4:8a). Bible Study Textbook Series; College Press; comments on Matthew 27.

Eerdman says, "Cheered by this prospect of entering into the immediate presence of Christ, we are confident and would be well pleased to go into exile from our home in the body and to take up our abode with the Lord" and later describes the state of believers between death and the resurrection as an "intermediate state... this disembodied state, is one of blessed and conscious fellowship with Christ." The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians; Charles Eerdman; Westminister; comments on 2 Cor. 5:1-10.

Concluding remark

Whether we go to paradise in Hades or to be with Jesus, the phrase that ought to echo in our hearts is: "Let me die the death of the righteous."

By Jon Quinn

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