Do Christians Go To Heaven If They Die?

[Taken in part from Chapter Seven of our book:
Is There Death After Life?]

A vital principle of Bible interpretation that must be upheld in handling any subject in God’s Word is that any verses that are harder to understand must be analyzed in light of clear verses on the same subject. “Clear” verses are not just those that agree with one’s theological position. They are those that seem to be straightforward and literal statements of fact. Figurative expressions that seem to be contradictory can best be handled after the literal, factual position is determined. The Bible should be accepted literally whenever possible. When verses seem to contradict previously established facts, one is justified in exploring other possible meanings that are consistent with the whole Bible.

We have laid the solid biblical foundation that death is the total absence of life, that there is no part of a person (either “soul” or “spirit”) that “goes to heaven” when he dies, and that the dead are actually dead and “sleeping” in “gravedom” until Christ’s appearing. We now turn our attention to some sections of Scripture commonly misconstrued to indicate otherwise. Let us remember that they must harmonize with those parts of God’s Word that we have already examined.

1 Samuel 28
(The woman of Endor)

As previously noted in Chapter One, 1 Samuel 28 describes the woman of Endor conjuring up “Samuel” from the dead for King Saul. It is important to note Saul’s original request: “…Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit…” (1 Sam. 28:7 – KJV). The context, specifically verses 7–9, along with other Old Testament verses already cited, shows that she did, in fact, perform this spiritual phenomenon through “familiar spirits.” These were evil spirits that manipulated her and impersonated Samuel, with whom they were “familiar.”

A key to understanding this record in Chapter 28 is in verse 13.

1 Samuel 28:12 and 13 (KJV)
(12) And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
(13) And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

In verse 13, the Hebrew word for “gods” is elohim, a word used in various ways in the Old Testament. Here it refers to an evil spirit that the woman saw, one that was impersonating Samuel. In verses 12–20, God’s Word reports this incident as the participants perceived it and refers to this spirit as “Samuel.”

What “Samuel” (the familiar spirit) told Saul was not from the LORD, for 1 Samuel 28:6 says that God did not answer Saul at all. Only when Saul went to a woman who dealt with familiar spirits did he get an answer but that answer was not from God. In fact, Saul’s going to the woman at Endor partly contributed to his death.

1 Chronicles 10:13 (KJV)
So Saul died from his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;

This conjuring up of familiar spirits is the same method used today for “communicating with the dead,” by which some find false and misleading comfort. The results can be as devastating as they were for Saul.

2 Kings 2:9–18

2 Kings 2:11 (KJV) says that Elijah “…went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” This phrase in no way indicates that Elijah was taken to a place of everlasting life called “heaven.” The word “heaven” has several usages in Scripture. Phrases such as “the dew of heaven,” “the stars of heaven,” and “the birds of heaven,” all indicate a use of “heaven” that simply means the sky above the earth.

Elijah was taken from the earth into the sky by a wind; that is, he was moved from one place on earth to another. The other prophets understood this and thus wanted to go look for Elijah. Elisha, however, knowing that God would have hidden Elijah, did not want them to look for him. 2 Kings  2:11 simply means that God supernaturally moved Elijah from one place to another, similar to what He did later with Philip in Acts.

Acts 8:39 and 40a (KJV)
(39) And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
(40) But Philip was found at Azotus…

As a human being, Elijah eventually died and is awaiting the resurrection of the just.

Matthew 10:28
(Kill the body, not the soul)

Matthew 10:28 (KJV)
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].

If nothing else, this verse clearly shows that the soul is not immortal because it can be destroyed, but let us look at the verse more closely. The context is Jesus Christ instructing his Twelve Apostles before sending them out to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5 and 6). What he tells them in verse 28 is not to fear men inspired by the Devil who may kill them but who can do nothing more to them after that. The following parallel passage helps us understand the above verse.

Luke 12:4 and 5 (KJV)
(4) And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
(5) But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [gehenna]; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

In context, verse 5 refers to the time of judgment of the unjust. It is God whom Jesus wanted his Apostles to fear (which in essence is to respect) and to obey more than they would men who might threaten or even kill them. It is God (by way of giving Jesus Christ the authority to judge) who will judge all men and who can also “destroy” them forever in the lake of fire.

Matthew 17:1–9
(The Mount of Transfiguration)

Matthew 17:1–9 describes a scene at what is called “the Mount of Transfiguration,” where Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah. God was preparing Jesus for the challenge of his upcoming suffering. This scene was not a literal reality but what Jesus plainly said was a “vision.”

Matthew 17:9 (KJV)
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

Biblically, a vision is a spiritual phenomenon in which God causes something to appear to a person, either in his mind’s eye or to his physical eyes. (Some Scriptural examples are 2 Kings 6:17; Acts 10:9–20; 2 Cor. 12:1–4.)

Being a vision, it in no way means that Moses and Elijah made a special guest appearance from heaven where they had been hanging around since leaving earth. To be consistent with the biblical evidence, including Jesus’ statement that no man but he “…hath ascended up to heaven…” (John 3:13 – KJV), the same must be said of Moses and Elijah as was said of David in Acts 2:34 (KJV) — they are not “ascended into the heavens.”

Matthew 22:23–32
(God is the God of the living)

In Matthew 22:32 (KJV), Jesus said that “…God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Some teach that this verse means that there are really no dead as far as God is concerned. The text more accurately reads, “God is not the God of dead people, but of living people.” As we have seen, “dead people” will become “living people” only when Jesus Christ comes to resurrect them.

In fact, the context surrounding this verse emphasizes the resurrection (see verses 23, 28, and 30), when all shall be made alive.

Matthew 22:31 and 32 (KJV)
(31) But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
(32) I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

God is not the God of dead people because, as Psalm 115:17 indicated, the dead cannot praise God and Ecclesiastes 9:4–6 and 10 showed that the dead cannot do anything for Him. They are, however, still in the mind of God and, at the resurrection, they will be made living people again and He will again be their God.

Two verses in Romans go hand-in-hand with Matthew 22:32 and also indicate that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who will raise the dead.

Romans 14:8 and 9 (KJV)
(8) For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
(9) For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

Luke 16:19–31
(Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom)

Luke 16:19–31 describes Lazarus, the beggar, after he died, as being in “Abraham’s bosom.” Since the Bible clearly says that in death there is no consciousness, this story must be figurative and it is. In his book, Are The Dead Alive Now? Victor Paul Wierwille points out that in:

…two ancient Greek manuscripts—the Bezae Caulabrigiensis and the Koridethian-Caesarean text—words are included which have been deleted in other translations. Both of these ancient manuscripts begin Luke 16:19 with the words: eipen de kai heteran parabolen, which translated means, “And He said also another parable.”

Edward Fudge states in his book, The Fire That Consumes, that the basic plot of this parable, “the reversal of earthly fortunes after death, was familiar in popular Palestinian stories of Jesus’ time.”

Of this section, Sir Anthony Buzzard says in his book, What happens When You Die?

The opening words, “Now there was a certain man…”, remind us of the story of the Prodigal son and the parable of the Unjust Steward, which begin with the same phrase, and caution us that we are dealing with a story with a moral rather than a straight discourse on eschatology. “It is inconceivable,” says F.W. Farrar (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1038) “to ground the proof of an important theological doctrine on a passage which confessedly abounds in Jewish metaphor.”

Verse 23 is a key to understanding it as a parable, which is a figure of speech and not literal. The verse begins “And in hell [hades=gravedom] he lift up his eyes….” This makes it clear that it cannot be taken literally. In verse 24, we see that Lazarus has a tongue also. How could a disembodied “soul” have eyes and a tongue? This is more evidence that the story Jesus told was not true to fact.

In context, Jesus had been addressing the Pharisees in parables from the beginning of Chapter 15: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, and the unjust steward. Luke 16:14 tells us that the Pharisees, who loved money, heard him and ridiculed him. In verse 15, Jesus told them that their values were warped and ungodly. The subsequent parable of the rich man and Lazarus perfectly illustrated for them the difference between what they esteemed and what God esteemed.

Not understanding this as a parable, one might think that Jesus meant to depict an immediate “heaven or hell” kind of afterlife. However, he told this parable to the Pharisees in light of their Talmudic traditions and their belief in immediate reward or punishment after death. It was they who coined the phrase “Abraham’s bosom” as one of several afterlife locations. Jesus did not intend to contradict the entire Old Testament and teach survival after death.

His primary intention was to show that the Pharisees were so evil that even if someone rose from the dead they wouldn’t listen to him. He did so by hypothetically stating that even if one were to return from the place of the dead (which the Pharisees, having forsaken the Old Testament in favor of their traditions, believed in), those who refused to believe Moses and the prophets still would not believe (v. 31). How prophetic, as was evidenced by his own resurrection from the dead which many of them did not believe.

Of this account, The New Bible Dictionary says the following:

Probably the story of Dives [according to tradition, the rich man’s name] and Lazarus (Luke 16:1–9) is a parable which makes use of current Jewish thinking and is not intended to teach anything about the state of the dead.

There is even more biblical evidence that this record is a parable. Remember that Revelation 21:4 states that after all the Judgments there will be no more sorrow, crying, or pain. How could saved believers possibly enjoy the riches of eternity if they were constantly being interrupted by burning people shouting up at them for water?

Luke 23:39–43
(Paradise today)

Luke 23:42 and 43 is often used to teach that the penitent malefactor who believed in Jesus immediately went to “heaven” when he died (even though the verse in question reads “paradise”). However, the phrase in verse 43 (NIV), “I tell you the truth today,” was a common Hebrew idiom used to emphasize the solemnity and importance of an occasion or moment (compare Deut. 4:26, 39, 40; 5:1, 6:6, 7:11; Josh. 23:14). Recognizing this idiom and properly punctuating the verse with the comma after the word “today,” we see that Jesus’ meaning is clearly future, to be fulfilled when he comes again and establishes his kingdom on earth.

Thus, the verse should read as follows: “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.'”

Also, the word “paradise” is preceded by the article “the” and therefore refers biblically to the place of beauty on earth described in Genesis 2, lost in Genesis  3, that will be restored by the Lord Jesus Christ when he returns to earth (see Rev. 22:1–3). (For more information on “paradise,” see the note on Ecclesiastes 2:5, page 908; and Appendix 173 in The Companion Bible, edited by E. W. Bullinger.)

Not only did the penitent malefactor not go to “paradise” that day, neither did Jesus Christ. As stated earlier, he died and spent the next three days and three nights in the grave.

John 11:20–27
(“I am the resurrection and the life”)

John 11 is the tremendous record of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.

John 11:25 and 26a (KJV)
(25) Jesus said unto her [Lazarus’ sister Martha], I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
(26a) And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.…

Verse 26a is sometimes wrenched out of its context to show that no one who believes in Jesus Christ really dies. But verse 25 contains the key word to understanding verse 26: “resurrection.” Jesus knew that, like all those in the Bible who were raised from the dead, Lazarus would die again. He makes it clear that in the future “he shall live.” Thus, whosoever lives and believes in Christ will never die after the resurrection.

John 14:2 and 3
(Many mansions)

John 14:2 and 3
(2) In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
(3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Here Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Many take this promise to mean that at death a believer takes up residence in one of the “many mansions.” Jesus made it clear in the next verse, however, that it was only when he comes back and takes them unto him that they would be with him.

2 Corinthians 5:1–9
(Absent from the body, present with the Lord)

2 Corinthians 5:8 (KJV) is often used to teach that to be “absent from the body” in death is to be immediately “present with the Lord” in heaven. However, the verse does not say that if Paul were to die, he would immediately go to be with the Lord, and it can only be correctly understood in light of the context of the section of Scripture in which it is found.

In Chapter 4, verses 8–12, Paul speaks by revelation about some of the trials laid on Christians by the “god of this age” (v. 4 – NIV), who, of course, is Satan. In verses 13–18, he cites the hope of being given everlasting life by the Lord Jesus as the unseen reality that enables a Christian to endure adversity in this life.

2 Corinthians 5:1 (KJV)
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

The “earthly house” is our physical body. God’s Word likens it to a “tabernacle” (e.g., 2 Peter 1:13 and 14 – KJV). In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was not permanently situated. Neither is the Christian permanently situated in his earthly body. For our body to be “dissolved” means that it returns to dust at death. What is the everlasting “building of God”? It is the new body that Jesus Christ, who is presently “in the heavens,” will give each Christian. When will this occur?

2 Corinthians 5:2 (KJV)
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:

It will occur when we are clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. When will that be? Paul had already told the Corinthians about this future transformation in his previous epistle (see 1 Cor. 15:51ff). Note carefully that verse 2 does not say that one goes to heaven at death. In fact, there is nothing we can do to “work” our way into God’s presence, not even by dying. Only the Lord Jesus can escort us into the presence of God.

In the Greek text, the words “from heaven” are ex ouranou which literally mean “out of heaven” and indicate the origin of where each Christian’s new body will come from. In Luke 20:4, we see a similar usage in regard to John’s baptism. Jesus asked the chief priests if it was “from heaven” (ex ouranou). In other words, he asked them if the idea for John to baptize came from God. In the same sense, our new body comes to us from (ek) God through (dia) Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:3 (KJV)
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

This means that if a Christian lives until he is “clothed upon” at the gathering together of the Church, he will not die. Again, Paul is reiterating what he had previously written in 1 Corinthians 15:51.

2 Corinthians 5:4 (KJV)
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

Paul specifically says here that even though the Christian life is often hard when one is involved in the battle, he does not want to “be unclothed,” that is, die. Why? Because he knew that death was an enemy and that it would not usher him immediately into God’s presence. What did Paul desire? To be clothed upon, while still living, with his promised “house” from heaven so “…that mortality might be swallowed up by life.”

2 Corinthians 5:5-7 (KJV)
(5) Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
(6) Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
(7) (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

Because of the “earnest,” or guarantee, of holy spirit that Christ has given us, we are always confident of his current spiritual presence with us and of our future bodily presence with him, no matter how bad things get in this life. “Absent from the Lord” (v. 6) thus obviously refers to our not yet being physically present with him in the new “house” he will give us when he appears.

2 Corinthians 5:8 (KJV)
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

Now verse 8 becomes very easy to understand. Paul was confident of his future life in the age to come and states that he would actually prefer to be living in that condition, that is, physically “present with the Lord” in his new body. Does the verse say that a Christian is present with the Lord at the moment of his death? No.

2 Corinthians 5:9 (KJV)
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

Paul then says that because of his certainty of life in the age to come, and its rewards, he plans to give his utmost for the Lord whether or not he lives until his appearing.

2 Corinthians 12:1–4
(Out of the body)

2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (KJV)
(1) It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
(2) I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
(3) And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
(4) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

More than a century ago, W. Laing of Edinburgh, Scotland wrote (The Messenger [now Resurrection Magazine] April 1888) the following regarding the above verses, and we cannot improve upon his work:

This passage is often quoted as unanswerable evidence that a man may see and hear without having any connection with his body; that a man may leave his body behind him, and be taken away to a great distance, and both see and hear in a bodiless condition…

The whole weight of the argument rests on the supposition that the terms “in the body” and “out of the body” necessarily mean embodied and disembodied. The value of the alleged proof lies in the facts as to the usage of these terms.

The Greek word ektos, here rendered “out of” as in 1 Corinthians 6:18 rendered “without.” Thus: “Flee fornication, every sin that a man doeth is without (ektos) the body; he that committeth fornication sins against his own body.” Whatever meaning the Apostle attached to ektos here, it could not have been “disembodied.” He was not referring to sins done by disembodied men. “…Every sin that a man doeth is [done] (ektos) without the body” (i.e., sins in general), “but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”

It is not plain that the Apostle uses the words rendered, “without the body” in the sense of mentally? And if so, is it not probable that he uses the same term in the same sense in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 3? Thus: “I knew a man in Christ, whether mentally or bodily I cannot tell, carried away to the third heaven, to paradise, etc.” The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and he was found at Azotus (Acts 8:39). Philip doubtless was caught away bodily. The Apostle John, when in the Isle of Patmos, was carried away in the Spirit “into the wilderness” (Rev. 17:3). The necessities of the case satisfy us that the prophet was transported mentally (like Ezekiel “in the visions of God”) so that while in Pastmos he was mentally transported to the scenes described, and saw those wonderful visions of things that were to come to pass afterwards.

As vividly were the “visions and revelations” mentioned by Paul seen and heard…though he was unable to tell whether he was mentally or bodily present. Such, we submit, is a fair understanding of the language in question; and therefore it cannot be fairly used as indisputable proof that a man, after he is dead, is as capable of seeing and hearing as when he was alive. Proof for this improbable idea must be sought for elsewhere.

Philippians 1:21
(To die is gain)

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

This verse says that “to die is gain,” from which it is taught that the “gain” is going to heaven to be with God. Of course, this insidiously infers that death is not an enemy after all. It should be no surprise that once again the context in which this verse is set is critical to understanding it. The “furtherance,” or gain, of the Gospel is the theme of the first chapter of Philippians (see verses 17 and  27).

Philippians 1:12-14
(12) Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.
(13) As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
(14) Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Paul saw that his imprisonment, certainly not a personal gain, had served to further the Gospel of Christ. Likewise, Paul was considering that his death, even less a personal gain, might also result in the furtherance of the Gospel and in Christ being magnified.

Philippians 1:18-20
(18) But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
(19) for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
(20) I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.’

In verse 20, both life and death relate to Christ being magnified and verse 21 reiterates the point. Paul’s hope was that whether he lived or died the result would be gain for Christ. In verse 23, he then indicates that there is something far better than either living or dying.

Philippians 1:23
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

What was Paul’s only alternative to living or dying which was “better by far” than either of those? It was departing and being with Christ. As previously stated, Paul knew that the only time he could depart and be with Christ was when Christ appears from heaven to get him.

Putting on our new bodies and meeting the Lord in the air is far better than either living or dying. This is what every Christian, not just Paul, should eagerly anticipate as he lives for Christ now. Nowhere in this context is the idea that Paul’s death would immediately bring him into the presence of Christ. 2 Timothy shows Paul’s understanding of this:

2 Timothy 4:8 (KJV)
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

It has been well said that: “If contemporary believers shared with Paul his clarity of vision and faith in the future, there would be no temptation to read into his writings the notion of a conscious pre-resurrection state.” Paul knew that he would receive a crown of righteousness when Jesus Christ comes to gather together his Church. This is the day we will meet him in the air “…and so [by meeting him in the air] shall we ever be with the Lord,” where he will be, first in his Millennial Kingdom and then on the new earth in Paradise.

Hebrews 11:5

Hebrews 11:5 (KJV)
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

First of all, verse 13 of the same chapter says, “These all [including Enoch] died.” Enoch lived three generations before Noah and was prophesying of judgment to come upon the wicked people of his time (Jude 14). Just as wicked people tried to kill Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Christ, and many others who prophesied boldly for God, so, Enoch’s evil contemporaries tried to kill him. Although God apparently protected him from an untimely death, Enoch ultimately fell asleep even as all the others listed in Hebrews  11. The word “translated” in Hebrews 11:5 is rendered as “carried over” in Acts 7:16, “removed” in Galatians 1:6, and “changed” in Hebrews 7:12. God moved Enoch from one place to another on the earth so that he would not at that time “see death,” that is, “die.”

Psalm 89:48 (KJV)
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.

Luke 2:26 (KJV)
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Thus, he “was not found” by those who sought his life. Nowhere does Scripture say that God at that time gave Enoch everlasting life. Surely by now it is clear that Enoch cannot be alive in “heaven.”

From another angle, even if Enoch and Elijah were somehow totally unique examples of believers taken bodily to “heaven,” this could not be used to prove that any other believer has gone there or anywhere else at his death. As we have seen, a person needs a body in order to be alive. Therefore, there is no valid connection between what happened to Enoch and Elijah and what happens to a believer who dies, is buried, and rots away. He needs his body raised if he is to live again and this will not happen until Christ appears.

Revelation 6:9–11
(The souls of them that were slain)

Revelation 6:9-11 (KJV)
(9) And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
(10) And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
(11) And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

From these verses it is taught that the “souls” of dead people are alive and speaking. We have seen that in the Bible the word “soul” very often refers to the person himself. Here is another example:

1 Peter 3:20 (KJV)
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls [eight people] were saved by water.

Such is the case in Revelation 6:9. The statement simply means, “I saw those [people] who had been slain.” How did John “see” them? In the vision that Jesus Christ gave him, recorded in the book of Revelation, of many future events, including the bodily resurrection of those saints martyred during the period of tribulation. How then did they “cry with a loud voice”? This is the figure of speech personification (see E. W. Bullinger’s book: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible). It is:

A figure by which things are represented or spoken of as persons; or, by which we attribute intelligence, by words or actions, to inanimate objects or abstract ideas.

“Inanimate objects” includes dead people. Figuratively, they are represented as alive and waiting, and thus, this usage is similar to the usage in Isaiah 14:8–10 noted earlier. Certainly they were not disembodied beings floating around, for how could such wear robes? (For a thorough exposition of Revelation 6:9–11, see E. W. Bullinger’s Commentary On Revelation, pp. 263–274.)

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