Questions & AnswersBible Answers to your Questions | Vol. 28 No. 4 | May-Jun 2018
Q: When I was very young, my sister died, and I was told she was living in heaven as an angel. Is this who angels really are?
Let us look at Jesus’ own words on the subject: “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” Mark 12:25. Jesus indeed affirmed that the saints would in some way resemble angels in heaven. But notice when He said this would happen—at the resurrection.
The angels are created beings of a higher order than human beings. Psalm 8:4, 5. They are called “ministering spirits” because they assist God in working for our salvation. Heb. 1:14. Someday, if faithful, God’s resurrected people will meet and talk with angels and perhaps work side by side with them. In the meantime, the dead all rest in the grave, waiting for the call of Jesus and His pronouncement of judgment. John 5:28, 29.
Your sister is sleeping. If she had surrendered her life to Jesus, she will be resurrected at His second coming.
1 Thess. 4:16.
Q: Who are the “spirits in prison” mentioned in 1 Peter 3:18–20, and when did Christ preach to them?
The Bible sometimes refers to the dead as “prisoners” of the grave. Job 3:18. Yet these are prisoners that cannot hear. The “spirits in prison” cannot be dead, for Christ wouldn’t preach to dead, unhearing people. Notice also that the preaching occurred prior to the Flood. So, the text cannot support that Christ went to preach to spirits after His death, either.
We must search other Bible texts for the understanding of this passage. In Psalm 142:7, David uses the term “prison” to refer to afflictions: “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name.” Solomon uses the term in reference to a king’s foolishness. Eccles. 4:13, 14. Isaiah represents spiritual darkness as a prison. Isa. 42:7.
The most logical conclusion is that at the time of the Flood, through the Holy Spirit’s power, Christ preached by Noah to the antediluvians who were imprisoned in spiritual darkness.
Q: In Revelation 6:9, 10, the prayer of the martyred souls under the altar seems to indicate that at least some people go to heaven upon death.
In vision, John heard the souls of slain saints crying under the altar to God: “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?”
The expression used is symbolic. A similar symbolism is recorded in Genesis concerning the blood of the first martyr, Abel. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Gen. 4:10.
Beyond any reasonable doubt, these souls of Revelation are not literal disembodied humans, but martyred saints whose death symbolically cries against their persecutors.
Q: If the dead are still sleeping in the grave, how do you explain Christ’s promise to the dying thief, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise”? Luke 23:43
Christ’s response to the repentant thief has led many to believe that he accompanied Christ to heaven that very day. But before we draw hasty conclusions, let us analyze the statement of Jesus in the light of what actually happened.
Jesus could not have taken the thief that day because Jesus did not ascend to heaven until after His resurrection. John 20:17.
Changing the punctuation clears up the problem. Because New Testament Greek has no punctuation marks, Bible translators had to make “educated guesses” when adding punctuation. Place the comma after the word “today,” and Jesus’ words take on a different meaning. The thief was being assured on that day—immediately—that Jesus would forgive him. The thief was also being assured that on the resurrection day he would be raised as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. See also John 5:28, 29.
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