Probation after Death and the Resurrection of the Body.

C. Crain.


Many are the errors which are meeting with popular favor. Perhaps none of them is more widely accepted than probation after death. In the following paper on the subject three different views of this doctrine have been mentioned.

First, the view that the first 1000 years of the lake of fire will be a probationary period is, no doubt, the least known. In fact, I have only met it in writings where it has been referred to as a "view of some."

The second view maintains that the resurrection of both the just and the unjust will occur at the beginning of the Millennium, and that the former will preach Christ to the latter as affording them their final trial. This has been very widely spread by the writings of C. T. Russell, the author of a set of books known as "Millennial Dawn," which, through the untiring efforts of his adherents, has had an unparalleled circulation. There are also many, not associated at all with Mr. Russell, who practically advocate that element of his system. The accompanying paper exposes the unscripturalness of this view.

The third view, holding that there is a probation for men while they are in the disembodied state, though not so extensively disseminated, is yet very common; and great and honored names can be appealed to as authority for it. As will be seen, the following paper shows clearly that the foundation text on which the view is built up does not teach this doctrine.

Erroneous views of the resurrection have also become prominent in current teaching. Mr. Russell denies the resurrection of the body of our blessed Lord. (See "Millennial Dawn," Vol. II., p. 129.)* The implication is that no bodies will ever come out of the grave. But Mr. Russell is not alone in this. Wherever the theology of the day has been permeated with the evolution principle, the denial of a real resurrection obtains. The paper on the Resurrection of the Body shows what the truth is, in the light of Scripture.

{*This Vol., to which I refer, has "50th thousand" printed on cover, but the year of publication is not given.}

It is hoped the present papers on these subjects may be found useful, and that the gracious Lord will use them to deliver many from errors which have disastrous results for all who embrace them.

C. Crain.

Probation after Death.

There are three theories of probation after death. One maintains that the first 1000 years of the lake of fire will be a probationary period, ending in the release of many from that place. Another view is, that at the second coming of Christ the impenitent of all time will be raised from the dead, and that the purified of all ages, who will be raised some time before them, will preach Christ to them; the vast majority of whom will believe and be saved. The third theory contends that Christ is preached to the dead. Its advocates hold that the disembodied spirit will have the offer of salvation through Christ; that this offer will be made to all who have died unsaved; that the millions of the heathen who have died without hearing of Christ, during the time they are in the disembodied condition will hear of Him and will repent and believe. Some say that the great majority, at least, will do so.

Are these views in accord with Scripture? Does the word of God teach there will be a probationary period for men after they have died? A brief examination of a few scriptures will be sufficient to answer these questions.

The first view, the one which maintains that the first 1000 years of the lake of fire will be a time of probation, we may dismiss at once as not needing any discussion. We have already seen in our article on Universalism that the word of God does not teach that any one who goes into the lake of fire will ever get out of it. So any theory of probation for men after they are sent to the lake of fire is without foundation in the word of God. It cannot have any Scriptural basis.

We will, then, turn to the second view. The advocates of this tell us that the wicked will be raised at the second coming of Christ. But Scripture does not place their resurrection at that time. It does speak of the resurrection of two classes — the just and the unjust. According to John 5, the resurrection of the first class is one to life; while the resurrection of the other class is to judgment. It is plain, then, there are to be two resurrections; the one differing in character from the other. But, further, Rev. 20 shows that there will be a thousand years between the two. Now, it is the first resurrection that is connected with the second coming of Christ — not the second: the resurrection of the just, not the resurrection of the unjust.

The adherents of this view tell us that the tried and purified of all previous ages will indeed be raised first; and that, after the wicked have been raised, the former class will preach Christ to the latter. Scripture, on the contrary, tells us that those who belong to the first resurrection will reign with Christ during the thousand years that will intervene between the two resurrections, i.e., the raised saints will reign over living men — men who have not died. It does not say that they will preach the gospel. They certainly cannot preach the gospel to the wicked, for they will still be in the death state.

Scripture, then, holds out no hope of a man who dies in his sins hearing and believing the gospel after his resurrection. What it says is, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Now, i,e., this present life, not after resurrection. The idea of the raised just preaching to the raised unjust is nowhere found in the word of God. It is a fiction, a false doctrine. Let men beware how they listen to it!

It remains to examine the third view of probation after death, i.e., the view of some who, while they deny the other two views, hold that between death and resurrection there will be a chance for those who have not heard and believed the gospel in this life to hear it and be saved. In defense of this view 1 Peter 3:18-20 is usually quoted: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing: wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water." It is contended that this passage means that when Christ died He went as a disembodied spirit among disembodied spirits and preached the gospel to them. But is that what the passage says? Let us look carefully at it and see.

Notice that it reads, "By which also He went and preached." Now it is clear that Christ went and preached by the same Spirit by which His body was quickened after He died. It was the Holy Spirit who raised up the body of Jesus. It was by the Holy Spirit that He went and preached. Christ, then, did not personally go and preach to these spirits in prison. He did go personally among the disembodied spirits, but His personal going among the disembodied spirits cannot be the going to them that is referred to here in 1 Peter 3. It is of great importance to keep this in mind in reading the whole passage. It will help to elucidate it. Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison, but He did not go personally. He did not preach personally. He both went and preached by the Holy Spirit. The preaching, then, was not done while Christ was personally as a disembodied spirit among the spirits of the departed.

We may ask now, When did Christ go and preach to the spirits in prison? As it was by the Holy Spirit, it must have been some time when the Holy Spirit was testifying to them. We may also inquire, When did the Spirit testify to these spirits? Was it before they got into prison? or was it after? Now there is no record of the Holy Spirit testifying to departed spirits. Not a single instance can be cited of the Spirit preaching to dead people. There is not so much as one illustration of the Spirit's witnessing to a disembodied spirit. This fact alone is enough to cause us to be suspicious of the teaching that makes the preaching of 1 Peter 3:19 a preaching to dead people — to departed spirits.

But further, it is plain that the preaching here is to a certain class of the dead — not all the dead. It is to the spirits of men of the days of Noah. If it is said this preaching was to people actually in the death state, we may ask why was it only to the spirits of men who lived in the days of Noah? Why was it not to all the dead? So, again, we are led to question the interpretation that makes this preaching to people after they are in the death condition.

But if we turn to Gen. 6 we find that there was a testimony of the Spirit to living men in the days of Noah. The Spirit was striving with them then, and, further, a limit was put to the time during which He would strive with them. "And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years" (ver. 3). Here we have the Spirit witnessing to living men for one hundred and twenty years before the flood. To this testimony of the Spirit they were disobedient. By the Spirit Noah was a preacher, but the men of his day disobeyed his preaching. It was Christ preaching to them, not personally, but by the Spirit, through Noah.

We have, then, in Gen. 6 the fact referred to in 1 Peter 3:19 — a preaching of Christ by the Spirit to living men who disobeyed the preaching, and are now in prison, i.e., in the death state. The preaching was done while they were alive; and so, too, was the disobedience. Both were during the longsuffering of God in the days of Noah.

1 Peter 3:19, then, cannot be used to support a theory of probation for men after death; and the prevalent idea that Christ, during the three days in which He was in the disembodied state, was preaching the gospel to the dead has no scriptural basis.

But there are scriptures which very plainly contradict such a thought as an offer of mercy to the impenitent dead. The one we have already quoted to show there will be no preaching of mercy to men after their resurrection, equally shows there will be none to men while in the disembodied state: "Behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2) — now, not after death. Then, too, our Lord, in John 8:21, said, "I go My way, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come." If they died in their sins, death would hand them over to the judgment of the great white throne, and the great white throne would send them to the lake of fire. There is here no hope of mercy held out for those who die in their sins.

Let us look now at Luke 16:19-31. We have already used this passage in a previous paper to show that the dead will not be unconscious. We will look at it now to see what light it sheds on the question of probation after death. We call special attention to verse 26: "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." In verse 24 we have a man in the death state. He is not a living man on the earth, but a disembodied spirit in the spirit-world — a clear case of one who has died, has passed from among the living, and is now among the dead. There he is in "torments," and desires "mercy." He says, "Have mercy on me." But no mercy is granted him. Not only is there no offer of mercy made him, but his desire for mercy is denied. But more: he is told that "there is a great gulf fixed," separating the dead into two classes. There is a great moral gulf now, in this life, between the believer and the unbeliever, but it is not a fixed gulf in the sense that it cannot be crossed. Grace, the grace of God, has provided a bridge on which the unbeliever may pass to the side of the believer. But after death no such bridge is provided. In the death state the gulf is fixed, and there is no passing from the one side to the other. This makes it plain that eternal issues are settled in this life, and not in the death state.

There is, then, no gospel to be preached to men after they die. Probation for the dead is without foundation in the word of God. Scripture holds out no hope to a man that, if he neglects the salvation God has provided for him in this life, he will have an opportunity to be saved in the life beyond.

Those who are promulgating the doctrine of probation after death are doing man a serious moral wrong. They are deluding them with a false hope. Those who receive the teaching are deceived. A sad present result of embracing the doctrine of a chance for salvation in the life to come is indifference to sin. Men will indulge more freely in what they are persuaded they have a chance of escaping the consequences of hereafter.

We have seen that the doctrine of probation after death, in the various forms in which it is held, is unscriptural; it has no support in the word of God. We have also pointed out the pernicious character of the doctrine, not only as offering false and delusive hopes to men, but also as tending to make men careless about sin in this present life. We close our brief comments not only with an appeal to men to listen to the voice of the God of truth in the written revelation He has given to us, but with an earnest exhortation to those who believe in the Scriptures of truth to be diligent in protesting against this and other errors so harmful to our fellow-men. Let our voices be heard in the defence of the truth, in maintaining the teaching of the word of God, and in warning men against prevalent doctrines that set false and delusive hopes before them and leave them free to continue on in the service of sin in defiance of God's warning to flee from the wrath to come.

The Resurrection of the Body.

The Sadducee, denying there is spirit, consistently affirms the bodies of men will not rise from their graves. But there are others who affirm it also. Some tell us that the resurrection consists in the departed spirit forming a new body for itself. Others say a new body will be created, and accordingly hold that the resurrection is the creation of a new body.

It will be well to raise the inquiry, Does the word of God teach that the body will rise again? To answer the question it will only be needful to examine those scriptures which refer to the resurrection.

In Acts 24:15 Paul, in his address before Felix, very simply declares, "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Did he mean that the resurrection would be a resurrection of the body? In Matt. 22:31 our Lord also speaks of "the resurrection of the dead." Did He mean the resurrection of the body? Numerous other allusions to the resurrection are found in the Gospels and elsewhere. Is it intended that everywhere, where the resurrection is spoken of, we are to understand that it is of the body?

Now the answer to this question is plain and unequivocal. We only need to weigh thoughtfully the various statements of Scripture to see that in its references to the resurrection it always means the resurrection of the body. Take, for instance, Matt. 27:50-53, where we read of the wonderful effects of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is said, "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection." Now we are not told who these saints were, nor in what age of the world they lived. It is going beyond Scripture to say that the bodies of these particular saints must have been but recently buried; that they could not have been long buried, and so have been entirely decomposed and gone to dust. This was probably true of some of them at least; but where Scripture does not speak we will not presume to do so. But there is one thing we may confidently say. If there were among this company of saints who arose at this time any representatives of, say, the age of Abraham, or the age before the flood, the bodies in which they appeared to the people in Jerusalem who saw them came out of the graves. If any of them were saints who lived in ancient times and whose bodies had undergone a complete process of disorganization, they were perfectly reorganized while yet in the graves, and thus came out of the graves.

Now this leads us to the doctrine of the reorganization of the body in the grave itself, prior to, but of course in order to, its resurrection. Is this the doctrine of Scripture? Does Scripture really teach us to believe it? Is the passage we have looked at in Matthew a sufficient foundation for such a belief? Are there other scriptures which confirm it?

Let us turn now to John 5:28-29. "For the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth." It is clear that our Lord teaches that at the resurrection something comes forth from or out of the grave. It, of course, must be the reorganized body. The spirit is not in the grave, and does not come from there. It comes from the place of departed spirits. It is the body that is in the grave. It is to be reorganized for the spirit, that left it at death, to reoccupy it. The reorganization will take place in the grave. At the resurrection the reorganized body will come forth to be forever tenanted by its own spirit. The language employed by our Lord here certainly implies all this, and is in accord with the passage in Matt. 27.

But what we deduce from these two passages is clearly affirmed in 1 Cor. 15:35-58. There were some among the Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead. Ver. 35 makes it clear that they denied there would be a body come from the grave. They are ridiculing the very idea of a resurrection of the body in the questions the apostle puts into their mouths, "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" Now Paul answers them in a way to convict them of ignorance of the Scriptures and the power of God, as the Lord did the Sadducees. It is a question altogether of the power of God. Is God able to reorganize the body? Even if it has dissolved and actually returned to dust, can He re-form it? And if He is able to reorganize the body, can He not, in reorganizing it, make it such a body as it pleases Him?

Now, that God can reorganize the body, nature itself demonstrates. The seed of wheat, or any other grain, when sown, becomes disorganized; but God, by processes which He has ordained, works in the disorganizing seed, and a body is formed, which comes up out of its disorganized state. A living body is raised up out of the dead body. If, then, nature witnesses to the power of God in death, why should it be an incredible thing for God to raise dead men — to reorganize their bodies and raise them up out of their graves? When once it is realized that it is simply a question of the power of God, there is no difficulty. He is able to work in death in the disorganized body, and organize it anew.

But that does not imply that the reorganized body will be just what the disorganized one has been. The body that has been disorganized is a natural body; the reorganized body is a spiritual body. The one is a mortal body, the other is immortal. The one is corruptible, the other is incorruptible. The former is a body of flesh and blood, the latter is a body of flesh and bones. As to this, the apostle appeals again to the testimony of nature. There are different kinds of flesh — one of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, another of birds. There are also bodies terrestrial and celestial, each differing from the other in character and glory. So, too, the reorganized body differs from the one that is disorganized. But here again there is no real difficulty if it be realized that it is a question of the power of God. The power of God was displayed in the formation of the natural body. The dust of which it was made was inert, lifeless, unorganized material. By the power of God it was organized into a body to be quickened by the breath of God. So, too, in the dust to which the natural body returns, God will work to reorganize it into a spiritual body. It will be reorganized in the grave, and come forth from there; but it will come forth to be no more a mortal body, but a body in which mortality is "swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. 5:4).

Thus we find that Scripture insists on a real resurrection of the body from the grave, and effectually disposes of the theory that the spirit forms a new body for itself, as also of the view held by others that God creates a new body and nothing at all comes from the grave.

There is one scripture which may possibly be quoted against me. It is 2 Cor. 5:2, "Desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." It is better to read here "of" heaven, not "from" heaven. The apostle is not teaching that our eternal house or body will be formed in heaven and come from there, but that it will partake of the character of heaven, and be thus suited for heaven. There is, then, no contradiction here to what we have gathered from Scripture elsewhere.

I wish here to guard another point. In using 1 Cor. 15 as I have done, it must not be taken that I hold that in that chapter the apostle is writing concerning the resurrection of the wicked as well as the just. I have not been giving an exposition of the teaching of the chapter, but availing myself of a principle which is there, and which the apostle employs in his arguments to establish the doctrine of the resurrection of the bodies of the believing dead. It is of them, and of them alone, that he speaks there. But while this is true, it is also true that the bodies of the wicked dead will be raised by the power of God as well as the bodies of the righteous. The gates of Hades are under the control of Him whom God has made Lord of all — both the gate in and the gate out. He will raise all the dead — both the just and the unjust. It will be at His voice that all the dead will rise; the just, at the resurrection of life; the unjust, at the resurrection of judgment.

Now before closing it may be well to call attention to the serious consequences of denying the resurrection of the body. It does not matter which form of the denial we take; the consequences are equally vital. Of course it is easy to see that the Sadducean denial of resurrection in any form sweeps away everything. According to their view, there is no Christ any more, and there is no future life for men, no future blessedness for believers, no future punishment for unbelievers.

The theory that the spirit, after leaving the body, forms a new body for itself, is also fatal, both as to Christ and as to us. If Christ's spirit formed a new body, and the body that went into the grave did not rise, then His former body saw corruption; it must have gone to dust, and Christ has not, then, conquered death. This only needs to be pointed out. The truth of the holy humanity of our blessed Lord is too important to suffer the loss of it by allowing the resurrection to be defined as the formation of a new body by the departed spirit. In the case of the saints, it will not do to allow this definition either, for resurrection would not be "mortality swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. 5:4). For this to be true, redemption must have application to the old body. (See Rom. 8:23.) If, when the Lord comes, the bodies of the living saints are reorganized, there will also be a reorganization of the disorganized bodies of those who sleep in Jesus.

The same serious results follow from defining resurrection to be the creation of a new body. The truth of Christ's holy humanity is lost, and He is robbed of His glory as the Victor over death, and the saints are denied their portion of sharing that victory with Him; i.e., their bodies remain forever the prey of death. In the resurrection, if they have new bodies created, they will be a new order of men — not children of Adam redeemed and saved, not children of God by redemption — but men by creation. How great the loss!

It will now be seen that it is of supreme importance to firmly hold to the doctrine of the identity of the old and the new body. This doctrine is clearly stated in the passage we have considered in 1 Cor. 15. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (vers. 42-44). The apostle is here asserting the identity of the natural and mortal body with the spiritual and immortal body.

The same principle applies to the wicked also. If there is no identity of the body they have in this life and the body which they will have when they stand before the great white throne or have been consigned to the lake of fire, then they will not be the same men: it will not be the sinner that sinned that will be judged and punished.

Many other considerations might be mentioned, but perhaps it is not necessary. It is sufficiently plain that the doctrine of the Scriptures is that the body will rise again. Whatever the varying conditions of the bodies of men when the resurrection takes place, there will be a reorganization of the body: this will take place in the grave, and thus the reorganized body will come forth from there.

C. Crain.