Sudden Death is not Sudden Glory
Al Martin’s little book Grieving, Hope, and Solace (Cruciform, 2011) teaches an instant consciousness after death for Christians and a trip to heaven, all without a body. From the phrase in James, “the body apart from the spirit is dead”, Martin infers that “the spirit apart from the body is alive.”
John 5: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, as many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has the life of the age to come.. They do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out…
Al Martin sounds very much like the Roman Catholic tradition in his reading of the intermediate state. Instead of recognizing from Genesis 2 that “souls” are “living beings”, he begins with the idea that “souls” are non-material spirits with consciousness that can nevertheless be seen and heard (Martin becomes “literal” when he gets to “souls under the altar” in Revelation 6). Thus he reads John 5 as saying that it’s only the bodies which will come out the graves. It can’t be the persons, he thinks, because he thinks he already knows that the “souls” went straight to heaven.
I Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We will not precede them. They will rise first. This is NOT about “never-dying souls” of dead Christians getting into heaven before we do. Leave your dead body behind. Do not pass go. Get a new body in heaven now, as soon as you die, and before they even bury your old body. No, none of that is the hope. Nor is our hope some experience of disembodied consciousness (like The Matrix) where we can engage in uninterrupted worship. That is a stoic hope for those who fear human emotions so much that they think mainly of control. Duty and law become so important to them that they entertain a gnostic hope for a triumphal worship before and without
1 Christ’s second coming
2 the resurrection
3 the judgement
4 the old body raised and given immortality
I Thessalonians 4: We will not precede them because they will be raised first. Not because they go to heaven first, but because they will be raised first.
Human persons, elect and non-elect, justified and condemned, will not be left in the graves. But now they wait in the graves, and then the elect will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and clothed with immortality. Then “the dead in Christ will rise first. Only then, at His coming will those saints who are alive and remain be caught up together with dead saints [all at one time, at the same time)] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air as He comes to earth. This meeting is not to go back to heaven, but the coming of heaven to earth. Thus “we shall always be with the Lord.”
The non-elect will also be raised on that day but only to come into judgment, and then to perish in the second death. But the justified elect will be raised and “shall not come into judgment” but will from then on, in the age to come, be with the risen Christ with bodies like his glorious body.
Al Martin’s Roman Catholic anthropology causes him to translate “those who have fallen asleep” as “those bodies which sleep”, because he thinks he already knows that “perfected souls” are already ascended to heaven and now worship 24/7 without sleep. Martin makes no reference to John 3:13
John 3: 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that as many as believe in him shall have the life OF THE AGE TO COME. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that as many as believe in him should not perish but have the life of the age to come.
Al Martin presumes that all the saints who have died the first death have only died in their bodies and that their “souls” have already ascended to heaven. ( He does not teach that these “souls” were pre-existent and descended from heaven.) So presumably the promise of “not perish” is only about the bodies, because presumably “souls” can never perish, no matter what God did in giving His Son, no matter what Christ did in being lifted up on the cross.
Of course Al Martin does agree that this hope for instant bliss in heaven is not the primary hope taught by the Bible. p 24–“The Christian’s hope is always used in reference to the ultimate state of glorification, when our souls will be joined permanently to new deathless bodies.”
But what Al Martin (along with Calvin and the pope) refuses to see is that his idea of a secondary intermediate hope of conscious souls in heaven immediately at death is not taught by the Bible, but is indeed contradicted by what the Bible teaches in defining “living being” (Genesis 2:7) or describing the death of Christ (“pouring out his soul, Isaiah 53).
One paragraph after agreeing that the Bible only refers to the resurrection as the Christian’s hope of glorification, Al Martin takes it all back by informing us that “it is this information about the intermediate state that largely accounts for our ability to grieve unlike those who have no hope.” (p 25)
So even though he knows that the Bible speaks of the hope of resurrection, Al Martin continues to insist that his false ideas about “an immediate sequel” are “largely” the difference between despair and courage. The Bible says, wait and be patient. Al Martin says instead: the people left living behind wait, but the dead Christians don’t want, but get right away to conscious worship (until presumably all that is interrupted by them needing to go with Christ to earth for earthly things, like resurrection, judgment, other Christians, and bodies.)
Al Martin builds his doctrine of “immediate perfection of souls” on a phrase taken out of context from Hebrews 12–“the spirits of just men made perfect”. Of course he has not defined “souls” in reference to what the Bible says about “spirits”, but he needs to presume that identity and does so.
Hebrews 12: 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Al Martin ignores the “ye have come” for the sake of what he thinks will happen in the future as soon as we die. p 32–“first comes the perfecting of our souls when we die”. Martin ignores the “enrolled in heaven” for the sake of his tradition that says that “souls” never die but can be seen and heard now in heaven. I doubt that he thinks the “blood that speaks” (be it that of Abel or Christ) is literal, but Martin seems sure that disembodied “souls” are now not only conscious but already perfected and glorified. I doubt that Martin takes “consuming fire” in a literal way, but one wonders if he thinks a “soul” is not a “thing that has been made”. Does this mean that our bodies can be shaken (being created) but that our “spirits” (souls) cannot be shaken?
p 34–“God will put forth upon that soul that has left the body a concentration of his sanctifying grace and power that will immediately complete the work of conforming the soul to the moral likeness of Christ.” This conclusion is based on Martin’s previous reading of Romans 6, in which he ignores the forensic (Christ died under the law, we died with Him, we are not under the law) meaning of that chapter and displaces it with his own idea of some “definitive” regeneration in which we don’t sin (much) anymore (like we used to). Besides having to be read into Romans 6, that view cannot account for the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ had no need for the Spirit to conform him to the pattern of Christ. And our death with Christ to the guilt of the law is also not brought about by our conformity to Christ.
But Martin does not allow Bible texts to get in the way of his theology: “In an instant, her spirit was purged of every last vestige of remaining sin, and she was endowed with the moral perfection of Christ.” (p 36) I certainly agree that dead people do not sin anymore. Indeed, I doubt very much that even the non-elect will continue to sin after their second death, even though they most certainly will sin as they gnash their teeth at the judgment which has not yet come. But agreeing that dead Christians no longer sin has nothing to do with proving that their conscious spirits are now in worship in heaven. This Martin wants to assume.
One very much unanswered question—who is the dead person? Presumably, the dead person is not the body, because according to tradition the body is merely only something the person has. Is the “immortal conscious soul” the person? Or does the person also “have a soul”? If so, what is the person who “has a soul”? And where is that person, when the body sleeps and the “soul” worships?
In a book filled with unbiblical and stoic nonsense, the most foolish quotation in the book (p 46) is from Spurgeon talking about John 17: “You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father I will that thy saints be with me where I am.’ Christ says, ‘Father I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’ Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with His Lord. The soul cannot be at both places; the beloved cannot be with Christ and with you too….You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction.”
One barely knows where to start in refutation! What does “realize the thoughts” mean? If we could only agree with the logic of what Spurgeon is saying, even though it has no logic? We would stop taking our children to the doctor, because that might be in “cross-purposes” with what Jesus wants? Or should we only think this way, after our loved ones die, but not before they die? Why? Why would that timing matter? And to repeat my previous question–are we praying for their “souls” to be with us, or is it our desire for them as persons to be with us? Is Christ praying for their persons or only for their “souls”?
I suppose the most basic falsehood about the Spurgeon soundbite is its presumption that the way to be “with Christ” is “instantly at death”. Certainly Al Martin evades any sense of the resurrection being the hope which is “far better” in Philippians 1 or II Corinthians 5. He rejects any idea of a time-lag between “departure” and conscious life with Christ at the resurrection. Even though Martin knows that “nakedness” is not the way that the Bible speaks of glorification, he still assures us that our comfort is “largely” based on a desire for instant conscious nakedness before God as soon as we die.
Christ said: “to be with me where I am”. Al Martin presumes that means heaven, and ignores the hope of Christ coming to earth to be with His (then resurrected) people. Al Martin also ignores the wait involved in hope, so that no Christian gets to glory before another Christian, so that we not precede each other. Al Martin presumes that the “sleep” of I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 is not about the real us (our persons), but only about the “bodies we have”.
Martin assumes that Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7) to “receive my spirit” means that Stephen the person never really died. Martin does concede, however, that “we have no biblical ground to expect that we shall be given a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God”, p 47, but for Martin this only means that vision won’t happen before we die, while “our bodies” are dying. But Martin expects to have that vision after he dies, and argues for this based on a vision Stephen had before Stephen died. Why this expectation? Because Stephen prayed, “receive my spirit”. And this Martin assumes means that Stephen had a never dying spirit. Stephen the person didn’t really die. Only his body did.
The Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5). Does this mean that Jesus the real Divine-human person never died either, but only his “human body”? I certainly do not begin to understand the incarnation or the mystery of Christ’s death, which is why I am not about to explain it on the basis of a “never-dying soul” so as to prove that Christ didn’t really die.
Al Martin writes (p 56): ” I do not know how disembodied spirits recognize and communicate with each other. It seems to me that Scripture is virtually silent on this matter. ” Since the Bible is silent in even claiming that disembodied human spirits communicate with each other, one only wonders what the difference between “virtual silence” and “silence” is. But Al Martin has not let something like biblical silence stop him up to this point. He takes certain phrases of Revelation 6 as literal and therefore “hints”. Presumably when the “souls under the altar” are told to “rest for a while yet”, that does not mean sleep or lack of consciousness, because despite their instant perfection at death, and despite their 24/7 conscious worship, nevertheless these souls are not yet at peace or at rest, and still have much more growing to do yet. Does this mean that heaven itself is a capitalist colony, in which there will always be “more and more” work and progress? How long before we ultimately become patient?
Make me patient. Today. Right now.
Al Martin does indicate that he doesn’t think the “marriage supper of the lamb” will happen until Jesus comes to earth again, but in the meanwhile, he thinks of death as the enemy of only the non-elect, and acts as if death is the friend of Christ and His elect, doing instantly for us what can never be done on earth in our bodies. Martin favors this anthem: ” Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant/ For through its portals we enter into the presence of the living God.”
But that cannot be, because we have not yet put on immortality and shall not until Resurrection day, and if that day does not come, we will perish. This is what I Corinthians 15 teaches. Also I Timothy 6
13 “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and lasting dominion. Amen.”