Where did Jesus go when he died? I am having a discussion with a friend who is a Jehovah’s Witness, and his ideas do not sound biblical.
James F. Pope
The gospel writers record seven sayings of Jesus Christ from the cross. Two of those sayings help answer your question. To the repentant thief at his side, Jesus graciously bestowed this promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). At death, Jesus directed words in a different direction: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ words contain simple, meaningful truth. Sadly, the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject that truth.
The false teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that people have an immortal soul. They maintain that the soul and body form a person’s entire being and when death takes place a person ceases to exist. They insist that was the case when Jesus died on Good Friday. You can find the following on their website: “Do you know what happened to Jesus’ body? God caused it to disappear. God did not raise Jesus to life in the fleshly body in which he died. He gave Jesus a new spirit body, as the angels in heaven have.”
What about Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief that he would begin enjoying heaven the very day he died? Jehovah’s Witnesses play a grammatical game with their Bible (New World Translation). Their Bible renders Luke 23:43 as, “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’ ” Notice the comma. Inspired writers of Bible books like the evangelist Luke did not use punctuation devices like commas. We insert them in our translations according to the rules of our grammar. There is no basis whatsoever to place a comma after the word today. Jesus was certainly speaking those words “today” and not “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” The New World Translation places a comma after the word today, because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a paradise on earth at some point in the future.
The true teachings of the Bible
Scripture clearly and consistently teaches that a human being has a body and a soul (Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 16:26; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Revelation 6:9; and, Revelation 20:4). That applies also to Jesus Christ since the time he took on human flesh (John 1:14).
Scripture’s teaching is also that a person’s body and soul separate at death (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Not long after Jesus spoke of committing his soul into the hands of his heavenly Father (Luke 23:46), his soul and body were separated.
So “where did Jesus go when he died?” His soul went to heaven, while a pair of faithful followers (John 19:38-42) laid his body in a tomb. While in the tomb, the Lord’s body did not experience any decay (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31). “On the third day” he appeared to his disciples with his same, but glorified, body (Luke 24:36-39).
That is what resurrection is all about: the reuniting of body and soul. For Jesus, that happened at exactly the time he had prophesied (Matthew 16:21; 17:23). For the repentant thief and everyone else who undergoes death, that will take place on the Last Day (John 5:28,29).
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017
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