Question (composite of many—the largest number of questions we’ve ever received on one topic): In your May newsletter you agreed with Chuck Smith, et al. that “Jesus died spiritually.” That sounds like the doctrine of “soul sleep.” If man, who is mortal, has an immortal soul and spirit that will be in heaven or hell, how then could Christ’s Spirit die? If Christ was God, I can see how His human body could die, but how could God, who is Spirit, die?
Response: You seem to have two misconceptions: (1) that to die means cessation of conscious existence; and (2) therefore, only the body dies. We are “body, soul and spirit” (1 Thes:5:23; Heb:4:12). Confusion arises because, contrary to the teaching of “soul sleep,” the soul and spirit remain conscious after physical death. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43)—a meaningless statement if neither of them would be conscious. Jesus said the rich man was consciously in torment in hell; while in paradise (where the souls and spirits of Jesus and the converted thief went upon death) Abraham and Lazarus, the beggar—and by implication everyone else—were in a conscious state of bliss (Lk 16:19-31). Though physically dead, they were conscious in the spirit world.
The Bible clearly teaches that body, soul, and spirit die. Actually, spiritual death comes first, otherwise death would not be at work in our bodies from the moment we are born, a fact which medical science acknowledges but cannot explain. Adam died spiritually (i.e., in his soul and spirit) the very moment he ate of the forbidden tree—“in the day [moment] you eat therof you will surely die” (Gn 2:17). His body wasn’t dead—yet. He must, therefore, have been spiritually dead, as are all of his descendants from the moment of birth. Even before our bodies die we are spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph:2:1; Col:2:13).
These same verses say that when we are born again through faith in Christ we are “made alive.” Certainly the condition of our bodies hasn’t changed, so we must be made alive spiritually and thus restored to fellowship with God. At the death of the body, the Christian’s soul and spirit are taken into heaven (“absent from the body, present with the Lord” 2 Cor:5:8). At the Rapture the body is resurrected and reunited with the soul and spirit, which have been with Christ in heaven and which “God will bring with him: (1 Thes:4:14).