Where did Old Testament believers go when they died?


Is there any truth in the idea that the Lord, when He arose, changed the place of the Old Testament saints from some Paradise below, to be with Himself in a Paradise above?
We may eliminate from this consideration, Enoch and Elijah, who are clearly exceptional. Exactly into what part of the heavenly sphere they were introduced is not revealed. Even did we know, it would tell us nothing about the dead. It is clear, however, that the Old Testament saints did not go at death to be “with Christ,” not for the reason alleged by some, that they were not forgiven, etc., for they clearly were (see Psalm 32:1-2), and that on the ground of the work of Christ, yet to be accomplished.

The reason was that as yet there was no Christ, in the Theanthropic sense, for them to be with. He had not yet died and risen nor “brought life and immortality to light, through the gospel,” though ever in the bosom of the Father as the only-begotten Son of God. As for those who died in Old Testament times, such expressions are met with as, “He slept with his father,” “He fell on sleep,” “Descended to the grave,” the idea being that the dead went down into Sheol, the unseen world (Hades of New Testament). See Jacob’s words (Genesis 37:35), where he could not have meant a literal grave, as he believed Joseph devoured, and so, not buried.

In Numbers 16:33 we read that Korah, Dathan and Abiram went down alive into the pit (Sheol). The case of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:) may occur to some. The Scriptures do not say that the witch brought up Samuel. On the contrary, when she saw the strange apparition, she cried out, presumably in fear. I have no doubt that God in his sovereignty did bring Samuel’s spirit up from Paradise (not his body, for that was buried at Ramah, fifty miles away), for the express object of conveying to Saul the news of his approaching end, On the morrow, Saul and his sons would be with Samuel in the unseen world.

Sheol never** represents the literal grave, but some other word is always used of it, like “Qeber” or “akath.” Psalm i6. to makes it plain that the Lord in spirit went to Sheol, and His body to the grave. That saint and sinner went to one general place, before the resurrection, is clear from Luke 16, where our Lord lifts the veil of the unseen world in the intermediate state. The word there is “Hades.” True the saved were far-off from the lost, there being “a great gulf” fixed between the Paradise of the blessed and the place of torment, but still they were within seeing and speaking distance. Why should this be incredible, even if we had not our Lord’s words for it?

The Tower of London was for a long period in two sections—a royal palace and a state prison. It meant everything, which part a man went to, It was into Paradise that the Lord descended in Spirit, and where He welcomed the repentant thief. Can we suppose that only three days after, He left this trophy of grace behind? Did no benefits accrue to the saints confined there? The resurrection of Christ had mighty effects on the universe—He filled it: on the Church—He bestowed on her His spiritual gifts: on the Old Testament saints—”He led captivity captive,” that is, I believe, He set them free from their cabined and confined condition, and took them to be with Himself, henceforth in the Paradise above. This may throw light on the words in Hebrews 2:14, “to deliver them who through fear of death,” etc. The word here translated, “deliver,” depotes usually a change of place, a release, a removal. The change did not mean, of course, that they were raised, but translated to be “with Christ” in a new sphere. Thither Paul was caught up, temporarily (2 Corinthians 12:4), and permanently at His decease ”Absent from the body . . . present with the Lord,” awaiting the perfect condition of glory at the resurrection
day. W.H.

** Psalm 141. 7 (though the Authorised Version gives “grave” for “sheol”) is no exception. Bones are not scattered at the grave’s mouth, but buried in it. The idea is rather of bones left unburied, on the brink of Hades—the unseen world, where the owners of the bones had entered. Dr. Tregelles trarilate, sheol here as elaewhere—Hades