By Colleen Tinker
Billy Graham died on Wednesday, February 21, at the age of 99. He had been an evangelist over a span of seven decades, and since 1955, he had been listed on Gallup’s list of most admired people 61 times. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, it is estimated that he “preached live to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, and hundreds of millions of more people through television, video, film, and webcasts.” He delivered his last live sermon on November 7, 2013.
After his death, Graham’s grandson, William Franklin Graham Jr. gave this statement to The Christian Post:
“My grandfather once said, ‘One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day I’ll be more alive than ever before! I’ve just changed addresses.’ My friends, today my grandfather moved from the land of the dead to the land of the living.
“We mourn that he is no longer with us physically here on earth, but we don’t grieve as those who’ve no hope. My grandfather invested his entire life in sharing the promise of eternity through Jesus Christ, and today he had the opportunity to realize that hope himself, kneeling before his Savior and hearing the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ My family appreciates your prayers now and in the days ahead.”
Within hours of Graham’s death, Doug Batchelor, president and speaker of the independent Adventist ministry Amazing Facts, had produced a three-minute Facebook video declaring, “Billy Graham Is Not In Heaven…Yet.”
Besides the poor taste of Batchelor’s opportunistic piggy-backing on the death of one of contemporary Christianity’s great men to make his point, his video is disrespectful and actually heretical. He misuses Scripture and boldly denies the plain meaning of its words.
After stating that he knew “it wouldn’t be long” before the evangelical community would say Graham was in heaven, Batchelor says he hopes one day to see Billy Graham in heaven. Graham, he says, “will thank me for giving you this real quick study.” Batchelor declares in his video, “The Bible is very clear: people do not go to heaven until the resurrection, and they do not go to heaven until the judgment.”
Then he refers to 1 Corinthians 15:22–23, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
Next Batchelor refers generally to 1 Thessalonians 4, without stating a verse, and quotes verse 16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
He then argues that the dead in Christ will arise when He returns, when the trumpet sounds, and in their proper order after Christ’s resurrection and at the second coming.
Significantly, Batchelor ignores the context of both verses. Especially significant is the fact that he does not mention 1 Thessalonians 14:14 which says, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
Paul explicitly states that God brings those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” back to earth with Jesus. He brings them back with Him, and then (verse 16) the dead in Christ shall rise.
Batchelor, however, ignores the context and the words, and he states: “The dead are sleeping in their graves right now.”
Absent from the body, present with the Lord?
“But wait, Pastor Doug,” he interrupts himself, “doesn’t it say in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?”
He answers himself: “Yes—and that means that for a believer who dies, then the next conscious thought—that someone like Billy Graham would have—would be the resurrection and the presence of the Lord.” He then reiterates that God will raise them up at the last day.
To prove his point that the dead are unconscious in the ground until the “last day”, Batchelor refers to John 6:39–40 where Jesus says:
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
Then Batchelor refers to Ecclesiastes without giving any references, stating that “the Bible says” that those who go down to the grave do not praise God, and “the living know that they’ll die, but the dead do not know anything.” Next he refers to Lazarus, whom Jesus said was sleeping and whom He went to wake up. In fact, Batchelor says that there are “about a dozen resurrections in the Bible, and in none of those resurrections do the people who are raised ever comment on coming back from hell or coming back from heaven. They were unconscious; there was no sense of time for them.”
He ends his video by saying he’s confident that he will see Billy Graham in heaven, “but he’s not there—yet.” His final words are a plug for his studies on the state of the dead.
Batchelor’s views clearly betray his Adventist belief that humans do not have immaterial spirits that survive the death of the body. From his perspective, humans are “living souls” when their bodies breathe. When they stop breathing, the cease to be “living souls”, and they go into the grave, decaying bodies waiting to be resurrected and given “breath” again at the resurrection. God holds their memories in His mind, and He puts the details of each person into the new bodies He creates at the resurrection.
This preconception of what death and life actually are, however, prevents Doug Batchelor (and Adventists generally) from seeing what the Bible actually says. In 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 Paul says, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and kiting that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
Paul specifically says “we” are in one of two places: at home in the body, or absent from the body and at home with the Lord. Being either in the grave or resurrected is not the contrast Paul makes. The essential “us” lives in our bodies. When we die, we leave our bodies and go to be with the Lord.
Moreover, Batchelor does not refer to Philippians 1:23–24: “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
In this text Paul is clear that departing the flesh to be with Christ is “very much better” than staying on in the flesh here on earth. It would not be “very much better” to disappear from existence and be decaying in the ground until the resurrection. It would be very much better only if Paul himself were with the Lord when his body died.
What about “resurrection”?
Another major error in Doug Batchelor’s hermeneutics is his use of “resurrection” to refer to being “with the Lord”. Additionally, his reference to the “resurrections” mentioned in the Bible is not accurate. Those people raised from the dead in Scripture were not resurrected eternally. They were resusitated, but not resurrected. They had to die again; Lazarus was not resurrected eternally before Jesus was resurrected.
Batchelor confuses these things and does not discriminated between “death”, raising people from the dead as a sign of the presence of God among people, and the final resurrection when Jesus returns.
The word “resurrection” in the Bible refers to a physical manifestation, not a spiritual one. In other words, people who die and go to be with the Lord are not resurrected. They are actually dead, or “sleeping”, as Jesus said. Furthermore, Jesus used the word “sleep” not because He was saying they did not exist but because “sleep” is not permanent. The dead are not gone any more than a person sleeping is gone. Rather, their spirits leave them and go to the Lord for His keeping until the resurrection when He reunites people’s spirits with their resurrection bodies.
When people are resurrected, they receive eternal bodies. In fact, John 5:28–29 explains that a day is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear Jesus’ voice and will be resurrected: those “who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment”.
In other words, the righteous will receive eternal physical bodies for eternal life; the wicked will receive eternal physical bodies (they will be resurrected) for judgment. We can know a little bit about what our resurrection bodies will be like because Jesus has shown us what to expect. His resurrection shows us what we will be like.
Jesus lived on this earth for 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension. He interacted with His apostles and others. He ate fish (in His glorified body), and he did not appear startling. In John 24 we learn that on the road to Emmaus, his companions didn’t actually recognize Him at first; He was a man who walked with them. We also learn that He had his disciples touch him and pointed out that He was not a spirit, that He had flesh and bone (John 20:19–29).
In conclusion, Doug Batchelor completely misses the context of the biblical passages he uses. He confuses the intermediate state, when our spirits are with the Lord and our mortal bodies are in the grave, with resurrection.
The context of these passages makes clear what the Bible teaches, but because of his Adventist worldview, Doug Batchelor cannot admit what the words actually say. His video is in error. His Adventist belief is unbiblical, and his teaching is leading people astray.
In reality, the Lord is faithful, and His word cannot fail. When we believe, the essential “us”—our spirits—leave our bodies, our “mortal tents”, and we go to be with the Lord. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38–39). †
For further reading on this topic, these Proclamation! articles provide more detail: