I believe that we can directly discern from Scripture itself that:
(1) From the case of the penitent thief on the cross and the promise Jesus made that he would be that day with Jesus in Paradise, we can draw the conclusion that there must be immediate or continuing consciousness after death for:
a) it would make no sense whatsoever to read this promise as an unconscious meeting or existence in Paradise (which I firmly believe the Bible equates with heaven, or “the third heaven,” as Paul expresses it elsewhere, 2 Corinthians 12:2, compared with 2 Corinthians 12:4, where paradise is clearly equated to the “third heaven” mentioned in verse 2).
b) The promise Jesus gave to the thief clearly represents a promise of immediate experience to take place that very day, so this is not a reference to future bodily resurrection, but conscious fellowship and enjoyment of reward to be immediately experienced after they both that day suffered bodily death.
c) I personally think, now that I’ve presented an argument I never read or wrote before (though no doubt others have presented it better than I have), this argument in itself is sufficient to prove the case for conscious existence after death. But I won’t stop with this one!
(2) There is very good reason to believe that Paul, when he indicated his desire to depart and be with Christ, which he said would be “far better,” indicates he anticipated immediate conscious communion and fellowship with Jesus Christ upon his own physical death (see Philippians 1:23).
“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:” (Philippians 1:23)
a) Since Philippians is surely to be dated after 2 Corinthians (this can be proven conclusively by evidence internal to the New Testament itself by means of the undesigned coincidences Paley discusses in his book Horae Paulinae which translated, I understand, means “hours with Paul”), then Paul surely had direct experience of the fact that whatever it is that may be going on in the third heaven, things he said were unlawful for him to utter (2 Corinthians 12:4), yet these things surely gave direct evidence to him that life there is conscious, not unconscious.
b) Paul never affirms that the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23) are all there sleeping and unconscious of where they are. Of course, we don’t have any explicit statement of just who spoke those “unspeakable words” Paul heard in Paradise, but somebody was up there with whom he talked.
c) Therefore, Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:23 could not have reference to his being in an unconscious state unaware of the passing of time, awaiting the resurrection, for then how could that logically be “far better,” since if so, everyone upon death would have the same experience. I don’t think Paul means for us to believe he had a “death wish,” for if you read about his career in 2 Corinthians 11 he surely went through much tribulation in his ministry for Christ. In the immediate context Paul emphasizes that he knew his ministry to them was more important than his private preference or wish. Paul is stressing that he truly looked forward eagerly for immediate fellowship with Jesus Christ in person. Recall that Scripture records at least one occasion, probably more, where Paul met or was directly confronted by our Lord Jesus Christ in person, the first instance being upon the Damascus Road (Acts 9), so he knew personally Who it was he longed to be with immediately and directly upon death.
(3) I think that 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, while surely a difficult and somewhat controversial passage, speaks to this very issue of immediate and continuing consciousness after the death of the body.
Paul speaks of our life in this body as being “our earthly house,” and that when this earthly house is dissolved by physical death, we “have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” In this body we groan, but we look forward to being “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,” which I think must be a reference to our glorified resurrection body. But verse 3 speaks of “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.” Is that the state, naked meaning without a physical body, which all who die experience upon death until the resurrection? I have assumed that perhaps we have a temporary body then until we receive our resurrected body. But whether we do or not, that question by no means negates the truth that after death we have continuing consciousness.
a) Nevertheless, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Now this cannot be twisted to mean that we experience this immediacy of being present with the Lord upon death because, allegedly unconscious, we are unaware of the passage of time, so we awake, at the resurrection, supposing no time intervened! That would not represent being “present with the Lord” during however long an interim of time that may turn out to be.
b) Once again, I believe this is another case of Paul inadvertently sharing what he personally knew for sure, based on the experience he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12, and so represents a valid argument supporting immediate and continuing consciousness in heaven for the believer after the physical death of this body.
(4) The statement of Isaiah in Isaiah 63:16 about “though Abraham be ignorant of us” surely must indicate Isaiah by divine inspiration knew that Abraham was still alive, that Abraham was with God, that God was in heaven, and therefore Abraham and Jacob were in heaven, conscious, but unaware of what transpired here upon earth since their physical death. Otherwise, such a statement of Isaiah seems pointless or absurd, which of course, being the very word of God, it cannot be.
(5) Consciousness after death is affirmed emphatically by God’s address to Moses in the Burning Bush.
a) This is confirmed by God Himself when He spoke to Moses at the burning bush, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). This is further confirmed by Jesus when He explained that God speaking to Moses in this manner affirmed that Abraham was still living, stating that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (see Mark 12:26, 27). Luke gives the fuller statement, “For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him” (Luke 20:38). It was after this unanswerable and masterful argument against the Sadducees that Luke reports, “And after that they durst not ask him any question at all” (Luke 20:40).
b) The conclusion is clear and absolute: since “all live unto him,” all are conscious, not unconscious, after physical death.
(6) In 1 Thessalonians 4:14 Paul tells us “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”
a) Somehow, I don’t envision this as Jesus coming with a Santa Claus sack or sleigh-full of unconscious spirits on the ready to join their physical bodies in resurrection on the spot just prior to the rapture and transformation of living believers into their glorified bodies.
b) Rather, those who accompany our Lord Jesus Christ upon His return to this earth for those believers who are then living on the earth most certainly (since they have been with Christ all the while) must also be conscious beings.
Robinson Crusoe had the advantage of no exterior human sources of how to interpret the Bible according to a certain denominational tradition, though Crusoe in the actual story by Daniel Defoe takes a few well-placed swipes at Calvinism’s rude doctrine of predestination. I recall all that since I just recently re-read the whole story for myself.
Crusoe, after rescuing or salvaging what he could from the abandoned sailor chests washed up on shore, or at least accessible not far from shore from the shipwreck, ended up with a total of “three good Bibles.” Apparently they were all plain-text Bibles, which fits the requirement precisely.
I don’t object, as you know, if on that island we have access to cross reference sources, grammars and lexicons, and concordances.
(7) Paul, when he visited heaven or paradise, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 12, was uncertain whether he was in the body or out of the body (2 Corinthians 12:2).
This clearly suggests that Paul’s experience demonstrates that he could not tell the difference, so consciousness continues when one is “out of the body,” which of course represents the experience of physical death, and Robinson Crusoe, having avidly read his Bible faithfully for an hour or two each morning before commencing his day’s tasks of keeping his garden, recalled that Paul was “left for dead” at Iconium, and experienced a remarkable and possibly miraculous resuscitation (Acts 14:19). Or was Paul just playing “‘possum”? Robinson was quite puzzled over this matter, because he had no commentaries or study Bibles with fallible human notes and doctrines to help him find the answer. Robinson did notice, though, that in several other places Paul makes use of the imagery of experiencing death in behalf of his service for Jesus Christ, as in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11. He saw that Paul leads right into an immediately following passage which directly addresses the certainty that “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and one could hardly consider oneself to be “present” with Jesus Christ Himself if one were totally unconscious. That kind of cleared up Robinson’s question, and he found the answer without consulting a commentary or manual of church doctrine from any religious organization!
Robinson thought he recalled another allusion, or maybe direct mention, of the experience Paul had at Iconium, so he kept reading the next few mornings and found the spot in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25. Robinson thought to himself, “This is all beginning to take on a consistent contextual pattern. Look what I read clearly in the following chapter, 2 Corinthians 12.” So, as often happens in our own daily conversations, or even private thoughts (for quite a while Robinson had no one to talk to but himself), one thought leads to another related one. And so in part, we see this feature in the arrangement of what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians. Surely, 2 Corinthians 12 furnishes as much proof as one could desire to determine from the plain reading of Scripture that there is consciousness after death.
(8) Robinson Crusoe did some further reading in his three good plain-text Bibles and came to Luke 24:36-40.
Luke 24:36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
Luke 24:37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
Luke 24:38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Luke 24:39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
Luke 24:40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
Robinson Crusoe, meditating carefully about the passage, noted how emphatically Jesus affirmed that they were seeing Jesus himself, not merely a disembodied spirit or a spirit being taking on a temporary physical form. He remembered the similar emphatic statement from where he had been reading in Acts 1:11 and especially Acts 2:32, 36. Robinson was really getting to appreciate the benefit of his enforced solitude, for now he was able to take the time to really find out for himself what the Bible actually said about things.
Jesus, therefore, Robinson concluded, arose in the very same body in which he was crucified, but in its eternal or glorified form. Since Jesus emphasized that they were seeing Jesus himself, this was the same, not a recreated person, that died, proving the continuity of the person, and thus the continuing conscious existence of the man Christ Jesus even after the death upon the Cross until His resurrection three days later, for the Bible, Robinson knew, clearly tells us Jesus is still a man (1 Timothy 2:5).
(9)Belief in both spirit and angel on the part of both Paul and the Pharisees, not to mention Luke who records the incident reflected in Acts 23:8, proves the continuing consciousness of the person after the death of the body.
Mulling all this over in his mind, and seeing ever so many connections with other things he had been reading in his Bible, Robinson recalled that in Acts 23:8 “spirit” is mentioned in the same sense but distinguished from angels, so Robinson concluded that as angels are conscious beings, though they are spirits, so “spirits” must be conscious beings, being persons that sustain their existence after the death of the physical body. Robinson Crusoe thought, “Just one more piece of evidence that immediately after death we will enjoy a conscious experience of being instantly with Jesus Christ in fellowship with him in heaven.”
Robinson decided it was time for him to get back to work on his garden, and then get some lunch, and come back to these thoughts when he got more of his work done. He looked forward to the next opportunity to read further in his Bible.