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Where and how are the Old Testament saints right now?

Here are some possibilities (not exhaustive by any means):

  • They are temporarily in a state of non-existence.
  • They do exist (where?), but are temporarily asleep/unconscious.
  • They are conscious in Heaven.
  • They are conscious in Sheol/Hades, enjoying (temporarily) the compartment for the righteous (see Bosom of Abraham and Intermediate state).

What is an overview of Christian beliefs on the current state and location of Old Testament saints?


Related questions:

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    These types of questions are resolved if one remembers that we are currently bound by time and space, but that heaven is eternal. From our perspective, people die, then thousands of years pass, then whatever happens after that, once time has been swallowed up by eternity. From the dying person’s point of view, they die and the next thing they know it’s the end of time and everyone is in eternity.
    – user56152
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 17:21
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    Ah, well these would be time perspective statements.. they mesh pretty well with the idea that the person has, from our perspective, for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. Poetically, “the grave” is a place of silence, where God’s presence is not felt or seen - from our perspective. From eternity’s perspective, the grave doesn’t really exist: we die, and in the twinkling of an eye are transformed, as Paul puts it. Because eternity is not bound by time. A year is like a second and a second is like a year.
    – user56152
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 17:33
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    @AshleyRoberts "From the dying person’s point of view, they die and the next thing they know it’s the end of time and everyone is in eternity." Exactly! This fully accounts for Jesus' statement at Luke 23:43, and Paul's statement at Philippians 1:21. From the thief's perspective, but an instant would have passed from his perspective from the moment he died to the moment of his resurrection. From his POV, he would be in paradise that very day. As for Paul, at the exact moment of his death, the very next thing he'd know is that he is in a glorious, incorruptible, eternal body, hence gain!
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 3:40
  • 1
    @Spirit Realm Investigator, No, I would say if you’ve stepped out of time, you’ve stepped out of time.
    – user56152
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 19:40
  • 1
    Hi @Rajesh, yes this does indeed seem to solve a lot of issues!
    – user56152
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 19:41

3 Answers 3

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What is an overview of Christian beliefs on the current state and location of Old Testament saints?

Catholicism upholds that the Saints of the Old Testament are presently in heaven and enjoy the Beatific Vision.

Prior to the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord on the Cross, the souls of these holy persons were held in the Bosom of Abraham.

"Bosom of Abraham" refers to the place of comfort in the biblical Sheol (or Hades in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures from around 200 BC, and therefore so described in the New Testament) where the righteous dead await Judgment Day.

While commentators generally agree upon the meaning of the "Bosom of Abraham", they disagree about its origins. Up to the time of Maldonatus (AD 1583), its origin was traced back to the universal custom of parents to take up into their arms, or place upon their knees, their children when they are fatigued, or return home, and to make them rest by their side during the night (cf. 2 Samuel 12:3; 1 Kings 3:20; 17:19; Luke 11:7 sqq.), thus causing them to enjoy rest and security in the bosom of a loving parent. After the same manner was Abraham supposed to act towards his children after the fatigues and troubles of the present life, hence the metaphorical expression "to be in Abraham's Bosom" as meaning to be in repose and happiness with him.

According to Maldonatus (1583), whose theory has since been accepted by many scholars, the metaphor "to be in Abraham's Bosom" is derived from the custom of reclining on couches at table, which prevailed among the Jews during and before the time of Jesus. As at a feast each guest leaned on his left elbow so as to leave his right arm at liberty, and as two or more lay on the same couch, the head of one man was near the breast of the man who lay behind, and he was therefore said "to lie in the bosom" of the other.

It was also considered by the Jews of old a mark of special honour and favour for one to be allowed to lie in the bosom of the master of the feast (cf. John 13:23), and it is by this illustration that they pictured the next world. They conceived of the reward of the righteous dead as a sharing in a banquet given by Abraham, "the father of the faithful" (cf. Matthew 8:11 sqq.), and of the highest form of that reward as lying in "Abraham's Bosom".

New Testament

The phrase bosom of Abraham occurs only once in the New Testament, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in the gospel of Luke (Luke 16:22). Leprous Lazarus is carried by the angels to that destination after death. Abraham's bosom contrasts with the destination of a rich man who ends up in Hades (see Luke 16:19–31). The account corresponds closely with documented 1st century AD Jewish beliefs (see above), that the dead were gathered into a general tarrying-place, made equivalent with the Sheol of the Old Testament. In Christ's account, the righteous occupied an abode of their own, which was distinctly separated by a chasm from the abode to which the wicked were consigned. The chasm is equivalent to the river in the Jewish version, but in Christ's version there is no angelic ferryman, and it is impossible to pass from one side to the other.

Early Christianity

In the 3rd century, Hippolytus of Rome referred to Abraham's bosom as the place in hades where the righteous await judgment day in delight. Due to a copying error a loose section of Hippolytus' commentary on Luke 16 was misidentified as a Discourse to the Greeks on Hades by Josephus and included in William Whiston's translation of the Complete Works of Josephus.

Augustine of Hippo likewise referred to the righteous dead as disembodied spirits blissfully awaiting Judgment Day in secret receptacles.[23]

Since the righteous dead are rewarded in the bosom of Abraham before Judgment Day, this belief represents a form of particular judgment.

It is believed by some that Christ preached to the souls in prison and released them from their fetters and allowed them to enter heaven.

"By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." - 1 Peter 3:19–20 (KJV)

According to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Christ not only preached to the souls in Abraham’s Bosom and released them from the temporary prison and lead them to heaven.

Limbo of the Patriarchs

The "Limbo of the Patriarchs" or "Limbo of the Fathers" (Latin limbus patrum) is seen as the temporary state of those who, despite the sins they may have committed, died in the friendship of God but could not enter Heaven until redemption by Jesus Christ made it possible. The term "Limbo of the Fathers" was a medieval name for the part of the underworld (Hades) where the patriarchs of the Old Testament were believed to be kept until Christ's soul descended into it by his death through crucifixion and freed them (see Harrowing of Hell). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Christ's descent into Hell as meaning primarily that "the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into Hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead." It adds: "But he descended there as Saviour, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there." It does not use the word "Limbo".

This concept of Limbo affirms that admittance to Heaven is possible only through the intervention of Jesus Christ, but does not portray Moses, etc. as being punished eternally in Hell. The concept of Limbo of the Patriarchs is not spelled out in Scripture, but is seen by some[who?] as implicit in various references.

Luke 16:22 speaks of the "bosom of Abraham", which both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, following early Christian writers, understand as a temporary state of souls awaiting entrance into Heaven. The end of that state is set either at the Resurrection of the Dead, the most common interpretation in the East, or at the Harrowing of Hell, the most common interpretation in the West, but adopted also by some in the East.

Jesus told the Good Thief that the two of them would be together "this day" in Paradise (Luke 23:43; see also Matthew 27:38).

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This is also a theme in religious art. For example, Bartolomeo Bertejo's painting Christ leads the patriarchs from Hell to Paradise (downloaded from Wikimedia Commons).

Thus for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the Saints of the Old Testament are in heaven and presently enjoy the Beatific Vision.

Saints in Eastern Orthodoxy include Adam and Eve Moses and other biblical persons.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on Earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, except for the angels and archangels are all given the title of "Saint". Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, and Dysmas, the repentant thief who was crucified. Therefore, a more complete Eastern Orthodox definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire Church, and loved all people.

Many of the Old Testament Patriarchs are considered saints by several Christian denominations. Take Moses for example!

His relevance to modern Christianity has not diminished. Moses is considered to be a saint by several churches; and is commemorated as a prophet in the respective Calendars of Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutheran churches on September 4. In Eastern Orthodox liturgics for September 4, Moses is commemorated as the "Holy Prophet and God-seer Moses, on Mount Nebo". The Orthodox Church also commemorates him on the Sunday of the Forefathers, two Sundays before the Nativity. Moses is also commemorated on July 20 with Aaron, Elijah and Elisha and on April 14 with all saint Sinai monks.

The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates him as one of the Holy Forefathers in their Calendar of Saints on July 30.

Abraham is considered a saint in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism.

The Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination, calls Abraham "our father in Faith" in the Eucharistic prayer of the Roman Canon, recited during the Mass. He is also commemorated in the calendars of saints of several denominations: on 20 August by the Maronite Church, 28 August in the Coptic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East (with the full office for the latter), and on 9 October by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. In the introduction to his 15th-century translation of the Golden Legend's account of Abraham, William Caxton noted that this patriarch's life was read in church on Quinquagesima Sunday. He is the patron saint of those in the hospitality industry. The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates him as the "Righteous Forefather Abraham", with two feast days in its liturgical calendar. The first time is on 9 October (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 9 October falls on 22 October of the modern Gregorian Calendar), where he is commemorated together with his nephew "Righteous Lot". The other is on the "Sunday of the Forefathers" (two Sundays before Christmas), when he is commemorated together with other ancestors of Jesus. Abraham is also mentioned in the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, just before the Anaphora, and Abraham and Sarah are invoked in the prayers said by the priest over a newly married couple.

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Similar to a previous answer, Abraham [according to Jesus] is in heaven:

John 8

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

You can deduce that Abraham was informed about Jesus ministry, yet currently as we speak his body is still in the Cave of the Patriarchs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs

While his observable body was temporarily disabled [and still is], the only possibility is his conscious that was left to know about Jesus:

Genesis 25:8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.


Where and how is Abraham right now?

This is where conjecture can open up, if the Scripture doesn't explain it, are we able to know what God willed to preserve?

Nehemiah 9:5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

Yes, Abraham is acknowledged about his progeny in death, but his grave life [in general] is not detailed, I'm not sure it can be theorized about either.

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  • Hey Ahmed, I generalized the question from only Abraham to all Old Testament saints in general. Hopefully you won't need to edit your answer too much.
    – user50422
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 1:11
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I'll offer a Latter-day Saint perspective.


Jesus Christ broke the bands of death (Mosiah 15:20) and was the first to be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:23). Because He overcame death, all who live on this earth will be resurrected from the dead (1 Cor. 15:22, Alma 11:42-44).

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Order of Operations

After the resurrection of Christ it was possible for others to be resurrected; the righteous who died prior to the resurrection of Christ were resurrected before those who died after the resurrection of Christ .

And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ...the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection...They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death. (Mosiah 15:21-23, note that the first resurrection is not over)

[T]hose from the days of Adam down to the resurrection of Christ...their resurrection cometh to pass before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ. (Alma 40:18-19)

The precise timing of the resurrection of the righteous who died before the resurrection of Christ is a matter of speculation--various opinions have been offered (e.g. see Alma 40:20-21); I'll show below, via deduction, that this has already happened, even if the exact date/time is unknown.

The resurrection brings people back to the presence of God to be judged:

as I [Jesus] have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged (3 Nephi 27:14)

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Timing

Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

[T]he Lord has power to call forth any person or persons from the dead, as he may desire, especially if they have a mission to perform which would require their resurrection. For example, we have the cases of Peter, James, and Moroni.

We are given to understand that the first resurrection yet future, which means the coming forth of the righteous, will take place at one particular time, which is when our Savior shall appear in the clouds of heaven, when he shall return to reign. (Doctrines of Salvation 2:299–300, note that this is not an official church source).

That Peter, James, and Moroni, all of whom died after the resurrection of Christ, have been resurrected is supported by D&C 27:12 and JSH 1:30-33. That the righteous who have not been resurrected prior to the 2nd coming will be resurrected at that time is supported by 1 Thess. 4:16.

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Deductive Argument

Let RC = the time of Christ's resurrection

P1: The righteous who died before RC are resurrected before the righteous who died after RC

P2: Peter, James, and Moroni died after RC

P3: Peter, James, and Moroni have already been resurrected

C1: The righteous who lived before RC have already been resurrected

P4: Judgement comes at the time of the resurrection

C2: The righteous who lived before RC have already been judged

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Conclusion

Thus, Old Testament saints such as Abraham are believed to have already left their intermediate state, been resurrected, judged, and progressed on to their eternal glory.

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