This book is purported to be written by Ezra who was a captive in the country of the Medes in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of the Persians.(2 Esdras 1:3). In other words the same Ezra who wrote the Book of Ezra in the Bible.
Originally published Jan 8, 2003. Content has been updated Nov 30, 2013.
According to this apocryphal book, this is what the archangel Uriel told Ezra about what happens to the soul after death. Uriel provides two scenarios. One is the scenario of what happens to those who die without salvation. The other tells what happens to those who die with salvation. If true, the picture is very bleak for the unsaved. I would hate for any of my loved ones to go through this. This book also makes the statement that the dead who are not saved “cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live”, denying the doctrine of purgatory outlined in another apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees 12:42-45.
2 Esdras is a part of the Apocrypha, which is not considered to be canonical, except by some sects. Evangelicals do not consider the Apocrypha to be inspired scripture. Being evangelical, I do not accept that the Apocrypha is inspired scripture. However, this does give us an idea of Jewish thought in the intertestamental period concerning what happens when we die. Use this for information only. It is certainly possible that this is actually what happens; it is also possible that it is not true.
The Bible gives us a very direct indication what really happens following death: Ecc 12:6-7, “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. (7) Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This passage basically says, “Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it” (The Message). When we die, the body returns to the dust from which it came and the spirit immediately returns to God in heaven. Then God decides what happens to the spirit. Knowing what the Bible says, it is still interesting to read what 2 Esdras reports.
The State of the Dead before Judgment
Second Esdras 7:75-101
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible with Apocrypha, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
75I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, show this also to your servant: whether after death, as soon as everyone of us yields up the soul, we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation, or whether we shall be tormented at once?”
76He answered me and said, “I will show you that also, but do not include yourself with those who have shown scorn, or number yourself among those who are tormented. 77For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times. 78Now concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone out from the Most High that a person shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. 79If it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, who have despised his law and hated those who fear God-80such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, always grieving and sad, in seven ways. 81The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High. 82The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live. 83The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. 84The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. 85The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. 86The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will cross over into torments. 87The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High in whose presence they sinned while they were alive, and in whose presence they are to be judged in the last times.
88“Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body. 89During the time that they lived in it, they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour so that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly. 90Therefore this is the teaching concerning them: 91First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders. 92The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought that was formed with them, so that it might not lead them astray from life into death. 93The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander and the punishment that awaits them. 94The third order, they see the witness that he who formed them bears concerning them, that throughout their life they kept the law with which they were entrusted. 95The fourth order, they understand the rest that they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory waiting for them in the last days. 96The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible and shall inherit what is to come; and besides they see the straits and toil from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty that they are to receive and enjoy in immortality. 97The sixth order, when it is shown them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on. 98The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they press forward to see the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified. 99This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced; and the previously mentioned are the ways of torment that those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter.”
100Then I answered and said, “Will time therefore be given to the souls, after they have been separated from the bodies, to see what you have described to me?”
101He said to me, “They shall have freedom for seven days, so that during these seven days they may see the things of which you have been told, and afterwards they shall be gathered in their habitations.”
Again, please note that these are not my words but the words of the writer of 2 Esdras nor do I accept them is factual, though they may be. It is an interesting study and worthy of consideration. —Mark Oaks
The English word “spirit” is translated from the Hebrew word “ruach” meaning wind/breath. I don’t like to use the word spirit because it gives the impression that the persons so called soul goes to God.
I appreciate the comment. You are welcome to that view.
But you should realize that there is a passage from Scripture that echoes the sentiment from Second Esdras, which is an apocryphal work.
Ecclesiastes 12:7, writing about the death of the body, states, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
Thank you for revealing a personal mystery to me. In the beginning of my Christian walk I had as yet no discipleship or teaching. Needing a better Bible than the Berkley translation I was given, I purchased a Catholic Vulgate Living Bible paraphrase from a Catholic bookstore. It had an Apocrypha, the only one I read for 38 years as the King James 27th edition Chain Referance became my standard bible after conversion. But I could never find a scripture in my memory of those locked in their abodes and guarded by angels in the last days. Came to mind a lot lately, even searched my 1611 KJV with apocrypha but couldn’t find it. Oh, I gave the Catholic bible to a catholic girlfriend of my elder son, long ago. JR
You are very Welcome. The passage is found in 2 Esdras 7:85. My King James Version with Apocrypha (KJVA) only includes 2 Esdras 7:1-10. There are no verses past verse 10 included. However, my New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha (NRSVA) does have the verse you are interested in. The NRSVA includes verses 1-140 in Second Esdras. The passage about the state of the dead is 2 Esdras 7:75-101.