Probably one of the most controversial topics among people today is what happens to a person after they die. Are the dead really dead? Do they know anything, do they go straight to heaven when they die are they sent to purgatory or even s0me other place… maybe even hell? The fact is we all know that our bodies are terminal, we will someday die, this is a question we all just be desiring an answer to. What consolation and insight does the Bible give to us on the subject of death? Does the Bible clearly give an answer to the above questions? Can we truly be certain what happens to the dead? I firmly believe we can, so join me in this study as we uncover the truth about death.
As always I ask that you pray before you study, ask God to lead and guide you as you study this important topic. That His light will clearly show the truth… the Bible says His word is a light unto our path. And He has promised that the truth will set us free. So as we study this topic let us be open to the truth of God and what the scriptures say.
Alexander Bogomoletz, a Russian scientist, once said that a man should live to be at least 150 years of age. He actually prepared a serum that was designed to retard the aging process of the connective tissues of the body. Unfortunately, the learned doctor died at the age of 64, just 86 years short of the goal he had set for himself and for all mankind. And we still do not understand the mysteries of life and death.
What does the Bible actually teach about the human existence, are we immortal beings with a temporary stop after death? Do we even live on past our death, or do we sleep eternally never more to rise? Thankfully the Bible sheds light on the subject.
Hebrews 9:26-27 gives us a blessed hope to look forward to…
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation”
Please read that verse carefully, you will note that it states that judgment comes after death… there are apparently two conclusions two this verse. First, when a person dies they go straight to heaven or some other place where they are judged and then they are sent to either heaven or hell after they have been processed for shipment. The second option is that there is one judgment when all the dead will be judged together… if this latter idea is indeed what the Bible teaches then it would stand to reason that the dead would remain in the ground right? But we know that the Bible interprets itself so lets keep studying…
When studying the scriptures we must build scripture upon scripture, precept upon precept. This is the surest way of knowing the truth and it is what the Bible teaches us to do. If we base our belief on a doctrine solely on one verse in the Bible there is a good chance we have taken it out of context, but if we study all the verses on a subject we find the truth. So lets see if the Bible has a consistent teaching on the judgment coming after death. Lets turn to 2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”
These verses are clear about one thing, sometime after death there is a judgment of mankind… but we still have not seen clear evidence of when this judgment will take place. If we ended our study at this point we could be quite confused, but thankfully the Bible is not illusive.
To find the answer to the question, when will the judgment take place, lets turn to 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 – we will pick it up in verses 7-10
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
I think these verses make it clear that there is a judgment at Christ’s coming when the dead will be punished for their deeds and the righteous will be taken to heaven… but some could argue this is just for those who are alive at the time of Christ’s appearing and does not include the dead. This is a valid point… but if we turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 we find that it clears that question right up as well…
13) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words”
Are we all together on verse 13, that Jesus is referring to death when He uses the word sleep? I will get into that more later in the article when we get into Lazarus’s death.
For those of you who like the basic English, the Basic English Bible translates verse 15 by saying those who are alive will not precede those who are sleeping.
Lets analyze these verses… those of us who are privileged to live up till the very day of Christ’s appearing will not precede those who have fallen asleep prior to this time… what does this mean? That the dead have gone up first? Verse 16 tells us very clearly… it says “the dead in Christ shall rise first” – is that not clear? We will not go before those who have died, but not because they are in heaven already, because they will arise out of their graves before we are taken into the air. So many pastors and teachers quote this verse out of context and miss the truth it so clearly teaches… if only they would read the whole chapter they would see the whole picture.
For reiteration of this fact lets turn to 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed“
I love the KJV and generally it is what I use but I like for this verse anyways how the God’s Word Translation says it:
It will happen in an instant, in a split second at the sound of the last trumpet. Indeed, that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will come back to life. They will be changed so that they can live forever”
Note: they will be changed SO THAT they can live forever… the Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that the gift of God is eternal life… that is immortality. We are mortal beings and when we die that is the end… our only hope is the resurrection of the dead at the last trump. And I might add that is hope enough… but until we are changed we can not live forever, not until we are given immortal bodies can we reign in heaven. And we are told in these verses that will only happen when Christ comes.
I can’t find anyway to interpret these verses other then their literal sense, that the dead sleep until Christ comes, He resurrects them, changes them by giving them new immortal bodies and then takes us all to heaven. But for those of you who are still not sure, perhaps you have been taught all your life, that the dead go straight to heaven when they die. Wanting valid proof from the Bible is a good thing, so lets look at some other verses which reiterate some of these facts we are learning.
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day”
Its almost as if Peter feels the need to reiterate the same thought, which can easily be reconciled by the studying the Pharisees who believed and taught that you went to heaven when you died.
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,”
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation”
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten”
Two things to note, first the dead know nothing, if they are either in hell or heaven they would know it right? Secondly they have no reward, Christ is clear that when they are judged they get their reward, whether they are righteous or wicked… so if they have not been rewarded or judged then they can’t be sent to either heaven or hell can they?
There are some Christians who trying to make the Biblical description work for what they believe say that when Christ comes in that resurrection day, when the dead will be raised God brings the dead back from heaven and they return for their bodies… the fallacy of this statement can be clearly seen in 1st Corinthians 15:52 we quoted above, we are all going to be changed in the twinkling of an eye AT the second resurrection… does this mean that until Christ comes back the righteous dead who went to heaven have their old bodies? That is ridiculous… the fact is friends the Bible no where teaches that the dead do anything but sleep till the resurrection of Christ.
There are a few verses that Christians use to try and explain the inconsistency between what the Bible teaches and what man teaches… they quote verses such as Luke 23:43
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise”
The problem is how most people quote it, they put the comma in the wrong place. You see, when the Bible is teaching and reiterating a fact such as the dead know nothing, that they sleep until the resurrection, they have no reward till they are judged, and that they will be raised at the second coming, when we have all these reiterations and one lone verse appearing to discredit the rest it is usually our false perception of that verse. For instance the verse above, if we put the comma after the word ‘today’ then it clearly fits into the teaching of the other verses we provided. If we put it before today then it contradicts the rest of the Bible. In the Hebrew language there are no commas so when the translators made the translation they had the misunderstanding that the dead went to paradise after death(the righteous anyways) and so they misplaced the comma. The Bible has never contradicted itself however many it his attempts to interpret the Bible sometimes does. We need to be careful that we don’t base out theology on one verse if the rest of the Bible teaches something different.
But what about the spirit of the dead? Doesn’t the Bible say the spirit returns to God?
Yes it does… lets read hat verse now. Lets turn to Ecclesiastes 12:7
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it“
You need to pay close attention to this verse… the teaching among Christians generally is that there is a paradise and a hell where the righteous and wicked go, respectively after death. But this verse does not make any delineation between wicked or righteous, it says all who die, their spirits return to God. And in the previous verses we have looked at, we have learned that not everyone goes to heaven. So I guess to solve this we need to ask the question, what is this spirit?
The original Hebrew word for spirit in this verse is ruach pronounced pretty close to how it sounds… interestingly in the original Hebrew it means wind; by resemblance breath, figuratively life. In other words this spirit is actually the life of the individual, the breath of the human, when the spirit leaves them they die. I also want you to notice the verse stating “return” twice, the dust which is our bodies returns to the earth and the spirit which is our life returns to God… none of us as of yet have been to heaven, so if this verse means the spirit goes to heaven we are returning to a place we have never been? This is in fact talking about our life that God has blessed each of us with and does not mean that we go to heaven.
If you goto James 2:26 it says “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also”
This word spirit is the Greek word pneuma but means the same thing as the word Ruach and that is breath or air. It is actually where we get the word Pneumatic or Pneumonia today.
But to wrap up this whole question of what the spirit is we need to go back to the beginning. Lets read Genesis 2:7 to get a better understanding of what this verse is talking about when it talks about the spirit or breath of a human.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”
Question! Before God breathing life into Adam, was Adam’s spirit floating around somewhere in some conscience or sub-conscience state? I would think most of us would say not, yet we believe somehow after death that our spirit floats around somewhere without our bodies…
This spirit which we now know is our breath which is in our nostrils COMBINED with the body… we all should be on the same page here. That is how we breath right? It doesn’t take a great deal of knowledge to understand that when we are not breathing we are dead. And since God has only lent us the breath we use it is only logical that when we die it returns to Him, the giver. Does that make sense?
There is something in the above verse many miss even though it is staring them right in the face… the verse says that God formed man out of the dust of the ground AND breathed into Adam’s nostrils and THEN “man became a living soul” – God did not add a living soul to Adam, the Bible doesn’t say “and then Adam had a living soul” – the Bible says that Adam BECAME a living soul. This is VERY significant because it is the unite, the body AND the breath that creates the soul. When we die the body is separated from the breath, neither one exists without the other… the body rots away and the breath returns to heaven from whence it came. I can’t overstress the importance of this fact, we are only living conscious beings when the body is united with the living breath of God… separated we are in a state called death where we know nothing.
Paul say in Romans that the gift of God is eternal life? That is the same thing as immortality, we are mortal beings, when we die our thoughts cease, our breath and life returns to God cause HE is the one who gave it, it does not mean there are thousands of floating spirits without bodies in heaven waiting for the resurrection when they can return to earth, grab their old bodies and then have them changed into new… truthfully does that make any sense? Not to me it doesn’t… I hope we are all on the same page on the spirit of a body now, I think that Genesis has made it quite clear that the spirit = body + breath = life. So body – breath = death. If you want more verses supporting this just email me.
But I want to reiterate this fact one last time so there is no doubt in your mind… lets turn to Psalm 104:29
29) Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust
If you look at the original Hebrew the word breath in this text is the same exact word used in Ecclesiastes which was interpreted there as spirit. It is the word Ruach which again means breath… in the Bible they are interchangeable because the translators used both spirit and breath at different times but it was always the same Hebrew word. So the only reason there is controversy is because the original translators didn’t know how to translate the word in different situations.
Let me try and use an allegory I heard another preacher use, lets assume there are nails and a board… we have two items. Now lets say we take a hammer and nail the nails into the boards creating a box… we now have 1 item. Now if we were to pull those nails out what will have happened to the box? It ceased to exist because like the living spirit it requires two things together to be… the box required the nails and boards together just like the living spirit requires the breath of God and the human body to become living. I am sorry if I am reiterating this so much, I guess I am afraid your like me, you have been told something all your life or have believed something and it is hard to wrap your mind around something new… and when we get set in our ways sometimes we have to have someone hammer something home before we say “ahh I get it… that makes sense” – but if it is the truth we must accept it even if it goes against everything we believe or perhaps want to believe.
I will give you two more verses to look up for yourself for further study of this… Revelation 16:3 talks about the living soul dieing, this makes it clear that the living soul is the unity of breath and body which is the mortal body… nothing more.
Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20 states that all have the same breath… animals and man alike. That man has no preeminence over beast when he dies… that is to say if man’s “spirit” floats around somewhere then the animals spirits must as well… what this verse is really saying is that once we die whether it is a man or beast we turn to dirt, our life leaves us and we cease to be a living soul until Christ returns… this is the only concept which is inline with the rest of the Bible and because of that we must accept it…
When are the just rewarded?
Okay so we don’t goto heaven/paradise or hell when we die… then when are we rewarded for our works? Lets turn to Luke 14:14 and see what Jesus said:
And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed AT the resurrection of the just
As far as I am concerned one verse of Jesus stating that the just are rewarded at the resurrection of the earth is enough but the Bible has many such verses reiterating this fact such as Matthew 16:27. The great thing about the Bible is that when God presents a truth He has it reiterated across the Bible so that we can see it clearly. We don’t have to guess about anything.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works
Revelation 22:12 carries this same thought:
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works shall be”
Paul has perhaps a more enlightening writing on this… lets read it in 1st Corinthians 15:53
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“
Isn’t this verse the verse right before it(1 Corinthians 15:52) that we looked at earlier? We CANNOT go to heaven until we are changed from corruptible, mortal beings to incorruptible immortal beings… when does this happen, at death? Fortunately this is covered in the previous verse… you will recognize it.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed“
Doesn’t everything fit together like a puzzle? Its interesting when Christians learn this truth, they are like “how could I of never seen that before?” – don’t feel bad, many of us have come to that position in our lives and it doesn’t matter. The Bible says God winks at ignorance, it is only when we know the truth and we don’t accept it that we are in trouble.
We do not become immortal at death, we become immortal beings at the second resurrection. Every single verse we have looked at reiterates this fact… the reward is given at the second coming, not at death.
But when are the wicked rewarded?
2nd Peter 2:9 sheds some light on this as well:
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
Ahh so the wicked are reserved or kept till the day of judgement… if you think about it this is only fair. We just learned that the righteous remain in their graves and are only rewarded when Christ comes… the dead will also remain in the grave until Christ’s coming. How do we know this for sure? Do you remember John 5:29 we quoted earlier? Here it is again:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation”
Do you see it now? The good are resurrected to life, they are given immortality, the wicked however are resurrected to condemnation. Neither group however has been out of the grave since they died… this point should be clear in your mind by now… okay think about this for a minute. The day of judgement is when Christ comes right? That is shown in the above verses, would it be fair for God to punish the wicked in hell or honor the righteous in heaven before their trial? It stands to reason that they would be judged before their reward is given… does it not?
Do you remember the story of Lazarus the friend of Jesus? And how Mary and Martha sent and asked that Jesus would come heal him? Okay, now we probably all know Lazarus died before Christ came, which we learn at the end of the story was Christ’s purpose all along. You can read the story in John 11… you will notice in this story Jesus refers to death as a sleep… we can see this term used in other parts of the new testament in reference to death such as Daniel 12:2 in reference to the resurrection. So there is no confusion on what state Lazarus was in, he was dead… to prove this Christ waited for 3 days to come and resurrect Lazarus, because according to the Jews up until 3 days after death there was still a chance that the person could return to life, in other words had Christ raised Lazarus from the dead prior to three days passing the people would have claimed he was never dead. But after the 3rd day they would be convinced there was no hope… Christ did not want anyone to say that Lazarus was not dead, He wanted all the glory for the resurrection of Lazarus.
What is significant, at least in my mind, is that in John 11:43 Christ says “Lazarus come forth” – He didn’t say “Lazarus come down” – wouldn’t it be awful if Lazarus had went to heaven, he is walking on the sea of glass and talking to Moses and just enjoying the majestic splendor of all heaven has to offer… and he hears this faint call from the earth “Lazarus come down here” – no it can’t be, God can’t be calling me back to that dark dismal planet called earth where sin still exists.
Yes, I know I am being a little facetious but I am attempting to make a point here. We have books today which sell millions of copies, books which tell of the author’s claimed experiences after death. Interesting to note, most of these books see the authors going to heaven, how many write about their experience in hell?
But anyways, my point is this, we see all these authors presenting their experience yet we find no mention in the Bible of Lazarus’s experience after death. Had Lazarus went to heaven, hell or some other place would he not have told his story? The Bible is silent on this point cause Lazarus was dead the whole time, he didn’t go anywhere, hence there is no reason for a story, for he had none.
This was a difficult subject to write an article on, first of all there is so much controversy on where the dead go after death. Then there is so many questions to answer and yet you want an article to be relatively short so as not to lose the attention of your reader. Thankfully you are still reading… I hope if nothing else this article has drawn you to study the Bible more clearly for yourself. If you are still unsure about this subject we encourage you to email us, we are ready and willing to sit down and study with you personally via email. We want the same thing you do, the Biblical truth on these subjects.
You can email me at randy[at]ebibleanswers[dot]com with any questions you might have. God Bless!
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Saturday, February 7th, 2009 at 8:40 pm and is filed under Death, General Bible Questions, Heaven, Hell, Second Coming/Resurrection. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.