There is a certain mystery surrounding death, it is intriguing yet intimidating. We all have this natural instinct to not want to die, but no one escapes it. But what then? Do you reincarnate as an animal, do you immediately go to heaven and look down on your loved ones or do you simply cease to exist? What does the Bible have to say about this important topic?
You shall (not) surely die
The root of the mystery about the topic of death traces all the way back to the first few pages of Scripture. Not long after God created Adam and Eve, we find that Satan is the cause of all the confusion.
According to God, there is a way in which man can and ‘shall surely die’. Satan opposed the word of God and said that man ‘shall not surely die’. The difference between these two statements is only one word: ’not’. That man cannot die, and therefore has immortality, was the first lie in human history. Sadly, many religions –including most of Christianity- still teach this ancient lie of the immortality of the soul in various forms and so go directly against God’s word.
The breath of life
To understand what happens at the end of our lives, it is good to look at how it all started. When God finished forming Adam on the sixth day, Adam was not yet alive. He became a living soul when God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. The verse does not say that Adam got a living soul, but he became one. What this tells us is that there are two necessities for man to be a living soul: a body made by God and the breath of life from God.
Think about holding a wooden box. You decide to take it apart and you pile up the wood on one side and collect the nails on the other side. You still have all the materials, but where is the box? It’s gone. Likewise, this verse tells us that the soul came into being by the combination of the other two elements. We do not have a soul, but we are a soul.
The first part of this verse is clear. Not many people debate the fact that people decompose and become dust again. However, it is the second part of the verse that starts the confusion and that we need to dig a little deeper in to.
Some read that verse and think the body returns to the earth, but that the soul of the person directly goes to God. That would be a fair interpretation if it wasn’t for the word ’return’. For something to be able to return, it first must have been there. This would mean that the soul would have come from heaven to inhabit the body and then returns to heaven again. Now, this would start an endless list of issues that would arise since the previous verse from Genesis has told us that man became a living soul on the earth where he was created, not in heaven. This interpretation does not make sense.
The word ‘spirit’ in this verse comes from the Hebrew root-word ‘ruach’ (7307.). Many other verses (for example Genesis 6:17, Job 27:3) use the same word, and there it means breath of life. This verse talks about the same two things that formed the soul. The body and the breath of life that make up the soul, both return to where it came from. What does this mean practically?
When we die, the creation in Genesis happens in reverse; the breath of life goes back to God and the body returns to the dust. Our thoughts perish, our memory stops working, and we don´t know anything anymore. When Lazarus had died, and Jesus told His disciples about it, He told them that Lazarus was asleep (John 11:11). The disciples did not understand that Jesus talked about his death, for they thought He was talking about a regular sleep (John 11:12-14). Jesus compared death with a sleep, just like for example Isaiah did (Isaiah 26:19). This is the basic idea of death, it is a sleep. You do not know anything until you’re woken out of your sleep.
The waking-up call
Jesus tells us that the people will still be in the graves when He resurrects them. They won’t already be in heaven or hell but in the grave. Then everybody will be resurrected to either the resurrection of life and receive eternal life, or the resurrection of condemnation where you will go to hell and be destroyed (not suffer forever). These are the only two options according to the Bible.
Wait for it
These Bible texts plainly confirm that you do not immediately go to heaven or hell when you die. The fact that the dead in Christ shall rise when Jesus comes, tells us that they have not risen yet. It is important to notice here that the two groups, the dead in Christ (those who believed in and followed Jesus) and those who are alive and remain (those believing and following Jesus), are meeting the Lord together. One does not meet the Lord before the other.
The verses in Job could not tell us more clearly that those who have gone to the grave ‘shall come up no more’, ‘we will not be raised out of our sleep until the heavens are no more’, which we know is when Jesus comes (2 Peter 3:10). Paul too leaves no space for doubt in his letter to the Corinthian church, where he says that ‘Christ was the first one to overcome death, and the rest will overcome at His coming’. When we read about the conversation between Jesus and Martha we get this confirmed again, ‘at the last day’. To emphasize this point, even more, let’s look at the example of King David.
This example from Peter in itself should remove all confusion about what happens after death. David, the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), did not ascend to heaven. Why not? Because he is dead and buried. He is asleep, waiting for Jesus to return and resurrect him.
Hell in heaven
Please allow us to wander off for a little bit and reflect on the scenario of ‘immediately going to heaven when you die’. Heaven is perfect, there are no tears or sorrows, no pain or suffering, right? It’s a super-happy place. But then just imagine for a second, how do you think that those who ‘have died and gone to heaven and look down on us’, would feel seeing you and humanity make so many bad, harmful and destructive choices? All the wars, bloodshed, betrayal, lies and all kinds of ungodly things. Seeing their children, relatives, and friends going through all kinds of hardships and anguish. Does that sound like an enjoyable heaven to you? Looking down on us and seeing all that here would be awful! Heaven would not be heaven, heaven would be hell for those being there!
Isaiah tells us it is a blessing for those who walk upright to die because they would escape all the evil. How would that be a blessing, how would that person have peace, if now they would be in heaven yet still see all the evil? We can be glad to know that the dead are not in heaven experiencing hell, but that they are dead and like the KJV translation tells us “rest in their beds”.
Two quick bonus-thoughts
If you would die now, go to heaven and somehow would come back to earth, what would be one of the first things you would do? You would tell people what you saw! Yet of the twelve resurrections that are recorded in the Bible, none of them has said anything about what they experienced. Why? Simply because they did not know anything while they were dead.
Think about Jesus’ friend Lazarus. He was sick and died. Imagine then that he, being a friend of Jesus, would have gone to heaven immediately. Then why in the world would Jesus take him away from the heavenly paradise and put him back in his deteriorated body on earth only to die later again? His resurrection would not be an act of love, but it would be mean toward Lazarus.
The hope for the future
What a glorious moment it will be when Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven to take His people home. Those who belong to Him will be changed and the dead in Christ will be raised. This is the hope that we have in Jesus. Except for those who will be alive when Jesus comes, we will all die. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life, so those belonging to Him do not need to die again.
The second death, which comes as a result of sin (Romans 6:23), is not to be experienced by those who put their faith in Jesus. We know that Jesus talks about the second death here because in the first part of the verses He tells us that one can die (first death), but despite having experienced the first death, after the resurrection, that person will never die again but have eternal life! Then we will put on immortality.
The call to respond
Throughout the years there have been many people claiming to have been in heaven. Mostly during near-death-experiences and tell the world what they have seen. Others claim to be able to speak with the spirits of the dead, famous people or even relatives. Yet the command of God is straightforward.
The dead are asleep, they do not know anything, they are waiting until Jesus resurrects them at the last day. All the information that is claimed to come from the other side by contact with the dead does not come from God, but from Satan. No matter how accurate the information is, even if it is “something only you and that person knew”. Do not think that Satan is ignorant, he knows stuff too. He can even pretend to be an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Do not be deceived but stay far away from these teachings. Remember, no matter how comforting it sounds with the teaching of the immortality of the soul, no matter how many people believe it, it is nothing more than the same ancient lie that led to humanity’s fall.
Friends, we want to meet Jesus in the clouds together with you. No matter what you have done in your life, Jesus extends His invitation for forgiveness and eternal life to you today. We have all sinned, we have all rebelled against God and the natural consequences of sin is death. But God loves you so much, that He Himself offers you to take your place. You do not need to experience the second death. Turn from your sinful ways, embrace Jesus as your Lord and Savior and share in the first resurrection and in the eternal life in Jesus. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you, read: Why Jesus Is God’s Plan To Save You.