Appendix 4. The Dead are Dead

The Bible teaches that when a person dies, he is totally without life, dead in every way and will not be alive until he is raised from the dead at the Rapture or a resurrection. This is a huge topic, and many books have been written about it. This appendix is only to cover some of the basic points and help explain some New Testament Scriptures that are germane to the subject. The Bible teaches that when a person dies he is dead in every way: he has no life on earth, or in heaven, or in Gehenna (which is often wrongly referred to as “Hell”). At some point in the future, God will raise the dead; each person will be raised either at the Rapture or one of the resurrections, depending on when they lived and whether or not they were saved, and a person’s judgment before God will occur at that time.

Scriptures about death and resurrection. Many verses of Scripture show that the dead are not alive now, but dead in the grave awaiting the resurrection. A selection of them are below:

Job 7:21 (ESV): Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” [Job clearly did not think he would be with God after he died].

Job 10:20-22 (ESV): 20Are not my days few? Then cease and leave me alone so that I may find a little cheer 21before I go—and I shall not return—to the land of darkness and deep shadow, 22the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”

Job 14:12 (ESV): so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. [The resurrection will not occur until this Age is over and there is a new heaven and earth, cp. Isa. 65:17].

Psalm 6:5 (ESV): For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? [The dead are truly dead, so they do not remember or praise God. “Sheol” is the Hebrew word for the state of being dead; thus, the dead are “in Sheol”].

Psalm 30:9 (ESV): “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? [The “pit” was an idiom for the grave and death].

Psalm 49:12 Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. [When it comes to living and dying, people are like animals—we age and die. Unlike animals, people will be resurrected and judged].

Psalm 49:15 (ESV): But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. [This verse shows that when a person dies, his “soul” is in Sheol, the state of being dead.”

Psalm 88:11, 12 (ESV): Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

Psalm 115:17 (ESV): The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 (ESV): 4But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. [The dead “know nothing” because they are truly dead in every sense of the word].

Ecclesiastes 9:10 (ESV): Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Isaiah 26:19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. [“You who dwell in the dust” is correct. The dead are now “dust” and awaiting the resurrection].

Isaiah 38:18 (ESV): For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. [Only the living have hope. The dead are dead and cannot hope].

Ezekiel 37:12 (ESV): Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. [“People,” not bodies, get up from the dead].

Daniel 12:2 (ESV): And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [It is not just people’s bodies that are in the dust, the people are in the dust of the earth].

Daniel 12:13 (ESV): But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” [Daniel would die and have no consciousness until his resurrection, at which time he would receive his reward].

John 5:28, 29 (ESV):28Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Death is the absence of life

The death referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:26 is death, the absence of life, not just the death of the body. In the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would “die” (Gen. 2:17). God said “die,” not “live forever in a good place (“heaven”) or a bad place” (i.e., “hell”). When people die, they are “dead,” and by definition, death is the absence of life. When it comes to things that we cannot know, such as what happens when a person dies, we must trust that God has given us the answers in His Word.

Some people say that “death” means “separation,” but that is not biblically correct. First, it is wrong to assert that the words for “death” in Hebrew or Greek just refer to separation. They refer to death. Of course there is an aspect of separation to death because when a person “dies,” he is indeed “separated” from God and everything else. But he is not alive and yet somehow separated, he is dead and therefore separated. The Bible uses the same Hebrew and Greek words for the “death” of humans as for the death of animals and plants. There is no special word for the “death” of people that means “separation,” and therefore no actual basis for saying that the word “death” means “separation” when referring to a person but actual “death” when referring to an animal. There is a reason God uses the same words for the death of a human and the death of animals—death is the same for all of them (Ps. 49:12; Ecc. 3:18-21), and “death” is the total absence of life.

In the Garden of Eden, the Devil contradicted God. God told Adam that if he ate of the tree he would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17), but the Devil said that he would “not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). That same basic lie about death has continued down through the ages and still today is a very common belief that people do not really die. Today many people believe that when a person “dies,” only his body dies but his soul or spirit lives on. If we take the time to study the idea that people live on after they die, we can see why the Devil and demons promulgate it and contradict God’s Word. One reason the Devil promotes the teaching that a person does not really “die” (lose all life) is that it waters down the value of living. If we are actually alive but just in another form after we “die,” then dying is not that bad after all. But death is that bad! There is nothing more precious than life, and the Devil knows that and wants us to treat this life lightly and give it up cheaply. The Bible says death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). It is hard to see how death could be an enemy if it sent us to a better place and put us with God, Jesus, and those who have gone before us.

Another reason the Devil promotes that people are actually alive as a soul or spirit after they die is that if they are alive they can speak to us. The Devil and his demons do a very good job of impersonating dead people in séances, and use that and similar strategies to feed untrue and even harmful information to people. There are a lot of people who knowingly or unknowingly disobey God’s command in Deuteronomy 18:11 and try to contact the dead even though it is an abomination to God. Since dead people are dead, it is only demons impersonating the dead that ever answer those who are seeking advice from dead friends or relatives. In fact, even if the dead were alive, they would never contact the living in disobedience to God’s command.

One way the Devil has been successful fooling people into believing the dead are actually alive is by promoting the belief in an “immortal soul.” According to the teaching on the “immortal soul,” the soul of a person is immortal and lives on after the person dies. The soul is not immortal, and the phrase “immortal soul” does not appear in the Bible. The Bible is very clear that the soul can die and be destroyed (Matt. 10:28).

The Bible has many verses that show that when a person dies he is dead in every sense of the word. Living people can think, but dead people “know nothing” (Ecc. 9:5; Ps. 146:4). In fact “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished” (Ecc. 9:6). Thus, death is referred to as “the land of oblivion” (Ps. 88:12; cp. HCSB). Living people have hope, while dead people know nothing and have no hope. That is why the Bible says “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecc. 9:4). In fact, in death, “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecc. 9:10; cp. Ps. 6:5). There is no profit in the death of a believer because when a believer dies, they are no longer able to praise God or testify about Him (Psalm 30:9; 88:10; 115:17; Isa. 38:18). The dead person has no consciousness and the body decays and disappears, so Job correctly said that when he died, “I shall lie in the earth; you [God] will seek me, but I shall not be” (Job 7:21). People die just as animals do (Ps. 49:12-14), but God promises that people will be raised from the dead. In fact, the very reason they must be raised from the dead is because they are dead, not alive. If they were alive, why have a resurrection?

Death is like “sleep”

Falling asleep or being asleep was a common biblical euphemism and metaphor for death. The Bible compares death to sleep many times, because just like in sleep, the dead person is not aware of the passage of time or what is happening around him. Also, just like sleep has a time when the person wakes up, dead people will be awakened at the resurrection and face their Judgment Day (cp. Job. 14:12; Ps. 13:3; John 11:11-14; Acts 13:36).

Death is so horrible that we can understand why people use the euphemism and say “asleep” rather than “dead.” Although death is called “sleep,” the metaphor, like all metaphors, is imperfect. There are similarities, which is why “sleep” is used for death, but there are also big differences. We will examine the similarities first.

Now that we have seen the similarities between sleep and death that were the reason death was called “sleep,” we must keep in mind that the metaphor is not totally accurate: death is not sleep. In sleep, the person’s bodily functions continue, and he will wake up on his own when his body is rested. In death, the body, soul, and spirit are all dead. The person cannot wake up on his own but must await the resurrection power of God.

Sometimes people use the phrase “soul sleep.” That was a term that was popularized by John Calvin (1509-1564 ), who used it in a pejorative way, criticizing the belief. Calvin believed that the soul lived on after a person died. Due to the pejorative nature of the term “soul sleep,” people who believed the soul ceased to exist when the body died generally referred to their belief in other ways, including “materialism,” “conditional immortality,” and since the 1970’s, “Christian mortalism.” Some of the “greats” of Christianity believed the soul did not live on after a person died, including William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and Martin Luther.

Why a resurrection?

If people are really dead, as the Bible says, then the way to get them up from the dead is a resurrection. That is why 1 Corinthians 15:18 says that if there is no resurrection, the people have “perished.” Note that the Bible does not say that if there is no resurrection the person’s “body” has perished. No, it says the person has “perished.” Why? Because the person would stay dead forever. Many verses in the Bible speak of the resurrections, when all the dead people will be given life again and raised from the ground. Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the earth giving birth to her dead. Daniel 12:1-2 speak of the dead people who are now sleeping in the dust of the earth awakening to the judgment. Revelation 20:5-6 speak of the first resurrection, and those who did not get to be in it. There is not one single verse about the resurrection that says “bodies” will get up, or “bodies” will join with “souls,” as if the souls were still alive. All the verses speak of “people” getting up. All through the Bible, dead people are said to be dead, not alive, and that is why they will have to be in the resurrection.

When people die, the actual people, not merely their bodies, die. Similarly, at the resurrection, the actual people, not just the person’s physical body, comes to life. Psalm 49:15 says that God will redeem people, not just bodies, from the grave. Jesus taught that the people in the grave would hear his voice and get up (John 5:28, 29). It is “people,” not just “bodies,” who are given life and raised up out of the graves (Ezek. 37:9-14).

Why people think the dead are alive – ghosts and apparitions

One of the reasons many Christians do not believe that the dead are actually dead is that sometimes “dead people” appear to people. We call these encounters “apparitions” or “ghosts,” and while it might be possible for God to make a dead person appear, of for a voice to be heard, this seems very unlikely because God was the One who forbade us to speak to the dead (Deut. 18:10-13).

However, demons can and do impersonate the dead to further the Devil’s teaching that dead people are actually alive. Demons can affect the environment and cause noise or movement, cold or hot spots, or “hauntings,” and in basically the same way they can cause “ghosts” of different clarity to appear, including impersonations of dead people. Examples of this in the Bible include Job 4:15 and 1 Samuel 28:13-19 (what appeared to the medium at Endor was not Samuel, but a demon. It cannot be that a medium can make a godly man come from the dead and speak to the living in disobedience to God. The demon is called “Samuel” because it impersonated him so well).

So many people have seen ghosts or apparitions that a 2009 Pew Research Center survey showed that 18% of Americans claim to have seen a ghost, and a 2013 Harris pole showed that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, and in many countries of the world these figures would be much higher. Although some sightings are not legitimate, many are by people who are credible witnesses who had no reason or desire to see a ghost. Demons do have an agenda to make people believe that death is not really death, so they appear to people as ghosts or apparitions, or they make things happen that cause people to believe dead people are alive. It is often those ghosts or spiritual occurrences that are a major reason many people believe the humans live on in some way after they die.

Why people think the dead are alive – near death experiences

Another reason people believe that the soul or spirit goes on living after a person dies is because of what is referred to as “near death” experiences. In these experiences, people who have clinically “died,” or been close to death, have seen what they report as the afterlife. There are a number of explanations why this could happen, and near-death visions can come from God, demons, or our own minds.

God can and does raise the dead, and although there is no record of a “near death” experience in the Bible, it is possible that a person would die and God both raise him from the dead and give him a vision of part of our glorious future life. God has given people visions of the life to come. Abraham, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John, are some of the people who were given extraordinary information or visions about the future life. Thus it is quite possible that some of the people who have had “near death experiences” have had God-given visions of the next life to help them and others overcome their fear of dying and encourage them concerning the Hope. The mistake these people make is that they assume they would go to this future place right away. But the vision of God never promises that. The vision John had of the future that he wrote in the book of Revelation seemed very real to him, and we can imagine that someone seeing that might think that if he died he would be part of it right at that time, but it has been almost 2000 years and it has not happened yet.

Another reason people could have “near death” experiences is due to demonic visions. Demons can give people hallucinations and visions, and it makes perfect sense that they would do that as part of their overall agenda to promote that people are not actually dead when they die. Also, part of the Devil’s agenda is to make God seem cruel and thus cause people to misunderstand God, or be afraid of Him, or even ignore the things of God altogether. Some of the more terrifying visions of “hell” that some people claim to have had clearly contradict the loving nature of God, and the Bible only describes Gehenna as a lake of fire into which the unsaved are thrown and then burn up, not as a multi-level torture chamber.

Still another reason some people have “near death” experiences is simply due to how the mind works. We are all familiar with the “dream-like” state that can occur to a person just before he falls asleep or just when he is waking up, at which time the mind can blend thoughts and dreams, and thought-images can seem very real and yet not be. Most people have ideas about the next life that have been implanted in their minds from their culture or religion, and it is reasonable that many times these would surface if the body was close to death or the mind thought death was imminent. We have instruments that can measure the activity of life in a person, the electricity the body produces, brain wave activity, etc., but no scientist would say that our instruments are sensitive enough to pick up the exact moment of death—they are not that sensitive. So a third cause of “near death” experiences is simply the mind imagining those things at a time when it is not fully capable of separating fact from fiction, imagination from reality.

It is also important to note that not one person in the Bible who was raised from the dead said anything about the afterlife. This includes people who had been dead for hours or days such as the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:35), the man from Nain (Luke 7:15), the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:42), and Lazarus, who had been dead four days (John 11:39, 44). If they experienced anything good or bad after they died, surely they would have talked about it. The fact that they did not, and no one even asked them, is good biblical evidence that nothing happens in death—no thoughts or experiences—there is just the absence of life (Ecc. 9:10).

Trust the Bible

The Bible is full of examples of people, like Eve, who trusted what they thought and felt more than God’s Word, with disastrous results. God has made it clear in His Word that when a human dies, he is dead. We dare not abandon the clear teaching of Scripture because of what we see in the physical world, especially when the Devil has such a clear agenda to undermine it. There are godly explanations for what we see, including near-death experiences.

There are verses in the New Testament that are important to the study of the state of the dead that are not covered in this appendix. For more information, look those verses up in the body of the commentary.

[For more information on necromancy, communicating with the dead, see commentary on Deut. 18:11. For more on a person’s death being really death and not just partial death, see commentary on 1 Cor. 15:20. For information on Jesus’ not having to be God to die for the sins of mankind, see commentary on Matt. 27:50. For information about the translations “Hell” and “Hades,” see commentary on Acts 2:27. For information on people being annihilated in the Lake of Fire (“hell”) and not burning forever, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.” For more information on the dead being dead and not alive in any form see, Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, Is There Death After Life, and for more books supporting that position, see its bibliography].

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