By Steve Wohlberg - http://www.thetruthaboutdeath.org/
Can We Talk to the Dead?
“They See Dead People!” was the eerie title of a haunting article in the November 7, 2005 issue of People magazine. “What is it with the dearly departed?” wrote an unnamed author, “Seems they’re everywhere lately. Ghosts, ghouls and spirits are invading prime time (Medium, Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural) and buying second yachts for pop psychics like John Edward” .
Indeed. The idea of ‘talking to the dead’ has gone mainstream. So what is the truth about death? As reported by People, Hollywood has recently produced multiple TV series centered around the fascinating possibility of contacting or being influenced by those on the ‘other side.’
NBC’s Medium is a prime example about a woman who helps law officers solve crimes through supernatural assistance from the ‘disembodied.’ Released in January of 2005, Medium continues to garner rave reviews. In the spring of 2005, NBC aired Revelations, a supposedly biblical apocalyptic thriller with a storyline that included the spirit of a dead girl mouthing messages through the placid lips of another comatose girl about the ‘End of Days.’ Not to be outdone by competition, CBS recently premiered Ghost Whisperer about Melinda Gordon, a woman able to “see and talk to dead people” .
Not only is Hollywood fictitiously bringing the dead to life, but also real-life mediums like John Edward, James Van Praagh, and Carla Mae are raking in non-fiction dollars by connecting with real spirits on TV. James Van Praagh is Co-Executive Producer of Ghost Whisperer. The CBS website promoting the new show contains a section called “The Spirit World According to James Van Praagh” which even shows pictures of “spooky visitors” right on the set .
Then there’s White Noise, a scary movie about a dead woman making contact with her grieving husband through “Electronic Voice Phenomenon” (EVP). EVP is the idea that the spirits of the dead can talk to the living by speaking directly through the ‘white noise’ or static of common electronic recording devices. Their words can be recorded and then played back. That’s what the movie describes. The most frightening thing is not the film, but the practice itself, which is actually promoted on the official White Noise web site as something people can really do . There’s even an “American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomenon” now offering resources, support and conferences .
There has never been such promotion of ‘talking to the dead’ in all of history. Of course, the idea and practice has always been around, but it has usually been relegated to séances, Ouija boards, and isolated instances. Now Hollywood is behind it and books written by practicing mediums have become New York Times bestsellers.
Losing a loved one is incredibly painful, and it’s natural to wish they were still here. It’s perfectly normal to long to hear their voice and feel their touch. But is trying to contact them advisable? Is this the best way to receive comfort? Make no mistake about it: real spirits do inhabit our atmosphere, and they often do claim to be the spirits of the dead. But are they really? Our family used to have a housekeeper named Mary who told us point blank that after her husband died his spirit visited her. “I saw him myself,” Mary reported. “His spirit walked right through the screen door into my bedroom and talked to me!” Was it really her husband? How can we know? Just because a spirit looks, talks, and acts like a dead person, is this proof it is really that person?
Personally, I believe the Bible. Paul wrote, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This means that no matter what our sight, senses, or feelings may tell us, we should trust God and His Word first and foremost. This is the true Christian position. So what about talking to the dead? Does the Bible say anything about it? Get ready for a shock: The Bible categorically forbids all communication with the spirits of dead people.
In Deuteronomy 18:9-12, God lists various occult practices that His people should avoid like the bird flu. “When you come into the land,” God commanded, “you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations.” What abominations? Note carefully: “There shall not be found among you anyone… who conjures spells or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord” (verses 10 and 11, NKJV, italics added). Again God warned, “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31, NKJV, italics added).
These verses are clear. God forbids any involvement with “mediums” or “spiritists,” and He specifically forbids trying to contact the dead. NBC, CBS, James Van Praagh, John Edward, Carla Mae, the producers of White Noise, and countless others may promote it, but God plainly says, don’t do it!
Why not? Is God trying to prevent us from finding comfort, or receiving real guidance from deceased loved ones or the truth about death? No. His reason is simple. Mysterious non-physical entities may look like, talk like, and act like the dead, but according to a careful study of the Book of books – they are not the dead. Who are they then?
Revelation lifts the veil by declaring, “For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14, KJV, italics added). Here the Bible warns that the tricky activity of “spirits of devils” will ‘go global’ right before the Day of the Lord.
This is happening right now.
God loves us and wants to protect us.
He wants us to avoid having “fellowship with devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20, KJV).
As noted earlier, Hollywood has recently released numerous movies and TV series featuring the living talking to the dead. Medium, Ghost Whisperer, White Noise, Sixth Sense, Supernatural, Revelations, and of course, Harry Potter, all depict communication with disembodied entities.
Just a few days ago, as I sat on a United Flight from Chicago to L.A.X., a friendly looking commercial popped onto a large screen. An attractive blond woman stood cooking in the kitchen. These words appeared: “ 6:30 am, prepare breakfast for the family.” The scene changed, and then came “ 7:30 am, send the kids off to school.” After another scene change, then: “ 9:30 am, clean the house.” Finally, “ 11:00 am, talk to the dead.” Then came the promotion for viewers to watch “Medium, 9:00-10:00 pm CT on NBC.” It all looked so homey, yet the Bible plainly says that that being a “medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead” is “an abomination to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:11, 12, NKJV, italics added). This is serious stuff.
God doesn’t use such forceful language because He hates us. Not at all. He even cares about mediums and spiritists. The reason He speaks so strongly is because He loves us enough to warn us against practices which open doors to demons and fallen angels who can easily impersonate the dead. This will become clearer as we go along.
The only way to understand the truth about death, the dead, and the perils of trying to communicate with ghosts is to go back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis. The Bible’s first chapter clearly says that God made the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. On day six, the Lord “created man in his own image… male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). In the midst of a beautiful garden, the Lord placed two special trees called “the tree of life” and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). These trees were designed to give Adam and Eve a choice, either to follow their Maker or a rebel angel who had previously been kicked out of heaven (see Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9). Notice carefully:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17, italics added).
Here God warned Adam and Eve that if they sinned against Him by eating the forbidden fruit, they would surely die. No ifs, ands, or buts. This was the first warning God ever gave to the human family. And He meant it.
In Chapter 3, the drama begins. A mysterious serpent entered Eden and began slithering around inside the forbidden branches. Behind its beady eyes lurked an invisible, sinister force. A dialogue ensued between the snake and Eve. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘you shall not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4, italics added). This was Satan’s first lie to humanity. It was a deception about death. God said that if Adam and Eve sinned, they would “surely die;” but the serpent said, “you shall not surely die.” Now two voices rattled around inside Eve’s pretty head. Which voice would she believe, that of God or the snake? Sadly, she believed the slithering reptile, tasted the forbidden fruit, and then gave some to her husband, and he ate (see Genesis 3:6).
After their sin, the Lord said to Adam, “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19, italics added). Thus man came from the dust, and now he was destined to return to the dust. Now notice carefully:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”-- therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24).
Don’t miss the significance of this passage. According to the text, eating from “the tree of life” would cause Adam and Eve to “live forever.” But now they were sinners. If they ate from the tree of life as sinners they would live forever as sinners, which would mean that sin itself would go on forever. God definitely didn’t want this. So He placed sentinel angels with fiery swords “which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Did Adam and Eve, in their fallen state, ever eat from the tree of life? Obviously not. Thus fallen human beings do not naturally live forever. Instead, they die and return to the dust, just like God said.
This next verse reveals the simple truth: “So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died” (Genesis 5:5). God was right; Satan was wrong. Sin results in death. Adam and Eve sinned, and they died. So do we. At the end of life, we disintegrate into dirt.
Now don’t miss this point: The notion that we can somehow communicate with dead people today is based on the prior assumption that the dead aren’t dead after all, that they are really alive somewhere ‘beyond the veil.’ Based on Genesis 3:4, whose slick voice first promoted that idea? It was the voice of the serpent. Look again: “The serpent said to the woman, ‘you will not surely die.’” This was the devil’s line.
In the next part we will examine more closely what the Bible says about man’s condition at death. Then we will discover exactly who and what our hope is.
Okay, I’ll tell you now. It’s Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
What Happens When We Die?
Are you ready for the truth about death? We have seen that the Bible forbids all attempts to communicate with the dead (see Deuteronomy 18:11). There are two reasons: 1) Demons can easily impersonate those who have died, thereby tricking the living into communicating with them; and 2) It is impossible for the dead to talk with the living anyway. I hope to prove this below.
Honestly, I have wrestled over the contents of this article. After prayer and thought, I have decided to present my views, based on the Bible, even though some may disagree. I urge you to read each Scripture presented, and then come to your own conclusions. David prayed, “Open my eyes” (Psalms 119:18). May this be our prayer.
Based on years of research, I have concluded that there are essentially two different views about the nature of man that affect one’s beliefs about what happens after death.
The Immortal Soul view
The Non-Immortal Soul view
The Immortal Soul view is believed by most of the world’s religions. The idea is that every human body houses an immortal soul that continues after death. When we die, only our body disintegrates back to dust, but the soul goes on, much like a snake shedding its skin. Of course different religions disagree with each other about where souls go after death, but the basic idea of the soul surviving physical decease is shared by most in our society. And like it or not, the Immortal Soul doctrine is the basis of the belief that we can talk to the dead. The reason is simple: the dead supposedly aren’t really dead.
The Non-Immortal Soul view is different and contends that – biblically speaking – the word “soul” applies to the entire person. When God first created Adam in Paradise, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Thus man doesn’t have a separate soul, but rather he is a soul (see also Joshua 10:35, 37, 39; Lev. 23:30; Acts 27:37, KJV). After man sinned, his entire person, or soul, became mortal, or subject to death. When a sinner dies, he or she returns to the dust, and “the breath of life” returns to God. This “breath” is not a conscious entity, but is the spark of life that exists in everything alive. At death, the sinner is truly dead – unconscious, asleep, waiting for the resurrection. This view is sometimes called “soul sleep.”
Which view is right? What does the Bible really say? For the moment I am going to build a case for the non-immortality of the soul. Later on in this article on the truth about death I will examine the passages about being “absent from the body” (2 Corinthians 5:8), the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), the appearance of Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:3), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23) and the martyred souls under the altar (Rev. 6:9-11). These verses are often quoted to support the Immortal Soul teaching. Do they really? We hope to find out. After this, we will closely examine another big topic – the doctrine of Hell.
First, let’s see what the Bible says about “immortality.” As we discovered earlier in this article on the truth about death, after Adam and Eve sinned they were barred from the tree of life, lest they should “eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22 -24). The message here is that sinners do not naturally “live forever.” Paul wrote that we “seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Romans 2:7) and that Christians will “put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54) on Resurrection Day. Presently, God “only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach” (1 Timothy 6:16). To me, these verses are clear. Fallen man is not immortal.
Next, what does the Bible say happens at death? Notice carefully: “The living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing…there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). “For in death there is no remembrance of You, in the grave who shall give You thanks?” (Psalms 6:5). “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence” (Psalms 115:17). “His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalms 146:4). These Bible verses say that after death a person knows nothing, has no thoughts, doesn’t remember God, and lies silent in the grave. This is God’s Word, not man’s opinion.
Next, death is sleep. David spoke of “the sleep of death” (Psalms 13:3). All throughout the Old Testament, when kings died, they “slept with their fathers” (1 Kings 2:10). The same is true in the New Testament. When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ said, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping… Jesus spoke of his death” (John 11:11 -13). After Stephen was martyred, “he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Dead Christians “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Daniel wrote that at the end of time, “many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Thus the dead are sleeping in the dust of the earth. Someday, they will wake up.
Finally, the Christians’ hope is the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. When our Lord returns, “the dead in Christ shall rise…so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). Look closely. Paul said Christians will “be with the Lord” when He returns. Jesus taught the same thing when He promised His disciples, “I will come again, and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). Again, look closely. Jesus did not say, “I’ll meet you in Heaven when you die,” but that He would receive us when He returns.
Ultimately, Bible truth about death is comforting. Our beloved dead are sleeping quietly, awaiting the resurrection when Jesus returns. Truth also protects us from being deceived by heartless, tricky demons who can easily impersonate the dead. I encourage my readers to continue studying this topic prayerfully. I’ll conclude with the words of Jesus Christ Himself:
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 (John 5:28, 29, NKJV).
Grave Errors about Death
In the first two topics we covered here on the truth about death we discovered that:
The Bible forbids all attempts to communicate with dead people (see Deuteronomy 18:11)
Demonic spirits are deceptively at work around the world (see Revelation 16:14) that can easily impersonate those who have died.
Communication with dead people is impossible because those who have died are dead. They lie unconscious, asleep in their graves, awaiting the resurrection (see Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Psalm 6:5; 13:3; 115:17; 146:4; John 5:28, 29; 6:39, 40, 44, 54: 11:11-14; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
Twenty-six years ago I learned this Bible truth: Jesus Christ died for my sins, was buried in Joseph’s tomb, and rose from the grave (see 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). To Christians, these facts should be non-negotiable. As I have continued studying my Bible, I have also come to believe that when human beings die, they are dead, asleep in their graves, waiting for “the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). Death, burial and resurrection, this is what God’s Book says.
I realize that many other God-fearing Christians don’t quite view everything as I do. Most believe that when we die, only our bodies disintegrate to dust, whereas our souls instantly enter the presence of Jesus. Personally, I don’t believe this. If we disagree, can we do it respectfully? I hope so. Later on this article on the truth about death, I will closely examine some well-known Bible texts normally used to support the “we go to Heaven immediately at death” doctrine. Much is at stake here. Please consider my arguments, and then come to your own conclusions.
Absent from the body, present with the Lord? (2 Corinthians 5:8)
This is probably the main Scripture used to support the common view. The exact text reads, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Paul is clearly talking about a transition from this sinful “body” to being “present with the Lord.” There is no question about this. But notice carefully that in this verse Paul doesn’t specifically say when this transition occurs. Most assume he meant at death. Did he? Could he have meant on Resurrection Day when Jesus Christ returns? Amazingly, we don’t have to guess, for the following verses make Paul’s meaning plain.
Four verses earlier Paul said this transition occurs when “mortality” is “swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). When is that? If we back up a few chapters to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the answer is obvious. Notice carefully:
Behold, I show 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)
Here Paul is writing about the climactic return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of God’s saints. Paul called death “sleep” (verse 51). He also said we are currently “mortal” (verse 53). Finally, he clarified that when “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised… then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (verses 52-54). Add 2 + 2. In 2 Corinthians 5:4 and 5:8, Paul said the transition from this sinful “body” to being “present with the Lord” occurs when “mortality is swallowed up by life.” In 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, he clarified that this “mortal” will “put on immortality” and that death will be “swallowed up in victory” at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Beyond this, did Paul clarify anywhere else at what point believers will be “present with the Lord”? Yes indeed. Once again, notice carefully:
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: 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
These verses parallel 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, which explain 2 Corinthians 5:4-8. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, when will believers get to be “present with the Lord”? Answer: When Jesus Christ comes crashing into our polluted atmosphere with a shout, a voice, and the ear splitting trumpet of God! That trumpet will be so loud it will pierce the slumbering ears of those who have died trusting the Crucified and Resurrected One. They will burst out of their clammy graves. How awesome! Then those of us who are still living (I hope to be among this group) will be “caught up” into the greatest space ride humans have ever experienced. And then? Don’t miss it: “so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This is the Word of God. Alleluia!
There lies Uncle Manuel. He’s dead. My seven-year-old brain tried to comprehend what was happening as I attended my uncle Manuel’s funeral, beheld his casket, stared into his pale face, held my dad’s hand while surrounded by mourners dressed in black, and witnessed my mother’s tears. It was all very strange. At such a young age, I could hardly understand what death meant, much less what happens next to those whose short life on this earth has ended.
Uncle Manuel’s funeral was almost 40 years ago. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research into what the Bible says in regards the truth about death, burial, and the resurrection. After years of study, I’ve come to the conclusion that when a person dies – whether saint or sinner – they are dead, that is, they lie unconscious in their graves awaiting the “resurrection of the dead” (Acts 24:15). I realize this is a bit different from what most people believe. Nevertheless, I am not accountable to man, but to God alone. To my readers I make this plea: Read my arguments, study the Bible for yourself, pray, and come to your own conclusions. Sound fair enough?
Solomon said that “there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and that “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Both the Old and New Testaments plainly teach that the dead “sleep in the dust of the earth” (Daniel 12:2) as they await the resurrection (see Psalms 13:3; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 51-55). Jesus Christ said concerning the man who dies believing in Him, “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). I have found this to be the consistent teaching of Scripture.
Yet as I mentioned earlier, there are a few Bible passages that seem to support a different view – that of immediate entrance into heaven, or of instant descent into hell-fire. Earlier we looked at 2 Corinthians 5:8 where Paul wrote about being “absent from the body and present with the Lord.” It’s time to look at another well-known passage.
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:42,43)
On history’s darkest day, as the Son of God hung suspended between heaven and earth bearing the sins of the world, a dying criminal crucified beside Jesus breathed hopefully, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The King responded, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise ” (verse 43). Many interpret Christ’s response as conclusive evidence that the dying thief’s soul was instantly ushered into the presence of Jesus on that very day. I disagree. Here’s why:
First, the dying thief pleaded, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Thus the thief hoped to be remembered at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, not before. Second, Jesus Himself did not go to Paradise that day, but into Joseph’s tomb. Three days later, after rising from the dead, Jesus candidly told Mary, “I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17). Thus our Lord did not ascend to glory on the day of His death. Thirdly, Jesus clarified that His followers will be with Him when He returns. “I will come again”, He promised, “and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3, italics added). Paul taught the same thing when he wrote that true believers will get to “be with the Lord” when He descends from heaven and resurrects the dead (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). So what did Jesus mean when He spoke to the dying thief?
Believe it or not, the confusion stems from one tiny piece of punctuation called a ‘comma.’ Before we look again at Christ’s exact words to the thief, let me clarify that the Bible calls itself “the Word of God”, not “the Comma of God”. The fact is that punctuation and commas were added to the inspired text many years after the New Testament was written. It is the same with the numbering of verses. Whatever translation you are reading from, your Bible says “43” before Christ’s response the dying thief. “42” comes before that, then “41”, etcetera. Guess what? Luke didn’t write “41” or “42” or “43” or “44.” He just wrote one book of Luke. It wasn’t until many years later that men numbered the verses to make it easier for us to find them. I’m glad they did. It helps. But they also added commas where they assumed they should go. So let’s remove the comma and look at what Jesus Christ literally said to the thief. His exact words were:
Assuredly I say to you today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).
Now, if you place the comma before the word “today,” which is where most Bibles place it, then Jesus told the thief, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” But if you place the comma after the word “today,” Christ’s meaning is switched entirely. Then Jesus would have said, “I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” In other words, Christ would be telling the thief, “I tell you today” (right then two thousand years ago) that he would be with Him in the future when He returns.
So which is it? Where should the comma go? Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. Other verses make Christ’s answer clear. First, Jesus didn’t go to Paradise that day. Second, on Sunday morning He had not yet ascended to His Father (see John 20:17). Thirdly, and most importantly, Jesus never contradicted Himself. He plainly promised His followers, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). Martin Luther once said, “Here I stand. So help me God. Amen.” This is where I stand. My hope is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
My uncle Manuel was Jewish. As far as I know, he was not a believer in the Crucified and Risen One. Where did Uncle Manuel go? And if he is lost (I hope this is not the case!), what will finally happen to him? As we continue reading this article on the truth about death, we’ll find out.
Elvis Presley. Marilyn Monroe. Princess Diana. Ronald Reagan. Pope John Paul II – what do they have in common? They’re all famous, and they’re all dead. No matter how large a person’s bank account, or how attractive their physical appearance, or even how close to God they may become in this life, “All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good, the clean, and the unclean…after that they go to the dead” (Ecclesiastes 9:2, 3, italics added). “ But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” penned Benjamin Franklin. He was correct.
So far I have built my case that when a human being dies – whether saint or sinner – they are truly dead, that is, they lie unconscious in their graves awaiting the resurrection. To briefly summarize, Solomon said “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and that “there is no work, or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). David wrote about “the sleep of death” (Psalms 13:3), Daniel said the dead “sleep in the dust of the earth” (Daniel 12:2), and Jesus Christ emphatically declared that someday “all who are in their 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” (John 5:28, 29). These passages describe man’s condition at death, his sleeping in the grave, and finally – a bodily resurrection back to life.
To repeat what I have written previously, I realize that majority opinion thinks differently. Shortly after Pope John Paul II died at the ripe age of 84, Vatican officials declared that their departed leader was now “looking down from heaven” after being “welcomed into the presence of Jesus.” With all due respect, I don’t think so. If you are Catholic, please don’t take offense. I would say the same thing about my own mother whom I love dearly. Based on my study of the Bible, I believe Pope John Paul II and countless others are not in heaven at this exact moment. Rather, they are silently sleeping in their graves waiting for Resurrection Day.
Earlier in this article on the truth about death, I examined two biblical passages often quoted to support the common view of ‘instant heaven at death’: 1) Paul’s expression about longing to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and 2) Jesus Christ’s promise to a dying thief about being with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:42, 43). I think these arguments are pretty convincing. It’s time to examine a few more verses that I believe are often misinterpreted to teach ‘instant heaven’ rather than the doctrine of literal death, unconscious sleep, and future bodily resurrection.
Paul’s “desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23)
Paul knew that sometime after he died he would be with Jesus, yet it as an assumption to think that in Philippians 1:23 he meant at the moment of his death. In another letter, Paul clarified that he expected to “always be with the Lord” when Jesus Christ returned to resurrect the dead (read 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). It is significant to note that the very last letter Paul penned was 2 Timothy. In that letter’s concluding chapter, notice carefully Paul’s ‘famous last words’:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8, italics added).
Here again Paul clarified – just like he did in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 – that he looked forward to being with Jesus Christ on “the Day” of “His appearing”.
Souls under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11)
In the book of Revelation, John beheld under a heavenly “altar” “the souls” of many Christian martyrs calling out for vengeance against their persecutors. “There!” some claim, “There are souls alive in heaven after they died!” But look closer. This entire passage is filled with symbolism. In the same chapter John also saw four horses with riders, the fourth rider being “Death” itself, followed by “Hell” (Revelation 6:1-8). Can “Death” literally ride a horse? Are literal souls crammed underneath a physical altar? Not a very pleasant place to hang out, do you think? Biblically speaking, the idea of martyred souls crying out for vengeance is rooted in Genesis 4 when God told Cain after he murdered Abel, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10) Does this mean that Abel’s blood literally muttered syllables through dirt? Obviously not. Again, this is symbolic.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28 -32)
Not long before Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, “Moses and Elijah” appeared to comfort the Saviour. This supposedly proves that Moses, Elijah, and all the saints are now alive ‘on the other side’. But it doesn’t. First of all, it was not disembodied ‘souls’ that appeared before Christ and His disciples, but “two men” (Luke 9:30) in physical form. Second, Elijah himself never died, but was translated in Old Testament times without seeing death (see 2 Kings 2:11). Thirdly, Moses did die, but Jude 9 implies that “the body of Moses” was at some point raised back to life. In Luke 9:28-32, Elijah appeared representing all those who shall one day be translated at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, while Moses represented all others who shall be resurrected “at the last day” (see John 11:24). Again, the text says “two men,” not two ghosts. Why did Moses and Elijah appear? To encourage Jesus to go through with His death, burial, and resurrection, and to assure Him that millions of other believers – just like them – would someday be translated or raised from the grave.