"Are the Dead Alive?"
The service was just beginning as I entered the mortuary. The music was beautiful, the scripture and prayer appropriate. After a brief eulogy and an obituary, the minister began his sermon. He assured the mourners that the deceased was not dead at all; he was very much alive and in the presence of God. He proceeded to try to convince us that the man who had been pronounced dead by the coroner and embalmed by the mortician was looking down from the portals of heaven seeing everything that was taking place during the funeral service. The deceased was now supposedly in a higher form of life.
As I listened to the sermon I was surprised at some of the conclusions reached by this minister. I also noticed that he had not supported his conclusions by quotations of Bible texts. His presentation was typical of the theories and confusion that exists in the religious world today concerning the subject of death.
If you should start down the street and ask the first ten people you meet what they believe happens when a person dies, you would receive five or six
different theories. There is no uniformity among professed Christians on the subject of death.
An epitaph on a tombstone in Richmond, Virginia, reads:
Remember Man, as you go by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be.
So prepare yourself to follow me."
A schoolboy, reading this inscription, reached into his pocket, took out a crayon, and added these lines:
"To follow you, I'm not content,
Until I know just where you went!"
When a man dies, what becomes of him? We know something of life and what it means. But what in the world happens to us when we die? Where do we go? Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Limbo? Is death a great adventure, or endless silence and oblivion? What awaits us in those shadows ahead? Where are our beloved dead? Will they return to us? "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14).
Shouldn't we turn to our one dependable source of information? The Bible's teaching on death is consistent, not confusing. There may be some surprises, but its answers are both reasonable and satisfying and, best of all, comforting.
1. What trustworthy and reliable source do we have for information concerning the dead? Isaiah 8:19
2. By what standard are we to judge whether a teaching is true or false? Verse 20
3. What does the Bible say happens when a man dies? Ecclesiastes 12:7
To understand this text fully, we need to go back to the creation of man and discover just how man was made by God and what this "spirit" is that God gave to him.
4. What two elements did God combine to make man a living soul? Genesis 2:7
God did not put a living soul in Adam. Adam became a living soul as a result of the combination of body plus breath, or spirit, from God. Adam became a living being when the body received the breath of life.
When a light bulb is connected to electricity, we get a light. No one puts the light in the bulb. It is the result of uniting those two components. When we take away the electricity, the light ceases to exist. According to the Bible, the soul is a combination of body plus breath or spirit. When the breath departs from the body, the soul ceases to exist.
DUST + SPIRIT = LIVING SOUL
DUST - SPIRIT = DEAD PERSON
5. What statement by Job indicates that the terms "breath of life" and "the spirit" are used interchangeably? Job 27:3 (See also Acts 7:59)
It was the breath of life or spark of life that God breathed into man's nostrils at Creation.
DUST + BREATH (or SPIRIT) = LIVING SOUL
6. Where do all go at death? Job 30:23
7. What is the "house" called where all the dead go? Job 17:13
"Sheol" (Hebrew) is translated "grave" in the KJV. -- "So when a man dies he does not live somewhere else. He is not in heaven, not in hell, not in purgatory. He is not alive at all, anywhere, in any condition whatsoever. He is dead. And to be dead, certainly does not mean to be alive!. . . . Death is not a modification of life. It is no life at all. It is not a continuation of life in altered conditions. It is not a release into a fuller life. It is not life in misery, or life in happiness, or life in any condition. To die is not to live. It is to stop living" (When a Man Dies, p. 20).
8. At death what happens to man's ability to think? Psalm 146:3, 4
9. How much does man know during the time that he is dead? Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6
10. How much of man's knowledge remains when he is in the grave? Verse 10
"There need be no mistake here. The Creator knows what happens at death. And He tells us that the dead do not think. . . . The dead know nothing. They cannot remember. They cannot love or hate or envy. Should not this forever settle the matter of what happens at death? . . . Yes, one of the sweetest and most comforting truths in all of God's Book is that when a man dies he rests quietly, undisturbed by memories of a troubled life or by concern for his loved ones, until the resurrection day." (Destination Life, pp. 34, 35).
11. What does the Bible say about the possibility of the dead praising God? Psalm 115:17 & Psalm 6:5
12. What did Jesus call the death of His friend Lazarus? John 11:11-14
Death is here pictured as a sleep, or period of unconsciousness, in which nothing is known about the passage of time. Paul used the same term in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. In more than fifty instances the Bible speaks of death as a sleep.
13. When did Martha expect her brother to live again? John 11:23-24
Martha, a close friend and follower of Jesus, had listened to His teachings for three years. She believed that the dead would be raised at the resurrection in the last days as Christ promised.
God's plan for those who die before the coming of the Lord is well illustrated in the experience of Lazarus. Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep and then proceeded to show that he was speaking of the death of His friend as a sleep.
Christ then demonstrated what will happen when He returns the second time. Standing at the open door of the tomb, Jesus called, "Lazarus, come forth." The Bible says that Lazarus obeyed the voice of the Lifegiver and came forth, still bound in his grave clothes.
14. If there were no resurrection, what would be the fate of all the dead? 1 Corinthians 15:16-18
15. Because Christ rose from the dead, when can we expect the resurrection of our beloved righteous dead? Verses 22, 23
It is at the second coming of Christ that those who sleep in Jesus will be raised to life eternal. Jesus said, "Because I live, ye shall live;"
In the catacombs of Rome are inscriptions on the ancient tombs of those who died in pagan hopelessness before the days of Jesus. Over and over again are inscribed the words, "Good - bye forever," "Good - bye for all eternity." On the tombs of the Christians are found these words: "Good - bye until we meet again." "Good night until the morning." How wonderful to have the Christian's hope, to know that there is a great light to come after the night of death! Doesn't that take the sting out of death? According to the Scriptures, death means simply a cessation of life until the resurrection.
16. How many will be resurrected according to the Bible? John 5:28, 29
There will be two separate resurrections -- a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous. We will study about these two events in the lesson, "Coming 1,000 Years of Peace." Every dead person will be raised in one or the other of these resurrections.
17. What did Paul say will happen to the righteous dead at Christ's second coming? 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17
"Is there anything more wonderful than dreamless, peaceful sleep at night? All toil, care, and heartache forgotten -- no pain, no tears to moisten the eye. When we are asleep, you see, we have no sense of the passing of time. Even so the Christian who dies, in one instant closes his eyes in the sleep of death, and to him it seems the next instant that he awakens in the resurrection to the joys of eternity. It will seem to him as though he had just had a short nap, even though he may have been in the grave many years. God's way is the best after all" (Destination Life, p. 15).
18. How will the resurrected body be changed? Philippians 3:20, 21
Oh yes, the dead will live again! But how different they will be! The aches and pains, the deformities, the imperfections and ugliness in all its forms will be gone forever. All evidence of sin will be swept away .
19. What will the saved receive at the coming of Christ? 1 Corinthians 15:51-54
If, as many people contend, man has natural immortality, then there is no need for God to give immortality, as Paul said He would, at Jesus' coming. We are told that God only has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15, 16).
Those bodies that went down into the grave bearing the ugly marks of disease and death will come up at the resurrection in immortal health and vigor. The living saints will be changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" and will be caught up with the risen ones to meet the Lord in the air.
What a glorious meeting! We'll all be together again. Friends and loved ones whom death has separated will be united, nevermore to part. But, best of all, we shall be with Christ. "So shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
20. What will happen to those who believe in Christ? John 3:16
Man is mortal. He is subject to death. Job 4:17. We have seen from our study that God will give the righteous immortality at the coming of Christ. This gift will be given only to those who accept Him.
Only through Christ do we have the hope of a future life. If God had not been willing to permit His Son to die in our place, death would have been the end of man's existence. Since Christ came and lived a perfect life of obedience, then died in our place and was resurrected, we now have the hope of a glorious future life in which sin, sickness, sorrow, and death will be forever banished.
Christ proved that He had gained the victory over death by His own resurrection. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).
We may not escape the natural death or sleep after we have received the gift of eternal life through Christ. But the Christian can die with full assurance that in God's own time he will be resurrected at Christ's coming. The blessed dead are not now in heaven, but they will be! The Bible says, "Comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Yes, Jesus will soon come, and our beloved dead shall live again. Could there be any better comfort? Jesus said, "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54).