Death and the state of the dead

List of Studies

1. Introduction

It is an almost universal belief that when a person dies he/she continues to live, albeit on a different plane of existence - this is commonly known as the ‘afterlife’. 

To mainstream Christianity, that means going directly either to Heaven or to Hell.  Other religions have their own versions of the ‘afterlife’. Satan has a deception for all.

However, the Bible is the final authority on what happens when a person dies - this study addresses what happens to the dead, and also the dangers associated with erroneous beliefs.

2. The afterlife

The idea of the afterlife beginning immediately upon death stems from what Satan said in Eden to Eve in response to God’s warning:

God’s warning:  Ge 2:17  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Satan’s response:  Ge 3:4  And the serpent [Satan] said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

Satan’s assertion was a lie - he is the father of lies (Jn 8:44). 

The world, ever since, has placed Satan’s lie above God’s truth.

NB. Even though Adam and Eve did not pass into the grave immediately, they nevertheless died on the day they sinned - they were dead in trespass, separated from the source of all life.

3. Why we die

3.1 All die, because all have sinned

Ro 5:12  Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 

3.2 In Adam, all die

1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 

Eve first, then Adam, disobeyed God, and they suffered the consequence (Ge 2:17) - death.  

Adam and Eve could not pass on eternal life to their progeny (us) because they had lost it by sinning.  We inherit from Adam and Eve only what they were able to pass on: sin and death.

4. Death is a return to dust

Ge 2:7  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. 

Ge 3:19  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. 

Ps 104:29  Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. 

Adam was created from dust, and he became a living soul (Ge 2:7 above) when he received life from God.  Thus, when a person loses that life as a consequence of sin, he/she ceases to be a living soul and returns to the original form: dust.  

Before Adam was created, there was only dust - after life ceases, there is only dust (until the resurrection of all mankind - see study: ‘Resurrection’).  

Ecc 3:20  All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 

Thus there is no division at death between the redeemed and the lost, no division between Heaven and Hell - there is only a return to dust for all.

5. The Dead - what the Bible says about their condition

Ec 9:5  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. 

Ec 9:10  Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. 

Ps 146:4  His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. 

Ec 9:6  Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. 

 Ps 6:5  For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? 

Ps 115:17  The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. 

Is 38:18  For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee…

Ps 88:5  Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. 

Is 38:18  … they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. 

Job 21:32  Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb. 

Job 7:9,10  As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. 

10  He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more. 

La 3:6  He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. 

Job 14:10  But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? 

Ps 16:10  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [‘Sheol’, the grave - see study: ‘Hell: the true meaning’,2]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 

NB. In all these scriptures no distinction is made between the righteous and the unrighteous dead.  

It is clear from Scripture that all the dead are unconscious, knowing nothing of Heaven or Hell.  None of the dead praise God - a direct contradiction of the doctrine of Heaven / Hell.

6. The dead are asleep

Da 12:2  And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 

Job 14:12  So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. 

Jn 11:11-14  These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 

12  Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 

13  Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 

14  Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 

Thus Jesus Himself taught that death is a sleep.  There is no doubt that Lazarus was truly dead because he had begun to decompose (Jn 11:39).  

After his resurrection (Jn 11:43,44) Lazarus gave no account of awareness in death - he was unconscious (see section 5).

If anyone would have gone straight to Heaven upon death, it surely would have been King David - what does Scripture say?

David slept with his fathers and was buried: 

1Ki 2:10  So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 

David is still in the tomb:

Act 2:29  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. 

David is not ascended to heaven:

Ac 2:34  For David is not ascended into the heavens…

David is asleep.  Like all who died in faith, he awaits the resurrection to eternal life.

After His death on the Cross, Christ did not ascend to Heaven (Jn 20:17).

When Christ was in the tomb He, like all others who are dead, was asleep awaiting a resurrection.

If Christ the sinless One did not ascend to Heaven upon death, how much less would we sinners do so.

Scripture states plainly that death is a sleep in the dust of the Earth until the resurrection (Dan 12:2) - see study: ‘Resurrection’.

7. 'You will be with me in paradise'  (Lk 23:43

Mainstream Christianity takes this promise of Christ to the ‘thief’ on the cross beside Him as proof that the redeemed go straight to Heaven at death.

However, this cannot be the case here, because Christ Himself did not ascend to Heaven upon His own death (Jn 20:17) - the ‘thief’ therefore could not have been in Heaven with Christ that day.

The misunderstanding stems from the placing of the comma before ‘To day’ (in LK 23:43).  In Greek there are no commas - they must be placed as translators see fit.  Thus the KJV reflects the understanding of the translators, who held the almost universal (but unscriptural) doctrine of the immortal soul, and inserted the comma accordingly.

As we have seen, the dead are asleep.  Therefore Christ slept in the tomb until His resurrection - as such He could not have ascended to His Father.  Furthermore, the ‘thief’ is asleep to this day, awaiting the fulfillment of Christ’s promise at the resurrection of the redeemed.

8. Summary

Before he was created from dust and given life, Adam, the father of us all, did not exist.  All of Adam’s progeny (us), through him, come from that same dust.

When, because of sin, Adam and Eve lost their lives, they returned to their original state: lifeless dust - which is therefore what we return to when we die.  We inherit the life/death process from Adam and Eve.

Death is an unconscious state, a sleep - even Christ slept in the tomb until His resurrection.  Likewise, all those who die sleep until the resurrection either of the just or of the unjust.

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