Death is the unconquerable foe that has taken over the likes of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Postulates or theories by minds like Einstein or Stephen Hawking can never be proved upon this subject. So what does the Bible say?
One of Jesus’ most significant miracles recorded in the Bible was the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). There are other instances of people who had been raised from the dead, but unlike those mentioned before in the Bible, Lazarus had been dead for an entire period of four days. When Lazarus died, Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep” (John 11:11-13, NKJV).
The Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. After death we are asleep, we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passing of time or of what is going on around us. That is what death is like as well. The Bible says, “for the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing… their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, NKJV, see also Psalm 146:4; 115:17). It makes sense that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he doesn’t share what he saw or experienced. He didn’t have anything to tell, except that once he was dead, and now he is alive! He didn’t experience hell or heaven. He was simply “sleeping” in his tomb. Peter on the Day of Pentecost said the same of King David. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…For David did not ascend into the heavens…"(Acts 2:29, 34).
Many Christians think of the soul as an immortal entity within us that goes on living after death. What does the Bible say? Describing the creation of human beings in the beginning, the Bible says, “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” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Other Bible translations say, “. . . and man became a living being” (NKJV; NIV). God did not put a soul into man. He formed the body from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed His life-giving spirit into the lifeless body—and the result was a soul, or a living being. When a person dies, the reverse takes place. The breath of life departs from the body, and the soul no longer exists. That’s what the Bible says. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NIV). At the resurrection, God reunites the body and His life-giving spirit—and the person lives again.
If souls existed as separate entities that lived on after we died, that would mean we have immortality. However, the Bible says human beings do not have immortality. Only God is immortal (see 1 Timothy 6:15, 16). Paul says that the righteous “seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). If we had immortal souls, why would the righteous seek after something they already have?
Though we may die, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). We will receive immortality when Jesus comes again (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). The Bible says that all those who have died—both righteous and wicked—will be raised to life in one of two resurrections. The righteous will be raised to life at Jesus’ second coming. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NKJV). According to this verse, the righteous do not go to heaven when they die. They remain asleep in the grave until Jesus returns and raises them to immortal life (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
The wicked are raised to life in a separate resurrection—the resurrection of condemnation. Jesus said, “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).
The prophets never mention in the Bible that the righteous immediately go to heaven or the wicked go to hell when they die. Neither did Jesus and His apostles teach it. When Jesus was about to leave His disciples, He did not tell them they would soon come to Him. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NKJV).
When He returns, our loved ones asleep in Christ will awake from their tombs. No matter how long the time has passed, be it long or short, will seem but a moment to them. By the voice of Jesus, they are called forth from their deep slumber they will begin to think just where they ceased, awakening to a glorious immortality.
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible … So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54).
The last sensation was the pang of death, the last thought, that they were falling beneath the power of the grave, but then, imagine, when they arise from the tomb to the shout,
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
You may wish to learn more through the Discover Bible Lessons on our Bible studies section.