Death is the lot of all mankind. What is this thing called “death”? Does anything lie beyond it? Must we fear death?
People die. Everyday, thousands of people on this earth die. Whether due to accidents, sickness, suicide, murder, or simply old age, people die.
We weep when a beloved member of the family dies. When we are children, we sometimes weep and wail over the death of a beloved puppy, canary or other pet.
Death is so final, so irreversible. But what really happens when a person dies? Today there is a reawakened interest in the subject of death, religion, the supernatural, and what happens after death. There is heightened interest in ESP and the spirit world. Many wonder if the souls of the dead communicate with the living.
What really happens at death? Tragically, there seems to be a great void of understanding. Very few people seem to know. Ignorance leads to a great sense of loss and fear – fear of the unknown. When a loved one dies, relatives are more easily upset, more emotional, more precariously balanced on the tight-rope of emotional self-control than at any other time.
A funeral director interviewed for television said: “The funeral directing business is a very sensitive business because it deals with the emotions and the sympathies of people. It takes a great deal of tact and empathy to be able to serve people satisfactorily.”
He added: “You have to like people, I think, to be a funeral director because you have to deal with people. You have to be very careful because every one you see every day is mostly upset. If you use the wrong word, the wrong term, the wrong phrase, you may upset them even more. You want to be sympathetic with people. You can’t empathize with people. You would just be in tears constantly, and you can’t do that. But you have to be sympathetic and guide them.”
When asked, “What is death?” one person replied: “My definition of death is to leave this earth, and I’d say it would be a termination of your life.” Another said: “I guess death is the end of life.” “Death is the final ending of everything,” a third person commented.
But one thing for certain: At some time everyone thinks about death. People everywhere are concerned about it. Much of modern religion is concerned about it. Most religions believe in the immortality of the soul, and teach that the soul goes to heaven or to hell or to some intermediate state upon death.
There are dozens of differing ideas about death. When you talk to people on the street, you find about as many assorted beliefs as there are people to express them. Why such widespread ignorance? It’s simple. Science can’t tell us what happens at death, and theologians are divided on the issue. As one television interviewee said: “Death is a thing of uncertainty. It creates fear, you know. I mean, nobody’s ever come back and explained to us what’s on the other side when you leave this world physically, so it puts up a blanket of uncertainty. And anytime you’re dealing in uncertain areas there is fear.” But should we fear death? We know one thing: death is our enemy. We hate it; we abhor it. We don’t like to come in contact with it.
But it happens to all of us. We have to face it someday. But do we have to fear death? And when is a person dead? Courts of law have had difficulty determining exactly what is the moment of death. Is it when the heart stops beating? Or when there is no brain activity?
People are in disagreement over what life is, whether we are temporal, mortal, and therefore just transitory, and die just like a dog dies; or whether we are an encased outer vessel in which lives a consciousness which is spiritual and eternal and which will live on consciously after the body decays.
What does the Bible say about death? Let’s take a look. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote: “For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast; for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Eccl. 3:19-20). That’s pretty plain, isn’t it?
Ecclesiastes 9:4: “to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.”
People who say, “when you’re dead, that’s it, that’s all there is” generally don’t recall this scripture, but just through common human sense they known that dead is dead. Continuing in verse 5: “neither have they (the dead) any more reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” There are billions of people who have gone the way of all flesh and have been utterly forgotten in history. Verse 10 of the same chapter declares, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” But is this life all there is?
In Genesis, chapter 2, we find out what man is. His creation is recorded in verse 7: “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.” The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh. Each person is a soul, a being, an entity, a transitory personality; a temporal body. That’s what he is. It does not say in the Bible that he has a soul. It says he is a soul.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the word nephesh is used of lower life forms, beasts, animals, and creeping things, which include scallops, lobsters, crabs, etc. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament the word nephesh is even used to express the thought of a “dead body.” A Hebrew would have been thought ceremonially unclean if he had touched a dead nephesh – the word that is translated “soul.” Thus it is clear that “souls” are not immortal. They can die. In fact, the Bible says so (Ez. 18:4).
The term nephesh has wide meaning. It includes the life, the appetite, the emotion, the whole being, or the whole personality. But it never means something immortal – as a separate entity from the body!
The Jewish Encyclopedia says: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is speculation, nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture. The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended” (“Immortality of the Soul,” vol. VI, pp. 564-566).
The belief in the immortality of the soul dates back to ancient Egypt, Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, wrote: “The Egyptians were the first that asserted that the soul of man is immortal.”
In the Phaedo Plato wrote: “The soul whose inseparable attitude is life’s will, never admit of life’s opposite, death. Thus that soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible. Do we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and the body?”
But the Bible teaches no such thing. Unfortunately, many early church leaders embraced as truth the teachings of the pagans.
Origen declared: “Souls are immortal.” Tertullian, an important teacher from North Africa, wrote: “For some things are known, even by nature: the immortality of the soul, for instance, is held by many. I may use, therefore, the opinion of a Plato, when he declares: ‘Every soul is immortal.’”
Scripture, however, teaches that your life is just like a vapor which is here today and gone tomorrow. As referenced above, in Ezekiel 18:4, we read: “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.”
Here your Bible says that a soul dies. Whatever you think a soul is, a soul is capable of dying. In the New Testament Paul explained that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And what is death? It’s the absence of life. But is there any hope of life after death?
Death is a hideous enemy of mankind. We don’t like to even contemplate it. We hate to think about it. We are distraught when we hear of a loved one having died. What happens when we die?
In the book of Job we read: “But man dies, and wasteth away: yea, man gives up the ghost” (Job 14:20). “Giving up the ghost” is an old English expression that meant “expire.” The word used in the Hebrew language, ruach, means “to breathe out” or “to expire.”
“And where is he?” Job asks. In verse 13 he says, “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!”
And then the question comes: “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change comes,” he said, “and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”
What is Job talking about? A resurrection from the dead! The Bible teaches a resurrection. The apostle Paul, even when he was being accused by the religious sects of his day, fearlessly declared: “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they (his accusers ) call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophet , having a hope in God which these themselves accept, (that is, these accusers of his) that will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust” (Acts 24:14-150.
In the 5th chapter of the book of John, Jesus Christ of Nazareth himself is quoted as saying: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life: and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (judgment) (John 5:28-29).
In the book of Daniel is a corroboration of that same statement. In chapter 12, verses 1-2, we read: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”
The Bible speaks with beautiful harmony on this subject. The words “immortal soul” never occurs together in the entirety of the Bible. But the Bible does teach a resurrection of the dead: “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
I Corinthians 15 is known as the resurrection chapter. In verses 12-13 the apostle Paul says: “if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen.”
Later on in verses 16-17 Paul said, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” A little later in verse 22, he comments, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits (he’s called the firstfruits of the dead); afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”
These scriptures all speak of the same event – a future resurrection of the dead. Notice one more verse in the Bible about this subject. In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, John was inspired to record: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).
This is what Jesus Christ promises those who serve and faithfully obey him. They will be resurrected from the dead and be given immortality and positions of rulership in the kingdom of God! They will never again have to face death. They will have conquered death for all eternity!
If you would like to know more about the resurrection enroll today in our Mini-Correspondence Course and our Traditional Christian Doctrine Course. These courses outline God’s Master Plan of Salvation for mankind. They reveal what God has purposed for mankind after he has expired from this physical existence. You can be a part of that Plan. Enroll today to learn more.