Death Is Not an Unbeatable Enemy
DEATH is an enemy of life. Each funeral shows that death is like a king who seems to conquer all. (Romans 5:14) Some trees live more than 1,000 years; some fish, 150; yet man’s years are only 70 or 80 before death swallows him up.—Psalm 90:10.
2 With good cause the Bible presents death as an enemy. Though we seem to have a built-in desire to live and learn endlessly, no matter what a man has learned, what his skills are, how highly he is thought of by friends and relatives, death claims him. (Ecclesiastes 3:11; 7:2) Most persons, agreeing that death is an enemy, try desperately to delay its victory. Others frantically seek all the pleasure they can from life before they are defeated.
3 Down through history, though, many people have believed that there is life after death. The Greek philosopher Plato taught that we have an immortal soul that survives the body. Do we? Interest in this has been stimulated by recent stories of persons who supposedly died, were revived and later described what they ‘saw beyond death’s door.’ Are the dead alive somewhere? Can death be conquered?
DEATH’S FIRST VICTORY
4 The Bible shows that humans were created to live, not to die. God placed Adam and Eve in a delightful garden where they could enjoy life. He designated one of the trees “the tree of life.” Likely if Adam and Eve had proved their appreciation and loyalty to God, he would have let them eat from that tree, symbolizing his grant of everlasting life for them. (Genesis 1:30; 2:7-9) However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. Their sin brought upon them the sentence of death.—Genesis 3:17-19.
5 For us to understand whether death is indeed an unbeatable enemy, we need to examine the result of death’s victory over Adam and Eve. Did they “die” completely? Or was that “death” only a transition to a different kind of life?
6 After Adam foolishly sinned, Jehovah kept to his just and righteous word. He told Adam:
“In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19.
What did that mean for Adam and for us today?
7 The earlier account of Adam’s creation tells us: “God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) Think what that means. Before God created him from the dust, there was no Adam. Hence, after he died and returned to the dust, there would be no Adam.—Genesis 5:3-5.
ARE THE DEAD CONSCIOUS?
8 Many persons might be surprised at the thought that once Adam died he no longer existed. Yet the stated penalty for sin—Adam’s dying and going back to dust—contained no hint of continued life. Death is the opposite of life, whether for a man or a beast. Both have the same “spirit,” or life force. Thus the Bible comments:
“There is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast . . . They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.”—Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.
9 Does that mean that the dead have no thoughts or feelings? Ecclesiastes 9:4, 5 answers: “A live dog is better off than a dead lion. For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” When a person dies, “his thoughts do perish,” he has no ability either to feel or to work.—Psalm 146:3, 4; 31:17.
10 Since the Bible assures us that the dead are unconscious and without feeling, that means that death ends pain and suffering. Job, a faithful servant of God, knew this. When he was suffering a painful disease he said:
“Why from the womb did I not proceed to die? . . . Why was it that knees confronted me, and why breasts that I should take suck? For by now I should have lain down that I might be undisturbed; I should have slept then; I should be at rest.”—Job 3:11-13.
11 But is this taking into account the soul?
12 Simply put, the Scriptures teach that your soul is you. What we have already read in Genesis 2:7 shows that. Recall that God formed man’s body from dust. Then God provided life and the breath needed to sustain it. What was the result? According to God’s own Word, the man “came to be a living soul [Hebrew, nephesh].” (Genesis 2:7) Adam was not given a soul, nor did he come to have a soul. He was a soul. In teaching this, the Bible is consistent throughout. Many centuries later the apostle Paul quoted Genesis 2:7, writing: “The first man Adam became a living soul [Greek, psykhe].”—1 Corinthians 15:45.
13 The Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek work psykhe, found in these texts, are translated in various ways. At Ezekiel 18:4 and Matthew 10:28 you will find that, in many Bible versions, they are rendered as “soul.” Elsewhere those same original words are translated as “being,” “creature,” or “person.” These are valid translations of the original words, and a comparison of them shows that the soul is the creature or person himself, not some invisible part of man. The Bible applies the same original-language words to animals, showing that they are souls or have life as souls.—Genesis 2:19; Leviticus 11:46; Revelation 8:9.
14 As a soul, Adam, or any of us, could eat, get hungry and grow tired. In the original Hebrew, the Bible says that souls do all these things. (Deuteronomy 23:24; Proverbs 19:15; 25:25) In stating a prohibition that applied to the Israelites regarding work on a certain day, God made clear another important point about the soul, saying: “As for any soul that will do any sort of work on this very day, I must destroy that soul from among his people.” (Leviticus 23:30) Hence, the Bible, here and in many other texts, shows that a soul can die.—Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Psalm 33:19.
15 Knowing such Bible truths can help us to evaluate recent stories about persons who supposedly died (there being no detectable heartbeat or brain activity), but who were revived and thereafter told about having floated outside their body. One possibility is that they may have had hallucinations caused by medication or the brain’s oxygen-starved condition. Whether that is the full explanation or not, we know with certainty that no invisible soul left the body.
16 Also, if the dead are totally unconscious and no “soul” floats off from the body, then there can be no fiery hell awaiting the souls of the wicked, can there? Yet many churches teach that the wicked will be tormented after they die. On learning the truth about the dead, some persons have been justifiably disturbed, asking: ‘Why did not our religion tell us the truth about the dead?’ What is your own reaction?—Compare Jeremiah 7:31.
WHAT FUTURE FOR THE DEAD?
17 If the only future for persons now living were unconsciousness in death, then death would be an unbeatable enemy. But the Bible shows that it is not.
18 The immediate future for a person after death is in the grave. The languages in which the Bible was written had words for the place of the dead, mankind’s common grave. In Hebrew it was termed Sheol. It was called Hades in Greek. These words have been translated in some Bibles by terms such as “grave,” “pit” or “hell.” Regardless of how they are rendered, the meaning of the original-language terms is not a hot place of suffering but is the grave of the unconscious dead. We read:
“All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [hell, Douay Version; the grave, Authorized Version], the place to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:10.
The apostle Peter assures us that upon death even Jesus went to the grave, to Sheol, Hades or hell.—Acts 2:31; compare Psalm 16:10.
19 Of course, a dead person has no power to change his condition. (Job 14:12) So is unconsciousness in death all the future there is? For some, yes. The Bible teaches that persons who are totally rejected by God will remain dead forever.—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
20 The ancient Jews believed that persons who were extremely wicked would have no future beyond death. The Jews did not bury such ones. Rather, they tossed the corpses into a valley outside Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to dispose of garbage. This was the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna. Drawing upon this practice, Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of complete destruction, with no future prospects. (Matthew 5:29, 30) For example, he said:
“Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [or, prospects to live as a soul]; but rather be in fear of him [God] that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”—Matthew 10:28.
Jesus’ words, however, give us reason for hope that many who have died will live again in the future, thus overcoming death.
VICTORY THROUGH RESURRECTION
21 God, in one of history’s most important acts, raised Jesus Christ to life after he had been dead for days. Jesus became a living spirit creature, as he had been before coming to earth. (1 Corinthians 15:42-45; 1 Peter 3:18) Hundreds of persons saw Jesus appear after he was resurrected. (Acts 2:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) These witnesses were willing to risk their lives in support of their faith in Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus proves that death is not an unbeatable enemy. Victory over death is possible!—1 Corinthians 15:54-57.
22 Further victories over death are also possible. Persons can come back to human life on earth. Jehovah, who cannot lie, assures us in his Word “that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous [persons who knew of and did God’s will] and the unrighteous [ones who did not practice righteousness].”—Acts 24:15.
23 We can have confidence in God’s ability to bring persons back to human life. Men are able to record on film or videotape the image, voice and mannerisms of a person. Cannot God do much more? His memory is far more expansive than any film or tape, so he can perfectly re-create those he wants to resurrect. (Psalm 147:4) He has already demonstrated this. The Bible contains a number of accounts of God’s using his Son to bring humans back to life. You can read two of these exciting accounts at John 11:5-44 and Luke 7:11-17. With good reason men who worshiped God in the past looked forward to the time when he would remember and resurrect them. It would be like waking them from unconscious sleep.—Job 14:13-15.
24 Those past resurrections must have overjoyed relatives and friends. But those resurrections defeated death only temporarily, for the resurrected ones eventually died again. Nonetheless, they offer us an exciting preview, because the Bible points to a coming “better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35) It will be much, much better because those coming back to life on earth will not have to die again. That will mean a far greater victory over death.—John 11:25, 26.
25 What the Bible says about how God can and will defeat death certainly indicates his loving interest in humans. It should help us to understand Jehovah’s personality and draw us closer to him. These truths also help us to have balance, for we are safeguarded against the morbid fear of death that preys on many. We can have the happy hope of even seeing our deceased relatives and loved ones again when, through the resurrection, death is defeated.—1 Thessalonians 4:13; Luke 23:43.
Why should we examine “enemy” death? (Job 14:1, 2) (1-3)
How did death come upon mankind? (4, 5)
What did “death” mean for Adam? (6, 7)
How could you show someone from the Bible whether the dead are conscious? (8-11)
According to the Bible, what is a “soul”? (12, 13)
Can a soul die, and what implications does this have? (14-16)
What happens to a person after death? (17-20)
How is victory over death possible? (21, 22)
Why can the future be thrilling? (23-25)
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‘It is noteworthy that in the New Testament we do not find hellfire to be a part of the primitive preaching. There are some indications in the New Testament that the ultimate fate of those who refuse God’s offer of salvation may be annihilation rather than eternal punishment.’—“A Dictionary of Christian Theology,” edited by Alan Richardson.
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Lazarus’ resurrection shows that death can be overcome