What Happens at Death?
1. What questions do people often ask about the dead?
PERHAPS you know the empty feeling that comes with losing a loved one in death. How very sad and helpless you can feel! It is only natural to ask: What happens to a person when he dies? Is he still alive somewhere? Will the living ever again be able to enjoy on earth the company of those now dead?
2. What happened to the first man, Adam, at his death?
2 To answer such questions, it will be a help for us to know what happened to Adam at his death. When he sinned, God told him: “You [will] return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Think of what that means. Before God created him from the dust, there was no Adam. He did not exist. So, after he died, Adam returned to that same state of nonexistence.
3 Simply stated, death is the opposite of life. The Bible shows this at Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10. According to the Authorized or King James Version, these verses say: “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. 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.”
4. (a) What happens to a person’s thinking abilities at death? (b) Why do a person’s senses all stop working at death?
4 This means that the dead cannot do anything and cannot feel anything. They no longer have any thoughts, as the Bible states: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:3, 4) At death man’s spirit, his life-force, which is sustained by breathing, “goes out.” It no longer exists. So man’s senses of hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste, which depend upon his being able to think, all stop working. According to the Bible, the dead enter a state of complete unconsciousness.
5. (a) How does the Bible show that the condition of dead humans and dead animals is the same? (b) What is the “spirit” that makes both humans and animals live?
5 When they are dead, both humans and animals are in this same state of complete unconsciousness. Note how the Bible makes this point: “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, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20) The “spirit” that makes animals live is the same as that which makes humans live. When this “spirit,” or invisible life-force, goes out, both man and beast return to the dust from which they are made.
THE SOUL DIES
6. How does the Bible show that animals are souls?
6 Some persons have said that what makes man different from the animals is that man has a soul but the animals do not. However, Genesis 1:20 and 30 says that God created “living souls” to live in the waters, and that the animals have “life as a soul.” In these verses some Bibles use the words “creature” and “life” instead of “soul,” but their marginal readings agree that the word “soul” is what appears in the original language. Among the Bible references to animals as souls is Numbers 31:28. There it speaks of “one soul out of five hundred, of humankind and of the herd and of the asses and of the flock.”
7. What does the Bible say to prove that both animal souls and human souls die?
7 Since animals are souls, when they die their souls die. As the Bible says: “Every living soul died, yes, the things in the sea.” (Revelation 16:3) What about human souls? As we learned in the previous chapter, God did not create man with a soul. Man is a soul. So, as we would expect, when man dies, his soul dies. Over and over again the Bible says that this is true. Never does the Bible say the soul is deathless or that it cannot die. “All those going down to the dust will bend down, and no one will ever preserve his own soul alive,” Psalm 22:29 says. “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die,” explains Ezekiel 18:4 and 20. And if you turn to Joshua 10:28-39, you will find seven places where the soul is spoken of as being killed or destroyed.
8. How do we know that the human soul, Jesus Christ, died?
8 In a prophecy about Jesus Christ, the Bible says: “He poured out his soul to the very death . . . and he himself carried the very sin of many people.” (Isaiah 53:12) The teaching of the ransom proves it was a soul (Adam) that sinned, and that in order to ransom humans there had to be a corresponding soul (a man) sacrificed. Christ, by ‘pouring out his soul unto death,’ provided the ransom price. Jesus, the human soul, died.
9. What is meant by the words, ‘the spirit itself returns to God who gave it’?
9 As we have seen, the “spirit” is something different from our soul. The spirit is our life-force. This life-force is in each of the body cells of both humans and animals. It is sustained, or kept alive, by breathing. What does it mean, then, when the Bible says that at death “the dust returns to the earth . . . and the spirit itself returns to the true God who gave it”? (Ecclesiastes 12:7) At death the life-force in time leaves all the body cells and the body begins to decay. But this does not mean that our life-force literally leaves the earth and travels through space to God. Rather, the spirit returns to God in the sense that now our hope for future life rests entirely with God. Only by his power can the spirit, or life-force, be given back so that we live again.—Psalm 104:29, 30.
LAZARUS—A MAN DEAD FOR FOUR DAYS
10. Even though Lazarus had died, what did Jesus say about his condition?
10 What happened to Lazarus, who was dead for four days, helps us to understand the condition of the dead. Jesus had told his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” However, the disciples replied: “Lord, if he has gone to rest, he will get well.” At that, Jesus told them plainly: “Lazarus has died.” Why did Jesus say Lazarus was sleeping when really he had died? Let us see.
11. What did Jesus do for the dead Lazarus?
11 When Jesus got near the village where Lazarus had lived, he was met by Martha, the sister of Lazarus. Soon they, along with many others, went to the tomb where Lazarus had been put. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said: “Take the stone away.” Since Lazarus had been dead for four days, Martha protested: “Lord, by now he must smell.” But the stone was removed, and Jesus called out: “Lazarus, come on out!” And he did! He came out alive, still wrapped in graveclothes. “Loose him and let him go,” Jesus said.—John 11:11-44.
12, 13. (a) Why can we be sure that Lazarus was unconscious when he was dead? (b) Why did Jesus say that Lazarus was asleep when, really, he was dead?
12 Now think about this: What was Lazarus’ condition during those four days he was dead? Had he been in heaven? He was a good man. Yet Lazarus did not say anything about being in heaven, which surely he would have done if he had been there. No, Lazarus was really dead, even as Jesus said he was. Then why did Jesus at first tell his disciples that Lazarus was only sleeping?
13 Well, Jesus knew that the dead Lazarus was unconscious, as the Bible says: “The dead . . . are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) But a living person can be awakened from a deep sleep. So Jesus was going to show that, by means of God’s power given to him, his friend Lazarus could be awakened from death.
14. Knowledge of Christ’s power to raise the dead should move us to do what?
14 When a person is in a very deep sleep, he remembers nothing. It is similar with the dead. They have no feelings at all. They no longer exist. But, in God’s due time, the dead who are ransomed by God will be raised to life. (John 5:28) Surely this knowledge should move us to want to win God’s favor. If we do, even if we should die, we will be remembered by God and be brought back to life.—1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14.
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ADAM—made from dust . . . returned to dust
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What was Lazarus’ condition before Jesus raised him?