What Happens to Our Dead Loved Ones?
1. How do people feel when death strikes a loved one?
“ONE suffers when a loved one dies because death is a loss to a void beyond all understanding.” That is what one son said when his father and shortly thereafter his mother died. His pain and sense of deep loss made him feel that he was “drowning emotionally.” Perhaps you have suffered in a similar way. You may have wondered where your loved ones are and whether you will ever see them again.
2. What perplexing questions arise concerning death?
2 Some grieving parents have been told, “God picks the most beautiful flowers to take to himself in heaven.” Is that really so? Have our dead loved ones gone to a spirit realm? Is it what some call Nirvana, described as a blissful state of being free of all pain and desire? Have those we love passed through a doorway to immortal life in paradise? Or as others claim, is death a fall into never-ending torment for those who have offended God? Can the dead affect our lives? To get truthful answers to such questions, we need to consult God’s Word, the Bible.
WHAT IS THE “SPIRIT” IN HUMANS?
3. What opinion did Socrates and Plato have regarding the dead, and how does this affect people today?
3 The ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato held that there must be something inherently immortal inside man and woman—a soul that survives death and never really dies. Earth wide, millions believe this today. This belief often engenders as much fear of the dead as it does concern for their welfare. The Bible teaches us something quite different about the dead.
4. (a) What does Genesis tell us about the soul? (b) What did God put into Adam to make him alive?
4 In considering the condition of the dead, we must remember that our original father, Adam, did not have a soul. He was a soul. In an awe-inspiring act of creation, God formed man—the soul—from the basic elements of the earth and then breathed into him “the breath of life.” Genesis 2:7 tells us: “Jehovah 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.” Adam’s life was sustained by breathing. Yet, more than the blowing of air into man’s lungs was involved when God put the breath of life into Adam. The Bible speaks of “the force of life” that is active in earthly living creatures.—Genesis 7:22.
5, 6. (a) What is “the force of life”? (b) What happens when the “spirit” mentioned at Psalm 146:4 ceases to animate the body?
5 What is “the force of life”? It is the vital spark of life that God put into the lifeless body of Adam. This force was then sustained by the breathing process. But what is the “spirit” referred to at Psalm 146:4? That verse says of one who dies: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” When the Bible writers used the word “spirit” in this way, they did not have in mind a disembodied soul that continues living after the body dies.
6 The “spirit” that departs from humans at death is the life force that originated with our Creator. (Psalm 36:9; Acts 17:28) This life force does not have any of the characteristics of the creature it animates, just as electricity does not take on the features of the equipment it powers. When someone dies, the spirit (life force) ceases to animate the body cells, much as a light goes out when the electricity is turned off. When the life force stops sustaining the human body, man—the soul—dies.—Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 12:1, 7.
“TO DUST YOU WILL RETURN”
7. What would happen to Adam if he disobeyed God?
7 Jehovah clearly explained what death would mean for the sinner Adam. God said: “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) Adam would return where? To the ground, to the dust from which he had been created. At death Adam would simply cease to exist!
8. As souls, in what way are humans not superior to animals?
8 In this regard, human death does not differ from that of the animals. They too are souls, and the same spirit, or life force, energizes them. (Genesis 1:24) At Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20, the wise man Solomon tells us: “As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that [in death] 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.” Man was superior to the beasts in that he was created in God’s image, reflecting the qualities of Jehovah. (Genesis 1:26, 27) Yet, at death humans and animals alike return to the dust.
9. What is the condition of the dead, and where do they go?
9 Solomon further explained what death means, saying: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” Yes, the dead know absolutely nothing. In view of this, Solomon urged: “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, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Where do the dead go? To Sheol (Hebrew, sheʼohlʹ), the common grave of mankind. Our dead loved ones are not conscious of anything. They are not suffering, and they cannot affect us in any way.
10. Why can we say that death does not have to be final?
10 Must all of us and our loved ones live only a few years and then cease to exist forever? Not according to the Bible. At the time of Adam’s rebellion, Jehovah God immediately instituted arrangements to reverse the terrible consequences of human sin. Death was not part of God’s purpose for mankind. (Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9) Hence, death does not have to be final for us or for our loved ones.
“GONE TO REST”
11. How did Jesus describe the condition of his dead friend Lazarus?
11 It is Jehovah’s purpose to rescue us and our dead loved ones from Adamic death. Therefore, God’s Word refers to the dead as being asleep. For example, upon learning that his friend Lazarus had died, Jesus Christ told His disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” Since the disciples did not immediately grasp the meaning of this statement, Jesus said plainly: “Lazarus has died.” (John 11:11, 14) Jesus then went to the town of Bethany, where Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary were mourning their brother’s death. When Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise,” she expressed her faith in God’s purpose to reverse the effects of death on the human family. She said: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”—John 11:23, 24.
12. What hope did bereaved Martha have regarding the dead?
12 Martha expressed no thought about an immortal soul living on elsewhere after death. She did not believe that Lazarus had already gone to some spirit realm to continue his existence. Martha had faith in the wonderful hope of a resurrection from the dead. She understood, not that an immortal soul had departed from the body of Lazarus, but that her dead brother had ceased to exist. The remedy would be the resurrection of her brother.
13. What God-given power does Jesus have, and how did he demonstrate this power?
13 Jesus Christ is the one empowered by Jehovah God to redeem mankind. (Hosea 13:14) Hence, in response to Martha’s statement, Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:25) Jesus demonstrated his God-given power in this regard when he went to the tomb of Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, and restored him to life. (John 11:38-44) Just imagine the joy of those who saw this resurrection or others performed by Jesus Christ!—Mark 5:35-42; Luke 7:12-16.
14. Why are the resurrection and the idea of an immortal soul incompatible?
14 Pause for a moment to consider this: Nobody would need to be resurrected, or brought back to life, if an immortal soul survived death. In fact, it would be no kindness to resurrect someone like Lazarus back to imperfect life on earth if he had already passed on to a wonderful heavenly reward. Actually, the Bible never uses the expression “immortal soul.” Instead, the Scriptures say that the sinning human soul does die. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) So the Bible points to the provision of a resurrection as the real remedy for death.
“ALL THOSE IN THE MEMORIAL TOMBS”
15. (a) What does the term “resurrection” mean? (b) Why will the resurrection of individuals pose no problem for Jehovah God?
15 The word that Jesus’ disciples used for “resurrection” literally means “raising up” or “standing up.” This is a raising up from the lifeless condition of death—as it were, a standing up out of the common grave of mankind. Jehovah God can easily resurrect a person. Why? Because Jehovah is the Originator of life. Today, humans can record the voices and images of men and women on videotape and can replay these recordings after the individuals die. Surely, then, our almighty Creator can record the details of any individual and resurrect the same person, giving him or her a newly formed body.
16. (a) What promise did Jesus make about all those in the memorial tombs? (b) What will determine how a person’s resurrection turns out?
16 Jesus Christ said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his [Jesus’] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) All those in Jehovah’s memory will be resurrected and instructed in his ways. For those who act in harmony with the knowledge of God, this will turn out to be a resurrection of life. However, it will turn out to be a resurrection of condemnatory judgment for those who reject God’s teachings and rulership.
17. Who will be resurrected?
17 Naturally, those who have pursued a righteous course as Jehovah’s servants will be resurrected. In fact, the resurrection hope strengthened many to face death, even in cases of violent persecution. They knew that God could restore them to life. (Matthew 10:28) But millions of people have died without showing whether they would comply with God’s righteous standards. They too will be resurrected. Confident in Jehovah’s purpose in this regard, the apostle Paul said: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
18. (a) The apostle John received what vision of the resurrection? (b) What is destroyed in “the lake of fire,” and what does this “lake” symbolize?
18 The apostle John received a thrilling vision of resurrected ones standing before God’s throne. John then wrote: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:12-14) Think of that! All the dead who are in God’s memory have the prospect of release from Hades (Greek, haiʹdes), or Sheol, mankind’s common grave. (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31) They will have an opportunity to demonstrate by their deeds whether they will serve God. Then “death and Hades” will be hurled into what is called “the lake of fire,” symbolizing complete destruction, as does the term “Gehenna.” (Luke 12:5) The common grave of mankind itself will have been emptied and will cease to exist when the resurrection is completed. How comforting it is to learn from the Bible that God does not torture anyone!—Jeremiah 7:30, 31.
RESURRECTION TO WHERE?
19. Why will some of mankind be resurrected to heaven, and what kind of body will God give them?
19 A limited number of men and women will be resurrected to life in heaven. As kings and priests with Jesus, they will share in undoing all the effects of death that mankind inherited from the first man, Adam. (Romans 5:12; Revelation 5:9, 10) How many will God take to heaven to rule with Christ? According to the Bible, only 144,000. (Revelation 7:4; 14:1) Jehovah will give each of these resurrected ones a spirit body so that they can live in heaven.—1 Corinthians 15:35, 38, 42-45; 1 Peter 3:18.
20. What will be experienced by obedient mankind, including resurrected ones?
20 By far the majority of those who have died will be resurrected to a paradise earth. (Psalm 37:11, 29; Matthew 6:10) Part of the reason for resurrecting some to heaven is to complete God’s purpose for the earth. Jesus Christ and the 144,000 in heaven will progressively bring obedient mankind back to the perfection that our original parents threw away. This will include resurrected ones, as indicated by Jesus when he told the dying man impaled next to him: “You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:42, 43.
21. According to the prophet Isaiah and the apostle John, what will happen to death?
21 On the Paradise earth, death, which today produces such futility, will be removed. (Romans 8:19-21) The prophet Isaiah declared that Jehovah God “will actually swallow up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:8) The apostle John was given a vision of the time when obedient mankind will experience freedom from pain and death. Yes, “God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:1-4.
22. How does knowledge of the resurrection affect you?
22 The Bible’s clear teachings remove confusion about what happens to the dead. The Scriptures plainly state that death is “the last enemy” that will be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26) What strength and comfort we can draw from knowledge of the resurrection hope! And how glad we can be that our dead loved ones who are in God’s memory will awaken from the sleep of death to enjoy all the good things he has in store for those who love him! (Psalm 145:16) Such blessings will be accomplished through God’s Kingdom. But when was its rule to begin? Let us see.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
What is the spirit in humans?
How would you describe the condition of the dead?
Who will be resurrected?
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Just as Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, so millions will be resurrected
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Joy will prevail when ‘God swallows up death forever’