AS YOU may well know, people today grow old, get sick, and die. Even some children die. Should you be afraid of death or of anybody who has died?— Do you know what happens if we die?—
Well, nobody living today has been dead and come back to life to tell us about it. But when Jesus, the Great Teacher, was on earth, there was such a man. We can learn about what happens to those who die by reading about him. The man was a friend of Jesus and lived in Bethany, a small town not far from Jerusalem. His name was Lazarus, and he had two sisters, named Martha and Mary. Let’s see what the Bible says happened.
One day Lazarus gets very sick. At the time, Jesus is far away. So Martha and Mary send a messenger to tell Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, is sick. They do this because they know that Jesus can come and make their brother well. Jesus is not a doctor, but he has power from God so that he can cure every kind of sickness.—Matthew 15:30, 31.
Before Jesus goes to see Lazarus, however, Lazarus gets so sick that he dies. But Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is sleeping and that He will go to wake him up. The disciples do not understand what Jesus means. So Jesus says plainly: “Lazarus has died.” What does this show about death?— Yes, that it is like a deep sleep. It is a sleep so deep that the person does not even dream.
Jesus is now coming to visit Martha and Mary. Many friends of the family have already arrived. They have come to comfort the sisters because their brother has died. When Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she goes to meet him. Soon Mary also goes out to see Jesus. She is very sad and is crying, and she falls at his feet. Other friends who have followed Mary are also crying.
The Great Teacher asks where they have put Lazarus. At that, the people lead Jesus to the cave where Lazarus has been buried. When Jesus sees all the people crying, he starts to cry too. He knows how painful it is to lose a loved one in death.
A stone is in front of the cave, so Jesus says: “Take the stone away.” Should they do it?— Martha does not think it is a good idea. She says: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.”
But Jesus says to her: “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Jesus means that Martha would see something that would bring honor to God. What is Jesus going to do? When the stone is removed, Jesus prays out loud to Jehovah. Then Jesus says in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come on out!” Would he come out? Could he?—
Well, can you wake up somebody who is sleeping?— Yes, if you call in a loud voice, he will wake up. But can you wake up someone who is sleeping in death?— No. No matter how loud you call, the one who is dead will not hear. There is nothing that you or I or any other person on earth today can do to wake the dead.
But Jesus is different. He has special power from God. So when Jesus calls Lazarus, an amazing thing happens. The man who has been dead for four days comes out of the cave! He is brought back to life! He can breathe and walk and speak again! Yes, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.—John 11:1-44.
Now think about it: What happened to Lazarus when he died? Did some part of him—a soul or a spirit—leave his body and go to live somewhere else? Did Lazarus’ soul go to heaven? Was he alive for four days up there with God and the holy angels?—
No, he wasn’t. Remember, Jesus said Lazarus was sleeping. What is it like when you are asleep? When you are in a very deep sleep, you do not know what is going on around you, do you?— And when you wake up, you do not know how long you have been sleeping until you look at a clock.
It is like that with dead people. They do not know anything. They do not feel anything. And they cannot do anything. That is the way it was with Lazarus when he was dead. Death is like a deep sleep where a person doesn’t remember anything. The Bible says: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
Think about this too: If Lazarus had been in heaven for those four days, would he not have said something about it?— And if he had been in heaven, would Jesus have made him come back to earth from that wonderful place?— Of course not!
Yet, many people say that we have a soul, and they say that the soul lives on after the body dies. They say that Lazarus’ soul was alive somewhere. But the Bible does not say that. It says that God made the first man Adam “a living soul.” Adam was a soul. The Bible also says that when Adam sinned, he died. He became a “dead soul,” and he returned to the dust from which he had been made. The Bible also says that all Adam’s offspring inherited sin and death too.—Genesis 2:7; 3:17-19; Numbers 6:6; Romans 5:12.
Clearly, then, we do not have a soul that is separate from our body. Each one of us is a soul. And since people have inherited sin from the first man, Adam, the Bible says: ‘The soul that sins will die.’—Ezekiel 18:4.
Some people are afraid of the dead. They won’t go near a graveyard because they think that the dead have souls separate from their body that could harm the living. But can a dead person harm someone who is alive?— No, he can’t.
Some people even believe that the dead can come back as spirits to visit the living. So they set out food for the dead. But people who do that do not really believe what God says about the dead. If we believe what God says, we won’t be afraid of the dead. And if we are really thankful to God for life, we will show it by doing things that God approves.
But you may wonder: ‘Will God bring children who have died back to life? Does he really want to?’ Let’s talk about that next.