Are the Dead Alive? What God Says
A LIGHTPLANE took off from a city in Southern Africa on a flight to a town about 250 miles (400 km) away. On board were the pilot and his young daughter, aged 12. When they tried to make an emergency landing, the plane crashed, killing both of them.
“Jehovah God alone knew my pain and loss, as well as the struggle I had to cope,” recalls Betty, the wife and mother. How did she manage? “I prayed constantly and incessantly for courage and strength to cope myself so that I could help others to cope as well.” Betty also drew much comfort from what God says about the condition of the dead and the hope of the resurrection.
What does God say about the dead? The Bible answers: “The dead know nothing.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, The Jerusalem Bible) So the dead are unconscious. It is as simple as that. Then why do most people believe the opposite? Because they have been duped by a colossal and ancient earth-wide hoax!
An Earth-Wide Deception
It all started with the first lie ever told. The historical account in the Bible book of Genesis gives the details. It says: “As for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) That was Jehovah God talking to the first man, Adam. Now, compare this with Genesis 3:1-4, where Satan, speaking through the serpent, induced Eve to disobey God, saying: “You positively will not die.” So Satan contradicted what God had said. He thereby told the first lie, becoming “the father of the lie.”—John 8:44; Revelation 12:9.
But Adam and Eve did die, and so have countless millions of others. How did the liar Satan get around that? By later implanting the idea that, although the body dies, something lives on. This subsequently became a doctrine of ancient religions and was incorporated into Greek philosophy. Hence, belief in the immortality of the soul is almost universal. And to many who believe their dead loved ones are alive somewhere this is perhaps a comforting thought. However, the vital question is: Is it true?
Is Your Soul Immortal?
The word “immortality” appears three times in the Bible, all the occurrences being in the Christian Greek Scriptures. An examination of its usage makes one thing clear: Man is not inherently immortal.
Consider, for example, the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Timothy 6:15, 16 where he describes Jesus Christ as “the King of those who rule as kings and Lord of those who rule as lords, the one alone having immortality.” So how is Jesus distinct from all other “kings” and “lords”? He is immortal; they are not.
True, immortality is promised to those of Christ’s followers who are called to reign with him in the heavens. (1 Peter 1:3, 4) Thus, at 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, we read: “This which is mortal must put on immortality. But when . . . this which is mortal puts on immortality, then the saying will take place that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up forever.’” But notice that immortality is “put on.” It is a reward for faithful, chosen Christians. It is not something that all humans inherit.
Further, the Bible does not say that man has or was given a soul. Rather, it says: “And 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.” (Genesis 2:7; compare 1 Corinthians 15:45.) Being something is quite different from having something. No one will contest the fact that being a dog is different from having a dog! Likewise, being a soul is not the same as having a soul.
That not all humans receive the grant of immortality is clear from the Bible’s many references to the soul’s dying. For example: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) “Indeed, any soul that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:23.
Since we do not have immortal souls, what happens when we die? We “sleep,” because due to Christ’s ransom sacrifice there is the hope of a resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:22) When Lazarus died Jesus said: “I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” Then he explained: “Lazarus has died.” (John 11:11-14) Paul also spoke about those “who are sleeping in death.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:20) Well, then, if the dead are sleeping . . .
Will There Be an Awakening?
Consider this amazing scene: A crowd is gathered before a cave at Bethany near Jerusalem. Jesus is there with Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus who has recently died and whose body lies in a cave that is closed by a stone. “Take the stone away,” orders Jesus. Martha objects: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.” But after a brief prayer Jesus cries out: “Lazarus, come on out!” And the man Lazarus comes out! (John 11:38-44) Can you imagine the astonishment and joy of the crowd—especially of Mary and Martha?
If Lazarus had been alive during those four days, would he not have revealed it to everybody? But there is no record that he spoke about any experience he had while dead, and further confirming that, the Bible says, “The dead know nothing.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, JB.
Lazarus’ case was not unique. At a place called Nain, Jesus met the funeral cortege of a young man about to be buried. Jesus said: “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” And what happened? “The dead man sat up and started to speak.” (Luke 7:11-17) But, here again, did the young man say anything about a place where people go at death? No, for apparently he had simply been dead.
Jesus, Paul, Peter, Elijah, and Elisha all raised dead people. None of those who had once been dead said a word about life after death.
These marvelous miracles provide a foretaste of the only way that the vast majority of the dead can live again—by a resurrection back to life on earth under God’s Kingdom. Said Jesus: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [my] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) That will be a most thrilling experience for those privileged to live under Christ’s Kingdom rule of a thousand years, now so near. (Revelation 20:4, 6) The resurrection hope in itself proves that the dead cannot be alive. If people are to be resurrected, then they must first become lifeless.
Some May Ask . . .
What about the claims of mediums and others that they receive messages from the dead? Does this not prove that the dead are alive? No. Satan is very clever, an archdeceiver who often “masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14, The New English Bible) He and his demons can, and often do, masquerade as the spirits of people who have died! Hence, Jehovah’s law to Israel clearly stated: “Anyone who consults a spirit medium . . . or anyone who inquires of the dead . . . is something detestable to Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) Jehovah also says that those who practice spiritism “will not inherit God’s kingdom” but will be destroyed.—Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8.a
What about those who claim to have had near-death experiences? Does that not prove that the spirit or soul leaves the body at death? George Gallup, Jr., U.S. public-opinion pollster, investigated this subject and published the results in Adventures in Immortality. Doctors and scientists who were interviewed were skeptical about the validity of the near-death accounts. Said a Maryland biophysicist: “These are the experiences of a mind in an abnormal state physiologically . . . The brain is a very complex organ and it can play a lot of tricks when you mistreat it—look at the experiences with hallucinogenic drugs.” An Ohio psychiatrist: “These reports are fantasies or hallucinatory phenomena.” A Michigan scientist: “These are trauma-induced fantasies.”
Gallup came to the conclusion that near-death accounts do not “by any means constitute what might be considered proof of immortality or the afterlife.” He adds: “They may be simply dramatic internal scenarios that are played out entirely in the minds of those who undergo physical traumas.” He also suggests that some religious thinkers would explain such experiences as being “part of a demonic strategy to trick human beings.” What Jehovah God said long ago still stands: “The dead know nothing.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, JB.
What Should You Do?
Beware of ideas or teachings based on Satan’s first lie—“you positively will not die.” (Genesis 3:1-5) Accept what God’s Word teaches, that when a man dies “his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:4) Accept, too, that the sleeping dead will rise during the glorious rule of God’s Kingdom, for which many pray, when “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15; Matthew 6:9, 10.
The sickly woman mentioned in our first article rejoiced when she was told what God says about the dead and about deceitful demon spirits. She destroyed her charms and other spiritistic items and in a few days felt much better. She is now helping others to break free from demon worship.
The widow who lost her loved ones in the plane crash was comforted by this thought: Since the dead know nothing, time, for them, is no more. So from their standpoint they awake at the next instant in an earthly paradise under God’s Kingdom! She delights in helping others to know that soon “Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8) She looks forward to the day when, by means of the resurrection, her dead loved ones will come alive.
a See also the booklet Unseen Spirits—Do They Help Us? Or Do They Harm Us? published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.