Where Are the Dead?
“THE earth is a marketplace; heaven is our home,” say the Yoruba of West Africa. This idea is echoed in many religions. It conveys the notion that the earth is like a marketplace that we visit for a short time and then depart. According to this belief, at death we go to heaven, our true abode.
The Bible does teach that some go to heaven. Jesus Christ told his faithful apostles: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. . . . I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”—John 14:2, 3.
Jesus’ words do not mean that all good people go to heaven or that heaven is mankind’s home. Some are taken to heaven in connection with rulership over the earth. Jehovah God knew that human governments would never successfully manage affairs on earth. Therefore, he arranged for a heavenly government, or Kingdom, that would eventually take control of the earth and transform it into the Paradise he originally purposed it to be. (Matthew 6:9, 10) Jesus would be King of God’s Kingdom. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Others would be selected from among humankind to rule with him. The Bible foretold that those taken to heaven would be “a kingdom and priests to our God” and would “rule as kings over the earth.”—Revelation 5:10.
Who Go to Heaven?
Considering the great responsibility these heavenly rulers would have, it is not surprising that they would have to meet strict requirements. Those who go to heaven must have accurate knowledge of Jehovah and must obey him. (John 17:3; Romans 6:17, 18) They are required to exercise faith in Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice. (John 3:16) Yet, more is involved. They must be called and chosen by God through his Son. (2 Timothy 1:9, 10; 1 Peter 2:9) Furthermore, they must be baptized Christians who are “born again,” begotten by God’s holy spirit. (John 1:12, 13; 3:3-6) They also need to maintain integrity to God until death.—2 Timothy 2:11-13; Revelation 2:10.
Countless millions of people who have lived and died did not meet these requirements. Many have had little opportunity to learn about the true God. Others have never read the Bible and know little or nothing about Jesus Christ. Even among true Christians on earth today, few have been chosen by God for heavenly life.
Consequently, the number of those who go to heaven would be relatively small. Jesus referred to such ones as a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) Later, it was revealed to the apostle John that those “bought from the earth” to rule with Christ in heaven would number only 144,000. (Revelation 14:1, 3; 20:6) When compared with the billions of people who have lived on earth, that is a small number indeed.
Those Who Do Not Go to Heaven
What happens to those who do not go to heaven? Are they suffering in a place of eternal torment, as some religions teach? Of course not, for Jehovah is a God of love. Loving parents do not throw their children into the fire, and Jehovah does not torture people in such a way.—1 John 4:8.
The prospect for the vast majority of those who have died is a resurrection to an earthly paradise. The Bible says that Jehovah created the earth “to be inhabited.” (Isaiah 45:18) The psalmist declared: “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16) It is the earth, not heaven, that will be mankind’s permanent home.
Jesus foretold: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice [that of Jesus, the “Son of man”] and come out.” (John 5:27-29) The Christian apostle Paul affirmed: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) On the torture stake, Jesus promised a repentant evildoer life by means of a resurrection into an earthly paradise.—Luke 23:43.
What, though, is the present state of the dead who will be resurrected to life on earth? An event in the ministry of Jesus helps to answer this question. His friend Lazarus had died. Before Jesus went to resurrect him, He told His disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) Thus Jesus compared death to sleep, a deep sleep without dreams.
Sleeping in Death
Other scriptures harmonize with this thought of being asleep in death. They do not teach that humans have an immortal soul that passes on to the spirit realm at death. Rather, the Bible says: “The dead . . . are conscious of nothing at all . . . Their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished . . . There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the grave], the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10) Moreover, the psalmist declared that man “goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:4.
These scriptures make it clear that those sleeping in death cannot see or hear us. They are unable to bring either blessing or calamity. They are not in heaven, nor do they dwell in a community of ancestors. They are lifeless, nonexistent.
In God’s due time, those now asleep in death and who are in his memory will be awakened to life in a paradise earth. It will be an earth cleansed of the pollution, troubles, and problems mankind now experiences. What a joyous time that will be! In that Paradise they will have the prospect of living forever, for Psalm 37:29 assures us: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”
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I QUIT WORSHIPING THE DEAD
“When I was a boy, I assisted my father during his regular sacrifices to his dead father. On one occasion when my father recovered from a terrible illness, the oracle man told him that in appreciation for his recovery he should offer a sacrifice of a goat, yams, kola nuts, and liquor to his dead father. My father was also advised to appeal to his dead ancestors to ward off further sickness and calamity.
“My mother purchased what was required for the sacrifice, which was to be performed at the grave of my grandfather. The grave was right beside our house, in harmony with local custom.
“Friends, relatives, and neighbors were invited to observe the sacrifice. My father, elegantly clad to fit the occasion, sat on a chair facing the shrine where several skulls of goats that had been used for previous sacrifices were lined up. My job was to pour wine from a bottle into a small tumbler, which I handed to my father. In turn, he poured it out on the ground in sacrifice. My father called on the name of his father three times and prayed to him for deliverance from future calamity.
“Kola nuts were offered, and a ram was slaughtered, boiled, and eaten by all those present. I shared in the eating and danced to singing and the beating of drums. My father danced beautifully and rigorously, even though age was telling on him. At intervals he prayed for his ancestors to bless all those present, while the people, including me, answered Ise, meaning ‘May it be so.’ I watched my father with keen interest and admiration and yearned for the day when I would be old enough to make sacrifices to dead ancestors.
“Despite the many sacrifices offered, peace still eluded the family. While there were three surviving sons of my mother, none of the three daughters born to her lived very long; all died in childhood. When my mother became pregnant again, my father made elaborate sacrifices for the child to be born safely.
“Mother gave birth to another girl. Two years later the child became sick and died. My father consulted the oracle, who said that an enemy was responsible for the death. The oracle said that for the ‘soul’ of the child to fight back, a burning piece of wood, a bottle of liquor, and a young dog were required for the sacrifice. The burning wood was to be placed on the grave, the liquor was to be sprinkled on the grave, and the young dog was to be buried alive near the grave. This was supposed to awaken the soul of the dead girl to avenge her death.
“I carried the bottle of liquor and the burning wood to the grave, and my father carried the puppy, which he buried according to the oracle’s instructions. All of us believed that within seven days the soul of the dead girl would destroy the person who caused her untimely death. Two months passed, and no death was reported in the neighborhood. I became disillusioned.
“I was 18 years old at the time. Shortly thereafter I met Jehovah’s Witnesses, who showed me from the Scriptures that the dead can work neither good nor evil to the living. As knowledge of God’s Word took root in my heart, I told my father I could no longer accompany him to make sacrifices to the dead. At first he was angry with me for deserting him, as he put it. But when he observed that I was not willing to renounce my newfound faith, he did not oppose my worship of Jehovah.
“On April 18, 1948, I symbolized my dedication by water baptism. Since then, I have continued to serve Jehovah with much rejoicing and satisfaction, helping others to get free from the worship of dead ancestors, who can neither help us nor harm us.”—Contributed by J. B. Omiegbe, Benin City, Nigeria.
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There will be great joy when the dead are resurrected on a paradise earth