“I thought there were three places a person could go at death: heaven, hell, or purgatory. I knew I wasn’t good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell. It was not clear to me exactly what was in purgatory. I never saw any of that in the Bible. It was just what people said.”—Lionel.
“I was taught that all people go to heaven at death, but I was not convinced. I thought that death ends everything—that no future exists for the dead.”—Fernando.
Have you wondered: ‘What really happens at death? Are our dead loved ones suffering somewhere? Will we ever see them again? How can we be sure?’ Please consider what the Scriptures actually teach. First, let us examine what the Bible says death is like. Then we will discuss the hope that God’s Word, the Bible, offers.
What is the condition of the dead?
THE BIBLE’S ANSWER: “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might, for there is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave, where you are going.”*—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
The Grave, simply put, is where humans go when they die; it is a symbolic place or condition where any consciousness or activity ceases. How did the faithful man Job view the Grave? He had lost all his possessions and children in one day, and then he was struck with agonizing boils all over his body. He pleaded with God: “O that in the Grave [“in hell,” Catholic Douay Version] you would conceal me, that you would hide me.” (Job 1:13-19; 2:7; 14:13) Clearly, Job did not understand the Grave to be a fiery hell, a place where his suffering would be even worse. Rather, he thought of it as a place of relief.
There is another way to learn about the condition of the dead. We can examine the inspired Scriptural records concerning eight people who returned from the dead.—See the box “Eight Resurrections Described in the Bible.”
Not one of those eight spoke about being in a place of bliss or torment. If the people who were resurrected had gone to such a place when they died, would they not have told people about it? And would this not be included in the inspired Bible record for all to see? In the Scriptures, nothing of the kind is recorded. Those eight people evidently had nothing to say on the subject. Why not? Because they had been unconscious, as if in a deep sleep. In fact, the Bible sometimes uses sleep as an illustration to explain death. For example, faithful David and Stephen both “fell asleep in death.”—Acts 7:60; 13:36.
What hope, then, is there for the dead? Can they awaken from this sleep?
In the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the word “Grave” is used to render the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek word “Hades.” Some Bible versions use the word “hell,” but the notion of a fiery place of torment for the dead is not Scriptural.