As Bible-believing Christians, it is vitally important that every doctrine that we profess be firmly rooted in the word of God. Jesus declared that it is the word of His Father that is truth and makes us holy. “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” John 17:17. God takes ownership only of the truth. God has no part of a lie, but He tells us who the author of lies is. “You are of your father the devil … for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44. We need to “buy the truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23) and have no part of any lie.
The purpose of a lie is to deceive, to blind the mind so that the truth cannot be understood. Satan told the very first lie to Eve in the garden of Eden. It was about death, a subject on which billions today are still deceived. The devil told our first mother, as she stood before the forbidden tree, “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:4. This lie was in direct conflict with the truth of God regarding the punishment of death for sin. He had declared to Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17. Adam and Eve sinned, but did not drop dead that day. They did, however, die spiritually. They were no longer in unity with God, their Creator. Guilt-ridden, they fled from His presence.
Because our first parents did not physically die on the very day that they ate the forbidden fruit, the lie of Satan is eagerly believed by many Christians. Even on tombstones, phrases are carved disputing the existence of death. “There is no Death.” “Gone to Glory.” Satan’s lie is eagerly grasped for comfort at the loss of a loved one, being repeated by ministers, family, and friends at funerals and memorial services. So often, those who state, “She’s singing in the choir with the angels,” “He is in a better place,” or “He’s gone on home to glory” do not realize they are perpetuating the devil’s lie. On obituaries it is stated that the service is a “Home Going Celebration.” By the words of false comfort, spoken over the dead, God’s word has been stripped of its power to enlighten the mind to the glories of the resurrection of the just.
Is it not strange that in Christian churches, where the resurrection of Christ is regarded so highly that the first day of the week on which He rose is the day of worship, it is taught that those who die now go straight to heaven, bypassing the resurrection at Jesus’ soon return? How is it that those who follow the Master are greater and more blessed than He? Our Lord plainly told His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ ” John 15:20
In His earthly ministry, Jesus raised the dead to life, but never gave any indication that they had gone to heaven at death. Even Lazarus, whom He loved, did not enter heaven at death. When our Saviour raised him back to life, He did not say, “Lazarus, come down.” He called out to the grave where His dear friend lay, “ ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes … .” John 11:43, 44.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead agrees fully with the truth about death in the Old Testament. “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.” Psalm 115:17. “For Sheol [the grave] cannot thank You, death cannot praise You; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth. The living, the living man, he shall praise You, as I do this day.” Isaiah 38:18, 19
“Popular theology represents the righteous dead as in heaven, entered into bliss and praising God with an immortal tongue; but Hezekiah could see no such glorious prospect in death. With his words agrees the testimony of the psalmist: ‘In death there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give Thee thanks?’ … Psalm 6:5.” The Great Controversy, 546
Jesus’ words to His disciples before He raised Lazarus shed further light on the true nature of death. He described His friend’s death as a sleep. “… ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then his disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” John 11:11–14. Jesus’ description of death as a sleep is straight out of the Old Testament that He loved and knew so well.
“Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death … .” Psalm 13:3
“So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David.” 1 Kings 2:10
“Then Solomon rested with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father.” 1 Kings 11:43
“And the period that Jeroboam reigned was twenty-two years. So he rested with his fathers.” 1 Kings 14:20
“So Rehoboam rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David.” Verse 31
How much do the dead know? Nothing at all. “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:5
In the sleep of death, the dead know nothing and can do nothing. It is the misunderstanding or straight out refusal to believe God’s word on the matter of death that has led to such errors as channeling, using Ouija boards, wishing the dead “Heavenly Happy Birthday,” being scared of ghosts in haunted houses, holding séances to get messages from dead loved ones, or believing that dead relatives can come and talk to us. Such pretended communication is from Satan and his lying demonic forces, as evident in the history of King Saul and the witch of En Dor. (1 Samuel 28:5–25.) This happened after Samuel the prophet died and was buried in Ramah. So the “Samuel” that communicated with Saul was not the dead prophet of the Lord, but an evil spirit pretending to be God’s spokesman.
In the records of the kings of Israel and Judah, none of them, not even the righteous ones who walked in the ways of the Lord—David, Asa, or Hezekiah—are said to have gone to heaven at death. Centuries after David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” had died, specific mention was made by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, that he had not gone to heaven. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
For David did not ascend into the heavens … .” Acts 2:29, 34. Even Jesus did not go directly to heaven at death (John 20:17).
We now ask, “When will the dead live again?” “So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep.” Job 14:12. And when will the atmospheric heavens be destroyed? In the “day of the Lord … in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise … .” 2 Peter 3:10. Jesus raised the dead while on earth, and at His glorious second advent, He will call the righteous dead to life. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” John 5:25
The truth of the first resurrection is further clarified in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” This truth brings true healing to the grieving, as Paul summed it up in verse 18, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
On earth’s final day, when “the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him,” and sits “on the throne of His glory,” (Matthew 25:31), may we not miss out on glory, but greet Jesus in peace, and be forever with our Lord!
Patricia Smith is a second generation Seventh-day Adventist writer who loves to study and share the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.