by Cody Francis
There is something that no skeptic in the world can deny. The Bible, heaven, God and Jesus may all be rashly denied, but none dare deny the fact that all are headed toward death. Because of the undeniable fact that we are all headed toward death, a haunting question vaunts itself into the minds of many: “after death, what?” The subject of death creates a range in the emotional spectrum that can go from paranoia to fascination. The fascination with death and the realization of the impossibility of escape from death, has led many into a race to contact the dead.
Recently there has been an explosion of interest in the unknown mysteries of death. The phenomenon of claiming to be able to contact the dead is becoming almost common place. Hollywood movies fill the screens with plots revolving around the ability to contact the dead. The movie The Sixth Sense, dealing with a young boy’s ESP and ability to contact the dead, hit number one at the box office for weeks in a row and has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars. Books, movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, all seem to be feeding America’s interest in contacting the dead. While preparing this booklet a popular magazine caught my attention while standing in line at the grocery store. The cover said, “A hit movie has people asking, is there a Sixth Sense? Whether they’re mediums with a message or phonies after a fast buck, a new breed of psychic has made believers of millions who long to talk to the dead.” (People Weekly, October 25, 1999) This article takes a look at mediums (those who claim to communicate with the dead) and their opponents. It declares, “In a 1994 USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll, almost 70 million Americans said they think it’s possible to communicate with the dead. Meanwhile, the afterlife business is booming in the U.S. Books about contacting the dead have crowded onto The New York Times bestseller list in the past two years, and the paranormal is at full boil on TV. Leeza, Montel, and Larry King Live regularly feature segments on the spirit world. . . . On the Internet, hundreds of niche sites spread the ghostly gospel, including some devoted to home snapshots of eerie ectoplasmic forms floating around backyard parties, and instructions on how to have your own ADC (after death communication) with loved ones.” (People Weekly, October 25, 1999, pg. 118.) Clearly the race to contact the dead has well nigh swept across America.
With the increased interest in afterlife, it becomes necessary for every Christian to thoroughly investigate from the Scriptures to see what God’s Word teaches about what happens at death. If this is something that the Scriptures commend, then surely Christians should not be left out of the race to contact the dead, but if this is something that the Scriptures explicitly forbid, every Christian should be foremost in warning their friends of this dangerous deception.
The Bible is actually remarkably clear upon whether it is safe for a Christian to contact their dead loved ones. “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.” [Leviticus 19:31]. Clearly it is defiling to seek after mediums (those who call up the dead.) The Lord said to “give no regard” to them. “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” [Deuteronomy 18:9-14]. This even gives us an idea as to why the Canaanites were driven from the land of Canaan. They had become inundated with these practices of spiritualism. There is an entire list that the Lord gives us so that we will not be misled. The very foundational cornerstone of most of the ones mentioned in the list above is the supposed ability to contact the dead, and just so that there is no mistaking it, the Lord adds in unmistakable words, “or one who calls up the dead.” It is an abomination before the Lord to go to someone who claims to be able to contact the dead. This was one of the reasons that the Lord’s anger was kindled against the inhabitants of Canaan, and it will rekindle His anger again if we get involved with the deceptive practices of spiritualism.
It is actually an insult to the God of heaven to communicate with the dead for any reason. When King Ahaziah of Israel fell through a lattice and was injured he sent a messenger to ask of Baal-Zebub of Ekron whether he was going to recover from his injury or not. Elijah met him with the stern message, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?” [II kings 1:3]. Because the king had gone to inquire of Baal-Zebub instead of the God of Israel, he was to die, and it happened exactly as prophesied. The Lord regards it the same way if we turn to the dead instead of the God of heaven. “And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” [Isaiah 8:19,20]. By going in search of what the dead have to say, we are turning our back upon the God of heaven. He says, “Should not a people seek their God?” Why do those who profess His name turn to the dead instead of to the living God? If we are following the God of heaven should we not go to Him instead of the dead? It is an abomination and an insult to God to attempt to contact the dead instead of seeking Him for wisdom and guidance.
In ancient Israel, this was something that was so offensive that God gave the instruction that if there were those who went against the Word of God and attempted to contact the dead, they were to be stoned. “A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.” [Leviticus 20:27.] One who attempted to contact the dead (a medium) or one who dealt with spirits was not to last long. Then again in the New Testament a similar warning is given. “But outside (the New Jerusalem) are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” [Revelation 22:15.] “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. [Revelation 21:8]. This time it is not the physical death, but even worse, the lake of fire that the sorcerers receive. (Sorcery is based on the supposed contact with evil spirits and the spirits of the dead, and is grouped with contacting the dead in Deuteronomy 18:9-11.) God is very clear upon this subject. Those in Israel’s day who ventured onto the forbidden ground of communication with the dead met the sentence of death, and those who follow suit today will partake of the lake of fire.
It is clear from the Bible that neither anciently, nor now, are God’s people to have anything to do with mediums or calling up the dead. It is an abomination, and the Lord explicitly tells us to give no regard to them. Paul, writing in the New Testament counsels, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” [Ephesians 5:11]. Although the seriousness of this matter can be seen, the question naturally arises, why such a strict prohibition? It is simply an innocent communication with our loved relatives. We communicated with them while they were still alive, what could be wrong with it once they are dead?
The Impassable Gulf
God in His great love and mercy for us has put an impassable gulf between the dead and the living. The living cannot communicate with the dead, and the dead cannot communicate with the living. “As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, nor shall his place know him anymore.” [Job 7:9, 10]. The Word of God plainly declares that once a person dies, he does not come back up. Job says that it is like a cloud, once it disappears and vanishes, it doesn’t return. He is never going to return to his house. There will, of course, be a resurrection. Job was not trying to say that once a person died it was all over, but he was making it clear that once a person goes down to the grave, they will not return to this earth 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]. The same concept is explained, but there is more detail given. Once man dies, he is not going to come back until the heavens are no more. Since the dead are never going to return to their place, it would be futile to attempt to communicate with them, for his place shall know him no more.
God, in His love, has given us this prohibition so we will not be deceived. We are warned in the New Testament about this grave deception. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, gibing heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” [1 Timothy 4:1]. “Beloved, to not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 John 4:1]. There are deceiving spirits out there, so we are exhorted to test the spirits in order that we are not deceived. If we are not testing the spirits, we will inevitably be deceived. That the dead cannot cross the gulf back to the living, is one of those tests. God has given us this test because He knew that without it the Devil could counterfeit our loved ones and thus deceive us.
The Bible tells us that the Devil can transform himself, and frequently does! “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” [II Corinthians 11:14]. The Devil can be transformed into an angel of light, and his agents put on his wily masks as well. “Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” [II Corinthians 11:15]. It is no great thing for the Devil or his fallen angels [Revelation 12:9] to appear to come back in the guise of a loved one. After all, did not Satan first some in the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden? [Genesis 3:1-5, 14-15]. God knew that these deceiving spirits could impersonate our dead loves ones and we would be unable to tell the difference, so He put an impassible barrier between the dead and the living. We know that if someone claims to be a deceased loved one, they are not from God. God has said that will not happen. Once a person goes down to the grave, they will not come up again. Thus, if there is one who claims to be able to hold conversation with the dead, in reality he is conversing with the Devil or one of his angels. When we understand this, it is not hard to see why God calls communicating with the dead an abomination. It is not hard to understand why God instructed that all who did this be put to death. It is not hard to explain that those who continue to do this without repenting will have their part in the lake of fire. (For more information see Steps to Life’s booklet Secrets From the Spirit World, by Michael Wells).
The Sleep of Death
In order to understand the subject of contacting the dead, it is also necessary to understand how death is described throughout the Bible. In the overwhelming majority of texts, in both the Old and New Testaments, death is referred to as a “sleep.” Job was probably one of the earliest patriarchs, and he knew what death was, “Why did I not die at birth?… For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep; then I would have been at rest.” [Job 3:11,13]. Moses knew what death was, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers;'” [Deuteronomy 31:16 KJV]. David knew what death was, “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;” [Psalms 13:3]. Jeremiah knew what death was, “And I will make drunk her princes and wise men, her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men. And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake,’ says the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.” [Jeremiah 51:57]. Daniel knew what death was, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Daniel 12:2]. Our Lord Jesus Himself testified as to what death is, “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘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 that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.'” [John 11:11-14]. There is no mistaking what Jesus is talking about. Jesus plainly calls death a sleep. Paul knew what death was, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–” [I Corinthians 15:51]. Lastly, we find that Peter also called death a sleep, “And saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.””[II Peter 3:4]. This is such predominant terminology in the Bible that in the King James Version the words “sleep, sleepeth, asleep, etc.” are used to describe death in no less than sixty verses. (See Deuteronomy 31:16; II Samuel 7:12; I Kings 1:21; 2:10; 11:21; 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:14, 50; II Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:8; 24:6; II Chronicles 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:31; 21:1; 26:2; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20; Job 3:13; 7:21; 14:10-12; Psalms 13:3; 76:5, 6; Jeremiah 51:39, 57; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11-14; Acts 7:60; I Corinthians 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51; I Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15; 5:10; II Peter 3:4).
Since this is something that is so widely taught throughout the Bible, we must take note of it and try to understand what it is teaching us. Over and over again death is referred to as a sleep. What is sleep? Sleep is an unconscious state when man is totally oblivious to all that goes on around him. A man that is peacefully sleeping does not know of the calamities and problems that are going on around him. World War III could break out and he would not know it. The silent sleeper is unaware of anything taking place around him until the moment he awakes. The first thing that he has cognizance of is the alarm clock ringing or the sun rising. There may have been ten minutes that have elapsed, or eight hours. It is as a moment of time to the sound sleeper. How fitting and comforting a representation of death. Instead of trying to explain the soaring of some spirit to unknown worlds’ afar, the one who dies is silently sleeping in the grave where he was laid. This is something that our ancestors knew. Years ago the letters R.I.P. (or “Rest in Peace”) were engraved upon many tombstones. Sleep silently in the grave until your Maker calls you forth. Thus, if death is a sleep, a resting in the grave as the Bible testifies over and over again, it can clearly be seen why there is an impassable gulf between the dead and the living. Since death is a sleep from which none can awake until they hear the voice of the Creator Himself, it is an impossibility to communicate with our dead loved ones. They are sleeping in the grave awaiting the voice of the Son of God.
Is the Sleep of Death Conscious or Unconscious?
While we are taking a nap, it is common to have dreams or even nightmares. What kind of sleep is this “sleep of death”? Is it an unconscious, dreamless sleep, or is there a conscious existence? Once again, our only safety is in turning to the Inspired Book, the Word of God. We cannot turn to the right hand or to the left. There is no one who truly knows the mysteries of death aside from the one who said; “You shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:17]. The testimony of the Bible is once again unmistakable. “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. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun…. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” [Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10]. Solomon, the wisest man that has ever lived upon the earth, declared, “the dead know nothing.” Obviously the sleep of death is an unconscious state. He further says that all of their emotions have perished. They have no more love, hatred, etc. Then the warning is given to the living, do what you can with your might because in the grave you will be unable to anything, because there is no wisdom, knowledge, etc. in the grave. The Psalmist testifies of this same thing, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” [Psalms 146:3, 4 KJV]. In the very day that a person dies, his thoughts perish. His thinking process comes to a standstill. Problems are no longer wrestled with, solutions are no longer found. The amazing organ of the brain ceases to turn, the neurons and electric currents of the brain no longer carry their messages back and forth. The thoughts perish. At that moment of death everything ceases to exist. The conflicting emotions stop. Knowledge and wisdom comes to an end. The thoughts perish. Instead of this life of turmoil and problems, the deceased are silently and peacefully sleeping in their grave. Time is frozen for them. Although life moves on in our world, it is all unbeknownst to the deceased. They are neither writhing in anguish and pain, nor looking down from bliss and seeing the agony and suffering that we are enduring. They are unconsciously sleeping in the grave where they have been laid.
There is another way that we know from the Bible that the “sleep of death” is an unconscious state, and that is because we are repeatedly told that the dead are not praising God. “Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You? Shall Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?” [Psalms 88:10, 11]. “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” [Psalms 6:5]. “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” [Psalms 115:17, 18]. The Psalms repeatedly declare that it is the living that praise God. “The dead do not praise the Lord.” Surely if the righteous dead have a conscious existence, they would be praising God. If they had ascended to heaven where all worship and praise the Lord, they would certainly join in the praise. But no,
The inspired record declares that they do not praise the Lord and that there is not even remembrance of Him in death. Why? Because, in the very day of death, the thoughts perish. The righteous, with the wicked, are alike sleeping in their graves awaiting the call of the Master.
What Happens at Death?
“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” [Ecclesiastes 12:7]. There are two elements to humanity–the dust and the spirit, and both return to their respective places. By looking in the beginning it will help us to understand these two parts. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” [Genesis 2:7 KJV]. There we have the two elements again–the dust and the breath of life. In the beginning God molded Adam from the dust. The Lord sculpted his shape and there lay the lifeless Adam. He was sculpted and molded perfectly. There were his head and brain, heart and all the necessary organs for life, but there was still no life in him. Then God worked that miracle and breathed into him the breath of life. Instantly, life surged through Adam and he became a living being. The breath of life was the necessary element from God to give Adam life. It was the spark and element of life, that life-giving current that each of us has. The breath and the spirit can be used interchangeably in the Scriptures as can be seen in the following text, “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.” [Job 27:3, 4 KJV]. Job is here saying that as long as God gives him the breath, or spirit of life, he will obey God. The breath and the spirit are used interchangeably here. The Psalmist tells us what happens at death, but also what happens when life is given. “You hid Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” [Psalms 104:29,30]. When God takes away the breath, a person dies. When God gives His breath, or spirit (in these two verses, spirit and breath are the same Hebrew word, ruwach) a person has life. When we compare all of these verses it becomes clear what the spirit is that returns to God. It is simply the life-giving force that makes the heart beat, the brain think, and the lungs breathe. It is not some conscious existence. It is the element of life that God is preserving until the resurrection. Furthermore, this breath and spirit of life is actually the same in both man and beasts. “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts, one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, which goes down to the earth?” [Ecclesiastes 3:19-21]. Solomon is comparing man and beasts and tells us that both have the same breath or spirit (again, the words translated breath and spirit are the same Hebrew word, ruwach). Both die, and both return to dust, but there is one fundamental difference–man’s breath, or spirit, goes upward, while beast’s breath, or spirit, goes downward. Clearly then, the spirit that returns to God is not a soul, is not conscious, or anything like that, for it is the same as the spirit of animals. The difference is that moral beings such as people will have a resurrection, while animals will not, so God preserves the life-giving force of man until the resurrection. What happens at death? The spirit, that spark of life, returns to God and the body decays back into dust. Man is sleeping in the grave, peacefully awaiting the resurrection.
The Nature of Man
Popular religious belief is that the soul does not die, but that it simply takes on a new existence. (This flavors more of paganism than Christianity.) It is taught that the soul cannot die, that in reality it is immortal. If this were the case, all of the above texts that we have studied would be in blatant contradiction to this. Once again, going back to the beginning will help to give us an understanding of the true nature of man. “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]. God said plainly and explicitly, “You shall surely die.” He did not say, “You shall probably die,” or “You shall sort of die, but actually it will only be taking on a new existence.” He said, “You shall surely die.” There was someone else that said something different, though. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.'” [Genesis 3:4]. Here we have God saying one thing and the Devil, speaking through the serpent, saying another. Who are we going to believe? Yet, even though God explicitly says one thing and the Devil blatantly contradicts it, most of the religious world is choosing to believe the Devil instead of God.
By saying that the soul does not die, it simply floats to eternal bliss or eternal misery, we are in reality saying that the soul is immortal. The soul is not immortal; God alone is immortal. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [I Timothy 1:17]. God is the eternal, invisible, immortal King. This is in fact, the only time that the word immortal is found in the Bible, and it is clearly referring to the Omnipotent God, and not a soul. “Which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, who no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” [I Timothy 6:15, 16]. The Scriptures again tell us that God is the only one who has immortality. If He is the only one that has immortality, then human souls obviously do not have immortality. The change that takes place at Jesus’ Second Coming is what gives all of the saved immortality, but they do not have it until the change takes place. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, be we shall all be changed–in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'” [I Corinthians 15:51-54]. It is not until the last trumpet sounds that the righteous receive immortality. Not one upon this earth has immortality; it is at the Second Coming that the righteous mortals will be clothed with immortality as a gift from God, the only one who has immortality.
The Bible explicitly tells us that the soul can die. “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.”…”The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. There is no getting around the plain words of Scripture–the soul is not immortal, it can die. The belief that the soul is immortal, and at death simply floats elsewhere, is a doctrine straight from paganism and is found nowhere in the Bible. The Bible teaches that man’s nature is mortal, a combination of the body and the spirit forms the soul. [Genesis 2:7]. At death, the soul is sleeping in the grave until the resurrection because the spirit returns to God and the body returns to the dust.
The Biblical “After Death Experience”
Many people have given me very detailed descriptions of different “after death experiences, or near death experiences.” That they have had or that they have read about. They become very attached to these ideas and no matter how plainly the Bible contradicts what they have read, it seems easier to believe the experiences that others have claimed to have had, rather than what the Bible says. That in itself is a very dangerous mindset to get into. We are to test everything by the Bible, not test the Bible by what we have heard. But the most interesting thing to me is that, of all of the “after death experiences” that people have told me about, few really seem to agree. All of them seem to have little differences. That makes me question which, if any, are true. Others have asked me, “When does the soul return to God, before or after the funeral?” Once again, I have heard both answers substantiated by some sort of supernatural experience. Again, I must ask, if these are to be trusted, how do we know which is true? When you really start to look into it, how do you know what to believe? The only way that we can know the truth is to look in the Word of God. [John 17:17].
There is an example in the Bible of someone who had not just a “near death experience,” but a complete after death experience. All of the contemporary “after death experiences” are only very short lived; usually a matter of minutes, never involving hours, but the Biblical instance was four days. Surely, just by the length of time we would have to say that this is the most credible “after death experience” of all. This “after death experience” is found in the eleventh chapter of John. One of Jesus’ most devoted followers, most devoted friend became deathly ill. The message was given to Jesus to come quickly that He might heal Lazarus. Strangely, though, Jesus delayed. He didn’t seem to have much of an interest, and then after waiting several days, he decided to go and “wake” Lazarus up. Jesus had waited because this was to be the crowning miracle of Jesus’ ministry before His death. When Jesus and the disciples made it to Bethany, Lazarus “had already been in the tomb four days.” [John 11:17]. Jesus had waited until Lazarus had been in the tomb four days to show His miraculous power and to give us a Biblical example of an “after death experience.” The funeral had taken place and the friends and relatives were still in the grieving process. (verse 33) After talking with Martha, and weeping with Mary, Jesus now gives the command to move the stone. Martha is repulsed at the thought of the stench of her decaying brother, and objects. (verse 39) After prayer, Jesus then gives the command; “Lazarus, come forth!” (verse 43) Lazarus comes out of the tomb and is unloosed, but to our surprise, and account of his wonder “after death experience” is not given. Why? Lazarus was simply asleep in the grave. (verse 11) Have you ever thought how cruel of an act this would have been if Lazarus was already in heaven? Can you imagine how wonderful it would have been to be in the Father’s presence in the glories of heaven for four days? To be in the splendor and the brightness of it all, and then come back to this sin-polluted and darkened world? It would have been like returning to a dungeon cell that you had been freed from. If Lazarus were in heaven, freed from trials and problems of this earth, why would Jesus have been so unkind as to call him back? The answer is simple. Lazarus was asleep in the grave. He had no “after death experience” because he had been sleeping and did not know anything. It was like a split second from the time he passed away until the time Jesus called him back, even though it had been four days. It was not cruelty for Jesus to bring him back to life, for he had not ascended to heaven. It is not strange that an “after death experience” is not related, because he did not have one; he was asleep in the grave like every other person who had died.
There is another example of a man who has died that we know for a certainty did not ascend into heaven. Peter, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us no room for doubt. “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 ascent into the heavens.” [Acts 2:29, 34]. No one will doubt that David was a righteous man. He had indeed sinned, but his repentance was sincere and he had been accepted. God had said that David was a man after His own heart. [I Samuel 13:14]. Surely, if anyone goes to heaven at their death, a man after God’s own heart would. But, no, that is not what Peter says. He tells the listeners that David DID NOT ascend into the heavens, that he is still in his tomb. Why was David still in his tomb one thousand years after his death? Because he is asleep in the grave awaiting resurrection.
The Resurrection–Our Hope
We see all through the New Testament that the great hope of the apostles was the resurrection, and it is the resurrection that is to be our great hope as well. It is the resurrection that is to be our comfort in the time of loss. “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope….For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. [I Thessalonians 4:13, 16-18]. There were apparently teachers among the Thessalonians that were teaching that there was no resurrection. [I Corinthians 15:12]. Paul rebukes them for believing this error. He says we are not to sorrow as others who have no hope. Why? Because when Jesus returns, He is going to resurrect the dead as He was resurrected, and bring both the dead and the living to heaven with Him. Notice it is this truth of the resurrection that is to be our comfort. This is the very way that Jesus comforted Martha when Lazarus died, and it was what Martha was looking forward to. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.'” Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'” [John 11:23, 24]. Martha did not say, “I know he is in heaven.” She was looking forward, by faith, to the resurrection. She knew that all the righteous dead would be resurrected at the last day, and expected to meet her brother then, not before. Truly, God’s way is best. It may not be what we have always thought, but God knows best and it is our part to trust implicitly in Him. How comforting to know that our loved ones are not in heaven mourning over the trials and problems that we are going through. They are asleep in the grave, and if they have followed Jesus, they will be resurrected when Jesus comes again. What a precious comfort!
It is the resurrection, not death that we are repeatedly taught to look forward to when we will receive our reward. Jesus said, “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [Luke 14:14]. It is at the resurrection that we will be repaid. Paul said, “If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” [Philippians 3:11]. Paul was looking forward as Jesus said, to the resurrection of the dead. In fact, this was his hope, “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” [Acts 24:15]. In I Corinthians 15, Paul is combating the belief that there is no resurrection (similar to the belittling of the importance of the resurrection today,) and makes some very revealing statements. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen…. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” [I Corinthians 15:13, 18, 19]. If there is no resurrection, then the dead have perished. He didn’t say that they are in heaven without bodies, he said they are perished, and the only thing that we would have to look forward to is this life (which would be most miserable.) Paul clearly did not teach that once a person dies he ascends to heaven. He taught that at the resurrection all ascend to heaven together. The babies who have died to not go to a strange place without Mother or Father, they are in an unconscious sleep until the resurrection when all can go to heaven together. God’s way truly is best.
When we rationally think about the resurrection, it is the only thing that would make sense anyway, for the Bible constantly talks about a judgment. God has an appointed time for the Judgment, [Acts 17:31] and throughout the Bible it is repeatedly talked about as a future event. (e.g. Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14; Matthew 22:21-24.) We are also told, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ,” [II Corinthians 5:10]. (For more information on this subject, see Steps to Life’s booklets, Subpoenaed to the Trial of Your Life and Your Last Night on Earth.) If a person when directly to heaven or hell before the judgment day, that would be incredibly unfair. Who has ever heard of a judge condemning a person to prison before he was found guilty? Yet this is what people think God is doing. What a misrepresentation of our loving God! God would never sentence a person to death, or life, before a fair trial had been given. Revelation pictures the judgment taking place [Revelation 20:11-13] and THEN, after the judgment occurs, is the “lake of fire.” [Revelation 20:14, 15]. God is just, and the punishment will not be executed until the judgment (or trial) takes place, and thus all the dead righteous and wicked are asleep in their graves awaiting their respective resurrections. [I John 5:28, 29].
The Thief on the Cross
As in any subject that we study from the Bible, there are a few texts that can confuse us and make it hard to understand. We must always remember the Biblical principle of getting the weight of the evidence. “Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” [Isaiah 28:9, 10]. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” [I Corinthians 2:13]. If we are going to understand what God is telling us in His Word about a subject, we must compare scripture with scripture. We must put precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little. We must get the entire picture to see what God is trying to tell us. We must not isolate one verse from the rest of the Bible and build a doctrine upon it. We must get the weight of evidence and allow the weight of evidence to determine our thinking upon a subject. There are always going to be a few verses that make it difficult for us to understand, but if we look upon the subject as a whole, comparing all the verses, the Holy Spirit will teach us the truth.
One such verse that can be used to stand in contradiction to the weight of evidence of what the Bible says about death, is what Jesus said to the thief on the cross. “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'” [Luke 23:42, 43]. At first glance it does appear that Jesus is promising the thief that he will be in Paradise that very day. There are a few problems with that interpretation, though. The first is that it contradicts that vast majority of other references on the subject. The second is that Jesus did not even go to Paradise that day. On resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb and found that Jesus was not there. She immediately ran to get the other disciples and they came and verified that what she said was correct, and then they returned to their own homes. Mary, on the other hand, stayed at the garden weeping. Mary then mistakes Jesus for the gardener, until Jesus calls her by name. Immediately she throws herself at His feet, but “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”‘” [John 20:17]. Jesus plainly told Mary that He had not ascended to the Father yet, and therefore do not cling to Him. On Sunday morning, shortly after the resurrection, Jesus had not yet ascended to the throne of God, where Paradise and the Tree of Life is. [cf. Revelation 2:7; 22:1, 2.] How could Jesus have been with the thief in Paradise on Friday, if He hadn’t even gone to Paradise before Sunday morning? Clearly it must not be teaching that Jesus promised that the thief would be in Paradise that very day, for that would make a liar out of Jesus. What was Jesus saying? When we look back to the Greek, we find that there was no punctuation. Not only was there no punctuation, but there was not even spaces or lowercase letters. The translators did a marvelous job in translating and putting in the punctuation, but they did not always put the punctuation in the right places. An example of this can be found in Acts 19:12. In the King James Version it reads that the handkerchiefs were sick and so Paul healed them, and the diseases and unclean spirits went out from them. We know that the comma was misplaced in this instance. If it is placed after the word “sick” it makes perfect sense. By putting the comma after “today,” instead of before “today,” It agrees with all the rest of scripture. It would then read, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus is simply making the declaration today, even though the thief had waited until the last hours of his life, today he was guaranteed that he would be in Paradise. Jesus was saying to the thief, as he said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” [Luke 19:19]. The thief is now unconsciously sleeping in the grave until the resurrection, just like all the other righteous dead.
Since we are talking about contacting the dead, we should look at another instance that is sometimes used to justify contacting the dead, and the erroneous idea that we can communicate with the dead. This instance is found in I Samuel 28:3-19. We find here that even though Saul had previously “put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land” (verse 3), in his apostasy he went and consulted a medium, which the Lord calls an abomination. Notice in verse 6, “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.” The Lord had left Saul, and now when Saul longed for communication with the Lord, the Lord refused to answer him, so Saul turned to the agent of Satan, one who claims to be able to call up the dead. Saul asks for Samuel to be brought up. Now note, Samuel was a true prophet, and verse 6 already made it clear that the Lord DID NOT answer by prophets. When Saul asks what the woman sees, she says, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” (verse 13) Saul did not see anything, it was only the medium who saw this spirit. It also does not say that she saw Samuel, but simply a spirit that looked like Samuel. (cf. Verse 14). Saul then “perceived that it was Samuel.” (verse 14). Saul bows down to the Spirit. This is conclusive evidence right there that it was not Samuel, for not even good angels allow people to bow down to them. [Revelation 19:10]. If it was truly Samuel, there is no way that Samuel would have tolerated obeisance to him. It is true that the spirit claimed to be Samuel, but wouldn’t an evil spirit follow through with its deception and claim to be the one it is impersonating? It is also true that “the spirit” told the truth about what was going to happen, but once again, the Devil tells the truth at times when it makes his deceptions more plausible. The devils repeatedly told the truth that Jesus was the Son of God [Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:23-25; 3:11], but does that mean that they are good spirits? Absolutely not! The evil “spirit” in this instance was just telling the truth to be more deceptive. It would have been futile to try to deceive Saul anyway, for he was a lost man. The Lord had become his enemy and he was to die the next day. Notice one of the reasons that Saul was killed, “So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the Word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance.” [I Chronicles 10:13]. One of the reasons why Saul died was that he consulted a medium for guidance. Saul, in total apostasy, consulted a medium, which is an abomination, and he died because of it. The medium was the only one who saw anything; a “spirit ascending out of the earth,” not Samuel, although it resembled Samuel; Saul worshipped this spirit, which Samuel would never have allowed to happen; and the Lord would not answer Saul by prophets, and Samuel was a prophet. Surely it was not Samuel who was consulted, but an evil spirit impersonating Samuel.
Spirits in the Last Days
In the days in which we live, it is so important that we understand the truth about contacting the dead. Revelation tells us that it is going to be the spirits of devils that are going to gather the world together for the Battle of Armageddon. “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the wold world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” [Revelation 16:13, 14]. John sees the spirit of demons doing signs and deceiving the world into uniting on the wrong side of the Battle of Armageddon. “And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, and a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” [Revelation 18:2]. The last day power of Babylon is mentioned as being a habitation of demons and a prison for every foul spirit. In the last days, these spirits of demons and foul spirits are going to play a large part in deceiving the world into worshipping the beast power. They will appear impersonating our dead loved ones and teach us that we need to worship the beast, but beware! Do not listen to them, for they are the spirits of demons. They may even appear as the apostles or other early Christian figures, teaching things contrary to the writings of Scripture, but beware! The apostles and early Christians are sleeping in the grave awaiting the resurrection. They will not rise “till the heavens are no more, they will not awake, nor be roused from their sleep.””[Job 14:12]. The race to contact the dead is well under progress today, but it will grow and increase. Do not be surprised to see miraculous appearances and signs from those who claim to be deceased–they are none other than the agents of Satan to deceive the world into accepting the mark of the beast. Everything must be tested by the great test given in God’s Word, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” [Isaiah 8:20]. It does not matter how good and wonderful a spirit may appear, if it claims to have returned from the dead–it is false, because it is contradicting the testimony of the Word of God. There is no light in it. We must know for a certainty and remember what the Word of God is teaching on this crucial topic, or we will be deceived by the wiles of the Devil in the last days.
We do not need to fear, though, for God is stronger than all the might of the adversary. God has promised, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we keep our life hid in Christ, we will be safe from the powerful delusions that will take the world captive. The ones who are deceived are those who do “not receive the love of the truth.” [II Thessalonians 2:10]. All who are carefully and prayerfully studying the Word of God (for His “word is truth”, John 17:17) and are purifying their “souls in obeying the truth” [I Peter 1:22] will be shielded from the deceptions of the Devil. Those who are willing to follow and believe God’s Word, whatever it says, will be “kept by the power of God through faith” and will receive the end of their faith–the salvation of their souls. [I Peter 1:5, 9]. Praise God for teaching us the truth from His Word that we need not be deceived, and may each one of us be among that group who are protected from the last powerful delusions.
All emphasis the authors unless otherwise stated.
All texts from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
- Here and Hereafter, Uriah Smith, originally published by Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1897, reprinted by Amazing Facts.
- Spirits of the Dead, Joe Crews, published by Amazing Facts
- People Weekly, October 25, 1999 “Across the Great Divide”, pg. 117-126 by J. D. Reed, Ivory Clinton, Natasha Stoynoff, Eric Francis, Fannie Weinstein, Johnny Dodd, Glenn Garelik.
If you would like to reprint or translate this booklet, please contact Steps to Life for permission.
Copyright © 1999 by Steps to Life