What We Teach about the Dead

This article presents what we teach about the nature of the soul, near-death experiences, and the state of the dead.

We teach that the dead are unconscious until the resurrection of the body. They do not suffer pain or loneliness and are not aware of the passing of time.

Since ancient times, people have wondered about what happens after we die. Do we cease to exist? Is there a conscious afterlife? Will we see our departed loved ones or suffer unending torture at the hands of hellish creatures?

Science and philosophy are completely unable to answer these questions because they are limited to the study of the natural universe; they can’t probe the supernatural realm, but God’s Word provides the answers.

The Bible tells us that, in the beginning, God fashioned a body from the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he became a living soul (Gen 2:7). At death, the spirit of life returns to God who gave it and our bodies return to the dust from which we came (Eccl 12:7, Gen 3:19).

We know from personal experience that while we are alive our minds are active; even when we are asleep, we experience dreams. If we drink alcohol or take certain drugs, our minds are no longer capable of thinking coherently. Clearly, the mind needs a living brain in order to function, so it is logical to conclude that if the brain dies, all mental activity stops and consciousness ends.

Many people claim to have been conscious during a near death experience, but these reports are completely unreliable. The human brain can remain alive for 20 minutes or more after the heart stops beating; when these people are revived through CPR or artificial respiration, they enter a semiconscious state where dreams or hallucinations can occur.

To date, there isn’t one single person who has had an out-of-body experience who can provide irrefutable proof that what they claimed to see was actually real. There were no miracles or divine prophecies; no secret information was revealed that no other person could possibly have known apart from a supernatural experience.

The Bible tells us that the dead are unconscious until the resurrection. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered” (NLT). Verse 10 also says, “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Eccl 9:10 NLT).

The Bible plainly says that the dead are inactive. In Psalm 6:5, David wrote, “Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” (NIV). Psalm 115:17 provides the answer: “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.”

The Bible describes death as being like sleep, where the dead are not aware of the passing of time. In Psalm 13:3, David prayed, “Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (NIV).

Over and over again, the Bible clearly teaches that the dead are unconscious in their graves. They do not suffer pain or loneliness and are not aware of the passing of time; they are in a state of suspended animation, like a dreamless sleep, until the resurrection of the dead.




Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.



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