What really happens at the moment of death? Is there life after death? Are the departed conscious and aware of what’s happening in the land of the living? This is a mystery that will be cleared up by the Bible.
Death is inevitable for most, if not all of us. It’s not a question of if, but when. If Christ doesn’t return before that moment, we are all going to die someday. [The Bible actually uses the metaphor of “sleep” to describe (the first) death, since that death is only temporary — a state from which we will be awakened by Christ].
Incidentally, there is much ignorance and confusion on what really happens after death. Most people, including many professing Christians, believe that we (our immortal souls) go immediately to either heaven or hell when we die.
Still others believe that we won’t be going to those locations immediately, but that our fate is sealed. While our bodies will be buried, our “immortal souls” will be in a temporary heaven or hell, awaiting transfer to their final locations later.
But what does the Bible really say?
Here are five biblical truths we need to understand about death:
1. Human beings are mortal — we die. We do not have “immortal souls.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible reveals that people do not have independently conscious “immortal souls” that somehow separate from the body at death (Genesis 2:16-17). If we analyze the composition of the human body, we will know that we live a physicochemical existence. In biblical language, we are dust, from dust, and will go back to the dust (Genesis 3:19, Job 34:15, Psalm 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20, 12:7). If it’s true that we are already immortal — or have an immortal soul — then why do we still need eternal life as a gift (Romans 6:23)?
2. We do have a “spirit in man” that gives us self-awareness, creativity, conscience, independent will, and intelligence.
But there is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
~1 Corinthians 2:11
The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him:
3. At the moment of death, this “spirit in man” leaves the person and goes back to God.
Then the dust [the body] will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.
…the body without the spirit is dead…
4. This “spirit in man” is not conscious of itself. The dead are really dead.
When we die, we are dead — really dead — totally asleep and unconscious. We do not perceive the passage of time. There is no consciousness, awareness, visiting loved ones, or seeing Jesus and the angels in heaven.
The Spirit In Man (SIM) can be likened to the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card of a cellphone. It securely stores the mobile subscriber identity and the related information used to identify and authenticate subscribers on computers and mobile phones. It also stores contacts and messages.
In like manner, the spirit in man is unique to each individual and stores a record of their life, including memory, life experiences and the character built by the individual over time.
The important thing to note is that the SIM cannot be used to make calls or send text messages apart from the cell phone. In the same manner, the spirit in man is not alive, conscious, or useful without the body. It cannot think, see, feel or be conscious without the mind and body, which makes the person human.
When we die, the SIM (the spirit in man) goes back to God, while our body is buried in the ground and it ultimately decomposes. At the resurrection, God will give us a new body and put that same spirit back, so that the person can recall all experiences, memories, and be the same person he or she was before death.
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.
For in death there is no remembrance of You;
In the grave who will give You thanks?
What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
For Sheol [the grave] cannot thank You,
Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.
5. God will resurrect all who have died (but each in his/her own order). There is life after death!
If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes.
Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of [judgment].
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. [COMMENT: The Bible reveals more than one resurrection, and more than one death (Revelation 20:6).]
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
All human beings are mortal. We die. The body then returns to the ground, while the “spirit in man” goes back to God who gave it. We do not have an “immortal soul” that immediately goes to heaven, hell, limbo, or purgatory. The “immortal soul” teaching is unbiblical and is of pagan origin. When we die, we are dead — asleep, unconscious — awaiting the resurrection. The Son of God, our Messiah, will return and resurrect all who are in their graves. Death is just a temporary “sleep.” It is not the end of life!