Death... 'tis the ultimate mystery! It is the one reality that every human that has ever existed has faced regardless of economic status, cultural status, or belief system. But is death really a mystery? All of us have witnessed death at some point or another in our lives. A beloved pet that died, an unfortunate squirrel that tried to cross the road at the wrong time, even a dead bug can give us a glimpse into the reality of death. It's really not that complicated. Death is the opposite of life. Sentience versus nothingness. Eternity versus oblivion. How can we be so sure of that? And if death really is the end, is there any hope for those who have died? Intriguing questions indeed!
As odd as it may seem, where a person is born in the world generally influences what they believe in regard to death. For example, many living in the East believe that when a person dies, their soul is reincarnated, that is, reborn, into another life. That new life may be anything from another human to an animal to a tree, or perhaps worse, depending on their deeds (or karma), in their previous life. On the other hand, many in the West have been taught that when they die their soul (or spirit) will ascend into a heavenly paradise (for the faithful), or perhaps into a hell of fiery torment (for the unfaithful). On the African continent many believe that at death dis-embodied souls dwell in the spirit realm and can impact the lives of the living, for good or for bad, depending in part on whether or not certain ceremonial rituals are performed in their behalf, usually by a witch doctor or shaman. Then there is an increasingly vocal and growing segment of the populace that believes that death is the final end. Period. While there are a number of other beliefs regarding death, the four mentioned above literally encompass most of the world's population, i.e., eastern religions including Buddhism and Hinduism, Christendom and Islam, African religions including Voodoo, and atheism/agnosticism.
Virtually all of the world's religions, despite their differences, have onc basic concept in common: They all teach that humans have an immortal, indestructible soul (or spirit) that survives the body at death. Christendom (the 40,000+ sects that comprise so-called Christianity) and Judaism both claim to base their beliefs on the Bible. So, the question arises: Does the Bible really teach that the soul/spirit is inherently immortal? What you read next may surprise you.
To answer the question of what really happens at death, it makes sense to go back to the beginning, does it not? In other words, if we can determine what happened to our first parents, the ones through whom we all have come to be, we should be able to determine what will happen to us when we die. Please turn to Genesis chapter 2, verses 16,17. It reads: " Jehovah God also gave this command to the man: 'From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day that you eat from it you will positively die.'" Why God gave this simple command to Adam and Eve, the first humans, can be discussed another time. Suffice it to say that the penalty for disobedience was crystal clear - death! Chapter three of Genesis introduces us to a rebellious angel who came to be called Satan (opposer) and Devil (slanderer), who used a serpent much like a ventriloquist uses a dummy to seduce Eve into disobeying this simple command. You can read the full account for yourself. But for now, please focus in on verse four: "At this the serpent said to the woman: 'You positively will not die.'" Yes! A direct contradiction of what God had said. Put simply, God said that disobedience would bring death. Satan implied that disobedience would not bring death. Ever since the garden of Eden, Satan has been embellishing that original lie by means of religion, philosophy (think Aristotle, Socrates, Plato etal), and by other means at his disposal. The teaching that humans are inherently immortal is a Satanic lie! Immortality is a gift bestowed on certain faithful humans by God only after living a life of godly integrity, and upon the basis of Jesus' shed blood, what the Bible calls the ransom (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; Matthew 20:28).
So then, what did happen to our first parents as a result of their rebellious act? Did they die or not? Please turn to Genesis chapter three verse 19. There God tells the disobedient couple: "In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return." Did that really happen to Adam? Genesis 5:5 says that after living 930 years "... he (Adam) died." Indeed, no part of Adam (or Eve) continued to live on. They both returned to the dust of the earth. Is this not what happens at death even to this day?
Ezekiel chapter 18:4 says: "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die."(KJV) Romans 5:12 states: "That is why, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they all had sinned." Yes, logically what happened to Adam and Eve also happens to us. At death we simply cease to exist. The opposite of life. No thoughts, feelings, hopes, or dreams. Non-existence (see Ecclesiastes 9:5-10). Romans 6:23 simply states: "For the wages sin pays is death..." The Bible does not and has never taught that humans have an immortal soul. It is and always has been a heathen, or pagan concept. If that is true, what hope is there for the dead, if any?
A prominent man of some means passes away. As is the Jewish custom of the time, his friends and family mourn for many days, with loud outcries and weeping. All appears lost. Or is it? As it turns out, a man by the name of Jesus, who many regard as a prophet, has heard of the sad news of the man's death. Interestingly, Jesus is a good friend of the dead man, whose name is Lazarus, and although he is not yet present with the grieving party, he feels their pain and loss. But more than that, his intent is to do something about it! I would encourage you to please read the gospel of John, chapter 11, in it's entirety, especially verses 5-44. For now though, let's focus on verses 43,44. Lazarus had been dead for three plus days, and his body was in the early stages of decomposition (see verse 39). From a human standpoint, there was no immediate hope for the dead man. But nothing is impossible for God! Verse 43 reads: "When he (Jesus) said these things, he cried out with a loud voice: 'Lazarus, come on out!' The man who had been dead came out with his feet and hands bound with wrappings, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them: 'Free him and let him go.'" Can you imagine what it would have been like to witness this astounding miracle? If you had been a close relative of Lazarus, had witnessed his passing with your own eyes, then watched him as he walked out of the tomb days later, would you not have become a believer? Many did believe. Even Jesus' enemies could not deny this particular miracle, since Lazarus was apparently well-known (see verse 47).
What we learn from this account is this: Jesus has been empowered by Almighty God, the Creator of life (Psalm 36:9), to restore human life (see Revelation 1:17,18)! The Bible calls this the hope of a resurrection from the dead (see verses 24,25 of John 11). Is is too difficult to believe that God could restore life? If one accepts the premise that God created life to begin with, is it too much to imagine that he could re-create that same life if he chose to do so (see Luke 1:37)? Who will be resurrected? Acts chapter 24 verse 15 says that there is going to be a resurrection of "both the righteous and the unrighteous." This means that millions, perhaps billions will be given the opportunity to live again. When will the resurrection occur? Not until the earth is first cleansed of all wickedness. The Bible calls this the battle of Armageddon (see my journal piece - Armageddon, the true story [Revelation 16:16; Psalm 37:10,11; Proverbs 2:20-22 etal]). What will life be like for those who are resurrected? Please read the following scripture citations for the wonderful news (Revelation 21:3-5; Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 35:5-10; Isaiah 65:17-25 and many others).
Yes, to be sure, death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). But it need not be the end. May all of those who believe, as well as those who may yet come to believe, exercise faith in the one who has been granted the power over death, Jesus, the holy son of Jehovah, the Almighty God (John 3:16; 5:25-29) !
*For more information please visit JW.ORG