On a late summer evening in 1977, George and Joy Swift were the victims of a tragedy too horrible for words. A troubled 14-year-old neighbor murdered their four children, aged 17 months to 14 years, with George’s gun, stolen while they were away for a few hours. Three weeks later, an older daughter who had been hospitalized with cancer found the grief so overwhelming that she died too.1
The Swifts were ignorant of the Bible, and the comfort from well-meaning friends only made their grief more inconsolable. Were their children in heaven, hell, or limbo? Or was this the end forever?
In their search for spiritual comfort, George and Joy discovered the Bible’s truth about death and the hope of the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. They also discovered that His return would bring an end to everything that could produce human anxiety.
Let’s look at the truths George and Joy discovered that brought them clarity and hope in the face of their tragedy.
1. Why should we turn to the Bible for answers to our questions about death?
Revelation 1:18 [Jesus speaking] I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Hades was the name given to the place of the dead—the grave. Jesus alone has the keys of death. He experienced death Himself to create a way out of it for us, so His Word gives trustworthy answers to our questions. We’ll start by looking at how we’re made.
1. What two things make us “living beings”?
Genesis 2:7 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 being [or “living soul”].
The Hebrew word translated “being” is also translated “soul,” so here the Bible teaches that a soul is composed of a body plus breath from God. It’s not something we have; it’s the totality of what we are.2
2. What happens when a person dies?
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit [breath] will return to God who gave it.
The Hebrew word for “breath” also translates as “spirit.” It derives from the word for wind. Death is the creation process reversed. The body returns to dust and the breath returns to God—the source of our life. When those two things are separated, the soul (being) dies. Here’s an analogy: Light is created by a combination of electricity and a light bulb. When the light bulb (body) burns out (dies), the light (soul/being) ceases to exist. See also Job 27:3; Psalm 104:29, 30.
3. Can the dead come back to converse with or haunt the living?
Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 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.
The Bible is very clear. Dead people do nothing and know nothing about what’s happening on earth. See also Job 14:20, 21. No part of them continues on somewhere or comes back as a spirit. This may surprise us, but it’s the truth. Jesus taught this too, as we see from the next text.
4. How does the Bible repeatedly refer to death?
John 11:11‒14 These things He [Jesus] 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.”
The Bible repeatedly refers to death as sleep. Death is a totally unconscious state, like a deep sleep. See also 2 Samuel 7:12; 2 Kings 2:10; Psalm 13:3; Matthew 27:52, 53; 1 Thessalonians 4:14.
No, it’s not true. We are souls, and souls die. Humans are fully mortal. Mortality means “subject to death,” and we’ve seen that death is an unconscious state.
2. Who alone has immortality?
1 Timothy 6:15, 16 . . . the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
Only God is immortal. The widely believed idea that the soul is an immortal part of us is not found in the Bible.
3. What will happen at the resurrection?
1 Corinthians 15:51‒53 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but 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.
God has made a way to give immortality to human beings at the resurrection when Jesus returns. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. Not everyone will be resurrected to receive immortality, though.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No one deserves eternal life because every one of us has sinned, and that earns us death. As we’ve seen, death is the absence of life; there is no part of us that naturally goes on to somewhere else in a disembodied state. Eternal life is purely a gift from God.
2. Who receives this gift from God?
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Anyone may receive the gift of eternal life if they believe in Jesus and live out that belief. The Bible also indicates that those who have never heard about Jesus but who follow their conscience as enlightened by the Holy Spirit will receive the gift. See Romans 2:12‒16.
3. What did it take for the gift of eternal life to be justly offered to sinners?
1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died].
The Son of God had to live a sinless human life and die to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus’ sinless life and death are counted to us if we abandon our sins and give Him our life. His resurrection is also counted as ours, so our life will be given back to us forever at the resurrection when He returns. Jesus is the firstfruits of the great harvest of human beings who have been reclaimed from death because of His sacrifice.
4. What will our resurrected life be like?
Revelation 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
God’s gift of eternal life comes without sadness and anxiety—forever!
These are some of the encouraging Bible truths that George and Joy Swift discovered. However, there are many misconceptions concerning death to confuse and mislead us. This is why we need to study and follow the Bible’s teachings carefully.
Revelation 12:9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Satan and his angel followers tried unsuccessfully to take over heaven. Now they want to deceive and destroy us for revenge. Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” John 8:44. His first lie to humankind was “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:4. He wants us to believe that the soul survives death. Then his angels can impersonate the dead like he impersonates an angel of light. See 2 Corinthians 11:13–15. It’s an effective way to undermine God and the truth.
Communicating with these disguised evil angels is called spiritualism. It’s based on a two-part belief: 1) the dead are alive, and 2) they can contact you, or you can contact them. This is one of Satan’s most damaging teachings, yet millions believe it today.
2. What warning does God give to those who try to contact the dead?
Leviticus 19:31 “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.”
Heaven’s angels are “ministering spirits” who help people on Earth. Hebrews 1:14. Satan’s angels are also spirits—evil spirits who deceive people by working apparent miracles. Revelation 16:13, 14. They use “all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9), including impersonating the dead and claiming to have messages from them. This is why God strictly warns against consulting mediums and their “familiar spirits.”
The Bible makes it clear that the soul is a combination of God’s breath of life and the body formed of the dust. It also teaches that the dead are not conscious. Therefore, we know that any being claiming to be a spirit of the dead or speaking on behalf of the dead is nothing but a dangerous deception of Satan and his evil angels. For this reason, God strictly warns against attempting to contact the dead. When Jesus returns, He will resurrect those who believed in and lived for Him and will welcome them to eternal life, which is a gift from God.
Although it’s a gift, I recognize that eternal life is conditional and is reserved for those who choose to live by the light God has given. Satan uses the false idea of life after death to deceive and lead astray. To avoid his lies, I choose to seek the truth as it’s found in God’s Word.
Joy Swift, They’re All Dead, Aren’t They? (Pacific Press, 1977).
Sarah Fisher, “Nefesh: Everything you wanted to know about ‘the SOUL’.,” Hebrew Word Lessons, hebrewwordlessons.com, Feb. 4, 2018.