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Solving the Mystery of Life after Death

Popular beliefs about the dead have caused confusion about where our loved ones go when they die.

The following story illustrates why grieving families need the truth about death. 

“At my late father’s funeral, the priest attempted to comfort us with these words: ‘Did you know, dear friends, that Frank is up in heaven?’

“But despite the fact that my father was considered to be a very good man and the priest had just stated he was in heaven, according to the Catholic Church he wasn’t quite there yet. He was in purgatory being purified for heaven. Good Catholics will pay for special masses to be said to shorten their loved ones’ stay in purgatory. For a very considerable sum of money, my family made sure that my father received this benefit. 

“As the homily ended, the priest directed his closing remarks towards the hope of the resurrection. ‘Don’t be troubled. On the resurrection morning, Frank will be called from the grave.’

“Knowing the Bible truth about the dead, my daughter and I sadly shook our heads. Why couldn’t thinking people see the inconsistencies? How could my deceased father be in more than one place at the same time? And how could such confusion be considered ‘comfort’ for us?

“A few months later, my sister asked, ‘People say that Dad is here, he’s there, but I want to know where Dad really is. Is he watching us now? Does he watch us all the time? It all seems sort of spooky.’”1

The Bible’s answers give both comfort and clarity. 

What Is Death?

  1. When people die, what happens to their emotions, thoughts, and memories? 

Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

  1.  How does the Bible describe the state of death? 

Psalm 13:3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.

  1. Where are the dead while they experience this “sleep”?

Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

  1. Where will the dead be when Jesus resurrects them?

John 5:28, 29 The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

The Bible shows that the dead “sleep” in their graves until the second coming of Christ. See also 1 Thess. 4:16, 17. The righteous do not go straight to heaven, nor do the unrighteous go straight to hell. Therefore, people are not rewarded or punished until Jesus returns.

What Is the Soul?

  1. At Creation, how did God transform man’s body into a living soul? 

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 soul.

  1. What happens to the living soul at death? 

Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

The word spirit comes from the Hebrew ruach, literally “breath.” In Job 27:3, the parallel is clear: “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils.” A person becomes a living soul when the body and the breath (spirit) from God are combined. When God takes back the breath of life, the soul ceases to live.

Can the Dead Talk to Us?

  1. What does God say about conversing with spirits of the dead? 

Leviticus 19:31 Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them.

  1. King Saul in the Bible chose to disobey God’s command against speaking with spirits of the dead. Whom did he seek for counsel? 

1 Samuel 28:7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. 

  1. Did Saul actually see the prophet Samuel? 

1 Chronicles 10:13, 14 So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; and enquired not of the Lord.

As we look further in 1 Samuel 28, we see that the witch performed a séance. The likeness of Samuel appeared, but the Bible is clear that Samuel was sleeping in the grave; thus, the image of Samuel was created by an evil spirit.

  1. What deceptions will occur in the last days regarding the dead? 

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.

God warns that in the last days some people will be communicating with “seducing spirits,” which can deceive us by appearing in familiar forms, such as church members, friends, or relatives who have died. 

What Is Hell?

The Bible’s references to “hell” (sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek) are commonly translated “grave” or place of the dead. To understand the truth about hell, let’s start with a study on the fires of hell.

  1. For whom was the “everlasting fire” originally prepared? 

Matthew 25:41 Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

  1. How did Jude describe the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? 

Jude 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

  1. Who will be destroyed in the lake of fire? 

Revelation 20:10, 14, 15 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are.… And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

  1. How does God feel about the death of the wicked? 

Ezekiel 33:11 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.

On a number of occasions, the Bible refers to the fires of hell as eternal or everlasting. But the Jewish idea of everlasting was related to effect, not time. See Exodus 21:6; 1 Samuel 1:22, 28. “Everlasting fire” is the fire that cannot be quenched until it has completed its destruction. Only its effects are eternal. 

Will Hell Ever Burn Out?

  1. What will be the final state of the wicked? 

Malachi 4:1, 3 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.… And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.

  1. When all traces of sin have been destroyed in the universe, what has God promised? 

Nahum 1:9 What do ye imagine against the Lord? He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time.

Ashes and coals are all that will be left of sin and sinners. A God of love would not punish sinners forever. See also Obadiah 16.

The Resurrection of the Righteous 

  1. At the Second Coming, what happens to the righteous dead who “sleep in Jesus”? 

1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Martha, Lazarus’s sister, understood this plain teaching of Scripture. When Jesus told her that she would see her brother alive again, she responded, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” John 11:24.

  1. At the resurrection, what will become of our mortal bodies? 

1 Corinthians 15:52, 53 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 

  1. What will ultimately happen to the righteous? 

Revelation 21:1–3 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them.

God’s faithful people will ultimately live on Earth, in the New Jerusalem, with God and Jesus Christ forever.


When people die, all their thoughts perish. They are not aware of anything. The Bible describes this unconscious state as a sleep. Therefore, the dead cannot actually communicate with the living. However, evil spirits can impersonate familiar dead friends or relatives. 

When the dead are buried in the grave, they do not rise again until the resurrection at the Second Coming. The wicked who did not believe in Jesus are resurrected for eternal destruction in the lake of fire, where all that is sinful will be completely burned up. But those who died having accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will be resurrected by Jesus to inherit eternal life.


If I die before Christ returns, I want to be a part of the resurrection of the righteous by the grace of God. In the meantime, I want to be protected from deceptions about the dead. 


  1. From an interview with Mary Ellen Bruno

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