Bible Teaching on Death

What is it that happens when we die? Is that it? Do we cease to exist completely? Is there something after death?

Bible teach is actually quite clear on this subject. It teaches that when a person dies their memories are gone, their love, their hatred, their knowledge; all of it is gone and they know nothing; they cease to exist. This happens to everyone with no exceptions.

Ecclesiastes 9:4-10 - For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they anymore 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. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

We see here that death is total oblivion. There is no knowledge of your surroundings or of anything else. It is a completely unconscious state. This is taught throughout the Bible.

Isaiah 38:18 - For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

There is no conscious existence in death so there is no praise or celebration of God. The writer of Psalm 6 reinforces this statement.

Psalm 6:5 - For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

Another Psalm puts it this way:

Psalm 146:3-4 - Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Is that all there is to it? Do we live and die and that's it?

A careful look at the Bible reveals a difference between the death of an average person and a person that is a believer in God. In the Bible the death of a believer is called euphemistically "sleep".

John 11:11-14 - These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Acts 13:36 - For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption...

Why is the death of the follower of God considered a sleep? Is their death different?

The answer to that question is Yes and No. When a follower of God dies, he too ceases to exist like all others, but unlike the others, the believer in God died in hope, but in hope of what? They die in hope of being awakened out of death. That hope is why the death of a believer in God is called a sleep.

The Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:51-58 - Behold, I show 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 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. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

As we have seen, the death of a believer is considered a sleep. This chapter, as a whole, is dealing with the resurrection (verses 12-23) and so we can safely conclude that the sleep spoken of here is death.

The change that will occur is said to be "at the last trump". It even tells us what will happen at the "last trump". "For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised"; this will take place at the return of Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, the first thing Jesus will do when he returns.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 - For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede - RSV) them which are asleep. 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...
1 Corinthians 15:22-23 - For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

It is at this time (after the resurrection) the believers are made immortal, or as 1 Corinthians 15 says "this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality". It is at that point that "Death is swallowed up in victory".

As you can see, the traditional church teaching of the immortality of the soul is completely left out of the picture in the most definitive chapter on life after death. In fact, the very opposite thing is taught, the resurrection of the dead at the return of Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of the resurrection is set out in absolute clarity by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul argues the basic necessity for resurrection. He was, in fact, contending with false teachers who, even at that time, had entered the church and were questioning this very doctrine.

In the early verses of the chapter Paul establishes the indisputable fact that Christ rose from the dead. Then, in verse 12, Paul asks the question "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"

The resurrection of Christ is the basis of Paul's argument. No Christian worthy of the name could deny that Christ rose from the dead, and Christ's own resurrection proved the fact of a future resurrection of the believers. Paul develops his argument by contending that if the doctrine of the resurrection were denied, the denial applied also to Christ's resurrection. If Christ had not risen from the dead then the whole of Christianity was falsehood. If Christ is not risen from the dead then there is no salvation and all those who have died in the Christian hope had, in fact, perished forever. This is the substance of Paul's argument in verses 13-19. He then brushes aside these false teachers with the triumphant words "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."

Notice how Paul describes those who have died in the Christian hope: "are fallen asleep" (v. 18), "them that are asleep" (v. 20). They are sleeping the deep sleep of death, completely unconscious until they are woken at their resurrection.

Christ was the first to rise from the dead. He was, as Paul puts it, "the firstfruits". The harvest will be the resurrection. Paul tells us when the resurrection will be in the words of verse 23.

1 Corinthians 15:23 - But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming

Written by Matthew Smith