What happens after death? To find the answer to this question, let’s look at our Savior’s Words in the gospel of John, chapter 11, in the account of the raising of Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus had fallen ill, and after several days lapsed into death. A message had been sent to Jesus days before his death occurred, imploring the Christ to come and save the sick man. Jesus, however, purposely waited until Lazarus was dead before responding to the call, evidently in order to prove an important point about the nature of death and resurrection. (See John 11:11-45)
Jesus had wept because the people of that day did not understand the nature of death and resurrection. But do Christians understand these things themselves today? Where was Lazarus during the days in which he lay in the tomb?
Only four possibilities exist, each of which is popularized by a different segment of our society. First, he may have been consciously enjoying heaven, if he was a Christian. Second, if an unbeliever, he may have already been suffering hell’s torments. Third, is the possibility that his spirit was consciously roaming his old “haunts,” as they say; perhaps haunting his family house, as ghosts are so often said to do. Fourth, he may simply have been asleep in death. Which answer is correct? Jesus gives us the answer!
In John chapter 11, verses 11 through 13, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep…[and] Jesus referred to his death.” The answer to our question is that Lazarus went nowhere during those days of death, but slept in the sleep of death. Notice that Lazarus did NOT say, ‘I was enjoying heaven; Oh, why did you bring me back to this life of sin, sickness, and suffering?’ NOR did Lazarus say, ‘I was suffering in the torments of hell; thank goodness you rescued me!’ NEITHER did he say, ‘My soul was conscious in another plane of existence, and I was watching over my loved ones these past several days.’ No! Lazarus said none of those things, because he was asleep, as Jesus said, and unconscious of anything!
The Bible gives four main synonyms for death. These are all related concepts! They are sleep, rest, silence, and inactivity. Let’s look at eight representative scripture passages where these four synonyms are defined for us.
The book of Job is thought to be the oldest of the inspired books constituting our Bible, and in chapter 14, beginning at verse 12 (through 15) we read this: “So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest APPOINT ME A SET TIME, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my APPOINTED TIME WILL I WAIT, TILL MY CHANGE COME. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” This passage from Job makes it clear that Job would lie in an unconscious sleep until a set time in the future, which is spoken of in the New Testament as judgment day. He adds that he will wait in the grave until that set time, “till my change come.” What is that change? We who are believers in Christ will be resurrected from the grave in immortal, vivified bodies! Job says, God will call me from the grave, “and I will answer thee.”
An alternate translation of verse 12 makes this clear. “Man lieth down (in death), and riseth not. They shall not awake nor be raised out of their sleep till the heavens be no more.” Yes, once dead, we will not be conscious or awake until the new age dawns, also referred to by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation. Until then, we sleep, until Christ returns to judge “the quick and the dead.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by wise Solomon, echoes these words. We read in chapter 9, verse 5, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” Again, the dead are unconscious, asleep, during this present age.
Great King David, Solomon’s father, adds these words concerning the death-state: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psalm 146:4)
It would be an error to assume, as some do, that the New Testament contradicts the Old on this subject. The Apostle Paul adds these words in First Corinthians 15, verse 16: “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised…then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Paul tells us that the dead are asleep, and if there were no future resurrection from the dead, that they would never live again, and “perish.”
Another synonym for death is “rest.” We read this in the New Testament in Revelation 14, verse 13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord …that they may rest from their labors.”
Yet another synonym for death is the word, “silence.” David tells us in: Psalm 94:17, “Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.” Psalm 115:17, “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.”
The last major synonym for death to discuss is “inactivity.” Solomon tells us this under Divine inspiration in Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “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.”
But today, concepts foreign to the Bible are propagated in our Christian churches. Our local Christian bookstore a few years ago promoted a children’s video series, entitled, “The Gospel According To St. Bernard.” Behind the sweet, innocent, and disarming story-line was a troubling promotion of the pagan doctrine of reincarnation. The brochure reads, “How would you feel if your first heavenly assignment was to come back to earth as…a Saint Bernard? Well, meet Bernie… who had to do just that!” Few modern evangelicals ever stop to realize that their “immortal soul” teaching—a belief that man continues a conscious existence after death—is actually the basis of the Hundu pagan religious belief called reincarnation. In the foregoing film series, the implication was made that people can continue a conscious existance after death, perhaps even as animals, which are the very forms of reincarnation taught by Hinduism! By the way, the video cover of this supposedly Christian film displayed Pentegram stars, a symbol of Satanism, in both eyes of the dog!
It is almost beyond belief that concepts of pure paganism pose as Christian in our churches today. Believers need to be warned that not all that is religious is right in the eyes of God. Worshipping and praying may not be Christian at all unless it is done in conformity to Christ’s teaching. Evangelicals need to be taught that God’s book says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) We await the day of judgment when we will awake and our change will come.
A few years ago a gizmo called the “E.L.F.-Zone” was designed to detect potentially harmful electro-magnetic energy being emitted from PC’s and other electronic devices. However, Christian researchers of the paranormal, believing that ghosts emit electro-magnetic signals, began buying up the product to track their elusive ghostly subjects. Has your home been certified “ghost free”? One computer magazine tersely remarked that, “This kind of gives new meaning to the term, ‘vaporware!’”
Despite the modern, high-tech approach to contacting dead spirits, the concept is really quite ancient. Contacting the dead who then speak to the living is known as “SPIRITISM,” and was practiced in Bible times. There is a famous incident in First Samuel chapter 28, where King Saul held a seance with the Witch of Endor to contact the dead prophet, Samuel. The Bible strongly condemns such pursuits, and Exodus 22:18 admonishes, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Again we read in Deuteronomy 18, beginning at verse 10, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD…“
Spiritism seems to have had its origin in ancient Babylonian false worship, over four thousand years ago. The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us, “Throughout all periods of Babylonian and Assyrian religion…the conception prevailed of a large dark cavern below the earth… in which all the dead were gathered and where they led a miserable existence of inactivity amid gloom and dust. Occasionally, a favored individual was permitted to escape from this general fate and placed in a pleasant island.” The same Encyclopedia Britannica article goes on to trace that teaching from Babylon to Greece and Rome: “The influence exerted by the Babylonian-Assyrian religion was particularly profound… [and] affected the ancient world in general, including the Greeks and Romans.”
The greatest Greek philosopher, Plato, lived four centuries before Christ, and his teaching still speaks to us today. An early Christian leader named Philo recast Plato’s thought into “Neoplatonism,” under which guise it profoundly affected St. Augustine and many others in the Christian church through the centuries. As a result, Platonic concepts have achieved an important place today in Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine. To summarize Plato’s beliefs, he said that “the soul is…divine,…immortal,…intelligible,…indissoluble, and…unchangeable…the soul ever seeks to escape from the body in which it is ‘encaged…’” (Conditionalist Faith Of Our Fathers, Leroy Edwin Froom, 1:567, 570, 579)
Thus we see that the immortal soul was central to Plato’s pagan philosophy, yet most Christians today hold strongly to this cardinal theory of Platonism today. Let us pray that the Lord will open His peoples eyes to this subject!