will happen when you die? Will you be aware of it? This chapter
examines what the Bible says about death. Find out why death
is nothing to be afraid of—if you are faithful.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is contemplating the meaning of life
and human activity. He considers the world he has experienced
and finds it is full of things difficult to understand.
In this chapter he considers the common fate of the righteous
and wicked. He concludes that we must make the most of life
now and use the opportunities we have to serve God to the fullest.
There will be no such opportunities when we are dead.
1. What is the common destiny that everyone shares (v2)?
2. What are the implications of these verses for those
who claim to speak to the dead?
3. How can we understand the hope of resurrection in the
light of verses 5 and 6? [Hint: what does “under the
4. What does verse 8 mean?
dead know nothing
Solomon depicts death as a state of unconscious oblivion where
there is no thought, no emotion, no ability to do anything.
Death is the end of any conscious existence. This view of
death is found throughout the Bible. Consider the following
passages from the Psalms:
No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from
the grave? (Psalm 6:5)
It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down
to silence; it is we who extol the LORD, both now and forevermore.
Praise the LORD. (Psalm 115:17–18)
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot
save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
The last of these quotations describes death occurring when“their spirit departs”. The “spirit”
cannot be a conscious or
thinking part of the person, because the rest of the passage
would contradict that. The spirit that departs at death is
spoken of elsewhere in the Bible as the “breath of life”.
The breath of life
When God made Adam, he made his body from the dust of
the ground. Then he brought it to life by breathing into it
“breath of life”. Genesis 2:7 Although man was a special creation,
from all other creatures God made, he was not alone in having
the breath of life. Animals are also described as having the
breath of life. For example, in the Flood: See also Genesis
Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds,
livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over
the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that
had the breath of life in its nostrils died. (Genesis 7:21–22)
The breath of life is simply the power by which God keeps
all living things alive. Without it, we would die. Psalm 104
describes the many animals God has created and says:
. . . when you take away their breath, they die and return
to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:29–30)
The Hebrew words translated “breath” and “Spirit” here are
exactly the same. The idea is that God’s Spirit or breath
life; when he takes it away, the creature dies.
Return to dust
Human death was introduced after Adam and Eve sinned. See Chapter 17. Sin God
said to Adam
Cursed is the ground because of you . . . By the sweat of
your brow you will eat your food until you return to the
ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and
to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:17–19)
In the Bible, death is often spoken of as “returning
Literally, that is what happens. The Bible does not speak
any part of a person continuing on after death, except in
Later in Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes death in this way:
“. . . the dust returns to the ground it came from,
spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
Again, the word for “spirit” is the same as the
word for “breath”.
When God removes the power that keeps us alive, we decay into
The sleep of death
Another common description of death used in the Bible is “sleep”. For example
Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my
eyes, or I will sleep in death. (Psalm 13:3)
[Jesus said] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep;
but I am
going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied,
if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking
of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural
sleep. (John 11:11–13)
[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers
at the same time, most of whom are still living, though
some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinithians 15:6)
There is an obvious reason for the Bible to use this figure
speech. Just as people wake up from sleep, so they will wake
up from death! As Daniel prophesied
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting
contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
Death is not a permanent state for everyone. The resurrection when Jesus returns will be a great awakening for many people who have died.
Have you had someone
close to you die? Did
your understanding of
death help you deal
with the grief?
|Discuss the difficulty of comforting someone whose close friend has died.
1. What could you say to someone who believes their friend has gone to heaven?
2. What could you say to someone who believes their friend will rise again when Jesus returns?
3. What could you say to someone who believes their friend will never live again?
Unconsciousness in death
|Psalms 6:5; 88:10–12; 115:17; 146:3–4; Ecclesiastes 9:1–10.
Turning to dust
|Genesis 3:17–19; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psalms 90:3; 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; 12:7.
Death as a sleep
|Deuteronomy 31:16; Job 7:21; 14:12; Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 9:24; John 11:11–13; Acts 13:36; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:6,51; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10.
Where does all this leave the common view that each person
has an immortal soul which goes to heaven at death? In fact,
there is nothing in the Bible to support this belief!
The Bible uses the word “soul” in two ways: it
can simply mean a person, or it can mean the inner feelings
of a person. For example, Ezekiel uses the word “soul”
to mean “person” when he writes
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not
share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the
guilt of the son. (Ezekiel 18:20)
In other words, each person will be punished for his own sin,
not that of his father or son. A well-known example of the
second use of the word “soul” is when we are told
to love God with “all your heart and with all your soul”.
Clearly, this means to love him with all your inner resolve.
Neither of these two uses of the word “soul” refers
to a conscious existence after death.
The Bible does offer hope beyond death, but not immediately.
The Bible hope of an after-life is through the resurrection
when Jesus returns, not through some disembodied existence
The Bible picture of death:
• The “breath of life” returns to God.
• The person remains unconscious in the grave
• The body decays into dust
• When Jesus returns, many people will be raised and
judged. Some will be given everlasting life.
Why do we die?
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command. (Romans 5:12,14)
So there are two reasons that cause our deaths:
1. First, we inherit mortality from Adam.
2. Second, we sin and therefore deserve to die.
Jesus died only for the first of these reasons.
1. Read Philippians 1:23–24. Paul saw the advantage
death was to “depart and be with Christ”. In the
light of all
the other verses that show that a person is unconscious
after death, what did Paul mean?
2. Read 1 Samuel 28:7–20.
(a) What suggests that the woman normally could not
see the people she claimed to be able to see when she “contacted the dead”?
(b) Did Samuel come back to life or was it a vision?
(c) Find the instruction in the law that prohibited anyone “consulting the dead”.
1. Explain Matthew 10:28.
2. (a) 2 Timothy 1:10 and Hebrews 2:14 both say that Jesus
has “destroyed” death. What does this mean?
[Hint: see Romans 6:23.]
(b) Hebrews 2:15 says that Jesus has delivered us from “fear
of death”. Why should we have nothing to fear
about death? Are you afraid of dying? Explain why or why not. See also 1 Thessalonians
3. What passages can you find that help develop a biblical
position on suicide?
• BB Studies 4.1–4.4
The Christadelphians: what they believe and preach by Harry
Tennant (published by The Christadelphian, 1986), Chapter
3: “Death: friend or foe?”. 8 pages.
Wrested scriptures by Ron Abel (published by The Christadelphians,
Pasadena). Pages 103–115 deal with passages about death
that are frequently misinterpreted.
23. Demons and ghosts