Death and the Afterlife
In harmony with all the rest of the Bible, Job describes a period of unconscious sleep in the grave before awaking to receive his reward. It agrees with Daniel, who spoke of the coming of Christ in these words...
Daniel 12:1-2 "... and at that time thy people shall be delivered ... 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".
There is a reason that so many inspired writers speak of death as a sleep. It is a perfect description of the state of the dead. When a tired man lies down at night he is immediately wrapped in sleep. As far as he is concerned, the very next moment he is awakened by the morning. He is totally unconscious of anything that transpired while he slept. So it is with the sleep of death.
Lazarus had died, in explaining this to His disciples Jesus said...
John 11:11-14 "... Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead."
Here is a classic example of the true Bible teaching about death. Christ called death a sleep. Later, He stood by the rock-hewn sepulchre of His friend and cried out, "Lazarus, come forth!" He did not say, "Lazarus, come down." Lazarus was not up in heaven, nor was he anywhere else, except inside the walls of his tomb. In response to the call of Jesus, he awoke from his sleep of death and walked out into the sunlight.
Lazarus did not come from the grave and say "Lord why did you bring me back from the glories of Heaven", he says nothing because he had not been anywhere, he had been ill, had died, and now he is bought back to life. And thatís how it will be for each one of us that die before the Lords return.
Many exaggerated tales have circulated about people who came back from the dead, but this is the most authentic story on record. There is absolutely no doubt that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters protested when Jesus ordered the stone to be rolled away from the door. Martha said:
John 11:39 "... Lord, by this time he stinketh: ..."
Most modern accounts of patients who resuscitate from heart failure include dramatic recitals of glorious views of heaven. (See our video "Is Heaven For Real"). What did this righteous man have to say about his four days of death? Did he report celestial visions of heavenly reward? Not a word. He had been asleep, just as Jesus had indicated. It had been like a moment of oblivion.
It would have been unspeakable punishment to have brought Lazarus back into this dark world after being in the presence of God. Surely he would have begged to return had he truly been enjoying the rewards of the righteous in Heaven. To come back to this earthly life after ninety-six hours in Paradise would have been a curse rather than a blessing. Jesus would not have done that to His close friend.
Why do we find it difficult to believe the simple terminology that Jesus used in describing death? Certainly we have no problem in understanding the nature of sleep. Suppose a man lies fast asleep on a park bench. So soundly does he sleep that he is totally unaware of the stealthy approach of an attacker. In another moment he lies dead in a pool of blood. Now, according to the popular view of death, this man who knew nothing while he was sleeping, suddenly knows everything as his soul leaves his body. But how could that be true? Jesus said death is a sleep. If the man knew nothing while sleeping, how could he know any more after death? Christís words would have no meaning if we twist them to mean whatever we want to believe.
We are not left to wonder about the nature of this death-sleep. Many Bible writers give detailed explanations of what it is like. David said...
Psalm 146:3-4 "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
Out of all the puzzling aspects of death which could be discussed, the inspired writers most often talked about the unconscious nature of it. Never once do we find any of the exciting descriptions of life after death which mark the modern version of the doctrine. Theology has adopted its teaching directly from the pleasing forms of pagan worship.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6,10 "5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun. 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."
If someone deliberately tried to produce stronger words and expressions to support a totally dreamless sleep in death, he would be hard put to match these words of the wise man. Just suppose for a moment that the same forceful statements were made to assert consciousness after death. In other words, suppose Solomon had said, "Their love, and their hatred, and their envy will continue ... for there is work and knowledge and wisdom in the grave whither thou goest." Such an unambiguous statement would rightly be the end of all debate on the subject. Who could argue with it?
But here is the incredible truth! Not only does the Bible contain no such statement, but it repeatedly declares the opposite! Yet people continue to believe only what they want to believe. Passing over the explicit verses given by numerous inspired authors, which tell the truth about death, multitudes blindly follow empty traditions learned from parents or preachers. Again we read...
Isaiah 38:18-19 "For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. 19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day."
Would not the righteous dead praise God if they were ushered into heaven at their death? David repeats the same timeless truth:
Psalm 115:17 "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence."
Psalm 6:5 "For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?"