Is this life all that there is? Many religions profess to know what happens at death. Yet they do not agree. Why such confusion about the afterlife? Why such mystery—such disagreement?
This question of life after death has perplexed mankind throughout the ages. Thousands of years ago, the patriarch Job asked, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). This question remains today.
Most professing Christians believe that they possess an immortal soul. They have been taught that the dead go to either heaven or hell. Most ministers, evangelists and religionists freely speak of “when we all get to heaven.” They declare this to be the Bible’s teaching. But is this true?
We must not assume. Jesus said, “in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:7-8). Men have their own ideas—their own commandments, their own traditions—invariably based on Bible assumptions. If the Bible is the Word of God, we must examine what it actually says, not what people say it says. Be willing to set aside cherished traditions and replace them with scripture.
Then be willing to believe God, not men.
Before answering the question “is there life after death?,” let’s examine what happens at the precise moment of death. Recall, Job asked, “shall he live again?” What did he mean “again”? If the dead are really permanently alive anyway, how can they live again?
If you hold a job, you receive regular paychecks. They represent wages paid to you for work done. What about God? Does He ever pay wages? Notice Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here, eternal life is contrasted to death—perishing! The wages of sin is death, not life. We will see that this understanding is not compatible with eternal torture in hell.
There is no mystery about the meaning of wages that an employer pays an employee for his work. Why should there be confusion over the meaning of wages God pays a sinner for his works? He pays the wicked a paycheck of death—not life in a place of torment. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. (Read our booklet Bible Authority...Can It Be Proven?)
Consider this! Perhaps the most familiar and often-quoted verse in the Bible is understood by almost no one. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Millions quote this verse while ignoring one of its key points.
Reread it. Notice that it exactly mirrors Romans 6:23! This time, eternal life is contrasted to perishing—death.
The Greek word translated perish is apollumi and it means, “to destroy fully, to die, lose, perish.” There is no doubt what these words mean. “Perishable” items, such as fruits and vegetables, are those that rot—until they are “fully destroyed” or “lost.” This is not hard to understand when we are talking about anything other than a human being. Those who receive salvation are promised that they “should not perish” but “have everlasting life”! If hell is a place of eternal torture, then the people suffering there have eternal life. But the verse says, “should not perish,” not “should not suffer eternal life in torment.”
How does the word perish relate to the popular teaching about hell? Why did God inspire John to use this word if this is not what He really intended?
The idea of an ever-burning hell is inseparable from the idea that all human beings have immortal souls. Is this what God says? Prepare to be surprised!
Most people do not understand the relationship between physical men and souls. You were probably taught in Sunday school that all human beings are born with an immortal soul. The common belief is that upon death the souls of unrepentant sinners go to hell forever.
But if the wages of sin is death, how is it that the Bible could also teach that people have a soul that is immortal?
Genesis 2:7 states, “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.” This verse does not say men have souls. It states that they are souls. Adam became a soul—he was not given a soul. Then, almost immediately, God warned him: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die” (vs. 16-17). The Hebrew word here also means “destroy.” When placed together, these verses plainly state that men are souls and souls can die!
The prophet Ezekiel was inspired to write (twice): “The soul that sins, it shall die” (18:4, 20). Death is the absence of life. It is the discontinuance—the cessation—of life. Death is not life in another place. It is not leaving “this life” for “another life”—the “next life.”
In addition, consider Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him [God] which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible says that souls can be destroyed! According to this verse, they can be destroyed just as much as bodies can. No one doubts that all bodies eventually die. When they do, they also decompose and are completely “destroyed” due to the process of natural corruption. Any undertaker recognizes this process. This verse introduces the fact that God does the destroying of souls in hell! Bodies can die and be destroyed in many different ways. However, souls are destroyed in hell by God.
Here is what the prophet Malachi wrote about the final state of the wicked who have been destroyed in hell: “For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 4:1-3). Obadiah 16 amplifies this with “…and they shall be as though they had not been.” (Read our booklet The Truth About Hell, to learn much more.)
The dead will be so completely “dead and gone,” it will be as though they had never existed. Surely, if they were roasting in hell forever with millions of others, and other millions “in heaven” witnessing it, this verse could hardly apply.
What about the precise moment of death? Exactly what happens?
Human minds are differentiated from animal brains by intelligent thought. Presumably, if the dead are not dead, but are really still alive, then they must be capable of some kind of intelligent thought. They must at least be conscious of their surroundings. Let’s consider a series of scriptures.
First, notice Psalm 146:3-4: “Put not your trust…in the son of man…his breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” When people die, their thoughts end immediately—“in that very day.” That is what your Bible says.
This verse is also not compatible with the idea that the dead are either alive in heaven or consciously suffering in a place of torment. We could suppose that, if they were enjoying salvation, they would certainly know that they were! We could also suppose that if they were suffering, they would know that they were. Could the tormented somehow be unaware that they were suffering?
Ask yourself: What would be the point of their suffering, or of their enjoyment of salvation, if they could not know of it? Death (actually life) in hell would have to be as though they were in a coma—completely unaware of what is going on around them—while their sensory nervous system is feeling the excruciatingly
painful sensation of burning. How would this work?
Use the following analogy. Before someone undergoes major surgery, he is anesthetized—rendered unconscious—so he will not experience pain. Medical doctors understand this—why don’t theologians and religionists? Why do they deny the plain statements of the Bible?
Some willingly ignore the message of scripture. They allege that only “mortal” thoughts perish, in the sense that the dead leave this earthly realm and experience some mysterious, different, new kind of “thought.” Of course, this is ridiculous, and the Bible does not say it, but we ought to at least examine the idea. Let’s now consider an even more direct verse.
Notice Ecclesiastes 9:5: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything…” An honest reader cannot misunderstand this!
Solomon also recorded, “For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yes, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast…All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecc. 3:19-20).
Now consider Psalm 115:17: “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” Death means “silence.” This certainly does not agree with the popular concepts of millions of the dead wailing and screaming in agony—or immediately receiving eternal life in heaven or anywhere else with millions of others supposedly conversing, singing, playing harps and praising God. Neither scene could possibly be described as silence!
Psalm 6:5 further explains that the dead do not experience conscious memory: “For in death there is no remembrance of You: in the grave who shall give You thanks?” Could anyone seriously suggest that the dead, suffering in hell, could experience the normal range of human memories, but not be aware of God—not be able to “remember” Him? Would God put people in “hell” and then leave them there to suffer, forever wondering how it was that they got there—who it was that put them there—because they have no “remembrance” of anything related to God?
Applying the same question to those who received salvation is even more ridiculous. Could people “roll around heaven all day” and be unaware that they were in the presence of God or of even who He was?
No! When people die, they are dead!
So far we have not explained everything about life after death, but we know that further life does not immediately occur at death! We have established that when a person dies, he is dead! But then what happens?
(To learn more on this subject, read my booklet Is There Life After Death?)