What is death?

"Some pretty graves" by Anita Dalton 2012 (CC BY 2.0) - flickr.com (derivative)

From dust to dust. Here lies the body, but exactly what is death?

What is death?

Have you ever wondered why it is that if we, as Christians, have such assurance of Heaven even if we die before Christ’s return, we still dread death? Elder Randy Skeete asked nearly the same question in his Campfire Talks this summer for the Young Disciple campers.

Perhaps the answer ought to be obvious to us, but his answer was a new revelation to me: We are geared for eternity. The longing for life is a God-given longing. We go about our few short years with the desire for more—and better!Movie Get Out (2017)

Yet that “one event happeneth to [us] all”: sooner or later, we die. (Ecclesiastes 2:14) And it seems so odd, so unreal.

In the beginning

What is death? Let’s start by taking a look into the Garden of Eden, unmarred by the curse of death. Eve stands beside the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One apparently wise stands in her view, about to give her her first taste of evil.

“Hath God said…” the serpent begins. Then shortly he follows with that deadliest of lies: “Ye shall not surely die.”

Ever since then, Satan has fought to keep his cherished lie alive. One way he has found to be sadly successful is in hiding the truth about that mysterious question, What is death?

Let’s do what Eve failed to do—go directly to the Word of God for the answer.

A living soul

In the beginning was God “[a]nd 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.” (Genesis 2:7) In other words, dust + God’s breath = living soul.

According to the Bible, death is a reverse process. Essentially, living soul – God’s breath = (soon enough) dust.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 verifies this: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

But in the mouth of two or three witnesses let the matter be established.

How about Psalm 146:4? “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

…and Genesis 3:19 “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

…and Job 34:14–15 “If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.”

Body-less spirits in Heaven?

Many people have been led to believe that Ecclesiastes 12:17 is evidence that dead people are not really dead, but rather they are body-less spirits basking in the presence of God. Is that what the Bible teaches?

It is worthy of note here that the Hebrew word “ruwach”, translated here as “spirit” is the same word translated in many other places as “breath” (Psalm 104:29, for example). This is not some sort of ghostly being, but rather a wind, so to speak, like the air we breathe.

The spirit—the breath—returns to God who gave it.

At Jesus’ resurrection, he said “I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17) I don’t think any Christian will deny that Jesus had been dead before He was resurrected, but here He states plainly that He had not yet been back to Heaven.

In the grave, His breath was gone. His body was still. His thoughts were silent.

He had not returned to the Father.

Also consider David, a man after God’s own heart. Peter actually used David as a prime example in his pentecostal sermon. The very fact that “David is not ascended into the heavens” was a key part of his argument proving the divinity of Christ, who did not stay in the grave! (See Acts 2.)

So if we do not go to Heaven at death, what happens to us? Again we ask the question, What is death?

What is death? Death is a sleep.

Jesus put it this plainly (speaking of Lazarus): “Lazarus sleepeth.” (John 11:11) The disciples, gathering that sleep was good, figured that Lazarus ought to get better then. Jesus reworded himself: “Lazarus is dead.” (verse 14)

You see, death is not some grand state of exalted existence. No, death is a sleep.

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” “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.” “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.” “[F]or who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10 and 3:22)

No, “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.” “And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.” They both go to the same place at death: the grave. (Psalm 115:17; Ecclesiastes 2:16)

Now, what comes afterwards is a whole other story. We’ll save that for another day!

~YOUR TURN: I know there are several Bible passages that at first glance seem to contradict this truth about “what is death”. Is one of them puzzling you? Share it in the comments and we’ll see what we can learn from it!~


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