Just What Really
Happens When One Dies?
The Ancients Believed
their Immortal Souls Were Carried Away
Does the Holy Bible Give
Us the Answer to this Question?
The ancient Greeks believed that the soul of the
deceased would be carried by the river Styx to the place
of the spirit world.
Reincarnation is a common belief in many countries of
the East. In this concept, one may return to the land of
the living as almost any creature, depending upon how he
or she had lived their previous life. The goal in this
concept is to eventually reach the blissful state of
In the ancient religion of the children of Israel, the
dead were believed to remain in the grave; but there was
hope that God, the Eternal One, would ultimately rescue
them through the Messiah. Notice Daniel
12:2, -"And many of those who SLEEP in the dust of the
ground will awake."
There is little indication in the Scriptures that the
Israelites believed in the concept of an immortal soul.
Notice what King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes
3:19-20, -"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate
of beasts IS THE SAME. As one dies so dies the other;
indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no
advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. ALL GO
TO THE SAME PLACE. All came from dust and all return to
Indeed, the Prophet Ezekiel said the SOUL that sins
shall DIE.(Chapter 18:4,18) It is clear that the
Israelites did not believe that they continued living in
another realm of existence when they died.
Since the New Testament church was anchored solidly in
the Old Testament Scriptures as magnified by Jesus; how
is it that this idea of the immortality of the soul came
Well, there is no doubt that there was heavy influence
from the culture in which they lived. The Jewish
converts to Christianity embraced the belief that the
Messiah had made a way for the departed to be
resurrected from the grave. This was easy for them
because there was no belief in the immortality of the
soul in their culture.
In sharp contrast, the Gentile converts had been reared
in cultures that believed deeply in the immortality of
man's soul. By the time of Jesus, this part of the world
had been dominated and ruled by Pagan nations for over
600 years. Babylon, Medo-Persian empire, Greece, and by
this time Rome.
Notice Paul's words concerning the Roman culture, -"For
even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as
God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their
speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing to be wise, they became fools." (Romans
The dominate culture prior to Roman was Greek. It is
well documented how the Greek culture thrived on human
philosophy. So it is obvious that the cultural
environment of the new Gentile converts had given them
many things to unlearn.
As Christians, we must learn to base our beliefs on the
very words of the Creator Himself as found in the Holy
Scriptures. The Bible reveals that human beings possess
something called the "spirit of man". This spirit
returns to God at death, but it is not immortal, or an
immortal soul. This spirit bonds with the human brain in
man, giving him a mind. This makes man like God and far
superior to the animals around him. Notice Job
32:8, -"But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the
Almighty gives them understanding."
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in his book The
Mystery of the Ages, -"Many passages of Scripture
show that there is a spirit IN man. Spirit is not
matter, and man is matter. To distinguish it from God's
holy spirit, I designate it as the human
spirit. Nevertheless, it is spirit and not matter.
This human spirit imparts the power of intellect to the
human physical brain. The spirit cannot see, hear,
taste, smell or feel. The brain sees through the eye,
hears through the ear, etc. The human spirit cannot of
itself think. The physical brain thinks. What, then, is
the function of this human spirit? It is not a soul.
But, (1) it imparts the power of intellect, of thinking,
and of mind power to the human brain; and (2) it is the
very means God has instilled, making possible a personal
relationship between human man and divine God."(page
The word "soul" is translated from the Hebrew word
"nephesh", which simply means "breathing animal." Three
times in the first
chapter of Genesis animals
are called "nephesh." The English translators used the
English word "creature" when "nephesh" referred to
animals, but in Chapter
translated "nephesh" into the English word "soul."
7, -"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from
the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of
life; and man BECAME a living soul."
It was the breath of life that caused man to become a
living soul. This is quite distinct from the spirit in
man. Man is a LIVING SOUL that possesses the SPIRIT OF
MAN. As a living soul, man will ultimately die and
return to dust, but the spirit of man, not being formed
from the dust of the ground but from the breath of God.
Returns to God when the soul dies. Therefore, the soul
is physical, composed of matter, and can die just as God
said through the Prophet Ezekiel
in Chapter 18.
Although the spirit of man leaves the soul when the
breath of life does, it possesses no consciousness.
NoticeEcclesiastes (:5, -"For the
living know they will die; but the DEAD DO NOT KNOW
ANYTHING, nor have they any longer a reward, for their
memory is forgotten."
Not notice what Solomon said about death and the spirit
of man, Ecclesiastes
12:6-7, -"Remember Him before the silver cord is broken
and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitch by the well is
shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then
the dust will return to the earth AS IT WAS, and the
SPIRIT (of man) WILL RETURN TO GOD WHO GAVE IT."
Does this picture an event where a newly deceased is
departing his body as an immortal soul and going to meet
his Maker as a conscious being? It does show, that man
is mortal, and must hope in the resurrection from the
dead. Have you ever wondered why there would be a
resurrection from the dead if
people were already living in
heaven or hell? If man is an immortal being in a flesh
body, who is in the grave awaiting resurrection to life?
The resurrection pictures life from death; if man is
already immortal how could he pass from death to life;
wouldn't it be impossible for him to die at all?
The holy Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the
soul possesses no thought or memory at death. NoticePsalms
6:4-5, -"Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; Save me because
of Thy lovingkindness. For there is NO MENTION OF THEE
IN DEATH. In Sheol (Heb. "grave") who will give Thee
David, a man after God's own heart says he could not
give thanks to God anymore if God allowed him to die.
You see, David knew that death was as sleep in God's
eyes, and he would have to trust that God would not
forsake him in the grave forever. David hoped in the
resurrection of the dead.
Jesus spoke of death as sleep, notice John
11:11-14, -"Our friend Lazarus has fallen ASLEEP; but I
go, that I may AWAKEN HIM OUT OF SLEEP. The disciples
therefore said to Him, "Lord, if he has FALLEN ASLEEP,
he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his DEATH; but
they thought that He was speaking of LITERAL SLEEP. Then
Jesus therefore said to them plainly, "Lazarus is DEAD."
told Jesus that if He had gotten there sooner her
brother Lazarus would still be alive. She had faith that
Jesus would have healed him had He gotten there before
he died. In verse
told her that Lazarus would rise again. Martha responded
by acknowledging her belief that he would rise at the
resurrection. This however did not keep her from missing
him now. Then notice what Jesus said to her, -"I
AM the RESURRECTION and the LIFE; he that believes in Me
shall LIVE even if he DIES." (Verse 25) Martha
had faith that Jesus had the power to heal her brother
BEFORE HE DIED, but not the faith and understanding that
the power of the resurrection was standing in front of
her. Jesus then called Lazarus from death to life
saying,"Lazarus come forth, I
command you, come forth." What
a joyous moment!
There are two words often translated "HELL" that should
be rendered "GRAVE." The Hebrew "Sheol" and the Greek
"Hades." The burning hell spoken of in the Scriptures is
from the Greek "Gehenna", but both sheol andhades refer
to the grave.
Jesus said He would establish His church and the gates
of HELL would not prevail over it. The Greek word for
"church" is "ekklesia", which means "called out ones."
They are people that God has called out of this world
and its ways. They are sanctified (set-apart) by TRUTH
and have the indwelling of the holy spirit, which is the
very mind and power of the Eternal God. They are called
the "very elect" that will not be deceived and have the
promise of eternal life. They are true Christians.
"Gates of Hell", should be translated "Gates of the
GRAVE" because the Greek "hades" rendered "hell" here
really refers the grave.
So when we put all this together correctly, rightly
dividing the Word (2
Tim 2:15), it shows us that the grave has gates
but that Jesus possesses the keys to those gates. And
all who repent of practicing sin, are baptized and
receive the gift of the holy spirit are promised eternal
life in the kingdom of God. But God the Father had to be
willing to give His only Son to open those gates. To
make it possible for man to pass from death to life. And
Jesus had to be willing to lay down His precious,
sinless life for us in order to make a way for man.
Now, lets notice the order of the resurrection in 1
Corinthians 15, Verse 20 says
that Jesus is the first to be raised of those WHO ARE
that not all will "SLEEP",
some will be changed from flesh to spirit in a "twinkling
of an eye." These
are true, spirit-filled Christians that are alive at the
return of Jesus. In Verse
find that the dead in Christ will be raised first and
will have glorious spirit bodies. Not notice Verses
54-57, -"DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O death,
where is your victory? Where is your sting? The sting of
death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but
thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord
We may read through the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation,
but we will find very little to substantiate the concept
of the immortal soul. What we will find is ample reasons
to conclude that the dead are ASLEEP in the GRAVE
waiting to hear those wonderful, gracious words that
Lazarus heard, -"Come forth, I
command you, come forth."
At that very moment, the dead in Christ will bolt from
their graves in power and might, and with a glorious
spirit body. What an exciting future awaits the
faithful, true Christian!
If you have a ear to hear and are willing to repent of
your old sinful ways to follow Christ, you too can be a
part of the first resurrection, the better resurrection,
the AWAKENING from the SLEEP of DEATH to LIFE, eternal.
I hope to see you there.