Halloween is soon approaching, and pumpkins and witches and other such decorations abound. One source claims that Americans spend more on Halloween activities each year than was spent in the entire 2008 presidential race. Along with this madness, and the rising popularity of ghost-sighting events, we need to consider what Scripture teaches about ghosts, which is really a study of what happens when people die. Do they go straight to heaven or hell? Or do they hover around earth to be sighted by the living? Or, is the truth “none of the above”?
According to scripture, we know several facts: 1) death is likened to a state of sleep, 2) during this time, the dead person knows nothing, 3) we do not go directly to heaven or hell when we die, 4) but instead the dead don’t rise until the second coming of Christ. We’ll look at each of these facts one at a time.
Death is repeatedly referred to as sleep. Here are few examples: In both 1 Kings 1:21 and 2 Samuel 7:12 we see the phrase “sleep with thy fathers” to refer to death. Job 14:12 tells us that the dead shall not rise from their sleep till the heavens be no more. According to 2 Peter 3:10, this does not happen until the day of the Lord (the second coming), so even those who died in the days of Noah and Abraham are sleeping in their graves to this day awaiting the second coming. In Daniel 12:2, we are shown again that at the end of time, those that “sleep in the dust of the earth” shall awake to everlasting life. In one of the most famous stories in the Bible, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, recorded in John 11:11-13, Jesus said Lazarus was asleep, and the disciples thought he meant normal sleep, but then it tells us plainly that Jesus was speaking of his death. Here are several other similar references likening death to a state of sleep: Acts 13:36, 1 Corinthians 15:51, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, and Psalm 13:3.
The fact that the dead have no thoughts or dreams during this sleep is shown in Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. Here, we are told that they know nothing, and that their memories are forgotten. They don’t remember even the strongest emotions such as love or hate. Another passage that shows this same fact is found in Psalm 115:17 which says that “The dead praise not the Lord”. Now imagine the joy and praise for God you will have when you are joined to him for eternity. You’ve probably heard or sung the hymn “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.” If the dead were already joined with God for eternity, or even just asleep but capable of dreaming of that eventuality, wouldn’t there be much praise being given to God?
We are also shown that the dead do not go directly to heaven or hell when they die, because they can’t be in two places at once. Either they are in the grave, or they are in heaven. Which is it? We are told in John 5:28-29 that when Jesus returns, those who are “in the graves…shall come forth”. Or consider King David, whose faith helped him in the battle with Goliath, and who is listed as one of the great men of faith in Hebrews 11:32 . We are told in Acts 2:29-34 that David is dead and buried and in his grave now, that he has not yet ascended to heaven.
It is actually not until the second coming that we receive our eternal bodies. In the so-called rapture text of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, we are told that when Jesus comes, the “dead in Christ shall rise”. If they were already in heaven with him, how could they be raised from the graves again when he comes? Furthermore, we are told in Revelation 22:12 that when Jesus returns, he has his reward with him. Isn’t receiving eternal life the reward? So if that reward is with him when he returns, how could it be given to people upon their deaths, prior to his return?
In light of the above facts, how do we explain the many documented instances of ghost-sighting or family visits from their dead loved ones? To get the answer to that question, stay tuned for my next column. (View the next column here.)