The vast majority of Christians believe and teach satan’s first lie as though it came straight from the mouth of Yeshua/Jesus. In Genesis 3:4, the serpent said unto Eve, “Ye shall not surely die.” This lie is repeated continually as a means of comfort to someone who has lost a loved one. You’ll hear things like, “I know where he is”, “He’s in a better place”, “She’s in heaven now”, “They’re looking down on you”, etc. But if the idea of immortality of the soul comes from satan, is it safe to believe? Or might it be part of his grand delusion that will deceive even the very elect?
The Bible is repeatedly clear that death is like sleep, with the person not having any consciousness, and that they are asleep in the grave, not in heaven. We’re not told to comfort someone about the state of their deceased love one by repeating satan’s lie, but rather we’re told to assure them that their loved one will be raised at the second coming. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11.)
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 a restful 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, they would continually be praising the Lord.
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 or hell. 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.
What about the death and resurrection of Jesus? Surely, after having lived a sin-free life, if anyone went straight to heaven upon death, it would have been him. But after he rose from the dead and was seen of Mary the next morning, John 20:17 records that he told her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to the Father.” During the three days and three nights that he was in the grave, he experienced the sleep of death, and was risen from the dead before he ever was risen unto heaven. It was not until later that the disciples were allowed to touch him (John 20:27), because by that time he had ascended to the Father and made the Firstfruits offering.
It is actually not until the second coming that we receive our eternal bodies. 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 the so-called rapture text of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, we are told that when Jesus comes, the “dead in Christ shall rise first”. If they were already in heaven with him, how could they be raised from the graves again when he comes?
God is the only being that has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16). Humans are not given that gift until “the last trump” (the second coming) when we are raised incorruptible and changed (1 Corinthians 15:52). Only then is death swallowed up in victory (vs. 54).
With so many different texts proving that the dead are asleep in the graves and not in heaven, why is this idea such a common misconception? Most teachers don’t understand the pagan roots of this teaching, and try to defend it scripturally by using the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to justify their teaching. But what is a parable? Strong’s Concordance defines parable as, a “fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral).” Is it reasonable to interpret one fictitious story as teaching something that is in opposition to many literal texts of Scripture?
Jesus gave many parables, and rarely if ever are they taught as if they were literal. They are illustrations that teach a lesson. Take, for example, some of the parables in Matthew 13. The parable of the wheat and the tares say to let both the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest. Have you ever heard that taught by agriculture teachers? No, every farmer knows that if you don’t control the weeds, they will choke out the crop. That is not a literal gardening lesson, but a parable of the end times (which by the way proves there is no rapture, but that topic is for another article). What about casting pearls before swine? When was the last time you heard a sermon about how you literally should not throw expensive jewels in your pig sty because the pigs will turn and rend you? Do pigs really attack people who throw small white stones in their path? That isn’t what is being taught. Rather, it is an illustration how the oracles of God are not meant for everyone, and that some people will resist and attack you (more likely verbally than physically) when you persist on trying to share the gospel with them. You can read every parable in Scripture, and soon realize that they are not literal teachings, but instead are lessons taught with made up illustrations to clarify the point being made.
The same is true of the Rich Man and Lazarus, as told in Luke 16:19-31. Look at it carefully and see if it makes any sense at all when taken literally. Was Jesus teaching that every believer who has died is resting on Abraham’s bosom? How big of a chest does this man have? Are we to believe that someone in hellfire is only going to ask for a drip of water off the tip of someone’s finger? Of course not, they’d be begging to be rescued or drenched with many gallons of water. The message of this parable is found in verse 31, that if someone will not pay any attention to the truths of God as written in Torah and by the prophets God sent to teach them, they will also pay no attention even if someone rose from the dead to teach them. This is an illustration about the importance of believing Scripture, not a literal idea of the afterlife that contradicts all of the many scriptures already cited about the state of the dead.
Another source of confusion is from the thief on the cross, when Yeshua promises him in Luke 23:43, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise." On the surface, that seems very clear, but there is one major problem with that statement. As shown above, Yeshua did not go to heaven that day, but instead into the grave. He was not ressurected until the Day of Firstfruits, so there was no way on that day of Passover, when they were side-by-side on the cross, that Yeshua could have been talking to him about that specific day. If Yeshua was not in heaven that day, then thief on the cross could also not be there "with him" that day. So how are we to understand Luke 23:43? There was no punctuation in the Greek from which our English bibles were translated. The comma in this verse was inserted by the translaters. It could just as easily have been moved after the word "today", which changes the entire meaning: "Verily I say unto thee today, you shall be with me in paradise." In other words, it was a prophecy made today (the day it was spoken) that would come to pass at the resurrection, at the last trumpet, when Yeshua comes to gather the dead in Christ. Just as I could say to you today, "Verily, I say unto you today, Yeshua will return as promised." I'm saying it today, but it isn't going to happen today.
You might be thinking, “what difference does it make?” Obviously the concept is important to satan, and that alone should be enough to be suspicious that he is going to use this lie against God’s people. When you consider the source of the misinformation, and the abilities satan has, he could easily use your misunderstanding of the state of your loved one to trick you into believing a lie. 2 Corinthians 11:14 warns that satan can transform himself into an angel of light. If he thinks he can deceive you by transforming himself into an image of a departed love one, is it impossible to believe he may do just that? What about the idea that you can go to a psychic and get messages from departed souls? Knowing the truth that your loved one is in a state of unconscious sleep and that any message purportedly from them must be coming from satan or one of his agents, could very well save you from deception.
The next time you comfort someone who has lost a loved one, why not do it the Biblical way, and tell them, “What a glorious day the second coming will be, when we are all united with God for eternity.”