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What Happens When We Die, According to the Bible?

Updated: Feb 18

For those of us that grew up in the church the answer may seem obvious. Since we were children, we’ve been taught that when we die our spirit or soul goes up to Heaven. But does the Bible teach such a thing?

What the Writings and the Prophets Say

The Psalmist, most likely David, wrote/believed that when a person dies they do not continue on living in a spiritual world but cease to exist.

“While I live, I praise יהוה; I sing praises to my Elohim while I exist. Do not put your trust in princes, In a son of man, in whom is no deliverance. His spirit goes out, he returns to his earth; In that day his plans perish.” (Psalms 146:2-4)

Other translations use ‘thoughts’ instead of ‘plans’, but the meaning the author is conveying is the same. When a person dies, they no longer can plan because they have no more thoughts. In another passage the Psalmist proposes a rhetorical question.

“Would You work wonders for the dead? Would the dead rise to praise You? Selah.” (Psalms 88:10)

By asking would the dead rise to praise you? Implies that the dead do not offer up any praises. Furthermore, the Psalmist writes that if he was to die, who else would praise Elohim?

“What gain is there in my blood, When I go down to the pit? Would dust praise You? Would it declare Your truth?” (Psalms 30:9)

Isaiah confirms the implication of Psalms 88:10 and agrees with the author of the Psalms. That the living give praise to the Father, not the dead.

“For She’ol (the grave) does not thank You, nor death praise You; those who go down to the pit do not watch for Your truth. “The living, the living – he is praising You, as I do this day. A father makes known Your truth to his children.” (Isaiah 38:18-19)

The author of Ecclesiastes likewise agrees with his counterparts.

“For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know naught, nor do they have any more reward, for their remembrance is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy have now perished; and they no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6)
“All that your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom in She’ol where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

So far, the Bible makes for a compelling argument against the teachings of the church. Though, some will say, “that was the Old Testament but it’s different in the New Testament.” The thief being crucified along with Yeshua is normally where people will go to argue their case, let’s have a look ourselves.

Yeshua and the Thief

“And יהושע said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:24)

The issues arises when people interrupt this verse to mean that Yeshua told the thief that today he would be in paradise with him. However, Yeshua did not go to paradise that day, he spent the next three days and nights in the grave. Secondly, the way the sentence is structured Yeshua is saying today, as in right now I tell you, you will be with me in paradise. Yeshua was affirming that the thief will partake in the resurrection and be allowed to enter into the kingdom. What about after the ascension of Messiah?

“And they were stoning Stephanos(Stephen) as he was calling and saying, “Master יהושע, receive my spirit.” And kneeling down he cried out with a loud voice, “Master, do not hold this sin against them.” And having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60)

Falling asleep is a euphemism that illustrates what death is like. When we sleep, outside of the times we receive dreams, we don’t experience anything. It’s how death is, and this figment of speech also alludes to the first death not being permanent, as sleep is only temporary. Later on, we will return to falling asleep, for now we will turn to the parable of the rich man and El’azar. Before that, we must understand that a parable is not a real story, it is used to convey a teaching/principle or to increase understanding to those who comprehend its message.

“And the taught ones came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” And He answering, said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, but to them it has not been given. “For whoever possesses, to him more shall be given, and he shall have overflowingly; but whoever does not possess, even what he possesses shall be taken away from him. “Because of this I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)

In parables that deal with the rich man, this typically represents the Pharisees as they were lovers of money.

“And the Pharisees, who loved silver, also heard all this, and were sneering at Him.” (Luke 16:14)

Parable of the rich man and El’azar

“But there was a certain rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and lived luxuriously every day. And there was a certain beggar named El‛azar, being covered with sores, who was placed at his gate,” and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Indeed, even the dogs came and licked his sores. “And it came to be that the beggar died, and was carried by the messengers to the bosom of Abraham. And the rich man also died and was buried. “And while suffering tortures in She’ol, having lifted up his eyes, he saw Abraham far away, and El‛azar in his bosom. “And crying out he said, ‘Father Abraham, have compassion on me, and send El‛azar to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering in this flame.’ “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your life you received your good, and likewise El‛azar the evil, but now he is comforted and you are suffering. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set, so that those who wish to pass from here to you are unable, nor do those from there pass to us.’ “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, let him warn them, lest they also come to this place of torture.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Mosheh (Moses) and the prophets, let them hear them.’” “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they shall repent.’ “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Mosheh (Moses) and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded even if one should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)

Why Eli’ezer was chosen for the Parable

Eli’ezer is Abram’s chosen heir, since at the time Abram had no children of his own. Despite Eli’ezer being a servant, he was favored by Abram.

“After these events the word of יהוה came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your reward is exceedingly great.” And Abram said, “Master יהוה, what would You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eli‛ezer of Dammeseq?” And Abram said, “See, You have given me no seed, and see, one born in my house is my heir!” And see, the word of יהוה came to him, saying, “This one is not your heir, but he who comes from your own body is your heir.” (Genesis 15:1-4)

The significance of Eli’ezer being in the parable, is to show that someone who is not blood can still be accepted into Abraham’s bosom (accounted as a true seed of Abraham). Where as the rich man is of blood descent but due to his lawlessness he was not allowed into Abraham’s bosom (no longer counted as a seed of Abraham).

The Pharisees Claim to Fame

The Pharisees believed that by virtue of being blood descendance of Abraham, they were guaranteed to be accepted as seeds of Abraham.

“They answered Him, “We are the seed of Abraham, and have been servants to no one at any time. How do you say, ‘You shall become free’?” (John 8:33)
“And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his immersion, he said to them, “Brood of adders! Who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath? “Bear, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as father.’ For I say to you that Elohim is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:7-9)

Warn my Five Brothers

The Pharisees emphasis on bloodline did not end with Abraham, but also placed value in being from Jacob’s first marriage with Leah. That is why the rich man ask for Abraham to warn his five other brothers, because between Jacob and Leah there are six brothers.

“And יהוה saw that Lĕ’ah (Leah) was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Raḥĕl (Rachel) was barren. And Lĕ’ah (Leah) conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Re’uḇĕn (Reuben), for she said, “For יהוה has looked on my affliction, because now my husband is going to love me.” And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because יהוה has heard that I am unloved, He gave me this son too.” And she called his name Shim‛on(Simeon). And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband is joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So his name was called Lĕwi(Levi). And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I praise יהוה.” So she called his name Yehuḏah (Judah). And she ceased bearing.” (Genesis 29:31-35)

“And Elohim listened to Lĕ’ah (Leah), and she conceived and bore Ya‛aqoḇ (Jacob) a fifth son. And Lĕ’ah (Leah) said, “Elohim has given me my hire, because I have given my female servant to my husband.” So she called his name Yissasḵar (Issachar). And Lĕ’ah (Leah) conceived again and bore Ya‛aqoḇ (Jacob) a sixth son. And Lĕ’ah (Leah) said, “Elohim has presented me with a good present. Now my husband is going to dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun.” (Genesis 30:17-20)

Who the Dogs are in the Parable?

Back in the first century, gentiles were known as dogs amongst the Jews.

“And see, a woman of Kena‛an (Canaan) came from those borders and cried out to Him, saying, “Have compassion on me, O Master, Son of Dawiḏ (David)! My daughter is badly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His taught ones came and asked Him, saying, “Send her away, because she cries after us.” And He answering, said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Yisra’ĕl (Israel).” But she came and was bowing to Him, saying, “Master, help me!” And He answering, said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” But she said, “Yes Master, for even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And יהושע answering, said to her, “O woman, your belief is great! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.” (Matthew 15:22-28)

By using dogs in the parable, Yeshua was illustrating how the gentiles were treating the poor and sick better than the Pharisees. Who should know that it is commanded to love your neighbor and the stranger, Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 10:19.

A Day of Judgement not Multiple Days

“Truly, then, having overlooked these times of ignorance, Elohim now commands all men everywhere to repent,” because He has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed, having given proof of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

There is one single day allotted for judgement not many. The idea that when someone dies, they either go to heaven or hell, would suggest that the individual has already be judged. This does not align with scripture, but was more than likely a concept taken from pagan religions. As most pagan religions taught that once a person died, they were immediately be judged and sent to their respected destinations.

Asleep Means to be Dead

“He said this, and after that He said to them, “Our friend El‛azar has fallen asleep, but I am going there, to wake him up.” Therefore the taught ones said to Him, “Master, if he has fallen asleep he shall recover.” But יהושע had spoken about his death, whereas they thought that He spoke of taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:11-13)

Picking back up on this euphemism, we see Yeshua directly stating that death, at least the first death, is akin to sleep. As all things were created through Yeshua, I think it’s safe to say he would know how death works. And his words on death are congruent with how the prophets and the writings spoke on death.

The Resurrection

Some confuse Paul with speaking about spiritual bodies ascending into heaven, however, Paul never makes such claims. On the contrary when speaking about life after the first death its always in relation to the resurrection.

For if the dead are not raised, then neither Messiah has been raised. And if Messiah has not been raised, your belief is to no purpose, you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Messiah have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-10)
“Because the Master Himself shall come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of a chief messenger, and with the trumpet of Elohim, and the dead in Messiah shall rise first. Then we, the living who are left over, shall be caught away together with them in the clouds to meet the Master in the air – and so we shall always be with the Master. So, then, encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Furthermore, it would make no sense if our spirit ascended into Heaven or descended into Hell, to then be resurrected and judged. The whole concept falls flat when scripture is read in a holistic way, instead of in isolated sections or texts.

I hope this post has brought some clarification and that it inspires you to research this topic for yourselves. I pray the Ruach leads you into all truth.


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