What Happens after Death?

Chapter 9 | Summary

An Inescapable Reality

What Is Death?

The Sleep of Death

A Film Story

Only Two Ways

The child had no reason to be afraid, but he desperately yelled while he grabbed his mother’s dress and refused to enter the plane. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!”

Other passengers looked at him with compassion. Pale and distressed, it seemed as though he was being taken to his death. His mother, somewhat embarrassed, tried to explain the situation: “He watches a lot of television.”

It may be that the child had watched an airplane crash on television, and his fear was simply a product of his imagination. However, behind his screams was something real. Humanity possesses an instinctive fear of death.

British novelist Julian Barnes is not a child anymore; he is a famous, mature man. A few years ago he published a book titled Nothing to Be Frightened of. It could be said that the book is the restrained sobbing of an adult before death.1

An Inescapable Reality

The above-mentioned book is both an autobiographical novel and a philosophical essay. In it, Barnes reflects on death from an agnostic perspective. He is an avowed atheist. Three years ago he promoted an advertising campaign on London buses declaring: “There is no God.”

In his recent book, the author states that death is the disappearance of something we cling to, which in reality does not exist. Therefore, a fear of death is senseless; it is a fear of nothing. Nevertheless, he confesses his daily fear of death. He imagines himself in situations in which he could die; for example, trapped in the jaws of a crocodile or in a shipwreck.

Death generates an uncontrollable fear in Barnes. He fears such simple things as a decrease of energy, a shortage of water or power. Bottom line: he lives in uncertainty. “I look around, at my many friendships, and can recognize that some of them are not so much friendships any more as memories of friendships.”

Barnes’ book is the fruit of a mind occupied by incoherence. Death is nothing to him. Nevertheless, he writes: “However much you escape your parents in life, they are likely to reclaim you in death.” Why is an atheist afraid of death if he believes nothing exists beyond life? How is it possible to be afraid of something that does not exist?

The reason is that there is an innate curiosity hidden in the recesses of the human soul about the mysteries of the beyond. Confucius said: “What is death? If we don’t know life, how can we know death?”2

But death is unsettling, especially when it touches a loved one, or when it approaches inexorably. Can parents remain indifferent before the dead body of a child barely three years of age? How can a loving wife not wonder about the destiny of her late husband whom she loved so much? What elderly person does not eye the future with apprehension? Since ancient times, the fear of death—as something irreversible—has troubled humanity and has been captured in different myths and legends, such as the Gilgamesh Epic.3

What Is Death?

At the end of the day, what is it about death that immensely frightens people? Where do human beings go when life comes to its end? To understand that mystery we must remember the form in which humanity was created. The biblical account says: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).


What is the soul?

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [soul]” (Gen. 2:7). God took dust from the ground, breathed life (spirit) into it, and the result was a living being (soul).


According to the Bible, the soul is an intrinsic part of a human being. The soul is a living being. Beings have no soul; they are a soul. The Hebrew word used for “person,” “soul,” “being,” and in a few instances for “life” (for example, Lev. 17:11, 14) is nephesh. The translation for the word ruach is “spirit”, which comes from the same root words referring to breath or to breathe. Meanwhile nephesh characterizes what each living being is (the individualization of God’s breath), ruach is the breath of common life of each living being. In Genesis 2:7, nephesh is used to describe the man created by God.

Can the soul die?

“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine. The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, NKJV). When someone dies, the soul also dies, because the soul is the person. Nowhere in the Bible is the assertion that the soul is something that inhabits the human body, or of it being immortal.

Where does man return to as a result of sin?

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19).

To whom would the breath of life (spirit) return?

”And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). When someone dies, the spirit (breath of life) returns to God, and the body (dust) returns to the ground. For that reason, the Bible says: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten” (Eccl. 9:5).


Who is the only one with immortality?

“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:15, 16).

When will human beings receive immortality?

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53). This promise will be carried out at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus.


  1. Because the damned would live forever, which would make sin eternal, contradicting the Scriptures (Ps. 37:20).
  2. Because such a belief presents God as a being whose anger is never satisfied. God is love (1 John 4:8).
  3. Because it imposes a punishment disproportionate to the sins committed, distorting God’s infinite justice. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), not eternal suffering.
  4. Because eternal torment would forever cast a shadow over the happiness of the redeemed. Those who are saved would forever contemplate the eternal suffering of their fellow human beings. Is that “eternal life?” No! There shall be no more pain, no more weeping (Rev. 21:4).
  5. Because eternal torment would cause the constant presence of the tragedy of sin to blemish God’s universe forever, spoiling the splendor of New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:5).
  6. Because eternal torment dishonors the character of God and transforms it into a monstrous agent of Satan. God is merciful (Luke 6:36).
  7. We reject the teachings of eternal torment based on the horrible consequences that sin has already produced on earth (Rom. 8:22).

In the beginning God formed the body of Adam from the dust of the earth. He did not make a doll, as some believe, but a real body, with nerves, bones, skin, hair, cells, veins, and everything a body requires. The only thing it lacked was life. It was an inert body, lifeless, a clay body made by God’s own hands. That body did not feel, think, or move. It was merely a body without life. Then God breathed in the man’s nostril the breath of life, which had no feelings, or thoughts either; it was only breath.

When the inert body united with the breath of life, something extraordinary occurred: a human being emerged, with feelings, thoughts, dreams and plans. A living being with will, with the ability to make decisions, and to move from one place to another. The Hebrew expression says that a “living soul” emerged.

There is no teaching in the Bible about Adam receiving a soul. Before the creation of Adam, there was no rational soul or spirit. The biblical passage states that Adam was changed into a living soul. In the Bible, a “living soul” is a person, the result of the union of the body, made from clay, with the breath of life given by God. Therefore, man does not have a soul. To be more precise, he is a soul.

So what happens when a person dies? Logically, the opposite happens. The body separates from the breath of life and everything returns to how it was before creation. No rational spirit is independent of the body. Before God formed man, a rational soul had not existed. A rational soul only came into existence when the lifeless body united with the breath of life. In death, everything returns to how it was in the beginning. That is why the Bible advises: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them;’… and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:1, 7).

Death, according to the wise Solomon, is the day when the body returns to the ground, as it had been before creation, and the breath of life returns to God, who gave it. No conscious soul is separated from the body. Human beings are thinking beings only as long as they are alive. The day they die, their bodies are taken to the cemetery. With time it turns into dust4 and disappears, and the breath of life returns to God.

Solomon reasserts this truth time and again: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (Eccl. 9:5, 6). For that reason, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Eccl. 9:10).

In the Bible are many verses that express humanity’s complete state of inactivity after death. Regarding consciousness, it states: When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Ps. 146:4). In relation to existence, it declares: “When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust” (Ps. 104:29).

Those who die know nothing about their loved ones. “If their children are honored, they do not know it; if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it. (Job 14:21). They do not even worship God. “It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence” (Ps. 115:17). “For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living—they praise you, as I am doing today” (Is. 38:18, 19).

The Sleep of Death

Sleep is an eloquent figure to describe death. The Bible refers to death as sleep on 54 occasions. Is a sleeping person conscious of anything? Jesus Christ himself, when referring to Lazarus, said: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (John 11:11-14).


  1. Those who sleep are unconscious (Eccl. 9:6).
  2. During sleep, conscious thoughts cease (Ps. 146:4).
  3. Sleep cuts us off from those who are awake, and from their activities (Eccl. 9:6).
  4. Normal sleep renders conscious emotions inactive (Eccl. 9:6).
  5. Sleep finalizes daily activities (Eccl. 9:10).
  6. During sleep, human beings do not worship God (Ps. 115:17).
  7. Sleep anticipates an awakening (John 5:28, 29).

But the following question arises: if there is no thinking spirit upon the death of a human being, from where does the idea come that the soul is immortal, that other lives exist, and that disembodied spirits roam through celestial spheres? This idea is clearly not biblical, although it first appeared in the Garden of Eden. On that occasion, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die.5 But the devil appeared under the guise of a serpent6 and told Eve: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen. 3:4, 5).

Without a doubt, the idea that has produced the most dividends for God’s enemy is the one about the soul not dying. Human beings have always been fascinated by going beyond their limits as creatures and being equal to God. However, the biblical truth is that the human soul is not immortal.7 God alone possesses immortality, “which God will bring abut in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone is immortal” (1 Tim. 6:15, 16). The Bible teaches that those who desire immortality must seek it.

After Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord said: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22). In this biblical reference we notice that man relied on the tree of life to live forever. The first human beings lived for many years because they had access to the tree of life.8, 9 The power of the tree of life remained in the blood and bodies of Adam and Eve, despite their departure from Eden. Their descendants inherited the benefits of the tree of life.

But with the passage of time, the longevity of the human race decreased dramatically, inasmuch as humanity is mortal and had to depend on the tree of life to prolong its existence. Upon sinning, humanity lost access to the tree and, consequently, the possibility to live forever. From that moment on, someone who desires immortality must seek it. That is what the apostle Paul says: “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life’” (Rom. 2:6, 7). However, present-day culture accepts the generalized idea that someone’s spirit continues to live after death, as the soul is immortal.

The other day I spoke with a young man whose father had passed away. The family knew he had kept lots of money in a secret place, but no one knew where. In view of the situation, someone came up with the idea of searching for a person with the ability to “communicate” with the dead. The wife and children participated in a session of spiritualism. The spirit of their deceased father was summoned and he “appeared.” To everyone’s fright and joy, the spirit of the dead man indicated where the money was located.

The young man told me: “If someone had told me the story, I would not have believed it. However, I personally participated in the session, I heard my father’s voice pointing out to us the place, and the money was there.”

The young man was not lying. He truly heard the voice of a spirit, but not the spirit of his father. According to the Bible, the day his father died, his body was taken to the cemetery, the breath of life returned to God, and that man was no longer conscious of anything. Yet the persons who participated in that session of spiritualism heard the voice of a spirit.

Do wandering spirits exist? There are many, and Holy Scripture narrates how they appeared on the human stage. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).

What do you think those angels expelled from heaven do today? To what are they devoted? The Bible says that the enemy’s preferred weapon is deceit and seduction.10 Paul asserts that the struggle of human beings is not against flesh and blood, but “against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Then he adds: “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

Spirits in disguise and fallen angels masked as light will be increasingly common in our times, until humanity is able to accept the existence of spirits of the dead as something real. Films, novels, and media are powerful instruments to shape the culture of a generation. They will be effectively used for this purpose.

A Film Story

Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler, three parapsychologists were expelled from Columbia University in New York, as a result of their studies and unorthodox practices. They began their own business, working as ghostbusters researching paranormal phenomena.11 Their first client was Dana, a young woman who enjoyed playing the cello and constantly worried because she was tormented by the vision of a spirit. Dana and her neighbor are possessed by such spirit and become avatars that allow evil entities to enter the world. The ghostbusters discover that the building in which they live was built by an architect who practiced occultism, and their apartment is a dimensional door that allows Gozer to enter, an interdimensional demigod who threatens to destroy the world, starting with New York.

This story, filled with strange figures and evil spirits, is the plot of the movie Ghostbusters, which was released in 1984 and was the biggest box-office hit of the decade. Its success was so great that, subsequently, it led to one of the most successful series in the United States, nominated for an Emmy award for its musical score. Originally, the series had a dark, sinister tone. But it became a collaborative event, leading to the production of electronic games, board games, and commemorative figurines.

From then on, countless movies have appeared whose central theme was the mysterious world of the occult, related to the existence of disembodied spirits that inhabit the invisible world of darkness. Many people rush to speak with evil spirits, believing they are speaking with their loved ones who were snatched away by death.

The Bible is categorical: “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spirits, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Is. 8:19).

Let’s revisit Julian Barnes and his book, Nothing to Be Frightened of. When speaking of death, he states: “For me, death is the one appalling fact which defines life; unless you are constantly aware of it, you cannot begin to understand what life is about.” But if to him death is nothing, then life is also nothing. What sense does nothingness possess? Barnes begins his book by saying: I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” Later in the book, he says he envies believers, because to them death is an entrance, whereas to atheists death is an exit to nothingness.

This attitude toward death is very human, instinctive, and proof of the existence of God and of the biblical account. Humanity was not created to die; death is an intruder in the human experience. It is the sad consequence of separating from God. The Bible declares that God is life itself. One day Jesus said: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the apostle John added: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). God is the God of life. He is life itself. To be apart from God is to penetrate the territory of death.

The confusion of humanity is that it separates from God but desires life. It seeks life just as a human being’s lungs seek oxygen, but it refuses to accept God as Creator and Redeemer. Is has been so since ancient times. In the myths of people buried in the dust of history, humanity’s flight from the God of life is recorded, as well as humanity’s fear and rejection of death. Think about the words in this Vedic funerary hymn:

Go hence, O Death, pursue thy special pathway

Apart from that which Gods are wont to travel.

To thee I say it who hast eyes and hearest:

Touch not our offspring, injure not our heroes.

As ye have come effacing Mrityu’s footstep,

To further times prolonging your existence,

May ye be rich in children and possessions

Cleansed, purified, and meet for sacrificing.

Divided from the dead are these, the living:

Now be our calling on the Gods successful.

We have gone forth for dancing and for laughter,

To further times prolonging our existence.

Here I erect this rampart for the living;

Let none of these, none other, reach this limit.

May they survive a hundred lengthened autumns,

And may they bury Death beneath this mountain.11

Only Two Ways

Christians, however, possess a treasure called hope, which is not only the desire for something to occur but also the conviction that it will happen. A Christian’s faith is not placed on possibilities but on certainties. There is no certainty more real than Jesus.

Jesus taught the following: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24-27).

We have only two alternatives: We either build our convictions on the sand of human theories or philosophies, or we build them on the Rock of ages, Jesus. For Christians, death is sleep in which no one does anything because there is no consciousness. But the good news is that death is not the end.

At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). What is the meaning of “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die?” Does it mean that, for those who believe in Jesus, there is life after death? Yes, but not immediately after death.

The apostle Paul contributes greater information about this matter: Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.… For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13, 14, 16-18). This is the blessed hope of those who believe in Jesus and accept Him as Savior. Death is not the end of everything. Resurrection does exist. “The dead in Christ will rise first.”

One day, sooner than many people think, the heavens will open, the trumpet will sound, and the dead, who rested with their faith placed on the return of Christ, will rise with transformed bodies for a new life. For that reason Paul proclaims: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).


1. J. Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of, London: LRB Limited Editions, 2008.

2. Confucius, The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), Book III, Chapter XI.11, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

3. Written in Akkadian, translated into various ancient languages of the Near East. It is the most famous literary creation of the Babylonians.

4. Genesis 3:19.

5. Genesis 2:16, 17.

6. Revelation 12:9.

7. Ezekiel 18:4, 20.

8. Genesis 5.

9. E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1958, p. 60.

10. The word seduction comes from the Latin term seductio (action of leading aside). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online states that to seduce is “to lead astray usually by persuasion or false promises.”

11. Rig Veda, X, 18. “Mrityu is the personification of death and Yama is the god who governs the spirits of the dead” (Gustavo Agüero, Luis Urtubey & Daniel Vera Murúa, Conceptos, creencias y racionalidad, Cordoba: Editorial Brujas, 2008, p. 339).