What happens when we die? What do the scriptures teach about where we go? Do we go to a heaven or hell? When is the resurrection? There are some popular beliefs out there that many have held onto for hundreds of years. When Jesus appears on the scene, he comes with a "gospel" - a "good news". What was that good news? We are going to discuss what the scriptures teach on these subjects.
This study will be a 3-part study. First, because the aspect of heaven vs. hell is such a commonly held view, we will discuss the Old Testament scriptures concerning the word "hell", as well as scriptures that include descriptions of death. We are looking for evidence that gives us clues as to what happens when we die. The second part of the study will be doing the same in the New Testament. The third part will discuss how both the Old and New testament evidences tie together, what was the gospel of Christ, when is the resurrection, and how these topics fit into God's plan as a whole.
Whenever a study on a particular topic is begun, it is generally a "rule of thumb" to first find all of the scriptures on that topic and read them. One's opinion must hold consistently with God's plan, as well as with all other scriptures. When properly understood, the Word of God never contradicts itself. Therefore, this study began by noting every use of the word hell, grave, and death. We are going to be discussing the ones that seem to be pertinent to the study. After a careful examination of several scriptures, it will be clear that a cohesive, linear study throughout the Bible teaches that upon death, man returns to his former state of non-existence until the resurrection occurs.
Genesis 2:7 - "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Ecclesiastes 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
Let us begin with the topic of "hell". Let us examine the background of the Hebrew word - how many times was it used? What does it mean? And what other scriptures can be found to help clarify the issue? Every single us of the word "hell" in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word "Sheol", and is used a total of 31 times. "Sheol", however, is used to translate into two other words as well: grave, 31 times; and pit, 3 times. Sheol is used in the Old Testament for a total of 65 times. This is important to know, because we must understand that the words "hell" and "grave" used in the Old Testament have the same meaning. Why is this? The only answer is: artistic liberty. Whoever translated the scriptures simply did their best to translate it as true as they knew how, but of course, their own personal beliefs do come into play. This is true mainly in the King James Version. One will find that in other translations, for example the New American Standard, they do not even try to distinguish between the two; they simply use the word "Sheol" instead of translating it into either hell, grave (or pit).
Here are all of the uses of the word "hell" in the Old Testament in the King James Version:
Deut. 32: 22
2 Samuel 22:6
Job 11:8; 26:6
Ps. 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 55:15; 86:13; 116:3; 139:8
Prov. 5:5; 7: 27; 9:18; 15:11; 15:24; 23:14; 27:20
Is. 5:14; 14:9; 14:15; 28:15; 28:15; 57:9
Ez. 31:16-17; 32:21; 32:27
Being that this post is already going to be long enough, I shall point the reader to examine each scripture on their own, and my challenge to the reader is to insert the word "grave" in every scripture, asking if it would not fit even better than the word "hell". Regardless of the conclusion of the reader, the truth of the matter must be recognized - the words grave and hell in the Old Testament of the Bible come from the same word, and therefore in the original text have exactly the same meaning.
From here, we will discuss scriptures of the Old Testament that describe death. As we examine specific scriptures that discuss "what happens when you die", we shall find that almost every description compares death to sleep, and that this idea is consistent throughout the Old Testament.
(All scriptures are used from the New American Standard translation)
Job 3:11 - "Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? (:13) For now I would have lain down and been quiet, I would have slept then, I would have been at rest (:14) with kings and counselors of the Earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves. . . (:16) or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, as infants that never saw light. (:17) There the wicked cease from raging, and there the weary are at rest. (:18) The prisoners are at ease together, they do not hear the voice of the task master. (:19) The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master."
(Two things: 1. Job states that if he died, he would have "slept"; and 2. he would have been where both the wicked and the weary are. He is basically saying that he is where everybody else is; the small and great, wicked and weary, etc.)
Job 14:10-12 - "But man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he? (:11) As water evaporates from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dried up, (:12) so man lies down and does not rise. (:12) Until the heavens be no more, he will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep."
(Again, man does not go up or down. He ceases to exist.)
Psalms 146:4 - "His spirit departs, he returns to the Earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
Ecc. 9:5 - "For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything..."
Ecc. 3:19-21 - "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. (:20) All go to the same place. All came from dust and all return to the dust. (:21) Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the Earth?" (also read Psalms 49:12,20)
Dan 12:2 - (discussing a future time) "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground..."
Psalms 13:3 - "Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God; Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death."
Lastly, all of the following scriptures discuss the death of kings in the Bible. There are some that were great kings, men of God, such as David. There are others that were notoriously wicked, such as Ahab. But when it came to describing their fate, all scriptures read the same thing:
"He slept with his fathers."
1 Kings 2:10; 11:21; 11:43; 14:20; 14:31; 15:8; 15:24; 16:6; 16:28; 22:40; 22:50;
2 Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9; 13:13; 14:16; 14:22; 14:29; 15:7; 15:22; 15:38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6
2 Chron. 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2; 26:23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20
That is a total of 36 scriptures discussing the death of kings, in which all, good and evil, "slept with their fathers" upon dying.
The conclusion is that although one can say there is a "hell" technically, the bottom line is that when one dies, they just go to sleep. The evidence seems to be overwhelmingly in the favor of death being no different than lying down and going to sleep. Although there are scriptures that mention the word "hell", when it is brought to light that the same Hebrew word is the word used to translate also in "grave" the exact same number of times, it seems clear that the scriptures are not teaching that one lies down to face any kind of torturous fate. Rather, the scriptures seem to teach that God gives life (Gen. 2:7), and when one dies, they are then returned to their former state of non-existence. (Ecc. 12:7)
What does this mean for mankind? Upon part 3 of the study, much more will be discussed. The bottom line is that God never intended or planned for any of our family or friends to be tortured in any kind of fiery pit. What is a much more reasonable thought, which the scriptures suggest, is that God has had a plan from the beginning of time, and that plan includes a loving result from a loving God. If the four attributes of God are power, wisdom, justice, and love, then we would be lead to believe His plan includes all of those things.
This concludes the Old Testament portion of the study. The next portion will discuss the uses of the word hell in the New Testament to find if there are any differences; if the scriptures seem to contradict themselves, etc.