State of the Dead

The State of the Dead and the Dangers of Spiritualism

The meaning of Sheol

“Hell [sheol] from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.”(Isaiah 14:9)

Although the word “sheol” is sometimes translated as hell, it is never used to denote a place of torment. The word is used for the figurative abode of the dead, and in the same passage is translated as grave:“Thy pomp is brought down to the grave [sheol], and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee”(Isa. 14:11).

The language of Isaiah 14 is highly symbolic, in verse 9 “sheol”is pictured figuratively as being moved to meet the King of Babylon and other dead kings are raised to greet him. No mention is made of burning or torment in this passage. The picture we have is of the King of Babylon descending into the grave, to join those kings whom he killed! Now they welcome him to their abode. This once mighty, wicked king is now deprived of his throne and brought to nothing.

The word “sheol” is translated:

31 times as grave

31 times as hell

6 times as pit

What is striking is that the references to “sheol” are not associated with a place of punishment. The New Testament Greek equivalent“hades” is only used once with the concept of punishment (Luke 16:23) and even here the language is extremely figurative. In the New Testament, punishment is associated with the Greek word Gehenna (Mark 9:43-48).

When the Bible uses the word “hell”, if it is being translated from “sheol” or “hades” it does not usually denote a place of punishment, but rather the abode of the dead. The word“sheol” is used for the grave, it is the figurative place where men go after death (Gen. 37:35; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 7:9; 14:13; Ps. 49: 13-15).

In "sheol" there is an absence of worship, praise, thought and action: (Isa. 38:18; Ps. 6:5; 115:17; 146:4; Eccl. 9:5); there can be no torment because there is no consciousness.

"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." (Eccl. 9:5)

Soul and spirit in the Bible

“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” (Gen. 2:7)

In this verse we have a clear formula for life: dust + breath = soul.

The animals were also brought forth from the ground (Gen. 1:24; 2:19), they have the breath of life (Gen. 6:17; 7:15, 22) and are described as living souls (Gen. 1:30). Both man and the animals are described as being living souls, rather than having a soul. The components of dust and breath make up what a living soul is; the soul is not a component but the product of creation.

Death is in effect the reverse of this process when the components are separated; the dust returns to the earth (Gen. 3:19) and the spirit/breath returns to God (Eccl. 12:7).

The word for “soul” (nephesh) is used in different ways:

1. A living being which has the breath of life (Gen. 1:20).

2. A man himself (Psalm 6:4); this is where the expression SOS (save our souls) comes from.

3. The heart (mind), a person’s thoughts, emotions, feelings and moral condition (Deut. 4:29; Num. 11:6).

The word for “spirit” (ruach) is used literally to mean breath or wind; and is also used to describe the heart (mind) of a person (2 Chr. 36:22).

Although the words soul and spirit can be used with the meaning of a person's heart (mind), there is never any suggestion that it can have an independent existence.

Death as a sleep

In both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, death is described as a sleep:

Deut. 31:16 Moses was told he would sleep with his fathers

1 Kings 2:10 David slept with his fathers

Daniel 12:2 after a time of trouble, Michael will arise and the dead will awake from the dust of the earth

Matthew 9:24 Jesus described the dead girl as sleeping

Matthew 27:52-53 after the resurrection of Jesus, many dead saints arose from their sleep and appeared to many

John 11:11 Jesus described the death of Lazarus as a sleep

Acts 7:60 when Stephen was martyred he fell asleep

1 Cor. 15:18 Paul describes the dead as asleep until the resurrection of the dead

1 Thess. 4:13 those who sleep in death will one day be raised to life

The resurrection of the dead

Jesus spoke plainly that one day the graves would be opened and the dead would hear God’s voice and be raised to life, either to the resurrection of life or of damnation (John 5:28-29). The same concept of the resurrection of the dead is found in the writings of Paul (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4).

Jesus taught that He is going away to prepare a place for us, and at His return He will take us to be where He is (John 14:1-3). Therefore it is at His second coming that the dead are taken to heaven, not at death. Paul makes it clear that the righteous dead will not precede those who are living at the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:15-17). He also said that if the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised and our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:16-17).

Eternal torment or annihilation of the wicked

Some verses in the Bible appear to speak of eternal torment, while others say the wicked are annihilatiated. A good example is Rev. 20:9-10 where we find both:

1. In verse 9 the wicked are annihilated; the Greek word“katephagen” comes from the root “katesthio” which literally means to eat up. The same verb is used in Matthew 13:4 for the birds that ate up the seed that fell on the path. It can be translated as: eat up, consume, devour, or burn up. This means that the fire completely eats up the wicked, which is the same as annihilation. A similar concept is found in Malachi 4:1 where the wicked are burned up root and branch and reduced to ashes.

2. In verse 10 the wicked are tormented forever. The word used for "forever" (aionios) and its Hebrew equivalent (olam) do not necessarily donate eternity. They can be used with the sense of lasting for an undetermined duration of time which may have limits. The nearest equivalent English word is“always”. For example, “I’ve always lived here”or “I will always live here”, do not mean eternity. We find several examples of this in the Bible:

Ex. 21:6 the slave was to serve forever = for life

1 Sam. 1:22 the child Samuel was to abide in the temple forever = for life

Jonah 2:6 Jonah felt as though he would be trapped forever = 3 days and nights

Philemon 15 Paul counseled Philemon to receive Onesimus forever

The wicked are tormented in the fires of hell until they are consumed. The punishment for sin is not eternal torment but death which never ends, known as the second death (Rev. 20:4). Paul said that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the effects of the second death are eternal because sinners will not return to life.

God wants none to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9); He has given His beloved Son to die for our sins (John 3:16), so that all may have an opportunity to be saved. The doctrine of eternal torment gives people a wrong picture of God. A loving God would not allow people to suffer for eternity; the death of the wicked is painful for God because He wants to save them (Ezek. 33:11; Isa. 28:21). After the return of Christ, the earth will be cleansed with fire and God will set up a new heaven and earth where there will be no suffering or death (Rev. 21:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:10, 13)

Communication with the dead and alternative medicine

In a number of places the Bible speaks of communication with the dead as an abomination; it also calls it sorcery or witchcraft: Ex. 22:18; Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:9-13; Isa. 8:19-20.

The reference from Isaiah 8:9-10 is important because it tells us that when someone claims to have a message from God, but their message contradicts the Bible then there is no light in them. Even if angelic beings appear speaking words of peace and healing people, it does not necessarily follow that they are from God. The Scriptures say that Satan can appear as an angel of light in order to deceive us (2 Cor. 11:14). In the media ghosts and spirits are being portrayed as being harmless and fashionable, but this is only setting the scene for the final deception (Rev. 16:13-14) when spiritualistic deceptions will control the whole world, except for a remnant that stay faithful to Jesus and keep His commandments (Rev. 14:12).

Today communication with the dead is taking on more subtle forms and spiritualism is emerging in the guise of spiritualistic healings. Many people are not aware that the healing power may be from an evil source which seeks to gain power over them by deceiving them in order to rob them of eternal life. Many modern alternative medicines and treatments have their roots in spiritualism and some of their founders were guided by spirit guides. They claim to have healing powers but their power cannot be from God if they are disobeying God's commandments (Matt. 7:21-23). In the last days we are told there will be false prophets and false Christs who will deceive people and perform signs and miracles (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9-10). Our only safety is in trusting the Word of God which is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17), this is the unerring detector of error.

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"(2 Tim. 3:16)

"And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isa. 8:19-20)

For more information please see my book: The Final Deception and Its Antidote


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