It is an age-old question. Where are the dead? In the section, “Passings from the Past,” on this site we discovered repeated phrases or expressions that are used in the Bible to describe death; three of those phrases being: “going to the fathers,” “joined the fathers” and “gathered back to the fathers.” These phrases give us strong evidence that when we die we join others we know who have passed on before us. Thinking a little deeper, the words “going back” stand out as well. We can’t go back unless we have been there. We go to the grocery store and then back home. We can conclude that we existed in some form or another before we became human, and we go back to that existence when we die. Two scriptures that we can look at that verify we existed prior to our being born in the flesh are found in the books of Jeremiah and Romans.
In Jeremiah it is written:“Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5) And, in the book of Romans, speaking of Jacob and Esau we read: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” It is also confirmed by the words of Jesus in the book of John that no one goes back to heaven that has not come from heaven. He states: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (John 3:13)
On a personal note, I am convinced, because of my own experience that loved ones who have passed on assist us in our passing. A few days before my mother passed away, while I was sitting on a twin bed beside her bed in the room, she began speaking to someone. She was looking toward the foot of her bed. All I could see was a dresser. The words she spoke both surprised me and touched me. I felt like I was witnessing something higher then myself. She was smiling and said, “Grace,” which is the name of her sister who died many years ago. She then made a gesture, putting her nightgown, which had slipped up, down over her knees in a display of modesty. She appeared excited and the next words she spoke were, “Joe,” who is her brother who also had died. She continued to converse with them for some time, but I didn’t understand what she was saying. I just sat quietly on the bed, trying to digest the moment. I felt like I had been given a gift in that I was allowed to experience something that few people ever have. Since then I have heard of others who have had similar experiences.
Concerning those who have already died, we can clearly understand from the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew that they are not dead, but alive. Speaking of ones who had died a physical death, Jesus repeats these words from the Old Testament: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)
Jesus gives us a further description of how it is on the other side in that same chapter of Matthew. After being questioned concerning marriage, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matthew 22:29-30) Thus, we see that marriage will no longer exist in the afterlife.
Jesus gives us another hint as to what is going on with those on the other side. Here again, it is obvious that Abraham, who had died, is not dead. We find two areas described as being separated by a great gulf. Individuals can see across it, and speak to each other, but they cannot cross it. We see that the rich man, although on the opposite side of the gulf, was able to converse with Abraham. In the beautiful picture that is painted here, we are given a unique glimpse into what happens to a child of God at the moment of death as we see the angels carry him away. We have no reason not to conclude that this is the way it is for all of us who believe. We see that the same description is not given concerning the unbelieving rich man.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot: neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)
Describing the future, Jesus cautions: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28-29)
The question then arises: Will we know each other? A simple but convincing argument for that would be if we go back to our family, we must know them. Another clue can be found in the scriptures we just read concerning Abraham and the beggar. They all knew each other. They were the exact same people as they had been in life.
When we die, it is explained by Paul that we go to our father. He writes: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight : We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” (II Corinthians 5:6-9)
In his 1st book to the Thessalonians, Paul, explaining that he does not want us to be uneducated concerning the dead, provides another reality concerning death. He explains that those who have died are not dead, but with Jesus. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we, which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them, which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13-18)
An additional confirmation that, at the instant of death, only the flesh dies and the spirit goes back to the father can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes. The following is a valued scripture illustrating the act of growing old, as well as dying.
(Speaking of growing old it says:) “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; (speaking of losing sight it says:) While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: (becoming shaky and stooped shouldered is described:) In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, (speaking of teeth going bad it says:) and the grinders cease because they are few, (again speaking of our vision:)and those that look out of the windows be darkened, (describing loss of hearing:) And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, (describing getting up early:) and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, (difficulty of hearing again:)and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; (as we grow older we become scared of heights:) Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his (describing our long eternal home) long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the (the spirit) silver cord be loosed, or the (our clay bodies) golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. (Flesh to earth never to be needed again – Spirit returned back to God) Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)
Where are the dead? We learn from the scriptures that they are back with Our Father and with those who have gone on before. They are not dead. The place where they are is separated by a gulf. They can see each other across the gulf. No one has yet faced the final judgment. Our Father, by our words and actions, decides which side of gulf we will be on, and again God is fair and just.