Death is the termination of life. It is the end of conscious existence. Death and life are opposites. To die is to cease to live. "Thou shalt die, and not live" (Isa. 38:1). In death man's mind and body cease to function.


I. What Happens at Death

What happens to man at death is the opposite of what happened when God made man. In creation the breath of life was united with the dust-made body and life resulted. In death the breath of life is withdrawn; the person dies and returns to the dust. "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust" (Psa. 104:29).

Dust plus breath equals a living person. This was the process of creation. Dust minus breath equals a dead person. This is the process of death.

Psalm 104:29


Takest away breath, return dust

Psalm 146:4


Breath goeth forth, return earth

Ecclesiastes 12:7


Dust return to earth, spirit

James 2:26


Body without spirit is dead

In the verses here listed the word "spirit" refers to man's breath of life that returns to God who gave it. The breath of life is impersonal. It is that vital power that enables man to live.


II. Nature of Man in Death

Man is without conscious existence in death. He has no life. His brain and nervous system cease to function. Without a brain, man cannot think; without a nervous system, he cannot feel pain or pleasure. Intellect, sensibilities, and will can be exercised only when man's brain can function. The dead, therefore, are unconscious. Study the following verses.

Job 3:13-19


There the weary be at rest

Job 14:7-15


Dead not like sprouting tree

Psalm 6:5


In death there is no remembrance

Psalm 88:11, 12


Grave, destruction, forgetfulness

Psalm 115:17


Dead praise not the Lord

Psalm 146:4


His thoughts perish

Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6


The dead know not anything

Ecclesiastes 9:10


No knowledge in the grave

Isaiah 38:18


The grave cannot praise thee

III. Death Compared to Unconscious Sleep

Death is like unconscious sleep. There is no knowledge of the passing of time. Death will not seem to last a moment longer to a person who has been dead one thousand years than it will to one who has been dead one second. After a person has fallen asleep in death, his next conscious experience will be his standing before Christ. If he is a believer, he will stand before Christ, the Bridegroom, on the cloud of glory at the first resurrection. If he is a sinner, he will stand before Christ, his Judge, at the last resurrection. Much time may pass between a person's death and his resurrection, but he will have no knowledge of it. Believers, therefore, need not fear to fall asleep in death; they have hope of resurrection to immortality.

IV. Dead Remain in Grave Until Resurrection

Where do men go at death? What happens to men after they die? Do they go to a "happy hunting ground"? Do they fly away to dwell in some celestial mansion? Do they ride a ferryboat across the River Styx? Do they return to this world and become reincarnated in some animal or another person? Does some portion of man linger on earth to haunt the living or to converse with friends? Do dead men go to a burning hell, where they are kept alive and tortured in inconceivable agony for all eternity?

According to the Bible, the dead do not "go" anywhere except to the grave in which they are buried. Dead men remain unconscious until the resurrection. At death men go neither to heaven nor to a burning hell. They go to the grave. In John 3:13 we read, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." No man except Jesus has gone to heaven. Paul, Peter, and Mary are not in heaven; they are dead and buried in their graves. They will be resurrected when Jesus comes.

When our Lord raised Lazarus from the grave, Lazarus was dead and buried in the tomb. "He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go" (John 11:44). Where was Lazarus while he was dead? Was he in a burning hell, in heaven, or in the tomb? When Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth," He was not calling Lazarus to leave the celestial bliss of heaven and come down to the earth. He was not calling for the soul of Lazarus to come up from a burning torture hell and to get back into his decayed body. Our Saviour was calling for Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, where he was buried.

How about David? Did David go to heaven? Paul said, "David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption" (Acts 13:36). In his Pentecost sermon Peter said, " Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day" (Acts 2:29). "For David is not ascended into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). According to these clear statements, it is certain that David did not go to heaven when he died. Those theologians who claim that Jesus took the dead Old Testament saints with Him when He ascended to heaven should observe that the above statements were made by Peter and Paul after Jesus had ascended to God's right hand. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and all other ancient heroes of faith are dead and are waiting in their graves until the resurrection.

All dead men remain in their graves until the resurrection. Believers will be raised in the first resurrection at Christ's return. They will be immortal and glorified. Sinners will stay buried in their graves until after Christ and the Christians raised in the first resurrection have reigned one thousand years upon the earth. Sinners will be raised mortal in the last resurrection. At that time they will be judged. If their names are not recorded in the book of life, they will be destroyed in the second death.

V. Death Not Time of Reward

Men are not rewarded at the time of their death. Judgment is not at the time of death but after death (Heb. 9:27) has ended, at resurrection. To receive a reward, one must have knowledge. The dead, however, are unconscious. They abide in the unconscious sleep of death until resurrection. While a man is dead, he cannot experience joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, reward or judgment. Man must be resurrected so that he may receive his reward or punishment.

Christians are not rewarded as soon as they die. They will be rewarded at the resurrection when Jesus comes. Resurrection, not death, is the believer's hope. Jesus said, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).

The wicked are not punished at the time of the first death. They will be judged after they are raised in the last resurrection and stand before the Judge.

All men alike lie down in death to sleep together in the dust. In the two resurrections, however, each man will be raised to his own eternal destiny. Death is not the time of judgment. Resurrection is the time of reward and punishment.

VI. Two Deaths

Two deaths are mentioned in the Bible. The first death is for all men; the second death is for only the wicked. The first death is temporary; the second death will be eternal. The first death will end in resurrection; the second death will never end.

1. The First Death. The first death comes to all men alike. It makes no distinctions. All men, the righteous and the wicked, poor and rich, small and great, must surrender to the power of the first death. "There is no discharge in that war" (Eccl. 8:8). "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Heb. 9:27). "The small and great are there" (Job 3:13-19).

Men die the first death because they are mortal. All men die the first death because of the results of Adam's sin. Even believers who have had all their sins washed away in the blood of Christ must die the first death. Men die the first death, therefore, not in payment for their personal sins. If the first death were the payment of the penalty for man's personal sins, Christians should not die the first death, since their sins have been forgiven and they stand before God without condemnation. This truth shows the need for the second death, in which the wicked will pay the penalty for their personal sins.

2. The Second Death. The wicked will be destroyed in the second death. In the last resurrection, they will be raised for judgment. (Rev. 20:11-13.) "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15). "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Rev. 20:14). "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). The lake of fire mentioned in these verses does not refer to any burning hell that exists today. It refers to the final destruction of the wicked after they have been raised to judgment.

Jesus died as the believer's Substitute so that the believer will not need to die the permanent eternal second death. The second death will have no power over believers, who will be made immortal. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power" (Rev. 20:6).

(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)

© Church of God General Conference. This lesson may be reproduced without change for non-commercial purposes without prior permission.