Jesus Christ spoke about the condition of the dead. He did so with regard to Lazarus, a man whom he knew well and who had died. Jesus told his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest.” The disciples thought that Jesus meant that Lazarus was resting in sleep, recovering from an illness. They were wrong. Jesus explained: “Lazarus has died.” (John 11:11-14) Notice that Jesus compared death to rest and sleep. Lazarus was neither in heaven nor in a burning hell. He was not meeting angels or ancestors. Lazarus was not being reborn as another human. He was at rest in death, as though in a deep sleep without dreams. Other scriptures also compare death to sleep. For example, when the disciple Stephen was stoned to death, the Bible says that he “fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60) Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote about some in his day who had “fallen asleep” in death.
The Bible teaches that the dead “are conscious of nothing at all.” They are not alive and have no conscious existence anywhere. The account of Lazarus confirms this. Upon returning to life, did Lazarus thrill people with descriptions of heaven? Or did he terrify them with horrible tales about a burning hell? No. The Bible contains no such words from Lazarus. During the four days that he was dead, he had been “conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Lazarus had simply been sleeping in death.
The account of Lazarus also teaches us that the resurrection is a reality, not a mere myth. Jesus raised Lazarus in front of a crowd of eyewitnesses. Even the religious leaders, who hated Jesus, did not deny this miracle.
Think about this too: If Lazarus had been in heaven for those four days, would he not have said something about it? And if he had been in heaven, would Jesus have made him come back to earth from that wonderful place? Of course not!
Yet, many people say that we have a soul, and they say that the soul lives on after the body dies. They say that Lazarus’ soul was alive somewhere. But the Bible does not say that. It says that God made the first man Adam “a living soul.” Gen. 2:7, Adam was a soul. The Bible also says that when Adam sinned, he died. He became a “dead soul,” and he returned to the dust from which he had been made. The Bible also says that all Adam’s offspring inherited sin and death too.
The Scriptural teaching of the resurrection, however, is not compatible with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. If an immortal soul survived death, no one would need to be resurrected, or brought back to life. Indeed, Martha expressed no thought about an immortal soul that was living on elsewhere after death. She did not believe that Lazarus had already gone to some spirit realm to continue his existence. On the contrary, she showed her faith in God’s purpose to reverse the effects of death. She said: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:23, 24) Likewise, Lazarus himself related no experiences of some afterlife. There was nothing to report.
Clearly, according to the Bible, the soul dies and the remedy for death is the resurrection. You enjoy the best sleep ever, until Jesus resurrects you, sometime in the future.