This is blog #4 in the “Death Swallowed Up in Victory!” series that covers frequently asked questions about what happens at the death of a believer. In the first blog, we looked at why death is part of our world and what God did to free us from its bondage. In the second blog, we explored various unbiblical views about what happens to the soul after death. The third blog covered the concept of purgatory: its history, the logical consequences of such teaching, and the biblical truth that counters this false teaching. This blog will answer some other frequently asked questions about death.
Here are some frequently asked questions about the dead.
The concept of “praying for the dead” is definitely not biblical. It was practiced by pagan religions and incorporated into Jewish thought and writing before Jesus’ birth. Jesus never perpetuated this thinking. The apostles never taught it. Paul certainly never gave it any credence in his writings.
Yet, the superstitious practice crept into the church by the late 2nd century. As the church moved away from God’s grace and more toward purifying through good works here on earth, the doctrine of purgatory took hold because it gave relatives hope if their loved ones were not perfect. [Who can be perfect on their own?!]
So, by the close of the 4th century, prayers for the believing dead were found in all the church liturgies with the assertion that such practice was from the apostles themselves. What started as error became tradition, and then tradition became doctrine claimed as truth. The same may be said of the idea that you can do good works to pay for the sins of dead loved ones waiting in purgatory.
The practice of devotion to the believing dead is consoling to us. It can be consoling to the dying persons who don’t think they are good enough to get into heaven yet. It gives to the afflicted survivors a sense of power to relieve their friend’s suffering. Yet, it deludes everyone away from the truth and robs practitioners of true comfort and joy through understanding complete forgiveness given through God’s grace alone to every believer.
The bottom line is this: 1) prayers for relief from suffering are useless since there is no purgatory, and 2) prayers for the dead unbeliever to be saved are useless since there is no second chance once this physical life ends.
There is no scriptural support that saints and martyrs intercede with God either for the dead or for the living. In fact, offering prayer to a “saint” or martyr is not only unreasonable but also idolatrous.
Jesus firmly taught that we are to give our worship to God only,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matthew 4:10)
In Hebrews, we read:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
“but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25)
Jesus is our high priest. We can always go directly to Him. We are all saints. We have perfect and equal access to Him. That’s why the veil was torn. No one, living or dead, is closer to God than you are! You are seated with Christ in heaven at the right hand of God (Ephesians 2:6). That’s incredibly close! And Jesus continually intercedes for us. That means He listens to us and works on our behalf.
Romans 8 discusses this further:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And, he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)
The Spirit of Jesus lives inside every believer bringing our prayers directly to God. No one, living or dead, is closer to God than we are with the Spirit living inside of us! Jesus has the power to do anything in our lives. Trust Him. Pray through His Spirit living inside you. Have the confidence to go directly to God yourself as His child.
Let’s take this concept to its logical conclusion—a dead parent, sibling, child, or friend can see what you are doing on earth. Most of the time when this is said, someone is referring to the public things that you don’t mind people seeing.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my parents in heaven to now see me in the bathroom, having an argument with someone, or during intimacy with my spouse. It’s hard enough knowing that God sees those things.
The Bible doesn’t clearly tell us if people in heaven are able to observe what happens on earth. Some passages given as proof that they can do so are speculative but not a clear teaching of truth.
In Hebrews 12:1, the great cloud of “witnesses” are the people whom God commends for their faith in chapter 11 who are now in heaven. They are witnesses not in watching us but in the value of living a life by faith, especially faith in Jesus. Their lives bear witness that they did it. Therefore, we can do it, too.
In Mark 9:2-8, Moses and Elijah were prophets of God during their earthly lives, meaning they delivered God’s messages to His people. In this instance, they delivered a message of encouragement to Jesus about what would soon happen to Him in Jerusalem. There’s no indication that they were aware of anything else happening on earth.
In Luke 16:28, though this is a parable not a historical narrative, in it the rich man referred to his brothers whom he had known before death were unbelievers. The passage never says that the rich man could see his brothers.
In Revelation 6:10, the tribulation martyrs ask God how long will it be before He avenges their deaths. They remembered what happened to them. It doesn’t say they could see people on earth. It simply says that they knew they deserved justice and desired the Lord to take action.
The Bible does teach that we on earth are not to communicate with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Doing so is going against God’s will. People in heaven are without sin and will not do anything against God’s will. Your dead loved one will not try to communicate with you.
We are also not told in the Bible that they can act on our behalf. Those things that you may have heard someone refer to as “signs your dead loved one is communicating with you” (seeing a white feather, a penny, stopped clocks, phones ringing once, etc.) are simply normal events. Attributing these signs to a loved one communicating with you are just superstitions, not truths.
Grief is real. And, we long for comfort when we are grieving. But, the danger is in seeking such “signs” during your grief, which actually draws you away from the Lord Jesus instead. It is going to a substitute for comfort that comes from God.
“The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
There’s plenty of truth revealed in the Bible for us to know. But, there will always be things we can’t know or understand now. We must humbly accept the “I don’t know.”
Here’s the “I don’t know” we must humbly accept: We cannot know if our dead loved ones can see anything happening on earth. That is a secret thing the Lord has not revealed. We can know that our dead loved ones will not try to communicate with us from heaven because they will not disobey God. There is no scriptural indication that dead believers dwelling in heaven can even hear us or know what is going on in our lives. They have no power.
Jesus has the power to do anything in our lives. Trust Him. Pray to Him through His Spirit living inside you. And, yes, it’s okay to pray to Jesus.
The death of a baby or child is a very painful experience for any parent or family member. And, the falsehoods that have been taught only add more pain to the wounds. My husband and I have 21 grandbaby souls in heaven—babies whose faces I never got to see on earth. But, I believe without a doubt that I will see them all when I get to heaven.
While this question is not directly answered in the Bible, we know a few truths that can give us confidence that the destiny of embryos, babies, and young children is eternal life in the presence of God in heaven. Here’s what we know:
“The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)The secret things belong to the Lord. If God hasn’t revealed it to us, that means He has it covered without our needing to know. Since He didn’t address it, it’s not something that we have to worry about. He’s got it covered. Therefore, we can trust that babies and small children go to heaven when they die.
1. We can trust in the character of God. God is not a vengeful dictator with a whip. He is both loving and just. He does not condemn anyone who has not chosen to reject His truth and love.
2. We can depend on the grace of God. Understanding God’s grace tells me that none of us deserve to be saved. None of us ever could make it to heaven on our own merit. It is only His grace that accepts me because of what Jesus already did. Jesus died on the cross for all sin, for all people. Jesus died for the sins of those babies and children and mentally deficient ones as well. He tells us that the kingdom of God already belongs to them.
3. We can know that Jesus paid the penalty of sin for everyone. God has the right to extend His grace and salvation to babies and children who have not yet reached the age of being able to reject Him.
4. The Bible teaches that the Lord places great value on children. Jesus gave this confirmation by His words and actions.
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. … “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:2-6, 10)
Children are born with an innate sense of belief or trust in the existence and love of God the Father and love for Jesus. They don’t have to be convinced. As they grow older, however, adults or older children convince them not to believe it and thus reject Jesus. That is certainly causing one of His little ones to stumble. The culprit deserves punishment.
Since scripture is silent about this, it must be of no concern to us. God is still in charge. We don’t have to figure everything out. Jesus, in His teaching, refers to little ones who believe in Him. We must trust our God, who knows every heart and judges by the intent of the heart not by our rules.
When embryos, babies, and young children die, they go to heaven because the blood of Jesus covered their sin. Will they be babies there? We don’t know. We do know that God promises us the enjoyment of heaven. So, their souls will be old enough to enjoy the presence of the Lord.
[If you have read the book, Heaven Is for Real, you will see confirmation of what I just wrote. During surgery, a little boy spent a few minutes in heaven where he was greeted by a sister whom he never knew. The girl, who appeared as a 7-year-old in heaven, had been miscarried in early pregnancy. I’m not saying this is how it is. But, this is what God allowed the little boy to see and tell.]
I hope you found answers to some of your questions about the dead in this blog. In the next blog, “What Happens to the Soul of a Dead Christian,” we will look at what does happen to the soul of the believer after physical death.
Related Podcasts, Bible Studies, & Blogs
- The Biblical Perspective on Death
- What Doesn’t Happen to the Soul at Death?
- Why the Soul Does Not Go to Purgatory for Purification
- Some Frequently Asked Questions about the Dead
- What Happens to the Soul of a Dead Christian?
- Angels, feathers, and needing comfort for grief
- Perspective Bible Study (1 & 2 Thessalonians)
- The Gospel: God’s Cure for Our Fatal Sin Disease (blog series)
- Satisfied Series 13 Podcasts (1 & 2 Thessalonians)
- Satisfied Series 12 Podcasts (The Gospel series)
- God Makes Ugly Beautiful (the crucifixion)
- Karma, Grace, and the Kingdom of God
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