Fidelity to Bible doctrine shields us from deception.
Published on: 10-05-2023
One fundamental doctrine that has long been a cornerstone of Adventist theology is the understanding of the state of the dead. This doctrine holds significant implications for our understanding of God’s character, the nature of human beings, and last-day deceptions. This article is a brief examination of the Bible’s teachings regarding the state of the dead and its relevance in discerning last-day deceptions.
Death as Sleep
The Bible describes death as a state of unconscious sleep. When a person dies, their body returns to the dust, and their breath (spirit) returns to God (Eccl. 12:7). They remain in a state of rest, awaiting the resurrection. Ellen White made many insightful statements on the subject, and in The Acts of the Apostles she aptly summarizes the Bible’s teaching on this point. She writes:
“The Scriptures declare that ‘the dead know not anything.’ Ecclesiastes 9:5. Their thoughts, their love, their hatred, have perished.”1
Immortality of the Soul?
When God formed the human being from the elements of the earth, all the organs—the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, brain, etc.—were present. They were all perfect, but lifeless. Then God breathed into this lifeless matter the breath of life, and “man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). The scriptural equation is straightforward: the dust of the ground (earth’s elements) + the breath of life = a living being, or living soul. The union of earth’s elements with the breath of life resulted in a living being, or soul. This “breath of life” is not limited to people. Every living creature possesses it. The Bible, for example, attributes the breath of life to both those animals that went into Noah’s ark and those that did not (Gen. 7:15, 22).
The Hebrew term in Genesis 2:7 that has been translated “living being,” or “living soul,” is nephesh chayyah. It is important to note that the Bible says that man became a living soul. Nothing in the Creation account indicates that man received a soul. The soul is not some kind of separate entity that at Creation was united with the human body. The importance of the Creation account for properly understanding the nature of humanity cannot be overstated. By stressing this organic unity, Scripture portrays a human being as a whole.
As we have already mentioned, in the Old Testament “soul” is a translation of the Hebrew nephesh. In Genesis 2:7 it denotes humanity as a living being after the breath of life entered into a physical body formed from the elements of the earth. Similarly, a new soul comes into existence whenever a new human life comes into being, each “soul” being a new unit of life uniquely different, and separate, from other similar units. This quality of individuality in each living being, which constitutes it a unique entity, seems to be the idea emphasized by the Hebrew term nephesh. When used in this sense, nephesh is not a part of the person, rather it is the person, and, in many instances, is translated “person.” The nephesh is not immortal, but subject to death (cf. Rev. 16:3). It can be destroyed (cf. Matt. 10:28).
Unlike many Christian denominations that teach the immortality of the soul, Adventists believe the Bible teaching that immortality is a gift granted to the righteous at the resurrection. The concept of an immortal soul derives from an unbiblical, pagan influence that crept into Christian theology. In fact, the allegation and insinuation that humans could live eternally apart from God is a lie first told by Satan, leading up to the fall of Adam and Eve (cf. Gen. 3:4).
“The only one who promised Adam life in disobedience was the great deceiver. And the declaration of the serpent to Eve in Eden—‘Ye shall not surely die’ —was the first sermon ever preached upon the immortality of the soul. Yet this declaration, resting solely on the authority of Satan, is echoed from the pulpits of Christendom and is received by the majority of mankind as readily as it was received by our first parents.”2
“The dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5).
“Their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished” (verse 6).
There is no conscious existence between death and the resurrection. Therefore, the dead do not experience heaven or hell immediately after dying. The next conscious moment for the deceased will occur at the resurrection. The return of Jesus Christ will mark the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Those who have accepted Christ as their Savior will be raised to eternal life, while the unrepentant will face the second death, resulting in the complete and eternal annihilation of the entire human being. As Ellen White puts it: “At His coming the righteous dead will be raised, and the righteous living will be changed.”3 “At the close of the thousand years the second resurrection will take place. Then the wicked will be raised from the dead and appear before God for the execution of ‘the judgment written.’ ”4
Implications for Last-Day Deceptions
Understanding the state of the dead has profound implications for discerning last-day deceptions. In the context of the last days, various false teachings and deceptions will arise. By holding fast to the Bible’s teaching on the state of the dead, believers can avoid falling into doctrinal traps and maintain their focus on biblical truths. Here are a few ways this doctrine plays into last-day deceptions.
Spiritualism and Necromancy: Spiritualism, the belief that we can communicate with the dead, is a prevalent deception in our time. By adhering to the biblical teaching of death as sleep, we are shielded from being misled by supposed messages from deceased loved ones. Instead, we seek our guidance and comfort solely from God’s Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Immortality of the Soul Deceptions: Many false teachings emphasize the innate immortality of the soul, leading people to believein the existence of an eternal soul that endures after death. This notion conflicts with the biblical doctrine and opens the door to misinterpretations of salvation, judgment, and eternal destiny.
“Satan has long been preparing for his final effort to deceive the world. The foundation of his work was laid by the assurance given to Eve in Eden: ‘Ye shall not surely die.’ ‘In the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3:4, 5. Little by little he has prepared the way for his masterpiece of deception in the development of spiritualism.”5
“Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome.”6
Deceptive Appearances: The Bible warns that in the last days false christs and prophets will appear, performing signs and wonders to deceive even the elect (see Matt. 24:24). By affirming that the dead are in a state of unconscious sleep, Adventists are less susceptible to deception by counterfeit miracles attributed to deceased individuals.
“Satan will appear as an angel of light, with great power and heavenly glory, and claim to be the Lord of the whole earth. He will declare that the Sabbath has been changed from the seventh to the first day of the week; and as lord of the first day of the week, he will present this spurious sabbath as a test of loyalty to him.”7
These quotations from Ellen White’s writings demonstrate the connection between the state of the dead and last-day deceptions. Her teachings emphasize the biblical understanding of death as sleep, and caution against being deceived by spiritualism and false teachings that distort the truths of God’s Word in the end-times. The Adventist belief on the state of the dead is deeply rooted in biblical truth and plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding of God’s character and the nature of humanity. It provides a robust defense against last-day deceptions, guiding believers to remain steadfast in their faith and reliant on the authority of God’s Word. As we navigate the complexities of the last days, let us cling to this essential doctrine, allowing it to shape our worldview and protect us from the subtle snares of falsehood.
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 289.
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 533.
3Ibid., p. 322
4Ibid., p. 661.
5Ibid., p. 561.
6Ibid., p. 588.
7 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1993), vol. 19, p. 282.