It was the late 1970s. My mother and father were engaged to be married, and my father was studying the Bible with my mother’s pastor, Pastor Graeme Christian. As they were studying together, Pastor Christian opened the great themes of God’s Word to Dad, who was loving every minute of it.
One day, they studied an important and mysterious subject: What really happens when a person dies? Dad thought he already knew something about this subject, but he was holding some contradictory ideas in tension. He lived in a haunted house, so he felt that he knew for a fact that it was possible for the spirits of the dead to return to either harass or help the living. He also believed in reincarnation, where people are reborn into new bodies when they die. Plus, he’d been raised to understand that people go straight to heaven, hell, or purgatory at the moment of death. Somehow Dad knew that not all of these ideas could be true, so he was interested in finding out which ideas, if any, had merit. What he saw in the Bible that day was different from anything he had ever thought or imagined.
There were such passages as Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” There was also Job 7:9, 10: “As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so one who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.”
He learned that in the Scriptures, Jesus Himself referred to death as being like an unconscious “sleep” (Psalm 13:3; John 11:13). He intends to wake His people and take them to be with Him “at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23, NKJV; John 14:1–3), not as soon as they die (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). He learned that the dead do not return to haunt their houses and that the “ghosts” in his home were actually deceitful evil angels, not dead people, for “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He learned that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Clearly, we do not die and reincarnate over and over again.
Basically, Dad learned a great biblical theme: “The wages of sin is death.” But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day, death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The difference and blessing that the biblical understanding of this truth made in our family while I was growing up is something that I am only now beginning to grasp. Popular media such as books, films, music, and video games have always been replete with spiritualism and supernatural themes. The subjects of death, ghosts, spirits, demons, and the supernatural are served up ad nauseam. The enemy’s purpose in this is to subtly teach unbiblical ideas about the spirit world, thus promoting his channels of deception. When more time is spent with secular media than church and spiritual reflection, whose ideas are more likely to be victorious in the battle for our minds?
The more I talk with people, the more I realize that many do not know the truth on this subject. This lack of knowledge opens their minds to the attacks and deceptions of the enemy. Luckily for me, when there was a question about the afterlife or we happened to see ghosts or spirits on TV, my mother and father always encouraged us not to be afraid. What’s more, my parents taught us to turn to Jesus when we were afraid and, crucially, encouraged us not to watch or read things that were filled with untruths and errors.
I remember my friends at high school being scared stiff because they watched some horror movie or experienced some haunting supernatural manifestation. This is even more common today. I’m grateful that I always knew that I had Jesus on my side and knew that “He is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:10) and that if I call out to Him in prayer, there would be “no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
For me, this teaching can be summed up in the words of 1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” The most important thing in the world is to abide in Him through a real and living relationship. Because of His death and resurrection, I know that I am saved and can joyfully anticipate His soon return.
Jesus’ victory over death is complete and eternal. He is called the one who holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). This mighty King has given us His resurrection as a down payment to guarantee that “because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
One more thing you should know about me is that I was named after the prophet Daniel. For that reason, when Gabriel speaks to the prophet in Daniel 12:13, I hold his words close to my heart. “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” I plan to be there on that day when the sleeping saints arise to be with Jesus. I hope to see you there too.
Daniel Matteo is a Youth Ministry director and pastor of the New Norfolk church in Tasmania, Australia. He is married to Katy and has two children, Grace and Samuel.