In this episode, we begin a new series, Real Truth about Real Stuff Round 2! We kick off this series delving into a topic that has a lot of different opinions about - can someone who has died remain on or return to earth?
We may all have a desire of what we would like to be true, but that does us no good. As Christians, we need to know what God says. We need to know the truth. Nothing constructive and productive ever comes out of believing lies. In this episode, we give solid Biblical Truth about this issue. What does the Bible have to say about those who have died coming back to earth? Surprisingly, it has a lot to say about it.
Episode 82 – Can the Dead be a Guiding Light
Welcome Back! In this episode, we begin our Real Truth about Real Stuff Round 2 series. There were so many topics we didn’t get to touch on in the first Real Truth about Real Stuff series, as well as some others that have popped up, we decided to do Round 2.
We have some great and some very relevant topics lined up. In this episode, we are going to delve into something that has lots of different beliefs that are all over the spectrum – Can those who have died be a guiding light for those still on earth? In other words, can those who have died come back to earth in any way?
There are so many different beliefs on this. And, as always, we don’t ever want to give you our opinion or our wish on what something means. And while we want to be gentle because we know this is a sensitive issue, as Christians we need to know what the Bible says about it. I’ve lost both of my parents, a brother, a nephew, and others, so I may have a desire of what I would like to be true, but that does me no good. I need to know what God says. I need to know the truth.
Nothing constructive and productive ever comes out of believing lies. So, today, we want to give solid Biblical Truth about this issue. What does the Bible have to say about those who have died coming back to earth?
Surprisingly, it has a lot to say about it. But before we get to what the Bible actually says, let’s throw a few beliefs out there that are held by many. While doing research, we came across souldetective.net. They give several reasons as to why those who have died don’t “cross over,” as they put it. I’m quoting, “Sometimes spirits get stuck between the worlds, exacerbating everyone's grief. Attachments to people, places, and things may hold back a loved one making the transition.” The base of the belief is that those who have died, need help “crossing over” to the other side.
They go on to expound saying people might stay earthbound after death if a strongly-bonded loved one is unable to “let go” of the deceased. Also, when strong negative feelings are so dense and heavy they chain the spirit to the gravitational field of the earth. Here’s an interesting reason that a person’s soul may stay on earth after their body dies -because they may not realize they are dead. I believe that is the plot of the entire movie, Sixth Sense!
These soul detectives say that when people are confused or disoriented at the moment of death, they may not realize that the spirit is no longer in the body. Death from an impact to the head, such as in an automobile collision, may compromise cognitive function. Maybe getting shot in a surprise break in like sixth sense! Also, sometimes people with dementia will have such compromised mental capacity that they may not recognize what is happening when the spirit leaves the body
And there are more reasons! They say that when a person fears retribution for misdeeds, the spirit may turn away from the Light. Here’s another quote from this website, “The truth seems to be that the Divine does not judge us—we judge ourselves and condemn ourselves to the hell of separation from our creator’s love.” Additionally, they also say suicide may chain the spirit to the earth, but not always. That person must stay earthbound for the length of time the person would have lived. And surprising that’s not all! A soul may be kept earthbound because of a curse or hex, or unfinished business. We’ve seen this theme played out in countless tv shows like the Ghost Whisperer and movies like Ghost.
And finally, apparently some didn’t get the memo that, “you can’t take it with you,” because some souls stay on earth after death because they are so attached to their material possessions in this world that they are unwilling to leave them. This last reason was why in ancient times, some pagan kings were buried with many of their possessions – even pets and family members! (Yes, they were killed so they could join the king). The thinking was that the king would want all of this stuff, people, and animals in the afterlife.
We will finish up with soul detectives by quoting what they say is a potential problem with someone who has died remaining earth bound. I’m going to quote them again, “The energy field connected to the human body receives a constant stream of spiritual energy from above through the crown chakra and from Mother Earth below through the root chakra. This life energy from the earth and the sky then radiates out through the heart. We also get energy from the food we eat and the air we breathe. After death, earthbound spirits have no way of their own to take in energy, so their presence depletes the energy in any area they go to. A room that has an earthbound spirit present usually feels chilly, a kind of coldness that penetrates to the bones. When an earthbound spirit attaches to the human energy field of a living person, this attachment drains the life energy of the host, like draining a battery of its juice. Sometimes people who don’t know they are dead attach to a family member because of the deep bond of love between them, not realizing how damaging this connection is to both parties.”
If you are confused about what the heck chakras are, we refer back to an episode from Real Truth about Real Stuff part 1. It’s episode 33 called Alternative Medicine, Yay or Nay. So if you want to remind yourself of what all of these “new age” terms are, we encourage you to give that episode a listen, or re-listen. Some of you may think some of the things the self-declared experts on the soul say sounds reasonable. Like we said, lots and lots of movies, tv shows, and books about a dead person’s soul not being able to leave earth until they clean up their unfinished business – maybe helping the living figure out who their murderers were or helping their living loved ones cope and accept their death.
Now if you are not a follower of Jesus, then you can pretty much believe whatever you want. If you are a Christian, though, your authority on everything is The Bible. So instead of arguing or reasoning about what happens to a person when they die or if a soul can stay or return to earth, let’s see what The Bible says, because that’s the only real authority and absolute Truth on everything pertaining to God and how Christians are to live their lives.
A belief we didn’t mention, but again, dealt with in the first Real Truth about Real Stuff episode is the belief that people are reincarnated. Since we have already dealt with reincarnation, we won’t explore that again today. However, if you want to hear details on this, we encourage you to listen to episode 26. We will give one Scripture that not only refutes reincarnation, but it is also a good starting point for these other beliefs we mentioned. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,”
Okay, we have a lot to present, so let’s dig in. Let’s start with what may be a familiar passage to some of you and that the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19 – 31. Usually we use the ESV, but for this passage, the NLT does a great job capturing the spirit of the parable Jesus tells.“Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to the place of the dead There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there’
“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’ “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Okay, we could spend the whole episode expositing this parable, but that’s not what we are shooting for today. We want to use it to pull out a few points about the topic we are discussing. First thing we should note is that this is a parable. This parable comes on the heals of the “ungrateful steward” parable and after Jesus calls the pharisees lovers of money. So Jesus has a definite agenda for telling this parable – the consequences of greed and love of money, and how it can lead you to hell. I wouldn’t be surprised if this parable was the whole premise of A Christmas Carol. But let’s zoom into verse 22 which says, “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to the place of the dead. “The place of the dead” is hell. In fact, the ESV version of this passage, uses “Hades” instead. The conclusion? When a person dies, they either go to heaven or hell. And how do we know this applies to everyone? Remember the “Hebrews 9:27 verse, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,”
And we will add a few more verses to that Hebrews verse. Ecc. 12:6 – 7 says, “Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”Solomon is giving a vivid picture entreating people to come to God while they are alive, because once we die, our spirit goes back to God. If we have made Jesus Lord and Savior of our life, Jesus, Himself, tells us what happens the moment we die in Luke 23:43, when speaking to the thief on the cross next to Him, “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
2 Cor. 5:10 reiterates going before judgment when we die.“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” And just to put this verse into context, because we don’t have time to exposit the whole passage, “doing good” is defined as belonging to Christ and having His perfect goodness imputed to us. “Doing evil” is defined as standing on our own record. John reiterates this. John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” He says it again in John 11:25,
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
We should stop a minute and talk about the phrase “eternal life.” This phrase is used throughout Scripture and always in the context of meaning going to heaven after death to be with Jesus. However, this phrase can sometimes lead people to a wrong conclusion. There is a belief that believers go to heaven and unbelievers are annihilated, meaning they cease to exist. That’s not what this means. Everyone is born dead in their sin. The Holy Spirit regenerates the hearts of those God choses and they are brought to life and belong to God. The “eternal life” is referring to us staying in that saved, living state for all eternity. On the other side, those who are never regenerated, remain in their dead sinfilled state for all eternity. They live forever, but they aren’t experiencing the glorious eternal life that believers do.
We see this clearly in the parable you read, Chris. The rich man is said to be in torment, while Lazarus is at a heavenly banquet. I’m glad you settled that for us. I think that’s an important point. We probably need to stop for a moment and deal with those who believe there is a third option to heaven and hell, and that is purgatory. Chris, we don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, but what can you tell us about purgatory?
Well, this is obviously a Roman Catholic belief. In fact the Roman Catholic Catchism says in paragraph 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” First, there is absolutely NOTHING in Scripture that supports the notion of an “in between” place of dwelling for the dead. Second, this isn’t a problem for the Catholic Church because they use church tradition as much as or over The Bible as their authority. So, for things like this, while sometimes their translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, has been shown to have mis-translated words from the original Hebrew and / or Greek, even if it hasn’t, they rely on how their church fathers interpreted Scripture.
As protestants, we rely only on the Bible as our authority – or at least we should. We can refute this belief with one passage of Scripture (although there are many. Hebrews 10:14, For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Although the Holy Spirit definitely sanctifies us, making us more and more resemble Jesus while we are living, we will never reach perfection on this side of heaven. But, thankfully, our entrance into heaven isn’t riding on our sanctification. Our ticket has already been punched because of Jesus’ perfect holiness which He imputed to us when we became believers.
Like we said, we don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, but I’ll finish with a quote from 19th century theologian Charles Hodge. He said, “[The doctrine of purgatory] rests avowedly on the assumption that notwithstanding the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, the sinner is bound to make satisfaction for his own sins. This the Bible declares to be impossible. No man does or can perfectly keep the commandments of God, much less can he not only abstain from incurring new guilt, but also make atonement for sins that are past.” He basically said that what the Catholic Church proposes is not only unbiblical, but impossible.
Now let’s move on in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Notice that the rich man can see Lazarus, who is in heaven, from hell, where he is at. Remember, this is a parable, so we can’t know for sure that those in hell can actually see those in heaven, or if Jesus was using hyperbole to make His point. It does make sense that part of the torment someone in hell might experience is seeing glimpses of heaven, but either way, that’s not the point for today’s topic. As we said, there is a ton of theology in this parable, but for our purposes today, the point is that they both died, were judged and went to either heaven or hell. There was and is no third option. Another important point to note is that while the rich man can see Lazarus, there is no indication at all that Lazarus sees the rich man. The rich man is talking to Abraham, not Lazarus.
That’s a good point to make. A lot of people like to think of loved ones who have died as looking down at them from heaven. But if our loved ones are in heaven, they aren’t looking down. Ecc 9:10 says, “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.” And this may sound like we are being harsh, but think about this. While it may be comforting to us to think our loved ones who are in heaven are looking down at us, do we really want that for them? They’ve lived their life, gone through their own struggles and crises. Would we really want them spending their time in heaven, when they could be with Jesus, worshipping Him and hanging with Him, instead, wringing their hands watching us deal with our struggles and crises?
I think you are exactly right, Chris. And so does Scripture! Rev. 7:17 says, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And Rev. 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Heaven is the real Promised Land God is leading His people to. It’s the ultimate place describe in Joshua 1:13, “The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.”
So if it’s a place where there are no tears, only springs of living water. And a place with no mourning or pain, but a place of rest, we have to conclude that those in heaven cannot look down on earth because doing so and seeing what’s going on would hardly be restful, and would certainly cause pain, mourning, and tears. And being how those who have died know exactly what happens to those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior, can you imagine their anguish watching people they love on earth reject Jesus over and over?! And again, would we really want that for those we love? Would we want that for ourselves?!
Okay, so we have established that when people die, they immediately go before God for judgment and either go to heaven or hell. And I’ll throw a side note in here, that we are talking about a person’s soul. For now, when someone dies, it is their soul that is judged and sent to heaven or hell. We do believe certainly that every physical body will be resurrected, but that won’t happen until Jesus comes back. And that really has no bearing on this subject because your physical body will follow you to where your soul is. I just wanted to clear that up so no one thinks we are talking about physical bodies at this time. Okay, so we have established that we are immediately judged upon death and that those in hell may or may not be able to see into heaven or see what’s happening on earth, but those in heaven definitely cannot see either.
I can picture people right now getting upset and saying, “I know that so and so has come back to comfort me,” or maybe, “I have seen a ghost or some place that was haunted. I know ghosts exist.” So, Rose, let’s deal with both of these things now. What about ghost sightings – both good and bad. People have been comforted by them and they have been terrified by them. Everyone who claims to have seen or experienced a ghost can’t be crazy. So what’s going on?
Let’s start with comforting experiences people have had with “ghosts” who they believe are loved ones who have come back to them. We’ve already shown that that is not possible, so what is this? Again, Scripture has the answer. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.” Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. This means God sends His angels to help and to serve His people. The fact that they are spirits, shows us they are separate, created beings. A human can never be an angel (either before or after death), and an angel, although they can sometimes take the form of a human, can never truly be human. As John Owen writes, “These blessed angels specially minister to this family (the church) and have us under their constant care.”
So if you have lost someone you have loved and felt like there was a comforting “presence” or something super natural happened that you attributed to your loved one coming back and doing, it is very possible it was an angel. And that should be incredibly encouraging – even more encouraging than it being a human that we have lost. Angels serve God – they do only what He instructs. Since God is perfect love, He only has our best interest in mind at all times. He is infallible when it comes to giving us what we need when we need it. And if some of us need something super natural at some point, He can do it – He’s done it before and there is no indication that He still doesn’t do it. And before we get all kinds of messages and emails, we aren’t talking about the “wonders and signs” God did in the Old Testaments. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that that was how God spoke in the past, but now He speaks through Jesus – in other words, Scripture.
Exactly. But He does still use angels to minister to us. Years ago, I was driving and didn’t have a seat belt on. An audible voice came from the passenger seat and said, “Put your seatbelt on.” It was so audible I remember swinging my head around expecting to see someone sitting there. But, of course, there was no one. I put my seat belt on and less than a minute later, I crashed my car into a telephone pole because I was getting stung by a bee and leaned down to swat it off. The very first thing the police officer said when he showed up was, “Good thing you had a seatbelt on or else you would be dead.” The point is that God definitely uses angels to minister to His people in whatever way He deems they need it.
And you might think, what’s the harm in my thinking its my deceased loved one acting and not an angel acting under God’s instructions. Well, there is harm. You are robbing God of His due glory; and it will keep you from being grateful to God for these things. In a way, you are replacing God with your deceased loved one. That’s syncretism. And if we are praying to the dead, asking them to intervene on our behalf on something or to help us deal with something, that is full blown idol worship. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about those who have died, even thinking, I wonder what Mom would have thought about this. But we can’t replace God with any human – dead or alive.
Amen to that. Now let’s look at the other kind of “ghosts” – ones who haunt and terrify people. Common sense would tell us if angels are comforting us, then demons are tormenting us. Chris, there’s a whole lot we could delve into this about, but there isn’t time. And yes, it is a possibility that sometimes “good” angels do earthy destructive things under God’s instruction, but we aren’t going to go that deep. At least not today. For today, we want to tell you that Satan and demons are at work on earth (under God’s sovereign control, of course) and are doing some supernatural, dark things. We did an episode on psychics – the same episode as reincarnation, episode 26. We have a whole episode planned on witchcraft coming up in the future. There are definitely dark forces loose on earth.
There are. So things like evil spirits, demon possession, hauntings could very well be demons acting out. Jesus says this in Matthew 12, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” Jesus is speaking about a person’s spiritual situation here, but He is also saying that demons can indwell in unbelievers and wreak havoc on their lives.
And, again, we don’t have time to talk about this here, but if as a believer you think you can face these demons yourself and order them away in the name of Jesus, you are sadly mistaken. That, too, is going to be a whole episode in the near future. There’s so much that surrounds all of this, we couldn’t possibly tackle it all in one episode.
That’s right. But we will say our defense against anything dark is prayer and God’s Word. Pray for Jesus to intercede (since He’s the only one that can (and has) defeated Satan and his demons) and be in God’s Word, standing on the promises and Truths in it. That is how we fight anything evil. Okay, we want to end on an encouraging note. We know this has probably been really hard for many of you.
We titled this episode, Can the Dead a Guiding Light for a reason While, as we have seen, those who have died do not return to the earth in anyway, loved ones who have passed can certainly be a guiding light to us. They can be a guiding light in the legacy that they have left and the memories they have instilled in us. My mom was a master at hospitality. She made people – anyone – who happened to show up at our house – feel like they were honored guests by the feast she put in front of them. That is ingrained in me. Every time we have people over, and someone remarks, “What are you feeding an army?” I smile and think of my mom because that is what people always said to her.
Yeah, those we love who have died can definitely leave a legacy and are ingrained in our hearts. (tell a personal story of your own). God gives us people to love on earth as a gift. That gift doesn’t change or isn’t diminished simply because they have physically died. So think fondly of those you have lost. Think about what they meant to you and what they have taught you.
And if they were a Christian, celebrate that they are no longer dealing with the painful aspect of earth. They are in heaven, celebrating and worshiping our Almighty God, sharing in the glory of God, fellowshipping with Jesus, and are not shedding one tear of sadness or pain! As Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:8, We are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.”
 Reader, Reformed. "Purgatory, Grace, and Works (Hodge)." The Reformed Reader. November 09, 2017. Accessed April 06, 2021. https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/purgatory-grace-and-works-hodge/.