what the dead really know
In his Exposition of the Bible, John Gill gives us a long list of things that people know after they are dead. He says that when people die, their knowledge “is greatly increased.” He says that…
- · once believers die, they know as much as God knows about them,
- · they know about God’s perfections, purposes, covenant, grace and love,
- · they know about Christ’s person, offices and glory; they see him as he is,
- · they know about the gospel, angels, other dead saints that they talk with,
- · they know about the glories and happiness of their heavenly state,
- · they in fact know more than they ever did while living
- · once the wicked die, they know that God exists and is judging them,
- · they know that their suffering souls are immortal,
- · they know that there is a future state, filled with unending torment for them.
But you can take that long list of things that Gill says people that are dead know, and throw it in the trash. All it takes is one scripture to refute all that silly speculation. Wise Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:5 that “the living know that they will die: but the dead do not know anything.” He teaches that death deprives all human beings of everything in life. He is not saying that death only appears to rob us of conscious existence. In fact, if death ushers all human into a new state of conscious existence and awareness, the author of Ecclesiastes has lost his argument all together. Solomon had argued that it is best for the godly not to focus on any hopes of an afterlife in the intermediate state, but to make the best of life now. He was not addressing the question of whether there would ever be life after the grave. Instead, he was arguing that one’s objective should be making the best of life now. That explains why he later instructs his readers not to “let the excitement of youth cause them to forget their Creator” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). If one is caught up in the hopes and dreams of the future, one is liable to forget that his or her present relationship with God is what really matters.
In Ecclesiastes 9:5, Solomon uses a description of what happens at death to show that dying should not be a person’s goal. It is not the solution to humanity’s problem, God is. Death ends the pursuit. death ends the race. Solomon compares two groups: those who are presently alive and those who are presently dead. He does not distinguish between different groups within these groups. All people who are presently alive have hope, but all those presently dead do not. If (as Gill supposes) the actual awareness of the dead increases, then Solomon’s argument is a wash. Solomon’s argument demands that his readers take into account the present state of the dead, and requires that they understand that the dead are presently aware of nothing. So, don’t trust in death to solve your problems. Trust in God before you die, because he can raise you from the dead.
If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at email@example.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.
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3 thoughts on “what the dead really know”
Jeff, When I have brought up Eccl. 9:5 or other verses from Eccl. about the intermediate state my pastor has brought up that there are so many issues about interpreting Eccl. that the verses in this book don’t carry much weight with him. What would be your short response to this?
The reason there are so many issues about interpreting Ecclesiastes is that so many interpreters want it to say what it does not. Solomon’s point is that we should not wait for an afterlife to start trusting God, because death is not the answer; God is.