Bible Question:

Do the dead have knowledge before the resurrection?

Bible Answer:

The question this article answers is, “Do the dead have knowledge before the resurrection?” The question could be asked this way, “Are the dead really dead?” What happens to us after die before the resurrection? The following answer will explain what does the Bible says will happen to the dead? We will discover what the Bible says about soul sleep. You will discover what happens when you die.

Dead Have Knowledge?

Are the Dead Really Dead?

The first question is what happens when we die? God gave Adam the answer in Genesis 3:19 that when a person dies, their body returns to dust. Listen to what God told Adam,

Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:19b (NASB)

God told Adam that he was made from dust and when his body died it would return to dust. From dust to dust we return! Anyone who has opened an old coffin in a graveyard knows that this is true. All anyone will find of our died body is some dust and maybe some bones. Our old eyes will not exist. Our ears will not exist. Our tongue will not exist. Our digestive system will not exist. All that will left of our skull, if there is anything, is bone. The “gray matter” will not exist. If our body was dumped into the sea, no one will be to even find the “dust of our bodies.” God’s point is that our bodies do not function after death. Nothing works!. Ecclesiastes 3:20 echoes the same truth. We came from dust and to dust we will return.

All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NASB)

Our bodies are made of chemicals, but most of our body is water. We could say that we are water and dust which makes mud. That is good view of sinful man.

Sheol Is the Grave

Throughout the Old Testament Sheol is another name for the grave. For a discussion about Sheol visit the study “Heaven, Paradise, Sheol, Hell, Hades and Lake of Fire.” It is important to know that Sheol refers to the grave because Job 17:13-16 connects Sheol to the grave as the result of death. The final end of our bodies is dust.

“If I look for Sheol as my home,
I make my bed in the darkness;
If I call to the pit, ‘You are my father’;
To the worm, ‘my mother and my sister’;
Where now is my hope?
And who regards my hope?
Will it go down with me to Sheol?
Shall we together go down into the dust?”
Job 17:13-16 (NASB)

Another important passage about Sheol is that Amod 9:2. It refers to digging into Sheol.

Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall My hand take them . . . Amos 9:2 (NASB)

Job 7:9-10 adds the point that once we die, we do not return to life. Once the heart stops pumping, the blood stops flowing and the body dies. A dead man or woman will not come up out of the grave and return to his or her house. Eventually, no one will know him or her.

When a cloud vanishes, it is gone,
So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.
He will not return again to his house,
Nor will his place know him anymore.
Job 7:9-10 (NASB)

Psalm 49:16-19 says that the dead cannot take anything with them. The dead will never see light again. A man’s body ceases to function just as the bodies of animals ceases to function.

Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich,
When the glory of his house is increased;
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
His glory will not descend after him.
Though while he lives he congratulates himself —
And though men praise you when you do well for yourself —
He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
They will never see the light.
Man in his pomp, yet without understanding,
Is like the beasts that perish.
Psalm 49:16-19 (NASB)

The point is simple. After death, our bodies cease to function. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10 also teaches what we already know.

For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (NASB)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.  Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NASB)

Our bodies will not function after death. Dead bodies cannot plan or remember anything. A dead ant does not live again. A dead dog is a dead dog. A fish that is killed and eaten will not swim again. The only exception is a miraculous intervention by God when He chooses to resurrect someone. The message of Scripture is that we were created from dust and to dust we will return. Dust does think, see or hear. In Sheol our dead bodies only decay until the dust and bones disappear. Dead bodies are dead.

Do the Dead Have Knowledge?

Our second and third questions are, “What happens to our spirit which inhabited our dead body?” Where do they go and do the dead have knowledge?

Spirits of Christians Go Home To Heaven

The answer is given to us in several passages in the Bible. Our first passage, 2 Corinthians 5:6, is about what happens to Christians.

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6 (NASB)

Here we learn that when Christians die they leave their bodies and go to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are either here on earth in our bodies or in heaven with Christ. It is one or the other! That is, absent from the body, present with the Lord. So, when we die our body remains on the earth and returns to dust. But the spirit of Christians goes to be with Christ our Lord.

Spirits of Non-Christians Go To Hell

Another important passage is the parable about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. The parable is about a beggar called Lazarus and a very wealthy man — a rich man. In the parable, Lazarus and the rich man die.

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. Luke 16:22(NASB)

In the parable, “Abraham’s bosom” symbolizes heaven and Hades is also known as hell which will eventually be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). So, what happened to the spirit of Lazarus? We have already learned that when the spirit of a Christian is absent from the body, it goes to be present with the Lord. That is, Lazarus’ spirit went to heaven. Now what happened to the spirit of the rich man? He went to Hades or hell. Therefore, we have discovered that the spirits of both Christians and non-Christians leave their dead bodies.

Our next question is, did the spirits of Lazarus and the rich man have awareness? The answer is, “Yes!” First, we are told that both of them knew where they were. The rich man knew he was in Hades and Lazarus knew he was in Abraham’s bosom or heaven. That is the message of Luke 16:23-24.

“In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'” Luke 16:23-24 (NASB)

Notice that they were also able to communicate. They could feel pain. That is, they had awareness! Do the dead have knowledge? The answer is, “Yes!”  So, our spirits will have knowledge, awareness, feeling and the ability to communicate. They can think!

Eternal Life or Eternal Punishment

Matthew 25:31-33, 46 is our next passage. It tells us the future for the spirits of Christians is eternal life and for the spirits of non-Christians is eternal punishment. In this passage, Jesus, the Son of Man, judges the nations after the Battle of Armageddon to determine who enters the millennial kingdom. Here is the passage.

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Matthew 25:31-33 (NASB)

The sheep symbolize Christians and the goats symbolize non-Christians. Jesus is the shepherd who separates them. Notice that Jesus puts the sheep on His right side. and the goats are placed on the left. Then verse 34 says the sheep will enter Christ’s kingdom.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34 (NASB)

Verse 34 says the goats will not enter Christ’s kingdom. They will be sent to hell.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘ Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels . . . Matthew 25:41 (NASB)

Verse 46 summarizes the destiny of our spirits.

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:46 (NASB)

Our spirits either go into eternal punishment or eternal life. Christians will have eternal life and non-Christians will suffer eternal punishment. That is, our spirits will live forever.

Do Our Souls Sleep?

Some claim that when our body dies, our soul sleeps and at a later time it will have life in the final resurrection when we give an account to God (Revelation 20:11-15). Some passages such as John 11:11 seem to suggest that.

This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” John 11:11 (NASB)

John 11 is about the death and resurrection of Lazarus. This Lazarus should not be confused with the Lazarus in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Here in John 11:11, Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus is asleep. The disciples think that Jesus meant he was sleeping. But in verse 13, Jesus corrects them and says that He meant Lazarus was dead.

Other passages that such as Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 50 seem to refer to soul sleep, but the discussion above clearly reveals that is not true. We either go to heaven or hell.


When Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that the dead do not know anything, it is referring to the dead bodies.

For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything . . . Ecclesiastes 9:5 (NASB)

The reason that this is the correct answer is that the theme of Ecclesiastes is about life “under the sun.” That phrase occurs twenty-nine times in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is about life on earth. It is not about life beyond this earth. It is actually the perspective of a man without God who does not believe in life after death. It is the atheist’s view. The atheist does not think there is anything after this life. In fact, he or she is correct if your view is about your body and your current experience. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes as a warning to others to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes he had made before returning to his faith in God at the end of his life. The final chapter of the book warns us to serve God for the entire length of our life.

But as Psalm 14:1 says,

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 (NASB)

Ecclesiastes is about man’s view of life under the sun!

But there is life after we die. Where will you go? Are you going to heaven or hell? If you want to know how you can be sure of heaven and life with God as your eternal destiny, then visit Searching For God.

Suggested Links:

Do the dead really go to heaven or hell?
Heaven, Paradise, Sheol, Hell, Hades and Lake of Fire
What is eternal life?
Do we return to dust if we have eternal life?
Are Elijah and Moses in the intermediate state?
Does the soul sleep after death according to the Bible?
Do we “soul sleep” before we go to heaven?
What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5-6?
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus