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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Do the Dead Know What Happens on the Earth?

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Don Stewart
Do people who have died have any idea of what the living are doing? Are they aware of our victories and our defeats? The biblical arguments for this are as follows.

Rich Man Could See Lazarus

Scripture says that the rich man could see Lazarus in the unseen world.

And being in torments in Hades, he [the rich man] lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:23).

Cloud Of Witnesses

The writer to the Hebrews says that the living are surrounded by witnesses.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1,2).

Martyrs Knew

The Bible says that the martyrs in heaven knew what was happening on the earth.

They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed (Revelation 6:10,11).

Those in heaven were conscious that Satan was being defeated.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our comrades, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down (Revelation 12:10).

They also rejoice at the fall of Babylon.

Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you (Revelation 18:20).

These passages are thought to teach that dead can see the living or at least know what they are doing.

The Case Against

Many, however, feel the Scripture does not either teach, or imply, that the dead know what the living are doing.

Dead Do Not Know

Job said that the father, who had died, did not know whether his sons were rich or poor.

If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it (Job 14:21).

Though this could refer to his present earthly knowledge, it may also apply to him in the afterlife.

No Knowledge

The Book of Ecclesiastes also says the dead have no knowledge.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Abraham And Jacob

From a passage in Isaiah, we find that both Abraham and Jacob (Israel), do not know what is presently going on upon the earth.

But You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name (Isaiah 63:16).

This is thought to be another indication that the dead have no knowledge of what is presently happening on the earth.

Rich Man Could See Lazarus

In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, we are told that the rich man could see Lazarus. However we are not told that Lazarus could see the rich man. All this says is that unbelievers could see the believers, not the other way around. In addition, it says nothing about seeing those on earth or knowing what they are doing.

Cloud Of Witnesses

The witnesses, that are referred to in the Book of Hebrews, are examples of what we should be with our faith. Their testimony to their generation should be an example to every generation. There is no thought whatsoever in this passage of them knowing what is presently occurring on earth.

Communion Of Saints?

The idea that the dead know what the living are doing is not what is popularly known as the "communion of the saints." This phrase comes from the later editions of the Apostle's Creed - a document that summarizes the beliefs of the apostles about the Christian faith. It is true that all the saints, from all ages, are all unified in the same faith. The writer to the Hebrew notes that those who have died before are now in heaven.

and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).

The idea is that the living saints are unified in faith with those who have died before, not that they have any understanding of what the living are presently doing.

No More Pain?

The Bible says the presence of the Lord is a place where there is no suffering or pain for the believer. If, however, the dead in heaven could see what their loved ones are doing on earth, they certainly would be in pain. They would see many of their loved ones on a course to eternal separation from God. This is certainly inconsistent with what the Bible says about heaven.


Do the dead believers know what the living are doing? There is no clear biblical answer to this question. There are verses that can support the idea while there are other verses that seemingly contradict it. We have to leave this question open.
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