DOES THE DEAD KNOW WHAT IS PRESENTLY HAPPENING ON THE EARTH?
Can the dead watch our every move, and do they think about us?
A) THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEY DO
Some people believe that the dead do indeed see what is happening here upon the earth. In other words, our dead loved ones know the intimate details as to what is taking place in our daily lives. The biblical arguments for this idea are as follows:
1) The Rich Man Could See Lazarus
The Scripture says that the rich man in Jesus’ story could see the dead beggar Lazarus in the unseen world. We read of this in Luke’s gospel:
“In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:23 NRSV).
Lazarus was visible to the rich man. The fact that the dead can see others apart from themselves may indicate the dead can view what the living are doing.
2) Abraham Knew Details Of The Life Of The Rich Man And Lazarus
Also in this account, we find that Abraham was aware of details of the life of the rich man as well as the beggar Lazarus. We read the following:
“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish’” (Luke 16:25 ESV).
Abraham knew that Lazarus had suffered while the rich man lived in comfort without any regard for the needs of others. The fact that he knew these details may give further indication that the dead know what the living are doing.
3) There Is A Cloud Of Witnesses Watching Us
The writer to the Hebrews says that the people who are presently living are surrounded by a number of witnesses. He put it this way:
“Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1,2 CSB).
The witnesses are able to see the believers who are on the earth. Consequently, they know what is happening to us.
4) The Martyrs Knew What Happened On The Earth
The Bible says that the martyrs in heaven knew what was happening on the earth. We read of this in the Book of Revelation:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:9-11 ESV).
They wanted to know how long it would take for victory to be granted, for their lives to be avenged. They were told to rest a while longer because the number of the future martyrs was still incomplete. It seems that they could only ask the question because they were observing events here upon the earth, or at the very least, knew what was going one.
In addition, the fact that they were told to rest a while longer further indicates they knew exactly what was happening on the earth. We also find that those in heaven were conscious that Satan was being defeated. Again, we read of this in the Book of Revelation. It says:
“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10 ESV).
They knew Satan had been thrown out of heaven to the earth. We also find these believers in heaven rejoicing at the fall of Babylon. This is also revealed in the Book of Revelation. It says:
“But you, O heaven, rejoice over her fate. And you also rejoice, O holy people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her on your behalf” (Revelation 18:20 NLT).
These passages are thought to teach that dead can see the living or at least know what they are doing.
B) THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEY DON’T
While there are passages that seem to teach that the dead do indeed know what is happening to the living upon the earth, others feel the Scripture does not either teach, or imply, that the dead know what the living are doing. Indeed, they believe that there are better ways to understand these passages.
The main arguments which are given, that the dead do not know what is occurring on the earth, are as follows.
1) The Dead Do Not Know About This Life
To begin with, there seems to be a number of statements in Scripture about the dead not knowing what the living are presently doing.
In the Book of Job, we find that Job said that the father, who had died, did not know whether his sons were rich or poor. He states it in this manner:
“They never know if their sons grow up in honor or sink to insignificance” (Job 14:21 NLT).
Though this could refer to his present earthly knowledge, it may also apply to him in the afterlife.
However, this statement is found in the section of the Book of Job where Job and his friends are trying to determine why Job was suffering so greatly. Later, the Lord would call their discussion “words without knowledge.”
Consequently, we must be careful in using any statement from them to determine the truth of what goes on in the next life.
2) There Is No Knowledge In The Grave
The Book of Ecclesiastes also says the dead have neither knowledge nor wisdom of what is happening in this life. It says:
“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 NIV).
This passage teaches lack of knowledge on the part of the dead. This, however, may be speaking of things from a human or observational perspective.
From our vantage point here upon the earth, it appears that the dead do not know anything which is going on. Consequently, this passage should not be used to give a definitive answer to the question.
3) Abraham And Jacob Do Not Know What Is Presently Going On
From a passage in the Book of Isaiah we find that two of the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob (Israel), do not know what is presently happening upon the earth. In other words, they have no knowledge as to what their descendants are doing. The passage read as follows:
“You are our Father. Even though Abraham doesn’t know us and Israel doesn’t pay attention to us, O LORD, you are our Father. Your name is our Defender From Everlasting” (Isaiah 63:16 God’s Word).
This is thought to be another indication that the dead have no knowledge of what is presently happening on the earth.
Again, this statement may only be speaking of something that could possibly happen; not necessarily something that does happen.
In addition, the passage says that Abraham and Israel may not acknowledge or pay attention to the people. This does not necessarily mean that they are unaware of them or what they are doing. Consequently this passage is not conclusive.
4) We Are Not Told That Lazarus Could See The Rich Man
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. The rich man saw Lazarus in the realm of the dead, not the realm of the living.
5) Abraham Knew Details Of The Rich Man And Lazarus
Furthermore, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham, in heaven, knew of the earthly details of the lives of Lazarus and the rich man. This does not necessarily mean he could see them while they were living or that he was observing their lives.
6) The Cloud Of Witnesses Are Examples Of Faith
The witnesses that are referred to in the Book of Hebrews are the heroes of faith mentioned in Chapter 11. There is no thought whatsoever in this passage of them knowing what is presently occurring on earth.
7) There Is No More Pain In The Next World
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 the situation of believers in the afterlife; they are in constant joy and happiness.
8) The Exact Situation With The Martyrs In The Book Of Revelation Is Unclear
The only possible example that we have in Scripture of the dead in heaven knowing what is going on here upon the earth is found in Revelation 6:9-11. In this passage, the souls under the altar cry out for vengeance. Yet there are other explanations of this passage which do not indicate that the dead are watching those on the earth or knowing what people are doing.
Indeed, all we are told is that these martyrs realize that they have not yet have had their deaths avenged. Nothing more. We do not find anything said about their understanding of precise details of what is happening on the earth. They are merely lamenting the fact that the number of martyrs keeps increasing.
This of course would lead them to conclude that their deaths have not been avenged. To draw the conclusion that they can see what is happening on the earth is not warranted.
Consequently, while we have a number of arguments which may teach the dead do know what is presently occurring upon the earth there does not really seem to be enough evidence to make a conclusive case. In fact, when we examine the totality of Scripture the idea that the dead know what the living are doing seems unlikely.
On Final Point: There Should Be No Attempted Contact With The Dead
Even if one believes that the Bible does teach that the dead know what the living are doing, this should NEVER cause anyone to attempt to reach out and contact them. As we stressed in a previous question, any attempt to do so will result in deception. We again call to mind what the Lord said.
“So why are you trying to find out the future by consulting mediums and psychics? Do not listen to their whisperings and mutterings. Can the living find out the future from the dead? Why not ask your God? “Check their predictions against my testimony,” says the LORD. “If their predictions are different from mine, it is because there is no ight or truth in them” (Isaiah 8:19,20 NLT).
Therefore, even if one supposes that their dead loved one is watching them here upon the earth this should never be a justification of trying to talk to them. They can be of no help whatsoever to us. We are to talk to the Lord and to Him alone.
While there are seemingly some passages in Scripture that may indicate that the dead know what the living are doing there are other passages in Scripture that seem to contradict this idea. As far as we know on the earth, the dead know nothing. We know from other parts of Scripture that they are conscious in the next world.
It would seem to be inconsistent with the idea of total happiness in the afterlife if the dead know what the living were presently doing. How could they really enjoy the blessings of heaven if they were observing the living in their current state?
So, do the dead believers know what the living are doing? From the totality of Scripture we would have to conclude that this is highly unlikely.
Indeed, the Scriptures are clear that the dead cannot truthfully communicate with the living. God forbids this practice of attempting to contact the dead in the strongest of terms.
(Source: Don Stewart – What Happens One Second After We Die?)