Do the spirits of the dead ever come back to the earth? Before we get to that, it's probably important that we review a little bit what death is. In the Bible, death can be defined in one word and that word is separation. The Bible actually talks about three kinds of death. There is spiritual death which is being separated from God due to our sin. The truth is that the majority of people in our world today, though they're physically alive, are spiritually dead. They don't have a relationship with God. They're separated from God.
The Bible also talks about eternal death. That would be separated from God for all of eternity. And, of course, the Bible talks about physical death. Physical death is when your soul separates from your body. Keep in mind that when you look in the mirror, what you see is not really you. Your body is not you. Your body is the house the real you lives in. The real you is immaterial. The real you is your soul or spirit. When death occurs, your body dies and your soul, the real you, separates from your body and continues to live on for eternity. That's physical death.
But what happens to the soul when you die? The Bible would teach us that immediately upon death the soul, as it separates from the body, goes to its eternal destination - heaven or hell. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the Apostle Paul says that we can be of good courage. We don't have to be afraid of death because for the believer, being absent from the body is equal to being at home with the Lord.
In Luke 16 Jesus tells a story where we are introduced to two individuals - a rich man who's not named in the story and who's not a believer, as well as a beggar by the name of Lazarus who is a believer. They both die at apparently the same time. Their bodies are buried but notice what happens to their souls. The poor man, that's Lazarus, the one who's the believer, dies and is carried away by the angels to paradise. The rich man also died and was buried, but his soul immediately goes to hell where he is in torment.
Also in the book of Luke, in chapter 23, you have the account of the crucifixion of Jesus who dies between two thieves. One thief chooses to put his faith in Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus says to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
All of these examples show us that at the point of death the soul immediately goes to its place of eternal destiny. But is it possible for the spirits of dead people, be they in heaven or in hell, to come back to this earth? Do the spirits of the dead ever return to the earth to help us, to haunt us, to finish unfinished business, or to give some sort of sign?
As we go back to Luke 16 we see an interesting conversation between the rich man in hell and Father Abraham in heaven. One of the requests that the rich man makes is that the spirit of Lazarus be sent back to the earth in order to warn the rich man’s five brothers so they do not end up in the same torment. It’s kind of like Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic movie, "The Christmas Carol." Who's the first spirit that Ebenezer Scrooge sees on Christmas Eve? It's Jacob Marley, the spirit of his dead business partner who comes back in chains to warn Ebenezer Scrooge to change his ways or he's going to end up just like Jacob Marley.
That's what the rich man is asking for. But Abraham responds to the request by saying that they have Moses and the prophets- the Old Testament. In other words, they have Scripture. If they won’t believe Scripture, then they are not going to believe no matter what the experience.
So what do we learn from this story that Jesus told? We learn that permission is not given to the souls of the dead to return to the earth even to warn people about hell. Folks, listen, if there was ever a good reason for God to send back the spirit of someone who's dead, would that not be a good reason? Can you think of a better reason? But permission is not given even to warn people about hell. So if God does not send back to earth the spirits of the dead for this reason, in my mind it is highly doubtful that God would give permission for any other reason.
In fact, do you realize that in all the thousands of years of biblical history recorded in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation there are only two stories in the entire Bible where the spirit of someone who had died returned to the earth? One of these happened at the transfiguration when Jesus is seen by Peter, James and John in His glory, standing with Moses and Elijah. I think we can all agree that this was a pretty special event - a one-time thing rather than something that is often repeated.
The only other occurrence in the Bible is very suspicious. In fact, we are going to spend two weeks looking at this occurrence beginning this Sunday, October 13, here at Gaylord E-Free. It’s found in 1 Samuel 28 when King Saul goes to the witch of Endor and asks her to conjure up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel. It seems like the spirit of Samuel appears and speaks. Some believe it really was Samuel. Others don't think it was Samuel, but a demon impersonating Samuel. Even if it was Samuel, this is the only other instance in the Bible where the spirit of a dead person returned to this earth. By the way, the message the spirit gives is not one of comfort and encouragement. It is a reaffirmation of the Word that God had already spoke earlier about King Saul’s punishment for his disobedience.
So, what about people who have had an experience where they were visited by a dead relative? What about people who have heard the voice of a dead relative? What about people who have felt the presence of a dead relative? What about people who believe a dead relative gave them some type of physical sign? I can find no foundation in Scripture to conclude that these are really the spirits of those who have previously died.
What are they then? In many cases I think it may be our mind playing ticks on us – especially during times of grief. But I also believe that there are many cases where the experience is real. Let’s not forget that Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. He loves to bring an experience or a teaching into our life that looks spiritual, sounds spiritual and may even claim to be spiritual, when in fact, it’s really a counterfeit to truth in order to deceive us.