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What do Jehovah Witnesses believe in death?

Jehovah’s Witnesses have distinct beliefs about death that set them apart from other Christian denominations. Their views are based on their interpretations of the Bible and the teachings of the Watchtower Society.

The State of the Dead

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that death is a state of non-existence. When a person dies, their body decays and returns to dust, while their spirit or life force dissipates. The person is not conscious of anything and ceases to exist.

They reject the idea of an immortal soul that lives on after death. They also do not believe in any intermediary state between death and resurrection, like heaven or hell. There are no ghosts or spirits of dead people that linger on earth.


Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in a literal place of fiery torment called hell. They believe hell is simply the common grave of mankind where the dead return to the dust.

They point to scriptures like Ecclesiastes 9:5 which says “the dead know nothing at all” and Psalms 146:4 which says that when someone dies “His spirit goes out, he returns to the ground; On that very day his thoughts perish” to support their belief that the dead are unconscious.


Jehovah’s Witnesses believe heaven is a real place where God resides, but say relatively few people will go there. They believe God’s original purpose was for humans to live forever on Earth, not in heaven.

Based on their understanding of Revelation chapters 7 and 14, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe exactly 144,000 faithful Christians will be resurrected to heaven to rule with Christ as kings and priests. This number is understood literally and they believe it is rapidly approaching completion.

The vast majority of Witnesses expect to live forever on a paradise Earth, not in heaven.

Death is Unnatural

Jehovah’s Witnesses view death as unnatural for humans and believe God never intended for people to die. They point to Genesis 2:17 where God told Adam he would “positively die” if he disobeyed God’s command not to eat from a certain tree.

They believe death only entered the world after Adam sinned. Romans 5:12 supports this saying “just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”

Two Types of Death

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in two types of death from two sources:

  1. Adamic death – the death of the body due to sin.
  2. Eternal death – everlasting destruction or separation from God.

Adamic death affects all humans as part of the inheritance from the sin of Adam and Eve. This death can be reversed through the resurrection.

Eternal death is permanent destruction or separation from God’s favor. This happens to any who willfully reject God after receiving full knowledge of the truth. The Witnesses believe this applies only to some, not to those who simply never got the chance to learn the truth.

Death Brings a Loss of Life Prospects

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe death brings an end to all prospects for life for that person. When someone dies, their future hopes and plans all perish. They will have no conscious existence until the resurrection.

They point to verses like Isaiah 38:18 which says those in the grave “cannot hope for your faithfulness” and Psalm 146:4 which says that when a man dies “his thoughts perish.” This supports their view that death ends a person’s prospects and thoughts for the future.

The Resurrection Promise

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe God will resurrect the dead in the future through Christ. This will undo the effects of Adamic death and open up new prospects for life.

They base this on Bible verses like John 5:28-29 where Jesus says “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his [Jesus’] voice and come out” and Acts 24:15 which says there will be “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”

This resurrection will take place on Earth, where the vast majority will have the opportunity to live forever if they obey God. The few going to heaven will not need to be resurrected.

Who Will be Resurrected

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that people who have died will be resurrected in one of two ways depending on if they died faithful or unfaithful to God.

Faithful Ones Resurrected to Life

Witnesses who die faithful are assured of eternal life on Earth. Though they suffer Adamic death, they will be resurrected with the prospect of never dying again. This resurrection to indestructible, perfect life is called “resurrection to life.”

Unfaithful Ones Resurrected to Judgment

People who died unfaithful to God will be resurrected for “resurrection to judgment.” This does not mean automatic condemnation, but rather an opportunity to learn Jehovah’s requirements and demonstrate obedience for 1000 years.

If they reject this final opportunity, they will suffer eternal destruction. If they obey, they gain everlasting life on Earth.

Main Biblical Support for Two Resurrections

  • John 5:28-29 makes a distinction between those who have “done good” who are resurrected to “a resurrection of life” while evildoers are resurrected to “a resurrection of judgment.”
  • Acts 24:15 mentions “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”
  • Revelation 20:12-13 speaks of “standing before God…and they were judged according to their deeds…and death and Hades gave up the dead in them.” This is believed to describe the final judgment after the millennial reign of Christ when the unrighteous dead from all time periods will be resurrected.

Death is Compared to Sleep

Jehovah’s Witnesses frequently refer to death as a “sleep.” They believe this metaphorical description reflects the unconscious state of death and the assurance of awakening through the resurrection.

Some scriptures that refer to death this way are:

  • Daniel 12:2 – “Many of those asleep in the dust of the earth will wake up”
  • Luke 8:52 – “Stop weeping; she did not die, but is sleeping”
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death”

They believe the hope of the resurrection takes the permanent sting out of death, just as waking up refreshes a person after sleep.

Soul Sleep

The doctrine that the soul “sleeps” after death until the resurrection is also called “soul sleep.” Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the teaching of the immortal soul that remains conscious after death.

They see “soul sleep” as a more accurate biblical teaching reflecting death’s unconscious state and the resurrection hope. They cite the following scriptures to support it:

  • Psalm 13:3 – “He will illuminate my eyes…that I may not sleep in death”
  • Acts 7:59, 60 – “Stephen…fell asleep in death”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:51 – “We will not all fall asleep in death”

Where Do You Go When You Die?

Jehovah’s Witnesses say that no one goes to hell, heaven, purgatory, or any other place immediately at death. The dead are unconscious “asleep” awaiting the resurrection.

However, to comfort grieving friends and family, they sometimes figuratively say the deceased is “resting in God’s memory.” But they do not believe anyone is literally conscious in an intermediate state or location.

Funeral Services

Jehovah’s Witness funerals are simple, brief, and focus on their belief in the resurrection. The body may be buried or cremated. Typical elements include:

  • A song and opening prayer
  • A discourse about Bible-based hope and the resurrection
  • Scripture reading
  • Optional brief comments about the deceased
  • Optional video about Bible truths and paradise earth
  • Prayer expressing hope of resurrection and seeing the deceased again
  • A closing song and concluding prayer

The services usually last about 30 minutes and are held in a Kingdom Hall. Flowers, candles, choirs, clergy, eulogies, religious symbols like crosses, and mixing of religions are avoided.

Memorial Services

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have special annual memorial services, masses, or ceremonies to remember the dead. They believe this conflicts with the simplicity and focus of the Bible-based funeral service already held.

At the annual Memorial observance for Christ’s death, deceased Witnesses may be briefly mentioned in prayer as examples of faith. But there are no ceremonies set aside just for remembering them.

Mourning Practices

There are no unique or extended mourning rituals that Jehovah’s Witnesses observe after a death beyond their Bible-based funeral service. They believe excessive mourning over the deceased shows a lack of faith in God’s promised resurrection.

Normal grieving is expected. But rituals like wearing black for long periods, setting out food for the dead, lighting candles, avoiding bathing, wailing, cutting hair, and so forth are not practiced since these reflect lack of hope.

Sharing in the Suffering of Jesus

While death brings grief and loss, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there is a positive in sharing in a measure of Jesus’ suffering. They point to Romans 8:17 which says “if, in fact, we suffer together with him, so that we may also be glorified together with him.”

They believe their temporary suffering and death identifies them with Christ in a small way. They maintain this focus on the positive purpose behind suffering, including at funerals.

The Hope of Resurrection

The resurrection hope is paramount in their belief structure and funeral customs. Their goal is to give comfort by emphasizing the resurrection, not prolonged mourning with no hope.

They strive to keep funerals simple, dignified, and focused on the promises of future paradise and reunion. This gives them hope and courage as they press on in faith.


Jehovah’s Witnesses hold unique beliefs about death and the afterlife that affect their funeral practices. They reject immortal soul doctrines and the idea of going to heaven or hell at death. They believe all experience soul sleep unconsciousness until an earthly resurrection paradise.

Their funeral customs avoid mourning rituals that reflect doubt in God’s promises. They focus on resurrection hope based on their understanding of the Bible. This leads to simple, brief, positive services as they look forward to seeing the deceased again.