Many people who have had a feeling or experience of a loved one visiting after dying describe the event as bringing the peace of knowing that the loved one is still with them. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “I know he’s looking down on us,” or “I can just feel she’s watching us from heaven with a smile on her face.”
The desire to feel a sense of peace about a loved one is understandable, and the sentiment should be met with a measure of sensitivity. But what does the Bible say about loved ones visiting us after their deaths?
Whether or not the Bible speaks about loved ones visiting after they have died is perhaps up to interpretation. In 1 Samuel, Saul seeks out a medium in order to call up Samuel because the Lord is silent toward him.
That Samuel was somehow “brought up” is interesting. Yet the means by which he appeared after his death are made clear in the text: by means of mediums and necromancers (see 1 Samuel 28:9).
This verse talks about Jesus’ interaction with two figures from the Old Testament. However, it may be noted that only Moses is said to have died (Deuteronomy 34:5, 7), while Elijah was caught up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). The uniqueness of this event is signified by Peter’s response of shock in verses 5-6.
Aside from examples like this, there are no clear examples of teaching about loved ones visiting after their death, and the overall tone of Scripture related to the subject is generally negative:
As our Creator, God understands our deepest needs and longings. He understands that we miss our loved ones when they die. It is okay to relive memories, to have dreams about, or even to have some symbolic reminder of our lost loved one.
However, when we dream about loved ones or remember their voice; when we see a butterfly or a penny, those experiences should not be mistaken for reality.
When the Bible speaks about the deaths of saints, it does not speak in terms of their having any other connection with the reality of this world.
These verses talk about the deaths of saints in terms of being with God, such that Jesus will bring them with him when he returns at his second coming. Therefore, the Bible seems to speak against the notion that loved ones cannot visit us from heaven after they have died.
Jesus tells this parable about two men who had died, one going to heaven and the other to hell. The man in hell asks Abraham to send someone from heaven to warn his family about the tortures of hell. Abraham refuses, saying that the Bible provides all of the needed persuasion of belief in God.
Although this passage would seem to imply the possibility of someone returning who has died, it is important not to read too much into the parable in order to make a conclusion about the metaphysical possibilities of someone returning to visit loved ones. The point of the text, however, is that the Bible is sufficient for all things, and that even if someone came back from the dead to visit, it would not provide any greater proof than the proof of Scripture.
The Bible has many examples of people being visited in dreams by angels (Matthew 2:19; ) and God himself visits people in dreams (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5). Moreover, dreams play an important role in the history of the people of Israel (Genesis 40-41; Daniel 1-2, 4) for interpreting events that have theological significance.
The Bible does not, however, record any occasions when people are visited by their loved ones in dreams. The primary use of dreams in the Bible is to reveal something about the Character of God or his purposes of redemption.
The Bible also has warnings about dreams that are thought to be predictive.
In this situation, even if the dream is accurate, revealing some special knowledge or showing a special power, its end result is to lead people astray from loving God. That dreams and their interpretations can be used by demonic spiritual forces should lead Christians to take great caution when considering whether a loved one is visiting us in dreams.
Although this verse is sometimes interpreted as talking about our loved ones looking down on us from heaven, the context of this verse points to something different. In the previous chapter, the “witnesses” are described as those who have gone before in the faith (the numerous examples of saints cited from the Old Testament: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc.). The lives and legacies of these saints who have died bear witness to us (a cloud of witness) concerning Jesus and the things of the faith.
There are a few examples in the Bible of people returning from the dead, though each of the examples contain some uniqueness that excludes it from being either normative or something we should expect to see again.
In the Bible, apart from examples of resurrection—when a person’s soul reunites with his or her body and they are physically raised from the dead—contacting someone who has died is generally connected with demonic spiritual forces.
In the book of 1 Samuel, King Saul seeks a medium in order to “call up” the departed soul of Samuel after his death. Strangely, Samuel does return, and the medium herself, upon seeing Samuel coming up “she cried with a loud voice” (1 Samuel 28:12). Yet Saul’s actions were condemned hundreds of years prior in Leviticus 20:27.
At the last trumpet the dead in Christ will rise. Those who died in Christ will be called up out of their graves to meet the Lord in the air. The Christian hope for loved ones who have died should not rest in their return to us in this life, but rather at the end of age when all of those who have died in Christ will appear with him.