First of all, I am sorry to hear about the passing of your brother. I am sure this is a very difficult time for you and thus it is only natural that you are concerned about his eternal destiny. I am truly encouraged by your willingness to know and accept what the Bible teaches about “praying for the dead,” for the Bible is indeed the only way we can know about how one’s sins are forgiven, resulting in God receiving them into Paradise.

In short, the Bible does NOT teach us that we can “pray for the dead” so they can be forgiven. The Bible is crystal-clear that one MUST be forgiven BEFORE they die if they are going to be accepted into Paradise. We see an example of this in the account of the two thieves who were crucified with the Lord Jesus. One thief died without believing in Jesus Christ as we see in his last words that are recorded in Scripture. Luke 23:39 reads, “One of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us” (NKJV). The other thief had a change of heart after hearing Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (verse 34). These words of love that spoke of forgiveness prompted him to respond to his fellow-thief with these words, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong?” (verse 40). This man was willing to own “his sin” and to confess that Jesus was “sinless.” Then he turned to the Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (verse 42). Notice, he calls Jesus “Lord,” which means he believed He wasn’t just a sinless Man, but that He was the “Lord of glory.” By asking Jesus to remember him when He comes to establish His kingdom, he was displaying his faith in the “resurrection of Christ.” He is a prime example of the truth of Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” He truly believed Jesus WOULD RISE from the dead, just as we must believe that Jesus HAS RISEN from the dead. His faith was rewarded by Jesus saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (verse 43).

This passage and many others teach us that the forgiveness of sins is offered to men and women while they are still alive. If one dies without trusting in the Lord Jesus for forgiveness, they will have to pay for their own sins. In John 8:24 Jesus declared, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” To “die in your sins” is to die with your sins still upon you and to be judged by God for them. It is truly a tragedy when this happens, for at the cross Jesus had the sins of all who would believe on Him “laid on Him” and then He was “judged for those sins.” We see these two truths in Isaiah 53:5-6, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

It is my prayer that you will believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. If you do, you will experience what the saved thief experienced, for YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN and when you die YOU WILL BE ACCEPTED INTO PARADISE. “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). (289.3) (DO)