I may have addressed this topic in part at least once in prior articles. Because this has been a topic of discussion a few times over the past couple of weeks, I feel it needs an article of it’s own. There are questions still being asked about this subject. The question is concerning soul sleep or, what is man’s state during/after death.
What is Soul Sleep?
Soul Sleep is not a phrase we hear much. There is a reason for this. The phrase is not found in the bible and is considered pejorative. A more modern and polite term is Christian mortalism. It is the belief that a person's physical body and the soul lies in the grave after death, awaiting resurrection, while their spirit is in Heaven or Hell. Then, upon resurrection, their spirit is reunited with their soul and body. It must be understood that no one goes to Heaven or Hell immediately after death. They lie in wait for the return of Christ (if born-again) or judgment. The concept of soul sleep is denounced as unscriptural. There are several bible verses that are used to prove the invalidity of this belief. Let’s look at these for a moment.
Being Present in Heaven
How many times have you heard this verse quoted, “… to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Please read the phrase again out loud. Now read the verse below as it is actually written:
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8
As you can see, when quoted, the word ‘and’ is often replaced by the word ‘is’. The inclusion of the word ‘is’ denote the present tense or current state. So ‘is’ would mean both states exist simultaneously. The word ‘and’ is a conjunction which joins two separate states, “to be absent from the body” and “to be present with the Lord.” So one follows the other. So what was Paul saying? Paul said he would rather be living with the Lord, free of the shackles of this earthly life than bound by it. He understood that when we sleep, time has no length. We cannot measure it during sleep. When we die, no matter how much time passes in life, our next conscious thought will be the Day of the Lord! And yes, Paul did believe we would sleep:
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14
What does the phrase “will God bring with him” mean? Some might take it to mean when Christ returns, the saints will return with Him. Actually, it’s the opposite. It means when Jesus comes for His people, they will return to Heaven with Him!
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Being Present in Hell
This is a long debated topic. I have an article written called “Is Hell Hot?” It describes the concept of Hell and it’s meaning throughout scripture. While I suggest reading it before continuing, I will say this. Everyone who dies, from Adam until now, resides in Hell. Why would I say that? Because in the Old Testament, Hell is ‘Sheol”, the grave. There is no other meaning for Hell in the Old Testament. So what about hellfire? This is describing the Lake of Fire. Here is the verse that explains why Hell burns:
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 20:14
So Hell gets it’s ‘fire’ from the Lake when it is cast into it, along with death, at the end. What good would it do to throw a burning Hell into the Lake of Fire? It would be like like throwing a lit torch into an already burning building. It would make no difference. Nothing would change! One final point. Think how unfair and unjust it would be. Think of those who died in the days of Adam, long before the flood. Did they enter torment right then? So they have been in torment all of these millennia while those who die in their sins today just enter torment. Actually, that is a weak argument. But I make it because it does make sense logically. This next verse adds strength to it…
“If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” Proverbs 24:12
So you see, God will reward everyone at the same time, according to their works, not as soon as one dies! Before this, everyone must be judged.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” Revelation 20:12-13
A judgment must be entered before the sentence can be carried out! And we rarely judge or sentence a person twice for the same crime. This is the ‘Double Jeopardy’ clause of the The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. For God to do otherwise would make man seem more just!
So is Soul Sleep Biblical?
While, according to scripture, we do sleep in death, soul sleep as worded is not a biblical term. So it can be argued that soul sleep is not biblical. It is argued that the body is what sleeps while the soul and spirit goes to Heaven. Please see my article “Body, Soul, and Spirit“ for a detailed look at this.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7
No mention of the soul here. Daniel says something that would be difficult to refute. Daniel says plainly the dead are asleep and will awaken in the future:
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2
Solomon understood death. He states when we die, our body returns to the dust. What we need to comprehend is the spirit. Our spirit is the breath of God according to Genesis 2:7, Job 27:3, and Psalms 146:4. Here is one more example to contemplate:
“Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” Ezekiel 37:5-10
The thing to note is there is no mention of spirit. If man is a spirit, why doesn’t God speak of putting the spirit back into the slain? Because just like Adam, they are comprised of dust (skin, flesh, bone, blood, etc.) and breath (wind, air). Again, the breath of God IS spirit! And when the two combined, they became living souls again!
Is Anyone in Heaven?
Enoch: “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Genesis 5:24 Elijah: “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” 2 Kings 2:11 Moses: “And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:” Luke 9:30 “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” Jude 1:9 The First-Fruits of Jesus’ Resurrection: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matthew 27:52-53 Do you think these saints were brought from heaven just for this purpose? Hmm…
Where are the Rest of the Dead?
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,” John 5:28
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:” 1 Thessalonians 4:16
“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” Revelation 20:5
A Final Proof
“Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” John 11:11, 39, 43-44
Think about this. Lazarus was dead four days. When Jesus arrived, He called Lazarus forth from the tomb, not from heaven. Do you think if Lazarus went to heaven that Jesus would have called him back? And Jesus Himself said Lazarus was dead and sleeps…
The Conclusion of the Matter
It can easily be concluded that all that really matters is that we live right. It doesn’t matter if we go to heaven now or later, are a spirit or not. We’ll all know the truth in the end. Well, that can be said about many things.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, …” Hosea 4:6
This verse is used when convenient. And while Hosea was speaking to Israel, it could apply today if we have a casual attitude concerning the truth of God’s Word. We cannot interpret scripture based on bias belief. We must compare verse with verse and interpret based on context, keywords, and historical reference if available. Paul told Timothy to study so he can correctly expound the Word to avoid being made ashamed, and his labor will meet with God’s approval. It is important to God that we know and understand the truth. It also makes a difference when trying to witness to others and they have questions. With different ideas and theories of the scriptures being taught, it is vital to know what God’s Word really says about these topics. I hope you found this article helpful. Have a bible question? Tell me what to write about. If you liked this article, then please subscribe. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.