Soul Sleep (spiritual snoozing) - What really happens when we die?
By Let Us Reason Ministries
There are those who believe when someone dies they enter a sleep stage. As the body is put in the ground, so is the soul. They interpret the word sleep in the Scripture to be a state of silence, inactivity, unconsciousness for the soul. Since the beginning of the Church those who have studied the Bible have never come to these conclusions, all have had the hope of heaven. Has everyone in Church history believed in error and died with a false hope of being united with Jesus after death?
First thing we need to establish is that man has a soul/spirit, and it is distinct from his body. We have a dual nature, physical (the body) and immaterial (spirit/soul).
Job 32:8: "But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding." The breath is not the same as mans spirit but that which teaches him, being the Holy Spirit from God.
Isaiah 26:9 says this: "At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently."
Zech.12:1: "Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him:" Here we see that the physical man is different than the Spirit in him.
1 Cor. 6:20: "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." Paul distinguishes the body from the Spirit, both existing simultaneously, yet both are united to make man.
1 Cor. 2:11: "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." Mans spirit is not the same as Gods Spirit. Our spirit has certain capabilities to understand the things of man but fall short in understanding God unless he reveals them to us. The knowledge is not in our flesh but our spirit, certainly this cannot mean our breath for it knows nothing. There is a comparison here between mans spirit knowing the things of man and Gods spirit knowing the things of God.
Job.14:22: "But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn." Job makes the distinction saying the flesh is upon him and the soul is within him.
Now lets address the argument that some claim the soul or spirit is just another word for breath since this is what the Hebrew word Ruach means. That when someone dies their breath leaves them. Lets substitute the word breath where Spirit is and see if it makes any sense scripturally?
Job 34:14-15: "If He should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself Spirit (His breath?) and His breath, All flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust." Here both breath and spirit are distinguished otherwise one would be gathering to himself spirit and his spirit or breath and his breath.
Ps. 19:7: "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the Breath, the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;" The conversion is to ones soul, their inner being so it can rule over their body.
2 Cor. 7:1: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and Breath (spirit)," Does this mean we take breath mints?
Gal 6:8: "For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the breath ( Spirit ) will of the breath (Spirit) reap everlasting life."
Acts 23:8: "For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection-- and no angel or breath (spirit); but the Pharisees confess both." Is there no breath or were they speaking about a spirit that is intelligent (a type of angel). What we will see is that Spirits do exist outside the vehicle of the body as does mans. V.9"Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees' party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." Certainly they are speaking about a corporeal entity that communicates not just breath.
What of Jesus, did he use this definition? Matt. 12:43 "When an unclean Breath, (spirit) "goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none." Certainly he did not mean bad breath. Just as man can have the Holy Spirit live within him alongside his human Spirit so he can have a unclean spirit live in him.
Luke 4:36: "What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean Breaths, (spirit) and they come out."
Acts 5:16: "Bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean Breath," (spirit), and they were all healed." I guess some peoples souls need breath freshener! Jesus cast out spirit entities not peoples breath, and if he did they would certainly die on the spot.
Luke 12:19: "And I will say to my Breath, "Breath,"(spirit), you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." Can ones breath eat and drink.
James 5:20 "let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a Breath, (soul) from death and cover a multitude of sins." Can breath be saved or a person.
2 Pet. 2:8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous Breath, (spirit) from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)--
Ezek. 18:4: "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die." Can breathe die? Obviously this means something than just air in the lungs.
1 Sam 30:6 "because the soul of all the people was grieved." Num. 21:4 "and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way." Prov. 21:10 "The soul of the wicked desires evil" Can breath do any of these things, or does it communicate emotion, intelligence and personality? Gen. 34:8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, "The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife." Is Shechem's breath desiring a wife?
Pnuema means wind in Greek it also means breath and spirit. Ruach in Hebrew means wind, it too also can mean breath and spirit. Since Hebrew and Greek have only one word for wind breath and spirit one needs to discern what is meant by certain passages, the context defines the meaning. Jesus breathed on his disciples in John 20 saying receive the Spirit, the rushing wind in Acts is certainly to be interpreted as the Spirit. When Jesus breathed on the apostles the Holy Spirit in Jn.20:22 he wasn't giving them Breath for life but the Holy Spirit in some capacity.
If Spirit is breath and God is Spirit is He breath to? We can see how ludicrous this position of interpretation is. Certainly when Jesus spoke to the Father into your hands I commend my Spirit he was not speaking of his breath.
I think the point is clear, Spirit does not mean breath although at times it is used metaphorically.
There is a difference between man's breath and spirit
Isaiah 42:5: "Thus says the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it." Two things are given the breath and the spirit if they were one thing it would not be written like this.
1 Cor. 2:11-12: "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? " Could we ever substitute breath for Spirit? Mans center of knowledge is not in their physical human nature, neither in the brain which is just a vehicle. It is our spirit that has a will and recalls. When one dies it is because the spirit leaves this is why one cannot hear nor see our spiritual nature has left." Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God." Could we substitute breath and have the scripture read "No one knows the things of God but the breath of God?" "Now we have received, not the breath of the world, but the breath who is from God! Does God need breath to live? The Bible tells us God is Spirit (breath?) and that he has all knowledge, perfect knowledge of the past present and future.
James. 2:26: "the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Meaning only the body dies, as James uses the example that faith animates our works so the Spirit animates the body. The relationship between the material and immaterial when broken means we die physically. Our spirit is not dead like the body. The Spirit is just as alive outside the body as it is inside the body. The resurrection only applies to the body. When our spirit returns, our bodies come alive again. The correlation made is that real faith (which is invisible) is displayed to others by having works to show it is alive.
Abraham died and was gathered to his people. Gen.25:8 Jacob said the same thing Gen.49:29 Rachel dying said her soul was departing and she died in Gen.35:18.
The description of what occurs at death is described in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as giving up the ghost, Abraham Gen.25:8. Isaac gave up the ghost Gen.35:29.
Jacob breathed his last Gen.49:33. Even Jesus Lk.23:46, and Sapphira in Acts 5:10. This is a common phrase to signify one is dying not that their soul goes to sleep.
In I Kings 17:20-22: "When the widows son died Elijah cried out three times to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him." Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. Notice that it came in him. This is not just breath as one can make air go back into someone who just died and they would not revive, this says the soul of the child, it is something he possessed that had left him.
Luke 8:54-55: "he, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, 'Child arise!' And her spirit returned , and she rose immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat." This shows without the spirit to animate the body we are dead. This does not mean the spirit is dead or sleeping. In all these instances we find the spirit entering the body again but never reviving or resurrecting because it already is alive. It is the body that is asleep and needs animation.
The Bible speaks of two different kinds of death...
1 Tim 5:6: "But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives." This does not mean one is a walking corpse in the physical body but they are dead in their spirit from sin and trespasses. This is remedied by a new birth, Jn.3 being born again by the Spirit.
The term "death" which is "thanatas" in Greek, does not mean to be non-existence or unconscious, it rather means to be separated. Some examples:
Colossians 2:13: "And when you were dead (separated form God--NOT "unconscious") in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh..."
Ephesians 2:1: "And he made you alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." this is addressing the spiritual state of someone who was in sin and then made alive spiritually in Christ. (also Revelation 3:1)The unregenerate are dead but they are not unconscious or non existent.
The prodigal son in Lk.15:24 is said by the Father "This my son was dead and is alive again." Jesus was not talking about a bodily or soul resurrection but of one who left fellowship with the father.
Jesus in Matt. 26:38 Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. He was not saying his soul was going to die and go to sleep.
What of Jesus in Lk.23:46 said to the Father into your hands "I commit my spirit," isn't this clear he is having his spirit received into the Fathers hands while his body is to be laid in the tomb. This is the very same thing Stephen states in Acts 7:59 Stephen cried unto the Lord saying "receive my spirit."
Revelation 6:9-11: "And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also." Notice the timing is at the fifth seal, God gave them white robes and they are told to wait for their brethren who will be killed. This consummates in Rev.7:9-15 where they are gathered before the throne of God serving him day and night in his temple (v.15). This would be hard to do if one is asleep or out of existence.
The Bible teaches death is not a cessation of existence, but a separation of existence. The soul is our intellect, our personality, our identity. The real person will live on.
All the Old Testament passages need to be interpreted through the New Testament revelation. Without the New Testament teaching what was unrevealed in the Old Testament would stay a mystery as Paul states in 1 Cor.15:51: "behold I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Speaking of the resurrection of the body. Matthew 13:11, 35; Rom.16:25; I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:4-5 and 3:9 – these Scriptures give us a definition of a mystery as something that was unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed for the first time in the New Testament. Heaven was not explained in the Old Testament , the immortality of man, the resurrection to eternal life, the forgiveness of sins as permanent. There is the New Testament mystery of the revelation of God in Christ, 1 Tim. 3:16 "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh," None of these were explained until we had New Testament revelation. Likewise so is the revealing of what actually transpires after death through the teaching of Christ and the apostles.
PROBLEMATIC OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES
Ps.6:5: "In death there is no remembrance of you." Ps.146 :4: "the thoughts perish at death, the preceding words put this in context. "His spirit departs he returns to earth in that day his thoughts (plans) perish at death." Eccl.8:8 "there is no man that has power over the Spirit to retain the spirit; in the day of death." This describes the spirit departing from the body, that no one can hold it back not man nor the ground.
Ps.115:17: "The dead praise not the Lord neither any that go down into silence." But it then says "But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and FOR EVERMORE." Wouldn't this by necessity mean to be alive and conscious.
Eccl.3:19: "For what happens to the sons of men also happen to the animals, one thing befalls them, as one dies so dies the other, surely they all have one breath, man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity." Solomon is not describing the afterlife but that we all die, man is not eternal in the body. When we stop breathing we die like any other creature.
Eccl.9:5,10: "in Sheol there is no work or device or wisdom." These passages that seem to imply a dead soul are really describing the normal functions of the body while one lived on earth are not the same afterwards. When one dies these are no longer possible, it ceases. Memory of them is forgotten" is not referring to those who die but those still living will no longer think of them. Ecclesiastes should be kept in its context. Solomon was engulfed in human philosophy and he was backslidden, although there are times rays of truth break through. It was written from a human perspective and the theme of the book is said over and over when a person dies he has no more portion under the sun as in vs. 10 of Eccl.9 (used 29 times). This is an idiom of in this world, where ones functions on earth are no longer possible. These were put in the Bible for an example of how far one can go away from the truth they once knew so well. Just as Satan's lie was recorded to Eve in saying "you will not surely die" so are the words of Solomon in his backslidden state that are not a revelation concerning truth.
Gen.3:19 gives us the report of mans design. "Dust thou art and unto the dust shalt thou return." It was mans physical nature that was made from the dust not his spiritual nature. God breathed into man the spirit, the spirit was not taken from the ground. It came from God.
Likewise Solomon writes a similar narration. Eccl.12: 6-7 describes in poetry the shattering of life, that the dust returns to earth, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Yet, earlier, in verse 5, he writes a man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. So Solomon is speaking about those who turn to God as he started off this chapter, stating remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before difficult days come. And then he speaks about our eternal home. If it is sleep in the grave, as people are claiming, then that means we are going to stay in the grave, the ground, forever, if our soul actually sleeps.
One will never read of a soul being resurrected from a physical death. Rather, bodies are resurrected from physical death (Matthew 27:52).Why? Because a soul does not literally die.
Many of these are languages of appearances related to the body only. (usually from mans view point. Showing the inability to function as we once did with the body.
Soul-sleep' which pertains to the deceased, is defined as silence, inactivity and an entire unconsciousness. That once death occurs it affects the spirit of man just as it does the body. This would mean the spirit is only alive when it has a body. We know this is not true and is contrary to the Bible. In Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus he was was not giving disinformation or representing them falsely. The rich man was very much aware of his misfortune as he suffered in Hades he had his thoughts (that temporary abode of the departed spirits of the wicked). While Lazarus enjoyed the blessedness of Paradise (Luke 16:19-31) It is obvious that the rich man is conscious, as Lazarus is conscious, and Abraham is conscious, though they are all dead. All the stories Jesus told always illustrated truth not something false. These two have recently died and one has been long dead. Indeed, their physical bodies are asleep but not their souls. Obviously, the Hadean realm, where all departed spirits remain until the final judgment, is experienced by those dwelling there. (Now excluding Abraham's bosom: Paradise).
In Jn.11:11-14 Jesus says of Lazarus that he sleeps referring to his body. Jesus then says "I will wake him out of his sleep." He then raised his body from the dead.
In Mt.27:52 the Scripture tells us that at the time of of the resurrection "many bodies of the saints which slept arose." The specific mention of bodies makes the meaning clear of what actually slept. It was not the saints themselves that slept but their bodies.
The term "sleep" when it is used of death is in reference to the body. Whenever the Bible speaks of death in the sense of sleep it is always used of the physical body and not the soul, because the appearance of a sleeping body and a dead body look very much the same. The term "sleep" is never applied to the soul or the spirit , but only the body. The soul and the spirit continue to exist after death. whenever the Bible uses the term "sleep" in reference to death of the body. It is never used of the unbelievers in the New Testament. It is a term used only of believers which shows God's viewpoint of the death of a believer. From God's perspective the death of a believer is a temporary suspension of physical activity. For example, in physical sleep there is a temporary suspension of physical activity until one wakes up, but there is no suspension of the activity of the mind, the soul or spirit, and the sub-consciousness keeps operating (as in Lk.16:19-36 death is not a cessation of existence for either the rich man or Lazarus.)
Jesus' own word's teach that there is an existence of rest and reward for the faithful and certain types of punishment and torment for those who are evil. In Lk.16 the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which is not a parable. The Lord would begin by saying he spoke to them in a parable, he did not use proper names as he did in this story (There was a certain man named Lazarus). However even if we were to grant this to be a parable, do we find any parable that did not tell the truth about the subject matter using illustrations for a real event? When the rich man died and was buried he spoke of being tormented in flame. It describes some type of heat that did not destroy him but made it extremely uncomfortable as he is existing in some type of form. He had his intelligence emotions and he could see, hear and speak as he asked for his family to be warned. He was still alive as he spoke, thirsted and remembered his family asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them so they would not end up in this PLACE of torment. (This word torment is used 5 times in the thirteen versus certainly making the point of how real it is).
So how can a spirit be able to do the same things he does in the body? Angels (both good and bad) are spirits and they certainly can see, hear, speak. The Bible does not give us much information about man after he dies. What we do know is that communication even among those in heaven requires much like we have here on earth, so any argument refusing this capability is going against what Christ said as a reality.
Mt. 10:28: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Also Lk.12:4-5) After he has killed the body but not the soul? How is this possible if they are the same? If the soul and the body refer to the same thing then wouldn't the soul die when the body does? God distinguishes the dual natures in man. Man's body is clearly not the same as his soul. Jesus himself taught in Mt. 10:28 there is a difference between the body of man and his soul by using the word both. When a person dies physically his soul lives. Jesus is distinguishing the material and non material and says although the body can be killed the soul cannot. "But are NOT ABLE to kill the soul." Neither is the soul the body or the body the soul, they are different components of the same person. So if the body is killed the soul is not dead, it continues in its life. So then what does he mean by "fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body." The Greek word here is Apollumi it does not mean to bring to utter destruction or ceasing to exist. This same Greek word is used of those living in Mt.10:6 (lost), Mt.15:24 the lost); Lk.19:10 (that which is lost). So this means to be in a lost condition, in context those in Hell that are in a eternally lost state, separated from God for all eternity. This also refutes any teaching of annihilationism, that we don't exist after we die. Jesus says we do.
Moses' appearance at the Mount of transfiguration proved one exists after they die. Mt. 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36 are just a few of the passages on the transfiguration where we find Moses and Elijah appearing on the Mount with Jesus. Moses who died and was buried has his spirit speaking to Christ along with Elijah who never died. Elijah was taken to heaven alive while Moses died a physical death, yet, Moses is consciously alive just like Elijah. Moses couldn't have been resurrected, because Christ is to be the firstfruits of the resurrection and he had not risen yet. He had to die first. So this proves that Moses' spirit continued to exist after he died.
In response to those that teach the soul sleeping doctrine, the existence of angels shows that spirits can and do live and function apart from bodies. One of the reasons that people come to the conclusion that soul sleep is true is because they believe that disembodied spirits cannot function without a body. The existence of angels shows that spirit beings can and do live and exist apart from physical bodies (Hebrews 1:14). Man is both Body and Spirit.
God is Spirit we are told man was created in his image and likeness. Jesus said we would worship the Father in Spirit and truth. We need a spiritual nature to do this, only man was created like this and has this ability. When Adam was warned of the day he ate of the tree he certainly would die. He didn't die physically but spiritually. He still existed but it meant a break, a separation in his relationship. If we read such passages as the Ezek. 18:4: "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die (which is to sleep according to those who hold to the soul sleep doctrine). This means that it is spiritual death a separation- not non existence, otherwise they would cease to exist as soon as they sin. There are many scriptures that say the soul is dead even when someone is alive." Rom. 8:10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." Are we really dragging a dead body around? Can we actually believe that if someone sinned their soul went to sleep or out of existence when they were alive? Were they walking around with a dead soul and an alive body. How did the soul revive?
The body "sleeps" and goes back to dust. The following verses refer to the state of the body in death as sleep: Matthew 9:24: "He began to say, "Depart; for the girl has not died, but is asleep." And they were laughing at Him."
The term sleeping is used only of believers showing a rest, a temporary cessation of physical activity. Rom. 8:23 It is the body we wait to be resurrected not our spirit or soul. Just as in 1 Cor.15 :3 15-20 speaks of Christ as the first fruits that slept, Referring to his body vs.35-38 speaks of how the dead are raised up. What you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain...but God gives it a body as he pleases and to each seed its own body. Paul goes on to explain in vs.42-54 that the natural will be transformed to a spiritual type of body (for more on this > flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven)
A promised was made to the converted dying thief by Jesus when he was on the cross (Lk. 23:42). "Verily I say unto you, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Some claim this is not correct in its punctuation and the comma should be before the today as if Jesus is meant "today I'm saying this to you." But there are no commas found in the Greek writing to give weight to this. Besides Jesus is answering the thief who was asking to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. This would mean Jesus went into soul sleep as well. Did Jesus lie when he said to the thief today you will be WITH ME in paradise? For if either Jesus or the thief went out of existence then his statement was not true. Then the question is who was resurrected?
Then those who hold to the deity of Christ and soul sleep at the same time have to really stretch the Scriptures. For it was Jesus who said in Jn.2:19 He would raise up his own body, an impossible task to do if you no longer existing after death. For the Scripture states after he died he went and proclaimed his victory to the spirits in prison who were there since the time of the flood (1Pt.3:19-20).
Jesus meant that very day he and the thief would be united together in paradise otherwise there is no significance to the statement if it is left to some unknown future time.
Abraham's bosom (Paradise) is no longer located in the earth as it was in the Old Testament prior to Christs ascension. We find Paul was caught up to paradise (2 Cor.12:4) the third heaven. In Scripture there are three heavens described, as in Gen.1:1 God made the heavens and the Earth. God is called the possessor of the heavens (plural) and the earth. 1) Acts 14:17 "God gave you rain from heaven." This is our immediate atmosphere surrounding earth (Gen.1:20; Mt.5:20). 2) There is the celestial heaven, the place of the sun the moon and stars (Gen.1:14) and the place where principalities and powers are (Eph.6:12, Eph.2:2 possibly some overlapping in this with the first heaven.) 3) is called the heaven of heavens where Gods throne is and where He dwells (Heb.8:1). Jesus prayed to the Father in heaven (Mt.6:9). This is the place Paul called Paradise and where John was taken to (Rev.4:1). Lk.24:51; Acts 1:9-11, Heb.7:55-60 show us Christ is in heaven, Paradise and the righteous dead are all associated with this place as well. It is the current place where believers go directly into his presence at death (Eph. 4:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:8).
We find in Eph.4 Jesus descended first into "the lower parts of the earth he then ascended on high" bringing a multitude with him (upward to be with him). So since Christ ascended all go upward to be with HIM.
This is the Scripture that is consistently neglected by those who promote soul-sleep. As in Phil.1:23 Paul states to be with Christ is far better and to die is gain. But I live in the flesh... For I am hard pressed between the two having a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better nevertheless, to be in the flesh is more needful for you." What does Paul mean by I live in the flesh if he is not referring to the body... To die is gain. This would hardly be so, it would be a loss if one ceases to be alive. How could this be far better, is non existence better than existence? How could this be better if one does not continue to live after. And notice he says he departs to be with Christ. This would be impossible if we go to sleep in the ground with the body, unless Jesus is in the ground too. When a believer dies their spirit goes to be with the Lord in heaven." In Phil. 1:23-24, Paul states that he desired to depart to be with Christ, which is far better. Christ is in heaven, He's not in the ground, so if this was soul-sleep, he being with Christ, Christ would have to be in the ground.
2 Cor. 5:1-8 V.5 Paul writes when our earthly house is destroyed (our body) we have another building that is eternal in heaven built of God.V.4 while we are in this tent we groan looking to be further clothed. Examining this carefully we find Paul believed our Spirit /soul existed without the body. The very point he makes about we are in this tent, we groan to be clothed which is in heaven. There is an intermediate state before we have the resurrection where we are united with our former body that is transformed to house us permanently.
He sums it all up in verse 8 saying, "we are always confident knowing that while we are home in the body we are absent from the Lord. and he goes on to say to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Obviously something survives that has life after the body dies. What is absent when one dies? The soul. It becomes separated. Where is the Lord? In heaven. And that is exactly where Paul said all who die in Christ are headed. When all our earthly tent is dissolved, we can be assured that we will be in the presence of the One we serve and we love here on earth. We will be further clothed. We are immediately ushered into our new home like moving from one city to the next. in 2 Peter 1:13, Peter talks about putting off his tabernacle, or tent, calling it a temporary dwelling place. The person who is the spirit (soul -personality) leaves the body. The very meaning of death means that the believer enters immediately into the God's presence. That is the clear teaching of Scripture, that upon death, the believer enters where Christ is. So to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, death to the righteous means to be WITH Christ. Unfortunately there are some who are not confident. Christ is in heaven and so all believers go by his grace to be where he is.
Stephen in Acts 7 when he was stoned states he fell asleep. Does this mean his soul became unconscious? The term sleep is used only of believers not unbelievers. As death is a temporary suspending of our physical activity on earth but not of our Spirit. V.59 Stephen looked upward and cried out Lord receive my spirit. How can he receive it if its going to sleep in the ground? The Bible says this he said truthfully, being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Greek is explicit in that there is an urgency as in, receive it right now. There was no temporary stop over for Stephen. Just as Jesus committed his Spirit to the Father, Stephen committed his Spirit to the Son.
Heb.11 has the hall of the faithful who died Heb 12:1 tells us we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses. What kind of witnesses are these? Living ones who went before us. V.23 "to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect." (the word for witnesses means those who are able to testify which certainly mean living ones).
Jesus taught that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living, not of the dead, referring to Moses at the burning bush. The purpose was to prove life exists beyond death, that God is still (not was) the God of the living. That the Saints of old were still alive "for all live unto Him." This silenced the Sadducee's who challenged Him on this matter because they did not believe in an afterlife and it should do the same for those Sadducees today who say that a soul cannot live after the body dies.
Acts 23:8: "For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, no angels or spirit." In other words not in body or spirit. Jesus refuted their teachings saying he was the God of the living not the dead. Josephus wrote in antiquities b.28:4 "The doctrine held by the Sadducees is this, that the souls die with the bodies." Exactly what 7th day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses believe. Jesus refuted them by saying, God is the God of the living not the dead. As Josephus wrote "They take away the belief of the immortal existence of the soul and the punishment and rewards of Hades. (War b. 8:14)
In Jn.11:25-26 Jesus said "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever liveth and Believeth in me shall NEVER die. Here is the blessed assurance that one will live forever, that one possesses a present life that will continue forever, never die.
The early Church upheld the teaching of scripture many of those who were the apologists spoke out on this issue as they did on others.
Justin Martyr 150 AD "We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire" (First Apology, 21).
Second Clement 150 AD "If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment" (Second Clement 5:5).
Athenagoras 177 AD "[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one ... Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul ... or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated" (Plea for the Christians 31).
Hippolytus 212 AD "Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: 'Just if your judgment!' And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them" (Against the Greeks 3).
To the martyr's that died they had immediate glory in God's presence in heaven. To teach otherwise is to go against the whole body of scripture and almost 1500 years of the Church (until of course the reformation where purgatory was ratified). Did they all die with a false teaching of being in heaven?
In the catacombs of Rome are found inscriptions on tombs such as "In Christ, Alexander is not dead, but lives-his body rests in the tomb." "Gone to dwell with Christ." "One who is lives with God." I cannot find any instance of soul sleep among the writers (both good or bad) in the first three centuries of the Church.)
In agreement Heb. 9:27 states after death, the judgment. In other words the judgment is that one goes either to heaven or to hell, and it is determined at death, not afterwards in a resurrection. So we go to rest and fellowship with the Lord, eventually to receive our rewards or to punishment and eternal separation, not to sleep.
In Mt.27:52 The scripture writes that at the time of the resurrection of Jesus many Bodies of the saints which slept arose. Notice what slept, the bodies. And the bodies arose, not their souls. The spirit that continues to exists is put back in the body animating it to life. As Paul states in his teaching on the resurrection of the body (1 Cor.15:15-20) Christ is the firstfruits of those that slept.
1 Thess. 4:14-18 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. Whether one believes this is the 2nd coming or the rapture, the point is made that there are those who come with Jesus to be united with their bodies. Since the dead rise first and those who are alive don't receive a resurrection but a transformation. Vs.15 "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." Where is Jesus coming from? Heaven. If Jesus is bringing some people with him and they don't have resurrected bodies yet, doesn't this mean they are immaterial spirits. What dead are rising? Certainly this are not those who are alive and remain. The dead are those who bodies are put to sleep. This is exactly what Paul explains in 1 Cor.15:52-54 "the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed (those who are still alive) previously Paul explains the body in vs.35-49 vs.42 so is the resurrection of the dead. The BODY is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption." So resurrection refers to the human body not the soul or spirit, it is the body that sleeps and will be resurrected. As we have seen our hope is to be immediately with the Lord, not wait for some undetermined future time.
In conclusion it is the doctrine of soul sleep that needs to be put to death and out of existence.