Death: Is “soul sleep” Biblical?
What happens to a person when they die? What a variety of opinions there are about this! One of the beliefs that seems to have always created a lot of debate has been the idea that when the body dies the soul simply goes into a form of sleep to be awakened at some future time. But what does the Bible tell us about this?
The first thing we need to consider is the definition of this which is called soul sleep. It is the belief that when someone dies their soul goes into sort of a suspended animation. This means the person has no awareness or consciousness of any activity, but they are still alive. It is as though they are asleep, waiting for a time when they will wake up. Some people, instead of calling this soul sleep, they speak of it as “a state of the dead.” The history of this belief is long and somewhat uncertain, but it is something still believed by some people today. But, again, what does the Bible tell us about all this? It is always what those 66 books of the Bible say that is most important of all because it is the only completely reliable source we have for questions like this.
The first thing we need to realize is that the soul and the spirit can be separated from the body.
12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. [Emphasis added]
This verse tells us the Word of God, like a cutting sword, can separate the soul and spirit from the joints and marrow, the human body. We also have some verses of Scripture that speak of this.
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? [Emphasis added]
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. [Emphasis added]
Some would argue that this is to do with things after the resurrection, so they did have bodies. However, this does not account for the time when these souls were brought with Jesus from heaven to be reunited with their resurrected bodies. This separation of these believers from their body is clear from the teachings of Scripture.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [believers who have died as members of the Body of Christ], that ye sorrow not, even as others [unbelievers] which have no hope.
They are spoken of as “asleep” because that’s how the body looks when the person dies. They look as though they are only sleeping.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [having believed our gospel for salvation], even so them also which sleep in Jesus [believers of our time who have died] will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord [meaning Paul had been given special revelation about this], that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep [a reference to other believers of this same period of grace].
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout [a reference, not to His Second Coming, but to the Rapture], with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
This is when their soul and spirit will be reunited with the new resurrection body all believers have been promised [Philippians 3:21]. Those “asleep” are those who had died physically as believers and were then in soul and spirit put in the presence of Christ in Heaven. When our resurrection occurs, we as His people will come with Him from Heaven to be reunited with our new celestial bodies. Again, this is typically referred to as the Rapture.
17 Then we which are alive and remain [believers still living on Earth at the time of the Rapture] 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.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. [Emphasis added]
This next passage is also about these same people, the Body of Christ believers, and this same occasion known as the Rapture.
1 Corinthians 15:39-57
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
These are all pleasing to the eye and have a basis for praise.
41 There is one glory [a basis for praise] of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.
48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood [the natural human body] cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
All these next verses continue with more information about the occasion of the Rapture, our resurrection as members of the Body of Christ.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery [MUSTERION = a secret (something not known to the Old Testament prophets)]; We shall not all sleep [a reference to physical death], but we shall all be changed [at the time of what is called the Rapture we obtain our resurrection body],
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [Emphasis added]
Paul continued with more on this in his second epistle to the Corinthians, explaining again that we have earthly bodies. They are spoken of as tabernacles or tents because they are temporary “homes” for our soul and spirit. It is in our earthly bodies that we await being placed in our heavenly bodies. He speaks of our anticipation with confidence that while we are at home in our earthly body, we are absent from the Lord, but we would rather be absent from our earthly body and present with the Lord. The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit we have now is like a down payment He’s given us on all that is awaiting us in Heaven when we gain our new body.
2 Corinthians 5:5-8
5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest [ARRABON = earnest, pledge, or down payment] of the Spirit.
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing [EUDOKEO = to prefer, thinking of it as best] rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Question: How confident are you about all this? Do you prefer to be absent from the body and present with the Lord? Like the apostle Paul, you will think that way as a mature believer. He had that kind of confidence about his future in Heaven with Christ and what it was going to be like. Therefore, he preferred to step on into eternity and to Heaven, rather than remain here on Earth.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two [I am torn between the two], having a desire to depart [go on to Heaven], and to be with Christ; which is far better: [Emphasis added]
Questions: Did believers you have known who were faced with death believe they’d be far better off going on to Heaven, rather than remaining here? How do you feel about this right now?
As believers, whether we are in our earthly bodies on earth or in our heavenly bodies in Heaven, we are part of God’s family and have wonderful things to look forward to enjoying forever. Therefore, we have the best of all reasons to walk through life with complete confidence about our future.
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
As members of His family, we know He’s going to take perfect care of us.
14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, [Emphasis added]
Certainly, an important passage about the theory of soul sleep is the story Jesus gave about a rich man and a man named Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31]. That story is not at all spoken of as a parable, as some claim, but as historical reality. Neither of these men are said to have spent any time in a soul sleep or in even such a place as purgatory. For more details I refer you to my article about it—at https://4us2usministries.com/questions-answered/purgatory-does-it-exist/. Hell and Heaven are spoken of as one’s immediate and permanent new place of residence after one dies.
As we’ve seen, soul sleep is the concept that when someone dies, their soul goes to sleep. It is based on a doctrine that teaches that the soul does not exist apart from the body and is annihilated with the destruction of the body. There’s not one word anywhere in the 66 books of the Bible that teaches this. Whether in Heaven or hell, there will be full and complete consciousness forever. We will forever enjoy the wonders of Heaven or the ongoing suffering of Hell and the Lake of Fire. Where had you rather be? It seems the choice would be a simple one. Do you wish to be very much alive in a place of only misery and torment or a place of perfect happiness? The choice is now yours in this life. What will it be? You can settle the matter once and for all by putting your faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to be “saved” from hell and the lake of fire. God did what He did through Jesus Christ to provide such an opportunity for you now. By putting your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you’ll be choosing eternal blessing over eternal cursing. And please realize that until you accept this provision God has made for your salvation, you are bound for eternal torment. But this can be changed for you immediately by accepting the salvation He offers you through faith in Jesus Christ. I hope you will accept that offer right now as you’re reading this. You certainly have much to possibly lose by delaying the decision because the time of one’s death is never known until it happens.