Q: #2. I hear some people teaching that when we die, our soul goes to sleep until Jesus returns and we are resurrected, does the Bible say this?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The term many use for this is "soul sleep" and it is a misunderstanding of what the word "sleep" means in reference to death in the Bible. The verses that say we "sleep" (i.e. 1 Th 4:14, 1 Cor 11:30, 15:20,51) are referring to our BODIES and not our soul or spirit. The moment a believer dies, his soul (Gen 35:18)(Rev 20:4) and spirit (Eccl 12:7)(Eccl 3:20-21) leave his body and go to be with the Lord. Our soul will remain with the Lord in a "disembodied" (for lack of a better term) state until Jesus returns, at which time body and soul will be reunited.
Paul clearly expected to be with the Lord the MOMENT he died, saying in (2 Cor 5:8) "to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord," and in (Phil 1:23) "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ." Actually, in (Phil 1:21-24) Paul is trying to decide if it is better for him to die and be with Christ, or stay on Earth and help others to grow in Christ. Paul says he desires to depart, but is convinced he should stay and teach others. A question to consider is, would Paul think it was better to die rather than stay and teach others if he thought he was just going to sleep? What would be the "gain" of dying rather than teaching?
We also have a number of examples showing people have consciousness after death and are clearly not "sleeping."
(Lk 16:19-31) The rich man and Lazarus were not sleeping.
(Mt 17:1,3-4) Moses and Elijah appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus. (Remember that both Elijah (2 Kin 2:11) and Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) were taken directly to Heaven without dying.)
(1 Pet 3:18-20) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison. They were obviously awake to hear that.
(Jude 1:7) Says the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are "suffering (present tense) the vengeance of eternal fire."
Also, keep in mind, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "TO DAY shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). (Caps emphasis mine)