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?
A: The term many use for this is “soul sleep” (called “psychopannychia” by Calvin), and it is a misunderstanding of what the word “sleep” means in some places in the Bible. In a number of places, “sleep” means “died” or “dead.” The Greek word used for “sleep,” when it is used in place of “died/dead” is “koimao.” While it is indeed used for literal sleep sometimes, it is also used for “died/dead.” Some examples of this are found in the following verses:
The best is found in (Jn 11:11-14): “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth (koimao); but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. (12) Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep (koimao), he shall do well. (13) Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep (Gr: hupnos, actual sleep). (14) Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” (Note: Jesus used koimao to speak of death. The disciples thought he used koimao to mean he was actually asleep. Then Jesus plainly says, (No, I mean) “Lazarus is dead” (not asleep).
(Acts 7:60) And he (Stephen) kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (koimao). (Obviously, Stephen didn’t just “fall asleep.”)
(1 Cor 11:30) talks about people who have died for taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (koimao).”
For a few others, see: (Acts 13:36)(2 Pet 3:4)
In addition, what is “sleeping” when we die is 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 that 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.
***Note: Remember that both Elijah (2 Kin 2:11) and Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) did not die, but were taken from Earth by God while they were alive. Since they were taken alive, they didn’t go to sleep. Therefore, the question must be asked: Where did they go?”
(1 Pet 3:18-20) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison (during the time between His death on the cross and resurrection). The people He preached to 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.”
(Eph 3:14-15) Paul says, “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.” In these verses, Paul speaks about fellow believers (family) in Christ who are alive in Heaven, as well as those still on Earth. (Also see: Eph 1:10)
(Rev 6:9-10) “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?”
These people who are with the Lord are obviously not asleep.
Also, keep in mind what Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, TODAY shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). (Caps emphasis mine) The thief was not going to sleep.
***Note: Regarding (Lk 23:43), some who defend “soul sleep” will say that in the original Greek, no commas were used. Therefore, they believe it should be translated differently. If a comma is to be used, it should be shifted to after “today.” It should read, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Put another way, they believe Jesus is saying, “I am telling you today, (in the future) you will be with me in paradise.”
In response to this, I decided to look up every instance where Jesus used the phrase, “Verily I say unto thee.” This phrase is used 70 times in the Gospels (some are repeats of a previous Gospel). In looking at these, there is NO other time in the other 69 uses when Jesus uses the phrase, “Verily I say unto thee TODAY,” and then goes on to make His point. The question must be asked, “Why would Jesus say ‘I am telling you today’ ONLY in that one verse, and nowhere else?” It is disingenuous to translate it this way. As I went through the various uses of this phrase, in each instance where Bible translators use a comma after “Verily I say unto thee,” it is proper to use it. If a comma was to be placed after a word which “follows” that phrase, instead of after that phrase, it doesn’t work.
P.S. For those who use (1 Th 4:13-18) as proof for “soul sleep,” please look at verse 14 which says that “God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Then, ask yourself this two-part question: “From where is God “bringing them with Him,” and wouldn’t they have to be with Him previously (in Heaven) in order for Him to ‘bring’ (or return with) them?” In other words, how could God bring them with Him if they are sleeping? (Again, the word “sleep” in verse 14 is the Greek word koimao, which can also mean “died/dead.”)