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Sleep as a Euphemism for Death

Debunking 'soul sleep'

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Question #1:  Dear Bob, I have a couple of questions regarding one of your postings: "Aspects of the Resurrection II." Not necessarily about the Rapture itself, but as to some of the words used in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18. It keeps speaking of "those who are asleep...".

This disturbs me to a certain extent. A long while ago, I was invited me to a Jehovah's Witnesses meeting. I left with some literature and it also spoke of how we sleep when we die. I was disheartened, as I was under the impression I was to go straight to heaven to be with Jesus. Being with Him instantly after death, is what takes away my fears of death. This fact alone turned me away from that religion. But, now, having read this scripture, and now seeing it, makes me wonder what this "sleep" means. Who are they referring to? Who could still be sleeping, if when we die, we go to be with Jesus? In 1 Corinthians 15:50, it says, "we will not all sleep."

This is an answer which you gave to the second question, under the same heading and date, re: Matthew 27:53 re: Graves being open, etc.

"Jesus is the only One yet to be "resurrected" in the true and full sense of that word (i.e., possessing an eternal body which will never die et al.), with the next echelon of the resurrection to be the "rapture" of believers alive occurring at His Second Advent return at the end of the Tribulation (i.e., not before the Tribulation commences as is often wrongly assumed).

This answer sort of confirms what the literature spoke of. Is it true then, that we are asleep until the return of our Lord? That we don't go directly to Heaven? And then, all that were in Abraham's Bosom...are they asleep, really, or in Heaven?

Here are some scriptures which I also refer to about "sleep". 1 Corinthians 15:22, 15:51. Does 22 refer to those alive at the end? And could you explain 51 and 52?

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he "has put everything under his feet."[c] Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55"Where, O death, is your victory?

And what does 1st Thessalonians 4:13, "even as others who have no hope."? Does it refer to "others" who don't believe in Jesus and know they won't go to Heaven and do fear death?

My other question is about the Millennium. I am waiting patiently for your next series which will detail this time, but for now I wonder how will those who have died and have their new heavenly bodies, coexist with those who survived the Tribulation and still remain in their earthly bodies, while living on earth with Jesus? Will there not be some awkwardness between the two? And where will all the heavenly angels be at this time? Do they, too, come to live on the earth with us? Or do they remain in Heaven with the Father until the new Heavens and Earth are created?

What does it mean to "rule with Jesus" at the time of the Millennium? Who will rule? I just can't understand the whole hierarchy of this time period and how things will be. Because there will still be "sin-natured" people alive, I'm wondering if that sin-nature will be dead or still alive within them. If still alive, how will it be dealt with? And, since the Holy Trinity are three separate entities, will all three be with us then separately...The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, or all within the Lord, Jesus on the newly created Heaven and Earth? Although I understood your explanation of this topic, I would appreciate some clarification.

Yours in Christ,

Response #1:  You are entirely correct: when we die, we will be in the presence of Jesus Christ, and not asleep ("for me to die is Christ"; Phil.1:21; cf. 1Cor.5:1-3; Heb.12:22; Rev.6:9-11; 7:9-17). First off, I certainly did not mean to confirm what the JW literature said. Let me assure you that I do not believe in "soul-sleep" or any variation thereof. When we die, we are conscious from that point on forever (I don't find any indication in fact that we ever "sleep" again in any fashion). The disparity seems to lie as it usually does in the difference between the interim state we will enjoy prior to the resurrection and the resurrection proper. Even before His victory at the cross and the transfer of all believers from Paradise below the earth to the third heaven at Jesus' ascension, believers before the cross were conscious and enjoyed an interim body (Lk.16:19-31). It is true that we still have to wait for the resurrection to receive our final, eternal body, but as Paul assures us in 2nd Corinthians 5:3, even if we do die, we will never be without a body (i.e., we will have what I call an "interim" body which while lesser than the final one is infinitely greater than the present one; n.b., the translation below is from the original Greek text):

For we know that if our earthly tent-dwelling (i.e., our physical body) be struck, we have an abode [that comes] from God, a dwelling made without human agency, eternal in the heavens. For indeed we do groan in this one, desiring to put on our habitation which comes from heaven. And [even] if we do put off this present one, at any rate, we (i.e., our spirits) will not be found naked (i.e., "body-less"). 2nd Corinthians 5:1-3

For more on this particular subject only sketched broadly above, please see the following links:

Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State

The False Doctrine of "Soul Sleep"

Now, to address the specifics of your question, I believe that the major part of the issue (and indeed the essential grounds for the origin of it historically) is the use of the euphemism "sleep" for those who have died. A euphemism, of course, is a circumlocution or certain phraseology that is "more pleasant" or "less offensive" than giving something its most direct and abrupt name. This is why the veterinarian says, "I sorry to have to tell you that your cat 'has passed'", instead of saying "Your cat is dead". And if we feel compunctions about being direct in the case of the death of somebody's pet, how much more inappropriate would it be for us to say of someone's family member "He's dead." In fact, the use of euphemism is a Spirit-inspired device. Note for example the avoidance of direct terms for sexual and other biological functions in the Pentateuch. And in terms of death, our Lord's example will stand as one which cannot be denied. For He told the disciples, "Lazarus is sleeping", whereas He was being appropriately kind in using this standard biblical euphemism for death (Jn.11:11-15).

All this is a long way of saying that when people in the Bible say "he/she is asleep", they often mean "he/she is dead", without there being any conclusion to be drawn from the nature of the euphemism about the current state of the individual – and rightly too, since we cannot actually see the person in heaven (or torments as the case may be). The problem of course is that in English we do not use the same idiom. Our euphemisms for death are numerous, but it is not our practice to say that a person is "asleep". In our cultural view, that would seem cruel (rather than kind) because it would seem to imply that they could be "awakened" when in fact of course they can no longer be (viewing things from our secular and materialistic perspective, at any rate). However, here we do see the superiority of the biblical idiom, for Jesus does say He is going to "wake up" Lazarus – and so He does! That, of course, was a miracle that has rarely been reproduced in the history of the world. But it does show that behind the word "sleep" used in the biblical euphemism for death, there lies the possibility of awakening – not of this physical body in its present corrupt state (aside from uncommon miracles as in the case of Lazarus), but of the body transformed in resurrection at the return of Jesus Christ. We see the promise latent in the euphemism "sleep" in Martha's words to the Lord: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day", in response to Jesus' words "Your brother will rise again" (Jn.11:23-24). But please note that the word "rise", Greek anistemi, while it is the standard word for resurrection is also the standard word for getting up and waking up from sleep. So whether we are talking about genuine sleep, or miraculous resuscitation of the body as with Lazarus, or the actual resurrection and transformation of the body at our Lord's return, in all of these cases we have "sleep" followed by "rising". That is to say, unquestionably it is the body which sleeps and then rises. But when we die we are "out of [this] body and face to face with the Lord" (1Cor.5:6; cf. Phil.1:20-24). The euphemism of sleep is thus clearly and entirely directed to the body, not the spirit (the "soul", an unfortunate translation of the Hebrew nephesh and the Greek pscyhe is really where the two meet at present, "the heart"; see the link: "The dichotomy of man").

So when we view a dead person, it is clear in looking at their corpse that it is the body that "is asleep" or dead, not the "spirit" (or "soul") – of which of course we can have no indication apart from faith. Furthermore, a fatal problem for those who want to imagine a "soul sleep" is that once we see from scripture that sleep = death, then it has to be acknowledged that by "soul sleep" we would really mean "soul death", since the euphemism is not talking about actual sleep but is a circumlocution for death.

As to 1st Corinthians 15, this requires a somewhat longish answer since the text has been misunderstood so long by so many. I will say that you are correct indeed that verses 51-52 refer to the return of Christ and that Paul is saying here precisely what he says later in 1st Thessalonians chapter four. We will not all "sleep" merely means that we will not all die physically (same euphemism) because those still alive on earth at the Tribulation's end will be resurrected while still alive, that is, without their physical bodies ever experiencing physical death or "sleep" – once again, sleep refers to the death of the body (not the "soul" or spirit, and certainly not to any lack of consciousness in heaven as a result). Also, verse 22 is simply referring to the fact that all human beings will face physical death (cf. Heb.9:27) whereas those who are believers "in Christ" are alive in principle now, and will begin to experience the eternal life that is ours in Jesus to the full at the resurrection. However, that does not mean that we will not be conscious, blessedly happy and without pain in the interim period between death and resurrection (cf. Rev.6:9-11; 7:9-17). Please see the following link for the details (and do write me back if this link doesn't answer your specific questions): The Origin and the Danger of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture Theory.

As to 1st Thessalonians 4:13, you are correct here as well. As believers we have a confident expectation (i.e., biblical "hope") that we and our departed loved ones in Jesus will be with Him in His presence when we die, whereas those who die as unbelievers have nothing but eternal torment to anticipate, and certainly no hope of eternal life. But we know that Jesus has prepared a place for us.

Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. If there weren't, I would have told you. For I am going in order to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also. John 14:1-3

Note that these verses are not just talking about the resurrection since in that case there would be no need of "preparing a place" because at the resurrection we will reign with Christ here on earth. Also note our Lord's insistence throughout that we will always be with Him, not asleep somewhere, in the grave or anywhere else. We belong to Jesus, and when we die, to Jesus we shall go, and consciously so.

As to the Millennium et al. these are all very good questions, and it is certainly true that we would like to know more than the Bible tells us; however, as those who trust God, we have faith that we have all we need to know in the scriptures. And it is wonderful just how much there is to learn if a person is diligent in application as you are. Still, there will be many unknowns until the day we go to be with the Lord or He returns to us, whichever should come first. Either way, these are marvelous things to consider and anticipate, quite a contrast to the fear of death that dominates the unbelieving world. For it really is true that once we have died to this world fully and fully live for Jesus, we no longer have any reason to fear anything. Whatever happens, Jesus is with us, the Father has planned it, and the Spirit support us. So that even if it be God's will for us to suffer death in some terrible way as in martyrdom for example, if we but trust Him we know that this will only turn out for His glory and our eternal good. Naturally, this is the stuff of deep spiritual maturity, and all of us can always use more growth.

In regard to the specifics, part 6 of Coming Tribulation and part 2B of Basics which deal with these topics in detail are, regrettably, a long way off at present (but I keep plugging away at it). It would take many, many pages to write a comprehensive answer. What I will say is that the Millennium is a demonstration of a variety of biblical principles, one of which is that God always keeps His promises; another is that even in the most perfect environment possible there will continue to be those who choose against God, choose against Jesus Christ, even when He and His goodness are physically visible (cf. Rev.20:7-10)! There doesn't seem to be any scriptural indication that the role played by elect angels will be markedly different during the Millennium. On the one hand, the advent of the Father and the coming down to earth of the New Jerusalem will not take place until the end of history and the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev.21-22). Therefore we may expect the third heaven to be very much like it is at present during that time, with the notable absences of Christ and His Church who are now ruling on the earth. As to the precise manner of our rule, at that time in resurrection we shall be perfect just as our Lord is perfect, and we shall likewise evermore be incapable of doing anything wrong. Therefore whatever form sharing the rule of Christ may take (cf. (Dan.7:9; 7:22; 7:27; Matt.19:28-29; Lk.22:29-30; Rom.5:17; 1Cor.6:2-3; 2Tim.2:12; Rev.2:27-28; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4; 20:6; 22:5), we will do perfectly all that is required of us. It is certainly true that the Millennium will be "different" for many reasons, and this is surely one of them. There will indeed still be a sin nature in all un-resurrected people, and that will come to the fore when Satan is released at its end (Rev.20:7-10). But under Christ's perfect administration of the world there will be no corruption, no toleration of crime, and no physical want. In other words, the totality of millennial circumstances to include the best and most just law enforcement imaginable will serve to retard the effects of the sin nature – but it will still be there. All this won't be awkward for us – we will be perfect and incapable of frustration or any other negative experience. As to how those still in physical bodies but now believing in Jesus react to us, well, in every phase of human history we who follow Jesus have had our own crosses to bear. Perhaps this will be a test to some of them. But I suspect it will be a blessing to many. How it will all play out, we may have to wait to find out. Here are some things I have written about that wonderful time to come:

The Millennial Jerusalem

The Millennium

Millennial Longevity

Finally, as to our specific relationship to the Trinity, we have that now in principle. We are indeed "one" with Jesus and will be evermore. The full experience of that oneness is yet future, but it is still real right now nonetheless. Since Jesus is of one essence with the Father and the Spirit, so we too share in that oneness with them; we are on the point of being experientially "partakers of the divine nature" as Peter tells us (2Pet.1:4). Put another way, we are the Bride of Christ (please see the link: in CT 5, "The Resurrection of the Lamb's Bride"), even "His Body", so that the relationship we shall have with Him forevermore will exceed to an infinite degree the best, most blessed, and closest marriage relationship ever imagined. As always in such matters, we are left to ponder things whose scale and magnitude we can only dimly express, but on that blessed day of days, we shall know all of these things fully, even as God know us.

For at the present time our perception [of heavenly things] is like [viewing] a dim reflection in a mirror. But then [when we meet the Lord] we will see [Him] face to face. Now I have only partial knowledge, but then my knowledge [of Him] will be complete, just as He has always known me. 1st Corinthians 13:12

I hope you find these responses helpful. I am certainly willing to pursue any of them. Thank you for your trenchant questions! I appreciate your diligent search for the truth of Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Bob L.


Question #2: 

Hi, Brother Luginbill!

I have a question for you to consider. Here is the background: Our Protestant upbringing always taught that when we die, we go directly to either Heaven or Hell. In my studies as an adult, I had come to the conclusion that when we die, we sleep, knowing nothing, until the resurrection at Christ's return, or the judgment, depending on where we are destined. (I won't take the time to reference all the scripture, because I know you know them intimately.) Your studies have taught me about an "interim" body that awaits the resurrection of our old bodies (to be changed immediately into our glorious bodies for eternity). Now here is the question: Since martyred souls are depicted (in John's visions of the revelation of Christ) under the altar in Heaven, and the only other group of humans depicted in Heaven are on the sea of glass (still on earth), and because of the specific scripture in 1 Corinthians (15:22b-23, below) that, to me, specifically states we will sleep until the resurrection (we are not 'made alive' until He comes), could it be that only martyrs are given the "early" reward of getting to wait out their 'death' in an interim body in the Third Heaven?

"so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." 1 Corinthians 15:22b-23

Secondary questions and other thoughts: 1) I understand that martyrdom is the highest honor we can give our Lord, and certainly this brings with it the highest reward. Is there scripture that refers to martyrs being Christ's firstfruits (though He is the ultimate Firstfruits)? The punctuation in the verse above seems to say there are two "turns" that "will be made alive" - Christ, then those who belong to Him at His coming. If martyrs are considered as firstfruits (not taking a higher rank than Christ, of course), then the meaning of this verse is that there are three "turns" that "will be made alive" - Christ, His martyrs at the time of death, then those who belong to Him at His coming (but that's quite a leap without knowledge of the ancient languages - which is why I bring this to you). And, 2) I understand we will not be left naked, but if our souls are sleeping and unaware, are we actually naked? To me, "naked" speaks of being exposed and unprotected. If we are "on pause", so to speak, in death, is there even anything for our souls to be exposed to or protected from? Aren't our souls protected, in a way, by the temporary sleep of death? In short, how does one connect the two thoughts of waiting in Heaven but also "rising to meet the Lord in the air"? I do not believe any of these details are essential to salvation, but am very eager to hear your answer. Thanks for your time with this, and thank you for answering the call to be the scholar for the Lord that you are.

 

Response #2: 

Thank you for your e-mail, and for your enthusiasm for the Word and for this ministry. There is certainly quite a bit of controversy surrounding these issues, and your take on the situation fits within the strands of traditional protestant interpretation. In my understanding of things, the Lutherans believe in "soul sleep", whereas Calvin first cut his teeth in doctrinal terms refuting that idea. Apart from the fact that, technically speaking, the "soul" is not the immaterial part of man (that is the human spirit; the "soul" in strictly biblical usage is the interface of spirit and body a.k.a. "the heart" [see the link: The heart: interface between body and spirit ]), my reading of 2nd Corinthians 5:3 in the Greek makes it clear that we will never be "naked". Now my understanding of that term in that context (where the issue is the body as the home of the human spirit) is that "naked" would necessarily mean a spirit without a body. As human beings, we are designed to have both, something that makes us significantly different from the angels: "Touch Me and see [that it is I]; for a spirit (i.e., angel) does not have flesh and bones as you see [plainly] that I have." (Lk.24:39; see the link: Satan's Revolutionary Platform). We see, for example, that even in the pre-heaven paradise under the earth (a.k.a. "Abraham's Bosom") that believers and unbelievers alike are not without an interim body of sorts, nor are they asleep, but are very much awake (Lk.16:19-31).

On the issue of firstfruits, Christ is indeed the firstfruits of the resurrection: on the one hand, He is the first echelon and therefore called the firstfruits in 1Cor.15:23; on the other hand, the ritual of offering firstfruits under the Law is a symbol of Jesus' resurrection (see the link: "The Jewish Ceremonial Calendar"). So that title and that symbol are uniquely His. But as to the 144,000, it is true that most translations render Revelation 14:4 with the word "firstfruits", but that is not how I read the original text. The question is whether to read APARCHE (one word) or AP ARCHES (two words with the additional final sigma). The first reading would indeed mean "firstfruits"; the second would mean merely "first" (literally, "from the start" or "first off" as we say). The latter I regard as the correct reading, first because of the principle of lectio difficilior (i.e., the textual criticism canon that states that the more difficult reading is likely the one that got "homogenized" into something easier), and, secondly, as this is what both the best and oldest manuscript, Sinaiticus (3-4 cent.), and the best papyrus (P47 - Chester Beatty) read. In this case, we would have an adverbial prepositional phrase applying to the verbal idea of "purchased", hence my translation: "These are they who were purchased first from among men". This would thus be a reference to their martyrdom, not their resurrection. They are singled out in the symbolism of this part of Revelation precisely because they are the first wave of martyrs during the key event of the Great Tribulation's second half, in no small part responsible for the name "the Tribulation", namely, the Great Persecution (see the link in CT 4: "The Great Persecution"). The rest of the martyrs are depicted in Rev.15:2-3 "on the sea" since this is a vision which depicts the actual playing out of the Great Persecution on earth. But we do see these believers (in company with the 144,000 who are not distinguished from them) earlier in the book as these events are anticipated in Rev.6:9-11 and Rev.7:9-17. In neither of these cases do they give any indication of truly sleeping; indeed, they are vocal and active.

As to being "made alive" in Christ along with all the various other passages that speak of death and its euphemism "sleep", these are descriptions from the earthly perspective looking forward to the final end. Truly, we are dead even now, buried with Christ, and our true lives are hidden in Christ; and we will only fully experience our full eternal life in resurrection. This is why many scriptures describe death as sleep (i.e., we see the dead body and it resembles sleep; as Jesus said of the other Lazarus, that he was "sleeping"). Sleep is a euphemism for death, and from the earthly perspective looking forward to the eternal end the change will come only when the dead bodies rise from the grave. In the meantime, however, that we shall have a "place prepared" between our physical death and resurrection so that we shall never be naked (or ever again asleep), scripture does emphatically point out (n.b.: this translation is from the Greek text; the verse is mangled badly by most of the versions):

For we know that if our earthly tent-dwelling (i.e., our physical body) be struck, we have an abode [that comes] from God, a dwelling made without human agency, eternal in the heavens. For indeed we do groan in this one, desiring to put on our habitation which comes from heaven. And [even] if we do put off this present one, at any rate, we (i.e., our spirits) will not be found naked (i.e., "body-less"). 2nd Corinthians 5:1-3

For more on this subject please see the following links:

Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State

The False Doctrine of "Soul Sleep"

In CT 5, "The Resurrection of the Lamb's Bride"

The last link above on the resurrection is apropos of this discussion and will, I hope, prove helpful to you in this regard. I am certainly willing to pursue any of these issues further.

In Him who is resurrection and the life eternal, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

 

Question #3: 

Dear Dr. Bob,

I have a few questions: 1) I believe I read in one of your studies that God originally was here on earth and he will reestablish that home here on earth with the return of Jesus. If I am to understand this then how could it be that Satan and a third of the angels were thrown down to earth. Were they not already with the Lord? 2) If those who die in Christ go to be with the Lord in heaven, how can they 'rise and meet Him in the air' at His second coming if they are already with Him?


Response #3:
 

With respect to your first question, the ultimate "Eden" will be the New Jerusalem on earth (Rev.21-22) and will follow Christ's millennial Kingdom "when He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father" (1Cor.11:24; see the link: "The Seven Edens"). The passage which describes the "casting down to earth" of one third of the stars is Revelation 12:4, and that passage has Satan as the subject. As explained in Part 4 of Satan's Rebellion (under "Angelic Elders"), the casting down in Revelation 12:4 (cf. also Is.14; Ezek.28) happens at the Tribulation's mid-point (and has dual applicability to the Great Apostasy and to the angels who followed the devil). These are the only places where the devil is said to be "thrown out of heaven", and they both refer to that future event. For as we know from e.g. Job chapters 1-2, at present he enjoys a certain amount of access to the presence of God whence he accuses believers on a regular basis (cf. Rev.12:10). The original Eden (before that of Adam and Eve and described in Ezekiel 28) was on earth. Rather than destroying creation entirely after Satan's fall, God separated Himself, and is temporarily "tenting in heaven" (cf. Rev.13:6), but will return (the Advent of the Father) once Christ has put "all dominion under His feet" (cf. Rev.21:3). In Ezekiel 28:16 , as explained in Part 1 of the Satanic Rebellion series (see the link: "Satan's Fall", section III.3), the devil's expulsion is followed immediately by (in Ezek.28:18) his final extirpation in the lake of fire, so that what we have here is a summing up of the execution of all the judgments upon Satan which are still future. It is true also that Satan was not allowed to continue in that first Eden which predated the angelic fall, but then no one was. After an unknown interval, God rendered judgment upon the earth and heavens of that time, casting all into darkness, and we see that results of that on the other side of the "Genesis Gap" (Gen.1:2; see the link: SR2: "The Genesis Gap").

As to your second question, it is true that we will be with Him immediately after death, but on that glorious future day for an "instant" (1Cor.15:52), those who have departed to be with the Lord will "rise first": their spirits will be reunited/united with their transformed, resurrection bodies, and they will rise bodily from the earth from the place where their mortal shells were laid to rest. "Then we who remain" will be resurrected in our living bodies and also rise up "to meet the Lord in the air" (1Thes.4:17).

Hope this helps with your questions. Please do feel free to write me back if this didn't get to the heart of your concerns.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.


Question #4:
 

Dear Dr. Bob,

I guess I always thought that Isaiah 14:12 referred to Lucifer and his rebellion when he initially was trying to overthrow and be a God himself. Is this then not the case? Where in scripture does it tell about this since Lucifer had been the most high of angels, a cherub. Also in part 2 of my questions we, our souls, are never left naked, correct? So when we die and go to be with the Lord do we, in very simplistic terms, sort of put on some outer covering like a sweater, and then when Jesus returns and we are raised up to be with Him cast off this "sweater" and take on a glorious resurrected garment? If we also return to the spot of our original earthly shell, wouldn't that shell have returned to dust and perhaps not be there at all? Does this really make a difference? I have a friend who says that she believes in soul sleep. I have read your email response to someone asking that question and have also looked up other contrary views on it as well. My question then is what does Jesus mean when he says about Lazarus "he is not dead, but sleeping"? How is this explained if sleeping and dead mean one and the same? I hope I am not over stressing about these, but I always want to verify and affirm in scripture that I am believing the right things in the right way.


Response #4:

On point one, Isaiah 14:3-21 is described as "a taunt against the king of Babylon" (verse 3). This passage does indeed have a direct application to Satan and his fall. It also applies to the historic king of Babylon and to antichrist, the ultimate king of eschatological Babylon as well. Besides such multiple applicability (and it was very common for OT prophets to use the events of the Tribulation as a point of comparison for contemporary events: see the link: "The Day of the Lord Paradigm"), biblical prophecy also characteristically makes use of what is often called "prophetic foreshortening" (see the link for more info). What this means in a short version of the explanation is that looking forward far into the future prophecy very often will condense a series of events into one event, as when we see what looks like a wall of mountains in the distance, but from the side perspective we would realize that there a number of mountains at varying distances. Such is the case in Isaiah 14:3-21. Some of the details do indeed refer to the beginning of the devil's fall (i.e., v.13 "you said in your heart"), whereas some clearly must refer to the very end when is finally judged for willful sin (or at least to his millennial imprisonment; i.e., v.15 "you are brought down to Sheol to the depths of the pit"). Some people think of this as confusing and a disadvantage, but in my view, rightly understood, it is a real blessing to see the entire process at one glance, both the beginning of the devil's arrogant defiance and the end result of his rebellion: defeat and disaster. As I say, we know that Satan is presently accusing us in front of God on a daily basis (Zech.3; Job 1-2; Rev.12:10), so that beyond any question he is now allowed some access to heaven. Clearly, he has been "thrown down" from his job as the guardian cherub, and is now much more concerned with events on the earth (cf. his answer to God's question "where have you come from": Job 1:7; cf. also Lk.4:6; Eph.2:2), so there is definitely a sense in which you are correct that Isaiah 14:12 has already been partially fulfilled. That passage will receive a second fulfillment in the middle of the Tribulation (when the devil and his followers are forced out of heaven once and for all: Rev.12:9), and ultimately fulfilled when Satan is finally deposited in the lake of fire with everyone else who chose to oppose God in time instead of relying on His mercy (the beast and the false prophet being the two most egregious examples: Rev.20:10; cf. Ezek.28:18-19). I have pointed out before that God's plan for history – which cannot be disentangled from His refutation and defeat of the devil – is composed of three phases (see the link: part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series). Herein we see the three applications of Isaiah 14 just referred to above, that is, three separate phases of judgment on the devil, corresponding to the three phases of judgment in the plan of God:

1. Satan's original expulsion from his position of authority is largely synonymous with . . .

• Judgment I: The Genesis Gap judgment: wherein judgment is passed upon Satan and his angels while the devil's original headquarters, the pre-historic earth, is devastated and the original universe plunged into darkness.

which in turn is followed by . . .

• Restoration I: Earth is restored to a habitable environment (the Seven Days of Re-creation).

and . . .

• Replacement I: The creation of the first Adam begins the human race (the source of eventual replacement for Satan and his angels). The gift of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, provides the grace necessary for the salvation of the human race after the fall through the Messiah's work on the Cross. The Church can then be called out for replacement.

2. Satan's expulsion from heaven in Revelation 12:9 is largely synonymous with . . .

• Judgment II: the Tribulation: God's judgment upon the devil's kingdom and upon his earthly subjects, wherein Satan and his angels are expelled from heaven and later imprisoned.

which in turn is followed by . . .

• Restoration II: the Millennium: earth is restored to an environment of blessing.

and . . .

• Replacement II: Christ the King replaces Satan as the de facto ruler of the earth. The Church is resurrected in replacement.

3. Finally, the third fulfillment of Isaiah 14:12, the ultimate disposition of the devil, is largely synonymous with . . .

• Judgment III: The Final Judgments: wherein Satan and his angels are removed to the lake of fire along with unbelieving humanity (following the Great White Throne judgment).

which in turn is followed by . . .

• Restoration III: The New Heavens, New Earth and New Jerusalem provide an unparalleled and eternal environment of perfect blessing.

and . . .

• Replacement III: The Advent of the Father: along with Christ, He will rule forever from earth. The Church is complemented by the double portion of millennial believers.

So while I agree with your specific application of this scripture, Isaiah 14 also gives a comprehensive view of the devil's entire career and has applicability throughout the plan of God, from the beginning of creature history until the end of time as we presently know it (see also Ezekiel 28 where there is other information about this which in my view should be interpreted along the same lines).

On point two, indeed, I don't believe there is any scriptural support for the idea of "soul sleep". Jesus' words, "he is not dead, but sleeping", are explained in context both by John under the guidance of the Spirit and by Jesus Himself: v.13: "Jesus had been speaking of his death"; v.14 "Lazarus is dead". In this and other cases, sleep is being used as a euphemistic metaphor for death (as when we talk about "the departed"). From our earthly point of view, sleep is a good way of describing the lifeless body, and it is also no small point that death is only death from the earthly perspective: all believers in Jesus Christ will live forever, and as soon as we depart this earth, that eternal life begins. Death is only death from the point of view of the first body which remains on earth. This point is also clear to see from the conscious, waking life of the departed in their representation in the book of Revelation and elsewhere (e.g., Rev.6:9-11). I very much like your "sweater" analogy – it hits the nail right on the head. Indeed, for all those awaiting the resurrection in heaven, there is what I call an "interim body" for the spirit, since God has designed us all to ever be of two parts which make up one integral whole, body and spirit = person (whose inner life is called, "heart", "soul", "mind", etc.). I also agree with you that from our earthly point of view it really might not seem to matter that much that at the resurrection we should be returned momentarily to earth to the place where our remains were laid to rest. You are clearly right that in the case of most people those remains have long since turned to dust (think especially of pre-flood believers!). Certainly, God is capable of producing perfect eternal bodies for us before we return (making this "round trip" seem unnecessary from one point of view). And yet this is the way scripture describes it. I would say that there is a definite reason for this. Think, for example, of the care that the Israelites took of the body of Joseph, and according to his precise instructions (not to mention the burial of Jacob and the patriarchs in Hebron as well). There is no doubt that they all understood the power of God and His ability to resurrect them regardless of what might transpire to their physical shells in the many centuries to come. In my view, this determination to do everything reasonable to honor the shell is a deliberate and purposeful response designed to honor the promise of God to raise it. And God's very deliberate raising of the shell, or what is left of it (even if molecules of dust have to rearranged from the four corners of the world) is a very clear statement of the unchangeable nature of that wonderful promise of eternal life and of His determination to honor it. It may or may not matter to us, but even if it doesn't, yet it matters to God! Therefore we can take great comfort and courage in the fact that our gracious and loving Lord is concerned about us and our eternal future on a level and to a degree that far exceeds anything that even we could muster on our own behalf. If such is the case, then we really can suspend all worry and give our complete faith without reservation to the one who has planned our rising "from the dead" since before the world began, who numbers the hairs of our heads, who, if it comes to that, knows the name and the place of every molecule, atom, and subatomic particle that every made up a part of us, and who will give us that perfect body, that perfect home for our eternal life, in His own perfect way and in His own perfect time on that blessed day of days when we shall begin eternity in earnest and in resurrection in the presence of our dear Lord Jesus Christ forevermore.

In anticipation of the blessed day to come.

Bob L.


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