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The False Doctrine of 'Soul Sleep'

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Question:  When we die, does our soul remain in a conscience state or an unconscious sleep awaiting the resurrection? Thanks.

Response:  Actually, the "soul" (Greek psyche [ψύχη], Hebrew nephesh [נפש]) is the word the Bible uses to describe the inner person as a combination of the both the material and immaterial parts of the human being (namely, the physical mind and the human spirit respectively). More information on the nature of man can be found in part 3 of the Satanic Rebellion series: "The Purpose, Creation, and Fall of Man".   And you might also want to see the following links:

Sleep as a Euphemism for Death

Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State.

The False Doctrine of Soul Sleep II

This point is actually apropos of your question because one of the things a correct understanding of the biblical teachings about God's construction of Man imparts is the realization that we are and have always been both material and immaterial, and will always be so (true even of unbelievers). Man was never meant to be a "disembodied spirit", and never will be. In the resurrection, we believers will have a new, glorious body far superior to our present one in many ways (see the Peter series, lessons #20 "The Resurrection" and #27 "Three False Doctrines that Threaten Faith"). The resurrection will occur at the Second Advent of our Lord for all believers alive at that time (as well as for all those who have died before that event takes place: 1Thes.4:13-17), and ever after those so blessed will enjoy a body that cannot know pain, or sorrow, or decay (Rev.21:4). But even during for all those who have or will die in the Lord before that point, the time between physical death and bodily resurrection is not spent in "soul sleep". On the one hand, such a thing is impossible because

    1) the soul is, as mentioned above, a combination of material and immaterial elements (i.e., without some sort of home for our spirit, there is no "us"); it is a synonym for what we call "the heart"; it is not a separate "thing" with independent existence; it is the "us" inside, physical and immaterial as we think and feel.

    2) there is no mention of "soul sleep" in the Bible or anything approximating it;

    3) scripture is consistent in all descriptions of heaven and paradise as representing the dead as conscious (e.g., the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: Lk.16:19-31; the description of believers in heaven awaiting the Second Advent: Rev.6:9-11; 7:9-17; cf. Heb.12:22).

After all, why would Paul (and others) be so anxious to "be with the Lord", if it only meant that they would be "asleep" until some far future time ("I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far": Phil.1:23)? And there is this passage of scripture which definitively puts the issue to rest:

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

If your translation of the Bible prints something different here, that is not surprising. Most versions do, mostly on the basis of not understanding what Paul is saying - namely that after death we will not be naked (i.e., without a body), in spite of the fact that the resurrection has not yet occurred (see the link for more details on the textual issue). The reason for this is that, creatures of both a material and immaterial nature that we are, God will never leave us in any other condition than He always meant us to be in, possessing both a body and a spirit (in the case of departed believers, the body is at this present time an "interim" body which, while superior to our present "home", is not to be compared with the marvelous "resurrection body" which will be ours on that future day of Christ's return).

That believers who have departed to be with the Lord are conscious and truly experiencing His presence (even though they have not yet experienced the resurrection) can also be seen from John's description of the worship of martyred believers in presence of the Lamb prior to the Second Advent:

After this I looked and, behold, [there was] a huge multitude which no one was able to number from every nation and tribe and people and tongue standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God, the One who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Revelation 7:9-10  (cf. Rev.7:13-17)

Confidence in our immediate reunion with the Lord we love and for whom we live is also a large part of the motivation that keeps us going forward in the Christian life, ever up that steep and narrow road. The false doctrine of "soul sleep" robs us of this assurance of being with Jesus immediately after death and tends to make our view of resurrection more tenuous. But the resurrection is the rock of the gospel, and just as we believe that our Lord was "conscious" in the grave for three days (1Pet.3:18-19), and resurrected on the third day, so also we are confident of a joyous and immediate reunion with Him as soon as we complete our tour of duty on this satanic battlefield - whenever that day may come, on that very day we shall be "with Him in paradise" (Lk.23:43). And we are supremely confident of the literal resurrection of our bodies - into something far more wonderful than we can now imagine - when the time arrives for His glorious return.

Yours in the confident expectation of the resurrection of the Church of Christ,

Bob Luginbill

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