EXPLORING THE WORD
What Does the Bible Say about "Soul Sleep"?
By Dillon Burroughs
Some religious traditions believe in a view called soul sleep which teaches that the believer in Jesus who dies will have his or her soul "rest" until Christ's future coming. This view has also been called Christian mortalism or psychopannychism. What does the Bible teach about soul sleep?
The view of soul sleep has been held by a variety of religious groups throughout history. Today, groups that hold this perspective include the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Christadelphians, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses (with a variation for a special group of 144,000).
Yet the Bible itself presents a different view. The apostle Paul clearly taught that when a Christian's life ends on this earth, he or she is immediately in the presence of the Lord. As 2 Corinthians 5:8 notes, "We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." Paul later noted in Philippians 1:23 that his desire was to "depart and be with Christ."
Another important biblical passage that refutes the view of soul sleep can be found in Luke 16:19-31. Jesus taught that both a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus died. The rich man immediately received eternal punishment, and Lazarus immediately received eternal life. The context of the passage points out that Lazarus was conscious and was at Abraham's side (v. 23).
A third example can be found in the life of the thief on the cross. In Luke 23:43, Jesus promised this man that "today" he would be with Jesus in paradise.
Some proponents of soul sleep refer to Revelation 6:9 to support their view. It states, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained." This passage refers to the souls of those who are killed during the Tribulation who are now in the presence of the Lord. While they had not yet received their resurrection bodies (mentioned later in Revelation), they were active, in conversation, and in God's presence after death.
While there are some areas of dispute regarding the details of what happens to a Christian's soul upon death, the Bible's clear teaching reveals the state of a deceased believer: to be apart from the body is to be with the Lord. Therefore, the view of soul sleep, which places an extended period of time after death before a believer is present with the Lord, appears at odds with the teachings of Scripture.
Image Credit: Abe Kleinfeld; "Golden Gate National Cemetary"; Creative Commons
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