In response to our article, “What is Soul Sleep,” we received a question asking how certain we are that when Christians die they go to Heaven. CH asked the questions and his comments are italicized in blue. Our response is designated as RFHJ (Reasons for Hope* Jesus).
[If you don’t understand the false teaching of “soul sleep” read this article first: “What is Soul Sleep]
CH: Hello all the way from sunny South Africa! Thank you for this teaching on soul sleep. Before I begin, I’d like to say that I am a born again, God-fearing Christian and I love to read and study God’s Word. Therefore I talk and debate about issues like this with an open and willing heart.
I always thought that our spirits do “soul sleep” while our flesh is dead until the day of judgment, because of the following:
1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…
In context, this verse is talking about the time when our Lord Jesus Christ returns—some call it the Rapture. What stands out in this verse is,“we shall not all sleep.” That is talking about the dead.
RFHJ: Because Paul is talking about the time when Christ will come for His bride (the Rapture of the Church), Paul is saying that not all will die a physical or bodily death.
1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We [who belong to Christ] shall not all sleep [bodily death], but we shall all be changed.
When Christ comes there will be those who belong to Christ, and are still living on earth—they too will “be changed.” Paul goes on to confirm this by saying:
1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the [bodily] dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we [all believers] shall be changed [all believers will be changed, receiving glorified bodies, both those whose bodies were raised from the grave and those who are alive at His coming for His Bride, the Church].
CH: In this verse we can also see that the dead are referred to as being asleep. And we can’t say the verse is talking about the flesh because we know that the flesh can’t inherit the kingdom of God!
1 Thessalonians 4:15 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.”
RFHJ: You are correct that flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). Let’s look at the verse you mention in a broader context:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [dead in the grave], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus [the body is dead] will God bring with him.
Paul is speaking of the death of the bodies of Christians (“sleep in Jesus”). In Scripture, the word “sleep” is used often to mean physical, bodily death. For example, the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection of whom Paul says:
1 Corinthians 15:6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. [They have died a physical death. Paul is saying they no longer live to testify.]
Scripture tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)—that death is both a spiritual and a physical death. However, Jesus conquered physical death, and, just as we are made spiritually alive when we are born again, one day our bodies will be miraculously resurrected. Believers’ bodies will be raised to glorification and non-believers to condemnation.
Let’s look at a question Paul raises in 1 Corinthians, and then two errors that he addresses regarding the bodily resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Error #1) Some believe the same body in the grave will rise.
Paul explains it will be a different body—a body given by God:
1 Corinthians 15:38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
Error #2) The risen body is unrelated to the body that previously lay dead in the grave.
In some way that we don’t fully understand, God will raise the body that is dead. It will be that body that He will make-alive. Therefore, it is not totally unrelated to the dead body. The Bible describes the risen body as a glorified body:
Philippians 3:20-21 For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body [the human body, changed at the Rapture], that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body [the promise of a glorified body], according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
Only the Lord can resurrect — awaken, make alive — a dead body. When Jesus comes for His Bride, those who are in the grave will arise and those alive in physical bodies will also be raised. They will be given glorified bodies.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:”
CH: Why rise when you have already risen?
RFHJ: Again, in context, this is about the bodily resurrection. It teaches that believers whose bodies lie in the grave will be made alive first. That includes all believers who died in faith…both the Old Testament saints and New Covenant believers. Consider the verse referenced in a larger context:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord [Those still living at this time.] shall not prevent them which are asleep. [Those who have died. They will be bodily raised first.] For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
What About the Soul?
In our salvation, our souls were made alive. The dead soul was regenerated, never to die again. For Christians who die, their physical bodies go into the grave, but their souls go to be with the Lord. Remember that Paul considered death to be “gain” (Philippians 1:21). He would never have said that if death brought an unconscious state (like soul sleep). Paul served the Lord with joyfulness on earth and death could not have been gain if in death one would lie unconscious in the grave until the time of the Lord’s return.
Paul clearly tells in 2 Corinthians 5:8 why he considered death to be gain:
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Paul is stating that the soul departs the body and goes to be forever in the Lord’s presence. Revelation 6:9 tells of the souls under the altar who are conscious and in His presence. The account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 clearly tells of both men being conscious. And of course, we remember Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross. Jesus told the thief that he would be with Him in Paradise that day. Jesus was not unconscious in Paradise. His body lay dead in the grave, but His soul was alive in Paradise. So the soul is clearly eternal and does not die or sleep.
CH: For me, this is a “time” issue. God created time, therefore He exists outside its constraints, unlike us (2 Peter 3:8). Reading through the book of Revelation showed me not to think of the events in an ordered sequence. And for that reason, I think our souls will be fully alive with God and dormant (sleeping) at the same time until the day of judgment.
RFHJ: We agree that God created time and that He is outside of time. However, that does not mean that our souls are both “fully alive” and “dormant” at the same time. Our souls are eternal, not temporal. The Bible speaks clearly of the destination of the soul at death — Heaven for those who are Christ’s and Hell for those who reject His grace.
When Christians die, they go immediately to be with Him. So we are, from the time of our salvation, eternally with Him.
Jesus said He would never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). If our souls were to sleep in an unconscious state, then we would cease to have communion with Jesus. He said He would never leave us, so the concept of His being forever with us outside of our time dimension, but not within our time dimension, denies what Jesus said. There is no biblical support for the soul being both fully alive outside of our time dimension and dormant within our time dimension. Our souls cannot be in both places at the same time. The soul is either in our body here on earth or in Heaven with Jesus.
With all this said, we stand firm on our belief that the souls of all people live eternally. They do not die, nor do they sleep. For believers, at the time of death, their souls go to be with the Lord. For non-believers their souls depart into the place of torment (Luke 16), awaiting a final judgment.
We encourage you to seek the Lord in prayer and to continue reading and studying His Word.
Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
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