Friday, October 16, 2015

What Happens Immediately After People Die – Soul Sleep

     This series covers five leading thoughts about what happens to us after death, Annihilation, Catholic Options, Soul Sleep, Instantaneous Resurrection, and Disembodied Existence. None of these postings is an exhaustive discussion but I want to see what the Bible has to say about each.
     This is the third post and covers Soul Sleep.
·         Soul Sleep – this is the belief that when someone dies, he sleeps or is unconscious until his resurrection and then faces judgment. This applies to both believers and unbelievers.[1]
     The reason that some believe in soul sleep is based on their preconceived idea that we are unitary beings. Our body, soul, and spirit are all connected in a way that when the body dies, the person ceases to exist. Those who believe this claim that the idea of a soul that continues to exist after death is based on Platonic philosophy of dualism, that the physical is bad and the spiritual is good. Christian modification of this is that the body is good but will still die and be resurrected. However, soul sleep sounds just like annihilation until the resurrection is put into the mix.
     The concept of soul sleep comes in two slightly different flavors, vanilla and vanilla bean. Vanilla is taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that we cease to exist upon death.[2] That doesn’t sound like soul sleep but they pull it off by maintaining that we are all kept in God’s perfect memory and will be re-created at the resurrection.[3] They do not believe that everyone is resurrected. Sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31), and those who know the truth and turn away (Heb 6:4-8) are among those who will not be resurrected because they will never be forgiven, therefore resurrection is useless. Others who have not known Jehovah will be resurrected during the millennium; they will be taught to be righteous (Is 26:9).[4]
     The Seventh-day Adventists maintain the vanilla bean version. They believe that humans were never created as immortal because they believe that only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). Therefore, when we die because of sin (Rom 6:23), our spirit, which is the breath of life not realy a part of us, returns to God (Ecc 12:7). They maintain that there is no soul, which is a conscious immortal part of us that continues after death. Upon death a person is unconscious, knows nothing, and does nothing. At Jesus’ return, the saved will be resurrected and receive eternal life (1 Cor 15:52-53). The unrepentant will be raised after the millennium, judged and then die again – this time annihilated never to raise again (Rev 20:14-15). They rely on the words perish and destroyed to affirm annihilation.[5]
     Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists have the same issue with the dichotomy of soul and body. Unlike those who believe in permanent annihilation, they believe in a resurrection. The JWs are clever to get around the problem of annihilation by having God store the memory of an individual so he can recreate the person. The Adventists didn’t really believe in annihilation in the same way. They have this fuzzy concept that the person is unconscious but that consciousness is capable of being restored at the resurrection. What does the Bible say about this? The Adventists claim specifically, “The Bible does not teach that people have a separate conscious immortal part of their being that continues to exist after death.”[6]
     While there are several verses that would indicate that there is no consciousness after death (Eccl 9:5-6, 10; Ps 6:5), Jesus clearly taught that there is a distinction between body and soul. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28[7]). Granted that the last half may provide ammunition for annihilation (that was addressed in the post on annihilation), but the first part is important to establish that we have both a body and soul. Anyone can kill another person’s body but his soul is not killed. That is quite clear. John also spoke of both body and soul as being two parts of our being. “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). The implication is obvious that our body may or may not be healthy but our souls can prosper regardless of what is happening to our body. John also saw the souls of those who were beheaded during the tribulation. He saw them just before they were raised to reign with Christ (Rev 20:4). The writer of Hebrews, James, and Peter imply that our souls are a separate part of us destined for eternity (Heb 13:17, James 1:21, 5:20; 1 Peter 1:9).[8] The Bible does teach that man has at least two component parts, the physical body that dies and the soul that lives forever.
     Four people in the Bible displayed consciousness after death. The first was Samuel. Samuel had died and Saul had not heard from the Lord so he went to a medium to have her call up Samuel (1 Sam 28:11-19). There are three very telling things about this passage. The first is that the medium described Samuel as a divine being (vs. 13) and that Saul recognized Samuel when she described him (vs. 14). The second thing is that Samuel actually spoke with Saul (vs. 15-19). Third, Samuel remembered Saul’s disobedience (vs. 18). Therefore, there is life after death and that even though there may be no physical body (appearance as a divine being), there is recognition of the person. The person has consciousness and he remembers his life before death.
     The appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration is another example of people who died and appeared again (Matt 17:2-4). This instance has some of the same characteristics as Samuel’s appearance. They were recognizable and they were able to speak, proving consciousness.
     The last instance is the story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). I call it a story because it isn’t like the parables. Jesus didn’t introduce it in the same way and it is presented as an actual account rather than being symbolic of heaven or judgment. Lazarus isn’t the main person of the story but the rich man who died and went to Hades (vs. 23). The man had consciousness as he talked to Abraham (oops make that five people who display consciousness). He had feeling as he was in torment. He remembered the good he had while alive as Abraham prompted him, and he remembered his five brothers (vs. 27). Not only does this instance prove a soul that survives death, it shows that it also survives the torment of Hades dispelling both the JW’s and Seventh-day Adventists’ claim that there is annihilation for those who are wicked.
     Therefore, soul sleep is not biblical as claimed either by the JWs or by the Seventh-day Adventists. Since there will be consciousness after death, it should be a dire warning to those who have not turned to Jesus for salvation that they will be in torment just as the rich man was. For those who do know Jesus, it is a great comfort knowing that we will be with Jesus immediately after death. Next will be the discussions of whether or not we will have a body during that time between our death and the resurrection.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, USA.: Baker Academic, 2013), 1079, Kindle.
[2] “The Changing Face of ‘Christianity’—acceptable to God?,” Watchtower Online Library, 2000, accessed October 15, 2015,
[3] “Anxiety About Danger,” Watchtower Online Library, 2015, accessed October 15, 2015,
[4] “Resurrection - Insight, Volume 2,” Watchtower Online Library, accessed October 15, 2015,
[5] Philip Rodonioff, “Waking up to Eternity,” The Official Site of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, March, 2012, accessed October 15, 2015,
[6] Ibid.
[7] Scripture references in this post are from the New King James Bible.
[8] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Soul,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft

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