What is Soul Sleep?

If a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on your door to tell you about their church, there is one doctrine that they probably won’t talk about right away. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are the two most well known groups in America that believe in soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies, the soul, just like the body, loses all awareness and sensation. At death the soul of the person does not cease to exist, nor does it enter into heaven or hell, but it becomes unconscious of anything until the day of resurrection.

This doctrine finds support in the Bible’s use of the word “sleep” to describe death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul refers to those who have died when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Proponents of soul sleep believe the figure of sleep applies to the deceased’s body and soul.

Other support is found in passages like Psalm 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” and Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Since man is more just body, since the dead do not think, and since the dead do not praise God, then the soul the soul must go into an unconscious or unaware state after death.

While this may seem to be reasonable and compelling evidence, the Bible makes several clear statements death which make the doctrine of soul sleep impossible. When Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 He plainly taught that when a person dies he immediately enters into his conscious reward. There is no delay between death and awareness. If the soul has no awareness, then the rich man could not wake up in hell. He would be aware of nothing until the resurrection. If the rich man awoke at the resurrection, Abraham was a liar when he said that the man’s brothers could read the Old Testament and thus be saved from hell. What Jesus describes is immediate, conscious awareness of the afterlife.

The book of Revelation tells of martyrs at the throne of God pleading for the punishment of their tormentors. They are clearly conscious, clearly communicating with God and clearly in heaven between their death and the resurrection. Why would they be asking God how long until He would judge their persecutors if they had been resurrected and were at the judgment the same time as their murderers?

The Bible uses sleep as a figurative term to describe the apparent condition of the dead. Sleep is not intended to describe the condition or awareness of the soul. The poetic passages of Psalms and Ecclesiastes that refer to the silence of the dead are speaking of the inability of the deceased to do any thing upon this earth. Soul sleep is not a Biblical doctrine, but a false teaching which denies the clear truths of the Bible about death, judgment and the afterlife.

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What are the evidences that Jesus rose from the dead?

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important facts of Christianity. IF the resurrection is a muth Christianity has no foundation and no message. The resurrection is also one of the most audacious claims regarding Jesus. This ranks up there with the claim that Jesus is God. If the resurrection is true, then we have unshakeable evidence of the truth of the Bible. If the resurrection is not true, then the entire Bible is a farce and a fraud.

The Bible claims that Jesus died. He was executed on a cross. The Roman soldiers administering the crucifixion were responsible to make sure no convicted man left the cross alive. To make certain Jesus was dead one of the soldiers drove his spear up into Jesus side in a killing thrust. Jesus dead body was taken off the cross, wrapped in grave clothes and sealed into a cave like tomb. Jesus’ body remained in that tomb for three days. The grave was sealed with a Roman seal and guarded by Roman soldiers. Jesus was dead and secured in a guarded tomb.

On the Sunday morning after His death Jesus was restored to life. The Bible’s claim is that Jesus definitely died and just as definitely was restored to life. He was just as alive on Sunday morning as he was dead on Friday evening.

What evidence does the Bible offer for the resurrection? The first evidence is the empty tomb. No one in the earliest days after the resurrection disputed the fact that the tomb was empty. If Christ was still in the tomb, then the claims of the disciples would have been easy to disprove. The very first message preached after the resurrection was preached by Peter. He stood in Jerusalem and preached that Jesus was God, was killed (which many in the crowd saw) and that he rose again. Some of the very ones who had called for Jesus crucifixion were there in the crowd. When Peter claimed Jesus had risen his claim could have been disproved by opening the tomb to show the corpse of Jesus. No one did this! Everyone knew the tomb was empty.

After His death the risen Jesus appeared to many different people. One of those was the disciple Thomas. Thomas has become known as Doubting Thomas because he was ready to voice his disbelief about the resurrection. The Sunday evening of His resurrection Jesus visited the disciples. Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared. The disciples later told Thomas about Jesus resurrection, but Thomas’ response was, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Later, Jesus visits the disciples again. This time Thomas was present. Thomas immediately recognized Jesus was alive and confessed Him as, “My Lord and My God.” Skeptical Thomas believed Jesus rose from the dead because he saw the living Jesus.

In the forty days following His resurrection Jesus appeared to over 500 people. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul makes a point of saying many of those were still alive at the time he wrote the letter. Any one who doubted the truth of the resurrection could go and talk to hundreds of people who had seen the risen Jesus. The many people who saw Jesus alive after His death is powerful evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

Where was Jesus between His death and His resurrection?

The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.

The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell.  “I believe in Jesus Christ  . . .  (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.

A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven.  Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.

If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.

Why is the resurrection so important?

Christianity stands unique among all the religions of the world. Only Christianity claims that it’s God became human, died and then returned to life. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is one celebrated and remembered every Sunday of the year by Christian churches all across the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in all human history. The resurrection of Jesus is the seminal moment in all Christianity. That event changed everything. The New Testament is filled with declarations that Jesus died and then rose again. The resurrection is explained in all four gospels and the book of Acts. Jesus’ resurrection is expressly taught in many of the epistles and in the book of Revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a crucial truth on which Biblical Christianity is built. Without the resurrection there is no Biblical Christianity. Without the resurrection there is no forgiveness of sin. Without the resurrection there is no eternal life. Without the resurrection, God is a liar, Jesus is a fraud and every gospel preacher is a charlatan.

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the gospel is a lie. “And if Christ be not dead, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian life is pointless and worthless. “What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian has no hope of eternal life. “And if Christ be not raised, then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18)

The resurrection is important because it is the ultimate display of the power of God that is now at work in the believer. (“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” Ephesians 1:19-20)

The resurrection is important because it is the evidence that Jesus is God the Son and Savior just as He claimed and as the Bible declares. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-22)

The resurrection is important because it is the powerful declaration that Jesus is God. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead:” (Romans 1:3-4)

The resurrection is important because if it is untrue, God’s Word is a lie. “We are false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:15)

The resurrection is the lynchpin on which all the gospel hangs, the certification that all the gospel promises are true and the certainty that God is true. Rejoice every Sunday in the remembrance of the risen Savior.

Can you prove the resurrection?

Easter Sunday has just passed and it seems appropriate to take a moment for another consideration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Bible offers a number of facts that are legitimate evidences for the truth of the resurrection. Sufficient evidence exists in God’s Word to convince a reasonable person of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection.

The claim of the resurrection begins with an assertion: Jesus was genuinely dead. The Roman soldiers guarding the cross would have never let a victim down unless he was definitively dead. The men who transported Jesus to the tomb and wrapped Him for burial would never have buried Him if they found the least evidence of life. Jesus was dead when He came down from the cross. The third day after His death, Jesus was restored to life by God the Father.

The Bible offers several evidences that Jesus was miraculously returned to life.  The guards assigned to watch over Jesus’ tomb told the priests of the angelic visitor, the removal of the stone and the empty tomb. These men were not disciples of Jesus. They were at best unconcerned about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. They had no agenda but the protection of their own interests. The priests who instigated the crucifixion believed the Roman soldiers’ testimony, but conspired with them to lie about the actual events. The priests bought off the soldiers and convinced the soldiers to confess to what would ordinarily have been a capital crime, falling asleep while on watch, rather than admit the supernatural events of that day. While not conclusive proof for the resurrection, these facts compel one to consider carefully what did happen that Sunday morning.

Seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples stood in front of large crowds in Jerusalem and announced that Jesus had risen. The disciples indicted the Jews for their part in crucifying the Messiah and then declared God had restored Jesus to life. Of the tens of thousands in Jerusalem who heard this message, including the religious leaders of the nation who had condemned Jesus to death, many would have known the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. If Jesus was still in the grave, any of those who rejected the apostles preaching could have readily shown the disciples and the masses the body of Jesus. No one did. The inability of the skeptics to refute the apostles claims gives strong evidence to the empty tomb and points to the genuineness of the resurrection.

The four gospels and the letter of 1 Corinthians dedicate significant sections to Jesus’ resurrection. The first gospel was written less than 20 years after Jesus’ death. The letter to the Corinthians was written about 25 years after Jesus’ death. Many of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus death and resurrection were still living. The gospel writers and the apostle Paul mention specific individuals who saw the risen Jesus. Any of these eyewitnesses could testify to having personally seen Jesus alive after His resurrection. Besides the specific ones named Paul cites an additional five hundred Christians who saw Jesus alive after His death. The vast multitude of witnesses give strong evidence, evidence that would be practically incontrovertible in any other case today, to the truth that Jesus died and rose to life again. When one considers the intense persecution these believers faced because of their commitment to Jesus, the possibility of a conspiracy to dupe the world seems very unlikely.

The resurrection is a certain event that can be attested to by strong evidences. One can believe the claims of the Bible about Jesus and know that He is the Savior who died and now lives forever. Because Jesus is alive, those who believe Him will have eternal life.

What is the resurrection?

Some time in the future there will be a restoration to life and judgment of every person who has ever lived. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” All men will one day be resurrected to be judged by God.

First there will be a resurrection for the saved. That resurrection takes place during the rapture, an event made popular recently in the Left Behind series of books and movies. The Bible reveals to us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that the dead bodies of the saved will be restored to life and taken up to meet Jesus. The saved who are still alive at the time of the rapture will then be taken up to meet Jesus.

Those who have been raptured will be taken into heaven and judged by Christ for how they have served Him. As His servants, they will answer to Him for how they have used what He has given them and how they have worked for His kingdom. This judgment is not a judgment of sin, for the believers sin has been taken away. This judgment is a judgment of stewardship, in which the believer is rewarded or rebuked depending on the faithfulness of his service for Christ.

Eventually, the believer will enter into a perfect eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth. This perfect eternity has nothing to do with floating around on clouds and playing harps. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this eternity. What we do know comes from Revelation 21 and 22. For the believer, eternity will be completely free from all sin, sorrow and suffering. All who are saved will live on this earth in faithful service to God, glorifying and enjoying Him forever.

Long after the believer’s resurrection will be the resurrection of the unsaved. Just before God wipes out this universe He will bring before His throne for judgment all who have died without trusting Jesus. Revelation 20:11-15 gives a terrifying picture of this event. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

All the unsaved will stand before God and be judged for their disobedience to His Word. Because they have not believed in Jesus, God finalizes their condemnation. This judgment is not a second chance at salvation, but is the final official declaration of their guilt before God. All those who have not believed Jesus for salvation, Satan and all the demons will be condemned and sent into the Lake of Fire forever. In the lake of fire they will suffer for eternity, paying the penalty of their rebellion against God.

The resurrection of the saved is a resurrection to life and eternal joy. The resurrection of the unsaved is a resurrection to death and eternal suffering. None have to endure the eternal suffering of the Lake of Fire. When He died on the cross, Jesus paid the consequences and suffering of sin. He extends salvation to all who will turn to Him and trust only Him for forgiveness of guilt and cleansing from sin. God promises eternal life to all who believe Jesus to salvation.

What Happens After Death?

The question of what happens to a person after death is a matter of great importance. If there is some sort of existence after death, we do very well to understand as much about it as possible. We are wise to learn what it is like, if there is a place of reward or  punishment, joy or sorrow.

Opinions about the afterlife cover a broad spectrum of ideas. Some believe nothing happens after death. The body is placed in the ground and the person no longer exists anywhere in the physical or spiritual universe. Some believe the spirit of the person is reborn in the body of another creature to atone for wrongs done in previous lives. After many such reincarnations the spirit is finally able to be peacefully united with the universe. Some believe the spirits of good people go to heaven and the spirits of bad people go to hell. The list could go on and on. Truly many questions exist about the afterlife.

The first and most important thing to consider is that no one has died and returned to life to tell us what things are like on the other side. Yes, people have had visions or dreams in which they claim to have seen heaven, hell or the spirit world. Whatever your opinion of their claims, one thing is certain, they did not die and return to life again. Beyond that, even if someone did claim to die and return from the dead to tell us what it is like, there would be no way to prove his claims.

Capturing evidence of the afterlife is impossible. The issue of understanding what happens after death begins with recognizing you are going to have to believe someone’s view of the afterlife. Will you believe the Vikings and their visions of Valhalla? Will you believe Buddhist or Hindu concepts of Nirvana? Will you believe the Muslim ideas of Paradise? Will you believe the Atheist’s idea of death as final? Will you believe the Christian teachings of Heaven? One’s understanding of what happens after death is a matter of faith. You must decide who you are going to believe. I invite you to believe the information that comes directly from the One who created man, who has died and returned to life, who created Heaven and Hell and who has told us what happens to those who die. The Bible is the only reliable source of information about what happens after death.

The Bible teaches that man is a living soul. When God created man He breathed into man the “breath of life and man became a living soul.”(Genesis 2:7)  God formed man out of the dirt, but He gave to man something else, something that was not from dirt but directly from God. He gave to man a spirit, a soul, which does not crumble away or cease to exist but lasts forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” So the first thing we need to know is that death does not end our existence. Our body returns to dust, but our soul returns to the God who created it.

At death, God deals with the soul of man according to his relationship with Christ. John 3:18 says “He that believeth on (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Before we die our fate is already decided based upon whether or not we have believed in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

At death the soul goes immediately into heaven or hell. In Luke 16 Jesus tells about two men, one rich the other a beggar. These two men died and one went immediately into heaven and the other directly into hell. We know this was immediate because the man in hell prayed that someone would go tell his brothers lest they also come to hell. The entered immediately into a place of punishment or blessing, without long delay, a time of sleep, limbo or purgatory.

The deciding factor in where the soul goes is if you have turned to Christ for salvation. This issue is not decided based upon whether you have been good, gone to church faithfully, been baptized, confirmed or prayed over. The decision is made by you. If you believe Jesus is God the Son who became a man, died on the cross to forgive your sin, rose from the dead three days later and if you have confessed Jesus as God trusting in only Him to remove your guilt God declares you will have eternal life in His presence. If you trust Jesus for salvation you will enter into heaven and live forever in joy. If you do not, you will enter into hell and be forever separated from God in sorrow and suffering.