Can the dead sleep?

Millions of Christians believe when someone dies, they go straight to heaven to be with Jesus. The teaching is so common among Christians that to argue otherwise is met with no interest or even disdain. It’s a teaching that was not in the primitive church but somehow found its way into Christianity later.

The teaching that when a person dies, they immediately go to paradise (a temporary state) until resurrection day, when they move into a permanent state, is based on faulty interpretation of scripture. Luke 23.43 does not say the thief on the cross went to paradise the same day. Placing the comma at “you” instead of “day,” is wrong punctuation. Correctly punctuated, it should be, “Truly I tell you today, you shall be with me in paradise.”  If Jesus himself went to “paradise” on crucifixion day, how on resurrection day, “he was telling Mary not to touch him because he had not yet ascended to the Father?

Another scripture used, 2 Cor. 12:4, says nothing about death and going to heaven. And Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man, is a parable. A parable is a parable; it’s highly symbolic, Jesus used it to confound the Pharisees, and not even his disciples understood it, should not be taken literally and doctrinally.

When Paul writes about, “To be absent from the body and (not “is” as is the common interpretation) to be present with the LORD,” he was not talking about going straight to heaven when you die. If he did, it couldn’t be the same Paul who wrote the resurrection chapter 1  Cor. 15, outlining all of what happens when a person dies.

The belief that when Christians die, they go to heaven also stems from the belief that human beings have a soul, an immortal soul, contrary to the scripture in Gen. 2, which informs us that the breath of life was breathed into man and he became “a living soul.” It doesn’t say we have a soul. It says we are living souls. Ezek. 20 also says, “the soul that sinneth shall die.” Again, Paul writes in the resurrection chapter that “this mortal must put on immortality.”  Also, in his letter to Timothy, he says “only God alone has immortality.” The concept of a soul didn’t come from the Bible but from Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. The concept had its origins in pagan religions which Christianity borrowed under the influence of Greek thought.

What does the bible say about the state of the dead?  Let’s look to Jesus for that description. Mary, who anointed Jesus with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, had a brother Lazarus who was sick. They called on Jesus for healing, but he arrived late. Lazarus died.  Let’s pick up the story in John 11 from Jesus.

Verse 11. “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.  Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” (emphasis mine)

Notice Jesus’s own words, “I go that I may wake him out of sleep.” Yet, later in verse 14, he said “unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.”

Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection. This means he was surely dead. He didn’t say he had gone to heaven because Jesus already admitted Lazarus was asleep, and the next time he would be conscious was at the resurrection. This was not a parable, the story was an actual event. Verse 25, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

Verse 39, “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.”

Jesus acknowledged Lazarus was asleep. He woke him out of the sleep of death to tell us how it’s going to be for all humanity when they go down to the grave. They will be unconscious (like a sleep) until the day of resurrection. Ecc. 9:5 tells us, “the dead knows nothing.” David, in the Psalms, tells us about the silence of the grave and that there is no praising God in it. In Psalms 146:4, he says “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

Both the Old and New Testaments describe death as a sleep. If you believe human beings have a soul and it is immortal, then you will believe take the non-biblical stance that Christians go to heaven at death. Read Job: 14 10. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the spirit, and where is he? 11 As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: 12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.”

In verse 14, Job tells us what happens after death. “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.”

Job, like millions of Christians, are waiting in death till that change (the resurrection) comes. Those who have died are sleeping. Jesus said it, and his prophets as well. Do you believe that? For more on this subject, download FREE our pamphlet, DO YOU HAVE AN IMMORTAL SOUL?

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