"Them Which Are Asleep"


I’m branching off the other thread on “The Rapture and Universalism” as it has come to my attention something worth mentioning that, while somewhat related, I feel would be better as a separate topic.

During the Apostle Peter’s speech in Acts 2 on the day of Pentacost, he references the Psalmist’s quote of Psalm 16:10: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Though David is speaking here, Peter relates the term Holy One to Christ and the passage in general to His resurrection. In other wordls, the body of Jesus would not see decay, but will rise up again after three days. But of interest to me is what Peter says about David in verse 29:

“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.”

And that is all very well, for we know the resurrection of the dead has not happened yet. But then skipping down to verse 34, Peter says, “For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.”

Well, this has given me pause, for I naturally assumed that even when a person dies, their soul ascends into heaven, leaving their body behind to rot. But if David has not ascended into heaven, where is his soul now? I though Christ emptied out ‘Abraham’s bosum’ portion of hell when He went down into hell and brought out all the OT saints up to heaven, preumably including David, such is my evangelical understanding.

Or is David still ‘asleep’?

There are some branches of Christianity that advocate ‘soul sleep’. And as resistant as I have become to this doctrine, I wonder if it warrants another look. On the other hand, I’m not necessarily looking at ‘soul sleep’ in the issue of David, but rather the location of his conscious soul, if it is still viable somewhere, if not in heaven.

I realize the term ‘sleep’ in passages such as I Thess 4:15 (from whence came the title of the OP) is a nice euphemism for death for those of us on this side of the grave, but I wonder if the term might not have a deeper meaning than that. In the case of the witch of Endor (I Sam 28), whom Saul consulted in efforts to contact Samuel from the grave, the apparition of Samuel asks, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?”. It seems that whatever state Samuel was in was abruptly interrupted and begs the question of what was he doing before. Was he sleeping?

What are your thoughts?


Yes. The dead are dead - where the worm never quits. Christ was dead and, apparently had the power to wake the dead to tell them the gospel - but normally they are sleeping. Without a body a person is dead - in fact, they are not a true person again until they have a body. At His return, Christ calls the masses in front of Him - PEOPLE - not bodiless spirits, precisely because they are resurrected in new physical bodies that can touch and be touched. They are no longer dead. He (and He alone) set the captives free from death.

Separation from the body is death.


Excellent observations, Dondi (and I think I agree with your response, RanRan). Throughout Scripture dying is called “falling asleep,” and being dead “asleep” (see, for example, Deut 31:16; Ps. 13:3, 76:5; Job 3:13, 7:21, 14:12; Jer. 51:39; Isa. 26:14; John 11:11, 13; Acts 7:6, 13:36; 1 Cor. 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-15, 5:10; 2 Peter 3: 4). That which is mostly disputed is this: to what exactly does the “sleep” metaphor apply? Does it refer to some aspect of man’s nature that is not essential to his continued existence as a conscious person, and which he may live without after death? To put it another way, is it a person’s body that is represented as being “asleep” after death, while some other part of them remains “awake?” Or, does this metaphor pertain to the total person as a unified and integrated whole, and to that which makes human persons who and what they are? If the former, then it would mean that we do not need our bodies in order to be alive, since “sleep” is a metaphor for death. If the latter, then any such notion that people continue to exist in a “disembodied” state after death is false and unbiblical (and consequently ought to be rejected).

Matthew 27:52 (among other verses) seems to answer this question directly. There, the Gospel writer records that “…many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” At face value, this verse appears to stand at odds with the common idea that, following death, people are still alive and conscious while only their bodies are “asleep” in the grave. According to Matthew, it is not merely the bodies of the saints, but the saints themselves who are depicted as having “fallen asleep” (i.e., as having died) - and the clear implication is that, once their bodies were raised, these persons were no longer “asleep,” or dead. Similarly, when speaking of his friend Lazarus, Christ told his disciples that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (John 11:11) – and by that he meant that Lazarus had died (v.13). But if this metaphor applied only to Lazarus’ body, and not to the person himself, then it would be inaccurate to say that Lazarus died or “fell asleep,” for the name “Lazarus” applies to the whole person, and not to some unessential part of what makes him who he is. When Christ raised Lazarus from the dead (i.e., from the state of the dead), there is no suggestion that the “real” Lazarus was alive and well in a disembodied state, waiting for Jesus to call him back from Heaven so that he could reanimate his body. Instead, John’s language presupposes that the “real” Lazarus – i.e., the person himself - was indeed dead and in a tomb. When, at Christ’s command, Lazarus’ life returned to his body, the dead man was “awakened” from his “sleep.”

At this point it may be asked, What is it that makes sleep an appropriate metaphor for death? We know that during physical sleep, bodily functions continue uninterrupted. Though no longer under voluntary control, the body continues to function as it does when the person is awake. Even muscular activity remains. But in death this is not the case. In death, all bodily function has ceased. Thus, the similarity between death and sleep is not to be found here. But when we consider the effect of sleep on the cognitive functions, it is quite a different story. As everyone knows from experience, sleep reduces the mind to a state of unconsciousness. When sleeping, a person possesses neither conscious awareness nor voluntary control over oneself; to be both consciously aware and asleep (even in a dream-state) are necessarily mutually exclusive experiences. The major qualitative difference between the sleep state and the waking state, then, is the presence or absence of consciousness, or mental awareness. Thus, when referring to death, the “sleep” metaphor appropriately emphasizes the absence of consciousness and mental awareness.



I should also add that I understand Samuel to have been (temporarily) raised from the dead by God, and not merely to have been an apparition. The reason, I think, that Saul could not see him was not because he was in an immaterial, ethereal state, but because he was simply out of Saul’s view. From my study of the subject (which was a while back, so I may not be completely accurate on all the details), I’ve found that ancient mediums, such as the one Saul consulted, would use large, dug-out holes/pits in the ground in their rituals, out of which they would pretend to conjure up the spirits of the dead (I think they would also place blood, food and other things into the pits in order to coax the “spirits” from wherever they were thought to come from). In this instance, however, I think God surprised the medium by actually raising Samuel bodily - which, as RanRan pointed out, is the only state in which we can have a personal existence.


What about Luke 23:43?
“and Jesus said to him, `Verily I say to thee, To-day with me thou shalt be in the paradise.” (YLT)


Good question, HSMom. Luke 23:43 is often used to teach that both Jesus and the thief who was being crucified next to him immediately went to heaven (“paradise”) on the day that they died. However, we know that Christ did not go to heaven that day. After his death on the cross, Christ spent the next three days and nights in the grave (i.e., Sheol/Hades), which Matthew figuratively calls “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40 cf. Matt. 16:21). And after his resurrection, Christ explicitly declared that he had not yet ascended to the Father, who is in heaven (John 20:17). It was not until 40 days after being raised from the dead that Christ went to heaven, or “paradise.”

Moreover, if people go to heaven immediately after they die, then the following words that Christ spoke to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion are not true. In John 13:33, 36, Jesus declares: “Where I am going, you cannot come” (cf. 7:33-34). And in John 14:3, we read: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” In other words, wherever Christ was going, his disciples would not be able to follow him until after he came again and took them to where he was about to go. Christ is here talking about leaving his disciples and ascending to heaven, or paradise. But if, after they died, Jesus’ apostles went to heaven as quickly as their Lord did after his resurrection - and have remained there to this present day - then what Jesus said is not true; it would mean that his apostles followed Jesus to heaven right after they died (which would be long before Jesus is to come again to receive us to himself, so that we may be where he is).

What then did Christ mean in his response to the repentant thief? It should be noted that the Greek language had no commas, and this verse may just as legitimately be constructed in the following way: “I say to you this day, you shall be with me in paradise.” The expression “this day” was a common Hebrew idiom used to emphasize the solemnity and importance of an occasion or moment. There are a number of passages in the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the OT in which the Greek construction corresponds to that of Luke 23:43 (e.g., Deut. 4:26, 39, 40; 5:1; 6:6; 7:11; Josh. 23:14). And the Greek word translated as “this day” (semeron) is used to qualify the preceding verb in the following NT references: Luke 2:11; 22:34; Acts 20:26; 26:29; 2 Cor. 3:14, 15. When we recognize Jesus’ words as the idiom that it is (and properly punctuate the verse with the comma after “this day”), we see that Jesus’ words of encouragement to the thief will be fulfilled when he personally returns from heaven to raise the dead and transform the living (as is taught in passages such as 1 Thess 4:13-18).



That’s excellent Aaron. The only thing I would add is this:

Is the experience of the long dead all that different from those resurrected in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ when He returns? From life to death to life again in an instant.

I think the thief on the cross will sleep, but wake up (as though) momentarily despite thousands of years of being dead. The same goes for that other sinner, King David and all the dead.

In pondering the question, it’s important not to confuse anecdotes for the repeated fact that the essential experience is sleep, i.e. nothingness and that state is man’s last enemy.


A good point, RanRan. I think some people (including myself, originally) resist the idea that, after we die, we may have to wait for hundreds or even thousands of years before being ushered into the presence of God in Heaven. But if there is no experience of consciousness or mental awareness in the state of death as the Bible seems to indicate (e.g., Eccl 9:5), then, from our perspective, no time at all will seem to have elaspsed between our death and resurrection. One’s last conscious moment before death, and one’s next conscious moment after being awakened from death, will seem to be consecutive and without any interval of time in between. Do you think this fact may explain Paul’s words in Phil 1:23?



“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” This is the previous verse. Paul knew that once he was dead, he was dead. And the dead don’t do anything. People who pray to the saints and not directly to God (as they were told to by Christ) might as well be praying to a door knob.


This also seems to follow what the Preacher says:

*“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” - Eccl. 9:5-6 *

This sleep state also makes sense when we come to the first resurrection, which I believe will start with the Jews (the Jews first, and also for the Greek), which are His firstfruits. And according to Ezekiel 37:4-14:

*"Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, **and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. **

So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: **but there was no breath in them. **

Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; **Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. **

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and **the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. **

Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.

Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,

And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD."*

The important thing to note here is ***the breath of God ***is involved, which is how Adam became a human soul in the first place. We are dust in the ground and dust shall we remain until this happens.


Very true!


This also solves the problem of parity on the part of those who have gone on before us. For instance, in conventional circles, if when one dies and goes to either heaven or hell, those believers who have died thousands of years ago have had the luxury of experiencing heaven much longer than those who have died recently. Likewise, those unbelievers who have died long ago have ‘cooked’ a lot longer than those who have died recently. But if the death of sleep is an intermediate state before judgment, then at the resurrection, the sentencing and rewards will begin then. It makes more sense that all judgments will commence once everyone who has ever lived, or who will live, has completed their time on earth, and will either be raised from the dead (as the majority will) or ‘raptured-raised’ at the coming of Christ.

BTW, for the record, I haven’t bought into this idea of soul-sleep. I’m just kicking it around and seeing where it goes. Please feel free to point out any flaws in the theory.


It’s scriptural and therefore true. Because of Christ, death is merely Life Interrupted. A pause, a nap, a blink.


What does it mean, though, when Jesus said in Matthew 22:31-32:

*“But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” *


First, it should be kept in mind that the doctrine Christ is defending against the error of the Sadducees is that *there will be a resurrection of the dead * - not that we continue to exist in a disembodied state after death. So, here’s my understanding of Christ’s logic: If:

  1. God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
  2. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were understood to be dead when these words were spoken
  3. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living

then it follows that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will not remain dead for all time; they will ultimately *live again * by being raised from the dead. In other words, Jesus is arguing that God would not have called himself their God if they were never going to be raised and thus live again (as the Sadducees believed). But since it is part of God’s purpose that they be raised, he can justifiably call himself their God, even though they were (and are) presently dead.

Your thoughts?

Heb 9:27
Who believes that God doesn't punish people?

My question is: What about NDE’s? These experiences suggest some sort of consciousness post-mortem…


Yes, well there are several other things said quite directly in scripture, too, including on this topic. :wink: It isn’t quite a cut-and-dried case.

I offer the following points, not as a definite opponent of soul sleep: metaphysically speaking I can take it or leave it–and for what it’s worth, if it happens I agree with you and Aaron that it involves what might be called the ‘tunneling’ transference of the consciousness between the space-time location of death to the spatio-temporal location of the newly resurrected body. (Which, incidentally, might explain any real NDEs well enough. Though on the other hand there are testified elements of NDE which would seem to involve the people existing spiritually and gaining distant knowledge as such within the current timeframe of their death before resuscitation; being able to see things they couldn’t have physically seen or heard about while dying and being clinically dead, nor able to extrapolate as an subconscious inference from their surroundings insofar as sensorily perceptible. But I am not even remotely an expert in the NDE literature, so I leave that discussion to others. :slight_smile: )

1.) The statement has been made in this thread that it is impossible to exist as a person without bodily existence, as though this was an absolutely established principle. But God exists as (at least one!) Person, without requiring bodily existence to do so. (Unless popular Mormonism is true, but then we’re talking a hugely different theology; one where theism per se is either denied or at best is put aside as being religiously unimportant.)

2.) Relatedly, a position has been stated in this thread to the effect that Christ, in descending into hades/sheol, temporarily woke the normally sleeping dead in order to preach the Gospel to them. This flatly requires, however, not only that a person’s spirit may go into hades without soul sleep at all (namely Christ, whose body hardly descended into sheol per se!) but also that the human (and evidently non-human) spirits there can exist and consciously operate as persons without being yet embodied.

Once the doctrines are affirmed, of God’s essential existence as Spirit superordinate to the Incarnation, and of Christ’s active preaching to the spirits in hades/sheol (especially in order to lead them out!), then while some type of soul sleep may still be true, the simple denial of the conscious and active existence of spirits in hades/sheol must be concurrently rejected.

3.) Aaron, I think, inferred that Samuel must have been temporarily raised bodily from the grave during the Witch of Endor incident. (Not by her, of course; as noted, she seemed surprised by his appearance!) If this is true, though, then it was not understood as such by the author of that text, who has the medium describe Samuel as ‘elohim’ coming up from the ground.

This is a notorious verse for other reasons, because it would be one of the extremely few times that ‘elohim’ is used of a singular entity in the scriptures and yet not be referring to God Most High. Elohim is most often used as a name of God; and otherwise is used to speak of plural entities of power (such as Moses and Aaron being sent to Pharaoh as elohim.) The few remaining times it is used in regard to a single person, the Messiah is generally understood as being in view (such as Psalm 45.) None of these explanations work for this use of the term, however! But seeing as how El was an ancient word for sky or heaven, an ancient use of the plural, such as might be expected of a pagan spiritualist, in regard to something coming up out of the ground, would be vapors. The appearance is that of an old man wrapped with a robe, but since only the necromancer can see him, not Saul, the total context tends to indicate a spiritual manifestation only–not a bodily one.

(This is hardly a problem, though, even for a soul sleep theory, if it is agreed that Christ woke spirits in sheol to preach the gospel to them before the general resurrection! Also, the pit dug by a medium in her house would hardly be so deep as to prevent Saul from seeing a man in it. :wink: Besides which, any pit that deep would be impractical for the medium to use in the first place.)

4.) It seems peculiar to appeal to one Lazarus on the topic (especially since the appeal has to stretch quite a bit to make it be some kind of positive testimony to cessation of conscious existence during death) without appealing to the other (or the same!) Lazarus of the Gospels. :wink: There isn’t much left of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus without a tacit affirmation that souls in hades are consciously active, not unconsciously asleep. It’s scriptural and therefore etc., right? :mrgreen:

5.) Much has been laid on the notion that sleep per se must mean ‘nothingness’, at least consciously speaking; and that dreaming and sleep must therefore be mutually exclusive. But this makes a hash of the various times someone falls asleep and dreams in scripture!–it is not that they fall asleep and then wake up and then dream. Scripturally it was understood that those who dream while asleep are still asleep, not awake. Which is of course how practically everyone else has ever understood it, including up to modern times. Thus (to give the one clear NT example I can think of), whether Joseph (husband of Mary) saw the angelic messenger in a ‘dream’ or in a ‘trance’, either way he was roused up from sleep afterward. (The fact that we use the word ‘hupnos’ to speak of hypnotism is nothing to the point; the word did not have that clear a distinction at the time, as can be shown from other normal uses of the term.)

Overall, I think it would be better to understand ‘sleep’ as a hopeful cultural euphamism for death, and not to try to assess the technical qualities of death very far from it. (But, if you insist: dreaming is obviously part of sleep in the scriptures, too, just like everywhere else in world history. And so therefore must conscious mental activity be, in some ways. :mrgreen: )

6.) Rebel spirits apparently exist without embodiment, though they often seek (and accomplish) embodiment (in various ways), according to scriptural testimony. I realize this won’t go very far for people who are committed (for various reasons) to explaining away the scriptural affirmation of their existence; but if we’re appealing to scriptural testimony on the topic of conscious activity in hades/sheol/Tartarus/the swirling-depths (the Abyss), as though what the truth is ought to be clearly obvious from what the scriptures say: there it is. :wink: The actual positive testimony, whatever we think the testimony might mean (whether less than the imagery or more than the imagery), is in favor of consciously active and perceptive disembodied spirits there, too.

In anticipation of John 13:33,36: if the place being prepared by Jesus is the bodily resurrection life, especially in a transformed heaven and earth, then certainly they cannot “presently” be going where He is going; moreso they must wait until He comes again and takes them to Himself. But God can and does go to hades/sheol (as Christ Himself does in human as well as divine spirit), to be with the dead until the time (in our natural history) of the general resurrection and the emptying of hades. (Christ, as the firstfruit of the resurrection, rises from hades and ascends to heaven both in spirit and in His human body; but this is no bar to the presence of God in hades anymore than local action of God at any time or place, or outside any natural time or place, is a bar to God’s spiritual omnipresence at all times and places.) So it is well-written: “when I go down into the pit, You are there with me O Lord!”–which is a comfort to the Psalmist.

Having said all that, I don’t disagree with some of the other technical and exegetical points raised. For example, I agree that the grammar of Luke 23:43 can be rendered, “Truly, to you am I saying today, with Me shall you be in the paradise.” I could even add to this argument!–that the grammatic weight is in favor of this reading, insofar as usually the adverb would follow the verb it modifies in Greek. Unless of course the adverb was being fronted for emphasis! But since the rebel’s plea was merely to be remembered by Jesus, which wouldn’t necessarily require that the rebel actually be with Jesus (only thought well of by Jesus in remembrance), the topical emphasis makes more sense clarifying (as Jesus’ reply certainly does) that he with Him shall be.

Having said all that :mrgreen: : I don’t consider Peter’s reference to Psalm 110 to primarily have to do with resurrection and ascension per se anyway, but of the uniquely authoritative ascension of Christ to the throne reserved in Judaism for God alone. Thus Jesus, though derived from David in His fully human heritage, was still the Lord of David (instead of being subordinate to him). Peter, like Jesus before him, is answering the riddle of Psalm 110 such that ADNY means both Adonei (my lord, which might in its vowels refer to a man or to God) and Adonai (Lords, a corporate unity name reserved in the Hebrew scriptures uniquely for the AeCHaD God). David is never going to ascend into heaven in that sense!–only He Who has descended from that throne in the first place can ascend to it. (cf Eph 4:7-10; also 1:15-23, and Rom 10:5-9. Christ may share the authority of that throne with us by His gracious delegation, seating us among the celestials as Eph 2 goes on to put it, but we are not to sit on it ourselves: we share the throne with Christ in RevJohn, but we creatures are not to be worshiped, not even created angels, but only the Father and the Son–nor is anyone ever shown on that throne aside from the Father and the Son corporately.)


YAY!!! - Jeff agrees with Ran! at last! :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

Although to be fair I have read that the ancient Hebrews thought of the abode of the dead as a somewhat dreamlike state - seeing the dead as rather ineffectual shades rather than unconscious (drat being agnostic and always seeing everyone’s point of view :frowning: )