I relish a heavenly nap as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of actually getting to Heaven. There persists in some evangelical circles a pertinacious little misunderstanding known as “soul sleep” or, to the more erudite, “psychopannychism.”
It’s the view that when you die your spirit goes into an unconscious, uncomprehending state until the final resurrection.
The reasoning is that since every human being is a body-soul composite (or for our pedantic tripartite readers: body-soul-mind), when your body dies your soul cannot function until it is reunited with your resurrected corpus.
This argument isn’t merely a logical one, but putatively a biblical one. Proponents point out that the writers of Scripture routinely referred to the dearly departed as those who had “fallen asleep.”
Jesus referred to the deceased, entombed Lazarus as sleeping:
John 11:11-14 … he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died…”
Jesus told snickering mourners that Jairus’ daughter was not dead but snoozing (Mark 5:39).
Matthew records that at the crucifixion:
Matthew 27:52-53 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection.
Stephen’s martyrdom is equated with a snooze.
Acts 7:60-8:1 And falling to his knees he [Stephen] cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of his execution.
1 Thess 4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
So, what do we make of this? Do our souls simply doze in a low-energy screensaver mode until a new body is provided? Does death initiate a holding pattern for the spirit, or a state awaiting resuscitation; one Miracle Max would just call “mostly dead”?
The solution comes from the science and art of hermeneutics.
You don’t even need a study of the phrase “fallen asleep” in Greek literature to determine that it is a euphemism for death. (Much as we say “passed away” or “recently departed.”) The rules of hermeneutics dictate that we always start with the less ambiguous and more didactic texts in Scripture to shed the light of understanding on those whose meanings are in dispute.
Here are some passages in which the instantaneous nature of the soul’s promotion to Heaven is clear:
Philippians 1:21-23 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Luke 23:42-43 And he [the thief on the cross] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-8 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
So, there is no need to lose sleep over whether you will get to see Jesus or not. The moment your spirit is released, you are with Jesus. What form the intermediate state takes is the subject of another blog post. Watch this space.