Risen from the Dust
So if I'm right, and soul sleep is not scriptural, why are there so many bible verses that clearly refer to the dead as being asleep, "Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13.3 KJV bible), "You turn man back into dust...You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep" (Psalm 90.3,5 NASB bible), "And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers" (2nd Samuel 7.12 KJV bible), "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep" (1st Corinthians 15.6 KJV bible), "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1st Corinthians 15.51 KJV bible)? These verses clearly refer to the dead, even the righteous dead, as being asleep.
The bible refers to the dead as sleeping, not because they are literally unconscious, but rather it is a euphemism for death. Sleeping is a euphemism that conveys to us the sense that death is not the absolute end or extinction of an individual, but rather it is a transitory separation. When someone is asleep they are still alive, but disconnected from the world. Likewise, a deceased person still exists, but in a different place that is not accessible to us. We have a similar tradition in our culture, where instead of saying that someone is dead, we say that the person has "passed on" or "departed". Families will often write "rest in peace" (or some variation thereof) on a tombstone. This is all done not out of the belief that the dead are literally asleep, but out of a sensitivity to the notion of death. In both cases, the dead are described as being asleep, or having passed on, to convey to us the temporary nature of their separation.
Consider Acts 7, where Stephen is described as falling asleep, "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7.59-60 KJV bible). The writer of Acts says that Stephen fell asleep, but Stephen himself says to the Lord Jesus, "receive my spirit". Is there a difference of opinion about the afterlife between Luke, who is the writer of Acts, and Stephen who apparently was under the impression that Jesus would receive his spirit? If we understand the use of the term "fell asleep", to be a simple indication of Stephen's physical death, then there is no contradiction.
This is also consistent with Jesus' description of Lazarus as sleeping, "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. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead" (John 11.11-14 KJV bible). Jesus first describes Lazarus as being asleep, but his apostles take this literally to mean that Lazarus is still alive. Then Jesus says plainly that Lazarus is dead, at which point his apostles understand what he means. When Jesus says that Lazarus is sleeping, it says that he "spake of his death", which indicates that he was using the term figuratively.
Well then what about the dead who are said to be sleeping in the dust of the earth? Wouldn't the phrase "dust of the earth", indicate that they are literally asleep in the ground, "And many [or the multitude] of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake" (Daniel 12.2 KJV bible), "for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be" (Job 7.21 KJV bible)? If they are not literally asleep, then why are they described as dwelling in the dust of the earth?
Recall from the section on gateways to heaven and hell, that there is a strong association between the first hell, or Hades, and the dust of the earth. The dust of the earth both symbolizes, and acts as the gateway to the underworld, "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?" (Psalm 30.9 NASB bible), "All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul" (Psalm 22.29 KJV bible). Sleeping in the dust of the earth simply refers to the spirits of people who dwell in Hades as opposed to heaven. They are described as sleeping in the dust, because the dust of the earth is used as a biblical symbol for the underworld.
The dust of the earth acts a symbol for both Hades and spiritual death. This is why in the second resurrection, the dead are described as being released from the dust of the earth, "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead" (Isaiah 26.19 KJV bible). So the souls of the dead dwell figuratively, not literally, in the dust of the earth. Also, notice that the saints are never referred to as sleeping in the dust, but only in Christ, "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (1st Corinthians 15.18 KJV bible). The ones who have fallen asleep in Christ have in no way perished, because they are with the Lord in heaven, (see ch.4 Souls in Heaven). However, the rest of the dead dwell in the underworld, as embodied by the dust of the earth.
Let's also consider some other verses that might appear to support the notion of soul sleep. For example, what about Psalm 146.4 which seems to imply that the dead are lifeless in thought as well as action, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146.4 KJV bible). Looking at the context of this passage we come to understand that it is speaking about mortal man, and how we shouldn't put our confidence in him. This is because when he dies his thoughts perish with him, in the sense that his plans, ideas, and worldly influence come to naught.
This same reasoning holds true for Ecclesiastes 9.6, "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" (Ecclesiastes 9.6 KJV bible). It says that they no longer have a portion in what goes on under the sun, meaning that all of their love, hatred, and envy disappears with them. In other words, they become inconsequential to the land of the living, not that they cease to be in an absolute way.
A soul that is absent from a body is certainly cognizant, (see ch.12 Soul Sleep). However, there is some evidence to suggest that it exists in a reduced mental capacity, and experiences reality differently from a soul that is dwelling within a functioning body. We know, for example, that people with Alzheimer's (and other degenerative diseases of the brain) are often confused, and less capable of understanding and interacting with the world around them. Also, when people go to sleep at night, and their brains rest, their thoughts change, becoming more random and unfocused. It is therefore probable, that people who are disembodied souls, and lack the computing power of a brain, don't experience reality or the passage of time the same way we do. They lose the progressive history of thoughts and memories that our mental faculties provide us. Their sense of perception becomes surreal and nebulous, similar to what we experience when we dream at night. They still have thoughts and feelings that they can communicate, but are unable to carry out complex flesh-like activities that require concentration or brain power.
This is why Sheol is described as the land of forgetfulness or oblivion, "Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?" (Psalms 88.12 KJV bible). This is also why it is written in Ecclesiastes, "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing...Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave [Sheol], whither thou goest" (Ecclesiastes 9.5,10 KJV bible). However, the degraded condition of the dead shouldn't be seen as a confirmation of soul sleep, because soul sleep implies a complete suspension of the individual. Rather, this is the idea that the experience of being dead is different and less vivid than the experience of being alive, but it is an experience none the less. This degraded condition is part of what the dead will be raised up from in the Resurrection of the Dead.
Clifford 04 Aug 2009, 10:33Good Day
Doug Buckley 04 Aug 2009, 16:24Hello Clifford,
Craig 02 Oct 2009, 14:58What Clifford was trying to say is that Jesus was referring to the desciples' resurrection, not death. He will come to get them at the resurrection. Very clear. The traditional belief of separation of the mind from the body is a fallacy. The masses are not in heaven in any form. Their spirits (lives) were temporarily taken, but not until the resurrection will these souls (people) go to be with Jesus.
Doug Buckley 04 Oct 2009, 10:16Hi Craig,
stephen 27 Nov 2009, 21:32But Doug, there is not one single scripture that says the soul or spirit will join with the body at the resurrection. The Bible has always been consistant with the resurrection. If our souls are already in heaven then why would Jesus resurrect us from the dead? How can you be alive in two places at once?
Doug Buckley 28 Nov 2009, 16:14Hi Stephen,
Stephen 21 Mar 2010, 16:38Hi Doug
Doug Buckley 22 Mar 2010, 16:05Hi Stephen, (alot of Stephens here),
clinton 14 May 2010, 09:59Why did Jesus say the NO man has ascended into Heaven, but, he himself.
Doug Buckley 14 May 2010, 16:42Hi Clinton, God Bless
Rafael 28 Jan 2011, 18:41The first resurrection belongs to the "elect ones". They will be priests and kings with Jesus to rule over the earth. Only they will be in heaven. The rest of humankind will live on earth. If all saved christians are going to be kings and priest...over whom they will rule?
Doug Buckley 29 Jan 2011, 13:24Hi Rafael, yes the first resurrection will not be the ones who are asleep in the dust, but the ones who sleep in Christ (1st Thessalonians 4.14). Christ will bring all of the saints or elect ones with him when he returns to earth. If they reign in heaven then who are they reigning over? I believe that Christ will reign here on earth until all his enemies are made his footstool. Then the ones who spiritually "sleep in the dust" (ie nonbelievers) will be resurrected. Maybe check out my series of articles about the millennium, or keep reading as I go deeper into this.
alfredo 11 Jun 2011, 16:36Hi Doug,
Doug Buckley 12 Jun 2011, 17:08Hi Alfredo, this chapter is more about soul sleep and sleeping the dust and the deeper meaning of what they mean. Sleeping in the dust refers to spiritual death in Hades, and so does Ezekiel 18.4. There is also a spirit or breath of life in every person, that is not a soul and is different from a soul (see ch. 11). In Eccliastes 9.5-6, Solomon is speaking from the perspective of the world, that the dead are gone, no longer partaking of the things of the world.
Eric 13 Jun 2011, 11:02You said that those that are "sleeping in the dust" are non-believers. Is it possible that instead of just non-believers, could they be those that have never been baptised? i.e. those that were on the earth before Christ came gave His life for us on the cross. The reason I ask this is that the scripture in question (Daniel, in summary) says that they would be judged based on whether they were good or bad people.
Doug Buckley 13 Jun 2011, 22:55Hi Eric, I'm assuming that you're talking about Daniel 12.2, which refers to the awakening of those that sleep in the dust. This is the 2nd resurrection of the dead when the people are released from Hades for judgment. So I think we basically agree that those who sleep in the dust are all the people who didn't go to heaven. Therefore, it is the ones who have not received forgiveness for their sins that sleep in the dust. However, I believe that some people were forgiven and did go to heaven before Christ's crucifixion (see chapter 4).
Raquel 11 Dec 2011, 01:11"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Gen 3:19.
Doug Buckley 12 Dec 2011, 01:52Raquel, it's a leap that because Jesus uses the word "sleep" to describe Lazarus' death that the dead are unconscious or asleep. Maybe the term "sleep" is a euphemism for death. To us they are asleep, not completely gone, but not with us.
Yon 20 Dec 2011, 19:46Good people. In reading through all these comments there is evidence of heartfelt belief, but in my opinion no clear evidence as to the meaning of "Sleeping in the Dust". There is a great mystery around death. Do we immediately go to heaven? That is a belief and hope for many. Maybe that is why "rest" and "peace" are often referenced for the death of our loved ones. There are times when I find myself asleep/ dead to this world and alive in the spirit. There may be a certain degree of sleep/ death even as our soul/ spirit is with our bodies or without. As such, some may feel that not all are “sleeping in the dust”. Why would some be asleep? Although not everything is clear, we should draw comfort knowing that Jesus Christ conquered sin (death). I believe that "Sleeping in the Dust" is a form of death. This may be likened to death and confinement in our current bodies and the flesh which withers away like dust. In that our soul/ spirit is no longer confined to the earthly limitations such as time and gravity etc., and we can be considered in heaven or rather in transition to heaven/ paradise. The following is just a thought that crossed my mind. Will our essence, spirit, our very soul stay in a box, or with our ashes that are spread in the ocean, or tossed in the air to freely go and sleep where it lands? I do not believe this. When we succumb are we separated from our bodies and also from earth? I think this is where many stumble and are of the belief that if they choose anything contrary to what they’ve heard or read it is implausible or in error. I’m not convinced we are in a dormant sleep when we pass, although there is a part of me that feels we are neither in paradise. Perhaps some of the mystery is in references like new heavens and a new earth as in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. Or with Revelation 20:4 where it speaks about the thousand year reign of Christ with those who remained faithful to Him. Hence, unless we have experienced the afterlife, we really don’t know.
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