Daniel 12:2 is a verse that confuses people over whether a person 'sleeps' when they die, or go to heaven:
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt."
To our modern ear this seems to be in direct contradiction of Paul's statement that 'To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord', in II Corinthians 5: 8.
What we have here is a failure to communicate
To our modern mind the use of sleep to speak of death presents a picture of unconsciousness, of deep sleep where you aren't aware of anything. But the Biblical use of sleep can be different. We have to work through Old and New Testaments, translations and cultural considerations, all of which can seem to contradict one another.
Jesus said to the ladies wailing over the untimely death of Jairus' 12 year old daughter: "Why are you crying so? The girl is not dead, but sleeps." Mark 5: 39
"'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I am going that I may awaken him from sleep.' 'Lord, if he is sleeping he will be all right.' But spoke of his death, but they had thought He was talking about taking rest in sleep." John 11: 11-13
"For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid to his fathers, and saw corruption." Acts 13: 36
"For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."
"Behold, I show you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed." I Corinthians 11:30, 15: 51
"For if we believe that Jesus both died and rose again, even so those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
"Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we will live together with Him." I Thessalonians 4: 14, 5:10
The Bible uses sleep to mean natural sleep of course.
And quite often the Bible's use of sleep refers to being spiritually asleep. One of my favorite album's was Keith Green's 1978 album "No Compromise", with one of the songs being "Asleep in the Light". Unfortunately that song is still as relevant to our times as it was in 1978.
The third use of sleep is our subject of course; calling death 'sleep'.
The ancient temple prayer which is still prayed at the Feast of Trumpets - the feast that is a picture of what we call the rapture - is about awakening the righteous dead, paraphrased by Paul in Ephesians 5:14:
"Therefore it says (temple prayer at Feast of Trumpets): "Awake you who sleep and rise from the dead, and Messiah will give you light..."
Here is the explanation: The use of sleep for death in the Bible refers to the body, not the soul.
The body sleeps, but there is not a single scripture saying a person's soul sleeps.
In Daniel 12:2 when it says 'Those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake (to face judgment)', the object being the dust of the earth, which means the body. Not the soul.
In John 11:11 when Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go to awaken him from sleep", He uses the word 'kekoimatai', which means 'to lie down'. In the other words, 'Lazarus' body is lying down (sleeping)' - the subject is the body, not the soul.
In Ecclesiastes 9:5 when it says; "For the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing, for they have no reward for they are soon forgotten", it is clearly talking about the body, not the soul.
OT Jewish and NT Christian viewpoint
Because the Old and New Testaments teach a physical resurrection of the dead, the Bible's view of death for the body is that of a temporary condition no matter if the person is a believer or unbeliever. (Daniel 12:2 for example)
The idea of 'soul sleep' therefore not only contradicts Judaism and Christianity from Genesis through The Revelation, but we have chapter and verse that states we go directly to be with the Lord.
When Paul wrote the Philippians that he desired to go and be with the Lord in death which was 'far better', he wasn't saying his soul needed a good long nap. He was saying he is eternal and upon the death of the body he would be with the Lord. That is the only way it is 'far better' to die - that one would be with the Lord.
We've seen what Jesus taught in Luke 16: 19-31; the 2 men who died both went to their respective places and saw one another, spoke to one another, and were clearly not 'asleep'. The evidence of Jesus' grammar tells us this was not a parable, but a real situation. And frankly, that what He told me as well on 10/1/86 when He taught me about these things.
Then we have Moses and Elijah who appeared to Him and talked with Him of his death in Jerusalem from the Law and Prophets, so they were clearly not in 'soul sleep'. Jesus told the repentant man on the cross that 'Today you will be with me in Paradise' so Jesus wasn't planning on either of them 'sleeping', and in Revelation 6: 9-11 John saw thousands of people before the Father's throne asking for vengeance for their (martyred) deaths.
The body 'sleeps' and that is the context of each verse in the Bible where sleep is spoken of as death. For us, our bodies may sleep, ie lose contact with the physical world, but for our eternal souls, to be absent from our body is to be present with the Lord, which is as Paul said, 'far better'. Next week, people in heaven both Biblical and some who I've seen there as well. Until then, blessings,
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