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The truth sets people free
Many people believe when a Christian dies, he or she goes to heaven and is with Jesus, and they take comfort in that. This seminar is not designed to cause people discomfort. Jesus taught us that there is great value in the truth. Jesus taught us that the truth would set us free, and there is great freedom in knowing what happens to people when they die.
The Bible teaches that when a person dies, he is dead in every sense of the word. His body is dead, his soul is dead, and his spirit is gone. Some people hearing this for the first time may find that revelation upsetting, so the information will be set forth as kindly and factually as possible.
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[This article was taken from chapter 5 of Truth or Tradition’s book Is There Death After Life?]
The “Sleep” Metaphor
1 Thessalonians 4:13
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
As we have seen, the dead are truly dead and in “gravedom.” When their bodies have rotted, they have ceased to exist. But because they “exist” in the memory of God, He remembers them and intends via Jesus Christ to raise them to life. Thus He figuratively refers to their state of being as “sleep.” This clearly implies a future awakening. Because both their body and soul are dead, the term “sleep” has to be a metaphor.
The purpose of biblical figures of speech is to communicate truth more effectively or forcefully than would simple statements of fact. A metaphor or analogy is useful to augment our understanding if we carefully analyze the points of similarity between the compared terms. In this case, death and sleep have at least five points of similarity that give us much insight into the state of the dead, consistent with what we have already seen from the Old Testament.
The first similarity between death and sleep is that both are overpowering forces. A human being needs to rest. If deprived of sleep long enough, a person will literally fall asleep in the midst of any task, no matter how demanding. The human will is no match for the power of sleep. Consider Jesus’ disciples. Close to the time when he would be arrested, Jesus and his disciples were on the Mount of Olives. There was probably no more critical time for Peter and the disciples to stay awake and pray.
(35) And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
(36) And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.
(37) And He cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
(38) Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
Like sleep, death is an inexorable force for all men (unless they are still living when Christ appears). No amount of self-discipline can cheat “The Grim Reaper.” The most we can ask is “to be old and full of days,” as God’s Word describes many Old Testament saints upon whom He had conferred His blessing. Our days on earth may be healthy and full of joy, but they will eventually end. Only when the day arrives that we receive a body fashioned like Jesus Christ’s glorious body will we become immortal beings who cannot die.
A second point of similarity between sleep and death is that in either state there is no consciousness of time or space. Remember that Ecclesiastes told us that the dead “know not anything.” This is also true of those who sleep, and that is why people are very vulnerable to danger while they sleep. Because we are somewhat helpless in this state, God has provided us with encouragement and a promise of protection.
(2) My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
(3) He will not suffer thy foot to be moved. He that keepeth thee will not slumber,
(4) Behold, He That keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
I laid me down and slept; I awakened; for the Lord sustained me.
The lack of consciousness in sleep is also illustrated in Elijah’s mocking of the 450 prophets of Baal. After they had tried many times to evoke his power, saying, “O Baal, hear us,” the Scriptures teach that there was “no voice, nor any that answered.”
1 Kings 18:27
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing [out for a walk], or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
The analogy of waking the dead from sleep makes no sense if the dead are already conscious in a higher sphere of existence, and the argument that only the body “sleeps” in death, while the soul continues to function, holds no water. On the contrary, the sleep metaphor emphasizes the absence of consciousness.
During physical sleep, bodily functions continue uninterrupted. It is the mind that sleep reduces to un-consciousness. The following biblical usages of physical “sleep” show the mental emphasis of this concept.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 7
(6) Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
(7) For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
The sleep metaphor thus must refer to the absence of mental awareness or consciousness, which is the major qualitative difference between the sleep state and the waking state. The sleeper is not aware of elapsed time, nor of the reality of space and time in the conditions that surround him. When he awakens, his mind becomes alert and aware once more. Likewise for one who has died, when he is raised from the dead. A dead believer is absolutely unaware of the passage of time. Whether he has been dead a few days or thousands of years, the moment of his falling asleep will be, in his conscious awareness, the moment of his awakening to new life.
A third point of similarity is that both in death and in sleep no productive work can be done. Perhaps that is why God contrasts sleep and productivity.
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