Based on the Bible, many people have concluded that
at the moment of death, a person comes into immediate conscious contact
with God. Are they right to believe this? Many do so on the strength of
several key Bible texts. Have they interpreted those verses correctly?
Do they realize that there are some other scriptures that ought to be
consulted, passages wherein the Bible refers to death as “sleep”?
Other believers imagine that the human becomes completely
unconscious from death until the resurrection. Will this “soul
sleep” concept fit with the full weight of Bible revelation about
death? Does it bypass the intent of a key scripture, because of the
manner in which a comma was inserted into one literal English
translation? Should death as “sleep” be taken only as a figure of
speech? No matter which view one chooses, the result will not be of
consequence in their personal salvation! Many interesting and
controversial Bible subjects like this one may have some influence on
one's life and mental attitude but they are of no importance in one's
becoming a Child of God.
Yet there is virtue in examining such puzzling
matters. Searching for answers to these questions is an important
exercise in itself and the information will reduce the fear of death,
no matter which view is chosen. Such fear is frequently faced because
death confronts us daily in car accidents, homicides, wars, house
fires, and many other cataclysmic events. Hebrews 2:14-15 states that
Jesus came to free just as many people as have lived all their lives in
subjection to the fear of death. The “as many” clause here ensures
freedom from fear of death for every person who has ever lived. No
matter how we interpret the passages studied in this essay, may the
fear of death dissipate in the presence of Christ; may He change it
into “the fear of God,” which is the beginning of wisdom!
Does Consciousness Continue after Death?
The Repentant Thief and a Questionable Comma
Luke 23:39-43 (Concordant Literal Version: CLV) “Now one
of the hanged malefactors blasphemed Him, saying, ‘Are you not the
Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Yet answering, the other one, rebuking
him averred, ‘Yet you are not fearing God, seeing that you are in the
same judgment! And we, indeed, justly, for we are getting back the
deserts of what we commit, yet this One commits nothing amiss.’ And he
said to Jesus, ‘Be reminded of me, Lord, whenever Thou mayest be coming
in Thy Kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Verily, to you I am saying
today, with Me shall you be in paradise.’”
The last sentence in verse 43 reads best in English
if a comma is inserted somewhere in the middle. Adding a comma needs to
be done despite the fact that in the Greek text there are no
punctuation marks. The CLV translators, as followers of A. E.
Knoch, probably believed in soul sleep and so they placed
that comma after the English word “today,” (see above.) The translators
of the King James Version (KJV) and the New International Version
(NIV), people who most likely believed in consciousness after
death, put the comma before “today”: “Verily I say unto thee, To day
thou shalt be with me in paradise” KJV. “'I tell you the truth, today
you will be with me in paradise’” NIV.
The positioning of the comma in these versions
correlated with the view of death held by the translators, something
that is not at all unusual The CLV soul-sleep people end up with Jesus
having said something like this (in paraphrased form): “Truly today I
am telling you, that ultimately you will be with me in paradise” while
the NIV and KJV scholars (likely believers in immediate post-death
consciousness), would have Christ making the following paraphrased
statement: “Truly I tell you that you will be with me in paradise
But by placing the comma after “today,” as in the CLV, Christ
would have been making a needlessly redundant remark. He and the
repentant thief knew full well that Christ was talking at that time and
on that particular day! It would have been pointless for Jesus to have
emphasized such an obvious fact. We think the NIV and the KJV have
conveyed the right idea from the Greek: that Christ was confirming
cognizant existence right after death.
With his statement, the repentant thief
was not asking for an immediate favor: “Remember me when you come into
your kingdom.” He was just asking for consideration sometime in
the far distant future. By way of bold contrast, however, Christ’s
words “today you will be with me in paradise” granted the request
immediately, and by so doing, showed that consciousness prevails right
after death. We think the contrast between these two words “when” (the
thief) and “today” (Christ) was both intentional and instructive.
The Rich Man and Lazarus.
One of us (Howe) takes the account of the rich man
and Lazarus, Matthew 27, to be an allegorical parable, while the other
author (Marshall) believes it to be a narrative dealing with of events
confronting two real people after their deaths. If it is an allegory
about the future of Israel, it obviously had nothing to do with whether
or not consciousness continues posthumously. But if it is a record of
two real people in the afterlife, it certainly shows that both men were
fully conscious after they had died!
Away from the Body and at Home with the Lord
NIV “Therefore we are always
confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are
away from the Lord…We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away
from the body and at home with the Lord” II Corinthians 5:6 and 8
Is II Corinthians 5:8 revealing
something very important about existence right after death when it
says, “away from the body and at home with the Lord”? At the very
least, the passage shows that we should be encouraged right now and
have confidence in knowing that we will go to meet the Lord. This is a
constant source of confidence, encouragement, and good cheer right now.
To be at home in the body is to be away from “home” with the Lord. When
is this excellent transition going to be fulfilled, immediately upon
dying or only after an elongated soul sleep?
To be fully “at home with the Lord,”
one must be “away from, out of, or absent from” the body. “At home” in
our fleshly body is the opposite of being “at home with the Lord.” The
terms “absent from” and “present with” are in bold contrast, like two
sides of a coin that cannot stand on its edge. To be present in one
world in this physical body is to be absent from the other world. To be
at home with the Lord in the “other world” means being absent from the
body of flesh and yet being fully conscious. The “absence” to
“presence” in this transition is instantaneous and there is no
alternative to these two states.
Of course, the Lord is present
with us now because God’s Holy Spirit leads and sustains us while
we live in the flesh: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” But
we know from other scriptures that God the Father is fully present on
His throne in heaven with His Son Jesus seated at His right hand.
To be in that heavenly presence of the Lord will be quite different
than the way we experience God’s presence right now. Understanding
God’s triune nature helps confirm this: God the Father and God the Son
are away from us, but they are still with us, through God the Holy
Spirit, Who is our very present help in time of trouble. The presence
of the Holy Spirit guarantees that the triune God is alive in us right
Again, this situation is like a coin that cannot
stand on its thin edge. There is no intermediate waiting state. No
conscious or unconscious loitering is described. No hint of an
unconscious sleep was given. To make these verses fit with an elongated
period of soul sleep requires some elaborate sophistry. Being present
with the Lord is simply the flip side of being absent form this
body. Being “there,” with the Lord, is just as much a conscious
situation as is being “here.” The change from one state to the other
apparently occurs rapidly during death. Here is a suggested paraphrase
in summary: “We should be confident and should be encouraging each
other to be delighting in the understanding that, to be absent from
this physical body is for our spirit to be immediately in the presence
of the Lord.”
II Corinthians 5:6 and 8
People Said to Be “Asleep” Are Actually
“God did not appoint us to
indignation but to the obtainment of salvation through our Lord Jesus
Christ, the one having died for us in order that whether we watch or we
sleep, together with Him we may live” I Thessalonians 5:9-10, Alfred
Marshall's Interlinear Greek Translation (AMIT). The word “watch” is a
figure of speech referring to being alive as we await Christ's return.
The word “sleep” is also figurative, designating death in verse 10.
Sleep is a figure for death in that the bodies of dead people surely
appear to be in a very deep sleep. It does not mean that those
same dead individuals are unconscious until the resurrection. The
very ones who are said to be sleeping are also said to be living
together with Christ. Thus they are asleep (dead) to earthlings but
living with Christ. This resembles Paul's remark about Christ's own
death: “For in that He died, He died unto sin once for all, and the
life He lives, he lives unto God” Romans 6:10.
One ought not change figurative Bible topics into
literal ideas. In verses 2-3 of this same chapter (I Thessalonians
chapter five), Paul stated that Christ’s return would arrive like a
thief in the night. While there is talk about “peace” and “safety”
(verse 3), destruction will come suddenly. But the brothers (believers)
should not be surprised at Christ's coming because they are children of
the day and of the light; they do not belong to the night or darkness
and should not “sleep” like the other people (verse 5 and 6).
Here Paul introduced five figures of speech—“light,” “day,”
“night,” “darkness,” and “sleep”, not one of which is to be taken
literally. The “sleep” in verse 6 is not real sleep but it is a lack of
awareness concerning Christ’s second coming. “Sleep” was used twice in
a non-literal fashion: once as a figure for careless revelry (verse 5)
and once for death itself (verse 10). The people who were carousing,
unaware of Christ's coming, were certainly not “asleep” in the literal
sense. Neither are the dead people (verse 10) asleep but they are in
the presence of Christ. Light and day are figures of speech describing
the lifestyle of believers, while darkness, night, drunkenness, and
sleep depict the attitudes of the non-believers toward the return of
Christ. In the presence of these many figurative expressions, Bible
readers ought to grant that “sleep” in verse 10 is also a figure, and
does not mean that the souls of dead people are unconscious.
Does this passage deal
specifically with believers or with all mankind? Often in the earlier
verses of I Thessalonians chapter five, Paul addressed his words to the
“brothers,” showing that this whole section is directed to believers.
The benefits mentioned in verses 9 and 10, for example, are the
property of believers only: 1. escaping God's indignation and 2.
possessing salvation right now. Paul’s silence in this text about God’s
finally becoming the Savior of the whole human race is not
unusual and does not detract from the ultimate reconciliation of all
lost people. Paul did not need to mention every doctrine at each point
in all of his epistles! In numerous instances throughout other letters,
Paul did explain God’s plan to ultimately reconcile every lost person,
as in Colossians 1:20. Paul’s statements to believers about deliverance
from judgment and immediate salvation do not preclude universal
reconciliation. In I Timothy 4:9-11, for example, he mentioned both the
salvation of believers and the ultimate salvation of all others too, in
the very same verse: “We put hope in the living God, Who is the Savior
of all mankind, especially of believers.” While total salvation is not
the topic under discussion in I Thessalonians chapter five, the
reconciliation of all people nonetheless is a valid topic covered many
other places in Paul's epistles and throughout the entire Bible.
“Living together with
I Thessalonians 5:9
Christ Was Himself Conscious During His Death:
One passage penned by Paul and two more by Peter
dovetail together to cover some of the things Christ did during the
three days and nights His own body was entombed. Paul told us
that the meaning of the words “He ascended” is that “He [Christ] first
descended into the lowest parts of the earth...” (Ephesians 4:9,
CLV). Christ was not asleep in death but was actively descending and
Peter further indicated that Christ had been consciously
preaching while He was dead: “He was put to death in the body but made
alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the
spirits in prison” I Peter 3:18b-19, NIV. Peter stressed that
same point by writing: “...indeed to dead men was good news preached,
in order that they might on the one hand be judged according to men in
the flesh; but might live on the other according to God in the
spirit” I Peter 4:6, AMIT. Peter plainly stated that Christ,
while dead, was preaching the gospel to dead people. At this point,
Christ was taking captivity captive and giving gifts unto men, as
stated in Ephesians 4:6. Jesus and many other dead folk were quite
conscious during this great time of preaching.
Ephesians 4:5-10, I Peter 3:19, and I Peter 4:6
THIS ESSAY IS NOT FINISHED YET.
BUT YOU ARE WELCOME TO USE WHAT IS PRESENTLY HERE.
IT IS CO-AUTHORED
ROSS MARSHALL AND GEORGE HOWE.