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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Sleep Of Death

We continue our meditation upon the nature of human life—and death.

There is a controversy among us Christians about what the Bible means when it speaks about death. Are we in some kind of unconscious sleep until Christ returns to raise us up on the final Judgment Day? Is there a conscious life between our physical death and our resurrection? There are, in fact, several ways to describe the end of bodily life and the continued existence of us humans after that. Consider the following sample descriptions of death.

  • Gathered to his people

  • Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. - (Gen 25:8 ESV)
    And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. - (Gen 35:29 ESV)

  • Slept with his fathers

  • Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. - (1Ki 2:10 ESV)
    And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place. - (1Ki 11:43 ESV)

  • Fall asleep

  • so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep - (Job 14:12 ESV) 
    And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. - (Dan 12:2 ESV) 
    The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, - (Mat 27:52 ESV)
    After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." - (John 11:11 ESV)
    Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, - (1Cr 15:6,20,51 ESV)
    But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep - (1Th 4:13-15 ESV)

  • Dead are alive

  • 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." - (Matt 22:32 ESV) 
    But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. - (Luke 20:37 ESV)
    From these and similar passages it is safe to conclude that death is for us believers absolutely nothing to fear. It is frequently and often described as sleep. When tired we welcome sleep. It is a peaceful and much needed thing. It is a time of refreshment and preparation for the tasks of the next day.

    The difficulty that many have with the sleep passages is that they assume sleep to be a state of unconsciousness, a time when we are totally and completely oblivious to anything. That is not how the Bible describes sleep. For those who have committed their spirits into the hands of the loving Father and His Son Jesus it is a time of refreshment. Sleep is a time of sweet dreams, visions, peace and happiness in the presence of God.

    If you feel that sleep is always a state of unconsciousness, consider the following. Modern specialists describe sleep as a time when your brain is busy organizing and correlating memories. Sleep. they say, allows your brain to better process new experiences and knowledge, increasing your understanding and retention. I suppose that is a useful way to describe sleep, but it does not reflect the full understanding revealed in Scripture. We are much, much more than a body with a brain. We are a living soul with a spirit. And for us bodied-spirits sleep is also a time when we are open to communicate with angelic spirits, with demons even and with God. Shut off from the realm of the conscious world around us, we become open to the realm of the spirit. Consequently during sleep God often communicates with His people through visions and dreams, as well as by sending angelic messengers. God's people, in turn, speak with Him and praise Him. These sleepers see God, worship Him, sing and celebrate with God's people, with those who have temporarily left bodily life and await the joyous resurrection and restoration of full body/spirit life in the new creation.

    Consider the following examples:
    And he (Jacob) came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleepAnd he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! - And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. . .  etc. (see Gen 28:11-17 ESV).
    Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground. And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, "O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you." And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. - (see Dan 10:1-21 ESV)
    And her (Mary's) husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, - (See Matt 1:19-25 ESV)
    So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD . . . Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. - (Deu 34:5-7 ESV)
    And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." - (Mat 17:1-5 ESV)
    Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. - (Rev 14:1-3 ESV)
    Take comfort then, dear friend and believer in Jesus. Death has no sting for you or for me. It is but a wondrous sleep, a time of happy dreams, a time of singing and rejoicing with your fathers and mothers, a time of being in the presence of Jesus and our Father to hear them speak to us personally. This short and mysterious period of celebration in the Father's house will be a time of peace, comfort and anticipation. For soon, very soon, the Day of the resurrection and restoration of our bodies will come. Then in the new creation we shall live together to serve our God and rejoice in His presence time without end.