Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Sleep of Death!
Is there knowledge in the grave? Do the dead know what the living are doing? Have those who have died "passed away" to heaven or hell? Do you have an immortal soul, as most religions teach? This article removes the veil and reveals the TRUTH about this little understood subject!
by John D. Keyser
We have often mentioned in our articles the plain Bible teaching that death to humans means not merely separation from YEHOVAH God (as many claim), but more -- the full and complete cessation of life to both body and soul.
The Bible does not claim that life and separation from YEHOVAH God are opposites, but rather that life and death are -- notice Deuteronomy 30:15 and 19:
"See, I have set before you today LIFE and prosperity, DEATH and adversity."
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you LIFE and DEATH, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants" (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible).
Then, in the New Testament --
"...so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord" (Romans 5:21, NKJV).
"For the wages of sin is DEATH, but the gift of God is eternal LIFE in Christ Jesus our lord" (Romans 6:23, NKJV).
Also, in Romans 8:13, we find --
"For if you live according to your old nature, you will certainly DIE; but if, by the spirit, you keep putting to death the practices of the body, you will LIVE" (Jewish New Testament).
Paul, in Galatians 6:8, puts it another way:
"For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap CORRUPTION [DEATH], but he who sows to the spirit will of the spirit reap everlasting LIFE" (NKJV).
Finally, in Matthew 25:46, we read:
"They will go off to eternal PUNISHMENT [Greek, kolasin -- "cutting off" -- not "punishing"], but those who have done what God wants will go to eternal LIFE" (Jewish New Testament).
In other words, it will be either eternal cessation of life or eternal life for each individual!
The Bible also plainly shows that not only the body dies -- but also the soul! Notice what Job says --
"Their SOUL will die in youth itself, and their life among male temple prostitutes" (Job 36:14, New World Translation).
King David also understood this and writes about in the Psalms --
Psalm 30:3: "O Lord, You have brought my SOUL up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit" [grave] (NKJV).
Psalm 33:18-19: "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their SOUL from death, and to keep them alive in famine."
Psalm 56:13: "For You have delivered my SOUL from death."
Psalm 78:50: "He made a path for His anger; He did not spare their SOUL from death, but gave their life over to the plague."
Psalm 116:8: "For You have delivered my SOUL from death, my eyes from tears and my feet from falling."
The prophet Ezekiel also shows that the soul is not immortal:
"Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the SOUL who sins shall DIE" (Ezekiel 18:4).
"The SOUL who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20).
The New Testament reinforces this truth -- notice!
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him [YEHOVAH God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [the grave]" (Matthew 10:28).
Peter, after the coming of the spirit on Pentecost in 31 A.D., had this to say when he preached in Solomon's Portico --
"And it shall come to pass that every SOUL who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly DESTROYED from among the people" (Acts 3:23).
The epistle of James agrees with Peter and says:
"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20).
The Bible teaches that those in the death state are entirely unconscious, oblivious --
"His sons come to honor [after his death] and he does not know it; they are brought low [after his death], and he does not perceive it" (Job 14:21)
"For in death there is NO REMEMBRANCE OF YOU; in the grave who will give you thanks?" (Psalm 6:5).
"The DEAD do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17).
"His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (Psalm 146:4).
Ecclesiastes 9:5 really sums it up --
"For the living know that they will die; but THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy HAVE NOW PERISHED; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun."
The Bible teaches -- contrary to much religious and church teaching -- that in the time between one's death and the resurrection the dead ARE DEAD -- utterly unconscious! As Solomon said, "the dead KNOW NOTHING"! As far as your consciousness goes, the next fraction of a second you will wake up in the resurrection -- you will know absolutely NOTHING from the second you die, till the second you wake up in the resurrection.
YEHOVAH God's Provision
YEHOVAH God's great merciful, kind and loving provision was the giving of His only begotten Son Yeshua the Messiah to redeem YEHOVAH's people Israel from the Adamic curse and the unconscious condition in the Adamic death state -- and to bring them forth from it in the resurrection. Notice this wonderful provision:
"For He [YEHOVAH God] looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from heaven the LORD viewed the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those appointed to death" (Psalm 102:19-20).
"Just as Moshe [Moses] lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that everyone [of Israel] who trusts in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world [of Israel] that he gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through him, the world might be saved" (John 3:14-17, Jewish New Testament).
"Don't be surprised at this; because the time is coming when all [those of Israel] who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out -- those who have done good to a resurrection of LIFE, and those who have done evil to a resurrection of JUDGMENT [and eternal DEATH]" (John 5:28-29, ibid.).
"For indeed, Christ, while we were yet weak, died for ungodly men at the appointed time. For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love to us [of Israel] in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, therefore, since we have been declared righteous now by his blood, shall we be saved through him from wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more now that we have become reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we are also exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:6-11, New World Translation).
"However, when the kindness and the love for man on the part of our Savior, God, was manifested, owing to no works in righteousness that we [of Israel] had performed, but according to His mercy He saved us through the bath that brought us to life and through the making of us new by the holy spirit" (Titus 3:4-5, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures).
"And he himself [Yeshua the Messiah] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world [of Israel]" (I John 2:2, NKJV).
If it were not for this marvelous, loving provision of YEHOVAH God for bringing forth His people Israel in the resurrection, the first -- or Adamic -- death would amount to the same as the Second Death -- eternal non-existence like the brute beasts -- utter, complete and eternal annihilation:
"As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up" (Job 7:9)
"You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever. O enemy, destructions are finished forever! And you have destroyed cities; even their memory has perished" (Psalm 9:5-6).
"For evildoers shall be cut off; but those [of Israel] who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth [NOT heaven!]. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more" (Psalm 37:9-10).
Read also Psalm 37:20, 22, 28, 34-36, 38 and, particularly, Psalm 49.
In the New Testament read I Corinthians 3:17, I Timothy 6:9, and II Peter 2:1 and 12. Revelation 20 and 21 add some details --
"Then Death and Hades [the grave] were cast into the lake of fire [this represents the second death]. This is the second death. And anyone [of YEHOVAH's people Israel] not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15).
"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
As we have already mentioned, the Bible plainly teaches that death is the opposite of life; it is the cessation of life, and the Second Death is eternal cessation of life -- utter, complete and eternal annihilation for the wicked of Israel.
Because of YEHOVAH's marvelous, loving provision of the Messiah to die as the willing sacrifice (pictured by the red heifer sacrifice on the Mount of Olives) on behalf of the entire people of Israel, a great change occurred in their status. No longer are they eternally dead, but are considered as figuratively in a deep, dreamless sleep. Because of Yeshua's death as the Ransom-sacrifice on their behalf, they will come forth from the sleep of death in the resurrection awakening. They will be told "Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust" (Isaiah 26:19). "And many of those [including the good and the bad of Israel] who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting LIFE, some to shame and everlasting contempt " (Daniel 12: 2, 3).
The Scriptures frequently refer to the condition of the dead as being sleep. For example, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Solomon, and many other kings -- notice!
"And the LORD said to Moses: "Behold, you will rest with your fathers..." (Deuteronomy 31:16).
"When your days are fulfilled and you [David] rest with your fathers..." (II Samuel 7:12).
"So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David" (I Kings 2:10).
"Then Solomon rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David his father" (I kings 11:43).
"Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3).
"So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep" (Job 14:12).
The Old Testament clearly shows that these men did not go to heaven, but remain in the grave until the resurrection. What about the New Testament? What does it teach? Notice --
"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29).
"For David DID NOT ascend into the heavens..." (Acts 2:34).
"For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption" (Acts 13:36).
"First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation'" (II Peter 3:3-4, RSV).
In the case of Jairus' daughter who was dead, Yeshua said she was not dead but sleeping (Luke 8: 41, 42, 49, 52). He said the same of Lazarus --
"Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep'...Then Jesus told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead'" (John 11:11, 14, RSV).
Of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, it is stated that he fell asleep when he was stoned to death -- notice!
"And he [Stephen] knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death" (Acts 7:60, RSV).
We read also of the dead who "sleep in Jesus":
"But we should not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning 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" (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, RSV).
Notice, now, the powerful significance of the apostle Paul's words about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15: "Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [v. 12, NKJV]"? If the dead are not dead, but those who have died are more alive than ever, then surely there could be no resurrection of the dead!
Consider well every word of the further forceful argument by one of the early church's great spirit-filled minds: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen [but is still dead]. And if Christ is not risen [but still dead], then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God [we are deceivers instead of Divinely appointed ambassadors], because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up -- if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen" (vs. 13-16, NKJV).
One more of the apostle Paul's very logical and potent arguments should be emphasized. It is found in verses 17 and 18: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (RSV) If, as many erroneously claim, the souls of those fallen asleep in the Messiah are alive and conscious, how could they possibly have perished? We must remember that perishing means going into absolute and complete nonexistence according to the Bible -- see Psalm 37:20; Matthew 8:12; Luke 13:33; and John 3:16.
But some do not agree with Paul's powerful and logical arguments. They claim that Yeshua the Messiah was "more alive than ever" during the time the Bible declares he was dead, figuratively asleep, until his resurrection on the third day. One of their prominent writers states: "Although Scripture tells us that the Lord is 'the firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep' (1 Corinthians 15: 20), it does not say that He Himself fell asleep."
What nonsense! This writer's argument is very illogical because if the Messiah was "the firstfruit of them that slept," he obviously must have been one of those that slept, just as surely as if we would say "the first-ripe apple is the first of the firstfruits of the orchard!" That first-ripe apple would surely be a part of the firstfruits of the orchard. So even though the Bible does not say in so many words, "Jesus fell asleep," when he died, I Corinthians 15: 20 proves that he did so, and that he was the first one of those who figuratively slept in death to be awakened or raised from the dead in the resurrection.
Old Human Bodies Will Not Be Raised
The same prominent writer, referring to mankind's sleeping in death, makes other statements that are totally unscriptural. He says further, "This term [sleep] refers only to the sleep of the body and not of the soul ... for it is the body only that falls asleep in death; the soul retains consciousness."
We have already shown above from Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 and many other scriptures that the soul does not retain consciousness after death. It is NOT immortal -- it can and does die. And it is not the old bodies but the souls -- the persons, the conscious beings of Israel -- that are awakened from the dead, from Sheol or Hades, the unconscious, oblivious condition of the death state. Notice Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:31 --
"For You will not leave my soul in Sheol [the grave]."
"...he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption."
"Thou hast brought my soul up from the grave [Hebrew, sheol]" (Psalm 30:3). "What man is he that shall live and not see death. Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave [sheol]" (Psalm 89:48)?
Many, such as the above-mentioned writer, are misled by the immortal soul theory that was incorporated into Christian doctrine early in the Christian era from heathen sources (especially the Greek Plato) by Justin Martyr and others. Many are also misled by the statement, "I believe in the resurrection of the body," wrongly attributed to the apostles, and made by various church creeds, but certainly not by the Bible. Many think the expression is a quotation from the scriptures, and therefore believe it to be true, despite every evidence of fact and reason to the contrary. The Bible NEVER makes the absurd statement that the bodies which we are buried with will be raised again.
It is an unpleasant fact that very many corpses become fertilizers for the roots of trees, which absorb their elements, and that thus, during centuries, the constituent elements of many human bodies have passed repeatedly from tree to fruit and from fruit to animal organism again. And to believe that in preparing the resurrection body YEHOVAH God will use His omnipotent power to recover every atom of matter which once composed the old body is absurd, especially when He has said nothing of the kind in the Bible, but frequently speaks to the contrary.
Indeed, if it is true, as scientists claim, that our bodies are continually in the process of wasting away and changing, which waste is continually supplied by food, and that a complete change of the entire system is accomplished every seven years, then a man dying forty-nine years old would have had substance enough for seven bodies if every atom of it were given back to him in a resurrection body. And if such a conclusion seems foolish, is it not equally foolish to suppose that YEHOVAH God will seek the elements which composed the body at the time of death, as necessary for His work of reconstruction? He who has created all things is surely as able to create bodies from new matter as from the old elements, which would require to be sought for throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms. It is such foolish misrepresentations of the biblical teachings which makes atheists and agnostics of intelligent men who do not examine the Bible on the subject for themselves, but judge it by the testimony of so-called ministers of YEHOVAH God.
The apostle Paul, far from believing in and teaching like the so-called Apostles' Creed in setting forth the resurrection of the old bodies of believers, absolutely repudiated it. Rather, he agreed that those who believe in the resurrection of the body are foolish. He stated (1 Corinthians 15: 35-38), "But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised ? With what kind of body do they come? You foolish man! [note this] What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow [in death] is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body."
The grain that is planted never comes back. It disintegrates and molders away, and never returns, but new grains eventually are produced on new stalks that stem from the old seed grain. Likewise YEHOVAH God gives the person a new body. Some, the elect, receive spirit bodies when the Messiah returns. Others get new human bodies and will live for a time on this earth before taking on their spiritual bodies.
This is pictured by Ezekiel 37 where the prophet Ezekiel was taken in a vision and set down in a valley filled with very dry bones. In verse 11 Ezekiel says: "Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off" (RSV). They -- these dead skeletons -- were pictured saying, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost."
But, in verse 12, the prophet was told to tell these dry skeletons that, in fact, their hope was not lost, "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 'Thus says the LORD GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel."
In the vision, before YEHOVAH God explained to the prophet the identity of the skeletons, the prophet was told to say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD" (verses 5-6).
The prophecy is of a resurrection to MORTAL flesh-and-blood life -- not a resurrection, like that of the saints at the Messiah's Second Coming, to immortal spirit-filled self-existent life. Writes Herbert W. Armstrong --
"But now, in this Great White Throne resurrection...these Israelites (including those who were uncalled even after Christ came), would be resurrected to mortal, breathing, flesh-and-blood life. They all, hopefully, are then to come to really KNOW that the Eternal is LORD, and He shall, upon their eventual conversion, put His Holy Spirit within them. They, too...shall live again physically in this resurrection. And after a period of growth and overcoming, then shall come their spiritual salvation -- with no Satan around to deceive them!" (The Incredible Human Potential, Everest House Publishers:NY, 1978, p. 168).
Thank YEHOVAH God that, because of the Messiah' death and resurrection, death is not an eternal cessation of life, but all those of Israel (except those who die the Second Death) will be awakened from the sleep of death!
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