I came to believe in soul sleep (the belief that we cease to exist in a state of consciousness at the time of physical death, until the resurrection of the dead) through the teachings of L Ray Smith and Mike Vinson, back when they used to teach together. I didn’t just take their word for it, though, I studied it for myself. I looked at every passage I could find that spoke of death and the resurrection of the dead. And once I was convinced that this was “true” I could not be shaken. People would throw their questions at me and I could answer every single one of them, so remained satisfied that what I believed about “the dead” and “the resurrection of the dead” was the absolute truth… for about a year.
Then, little by little doubt started to creep in. I can’t remember if it started with a study on “eternal life”, which both Ray and Mike taught to be the immortal life given to the elect who come forth in “the first resurrection” during the millennium, or with a question that I couldn’t answer. But I do remember that one of the first things that I began to question, which led me to change my understanding of death and the resurrection of the dead was the issue of “eternal life”. I was coming to see that “eternal life” was not defined in the scriptures the way Ray and Mike defined it. In the scriptures it was: “to knowing God and Jesus Christ, whom he sent” and Paul spoke of those who already had eternal life, who already had passed from death unto life. So while others kept telling me that this was the “spiritual” application, but not the reality, I began to associated “eternal life” with Christ’s “coming” in the form of the Holy Spirit, rather than his “coming” to ring in his millennial reign, in a physical kingdom yet to be set up in the earth.
At first I was able to maintain my belief in two different resurrections separated by “a thousand years” (whether a literal or figurative “thousand years”), but it wasn’t long until I started having doubts about that, too. I was finding that I was no longer able to reconcile some of Paul’s words with some of Jesus’ words the way that Ray and Mike were teaching them.
For example, Ray and Mike were teaching (as most other Christians also believe) that “the elect” will come forth in “the first resurrection” to rule and reign with Christ during the kingdom age (millennium). To support this they would quote Paul, who said that (at the time of harvest) “the dead in Christ shall rise first“. That makes perfect sense if you believe “the dead in Christ” are “the elect” (who are physically dead and “asleep” in their graves, awaiting “the first resurrection”). What I had a problem with was reconciling Paul’s words “the dead in Christ shall rise first” with Jesus’ claim that, in the time of harvest he would say to the reapers: “gather ye together first the tares“. (Mat 13:30).
It seemed to me that if these two statements were to agree with one another then “the dead in Christ” have to be “the tares“. Since it was very clear to me who “the tares” are, I had to start looking at whether or not they could be “the dead in Christ“.
Up until this point I had assumed that only believers (and maybe even only “the elect”, who I didn’t believe included all believers) were “in Christ“. I believed they were referred to as “the dead in Christ” because they were physically “dead“. But could it be that this doesn’t have anything at all to do with the physically dead? That is the question I had to ask and answer.
It was at this time that so many other things started to stand out to me, things that very quickly changed my mind about many things, including: the dead in Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the number of resurrections, the millennium, judgment, the second death and, probably, more than I can think of right now.
So many beliefs just started to crumble and I mean fast – just as they had when I first came to believe in the salvation of all men.
I started looking much more closely at the things Jesus said about the dead and the resurrection of the dead; how he told Martha: “I AM” the resurrection and the life and how “those who live and believe shall never die“; how he told the Sadducees and Pharisees: “you do not understand the scriptures, nor the power of God” when they asked him whose wife a certain woman would be when she has been had by many brothers; how “in the resurrection” we neither marry nor are given in marriage but “are as the angels of God“; how Paul was received “as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus“; how “the angels are the reapers“; how Jesus said that “the field is white already to harvest“; and how he said he sent his disciples “to reap” (even said they were entering into other men’s labors); how those who labor “reap life eternal” bringing me full circle back to what “eternal life” is and when and how we receive it.
Then I began to pay more particular attention to some of Paul’s words. And I realized that even though Paul seemed to have said he “had not yet attained” unto the resurrection of the dead, all he really said was he “counted not HIMSELF” to have already attained. Yet he spoke of others, who he said: “already be perfect“. This seemed to fit perfectly with Jesus’ words about not bearing witness of oneself, something of which even Job speaks in the OT. Paul also spoke of wanting “to know the power of HIS resurrection” and since Christ is said to be “the first that should rise from the dead” and “the first fruits of them that slept” (written in the perfect tense, and notice it says Christ, not Jesus), I began to wonder how come no one ever counts HIS RESURRECTION as “the first“? Is that not the resurrection we want to “have part in”?
Jesus said: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” and Paul said the mystery that God was revealing was: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him“. And are we not all “one new man created in Christ“?
I could go on a quote many more verses, but the bottom line is that I just began to see and believe that “none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Rom 14:7-9) And this is so because we are ALL “in Christ”, both “the living” and “the dead” and this has nothing to with physical death, for “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
I began to “divide” the scriptures between the natural man and the spiritual man. I began to see the difference between that which was “first formed” (out of the dust of the ground) and that which is “created” (in the image of God). I began to see the difference between being “a child” and being “a son“, between “the earnest of the spirit” and “the adoption of sons, which is the redemption of the body“. I noticed that Paul said our desire is not to be “unclothed” but to be “clothed upon” and that it is THIS MORTAL (not a corpse) who must “put on” IMMORTALITY.
I noticed that Paul spoke of “the body of this death” from which he wanted to be redeemed and how that related to physical death and the physical grave, but only in a figure or as a type or similitude. Jesus called the Pharisees “whited sepulchers” that were “full of dead men’s bones” (Mat 23:27). Paul said, of all men, all being unrighteous: “their throat is an open sepulcher” (Rom3:13). James said: “the tongue is afire, a world of iniquity: … and it is set on fire of hell.” (Jam 3:6) I began to see the connection between this and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man – the rich man having “died” and “found himself in hell” being “tormented in this flame“, wanting “a drop of water” to cool HIS TONGUE – while Lazarus “died” and “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom“. Recalling, also, Jesus’ words that: “many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” while “the children of the kingdom shall be cast out“.
How can we believe that we do not enter in the kingdom and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob until long after we are dead, when Paul said we ARE “seated with Christ in heavenly places”? Maybe only because we say to ourselves “Abraham is dead”, quoting THE JEWS who also said (that we love to quote): “David is both dead and buried”. But what did JESUS say?
I just came to see that when the scriptures speak of the dead and the resurrection of the dead and the graves being opened up and those that dwell in the dust coming forth, that it isn’t talking about corpses in physical graves. Those things that are seen are temporal, but they reveal to us those things that are not seen, which are eternal. I have come to believe that this includes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well. All of these things are “typical” of spiritual truths that are taking place “within” us. Christ was crucified “in a place call a skull” because it is “in our minds” that we become alienated and enemies of God.
To the thief who was crucified with him, Jesus said: “Today,shalt thou be with me in paradise.” We can play games with the placement of the comma, but if we understand what Jesus meant by “TODAY”, we don’t have to. For TODAY is THE DAY OF SALVATION! We are “saved” WHEN WE HEAR HIS VOICE AND HARDEN NOT OUT HEARTS. It is called TODAY. And THE NIGHT, when it is past, is called YESTERDAY.
Israel was lead by A CLOUD during THE DAY and by A PILLAR OF FIRE during THE NIGHT.
And what did Isaiah prophesy about Israel?
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. THESE ARE A SMOKE IN MY NOSE, A FIRE THAT BURNETH ALL THE DAY. (Isa 65:1-5)
Ok, I said I could go on and quote many more verses, not intending to, and did.
I’ve written on all of these topics, and more, before. Just not in regard to the specific topic of “soul sleep”, I don’t think. So there is certainly more to ponder than I could ever fit into one note, but since it is all available elsewhere and my intention is not to try and write a book, I will force myself to stop here.
I just love the scriptures!! And when I get into them, I really “get into them”. And it’s hard to stop!!
There are SO MANY connections that I see that, for so long, I missed. I can’t help but wonder just how much more there is that I am still missing and how wonderful it is when they are finally seen. It truly is like hearing the voice of God. In fact, perhaps, it is hearing the voice of God.
It’s not about worshiping a book, though, it’s about worshiping Him of whom the book is written… and letting him “open up the scriptures” to you, so that it is no longer full of “dead letters”, but becomes A LIVING WORD, because it brings us TO HIM and IN HIM IS LIFE!!
Sorry I didn’t give the scripture references for all of my quotes. I don’t have chapters and verses memorized. If I get the chance I may go back and look them up and add the references. Just know that if there are quotes they come from scripture. (I use the KJV.)
All Blessings in Christ,