I would like to offer some thoughts about the third quarter weekly Lesson #13 entitled ‘The Ultimate Rest’, specifically regarding Wednesday, Sept 22 which speaks of ‘soul sleep’.
This, of course, is the Adventist belief that when we physically die we rest in the grave in an unconscious state until the resurrection to judgment at the end of this age. In the SS lesson this view is supported by several Bible passages such as Heb 11:13-16; John 5:28-29; 8:51-52; 11:14; Col 3:4. I would add John 1:18; 1Thess 4:13-14; Eccl 9:10.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus raised three people from the dead - the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler, the widow of Nain’s son, and His friend Lazarus. Before each miracle He remarked that the person was only asleep. All who heard Him misunderstood and tried to correct Him by saying no, the person was dead. So, apparently while on earth, Jesus, perhaps to aid our understanding, equated physical death and sleep.
Yet this view is a minority one in Christianity as the vast majority of Christians believe that upon death the believer is immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus in some sentient state. I will be using quotes regarding this alternate view throughout my comment as an illustrative device:
“When the believer dies, the body goes into the grave; the soul and spirit go immediately to be with the Lord Jesus awaiting the body’s resurrection, when they’re joined together to be forever with the Lord in eternal bliss.
Sadly, many fear their souls will have to wait indefinitely for heaven. “Soul sleep”—the belief that the soul rests after death in an unconscious state, or ceases to exist, until the final resurrection—finds its roots in the common “sleeping” metaphor for bodily death. Although this metaphor appears in Scripture, a thorough study shows that the metaphor of sleep refers only to the earthly body’s inanimate state after death, not to the soul.”
I think part of the problem lies in how one defines the term ‘soul’. My Adventist experience taught me that the soul must have a living body in which to exist. If the body dies, there can be no separate, living soul. I still believe this to be so, as the soul cannot experience sensations (or even life because it is sustained via the blood) without a body. I think of the soul then, as roughly equivalent to the mind.
Thus, I can’t agree with this understanding:
“We can resolve many of the interpretation conflicts that surround the issue of death by simply keeping the earthly physical body’s inanimate state after death completely separate from the soul’s spiritual life and location apart from the body.”
I was taught that an immortal soul was the belief of the ancient Greeks - not the Jews - and I have not come across any information which contradicts this idea.
This is why at the point of death, both Jesus and Stephen said that they were commending their spirit into the hands of God. I think if they were expecting to instantly meet with God The Father in some sentient way, they would have uttered something more clearly to that effect. It sounds to me like they were giving something precious to God for safekeeping until some future time. Also, they never mentioned their souls, only their spirits going back to God.
Additionally, the opinion is advanced that immediate bliss after death is waiting because Jesus told the thief on the cross that ‘today’ they both would be in Paradise:
“One key scriptural event that supports this, but is sometimes misunderstood, is Jesus’s exchange with the thief on the cross. Jesus tells the thief dying next to Him that their spirits would be together, alive, and conscious on that day. Yet some argue the punctuation is misplaced in Luke 23: 42-43. Instead of, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” they argue Jesus really said, “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.” But Scripture includes no other instance of Jesus saying, “I say to you today.” This adds to the likelihood that, as every English translation indicates, Jesus was emphasizing that today was the time He and the thief would be together in paradise.”
But what seems to be forgotten is that Jesus said He would rise again on the third day, and, two days later, on Sunday morning, said, “…I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Thus, Jesus Himself was not in Paradise on that ‘today’, so how could he meet the thief there and then?
The transfiguration is another of biblical event which some think: makes “clear there is no soul sleep for believers but rather a conscious, immediate presence with God after death.” But Elijah was taken up alive so never experienced awakening from death. And apparently, getting a body for Moses became a point of serious contention with the devil (see Jude 9). Does that imply that bringing Moses up from the grave (Sheol) was something so unusual that Satan cried foul?
Here is another passage used to support immediate life after death:
“…John 11:23-27: Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Notice Jesus corrected Martha’s belief that her brother would only “live” in the resurrection. In contrast, Jesus revealed that believers will live even if they die, and in fact, they will never die in the way that our bodies do.”
In contrast, I see this as Jesus saying that believers will physically die (but to Him that is only sleep, not really death), and by stating they will never have to endure death He meant the second death (Rev 2:11), which unbelievers will face (Rev 20:14-15).
I think much of the confusion stems from some statements by the apostle Paul, which, predictably, the SS lesson failed to mention. I understand each group wants to promote its view and (sadly) feels the need to protect its flock and so never discusses alternative viewpoints.
But how are we ever to have any sort of unity in the Christian faith (which Christ prayed for) if we don’t examine all of Scripture, be open to other ideas, appreciate other opinions, and in a spirit of humility and respect attempt to arrive at a consensus?..