Soul Sleep -
Is It Scriptural?
Is Soul Sleep Scriptural? Let's find out by examining every Scripture used to disprove it... By John Lilley
The topic of what happens at death is a contentious one amongst Christians because the Bible makes statements about this subject that at first glance seem to blatantly contradict each other. Depending on your starting assumption as to whether death is conscious or unconscious, you will interpret some statements a certain way, and then “explain away” the statements that seem to contradict your viewpoint. Either way, because the Bible makes statements that seem to contradict each other on this subject, some statements that seem to contradict your viewpoint must be shown to fit with your viewpoint.
So the “soul sleepers” (those who believe death is unconscious) must explain how certain statements that seem to contradict their viewpoint, actually fit their viewpoint. And the “conscious deathers” (those who believe death is conscious) must explain how certain statements that seem to contradict their viewpoint, actually fit their viewpoint. It will be up to you to decide who is right. (Continued after the videos.)
In this article we’re going to examine the evidence for the idea of “soul sleep”, and the Biblical evidence against it. I am going to attempt to cover every single point of contention between the two viewpoints, and accurately express the explanation each side has for each Biblical statement. At the end of this article you can decide for yourself what you believe. Your decision is simple: you are going to have to decide which side’s arguments (the “soul sleepers” or the “conscious deathers”) make the most sense – which overall view paints a jigsaw puzzle that fits together the most cohesively.
The Basic Argument
The basic argument between “soul-sleepers” and “conscious-deathers” is this:
“Soul-sleepers” point to various Old Testament Scriptures (Ecc. 9:5, 10; Ps. 6:5, Ps. 115:17, etc.) that state that at death a person’s “thoughts perish”, “the dead know nothing”, “the dead do not praise the Lord”, and “there is no knowledge or wisdom or activity or planning in sheol where you are going”. They differentiate between soul and spirit, Scripturally defining the “soul” as consciousness (for even animals are called “living souls” in Scripture, see Gen. 1:30). Then they point to Ecc. 12:7, which says that at death the spirit returns to God (“soul sleepers” assume this means unconsciously because of Ecc. 9:5 and 10), while simultaneously the soul (consciousness) goes to “the unseen” (Hebrew “sheol”, Greek “hades”, both sometimes mistranslated without warrant as “hell” in some English Bibles) – a fancy/poetic way of saying that the person becomes unconscious. (Or if sheol is a real place, Ecc. 9:5 and 10 makes it clear that there is no consciousness there.)
“Soul sleepers” say that the Old Testament Scriptural writers knew exactly what they were talking about, and the picture of what happens at death that they painted with clear, straightforward statements is corroborated perfectly in the New Testament and the rest of Scripture, particularly by the continual use of the analogy of “sleep” for death contrasted with the analogy of being “awake” for being alive, and multiple statements such as the following:
Jesus in John 3:13 - "No man has ascended into heaven."
An angel to Daniel in Daniel 12:13 - "You will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age." (He won't get his reward until the rapture!)
Hebrews 11:35 - The heroes of faith lived their lives in hope of "a better resurrection" - not a better conscious death!
The apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:32 - "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." Paul said it does not matter how we live our lives if there is no resurrection! This is in direct contrast to the Catholic version of the afterlife (conscious death, hell, etc.) which says that immediately upon death a person receives the reward or consequences for how they lived their life.
All these statements highlight a common sense question: Why would the rapture be necessary if a Christian is consciously in heaven enjoying their reward immediately upon death?
“Soul sleepers” then say that a few statements/passages in the New Testament that seem to talk about conscious death do not actually do anything of the sort, but rather fit perfectly with the idea that the event of death is an event in which the body returns to where it came from (the earth), the spirit returns (unconscious without the body) to where it came from (God), and the soul or consciousness disappears or goes to sheol/the-unseen where there is no activity or planning or knowledge (unconsciousness)...because without the union of a body with a spirit from God, there is no consciousness (see Gen. 2:7 and remember that the Hebrew word for "spirit" and "breath" is the same).
In contrast, "conscious deathers" say that the Old Testament Scriptural authors did not really know what they were talking about, or had only an incomplete view of what happens at death, or were only referring to what appears to occur at death from the perspective of someone alive on earth – and then the New Testament brought along new, more complete information about how a person is conscious at death.
“Conscious deathers” then attempt to prove from the New Testament that people are conscious when they die.
So we see that the main point of contention between “soul sleepers” and “conscious deathers” is whether the Old Testament statements about death being unconscious are corrected by the New Testament, or corroborated by the New Testament. In other words the whole issue rests on whether you think the prophet David and the wise man Solomon (the wisest man ever to live other than Christ Himself) could be wrong about what happens at death, and whether you interpret several statements/passages in the New Testament in a way that agrees with David and Solomon or contradicts them.
The “soul sleepers” would argue that statements like John 3:13, Hebrews 11:35, and 1 Corinthians 15:32 clearly agree with David and Solomon's specific statements about death and the Old Testament's clear teaching about unconscious death. They would also argue that since the Old Testament statements about death being unconscious were made matter-of-factly with no qualifications or additional explanation made, that the burden of proof is on the “conscious deathers” to show instances in Scripture that clearly speak of dead people being conscious. The “soul sleepers” argue that there are actually no such instances – that every supposed “proof” of conscious death put forth by the “conscious deathers” can actually be explained quite easily in such a way that fits perfectly with soul sleep (unconscious death), and when understood correctly, each one of these New Testament passages corroborates the Old Testament’s straightforward statements that death is unconscious.
What it comes down to is whether the “soul sleepers” can show how certain potentially confusing statements in the New Testament (and a couple in the Old Testament) fit with the idea of unconscious death stated by verses in Ecclesiastes and Psalms, or whether the “conscious deathers” can prove that death is conscious and that the verses in Ecclesiastes and Psalms were due to an incomplete or wrong understanding of death on the part of Solomon and David.
So we see that this is one of those Biblical issues where it is not enough to simply examine one Scriptural statement or passage on its own. We must look at the whole jigsaw puzzle put together by the “soul sleepers” and the whole jigsaw puzzle put together by the “conscious deathers” and try to determine which way of solving the puzzle makes the most logical sense. In other words, we must try to determine which picture is more of a stretch. Or to put it another way, we must try to decide which picture does a more satisfactory job of putting together the puzzle pieces.
“Soul sleepers” start with statements made by the wisest man who ever lived (other than Christ, of course) and the prophet/king David (about whom God said in Psalm 89:35, “I will not lie to David”), and claim that it is already a descent into “funny business” to try to say that they did not know what they were talking about in their statements about death. Therefore they put the burden of proof on the “conscious deathers” to prove that Solomon and David did not know what they were talking about and needed to be corrected by New Testament writers – to prove that the New Testament writers actually contradicted/corrected Solomon’s and David’s statements about death.
The “conscious deathers” say, “The New Testament gives more revelation about what happens at death”, but the “soul sleepers” would reply, “What you’re saying is that Solomon and David did not know what they were talking about when it comes to death, and they needed the New Testament to correct them and show that death is conscious, in direct contradiction to what Solomon and David said. OK then – prove it.” Soul sleepers also contend that conscious deathers do not have a satisfactory explanation for statements such as Daniel 12:13, John 3:13, Hebrews 11:35, and 1 Corinthians 15:32.
Most modern Christians simply assume that the “conscious deathers” are right because that is what they have always been taught. Most modern Christians have never even heard verses like Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10 or Psalm 6:5, or Psalm 115:17, or Daniel 12:13, or Hebrews 11:35, or John 3:13, or 1 Corinthians 15:32 preached or even mentioned. Modern preachers avoid these verses because they directly contradict the default Catholic-inherited viewpoint that death is conscious, and modern preachers don't want to open up a can of worms they cannot properly clean out. The typical modern Christian may assume that the “conscious death” picture fits together most naturally with the least funny business required, because that is the most common view in modern times and the plain statements in Scripture that contradict that view are never preached on or mentioned.
When the “soul sleepers” come along and start mentioning all the verses I just quoted, modern Christians' minds go into a kind of tailspin. Confusion ensues, because no one has taught them what to do with these statements that directly contradict the Catholic version of the afterlife. The soul sleepers' claim that death is unconscious may be met with suspicion simply because it is unfamiliar.
However, just because something is unfamiliar does not mean it is incorrect. The “soul sleepers” would argue that even though the conscious death idea is more common, the unconscious death view actually fits all the relevant Scriptures together more easily in a more cohesive and satisfactory way, using Scripture to interpret Scripture with less reliance on adding things to Scripture that it does not actually say, and without having to blatantly cut verses like Daniel 12:13, Hebrews 11:35, John 3:13, and 1 Corinthians 15:32 out of the Bible.
Your starting assumption about whether death is conscious or not is extremely important, because there are several statements/passages in the New Testament that could be taken either way – they are unclear in and of themselves. That’s why we must look at the entire puzzle as put together by the “conscious deathers”, and compare it to the entire puzzle put together by the “soul sleepers” – only then will we be able to tell who has more puzzle pieces out of place, and/or who has to artificially tear, twist, or remove more puzzle pieces to make their picture work.
The “soul sleepers” would also argue that whenever there is doubt, we should assume that Solomon and David knew what they were talking about when they made matter-of-fact statements about death with no qualifications or additional explanations, rather than assuming that they didn’t know what they were talking about. This argument is line with the Biblical interpretation rule that we must use plain, straightforward statements in Scripture to interpret unclear Scriptures, rather than using our creative imaginations to interpret unclear Scriptures. This is the basis of the “soul sleeper’s” argument that the burden of proof is on the “conscious deathers” to show that the New Testament talks about the normal state of the dead being consciousness.
So the bottom line is, we must carefully examine these Scriptures that “conscious deathers” claim as “proof” that humans remain conscious in death, and decide whether these particular Scriptures correct Solomon and David, or corroborate them.
Let's examine the puzzle pieces, look at how each camp puts the puzzle together, and let you decide for yourself.
In my book Hell Is A Mistranslation, in the process of teaching God's plan for humanity revealed in the accurately translasted Bible, I go through most of the “proofs that death is conscious” put forth by the “conscious deathers”, and debunk them in great detail, showing that there is actually zero Scriptural proof that death is conscious, and every Scriptural statement/passage put forth by “conscious deathers” in an attempt to prove that death is conscious, in reality fits 100% perfectly with the view that death is unconscious and is simply a return of each part of a human to its own element – the body to the ground, the soul (consciousness) to the unseen (the person becomes unconscious), and the spirit to God (unconsciously).
In this article I will not go into great detail, but will simply do my best to state accurately how each side of the debate views each Scriptural statement or passage.
List of Scriptural Statements/Passages about Death and How Each Side of the Debate Views Each One
Statements in Ecclesiastes and Psalms that “the dead know nothing”, “the dead do not praise the Lord”, “there is no knowledge or wisdom or planning in sheol where the dead go”, “in the day that you die your thoughts perish”, "at death you go into silence", etc.
“Conscious deathers” say: Solomon and David had an incomplete view of death; their view of death as unconscious was meant only to convey what it seemed like from the perspective of someone on earth, and was later corrected or made more complete by the New Testament writers who had more revelation about it and made it clear that death is conscious.
”Soul Sleepers” say: Solomon, who was the wisest man (other than Christ) who ever lived, and David, a prophet who made multiple perfectly accurate prophecies that have since come true and of whom God said, "I will not lie to David", knew exactly what they were talking about and their view of death did/does not need to be corrected or expanded upon. There is no proof in the New Testament or anywhere in Scripture that death is conscious, and every questionable passage can be explained without twisting Scripture in any way, as fitting perfectly with Solomon and David’s view of death.
The repeated use throughout Scripture, including by Jesus and Paul, of the analogy of “sleep” for death and of being “awake” for being alive.
“Conscious deathers” say: The analogy of “sleep” for death refers only to the dead person’s body, the fact that a dead person’s body is horizontal in the ground; this analogy has nothing to do with whether the person is conscious or not. Other New Testament passages tell us that there is such a thing as consciousness in death.
”Soul Sleepers” say: We cannot ignore the fact that not only is the analogy of “sleep” used for death, but the analogy of being “awake” for being alive (or being “awakened” for being resurrected from the dead) is used alongside it. This proves that the analogy does not just refer to the state of the physical body, but to the person’s consciousness. The analogy of being “awake” when alive or being “awakened” when being resurrected would make no sense whatsoever if the person’s consciousness was not being referred to; this “awake/awakening” part of the analogy would make no sense if the analogy was only about the person’s body and not about their consciousness.
And there is no such thing in Scripture as human consciousness apart from the union of a physical body with a spirit from God producing a conscious soul (Gen. 2:7). Much of the confusion on the part of the “conscious deathers” is the result of their failure to separate “soul” and “spirit” (1 Thess. 5:23) and define each of them Scripturally. Their failure to do this causes them to falsely assume that when the Bible refers to the spirits of saints being in heaven, that these spirits are conscious. The Scriptural definition of the “soul” is the person’s consciousness; even animals have souls or are “living souls” because they are conscious and can interact with their environment (Gen. 1:30). To some modern Christians, Paul and Jesus seem to contradict themselves when talking about being with God immediately at death while at other times talking about being “asleep” when dead and “awake” when alive. The only thing that relieves the confusion/apparent-self-contradiction is the realization that at death, according to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10, Psalm 6:5, 115:17 etc., the soul (consciousness) goes to the unseen, where there is no knowledge, thoughts, etc., while according to Ecclesiastes 12:7 the spirit returns to God (unconsciously, being separated from the body and having no vehicle to be conscious through).
“Conscious deathers” reply: Our way of solving the apparent self-contradiction on the part of Jesus and Paul (when they use the analogy of sleep for death but also talk about being “in paradise” or “with the Lord” immediately at death) is to say that the analogy of sleep used in Scripture does not refer to the dead person’s consciousness, but simply to their body.
“Soul Sleepers” reply: You “conscious deathers” are forgetting that the analogy is not just that of sleep for death, but also of being “awake” for being alive and of being “awakened” when being resurrected from the dead. This word “awake” makes no sense unless the analogy is talking about the person’s state of consciousness – just like physical sleep, when you are sleeping you are unconscious, when you are awake you are conscious, and when you are awakened from sleep you become conscious from a previous state of unconsciousness. Ecclesiastes 12:7 (at death “the spirit returns to God who gave it”) combined with Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10, Psalm 6:5, Psalm 115:17, etc. perfectly explain how a person can be with God immediately at death (their spirit goes to God unconsciously) while allowing us to understand the analogy of “asleep vs. awake” in its most natural way (as “unconscious vs. unconscious”). With our explanation there is no need to force the analogy out of or away from its most natural meaning. Whereas with your explanation, you are ignoring our perfectly logical/Scriptural solution (Ecc. 9:5 etc. + Ecc. 12:7) and you must force the analogy of “asleep vs. awake” away from its most natural meaning.
“Conscious deathers” reply: We’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. Plus, we think we’ve got several other Bible passages that prove that death is conscious.
“Soul Sleepers” reply: OK, what are they?
Jesus said at the moment of His death, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (And other places, such as Stephen’s death in the book of Acts, where the Bible makes it clear that the person’s spirit went to God immediately at death.)
“Conscious deathers” say: See, these people went to be with God immediately at death!
”Soul Sleepers” say: Nowhere do these passages say that these people went to be with God consciously. These passages line up perfectly with Ecclesiastes 12:7 which says that at death a person’s spirit returns to God – and is clarified by Solomon himself in Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, and David in Psalm 6:5, 115:17, etc., telling us that at death the soul becomes unconscious (goes to the "unseen/sheol" where "there is no knowledge or wisdom or activity or planning") while the spirit returns to God unconscious when apart from the body.
The Bible also says that Jesus’ soul (not His spirit) went to sheol/hades (both words mean “the unseen” or “unperceived”) – see Acts 2:27. This verse tells us that while Jesus was dead, according to Ecc. 9:5 and 10, He was unconsciousn in a place (sheol/hades) with no thoughts, knowledge, activity, or planning, and that God did not allow His body to undergo decay or His soul to "be abandoned to" or stay in the unseen/unperceived, but rather God raised Him from the dead and rejoined Jesus' (unconscious while dead) spirit with His resurrected body thus causing Him to become conscious again.
When we look at the Scriptural statement about what causes a human to become “a living soul”, Genesis 2:7, it is clear that a “living soul” is the result of a spirit/breath from God (in Greek and Hebrew the word for “breath” is the same as the word for “spirit”) coming into a physical body. (See Gen. 1:30 to see that animals have “living souls” – consciousness – although they do not have spirits and are not created in the image of God like humans.) When Jesus died, His spirit went back to God (Ecc. 12:7, Lk. 23:46), His soul (consciousness) went to the “unseen” (Acts 2:27, Ps. 16:10), and His body obviously went into the ground. Each part of Him returned to its original element. His spirit returned to God where it came from originally, His consciousness/soul returned to “the unseen” where it came from originally (a person’s or animal’s consciousness obviously cannot be seen in and of itself apart from a body), and His body returned to the ground where it came from originally (Gen 2:7). When God raised Jesus from the dead, His body was returned from the ground and combined with His spirit to produce “a living soul” – a conscious person.
The New Testament quotes David’s Old Testament statement that Jesus’ soul/consciousness would go to the unseen at death (Hebrew “sheol”, translated as the Greek “hades”, both words mean “unseen” or “unperceived”). David also accurately prophesied exactly what would happen to Jesus’ spirit when He died – when Jesus said “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” right before He died, He was quoting David (Ps. 31:5)!
This proves that the New Testament and Jesus Himself confirm David’s knowledge of what happens at death rather than contradicting it! Thus we cannot discard Psalm 6:5 or 115:17, for example, as if David needs more knowledge about death than he already has. The New Testament affirms David’s understanding about death by quoting him twice on the topic – once in reference to what happened to Jesus’ spirit at death, and once in reference to what happened to Jesus’ soul at death.
No conscious-deather would argue with what David and Solomon said about what happens to the spirit at death. This begs the question, "How could David and Solomon have been God-inspired enough to know exactly what happens to the spirit at death, but be totally wrong about what happens to the soul at death?" The soul-sleepers' contention is that David and Solomon knew exactly what they were talking about concerning both soul and spirit, as proven by the New Testament's quoting of David about what happened to both Jesus' soul and spirit.
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
“Conscious deathers” say: See, Jesus said that both He and the thief would be in heaven/paradise that very day – the moment they died!
“Soul Sleepers” say: Yes, but Jesus did not say they would go to heaven/paradise consciously. The Bible says that Jesus’ spirit went to heaven (as did the thief’s) (Lk. 23:46). But it also says that Jesus’ soul went to sheol/hades/“the unseen”/”the unperceived” (as did the thief’s) – and here’s the kicker – David/Solomon tell us that there is no knowledge, planning, or wisdom in sheol/hades, there is no mention/remembrance of God in sheol (Ecc. 9:10, Ps. 6:5)! So according to David - who is quoted in regards to Jesus’ death in Acts 2:27! – Jesus did not remember God when His soul/consciousness went to sheol/hades/the-unseen!
Friends, how could the New Testament quote David about what happened to Jesus' soul at death, if David was wrong about what happens to the soul at death? According to David (and Solomon who agrees perfectly with David), it is clear that the normal state in death of all people, including Jesus, is unconsciousness.
What we just saw in Acts 2:27 and Luke 23:46 (the NT quoting the OT – David – about death) shows us that the Old Testament and the New Testament agree perfectly about what happens at death, using Christ as the perfect example. King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:7 that the spirit goes back to God at death; the only way this statement can fit with his earlier statement in the same book (Ecc. 9:5, 10) that death is unconscious, is if the spirit goes to God unconsciously. The conscious deathers act as if David and Solomon were ignorant about death despite the fact that the New Testament perfectly corroborates their statements about death by quoting David in reference to Jesus’ own death!
To say that Jesus and the thief went to be with God consciously when they died, one must completely ignore the fact that the New Testament perfectly confirms David’s and Solomon’s clear statements about death (death is unconscious, the spirit returns to God unconsciously, the soul goes to sheol/hades/the-unseen where there is only silence, no one remembers God in death, there is no knowledge in sheol, the dead know nothing). The New Testament describes Jesus’ death by quoting David regarding it, and every New Testament statement about Jesus’ death matches up perfectly with and is explained perfectly by David and Solomon’s Old Testament statements about death.
Jesus Himself also said in John 3:13, "No man has ascended into heaven." Are we to believe that Jesus and the thief were the first people in history to go to heaven? This is not what Catholic tradition has taught Christianity. (See section on Enoch & Elijah which explains John 3:13 futher.)
Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:19).
“Conscious deathers” say: Jesus did this while He was dead – He must have been conscious when He did this. While conscious in death, He went and preached to other conscious dead people.
“Soul Sleepers” say: The context tells us exactly which “spirits” are being referred to here: not human spirits, but fallen angels who disobeyed during the days of Noah, the same fallen angels referred to in Jude 6 and 2nd Peter 2:4. This passage in 1st Peter 3:18-20 matches up perfectly with Jude 6 and 2nd Peter 2:4. Jesus never went and preached to dead people; He went and preached to fallen angels. And He did not do this while He was dead. The phrase immediately preceding the verse about Jesus preaching to the fallen angels says that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in/by the Spirit, in whom also He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison…” This tells us that Jesus had already been resurrected when He went and preached to the fallen angels.
The Bible never refers to a human being as a "spirit". It says that we have spirits, but it never refers to us as (merely) spirits. On the other hand, angels are often referred to as spirits, because they are normally invisible to the physical human senses. (The Biblical word for "spirit" is the same as the word for "breath", obviously referring to something that is real but invisible to the physical human sense of sight.) When this passage talks about Jesus preaching to spirits, it is talking about Him preaching to angels after He was "made alive in/by the Spirit".
Acts 2:27, Peter quoting David, tells us that when Jesus died His soul went to the unseen (sheol/hades - but was not abandoned there, God soon raised Him from the dead of course), while Luke 23:46, Jesus quoting David, tells us that His spirit went to God (Lk. 23:46). How could Jesus preach to dead people (or fallen angels, or the tooth fairy, or anybody) without His spirit? And how could Jesus preach to anybody in sheol/hades when Solomon tells us plainly that there is no knowledge or wisdom or activity or planning in sheol? (Remember, Jesus and Peter corroborated Solomon's statements about death by quoting David who agrees 100% with Solomon about death.) How can there be preaching going on in a place where there is no knowledge or wisdom or activity?
The only way to interpret 1 Peter 3:19 without getting into nonsense land is to interpret it in the context of the the surrounding verses and the rest of Scripture; when we do that it is abundantly clear that 1 Peter 3:19 simply states that after His resurrection Jesus went and preached to fallen angels (spirits - remember, human beings have spirits but are never referred to merely as spirits) who are/were trapped somewhere "in prison".
Jesus talked about a fire in Gehenna.
“Conscious deathers” say: Jesus was talking about the fires of hell in the afterlife (conscious death).
“Soul Sleepers” say: Gehenna is only referred to in Scripture as a physical location (many times in the Old Testament it is referred to a physical place in Israel/Jerusalem), and not once it is ever referred to as some type of nebulous spirit-place. Jesus was quoting Isaiah 66:23-24 when He talked about the fires of Gehenna. This proves that He was referring to it as a physical location where a physical fire will burn in the future (in the millennium) and where physical bodies/corpses will be thrown to burn/rot. Isaiah 66:23-24 clearly refers to “all flesh” “looking upon the corpses” under the same physical moon we are under right now with the same earthly schedule of days (“from Sabbath to Sabbath”). Since the people and the corpses and the moon are all physical, and this is clearly a prophecy about earth in the future (the millennium reign of Christ), then the fire and the worms have to be physical too. The fire will not be quenched – it will not be put out purposefully, but will be allowed to burn as much of the dead bodies as possible, a good idea with dead bodies – and the “worms that don’t die” are typical flowery Isaiah-the-prophet language for fly larva, which don’t die, but turn into flies. Jesus never said anything about “hell” – to translate “Gehenna” as “hell” requires creative insertion of an idea not found anywhere in Scripture and total ignorance of the passage Jesus was quoting when He talked about it.
Some English translations of the Bible contain the word “hell”.
“Conscious deathers” say: The fact that the Bible talks about hell is proof that there is such a thing as conscious death.
“Soul Sleepers” say: The word “hell” is not found anywhere in the original-language Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. Modern Bible translators only insert these words sometimes due to their traditional Catholic-inherited belief in it, not because there is any logical cause to think that any Hebrew or Greek word means “hell”. The Hebrew word “sheol” and the Greek words “Gehenna”, “hades”, and “tartarusing” are sometimes mistranslated as “hell” in some English Bibles, but when the uses of these words in Scripture are carefully examined, there is no logical reason to think that any of these words refer to a nebulous spirit-place of nebulous spirit-fire.
Gehenna is clearly a physical location in Jerusalem where a physical fire will burn in the future (Is. 66:23-24, quoted by Jesus).
“Hades” is used in the NT to translate the OT “sheol”; both words mean “the unseen” or “unperceived”, and there is no mention of any literal or spirit fire in sheol or hades. Deuteronomy 32:22 speaks of a fire that burns to the depths of sheol, but the passage is clearly speaking figuratively – if one wants to argue that there is literal or spirit fire burning in sheol/hades at all times, one must then also argue that the fire continually burns the foundations of the mountains and continually burns the earth and its increase. You can only prove that this is a literal physical fire or a literal spirit fire that burns at all times if you can also prove that this fire is continually burning the mountains of earth and continually consuming every crop that is produced on earth. Other than this figurative reference in Deutoronomy 32:22, there is no mention of fire in sheol/hades in Scripture. Even if you want to cling to the idea that this one figurative reference to fire in sheol is literal, you must admit that people’s souls in sheol/hades would not even know that there was fire burning there, because the Bible also says “there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in sheol” (Ecc. 9:10).
“Tartarusing” is the other word sometimes mistranslated as “hell” (2 Pet. 2:4). It is a verb, and refers to fallen angels waiting in a dark place. There is no mention of fire or human beings in regards to the activity of “tartarusing”, thus translating it as “hell” is ridiculous and requires extreme creative license on the part of the translators.
The Bible talks about the lake of fire, and people being cast there. For these people, the lake of fire will be their second death (Rev. 20:14-15).
“Conscious deathers” say: These people will remain conscious and suffer in the lake of fire.
“Soul Sleepers” say: Nowhere does this passage say that the humans who will be thrown into the “lake” or “pond” of fire will remain conscious. And nowhere does the Bible say that the lake of fire is some type of nebulous spirit fire. Rather, every indication is that the lake of fire will be a physical fire, just like the fire in Gehenna Jesus and Isaiah referred to (possibly they are the same physical fire). These people mentioned in Revelation 20:5, 11-15 will die for the second time when their physical bodies/corpses are thrown into the physical lake of fire. The first time they died was after their first earthly life. At the white throne judgment God will raise these people from the dead (Rev. 20:5, 13), giving them mortal bodies, and after judging them, they will be killed and their bodies thrown into the lake of fire. Any other interpretation (such as an attempt to make the lake of fire into some type of nebulous spirit fire) requires adding creative ideas to Scripture that do not actually appear in the Bible itself.
Do not be confused by Revelation 19:20 and 20:10. The lake of fire does not last “forever and ever” but “for the ages of the ages”. “For the ages of the ages” is a very specific phrase (like “King of kings”, denoting the greatest of a group) that is used interchangeably in Scripture with “the kingdom”, “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” to refer to the next two ages of life on earth: the millennium (Rev. 20:4-6) and the New Jerusalem age (Rev. 21-22). Unlike human beings, the antichrist and false prophet will not get a chance to stand before Christ’s throne to be judged before being thrown into the lake of fire. And the antichrist and the false prophet will be thrown “alive” into the lake of fire, in direct contrast to human beings who will die or already be dead when thrown there (Rev. 20:14). The antichrist and false prophet, along with Satan, will be thrown “alive” into the lake of fire, and will remain conscious and suffer in some fashion there “for the ages of the ages” (until the end of the New Jerusalem age), probably in a similar way to how demons suffer in dry/waterless places as described by Jesus (Matt.12:43). This is because God will treat them as spirit beings like Satan, rather than as full human beings. They will not be full human beings, but rather fallen angel human hybrids like those described in Genesis 6 (see my article “The Weirdest Truth In the Bible”). The way Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet will be treated is in direct contrast to how full human beings will be treated. Full humans will be judged by God and then will die and become unconscious in the lake of fire (their physical corpses destroyed in the lake of fire, their spirits returning to God unconsciously, Acts 2:27 + Ps. 6:5 + Ecc. 9:5 + Ecc. 9:10 + Ecc. 12:7 + Ps. 115:17).
Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and three of His disciples (Matt. 17:3)
“Conscious deathers” say: This proves that death is conscious – Moses and Elijah came and hung out with Jesus and His disciples!
“Soul Sleepers” say: Jesus called this experience a “vision”, not a real experience or a real meeting with Moses and Elijah. (The literal translation of Matt. 17:9 is, “Tell to no one the vision.”) If Moses and Elijah were really in heaven consciously, hanging out with God, then Jesus was a schizophrenic liar, for He Himself said in John 3:13, “No man has ascended into heaven.” (We can tell from the context He was talking about heaven where God lives – the word “heaven” or “the heavens” in ancient Hebrew and Bible times could mean the sky where the birds fly, outer space where the moon is, or heaven where God lives, depending on the context.) So if Moses and Elijah consciously ascended into heaven (not just their unconscious spirits, but they themselves, consciously), then Jesus is a liar, for He said, “No man has ascended into heaven.” This experience was a “vision”, not a real experience, and Jesus clarified this for the disciples after it occurred (Matt. 17:9). Either that, or Elijah and Moses were temporarily awakened from death before going back to sleep/unconsciousness (in a similar way to how some Christians might interpret the souls referred to in the 5th Seal of Revelation who will be temporarily awakened and then told to go back to sleep - again proving that the normal state of a human being in death is sleep/rest/unconsciousness). If one of these two explanations is not the correct explanation, then you must figure out a way to explain John 3:13. John 3:13 completely disproves the notion that Moses and Elijah were hanging out consciously in heaven and just stopped down to earth to hang out with Jesus and those three disciples for a little while.
Enoch and Elijah were caught up into “heaven” or “the heavens”. This happened to Enoch “so that he would not taste death” and after it happened to Elijah “he was not found”.
“Conscious deathers” say: What happened to Enoch and Elijah proves that death is conscious. Apparently they never died, but God just took them consciously and alive (intact, body soul and spirit) straight to heaven where He lives.
“Soul Sleepers” say: If Enoch and Elijah went to heaven where God lives consciously and alive (intact, body soul and spirit), Jesus is a liar, for He said in John 3:13 (long after Enoch and Elijah’s days), “No man has ascended into heaven” (from the context it is clear He was talking about heaven where God lives).
Obviously, Jesus is not a liar, so there must be some other explanation. The simple explanation is that in Bible days “the heavens” could mean “the sky where the birds fly” (Gen. 1:26), outer space where the moon is, or heaven where God lives, depending on the context. We cannot just assume that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven where God lives – in fact we must assume that they did not, because of Jesus’ statement in John 3:13. Because of John 3:13 we must assume that Enoch and Elijah were caught up into the sky where the birds fly, and then plopped down somewhere else on earth where they could “not be found” and/or “not taste death” (at that moment). 2 Kings 2:16 tells us that the other prophets assumed Elijah had been plopped down somewhere else on earth and wanted to go looking for him.
And the Bible does not say that Enoch would never die or would never taste death, just that God supernaturally lifted him up into the sky at a particular moment in time when he was in a dangerous situation where his life was in danger, so that he would not taste death (at that moment). Any other interpretation makes Jesus a liar in John 3:13. If the word "never" is read into the phrase about Enoch not tasting death rather than the idea of "at that particular moment" - if Enoch never experienced death but rather was taken conscious and alive and intact, body soul and spirit, to heaven - then Jesus lied in John 3:13. The simple explanation is that the idea "at that moment" should be read into the phrase about Enoch not tasting death, and "the heavens" should be interpreted as was also commonly used back then, to refer to the sky where the birds fly. The Bible actually tells us plainly in Hebrews 11:13 that Enoch died – he is listed as one of the heroes of faith of whom it says, “all these died”.
The Bible talks about a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (Heb 12:1); this phrase comes immediately after a long passage about dead men and women of faith.
“Conscious deathers” say: Why would the Bible use the term “witnesses” for these people if they are not conscious right now, watching us?
“Soul Sleepers” say: Let’s look at what the Bible itself – the direct context of this phrase about the great cloud of witnesses – says about these dead men and women of faith. First of all, it says that these dead people have not yet received the promises (Heb. 11:39). Obviously, if these people were already in heaven consciously, they would be enjoying the reward promised them by God. The only possible way these people can “not yet” have received the promises is if they are not in heaven consciously. The context also says that these great men and women of faith did what they did so that they could “obtain a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). Their goal was not to “obtain a better conscious death”; it was to “obtain a better resurrection”. This matches up perfectly with every other statement in Scripture about the reward we will receive: we will receive it at the resurrection – the rapture – not before!
This passage highlights one of the great self-contradictions of the idea of conscious death: If men and women of faith are conscious in heaven immediately upon death, why in the world would they need to be resurrected at the rapture? This passage in Hebrews 11 and 12 makes it clear that all men and women of faith expect our reward at the resurrection – the rapture – not before.
The sentence immediately preceding the “cloud of witnesses” sentence says that these dead men and women of faith will not be made perfect apart from us (Heb. 11:40). Apart from us men and women of faith who are still alive, dead men and women of faith will not be made perfect. This is even more confirmation that dead men and women of faith are not conscious in heaven right now, having already received their promises and having been made perfect already. Nope. They are dead. They are unconscious and will only receive the promises and be made perfect at the same time as living Christians will – at the resurrection/rapture.
So why would the apostle Paul use the term “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” to describe these dead men and women of faith, if they had not yet received the promises and would only receive their reward and be made perfect at the rapture? The only possible conclusion we can come to without blatantly ignoring several statements made in the immediate context, is that, in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture, these dead men and women of faith are unconscious right now – their bodies are decomposed in the ground, their spirits went to be with God unconsciously when they died according to Ecc. 12:7 (and 9:5, 10), and their souls/consciousness went to sheol/hades/the-unseen, where according to Acts 2:27, Ecc. 9:5, 10, Psalm 6:5 and 115:17, etc., they are unconscious. When they are resurrected at the rapture they will be made perfect and receive their promised reward.
The only possible logical conclusion we can come to when taking into account Hebrews 11:35, 39, and 40 is that Paul must have been using the phrase “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” in a figurative sense, in the sense that we who are alive should think about these dead heroes of faith, their faith-filled actions, and what they would think of our actions if they could observe us. We are forced to take this phrase figuratively, to mean “Think about what these dead heroes of faith would think of your actions and whether your actions measure up to theirs” rather than “These dead heroes of faith are literally watching us consciously at this very moment” because taking it literally as if these “witnesses” are literally consciously watching us right now, would blatantly contradict several phrases in the immediate context as well as the rest of what (accurately translated) Scripture says about death.
I (John Lilley) am a stickler about only taking Scriptural statements that seem to be literal figuratively if there is a clear indication that we must take it figuratively rather than literally. In this case, Hebrews 11:35, 39 and 40 forces us to take the first phrase of Hebrews 12:1 figuratively rather than literally.
The Bible says that in the heavenly Jerusalem (in heaven) there is “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” and “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-24)
“Conscious deathers” say: This proves that dead men and women of faith are in heaven consciously.
“Soul Sleepers” say: If dead men and women of faith are conscious in heaven right now, then why did Paul tell us earlier in the passage (Heb. 11:35, 39-40) that they have not yet received the promises and lived in hope of a “better resurrection”, not a “better conscious death”? And if these dead people of faith are already “made perfect”, then why did Paul say earlier in the passage (Heb. 11:40) that they have not yet been made perfect, and will only be made perfect with still-living Christians at the rapture? Is Paul schizophrenic? Does he contradict himself?
Of course not. The key word in Hebrews 12:22-24 is “the spirits of just men”. This lines up perfectly with Ecc. 12:7, Ecc. 9:5 & 10, Ps. 6:5, Ps. 115:17, Acts 2:27, etc. At the time of their death the spirit of every single one of these dead people of God went to be with God unconsciously (Ecc. 12:7, Ps. 31:5, Lk. 23:46), while their souls/consciousness went to sheol/hades/the-unseen where there is no remembrance of God, no knowledge, silence, etc. (they became unconscious).
These dead people in heaven as described in Hebrews 12:22-24 are not there consciously, only their unconscious spirits (Ecc. 12:7, 9:5, 10, Ps. 6:5, 115:17) are there. Their spirits have already been made perfect by the blood of Christ (Heb. 12:23, Rom. 3:23-24). But they, themselves as whole persons, will not be made perfect until they receive their immortal bodies and become conscious again at the rapture (Heb. 11:40, Phill. 3:10-11, 1 Cor. 15:50-54).
The “general assembly and church of the first born” are “registered in heaven”. They are “registered” there. They are not there consciously. I am registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I am not actually at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The assembly and the church are not consciously in heaven right now. They are “registered” there. Their “spirits” are there – unconsciously according to Ecc. 12:7, 9:5, 9:10, Ps. 6:5, Ps. 115:17, etc. They are not mentioning or thanking God (Ps. 6:5). They are not praising God – they are silent (Ps. 115:17).
If you want to try to argue about death with the psalmist/prophet David, about whom God said, “I have sworn by My holiness, I will not lie to David” (Ps. 89:35), and whom the New Testament quoted in reference to what happened to Jesus’ soul (Acts 2:27, Ps. 16:10) and spirit (Lk. 23:46, Ps. 31:5) at death – then go ahead and argue with him. I won’t join you. If you want to argue about death with the wisest man who ever lived other than Christ (King Solomon), a man who wrote large portions of Scripture, then go ahead. I won’t join you. At least not on the basis of a Scripture like Hebrew 12:22-24 which when examined carefully matches up perfectly with what they said about death.
The apostle Paul talked about being with Christ/God immediately upon death, and referred to death as “gain” (Phill. 1:21-23, 2 Cor. 5:6-10).
“Conscious deathers” say: These passages by the apostle Paul prove that at death we go to be with Christ consciously.
“Soul Sleepers” say: Nowhere in these passages does Paul say one single thing about being with Christ consciously. He definitely says that at death a believer is with Christ. But he says nothing, zero, nada, about the level of consciousness of the believer when he is with Christ at death. In fact, he says, “To live is Christ”, while “to die” is merely “gain”.
In other words, when we are alive on earth we experience Christ spiritually, but are apart from Him, for He is in heaven. In contrast, in death we do not experience Christ because we are unconscious, though our unconscious spirits are with Him. Death is not Christ; we do not experience Christ in death. Our spirits are with Him, but unconsciously according to Ecc. 12:7 and 9:5, 10. The way Paul phrased it is in perfect agreement with this. We only experience Christ in life/consciousness. Death/unconsciousness is only gain – in death we do not experience Christ so “to live is Christ”, but death is only “gain”, in the sense that it is relief from the troubles of this life. Death would have been gain for Paul because he was in prison – not fun. Being with Christ unconsciously in sleep/rest would have been much better than suffering in prison. Being absent from his body and to have his spirit go to be present with the Lord unconsciously would have been very nice for Paul. If I was old, single, and stuck in prison indefinitely, I would think exactly the same way - death would be "gain", an escape from the troubles of this life. (Also remember Paul spent the greater part of his Christian adult life being beaten, persecuted, whipped, stoned, etc.) Also, from the perspective of a Christian’s experience, if you become unconscious at death, the next thing you know you will be taking part in the rapture. So death is definitely gain for the persecuted Christian in this age, just as sleep is gain and relief from a long hard troublesome day. But death is not Christ (to experience Christ). To experience Christ you must be alive (your spirit must be joined to a body so as to produce consciousness, see Gen. 2:7).
These passages by the apostle Paul can easily be interpreted to match the rest of Scripture concerning death: We do not experience Christ consciously in death, although our unconscious spirits are with Him. The idea of conscious death cannot be proven from these two passages, because these passages say nothing about conscious death. The idea that a Christian is consciously with Christ at death must be inferred or artificially superimposed upon these passages. We are only allowed to do that if the rest of Scripture gives us a logical reason to do it.
Also keep in mind that multiple times the apostle Paul made it clear that the great hope of the Christian is the rapture, not conscious death. Paul's clear statements in this regard, along with the clear testimony of the rest of Scripture that the normal state of a human being in death is unconsciousness, clarify (show us how to "fill in the blanks" of) statements like Philippians 1:21-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 that could be interpreted a couple of different ways.
If you are willing to admit that the psalmist/prophet David and the wisest man besides Christ who ever lived knew what they were talking about concerning death, it is easy to see how all these possibly confusing passages match up with David and Solomon's statements about death.
The souls of the martyrs will have a conversation with God (Rev. 6:9-11). And Saul had a conversation with dead Samuel (1 Sam. 28:7-19).
“Conscious deathers” say: These two passages prove that dead people are conscious and able to communicate.
“Soul Sleepers” say: The passage in Revelation makes it clear that these souls were sleeping/resting both before and after their conversation with God. If God wants to wake them up temporarily for a conversation, He can do that. But after the conversation the dead souls are told to go back to sleep and “rest a little while longer”; thus the passage itself confirms that the normal state of the dead is rest/sleep.
The passage about Saul talking to dead Samuel does not at all prove that death is conscious. For one thing, the passage does not tell us whether Saul was actually talking to Samuel; it just tells us that Saul thought he was talking to Samuel. Saul went to an occult medium; occult mediums are obviously not paragons of honesty. The medium could very easily have told Saul that he was talking to dead Samuel, when in reality it was just a demon he was talking to, pretending to be Samuel. And even if it really was Samuel - which the passage on the whole seems to indicate, given that Samuel gave Saul a prophecy that came true - the passage in Revelation 6:9-11 (about the dead/sleeping souls waking up temporarily to have a conversation and then going back to sleep) shows us that it is possible for dead souls to wake up temporarily before going back to sleep/unconsciousness. But this does not mean that these souls in Revelation 6:9-11 or Samuel spent their entire time in death being conscious; Samuel was upset at being "disturbed" and the souls in Revelation 6:9-11 were told to go back to sleep/rest, which of course matches up perfectly with the idea that the normal state of a human being in death is unconsciousness (often referred to in Scripture as sleep or rest).
Bottom line, this passage about Saul thinking he was talking to Samuel through a medium, even if it really was Samuel, cannot be used to prove that the normal state of a human being in death is consciousness.
There are a few other passages in Revelation that describe saints in heaven praising God and doing other conscious activities (Rev. 4:4, 10-11; Rev. 5:8-10, 13; Rev. 7:9-12).
“Conscious deathers” say: These passages prove that dead Christians are conscious in heaven right now.
“Soul Sleepers” say: Every single one of these passages (Rev. 4:4, 10-11; Rev. 5:8-10, 13; Rev. 7:9-12) are part of the interludes in the book of Revelation. The interludes jump out of the chronological “7 Seals then 7 Trumpets then 7 Bowls” order that anchors the book of Revelation. The events described in the interludes cannot be assumed to occur at the place in the chronology where they are described. These “interlude events” could occur before, or after, the location in the chronology where they are described in Revelation. In my book End Times Explained I go through each interlude and prove using other Scriptural clues exactly when each interlude event will actually occur. They definitely jump all over the place chronologically. These “Christians celebrating in heaven” interlude events are flash-forwards to after the resurrection/rapture.
If this is not the case, then you have to explain why David lied or was confused/incorrect when he said “the dead do not praise the Lord” (Ps. 115:17) and “in death there is no remembrance/mention of You” (Ps. 6:5), and why Jesus would say in John 3:13, "no man has ascended into heaven". I am not willing to put an unproven/incorrect claim that “these interlude passages in Revelation refer to dead Christians praising the Lord before the rapture/resurrection” above the prophet David’s plain, straightforward statements about death, especially considering the fact that the New Testament quoted David twice about death in reference to Jesus’ own death.
Some might argue that Revelation 4:4, 10-11 is not part of an interlude. They may be correct, although it would be difficult to prove. Even then, this passage still could not be used to prove that dead human Christians are conscious in heaven praising God before the rapture/resurrection (in direct contradiction to prophet David’s assertion in Psalm 115:17 that “the dead do not praise the Lord”), because this passage only talks about some “elders”. Nowhere does this passage say that these “elders” are human beings; actually, the passage specifically mentions other heavenly creatures that are clearly not human beings. It cannot be proven that these elders are human beings.
Again, what you run into is that if this passage is not an interlude (which cannot be proven) and if these elders are human beings (which cannot be proven), you would then have to explain why the prophet David doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he says, “The dead do not praise the Lord” (Ps. 115:17) and “in death there is no remembrance/mention of You” (Ps. 6:5). Why would the New Testament quote David about death twice in regards to Jesus’ death, and why would God say, “I have sworn by My holiness, I will not lie to David”, if David doesn’t know what he’s talking about and needs to be corrected by Revelation 4:4? To try to use passages like Revelation 4:4, any of the other interlude passages in Revelation, or any of the other passages touched on so far in this article to try to prove that David is wrong/ignorant about death requires leaps of logic plus creative invention (making passages say something they don’t actually say) while discarding straightforward statements by David and Solomon that are clearly confirmed and directly quoted by the New Testament. I am simply not willing to put leaps of logic and creative additions to Scripture of my own invention above statements about death made by the prophet David and the wisest man (besides Christ) who ever lived.
Didn’t Jesus say that a person who believes in Him would never die?
“Conscious deathers” say: Jesus said, “He who believes in Me will live even if He dies” (Jn. 11:25) and “whoever believes in Me will never die” (Jn. 11:26). This obviously proves that a dead Christian remains alive and conscious when they die.
“Soul Sleepers” say: An accurate translation of John 11:25 is, “'I am the rising again, and the life; he who is believing in me, even if he may die, shall live.” (Young’s Literal) This makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was talking about the fact that a person who believes in Him but dies will later be resurrected at the rapture (“the rising again”). To try to claim that this statement refers to conscious death is totally inaccurate. Jesus Himself said He was talking about the “rising again” – the resurrection, the rapture. See also John 6:39 where Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He will “raise them (those who believe in Him) at the last day”.
An accurate translation of John 11:26 is, “Every one who is living and believing in me shall not die -- to the age.” (Young’s Literal). This is a typical instance of some of the popular/loosely-translated English Bible versions blatantly mistranslating the Greek word “eon” as “forever” or “eternal” or (in this case) “never”. This is the same Greek word “eon” that is used in 2 Corinthians 4:4 which states that Satan is the “god of this eon”. Is Satan the god of this “forever”? Is he the god of this “eternity”? Will he “never” cease to be god? Obviously not (Rev. 20:2). He is the god of this “age” (Greek “eon”). This Greek word “eon” can be translated as “age” in every single instance where it is used in the New Testament and it will make perfect sense. At the same time there are many instances (such as 2 Cor. 4:4) where it absolutely cannot be translated as “forever” or referring to endlessness. Words simply do not change their meaning from one thing to the exact opposite. “Age” is the exact opposite of “forever” – one is a period of time with a specific beginning and end, the other is time with no beginning or end. This Greek word “eon” should never be translated as any word referring to endlessness or eternity. The words “forever”, “forever and ever”, “eternal”, “everlasting”, and “never” should not appear in any English Bible.
So it is clear that in John 11:26 Jesus is not saying anything about “never dying”. He is saying that those who believe in Him will not be dead during “the age”. If you look at all Jesus’ preaching to Israel, He was constantly talking about the next age of life on earth (what we would now call the millennium, Rev. 20:4-6), the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth. (Remember the Lord’s prayer? “Thy kingdom come…on earth”!) Jesus was simply saying that those who believe in Him will be alive during the next age of life on earth (the millennium), due to the fact that they will take part in the resurrection (the rapture) preceding the next age (Rev. 20:4-6, Matt. 24:29-32).
Of course, the context of these statements in John 11:25-26 is that Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He’s trying to instill in Mary the faith that He can raise people from the dead (Jn. 11:40). These statements in John 11:25-26 are about Jesus’ power to resurrect human beings from the dead (Lazarus right then, and all other dead people of faith at the rapture). They have zero, nothing, nada to do with conscious death.
Revelation 14:9-11 talks about the people who take the mark of the beast being tormented with fire and brimstone.
“Conscious deathers” say: This proves that death is conscious and hell is real.
“Soul Sleepers” say: This passage says absolutely nothing about death or hell. First of all, let’s straighten out the translation of verse 11 – the smoke of their torment does not rise “forever and ever”, it rises “for the ages of the ages”. As we’ve seen, this phrase refers to a specific period of time, the greatest two ages out of the ages of human history God planned from the beginning of time: the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
This passage is part of an interlude in Revelation (Rev. chapters 10 through 15) that surrounds the 7th Trumpet. (The interlude is so extensive because the 7th Trumpet is the most important event in Revelation – I demonstrate why in my book End Times Explained.) So because this passage is part of an interlude, we cannot determine when it will occur just by where it is placed in the book of Revelation. We must look for other clues in Scripture that lock together clearly and logically, telling us what this passage is referring to and when it will occur.
When we do this we see that Revelation 14:9-11 is a clear parallel passage to Revelation 16:1-11. Both passages speak clearly of the wrath of God and describe identical torments (Rev. 14:9-11 lists less of them, but those torments it lists match some of the torments in Rev. 16:1-21 perfectly). Neither passage says anything about these torments being in the spirit realm; Rev. 16:1-21 makes it clear that these events will take place on earth in the physical realm. In both passages the people who will experience these physical torments due to God’s wrath are those who took the mark of the beast (and thus did not take part in the rapture which took Christians away from earth before these worldwide wrath-events are poured out – see 1 Thess. 5:9). The bowls of God’s wrath that cause these mark-takers to suffer physical torments do not last “for the ages of the ages” – they only last for a short time before Jesus comes back to rule over the earth (Rev. 19:11-20:6).
Thus, the smoke of their torment rising for the ages of the ages cannot be literal, we are forced to interpret it as a figurative way of saying that throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age humanity will remember (as a powerful object lesson) how these mark-takers physically suffered for a while at the end of this current age due to God’s wrath. If you want to take the phrase about the smoke rising for the ages of the ages literally, you must explain how smoke can rise literally for over a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). The smoke would obviously disperse. The figurative interpretation matches the relevant Scriptural passages perfectly, while the literal interpretation makes no sense.
The only way the smoke could literally rise for the ages of the ages is if these people who took the mark of the beast were to suffer physically throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age. Conscious Deathers would say that this confirms their suspicion that the lake of fire (which also lasts for the ages of the ages) means conscious suffering for those thrown there. The only problem is that the lake of fire “is the second death”. So in order to claim that Revelation 14:9-11 matches up with Revelation 20:14-15 (the lake of fire, the second death) rather than with Revelation 16:1-21 (physical torments due to God’s wrath that last only for a short time), you must discard what the prophet David and King Solomon said about death (that death is unconscious).
The bottom line is, Revelation 14:9-11 either matches up with the short-lived physical torments of 7 Bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 16:1-21) or it matches up with the "conscious death and eternal punishment" interpretation of the lake of fire as a place of non-physical nebulous spirit suffering (Rev. 20:14-15). For us Soul Sleepers, the #1 tie-breaker is the level of detail in which Rev. 14:9-11 matches Rev. 16:1-21 (and the fact that they are really part of one long passage in Revelation), and the #2 tie-breaker is that we are not willing to throw David’s and Solomon’s plain statements about death that are corroborated perfectly by the rest of Scripture, out the window just because we would rather match up Rev. 14:9-11 with the lake of fire instead of the 7 Bowls of God’s wrath. We are not willing to discard David and Solomon when there is a perfectly logical explanation (matching up Rev. 14:9-11 with the 7 Bowls of wrath in Rev. 16) that corroborates David and Solomon instead of contradicting them.
The Bible talks about prayers being made for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29).
"Conscious Deathers" say: This proves that the dead are conscious - why else would the apostle Paul say that it's ok to pray for them?
"Soul Sleepers" say: Three verses later (vs. 32) Paul says, "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." He plainly stated that it does not matter how we live our lives if there is no resurrection! And the verse right before this statement about prayers being made for the dead (verse 28), and indeed, the entire passage (1 Cor. 15) is clearly about the resurrection. Thus we must assume that the apostle Paul meant prayers can be made for the dead, not because these prayers will affect them while they are dead, but because the prayers may affect them after they rise from the dead and stand before God to be judged (Rev. 20:11-3).
Keep in mind Paul did not say we should pray to dead people or for dead people as if it will help them while they are dead; rather he said prayers can be made for the dead, and he said this in the context of talking about the rapture and future "vivification" (resurrection into immortal bodies) of all human beings and the eventual total defeat and abolishment of death (1 Cor. 15:22-28 in particular). Modern Christians totally ignore 1 Corinthians 15:29, partly because the hell and eternal punishment mindset that dominates modern Christianity makes it impossible to understand why anyone would pray for a dead person. But when you interpret verses 22 through 28 with common sense (resisting the urge to explain away what it plainly says, resisting the urge to change the definition of "all" at will etc.), it perfectly explains verse 29. The fact that eventually God will be "all in all" explains why we could pray even for dead (as of now) unsaved loved ones and God would take those prayers into account after He raises them from the dead (first into mortal bodies at the white throne judgment, and then again, after their second period of death, into immortal bodies at the consummation of God's plan referred to 1 Cor. 15:24-28).
Jesus said it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment (the white throne judgment) than for the Israelites who heard Him preach but rejected Him (Matt. 10:15). This tells us that people will have varying levels of pleasant or unpleasant experience when they are judged by Christ "according to their deeds" (Rev. 20:11-13). According to Paul in 1 Cor. 15:22-29, God could certainly remember prayers made for the dead and take them into account when judging these dead people after they are raised into mortal bodies to be judged at the white throne judgment and corrected and saved there (Rev. 20:11-15, Is. 45:23, Phill. 2:10-11) and maybe even after their second period of death, "vivified" (resurrected into immortal bodies, 1 Cor. 15:22-28). This is the only possible explanation for why Paul would say that prayers for the dead are acceptable.
Paul makes it clear in this passage (1 Cor. 15:20-28) that God's plan is to eventually vivify (give an immortal body to) every human who ever lived (first Jesus, then people of faith at the rapture, then everybody else at the consummation of God's plan (which comes after the New Jerusalem age of Rev. 21-22), see vs. 24). Once everybody has been "vivified" into an immortal body, Jesus can then abolish death and hand the kingdom over to the Father (the kingdom - the millennium and the New Jerusalem age - will come to an end at that point) and God will be "all in all". Since this is God's plan as outlined by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Paul's comment in verse 29 about prayers for the dead make perfect sense - these prayers will take effect when God deals with them after they are resurrected at the rapture (in the case of those who get saved in this age), at the white throne (for everybody else) and/or at the consummation of the ages (God could also take prayers into account at that point too, though most likely He'd take them into account mostly beforehand at the white throne judgment).
The bottom line is the entire context of this comment about prayers for the dead refers to the resurrection of the dead. The prayers will clearly affect these people after they are resurrected. There is zero proof here - no evidence whatsoever - that prayers made for the dead affect them while they are dead. In no way does Paul ever (in this passage, or any other of his Scriptural writings) contradict David's and Solomon's clear statements that death is unconscious.
The setting of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man contains two dead people talking to each other, one suffering in flames, the other in “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:19-31).
“Conscious deathers” say: This is our ace in the hole.
“Soul Sleepers” say: A parable by definition has a fictional setting. If you can prove to me that the parable of the seed and the sower was a literal teaching about agriculture, then you can prove that this parable is a literal teaching about the “afterlife” (an unscriptural term and concept by which people mean conscious death).
Why does the fictional setting of this parable blatantly contradict David’s and Solomon’s statements about death being unconscious (Ecc. 9:5, 10; Ecc. 12:7, Ps. 6:5, Ps. 115:17)? How can Jesus so blatantly contradict David and Solomon, when He Himself quoted David about death the instant before He died (Lk. 23:46), and Acts 2:27 quotes David about Jesus’ death too…not to mention that everything else in Scripture, including the continual use of the analogy of “sleep” for death and “awake” for being alive, matches up perfectly with and is explained perfectly by David and Solomon’s statements about death? Why is Jesus seemingly going off the reservation here?
And Jesus Himself said in John 3:13, "No man has ascended into heaven." How could He contradict Himself so blatantly with this story about Lazarus and a rich man?
This is not to mention the absurdities built into the story itself. Are we to believe that a man suffering in the flames of the afterlife would ask for a mere drop of water on his tongue? And if the flames of the afterlife are within shouting distance of heaven, how are we supposed to enjoy ourselves in heaven with the screams of the damned emanating from right next door?
The answer is exceedingly simple: the setting of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is fictional (like the setting of every parable), and Jesus chose the fictional setting of the fictional story from the Pharisee’s pagan Talmud, not from Scripture. In my book Hell Is A Mistranslation I quote the exact passages in the Talmud that Jesus quoted almost verbatim in the fictional setting of the parable. (In Jesus' day it was the Pharisees' pagan oral traditions, later written down as the Talmud.)
For example, the phrase “Abraham’s bosom” and the idea of going there at death is not found anywhere in Scripture, but it is a direct quote from the pagan Talmud. The idea of heaven or “paradise” being within shouting distance of the tortuous flames of the afterlife (close enough for a conversation to occur, think of it! How are we supposed to party in heaven when we’re within hearing distance of the screams? So ridiculous…) – this idea is not found anywhere in Scripture, but it is lifted directly from the pages of the Pharisees’ pagan Talmud.
Jesus chose this fictional setting for the parable from the Pharisees pagan Talmud in order to mock them for putting the Talmud above Scripture. Some of the details of the fictional setting are humorous, designed to point out the ridiculousness of pagan beliefs about conscious death. For example, the guy supposedly suffering in the flames of the afterlife asks for a mere drop of water on his tongue. I’d ask for a swimming pool to jump into! This little detail is obviously a little joke on Jesus’ part. Chuckle, chuckle…the dude suffering in the supposed afterlife flames asks for a drop of water on his tongue. How ridiculous.
Jesus telling this parable to His Israelite audience 2,000 years ago is the equivalent of your pastor standing up on in church next Sunday, seeing that there are a bunch of hostile Muslims in the first row, and deciding to tell a story about a Muslim guy who gave his life for jihad only to find when he reached the afterlife that the 70 virgins he had been promised each weighed 500 pounds! Your pastor could then make the point that “you’d better have full information before you commit to something”. He’s made a good point for everyone to learn from, but at the same time He’s subtly mocked the hostile Muslims in the audience. And no one in the audience would ever dream that your pastor was giving a literal teaching about what he really believes happens at death.
Look at main point Jesus made with the parable of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:31): “Listen to Moses and the prophets”. Listen to the Word of God, not the pagan Talmud! This was a clear message to the Pharisees, who were in Jesus’ audience that day (Lk. 16:14). The setting of the parable mocked their pagan Talmud, which they esteemed above the Scriptures.
And at the same time, Jesus made another true point from which the rest of His Israelite audience could benefit – the same point He made in virtually all His preaching to Israel: when the kingdom comes to earth in the future, a switcheroo in fortunes is coming between the downtrodden and the corrupt selfish leaders, and the way for you Israelites to have a good spot in this coming kingdom is to heed the Law of Moses and behave well.
Another additional point He made was, “If you don’t believe I’m the Messiah now, you won’t believe even if/when I rise from the dead.” True point. Like the other points of the parable, it had nothing to do with conscious death or the afterlife. The point of a parable is never a literal teaching about the setting and details of the story. Read that last sentence a hundred times if you have to. Go on, read it again. Don't gloss over it! It is absolutely true!
Modern Christians understand this rule and follow it when interpreting every other parable of Jesus, but break it when interpreting the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as if it is a literal teaching about the details and setting of the story! Why do they do this? Because, ironically, they believe the same pagan nonsense about the afterlife that the Pharisees' pagan Talmud taught! (Modern Christians learned it from middle ages Catholicism, but this pagan afterlife nonsense goes way back in history, it's the same old "horribleness in conscious death if you die as a bad person and/or believe the wrong thing, but wonderfulness in conscious death if you die as one of the smart few who believes and does enough right things" nonsense all throughout history. Only the true teaching of the Bible - that we who believe/know the truth in this age have been sovereignly chosen by God due to no goodness of our own, and everyone else is going to "get it" later, see Eph. 1:4 and Is. 45:23 and Phill. 2:10-11 and 1 Cor. 15:22-28 for this in a nutshell; only the Bible stands apart among God-based world religions as having a sense of justice that is actually fair and just - the wages of sin is temporary death/unconsciousness, not torture or unending pain - along with a God that anyone would actually want to serve, who has a plan for all humanity that makes perfect sense to the heart and mind and that any loving parent can easily understand.)
Here's another important thing to understand about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. See my article on What the Kingdom of God Really Is (or read Chapter 9 of my book Hell Is a Mistranslation) to learn why Jesus’ preaching to Israel was still under the law of Moses, for the purposes of giving them a chance to see the kingdom come to earth in that generation if they behaved and obeyed the rules well enough. In order to really absorb the point of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, you have to realize that Jesus’ preaching to Israel was not about the afterlife, conscious death, or any such thing. Sometimes He mentioned a future resurrection for the righteous, but His main line of preaching was about how Israel back then could earn a chance to see the kingdom come to earth in their lifetimes, and how they as individuals could have a good spot in the kingdom if it came back then. (They didn’t meet the conditions, so it didn’t come back then; which was all part of God's plan - see Paul's writings in Romans 11-13 etc.)
Once you realize that the points of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man had nothing to with conscious death or the afterlife, and everything to do with heeding the law of Moses (and for the Pharisees, heeding it above the Talmud) in order to have a good spot in the kingdom of God on earth in the next age if it came within their lifetimes, just like all of Jesus’ preaching to Israel…you are no longer confused about the point of the parable. You have entered into the mindset of Jesus’ audience back then. Read my article What the Kingdom of God Really Is (or chapter 9 of my book on hell) to enter into their mindset; it will help you understand the points Jesus made with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man and understand how Jesus’ Israelite audience 2,000 years ago would have understood it.
The modern Christian has inherited a bunch of pagan nonsense from the Catholic church including a ridiculous, unscriptural focus on conscious death and the afterlife. (In actuality we are only going to be in heaven for a short time after the rapture/resurrection before returning to reign over the earth with Christ, and even the New Jerusalem will later come down from heaven to earth, and God will live on earth with us! See Rev. 19:14, 20:4-6, and 21:1-3!) This pagan/Catholic-inherited erroneous focus on the idea of an afterlife (conscious death) and the erroneous idea of "being in heaven forever" (we will be immortal but we will live on earth, "Thy kingdom come...on earth") causes the typical modern Christian to erroneously read into many Scriptural passages (including the parable of Lazarus and the rich man) a meaning (conscious death) which is not actually contained in any of the passages (the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable with a setting and details lifted directly from the pagan Talmud, and a parable by definition is not a literal teaching about the setting and details of the parable), while carelessly discarding plain, straightforward statements about unconscious death made by David and Solomon which are not only corroborated by every pertinent passage in the New Testament and the rest of Scripture, but are also quoted directly in the New Testament in regards to Jesus’ own death!
Again, we "Soul Sleepers" are not willing to discard David’s and Solomon’s statements about death when there is a perfectly logical explanation (the fictional setting of the parable was taken from the pagan Talmud, not from Scripture, and the point of the parable had nothing to do with conscious death or the afterlife, indeed the point of a parable is never a literal teaching about the setting and details of the parable) that corroborates David and Solomon instead of contradicting them.
Reply by “Conscious Deathers”: We choose to believe that the setting of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a literal teaching about the afterlife.
Reply by “Soul Sleepers”: Then why don’t you interpret the parable of the seed and the sower as a literal teaching about agricultural practices, or interpret the parable of the 10 virgins as a literal teaching about what young ladies attending an oriental-style wedding ought to do with their oil lamps?
Reply by “Conscious Deathers”: Ummm…
Reply by “Soul Sleepers”: And how do you explain the fact that the setting of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man agrees with and directly quotes the pagan Talmud but directly contradicts straightforward statements about death by the prophet David (who is quoted twice in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ death) and King Solomon (the wisest man besides Christ who ever lived)?
Reply by “Conscious Deathers”: Well…We believe that there are some passages in the New Testament and other places in Scripture that talk about conscious death. We believe that David and Solomon didn’t really know what they were talking about concerning death, they didn’t have full information about death and needed to be corrected by certain passages in the New Testament that we think talk about conscious death. We agree to disagree with you Soul Sleepers.
Reply by “Soul Sleepers”: We agree to disagree with you Conscious Deathers. We believe that upon careful examination none of the Scriptures you cite as “proof” of conscious death are any sort of proof at all. It is easy for us to see how every single Scripture in the Bible about death matches up perfectly with and is explained perfectly by David and Solomon’s straightforward statements in Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Psalm 6:5, and Psalm 115:17, etc. We believe that the New Testament’s direct quotation of David in regards to what happened to Jesus’ spirit and soul at death more than confirms the New Testament’s respect for, great regard for, and agreement with the prophet David and King Solomon regarding death. We are not willing to say that David (a prophet of whom God said, “I have sworn by My holiness, I will not lie to David”) and Solomon (the wisest man besides Christ who ever lived) had incomplete or incorrect information about death based on a few other passages that must be interpreted with creative license in order to artificially superimpose the idea of conscious death upon them.
And we still have not gotten satisfactory explanations from you "Conscious Deathers" about how you explain Daniel 12:13, Hebrews 11:35, John 3:13, and 1 Corinthians 15:32 - statements scattered throughout both the Old and New Testaments that plainly state the reward for how a person lives their life will not be received until the resurrection.
Reply from “Conscious Deathers”: Well, we try not to think about those Scriptural statements. We still believe there are statements in the Bible that speak of conscious death as a normal state for human beings. Even though we agree to disagree with you Soul Sleepers, we still love you and consider you our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Reply from “Soul Sleepers”: Thanks – and ditto.
In summary, "Soul Sleepers" (like me) believe that any and every Scripture put forth by the "Conscious Deathers" can be easily explained in a way that matches up perfectly with David's and Solomon's statements about death in Ecc. 9:5, 10, 12:7, and Psalm 6:5 and 115:17, etc. We believe that Conscious Deathers can only come to their conclusions by taking their Catholic-inherited ideas about conscious death (ideas which were not part of Christianity originally or a part of the Hebrew heritage of Christianity, but only came to be thought of as "Christian" through the Catholic Church's combination of paganism with Christianity) and artificially superimposing those ideas on top of certain Bible statements without warrant in an attempt to make them say something they don't actually say.
In other words, they make completely different assumptions about the phrases "being with the Lord" (at death) and "going to heaven/paradise" at death than Godly people in Bible days would have made. The only Bible Godly people in Bible days had was the Old Testament, which clearly teaches unconscious death and contains nothing remotely resembling the Catholic version of the afterlife. The Old Testament also contains very specific teachings about exactly what happens to a human's spirit at death - it goes to God unconsciously while the person becomes unconscious in death (their "soul"/consciousness goes to "the unseen"/sheol where "there is no knowledge or activity or planning or wisdom" and there is "silence" and "the dead do not praise the Lord").
Thus, Godly people in Bible days would have naturally and automatically thought of the phrases "being with the Lord" and "going to heaven/paradise" at death as referring to a human's spirit going to be with God unconsciously for safekeeping. They thought of death, correctly, as the absence of life, not as a second life.
We are not comfortable putting "conscious death" interpretations of certain possibly-unclear, potentially confusing passages above plain straightforward statements about death made by an accurate prophet (who was quoted twice in the New Testament concerning Jesus' death) and the wisest man (other than Christ) who ever lived. Especially given the fact that every single one of these potentially confusing passages can be logically interpreted as matching up perfectly with David and Solomon's statements about death.
Conscious Deathers, on the other hand, believe that they are in the right when they interpret certain passages as referring to conscious death in direct contradiction to statements made by prophet/King David and King Solomon, and without providing a satisfactory explanation for statements like John 3:13, Daniel 12:13, Hebrews 11:35, and 1 Corinthians 15:32.
It's up to you to decide who you agree with. I hope this article has been a help to you as you endeavor to "test everything" in obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:21. I also encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you into the truth on this subject (John 16:13) - unlike me, He's perfect in every way!
Is Soul Sleep Scriptural? Let's find out by examining every Scripture used to disprove it... Copyright 2012 John Lilley
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