SLEEPING IN DEATH
"Saints" are said to "sleep" (Matthew 27:52); Lazarus is said to "sleep" (John 11:11); Stephen "fell asleep" (Acts 7:60); Christ is said to be the firstfruits of them that "slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20); and believers are said to have "fallen asleep" in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:18), though in all the range of this usage, whether in Gospels, Acts or Epistles, "to fall asleep" is never used to speak of the death of an unbeliever.
The Lord never says "Ye shall fall asleep in your sins", but "ye shall die in your sins", for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but for those who believe in the Son of God, that sting has been removed. What is plain death to the ungodly is to fall asleep in Christ to the redeemed.
"For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself, For whether we live, we live unto the Lord: and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7,8).
Christ is Lord both of the dead and the living. In Adam all die, but in Christ the believer falls asleep blessed deliverance indeed! The dead which die "in the Lord" are pronounced "blessed" (Revelation 14:13).
So far as our studies have led us, we find that "sleep" is not predicated of the ungodly in their death, but is reserved only for those who die "in the Lord".
Let us, therefore, use this blessed word with discretion, and value the priceless inferences that such a distinction must necessarily lead to.
In his booklet, Resurrection, page 13, our friend Stuart Allen makes a pertinent conclusion of the matter, "First of all that of the Lord Jesus Who thought not of Himself, but for our sakes left the glory that was His by right and stooped so low as to die the death of a criminal, that all who trust in Him should not die eternally." We add that it does not say anywhere that people sleep eternally.
David said, I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness (Psalms 17:15). Job said, All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee. (Job 14:14, 15). And the members of the mystical body of Christ await the day of redemption when they will awake in glory (not on the earth) and shall see Him in all His glory (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30) and be manifested with Him there (Colossians 3:4).
Since there is no knowledge or device of any kind in the grave (hell), the believer will have no idea of passage of time there. So as far as he will know, he will awake the next instant after death.
This period of time, referred to as the naked state by Paul, is quite often spoken of as a sleep in the Bible. However in the original languages, the word sleep is used only of those who are believers and hope to awake. You can check this with the lexicon in the back of Strong's Concordance.
Let us see what Job has to say about this period of time. See Job 14:12-15.
12. Man lies down. That is death. It is unfortunate that this is translated sleep in many places spoiling the difference maintained as mentioned above. Man does not rise up or awake until a certain time. That time, in the Hebrew is described as when the heavens become un-stitched. There is no statement that all will rise, awake, or be raised out of sleep. See Daniel 12:2 and compare. Here is pretty good evidence that Job was a Gentile and did not have the hope of Israel, the resurrection at the last day which Martha knew about (John 11:24). This resurrection in Job is after the millennium is over. Compare with the time of the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11).
13. Job asks to be hidden in hell (sheol). He does not want to be here when God's wrath is poured out. He does not want to see the great fire that will consume everything that will burn in the earth, melting the very elements so that former things (the works of man) will no more be remembered. But Job wants God to give him a set time for resurrection after all this is past, and remember him. Note that in John 5:28 graves are sepulchers or remembrance places.
14. So Job asks the question about man and the result of death. He does not ask if a man is really dead. Satan said that men do not really die (Genesis 3:4). Job has no question about the reality of death, but he asks if he will live again. The heathen believe that a man still goes on living, even in death. Then Job gives his own testimony. He is confident. He says that he will wait till all the days of his appointed time in the grave (hell) are over, till the time of his change should come (1 Corinthians 15:52).
15. Job is confident that after the naked state is over, God will call and that he will answer. This is his awakening. This is the time of his change. David refers to this when he says that he will be satisfied to awake in the likeness of the Lord (Psalms 17:15). This is when this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal puts on immortality.
Since Job's time, other resurrections have been revealed as other families have been chosen for a work to do. But the same principle remains all thru. There is a period between death and resurrection. Only those believers who are living when the Lord comes will escape the naked state. At one time Paul had hoped to be among those that would pass right from this life to the next, but when the program was changed at Acts 28:28, Paul was resigned to death and resurrection (2 Timothy 4:6).
Study to shew thyself approved
2 Timothy 2:15
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