God Compares Death to Sleep
None of the Bible writers believed that death is the time when the saints go to their reward in heaven. They all looked forward to the resurrection when the reward would be given to all those who trust in Jesus. Jesus said,
“Behold I COME quickly; and My REWARD is WITH me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
The holy men of the Old Testament did not contradict the writers of the New Testament:
“Behold the Lord God will come…Behold His reward is with Him.”
Well-meaning people have used a few verses out of context to contradict the multitude of texts which illustrate death is compared to sleep.
God, the only one who knows everything—including what death is like–tells us over and over in both the Old and New Testament that death is a “sleep.” Note these consistent statements:
Writing under inspiration,
The Psalmist David prayed to God lest he “SLEEP the SLEEP of Death.”
“Now shall I SLEEP in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.”
“Them that SLEEP in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
(Note the reference to the two resurrections. The first is for those “dead in Christ.” The second one is for the rest of the dead and the final judgment where they will be dead forever (2nd death)
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the FIRST RESURRECTION. Over such the SECOND DEATH has no power.”
“Now the days of David drew nigh that he should DIE…So David SLEPT with his fathers, and was buried.”
1 Kings 2: 1, 10
Miracles occurred when Jesus died on the cross:
“The earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen ASLEEP were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
Matthew 27: 51-53
“AWAKE thou that SLEEPEST, and arise from the dead.”
When Stephen was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr, the Bible says,
“he fell ASLEEP.”
These are but a few of many examples from such diverse Bible writers as David, Job, Matthew, and Paul, and others who consistently speak of death as a “sleep.” Let’s hear and example from our Lord’s own lips.
One day Jesus received news that His friend Lazarus was very sick. After waiting two days before going to Lazarus, Jesus said:
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen ASLEEP; but I go, that I may AWAKEN him out of SLEEP.’ The disciples therefore (knowing how helpful bed rest is to sick people) said to Him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his DEATH, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, ‘Lararus is DEAD.”
John 11-11-14 NASB
Jesus used the same comparison of death to sleep in regard to the daughter of Jairus, whom he miraculously raised from the dead.
“He said to them, ‘Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.'” Matthew 9:24. See also Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52
The words of the Master Himself should settle the matter beyond all debate.
Speaking of death as a sleep is an appropriate, beautiful metaphor. But when the Word of God uses that term so consistently, it becomes more than a convenient euphemism for an unpleasant subject. For all who take the Bible seriously, it becomes FACT. And death itself becomes nothing to fear: It’s comforting to realize that just as drowsy slumber comes at the end of day, so death quiet, restful sleep comes at the end of life.
Psychiatrists know that death holds a terror for many people. But “men fear death as children fear the dark”—because it is unknown. Once we know the truth about death, that it’s simply a sleep without consciousness of time, its horror is dispelled.
If you were told by the Lord Himself to be comforted by certain words about death, would you listen? Would it be that your loved one is enjoying the streets of gold? Would your loved ones miss you? Of course they would, but is that heaven? God has a better plan! We will all see the Lord and go to heaven at the same time!
Listen to the words written by Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But notice that he ends his description of the second coming with the encouragement to get our comfort from his words:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead (sleeping) in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. THEREFORE COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS.”
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
What words are are to be comforting to us who mourn the death of a beloved? Is it that they have gone to heaven and are looking down on us? No! The words that are to comfort us is that Jesus is coming! He will resurrect us, not matter how long we have been sleeping the slumber of death. And then there will be a reunion of all those who died “in Christ.” Then we will receive immortality and new bodies:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”[
1 Corinthians 15: 51-54
I once heard a preacher trying to comfort the mother and father of a young man who died suddenly. He said, their son was in heaven enjoying eternal youth and that “Death was swallowed up in victory.” But, look closely at how the pastor took this portion of scripture totally out of context. It is only when Jesus returns and the dead in Christ are resurrected that this saying that is written can be proclaimed.
We cannot claim that Death is swallowed up in victory until Jesus returns:
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death
1 Corinthians 15: 26
Recently, I had surgery and was put under anesthesia. The doctor told me that they were administering the drug to put me asleep. That was the last thing I remembered. It seemed like a nanosecond had passed before the nurse was waking me up, but yet it had been a couple of hours.
The sleep of death is but for a second. The next thing a Christian will see in their resurrected body is the Lord returning in the clouds of heaven to take us to where he is. Here are the words Jesus used to comfort his disciples. May it comfort us too. May it give us the longing to Jesus come again soon
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
John 14: 1-3
“Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Comfort one another with these words….