daring to say “sleep”
Popping off, croaking, buying the farm, pushing up daisies, biting the big one, kicking the bucket, assuming room temperature, … these are some of the more colourful euphemisms for death. Not a one of them is found in the Bible. But, interestingly enough, there are a number of popular euphemisms for death that people think are in the Bible, but they are not: The Bible does not call death going home, going to be with the Lord, going to one’s reward, or going to heaven.
Instead, the Bible consistently uses a metaphor for death that is deemed neither socially or theologically appropriate among evangelicals. It calls death a sleep. But if a conditionalist slips up and actually refers to the dead as sleeping, judging from the reaction among traditionalists, you would think that he had shot God.
Nevertheless, it would do us all well to return to biblical terminology and jettison these traditions that keep us from using it. The biblical authors knew what they were talking about. The Holy Spirit inspired them to write words which expressed the way things really are. It is not their fault that the popular church has chosen to see and say things differently.
But in this current atmosphere where the biblical word “sleep” sparks such a response from otherwise biblically grounded saints, if conditionalists want to revive the term as a metaphor for death, we had better be prepared. Conditionalists need to know just where in the Bible the term is used for death, and what “sleep” means in the contexts of those passages.
- In Job 14, death is described as lying down and sleeping.
- In Psalm 13, David calls death a sleep.
- Jeremiah 51 described Babylon’s ultimate destruction as a perpetual sleep.
- Daniel 12:2-3 describes resurrection from sleep in the dust.
- Jesus, in Luke 8 describes a dead girl as merely sleeping.
- Matthew 27 describes saints who were raised from sleep when Christ was crucified.
- Jesus, in John 11 says that his friend Lazarus had fallen asleep, and the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ description of death as sleep.
- Luke, in Acts 7 described Stephen’s death by saying that he fell asleep.
- Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15 that most believers will sleep in death, but that those alive at Christ’s return will be made immortal without sleeping.
The Christian hope is not going somewhere at death, but a Saviour, who is coming to wake us up from death. That is why to “fall asleep” is a statement of faith for the believing Christian. It says that we have put our trust in a Saviour who cares for us, and will not let our defeat by the enemy death be the last word. We dare to call death a sleep, not because we deny its reality, but because we deny its permanence. When we say someone is asleep, we imply that we expect that someone to wake up.
If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.
listen to the audio file at Afterlife.