An investigation of this doctrine might be important because of the teaching of some Christian and some "cultish" sects that deny any personal conscious existence between death and resurrection. Among those who teach this doctrine are the Seventh Day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The doctrine, stated simply, is as follows. "Following death, the soul of an individual sleeps until the resurrection." Actually, such a belief should not be classified as heresy, but rather simply a doctrinal aberration from the teaching of Scripture.
Arguments for such a belief generally follow these principles of thinking:
1. Human existence involves a union of body and soul. Therefore, when the body ceases to function, the soul will not be able to function without it.
2. The use of the word "sleep" in the Authorized Version seems to imply soul-sleep and the cessation of consciousness. See 1 Corinthians 11:30, 15:51
3. The consciousness of the soul would be an unfair anticipation of the final state, which will only be determined at the last judgment.
Please remember that spirit can exist apart from body. How do the following verses teach this?
It is clear that the word "sleep" was often used in reference to the death of the body, although the individual might be referred to as sleeping. How is this reality taught in John 11:11?
Concerning the third point, what light do the following verses shed on that point?
1. John 5:24
That there is continuing consciousness in the intermediate state between death and resurrection seems to be the teaching of Scripture. In Luke 23:39-43, Jesus was on the cross between two criminals. What transpired that seems to teach consciousness after death?
In response to this passage, Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus was saying to the dying thief, I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise. This would be the only time in recorded history that a person speaking at a particular time would remind another person that as he was speaking, he was speaking "today." It is much clearer to believe that Jesus was comforting the believing thief by telling him that on that very day, they would be together in paradise.
Two strong arguments come from the writings of Paul the Apostle. The first is in 2 Corinthians 5:8. See if you can find this argument yourself. Write it in the blank that follows.
The second argument is in Philippians 1:23. Paul is in jail facing execution. He is contemplating what it would mean to die. In 1:21, he says, "To live is Christ, to die is _______________." What problems would present themselves if there is no consciousness after death?
Surely, benumbing "nothingness" is not superior to serving Christ here on earth!
Finally, there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31. What indications are there in this account that there is consciousness after death?