When the Bible uses the language of “sleeping” to describe those who have died, it does not mean that they are in a state of unconsciousness.
- We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep. (1 Thes. 4:13)
- God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep. (4:14)
- We will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (4:15)
We can be confident about this because Paul says, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He also says that to be with the Lord is “better by far” (Phil. 1:21, 23). Unconsciousness is not better “by far” than life in this world, but the conscious enjoyment of the presence of Jesus is.
John Calvin says, “The reference [to ‘fallen asleep’] is not to the soul but to the body, for the dead body rests in the tomb as on a bed until God raises the person up.”
Our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Christ have a richer, fuller, closer experience of Christ than any of us can enjoy on this earth. They are as secure with Christ in death as you are in life, and as we all will be for eternity. But there is more to come for them and for us.
What difference does it make to you, whether we immediately enter the presence of the Lord, or we enter into a long period of unconsciousness first?