Do We Remain Conscious After Death? Or Does the Bible Teach Soul Sleep?

Then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. The rich man shouted, “Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.” (Luke 16:22-24)

Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

At death, the human spirit goes either to Heaven or to Hell. Christ depicted Lazarus and the rich man as conscious in Heaven and in Hell immediately after they died. Jesus told the dying thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” After their deaths, martyrs are pictured in Heaven, crying out to God to bring justice on Earth.

These passages make it clear that there is no such thing as “soul sleep,” a long period of unconsciousness between life on Earth and life in Heaven. The phrase “falling asleep” has confused some. Given the passages that show ongoing consciousness after death, “falling asleep” is a euphemism for death, describing the body’s outward appearance. The spirit’s departure from the body ends our existence on Earth. The physical part of us “sleeps” until the final Resurrection, while the spiritual part of us relocates to a conscious existence in Heaven.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” (Revelation 6:9-10)

Every reference in Revelation to human beings talking and worshiping in Heaven prior to the resurrection of the dead demonstrates that our spiritual beings are conscious, not sleeping, after death. Nearly everyone who believes in soul sleep believes that souls are disembodied at death. In the first place, it’s not clear how disembodied beings could sleep because sleeping involves a physical body, and second, the mind continues to be active while asleep, as our dreams demonstrate.

For more elaboration on this subject, see the book Heaven.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries