Physical death is linked to the departure of one's immortal spirit from his mortal, physical body (cf. James 2:26). Death is described metaphorically in the Scriptures as a sleep (most likely because a physical body that is dead looks much the same as if the individual was asleep). Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:17,18 - "If Christ is not risen,...those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." The apostle from Tarsus certainly knew that Jesus had been risen from the dead. But, his point here was that if the Lord was still dead, then Christians who have died physically have no hope whatsoever of a resurrection! He euphemistically referred to physical death as falling asleep.
Later in that chapter, Paul revealed - "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" (15:51,52). In other words, not everyone will experience physical death (or the "sleep" Paul referred to here). Some will still be living in this physical realm when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. However, everyone will experience a change. Those who have already died will experience a bodily resurrection. And, every mortal who has ever lived will go through a change--our corruptible existence will be transformed into that which is incorruptible (15:53ff)!
Jesus compared death and sleep in His ministry also. Consider John 11:11-14 - "'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.' Then His disciples said, 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.' However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'"
There are other Bible passages that also speak of death as a sleep (cf. Matt. 27:52; I Thess. 4:13-18), however, our intent at this time is to compare physical death with sleep and explore four similarities.
1. We rest in sleep, and so it is in death.
Revelation 14:13 records - "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.'"
2. We do not lose our identity in sleep, nor do we in death.
When Peter, James, and John witnessed the glory of Jesus' transfiguration in Matthew 17:1ff, they also beheld Moses and Elijah. These two faithful men of old, even after being deceased for centuries, still retained their identities. A study of I Samuel 28 also supports this point.
3. We do not lose our consciousness in sleep, nor do we in death.
When our bodies fall asleep, our minds do not lose consciousness--they dream. Some have mistakenly believed that at the point of death our spirits literally fall asleep and do not awake until the general resurrection. However, this simply cannot be true. Luke 16:19-31, for instance, clearly shows that the spirits of men are conscious after physical death and before the return of Christ (cf. Rev. 6:9-11).
4. We expect to rise again when we go to sleep, and so it will be in death.
There will be a glorious resurrection day when all will rise again after hearing Jesus' voice. "Those who have done good" will be raised"to the resurrection of life" and "those who have done evil" will be raised "to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:29).
Dear friends, those who know God and have obeyed His gospel have nothing to fear (cf. II Thess. 1:7-9). However, if you are not a faithful child of God, you do have reason to fear death and the resurrection of condemnation (i.e., an eternity in hell)! I plead with you to get your life right with the Lord today! Please contact us and let us help you in this all-important matter.