by Norm Olson
Q: When a Christian dies, does the soul go directly to Heaven (later to be reunited with the resurrected body to appear for judgment/rewards), or does the soul wait for the resurrection before it enters Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)?
A: Of these two positions, the first one would be correct. The second view would appear to take the position that the soul sleeps. Some groups have taught “soul sleep.” Their idea is that the soul must cease to function if the physical body ceases to function. We disagree, because God is spirit and we humans are created in God’s image. Therefore a disembodied conscious existence is possible.
We believe the soul does not sleep. For logical reasons the word “sleep” is always used in connection with the physical body, not the soul or spirit: A dead body and a sleeping body are similar; they both are lying down and have the appearance of resting. The word “asleep” in the original conveys the picture of lying down. And just as the sleeper does not cease to exist, the dead one does not cease to exist just because the body is dead. Sleep is temporary, and death is similarly temporary. Sleepers wake up, and death likewise has its resurrection.
Concerning the soul, it does not die. We know, because the soul is not raised; only the body can lie down and then stand up again.
Look at Ecclesiastes 12:7: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Also look at 2 Corinthians 5:8: we will be “absent from the body and . . . present with the Lord.” Still another verse assures us that the believer will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). These verses show that the soul of the believer goes right to be with the Lord upon death. The earthly body can’t, but it is possible to immediately be with Christ because one’s soul can. Also, the Bible teaches that the dead are conscious and aware of their surroundings (Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 7:9-17).
Seventh-day Adventism is one religion that teaches soul sleep. Its writings say that the soul of man represents the whole man and that the soul can’t exist apart from the body. The group claims that the body and soul are one, so if the body is dead, the soul is dead also. We do not believe this, based on Scripture passages such as Matthew 10:28, which indicates it is possible to kill the body but not the soul. If it is true that the soul of a person goes into a sleep and remains that way until the Resurrection, then our saved loved ones and friends who are deceased are not with the Lord at this moment but are sleeping in their graves. This idea contradicts the passages we have looked at. We must believe that in order for one to die, the soul cannot stay with the body (Genesis 35:18).
Complete in Christ?
Q: Does Colossians 2:10, which says that Christians are complete in Christ, contradict Genesis 2:18, which implies that being married completes a person?
A: When a person is regenerated, made a new person in Christ, a number of fantastic things come into that life. Lewis Sperry Chafer, well-known theologian, tabulated thirty-three such blessings, and some Bible students have come up with even more. Colossians 2:10 reads, “You are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” One Bible teacher noted that the Christian life is like a voyage, and Christ is in the ship. He has whatever we need on that voyage, and He is all we need. One gospel song put it this way: “Jesus Christ is made to me, All I need, all I need, He alone is all my plea, He is all I need. Wisdom righteousness and pow’r, Holiness forevermore, My redemption full and sure, He is all I need.” What a beautiful truth. It’s too bad we don’t draw from the resources Christ offers, as we could and should.
So Colossians 2:10 speaks of the spiritual completeness we have in Christ. The question you address about Genesis 2 deals with another realm: the physical. God instituted marriage. Many people, though not all, desire marriage. That desire is biological and placed within people to perpetuate the human race. Those who don’t have the gift of celibacy are physically “complete” only when as a man and a woman they find each other and have the intimacy of marriage that God intends for them.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.