What happens when I sleep?
You know? I like to think that I don’t often get angry – I probably delude myself. But I recall going to a funeral once that made me angry. It was the funeral of a relative of friend, and the person who had died was not a believer. When he was alive he made it quite clear that he had no time for God or religion. Then at this funeral the minister got up and read all these comforting verse – things like [“John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” ”]; he went on to say how this man would now be looking down on us with fondness as we remembered him. But the Scriptures did not apply to him! He was no believer, had no faith in Jesus. He was a sinner – and he died! I was angry with this supposed spiritual authority giving this false hope, this false comfort, this false sense of security! It was lies! They had no part in that hope or those promises. There were all the family and loved ones on their way to death; and he was withholding from them the way of life! – telling them that there was resurrection life when there was none. That is why I spoke the way I did last time. If you were here last time I spoke, you may recall that I spoke about “death” – what happens when I die? The elders had given me this brief: “Would it be possible to have some ministry on the Biblical description of Death and a look at the order and timing of what takes place at death, and subsequently follows.” I spoke about the fact that death was the consequence of sin, and of the fact that we are already dead. Then I spoke of the need to die with Christ, to be crucified with Him, to die daily to self; in order to be raised with Him, receive His life, resurrection life that is eternal, the life of Jesus Christ Himself! Now I wasn’t being awkward or difficult, deliberately obtuse – John wanted me to talk about what happens when our life in this earthly body ends, often referred to in the NT as “falling asleep”. But before we fall asleep (and I don’t mean as a consequence of my preaching!) we need to face the issue of death. We need to die first; otherwise we will not be resurrected. So what I say today assumes that you have already died, have been crucified with Christ and raised to life with Him. So, what happens when I fall asleep? [P] You recall that when Jesus’ friend died: [John 11:11-13 He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.] Jesus spoke of “sleep” but He was talking about Lazarus’s death. Why? When the Bible talks about “falling asleep” is it just being euphemistic? You know?, we don’t like talking about death – so if someone has been bereaved, we don’t go to them and say, “I hear your wife died.” No, we talk about “their loss”, the “passing” of a loved one. Is the Bible just using gentle language: “falling asleep”? Maybe, but perhaps it is just being consistent – the believer has already died with Christ, been raised to eternal life, they cannot die again. Death has no mastery over them. So it is not death, but sleep. Jesus said that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” because “I go to awaken him” – he was going to wake up! So, what happens when I sleep? Now, I am a man of few talents, but one of the few that I do have is sleeping. A wonderful gift from God is the ability to sleep. I go to bed at 9:00, if Rhoda comes in at 5 past, I will be dead to the world. It may take you longer. You may sleep for only an hour or for ten – it makes no difference – what is the next thing after falling asleep? You wake up! [P] You may struggle to get to sleep – but after you have fallen asleep the next thing you are conscious of is being awake. It may be a short time or a long time that you have been asleep but you have no consciousness of time in that intervening period of sleep. What happens when I sleep – I wake up! And that is why the Bible uses the term “sleep”. I was reading the other day the words of F. B. Meyer wrote to a friend just before he died, he wrote: “I have just heard, to my great surprise, that I have but a few days to live. It may be that before this reaches you, I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write. We shall meet in the morning.” When he awoke in the morning, they would be together. So let’s look at what the Bible tells us about falling asleep. Because the Bible is the only place that we can get accurate information of what happens when this earthly life ends. We cannot speak from experience; tell you what it is like, what happens. How can we know? The fact is that most people are in utter ignorance as to what happens because there is no way (humanly) of knowing! People may have their theories and ideas, their beliefs – but they do not know. Praise God that we have the Bible! There is Someone who knows and who has told us about it. So, in my ignorance and inexperience, I intend to stick closely to the text – the only reliable source of information that we have. We don’t have all the details, there are some things that are not revealed; but we are not in the dark, we are not ignorant, there are things that we know without a shadow of doubt. [P] Paul writes in: [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, (the old KJV says “be ignorant” – and most people are ignorant of what happens when someone falls asleep, even those in the church were ignorant. Paul did not want them to be and there is no need to be) so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. (Like those at that funeral I mentioned. If you don’t know what happens, if you think death is just the end, you have no hope. Go to a non-christian funeral and that is what you find, either that or a Pollyanna, unrealistic notion based on a false hope). For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, (that is a fundamental tenet of our faith) even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (He doesn’t bring them in beds! They are no longer asleep, now they are awake! Jesus rose again, so those that have fallen asleep will rise, and come with Him). For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.] These are words of comfort – death is not the end – it is only falling asleep and they will wake again. [P] This passage tells us that those that sleep will rise. Not just continual existence but consummation! Being with the LORD forever! Hallelujah! Forever in His wonderful presence – being like Him as a result of seeing Him as He really is! Hallelujah! The passage is talking about a literal resurrection, a resurrection of the body. [P] John asked me specifically to speak of the timing – the passage is quite clear – when is it talking about?: when Christ returns. [P] The resurrection of the body takes place when Jesus descends from heaven in glory – He is coming down to earth. If we are alive then, then we won’t fall asleep we will just go directly to be with the LORD. Where do we go when we awake? – it says: “we will meet the LORD” – so when we awake we are with the LORD [P] – for always! Hallelujah! Paul talks extensively about what happens when we awake, or arise in: [1 Corinthians 15:20-24 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (Jesus awoke from sleep, so too will we – He was the first-fruits, a foretaste of what was going to be on a much larger scale) For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, (Jesus rose in a new body, so too will we. It is consistent, a bodily resurrection when Jesus returns – “at His coming”) then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.] So Jesus rose first, then the believers do when He returns; then the end comes and when the dead (as opposed to those who have fallen asleep) come to judgement: [Revelation 20:12 -15 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. ] The dead, those in Hades, those who had not been crucified with Christ and raised to life with Him, are raised to judgement where they die a second time. That is why it is essential to die first and be raised to life with Christ – being alive, we don’t die we merely fall asleep and wake again. But as is the way with people, there are always more questions, they want to know more about what happens, what it is going to be like: [1 Corinthians 15:35-49 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; (it is what I said last time – there is no resurrection without there first being a death – we have to die first if we are to be raised) and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, (a bodily resurrection) and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man,(natural man) Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam (the spiritual Man) became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. – like Jesus! Hallelujah!] When we rise we will have a glorious body, not this old imperfect one. [P] We are not going to all be the same when we rise again, there are going to be different degrees of glory, depending upon what seed is sown. Paul uses the picture of a seed being sown and growing into a plant. It is a good illustration because the seed has to die before the new life is formed. Have you ever dug up your lovely new spuds – always there is that shrivelled, soggy rotten one – the seed potato that died and gave rise to the new ones. But there is another way that it is a good illustration. Look at this luscious and juicy fruit! [P] You know what it is, don’t you? They are watermelon seeds but they don’t look anything like the plant that grows from them. [P] And certainly those dried up seeds look nothing like the succulent fruit that is produced. [P] Or look at this glory! [P] There is no glory in a sunflower seed. But when it dies and brings forth new life [P] – just look at the glory! In John 12 verse 23 and 28 Jesus is talking about glory [P] – let’s read the verses in between: [John 12:24-26 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; (the path of the cross – death and resurrection) and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.] The seed must die before it brings forth glorious fruit. Look some of us are more beautiful than others, some of us a dried and shrivelled, but even the best looking of you is absolutely nothing compared to what we are going to be. Do you ever get frustrated with yourself, your limitations, your weaknesses, your ugliness? The very fact that you do is because of the longing for glory within you, to be released from the bondage to decay. We are weak we are going to be raised in power! We are perishable, we get old, wear out – but we are going to rise imperishable! Hallelujah! We stumble, we fail our LORD, we have a longing for something far higher – presently it is a body of dishonour – but it will be glorious! We have a natural body, but it will be raised a spiritual one. We are of earth – but we will bear the image of the heavenly! Glorious! Without spot or blemish! Like Him as a result of seeing Him as He is! Hallelujah! It is glory! We totally cannot conceive how glorious we will be. What a hope! What a prospect! So we fall asleep – we awake in glory! With the LORD when He returns. This we know – it is assured. But if I fall asleep and then rise when Jesus returns – the question people ask is: “what about in between?” I don’t think it matters that much, because you fall asleep and then awake with the LORD, as far you are concerned there is no intervening period. Some may have been asleep a long time, some only a short time and some not at all. I go to sleep; the next thing I am conscious of is when I am awake. But there are a few Scriptures you may care to consider. [P] There are various views and some people have some funny ideas – it was no different in Jesus’ day. People had their ideas about death and Jesus says that they were mistaken. [P] This is what the Sadducees said: [Matthew 22:25-32 “Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. “Last of all, the woman died. “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” (they thought that their clever reasoning had proved resurrection was impossible) But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. (and that is the key when considering this matter – 1/ what the Scriptures say; 2/ the power of God to do what we find inconceivable)“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”] Jesus is unequivocal – there is a resurrection. God Himself speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as living; they are present, alive then and now. [Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,] – the “therefore” refers back to the chapter before; chapter 11 is a catalogue of all these great men of faith – they have all died, yet they are a “cloud of witnesses surrounding us” – they are alive, witnessing right now all that we do. Now look at [P] [Luke 16:19] – this is sometimes referred to as a parable, but Jesus never says that it is, nor does He use words that indicate that it is – you know: “the kingdom of God is like …” He states it as actually having happened, even naming the actual people – and I believe Him: [Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendour every day. “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; (Abraham being alive and conscious) and the rich man also died and was buried. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, (he could converse with him) and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (that was what was needed to avoid this fate that he was suffering) “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”] An amazing insight – Jesus Himself is speaking about what happened when someone died. It speaks about a place called Hades where the dead go. In the OT it is called Sheol – both OT and NT refer to a place where the departed dead go – it is not hell. And please, if you are looking at this subject, don’t use a KJV because it sometimes translates Hades as “hell” and they are not the same place; and you will get confused. Some say that this refers to before Jesus’ resurrection took place and so does not apply to believers, what happens to those who die without being crucified with Christ – I merely point out that there is a place of agony and a place of comfort, depending upon what has happened in this present life. In fact Jude refers to a dispute over the body of Moses, [Jude 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” ] – there was a fight as to where his body would end up. But a most interesting case is that in [P] [Luke 23:41] – I think it is the first death of a believer in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps the very first believer: a thief being crucified alongside Jesus: [Luke 23:41-43 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”] I find it amazing! The insight and faith that this thief had – there were all the disciples fleeing for their lives, totally not expecting Jesus’ resurrection. But he confessed that he was a sinner, confessed Jesus’ sinlessness, His Messiahship – He was coming in His Kingdom – and if He was doing that then He had to rise from the dead! He believed in the resurrection before it took place! The thief died that day – Jesus said that “today you will be with Me in paradise”. That very day – immediately. Well, where did he go? Where is paradise (it is only mentioned 3x in the Bible)? Evidently not to hell, as some teach that Jesus went there – hell is not paradise! Paul had an experience of this place: [2 Corinthians 12:3-4 And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. ] Where did he go? Well, to the church in Ephesus Jesus said: [Revelation 2:7 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’] In Revelation 22 we see that “tree of life” is in the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven, to the new earth – it is in the dwelling place of God. It is in heaven but will come down to earth. Lastly, turn to: [P] [2 Corinthians 5:1-8 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (When Paul talks about “tents” and “houses” he is talking about our bodies – our earthy bodies and the heavenly bodies we will receive) For indeed in this house (our earthly body) we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven (our heavenly body), inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, (those who are resurrected were prepared for that very purpose by God, now don’t let me get sidetracked onto the sovereignty of God) who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. (Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that you will receive a spiritual body, the down-payment) Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord (while we are in our present earthly body we are not with the LORD because He is spirit. That can only be when we receive our spiritual body)— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.] So people say, paraphrasing the KJV – “to be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD”. When we fall asleep, depart this body we are present with the LORD. That is assured; we have Christ in us the hope of Glory! We are going to be with Him forever in perfect glorious spiritual bodies. No more pain, death, or crying! Hallelujah! What more wonderful prospect than forever being in the glorious presence of the LORD?! “At home with the LORD” – that is where we belong; “We shall always be with the LORD!” That is all that matters – as the Psalmist said: [Psalm 16:11 You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.] This is our hope, our prospect, our longing, our inheritance, our assurance, our great comfort no matter what we go through down here: [1 Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore (because of this hope of awaking and being with the LORD) comfort one another with these words.] There may be questions, but one thing is certain, and that is all that matters: we will be with Him: [P] [John 14:2-3 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”] When Jesus “comes again”, He takes us to be with Him. Forever with the LORD! Hallelujah! We awake to be find ourselves with Him [Psalm 17:15 As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.] It is going to be good to wake up!