What Happens When You Die? (The “Soul Sleep” Controversy)

What Happens When You Die? (The “Soul Sleep” Controversy)

The four letter word of many protestant theologians has become a nine lettered term called “soul sleep.” It is a phrase used to quaintly categorize how Seventh-Day Adventists view life after death. The term is really used to describe the intermediate state between the time a person dies and the time that person meets his or her Maker. Does a person immediately go to his or her reward after death? Are the righteousness immediately brought up to heaven and are the wickedly swiftly brought down to hell? Or is death like a sleep, or more accurately like anesthesia, where a person loses consciousness and has no more consciousness until the day Jesus returns and resurrects the righteous dead, and then 1,000 years laters resurrects the wicked to their judgment?

To answer these questions there are three issues that must first be addressed:

  1. What is a soul?
  2. Is the soul immortal? Or Does man naturally possess immortality? In other words is what Satan said in the Garden of Eden actually true? “You shall not surely die.” Genesis 3:4.
  3. What happens when you die? When does man receive his reward from his Maker? (i.e. when do we go to heaven or hell?)

1. What Is a Soul?

First of all, what is a soul? Does man have a soul or is man a soul himself? In the bible the word “soul” is the word “nephesh” and is used to describe any animate being, both man and beast.

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (nephesh).” Genesis 2:7

“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature (nephesh), that was the name thereof.” Genesis 2:19 

“But flesh with the life (nephesh) thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat.” Genesis 9:4.

The word “nephesh”, or soul, is used to describe “man”, “every living creature” that Adam named, and more accurately the “nephesh” is called the “life” bloodthat Noah was commanded not to eat.

Therefore, we can safely conclude that the word “soul” is just a term used to describe animate beingsOr beings in whom there is life, or blood, in them. The “soul” is not a separate entity, distinct from the body. Christ considers the mind, body and breath to make up the entire conscious being. After death our entire being is reanimated only at one of two resurrections–the resurrection of life or the resurrection of damnation.

So what about the intangible qualities of the human? Their spirit and personality, their ability to think and mediate upon things outside of their present reality? Without being too philosophical, the bible is clear that even these more ethereal qualities about a person are still contingent upon the presence of body, mind and breath. It is essentially one’s consciousness. Man’s consciousness cannot exist if any of these three are missing. Therefore, the “soul” is the conscious animate being that is the product of all three.

2. Does Man Naturally Possess Immortality?

Many modern Christian theologians have shared the faith with their Catholic counterparts in that they believe man naturally possesses immortality. Catholics and most protestants are alike in that they do not believe immortality is conditional or something that one must receive from Christ through imputation. Rather Catholics and modern protestants believe that the soul was created with innate immortality and heaven or hell merely determines the quality of one’s eternal life. Adventist do not share this view.

Since we cannot exhaust the subject of Immortality here, we will simply look at a few verses that affirm the Adventist perspective on why the soul is not naturally immortal:

“To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” Romans 2:7. (Immortality must be sought after)

“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:53. (The mortal must put on immortality at the resurrection)

“Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.” 1 Timothy 6:16.  (Christ alone has immortality)

“The soul that sins, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20. (The “soul” can die)

“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28. (Jesus affirms that the “soul” can be destroyed)

In these verses it is clear that immortality must be sought after. Immortality is not something that man innately possesses and Jesus Himself affirms that the “soul” can indeed be destroyed. Since a “soul” is just in reference to the animate being, it is natural to conclude that animate beings can die. And the death that we die is not just in this life, but when Christ refers to the death of the wicked He is referencing an eternal destruction, the “second death” as explained in Revelation chapter 20.

3. When Does Man Receive His Reward From His Maker?

The last question that needs to be answered when considering “soul sleep” is what happens to the person directly after death and when does man receive his reward from his Maker? Is there consciousness in death? Do we immediately go to heaven or hell after we die, continually maintaining consciousness after our death, or does the “soul sleep” until the resurrection? Here are another few verses to consider:

“His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalms 146:4. (When man dies his thoughts are also no more)

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing…” Ecclesiastes 9:5. (The dead have no consciousness)

“After that He said unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep…Howbeit Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.” John 11:11,12. (Jesus taught soul sleep).

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live… Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:25,28,29.

Jesus taught that those who have done good rise at the resurrection of life and those who have done evil rise at the ‘”resurrection of damnation”. Before this moment they are “in the graves”, sleeping as Lazarus did when he died. It is from the grave that the righteous dead hear His voice and rise to eternal life at His return. Therefore, for lack of a better term, the “soul sleeps” when it dies. The person sleeps and retains to consciousness until the resurrection. Paul himself also maintained the view that the person is considered “sleeping” when they die.

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope…For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13,16,17.

We will “ever be with the Lord” only after the resurrection and those that are “asleep” are awakened by the “trump of God”.


The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is very flattering to the natural man. In fact, it is a deification of the natural man and placing a mere mortal man on the same indestructible platform as God Himself.

Yet the Adventist doctrine, which affirms that man is not naturally immortal, does not have a soul, but is a soul and the person does not enter into their reward until after the resurrection is based on a profound interpretation of justification by faith in which they understand that life and righteousness are synonymous and that life must be imputed to the believer in order for a person to possess immortality.

The doctrine of man possessing innate immortality is Satanic in its origins and Catholic in its memorialization. Protestants who maintain the view that man naturally possesses immortality are not getting their doctrine from scripture, but rather are becoming daughters of the mother harlot–Rome–by adopting these Roman Catholic view points.



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