Q. I’ve heard you say that the dead are conscious. Paul in First Corinthians 15:20 said that the dead are asleep. If they are asleep, how can they be conscious?”
Let’s first take a look at that verse:
1 Cor. 15:20
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”
FIRST OF ALL, LET US NOTICE THAT CHRIST and the New Testament teach US TO REGARD DEATH AS A SLEEP.
He told his disciples in John 11:11 – 14
11 “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.”
12 The disciples missed the point “The disciples therefore said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”
13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.
14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,”
Jesus’ reference to death as sleep was not new. It is frequently in the Bible. A passage from both the Old and New Testaments illustrates the point. Daniel said that many who “Sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, (some , he said) to everlasting life.” (Dan. 12:2). When Stephen was stoned to death he is said, quite tenderly, to have fallen asleep (Acts 7:60).
By calling death a sleep, is is not to be understood that the spirit becomes unconscious. Rather, sleep symbolizes the rest from toil and freedom from cares.
By this imagery, Jesus taught men to get the correct view of death. Death is not, for the Christian at least, a grim monster. It is a release from the burdens and troubles common to men on earth. Truly, those who die in the Lord “May rest from their labors,” (Rev. 14:13).
This does not mean, however, that they are in a state of unconsciousness. Though no longer in this life, they maintain the same consciousness and awareness that characterized them here……..that is abundantly clear in Jesus teaching of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
Paul felt a great desire to “ to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;” (Phil 1:23). Are we to understand the apostle to be saying that it is better for one of the apostles of the Lord, who labored more abundantly than all the rest (2 Cor. 11:23), to die, and to pass into a state of unconsciousness and insensibility, than to be alive and engaged in the Lord’s work on earth? This impossible conclusion follows if the idea of soul-sleeping is true.
Psalm 116:15 says:
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.
Are we to suppose that God wants his faithful followers to descend into unconscious activity and so become as if they had never been. That’s what we must believe if the doctrine of materialism is true.