Why is death often called ‘falling asleep’?

In the Bible there are many of examples of faithful people ‘falling asleep’, which is a euphemism to describe death. But why? Is it misguided to think that they might ever wake up again?

“Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep,” (1 Corinthians 15v6).

The Bible teaches that those* who die before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will be raised again when he comes, to face his judgement seat: “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command… and the dead in Christ will rise first,” (1 Thessalonians 4v15-16).

So it’s actually quite helpful to think of those who have died to be merely waiting for the Lord’s return when they will be roused again. They have certainly not perished. At the judgement seat, the Lord Jesus will determine whether someone should be given eternal life in God’s kingdom, or not, based on their faith:

  • “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil,” (2 Corinthians 5v10).
  • “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and … contempt.” (Daniel 12v2)

It’s worth pointing out that the Bible makes it quite clear that while someone is dead, waiting for this day to come, they are completely unconscious and susceptible to decay.

  • “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing,” (Ecclesiastes 9v5)
  • “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones,” (Hebrews 11v22).

In fact the idea of falling asleep rather than perishing gives the believer a lot of comfort and hope. Death need not be the end, and we believe we will see our loved ones again by the grace of God, in His kingdom.

*Exactly who will be raised is for God to determine, but we are led to believe that those who have heard the Gospel message will be deemed responsible. The subject of this post is a very large theme in the Bible, and you may also like to read 1 Corinthians 15, John 5, Acts 17v31 and Acts 24v15, and see this post.

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