I have been studying the doctrines of soul sleep lately and while they do not seem convincing, there are three interesting arguments they always use:
The first is the term “last day” as used in John 11:24, they conclude that there is not resurrection until the last day which would be at the second coming of Christ.
The second argument (and the more interesting one) is this: when Lazarus died (John 11:11-14), where did he go? The “soul sleep” advocates ask this question then follow up by saying, if Lazarus went to heaven, how come when Jesus raised him from the dead, he did not mention anything about his experience. They conclude that since Lazarus or for that matter anybody else who Jesus raised from the dead did not say anything about an experience after life, they must’ve went into soul sleep.
A third argument that soul sleep advocates use is Acts (2:29-34). They say that since “David did not ascend to heaven” (Acts 2:34) he must therefore be in his tomb “awaiting” resurrection.
In order to form a rebuttal to the “away from the body present with Christ” teaching, they say that a person in “soul sleep” does not know the passing of time and therefore it will only seem like a second later when they are resurrected. Further they say that Paul never said, to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord, he said to be at home in the body is to be away from the Lord and so we are standing on an assumption when using that verse to support our belief.
As with all believers who died before Jesus made His atoning sacrifice, Lazarus didn’t go to Heaven. He went to a place the Jews called Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. In the Greek it’s called Hades. Jesus went there when He died. After His resurrection the gates of Heaven were opened and those who had been in Paradise waiting went to Heaven with Him. Since that time the Spirits of all who die in faith go directly to be with the Lord in Heaven, as Paul explained in 2 Cor. 5:6-8 where in verse 8 he did in fact say that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.
Basing their conclusion on the fact that Lazarus didn’t say anything about his experience doesn’t hold water. Paul did visit heaven and was forbidden to talk about it. (2 Cor. 12:1-4) And when Jesus spoke of the Resurrection at the last day, He was speaking of a bodily resurrection where the spirits of dead believers will be re-united with resurrection bodies.
The Acts 2:29-34 reference is being used out of context. Peter was explaining that the quotes from the Psalms he was using were prophecies of the Messiah, since they all knew that David had died long ago was was buried nearby. His point was that David wasn’t physically raised from the dead before his body could decay, and didn’t visibly ascend to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God, as Jesus had just done.
The notion of soul sleep is a relic of the past, left over from a time when we didn’t understand the nature of time, and that it affects spiritual beings differently than physical beings. Spiritual beings don’t just fail to notice the passage of time, they’re outside the time domain altogether. It’s this difference that allows God to see the end from the beginning.