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  • Love and Liberty

Death As Sleep

By E.W. Bullinger - The Rich Man and Lazarus: An Intermediate State? (Excerpt)

The prayer in I Thess. 5:23 is that these three (body, soul, and spirit) may be found and “preserved the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (R.V.): i.e. preserved alive as a “living soul” till (or “at”) that coming; and not to die and be separated before it. Hence the importance of Resurrection as the great doctrine peculiar to Christianity; and known only by revelation. All man's religions end at death, and his only hope is “after death”. Christianity goes beyond this, and gives a hope after the grave. Scripture shuts us up to the blessed hope of being reunited in resurrection. This is why the death of believers is so often called “sleep”; and dying is called “falling asleep”; because of the assured hope of awaking in resurrection. It is not called “the sleep of the body” as many express it; or “the sleep of the soul”. Scripture knows nothing of either expression. Its language is, “David fell on sleep” (Acts 13:36), not David's body or David's soul. “Stephen...fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). “Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11:11), which is explained, when the Lord afterward speaks “plainly”, as meaning “Lazarus is dead” (v. 14).

Now, when the Holy Spirit uses one thing to describe or explain another, He does not choose the opposite word or expression. If He speaks of night, He does not use the word light. If He speaks of daylight, He does not use the word night. He does not put “sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet” (Isa. 5:20). He uses adultery to illustrate Idolatry; He does not use virtue. And so, if He uses the word “sleep” of death, it is because sleep illustrates to us what the condition of death is like. If Tradition be the truth, He ought to have used the word awake, or wakefulness. But the Lord first uses a Figure, and says “Lazarus sleepeth”; and afterwards, when he speaks “plainly” He says “Lazarus is dead”. Why? Because sleep expresses and describes the condition of the “unclothed” state. In normal sleep, there is no consciousness. For the Lord, therefore, to have used this word “sleep” to represent the very opposite condition of conscious wakefulness, would have been indeed to mislead us. But all Hiswords are perfect; and are used for the purpose of teaching us, and not for leading us astray. Traditionalists, however, who say that death means life, do not hesitate to say also that to “fall asleep” means to wake up! A friend vouches for a case, personally known to him, of one who (though a firm believer in tradition) was, through a fall, utterly unconscious for two weeks. Had he died during that period, Traditionalists would, we presume, say that the man woke up and returned to consciousness when he died! But, if this be so, what does it mean when it says, “I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I Awake with thy likeness”? If death is waking up, what is the waking in this verse (Psalm 17:15)? Surely it is resurrection, which is the very opposite of falling asleep in death. Indeed, this is why sleep is used of the Lord's people. To them it is like going to sleep; for when they are raised from the dead they will surely wake again according to the promise of the Lord; and they shall awake in His own likeness. And if we ask what life is, the answer from God is given in Gen. 2:7: “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”. So that the body apart from the spirit cannot be the man; and the spirit apart from the body is not the man; but it is the union of the two that makes “a living soul”.

When two separate things, having different names, are united, they often receive and are known by a third name, different from both. Not that they are three separate beings, but two united in one, which makes a third tiling, and receives another or third name. For example, there is the barrel, and there is the stock; but, together, they form and are called a Rifle. Neither is the Rifle separately. Oxygen and Hydrogen are two separate and distinct elements; but when they are united, we call them Water. So also we have the case, and the works; but together they form what we call a Watch; neither is the Watch separately. The Hebrew is Nephesh Chaiyah, soul of life, or living soul. What it really means can be known only by observing how the Holy Spirit Himself uses it. In this very chapter (Gen. 2:19) it is used of the whole animate creation generally; and is rendered “living creature”. Four times it is used in the previous chapter (Gen. 1.): In verse 20 it is used of “fishes”, and is translated “moving creature that hath life”. In verse 21 it is used of the great sea monsters, and is translated “living creature”. In verse 24 it is used of “cattle and beasts of the earth”, and is again rendered “living creature”. In verse 30 it is used of “every beast of the earth, and every fowl of the air, and every living thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is (i.e. “to” which there is) life. Margin “Heb. living soul”. Four times in chapter 9 it is also rendered “living creature”, and is used of “all flesh”. See verses 10, 12, 15, 16. Twice in Leviticus 11 it is used: In verse 10 of all fishes, and is rendered “living thing”. In verse 46 of all beasts, birds, and fishes, and is translated “living creature”. Only once (Gen. 2:7) when it is used of man, has it been translated “living soul” - as though it there meant something quite different altogether. The Translators could accurately have used one rendering for all these passages, and thus enabled Bible students to learn what God teaches on this important subject.

This then is God's answer to our question, What is life? The teaching of Scripture is (as we have seen) that man consists of two parts: body and spirit; and that the union of these two makes a third thing, which is called “soul” or “living soul”. Hence the word “soul” is used of the whole personality; the living 'organism' e.g. Gen. 12:5, “Abram took Sarai his wife...and the souls (i.e. the persons) whom they had gotten in Haran”. Gen 36:6, “And Esau took his wives...and all the persons (marg. Heb. souls) of his house”. So 46:15, and 26, “All the souls (i.e. persons) which came with Jacob into Egypt”. As persons, souls have “blood” Jer. 2:34, “In thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents”. The Hebrew word nephesh(soul) is actually translated “person” in Gen. 14:21; 36:6. Ex. 16:16. Lev. 27:2. Num. 5:6; 31:19; 35:11, 15, 30 (twice). Deut. 10:22; 27:25. Josh. 20:3, 9. I Sam. 22:22. 2 Sam. 14:14. Prov. 28:17. Jer. 43:6; 52:29, 30. Ezek. 16:5; 17:17; 27:13; 33:6. Hence, the Lord Jesus says, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul(i.e. the 'personality') but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body (i.e. the whole personality) in hell” (Greek, Gehenna, not Hades) (Matt. 10:28). Hence, souls (as persons) are said to be destroyed: Lev. 5:1, 2, 4, 15, 17; 6:2; 17:11, 12. Num. 15:30. See also Joshua 10:20, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39. The soul, being the person, is said to be bought and sold. See Lev. 22:11, and Rev. 18:13, where the word “soul” is used of slaves. Hence, also, when the body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God, the person is called a “dead soul”, i.e. a dead person. That is why it says in Ezek. 18:4, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; and Psalm 78:50, “He spared not their soul from death”. What “the breath of life” is in Gen. 2:7, is explained for us in Gen. 7:22, where we read that every thing died, “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life”. Margin, “Heb. the breath of the spirit of life”, which is a still stronger expression, and is used of the whole animate creation that died in the Flood.

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