Bible Question:

One searches the New Testament in vain for any reference to “going to heaven.” I believe we die and wait for the future. I have put together a study guide on the nine instances in which a revival from the dead occurred. Interestingly, none of the revived had anything to say about a consciousness or experience while he/she “was gone.” This is most notable in the account of Lazarus (John 11). I also searched in vain to find anything about what Jesus was saying or doing, in spirit, during His burial. As a result I believe that when we die we enter a “suspended immortality” . . . it does not matter to me how that hundreds or thousands of earth years might follow my suspended consciousness, i.e. physical death, while God saves countless scores of others. My awakening to that new day will . . . be only like a fraction of a moment anyway, like one's arousal from surgical anesthesia.

Bible Answer:

Our question is, “Do we “soul sleep” before we go to heaven?” What happens when we die? Another article answers the question, “Do the dead have knowledge before the resurrection? — What happens when you die?”  Here we will discuss the issue of soul sleep.

Do We Soul Sleep?

Arguments From Silence Misrepresent the Bible

Scripture does not try to give us all of the details about an event or subject. Each portion of Scripture is written for a purpose. The goal is not to answer all of our questions. The gospels are a great example of this. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John usually provide information the others do not. Each disciple reported different pieces of information. If we read only the gospel of John, we would not know that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We have to read Matthew or Luke to discover that. What we learn from this is that the Bible does not try to record everything for us. The last few verses of John reveals that the gospel of John does not record everything,

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written. (NASB) John 21:25

Therefore, even though there are nine instances where someone returned to life after their physical death, we are not told everything that occurred on those occasions. We are not told what happened while these individuals were dead and before they were resurrected because that information was not important to the message being communicated. To arrive at a conclusion because the Bible is silent about it is referred to as an argument from silence. If Scripture is silent about a topic, then it is wrong to claim the Bible has spoken about the topic. Arguments from silence misrepresent the Bible. Therefore, only what the Bible teaches is certain. That is our first principle.

Heavenly ExperiencesPassage
Elijah Goes Up To Heaven
Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
2 Kings 2:11
Thief With Jesus In Paradise
And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:43
Apostle Paul Caught Up To Heaven
. . . was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
2 Corinthians 12:4
Mount of Transfiguration
“‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Matthew 17:1-3
Our Spirits Are Alive
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Matthew 22:32
Spirits In Heaven Have Awareness
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Revelation 6:9-11

Experiences In Heaven Cannot Be Described

A second important principle when trying to understand the Bible is to consider all that the Bible says about a topic. Therefore, we will consider the following passages of Scripture.

In 2 Kings 2:11 we are told that Elijah did not die but went up to heaven. The Hebrew word, hasamayim, for heaven is actually heavens. That is the same expression the apostle Paul used in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. In that passage Paul refers to three heavens. The last one is paradise. Paradise is another term for heaven. Paul says that he was caught up to that heaven and adds that he is not allowed to talk about what he experienced.

. . . and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (NASB) 2 Corinthians 12:4

This reveals that anyone who has actually visited heaven is not allowed to talk about what they heard or experienced. This means the stories about near death visits to heaven were actually hallucinations,  medically induced or lies. Therefore, those who claim to have had “near death experiences” never visited heaven. Paul reveals that anyone who has visited heaven cannot talk about their experiences in heaven.

Spirits of Christians Do Not Sleep

Further,  in Matthew 22:32 Jesus refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were men who have been dead for a long time. But then Jesus added that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Jesus is saying that they are alive. Matthew 17:1-3 also reveals that Moses and Elijah, who had been dead since ancient times were alive in heaven.

Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1-3 (NASB)

Another important passage is Revelation 6:9-11 since it reveals that Christians who died during the tribulation will be alive in heaven. They are under the altar in heaven.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. Revelation 6:9-11 (NASB)

This means that the spirits of believers in heaven can think and communicate. The souls or spirits of believers are not sleeping. Also, notice that dead believers will know what is occurring on the earth.

Conclusion:

When Christians die, we leave this earthly body and immediately go to heaven just as Elijah, but not in a chariot. What a wonderful promise. Scripture does not teach soul sleep.

Suggested Links:

Does the soul sleep after death according to the Bible?
Are the Old Testament saints resurrected at the rapture?
Do the dead have knowledge before the resurrection? — What happens when you die?
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus