What did the apostle Paul mean when he said, “we shall not all sleep?” (1st Corinthians 15:51)
The process of using the scriptures to define the scriptures is an excellent way to avoid the tides of human opinion. In the book of Acts a disciple named Stephen was stoned to death. The biblical description of his physical demise reads as follows; Acts 7:59 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Physical death is described as “fell asleep” in this biblical account of Stephen’s death by stoning. In 1st Corinthians, Paul confirms the description of death in regards to born-again believers as falling asleep. (1st Corinthians Chapter 15, New International Version 1984) verses: “16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man; the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
This testimony makes it perfectly clear that the term sleep denotes physical death. Conversely, by using scriptures to define scriptures, the opening statement quoted from apostle Paul, “we shall not all sleep,” simply means everybody is not going to die. Subsequently, the old cliche’ of “everybody has to go sometime” is not biblically accurate, and could be determined as a derogatory lie. What do you suppose? Nevertheless, the challenge remains, how does one become a member of the group which “shall not sleep?”
Throughout the New Testament the death of born-again believers is described as “falling asleep.” In subsequent posts we will explore the reason for this new designation of death in regards to those who belong to Christ.