Someone recently sent a question to our website about “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the philosophy suggesting that when a person dies that his soul "sleeps" until the time of the future resurrection. In this condition, the person is not aware or conscious. The primary verses used to support soul sleep are found in Ecclesiastes – both of which have been taken out of context:
Eccl. 9:5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten."
Eccl. 12:7 … "then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."
Regardless, we at The Refiner’s Fire do NOT believe in "soul sleep," in part, because of this scripture:
Revelation 6: 9. And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them who were slain on account of the Word of Elohim, and on account of the testimony to the Lamb which was with them. 10. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Master YHWH, you Set Apart and True, do you not Judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
11. And to each one of them was given a white robe; and it was told them that they must be quiet yet a little while, until the consummation of their fellow-servants and Brothers who were to be killed as they had been. (AENT)
If the souls were “asleep” or unconscious, how could they speak?
We don't believe in any "New Age" or extra-biblical ideas, such as "reincarnation" where souls supposedly find new bodies after a person dies. A soul makes us who we are. YHWH made each of us with individual souls that are accountable to Him … souls that can die if we choose to sin (Ezekiel 18:20-24; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 14:12; Galatians 6:1-5; Matthew 12:36-37; Hebrews 4:13, etc.).
“Soul sleep” is simply not biblical. Whenever Scripture describes someone “sleeping” in relation to death (Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6), it does not mean literal sleep; it is just a way to describe death because a dead body appears to be asleep. Those are our thoughts, anyway.
Anyway, the person who wrote posed two specific questions:
QUESTION ONE: What did Yeshua and his followers believe about life after death?
Yeshua never said anything specific about this except that we would "live in the Kingdom". Somehow, after a physical, bodily death, we live. See: John 3:1-16; John 5:24, 28-29; John 11:25; John 14:2-3; Matthew 10:28; Luke 23:42-43 to name a few. In all these verses, Yeshua speaks of a "life" after death but there is no provided detail. It is safe to assume that the apostles knew no more than this.
QUESTION TWO: Is it true that the first century Jews believed the soul lingered around the body after death for 3 days?
This idea has its origins in the Talmud, but the "3 days after death" idea is only part of what the Talmud records about the "soul". Here are some specific references, but be forewarned, these are taken out of context:
"Accompanied by divine messengers and conscious of its origins, the soul enters the womb at the time of conception" (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 60b).
"When people sleep, the soul ascends to heaven, returning renewed in the morning" (Genesis Rabbah 14:9).
"Although the soul protests its birth into the world, it also protests the body s death. It lingers near the body for three days, hoping that it will return to life" (Tanhuma, Miqetz 4; Pequdei 3).
"After three days, the soul returns to God to await the time of resurrection" (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b-91a).
"During the first twelve months after death, the soul remains in contact with the disintegrating body" (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 152b-153a).
You see from this, that the Jewish sages really had no idea what happens to the soul upon death! Only their speculation is recorded in the Talmud. Unfortunately, Jews are taught to accept everything a Jewish rabbi says; therefore,some have taken these out-of-context statements from the Talmud and perpetuated them as truth..