The Bible shows that Mary is in Heaven as the Ark of the Covenant (Rev 11:19), while the martyrs are crying out to God for vengeance under the altar (Rev 6:9) and the prayers of the saints are being offered as incense (Rev 8:4).

So Mary and the saints are in Heaven, but what about would-be saints, i.e. people who haven't been perfected in this life? Do they experience sleep, meaning that they die, sleep, and wake up all together to the final judgement? Or are they judged individually before the final judgement?

I would appreciate answers from different view points as long as it can be deduced from Scripture: Catholic (purgatorial), Eastern / Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant (non-purgatorial).

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    Personally, I don't believe in soul sleep for anyone, either the saved or the lost: the body sleeps, the soul goes to its own eternal place, awaiting the Day of Judgement and reunion with the body in its resurrection state, forever to be punished or blessed. However, some who were fine Christian evangelical believers did/do believe in soul sleep.. in particular Bishop J.C. Ryle of the Church of England. It is not a deal breaker whether you believe it or not. As for your quotes of the book of Revelation.. it is a book of symbolisms, and we need more scripture to back up beliefs gained from it Commented Mar 13 at 9:26
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    Anything about the Bible on life after death issues I would go to "The Bible on the Life Hereafter" by the Reformed Presbyterian, William Hendriksen. Fairly short, simple, detailed scriptural answers with Bible references to nearly every question about the topic. Commented Mar 13 at 9:35
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    "The Bible shows that Mary is in Heaven as the Ark of the Covenant in Rev 11:19". Does it really, though? Commented Mar 13 at 13:04
  • I think you use "non saints" to mean "would-be saints", thus excluding those who will be damned at Final Judgment. I edit your Q to avoid confusion because "non saints" (which is not a common term) may imply those who will be consigned to the Lake of fire. Do I understand you correctly? If not, please edit the question. Commented Mar 13 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


Is the idea of soul sleep for would-be saints Biblical?

I write as a protestant, but I cannot speak for all protestants, but I will try to represent what I believe is a protestant majority view. (And my definition of "protestant" excludes those who do not believe in the Trinity: I cannot speak for them.)

First, though, you have packed a lot of ideas in your question which reflect a Catholic view which any protestant would feel a need to comment on and give a protestant view:

Protestants do not believe in purgatory

We do not believe in purgatory. We do not believe there is any perfecting to be completed after death by such means, and cannot believe it accords either with God's character, or with the effectiveness of Christ's finished work, or with scripture.

For the believer, there is a perfection made after death, but it is made in the instant of death by the grace of God. It is part of the salvation purchased by the finished work of Christ.

He has paid for all our sins so there is no payment to be made; he has imputed to us his righteousness so there is no unrighteousness to be cleansed; though we know we are still sinners in own fallen selves until the day we die, and though there are degrees of glory in the life to come depending on our obedience here, our sins are no barrier to us entering immediately into paradise upon death. Our sinful nature does not remain with us when we die. I myself serve the law of God (Romans 7:25); that part of me which serves sin I am freed from upon death.

We are no longer under any covenant of works so there cannot be any sins against it. When we believed we died to the moral law which brings condemnation (Romans 7:1-6). There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). When a believer dies he does not go to purgatory.

All believers in Christ are saints

The protestant view is also different about the word "saint". It means a believer in Christ, all of them are saints... First of all, there are not just a few, there are tens of thousands of them (Jude 1:14)! And how and when did the Apostle Paul become a saint? Answer: When "he was breathing out threats and slaughter" (Acts 9:1). It was then that the Lord met with him and turned his heart: from that time he was a saint, saved by the mighty grace of God.

There were saints everywhere in the New Testament church. Ending his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote "All the saints greet you, especially those that are of Caesar's household" (Phil 4:22). How many saints can you have in one household if the Catholic definition is assumed? But there were other saints in Rome also because "all the saints" were sending greetings whether they were of the household of Caesar or not. Moreover, they were sending greetings to the saints at Philippi: Paul asks that every saint at Philippi receives his greeting.. "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:21). By the Catholic definition this would mean that Paul chooses not to greet any believer unless they are a saint! Protestants conclude that all believers are saints by Paul's and the New Testament's definition. It is noteworthy that the word "saints" in the plural is used sixty times in the New Testament but only once in the singular and even here refers to many: "salute every saint" (Phil 4:21). The whole church at Rome was "called to be saints" (Romans 1:7). All believers are called to be set apart for the glory of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, to be living sacrifices for him (Romans 12:1,2; Luke 14:25-35). All true Christians are saints: there are no "would-be-saints" greeted in the New Testament, nor ever mentioned.

Do unbelievers go straight to hell?

Though it is not your question, briefly consider, that Peter said that Judas had "gone to his own place" (Acts 1:25): his soul had already gone there awaiting a bodily resurrection. Note also 1 Peter 3:19: the spirits which had been preached to (before the flood) are now "in prison". That is, their souls are now in hell awaiting the Day of Judgement when their bodies will be reunited with their souls and their sentence will be confirmed. And the rich man went to punishment before the Day of Judgement/Resurrection Day (Luke 16:22-23,26).

Do believers go straight to heaven?

Believers go straight to heaven when they die: this is the majority view of Protestants, though some have believed/believe in soul sleep, such as Bishop J.C. Ryle.

Our Lord Jesus said to a thief, and probably a murdering thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43).

In those last hours of his life he became a saint. He repented and believed in Jesus and was wonderfully saved. He didn't do anything except believe and repent and it came true for him just as Ezekiel said "if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed and keep all my statutes and do that which is right he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned to him" (Ezekiel 18:21-22). So upon death he went straight to glory.

Hebrews 12:18-24 assures us that right now "the general assembly and church of the firstborn" is "enrolled in heaven" (William Hendriksen, Bible on the Life Hereafter, page 51).

We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). To die is to be separated from our body until the Day of Resurrection. In that state after death we shall be present with the Lord. What could be clearer?

The poor man went straight to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:23) while others on earth were still alive.. ("Please, let me go and warn my brothers"). In the parable our Lord is using an idiom of the afterlife familiar with the Jews. If the idiom had been inaccurate Jesus would have not used it.

All the saints can and should "have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (Philippians 1:23), though to abide is more needful for others.

There is no soul sleep. Believers go straight to heaven when they die. And I believe that this is the majority protestant view.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith says:

"The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none."

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    "We do not believe there is any perfecting to be completed after death." I don't know what "we" you speak for, but as another Protestant, we certainly aren't perfect now. To be sure, I don't believe in purgatory, either, as the Roman Catholics understand it, but mind e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:15. Scripture repeatedly states that we will be changed in the Resurrection, that when we have gone to be with God forever we will be free of our present infirmities, but also that such remain with us for now. Something will happen, though if anything, the implication seems to be that it will be quick.
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 14 at 15:50
  • I did +1 on your answer because it is consistent with what I hear majority of Protestants say (I used to hold this exegesis myself). But as I grew older, I wonder whether it is responsible to flatten the different degrees of saintliness (which must be real if sanctification to have any real meaning) to a single meaning that these Protestants propose here? Commented Mar 14 at 15:52
  • Wouldn't it be better to assign meaning to "saint" alluded by those verses to "saved but not yet perfected" following the "already but not yet" paradigm, thus acknowledging the other meaning of saint (the perfected) as a heart-state that we strive and yearn for? Thus Protestants can retain both imputed justification and acknowledging the work that is cut out for us, done by both the Holy Spirit and our own effort: the perfecting of us. Commented Mar 14 at 15:52
  • I don't fully know what you mean, though I can guess. Pls just try again though. Commented Mar 14 at 15:55
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    @GratefulDisciple - Upon death the believer immediately enters Glory. We cannot enter Glory unless we are perfected. So we must be perfected immediately. Is this what you mean? Perfection does not mean "given precisely the same reward". There are big crowns for Pauls and little crowns. Commented Mar 14 at 16:43

Very Biblical because of the story of Samuel. Do you remember what Saul( the king not the apostle) did in a attempt to know his fate before going to battle with the Philistines? He consulted a medium at Edom who called up the spirit of Samuel which was asleep. Many of our fathers fell asleep but their spirits are also around awaiting the resurrection on the last day when the son of God will shout with the voice of the arch-angel.

Samuel's body was rotting in the grave but the spirit was asleep and was summoned demonically by that medium. Samuel prophesied to Saul even in this state, which makes Biblical stories even more interesting and exciting.

That meant that Samuel was a prophet both in the flesh and in the spirit because he was a prophet when he was alive and his spirit still prophesied when it was summoned.

Also remember when Jesus was called to resurrect dead people like the daughter of Jairus. Jesus used to say

The child is not dead but asleep

The body sleeps while the spirit remains around awaiting a final reunion for judgment. This explains why mediums can summon spirits and send them to spy somewhere or call them up to have conversations with people like Saul.

Jesus is reportedly said to have preached good news to souls in Hades while he descended to the heart of the Earth.

  • Is there scriptural support for that view after Jesus’ death and breaking open the gates of Hades? I see a lot of examples of Jesus saying they are asleep, but what about after His resurrection?
    – izxy
    Commented Mar 13 at 23:00
  • @Izxy, yes Mathew 12:40 states that Jesus will be at the heart of the earth for three days like Jonah was in the belly of the shark for three days Commented Mar 14 at 1:54
  • No, not for the harrowing of hell, for soul sleep being a thing in the present day after Jesus harrowed it.
    – izxy
    Commented Mar 14 at 4:03
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    "The body sleeps while the spirit remains around awaiting a final reunion for judgment." The question is about soul sleep not the 'sleeping' of the body in the grave. I don't think you've actually answered the question. Commented Mar 14 at 12:41
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    The first two words of your answer to the question "Is soul sleep biblical" are Very biblical and then at the end you say souls do not sleep. Commented Mar 14 at 13:08

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