This is easily reconciled, for those passages that speak of a believer being “asleep” are referring to the BODY and not to the SPIRIT or SOUL. Let’s read the account of Stephen’s death in Acts 7:59-60, “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on god and saying, ‘Lord Jesus RECEIVE MY SPIRIT.’ Then he knelt down cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, HE FELL ASLEEP” (NKJV). Before I comment on this let’s also read James 2:26, “For as THE BODY WITHOUT THE SPIRIT IS DEAD, so faith without works is dead.” It is clear from these two passages that at the time of death the SPIRIT departs from the BODY. James teaches us that when this occurs the “body is dead” and in Acts the body of Stephen is said to have “fallen asleep.” So, Stephen’s BODY “fell asleep,” but his spirit remained conscious (as in the case of Lazarus) and went to be with the Lord.

There are at least two precious truths in connection with a believer’s body “going to sleep.” First of all,

It implies that death is not a fearful thing for the believer, just as “going to sleep” is not something to be feared. In Hebrews 2:14-15 we read, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and RELEASE THOSE WHO THROUGH FEAR OF DEATH WERE ALL THEIR LIFETIME SUBJECT TO BONDAGE.” Before the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to defeat Satan and conquer death, men had a real “fear of death.” But through His death He has set the believer free from such fear. The believer knows that the second he dies his spirit goes to be with Christ and his body goes to sleep! The apostle Paul spoke of this in 2nd Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” He expressed the same truth in Philippians 1:21 & 23, “For to me, to live is Christ, and TO DIE IS GAIN…having a desire to DEPART AND TO BE WITH CHRIST, which is far better.” Paul had no fear of death; in fact, he desired it, knowing that his body would merely “go to sleep” and his spirit would go “to be with Christ, which is far better.”

Secondly, when a person is “asleep” we know it’s only a matter of time and he will “wake up.” The believer is assured from the Word of God that the day is coming when his body will be “awakened.” You may be thinking, “When will that occur?” The answer is found in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-17, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have FALLEN ASLEEP, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him THOSE WHO SLEEP IN JESUS. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede THOSE WHO ARE ASLEEP. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” When the Lord comes to take His redeemed people home to glory all those whose bodies had “fallen asleep” will be RAISED FROM THE DEAD! They will indeed “wake up,” and be reunited with their spirits that had gone to be with the Lord when they died. They will be joined by BELIEVERS WHO HAD NEVER DIED and together they will meet the Lord in the air.

I would like to close by quoting 1st Corinthians 15:51-53, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (285.7) (DO)