The traditional common view is that when Christians “die”, they go to heaven. Yet scripture speaks differently about this subject. The prime example is Lazarus. When Jesus tarried, waiting for a time before going to the aid of his sick friend, he engaged in conversation with the disciples. “Lazarus sleeps, but I go to wake him”. “If he sleeps, then he is recovering” they said. “Then he told them plainly, Lazarus is dead”.
There are many scriptures which talk of Christians who “sleep”. This subject is often misconstrued as “soul sleep”. This is diversionary, the theological common conception of “soul” is wrong. “And man became a living soul” in Genesis is countered by “The soul that sins shall die”.
Those that sleep in the earth? “Christ the first fruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him” The resurrection is one of the raising of the dead. Christians are said to be “asleep” because they are not categorised as “dead”, as in “He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him, all are alive” This does not make them “not dead”, they are simply considered to be alive, because at the time of their death, they were spiritually alive to God. And it says “He who believes in me, will never die”. But, more to the point, they will “never SEE death”. [they will simply fall asleep, like Stephen] [who died].
People who are “asleep” are not conscious of anything, which agrees with the O.T. “Souls under the alter” in Rev. is figurative, or whatever you want to call it. One has to be very wary about what can be considered as literal in Revelation.
This perspective is completely backed up in scripture, with only minor references in other directions that people like to latch onto, because of traditional backgrounds that contain superstitious elements. The commonest of these is probably Paul’s “I would rather depart and be with Christ”. While on the surface seeming to say he was going to instantly be with Christ, this does not have to be the case. A two thousand year sleep is still just of one second’s duration in perception. The thief on the cross might be another example. “I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise”. Regardless of where the comma goes, there is the possibility that yes, the death Christ was in, was perhaps actually in “the Garden”, which could symbolise that garden of God, that beginning, that origin, where perhaps the thief, having “cutting it fine” in his repentance, was returned to the innocence that Adam had before the fall.
Regardless of some ambiguity, the case is obviously for “sleep” meaning death, in the overall context.
[later edit] [logic would assume Jesus was in the tomb and the thief was in the ground] [ later still. see also acts 13- 36 ]
[see http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/the-dead-are-dead-until-the-rapture-or-resurrection but don’t necessarily believe some of his other material.]