Swedenborg & Life Live Recap: Why Does the Bible Say People Sleep in the Grave? — 9/10/18

Watch full episode here!


Eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg provides an entirely new way to look at some of the Bible’s most confusing or unnerving passages. In our last episode, we unpacked the true meaning of the souls under the altar in the book of Revelation. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose go live to discuss what it means when the Bible says that people “sleep in the grave.”


When you feel in a pit of despair, what sustains you or lifts you up? 

Jonathan finds music to be comforting during difficult times, and he is reminded of David and Saul in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 16:14–23). Also, contact with people who are not feeling the way you are feeling can be very helpful—whatever it is that has you down is not really a concern for them, so they can be there for you.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Curtis finds refuge in the Swedenborgian mindset. Even the scariest things can’t hold a candle to divine providence. Beyond that, being productive and accomplishing things can help jumpstart healing.

“Sleep” and “Graves”

There are a few biblical passages that seem to talk about how people who die will sleep in the grave until Judgment Day. Some argue that this means the dead know nothing. On the other hand, there are other passages, and such things as near-death experiences, that suggest the opposite—that the afterlife begins at the moment of death. How can these understandings be reconciled?

As discussed in a previous episode, “Why Does the Bible Say ‘The Dead Know Nothing’?,” the key to getting at the meaning of such terms in the Bible as “dead,” “death,” and “life” is Swedenborg’s science of correspondences, which reveals how words and ideas in the Bible have symbolic meanings that represent deeper truths. In this case, the same approach could be applied to “sleep” and “graves.”

Sleeping signifies natural life without spiritual, since natural life compared with spiritual is as sleep to wakefulness. (Apocalypse Explained §187:8)

So the difference between sleep and wakefulness is a matter of the depth of one’s awareness. When we “wake up” in the spiritual sense, it’ll be to a higher truth.

A person who learns truths and lives according to them is like someone who awakens from sleep and becomes alert. (Apocalypse Revealed §158)

But what about the graves?

Everything has a positive and negative correspondence. The negative correspondence of graves is obvious, but how could burial ever be connected to something other than death? Well, what if the thing you are burying is a seed?

So burial isn’t just death; it also symbolizes rebirth. Without it, we couldn’t have new lives in God.

The Graves Being Opened

During the Last Judgment, which Swedenborg says takes place in the spiritual world, these graves are opened, and the people within them are raised. People who were protected in the lower earth—a place we talked about in our last episode, The Meaning of the Book of Revelation: Souls Under the Altar—are freed from captivity, woken up, and brought to heaven by the Lord. From the historical perspective as witnessed by people on earth:

The appearance of dead saints [in Jerusalem] (in a vision seen by several observers) symbolized the fact that people in the spiritual church were saved and were eventually taken up to the Holy City, meaning heaven. Until that time they were kept in a an underground realm. (Secrets of Heaven §9229:10)

While they were decent people, those referred to as “spiritual” needed to be saved by the Lord because their churches were teaching untruths that prevented the Divine moving through heaven to reach them. So they had to wait until the Lord came down and “made the humanity in himself divine” (Secrets of Heaven §6854), freeing them from the pits of the underground realm and taking them to heaven. But why were they left in the pits for so long?

The reason why this was not done before is, that [before the Last Judgment] the hells prevailed, and there was a preponderance on their part; but afterwards the heavens prevailed, and so there was a preponderance on their part. For by the Last Judgment all things, both in the hells and in the heavens, were brought into a state of order. If, therefore, these had been raised up before, they would not have been able to resist the power with which the hells prevailed over the heavens. That they were raised up, it was granted me to see. For from the lower earth, where they were reserved by the Lord, I saw large bodies of them rising up and being elevated, and also translated into heavenly societies. This took place after the Last Judgment. . . . A similar event took place after the former Judgment which was accomplished by the Lord when He was in the world. (Apocalypse Explained §899:2)

These are the lengths to which God goes to make sure his people are safe.

Chat Q&A

During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:

Spiritual World Road Trip

As Swedenborg traveled in the spiritual world, he was attacked by an evil spirit who actually turned out to be someone he knew in life: Count Fredrik Gyllenborg. He knew this man and his wife, the countess, quite well, and Swedenborg even stayed in touch with her after her husband’s death.

Despite the count becoming an evil spirit, she was a very religious person, and Swedenborg thought that she would be his [Swedenborg’s] mate in the spiritual world.

In his journeys, Swedenborg also witnessed a reenactment of the Lord freeing people from captivity in the lower earth, which was a method of teaching children. In the spiritual world, children still need to be taught in ways that they will be able to understand. For more about what it is like for people who die as children, see our show on “Children in Heaven.”


At the beginning, we asked viewers what helps them when in the pit of despair. Here are some of the answers.

  • Nature.
  • Hope and love.
  • Music helps me.
  • The sun coming up.
  • Pure logical thought.
  • The people I love whether they know it or not.
  • I tell myself that there is no “bad” or “good” news. All news are the same, all experience is the same. Only we ourselves determine or choose or decide if the very experience is good or bad. Then I decide whatever I experienced must be good.
  • For me it was music and prayer. And tears.
  • Relative circumstances for transformation. The darker the greater benefits. Easier said than done.
  • It helps me to remember “this too shall pass.”
  • Music, nature, knowing I am just working through and healing wounds, being worked on in spirit.
  • Talking with my wife.
  • I turn to the east and talk with the Lord.
  • The knowledge that despair is hellish and I can and should shun it.
  • Musical compositions.
  • Understanding it’s all for a reason and that life on earth is preparation for heaven.
  • Watching shows like this or reading books about the supernatural.
  • Remembering I am very small in this world.
  • Music.
  • Walking in nature. Making art.
  • Coming to know that people I can call on to tell me something I can’t see, and that my peace will come from letting the Lord handle it for me.
  • Music helps my depression the way a massage helps bodily pain. This show also helps!

Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!

Related Swedenborg & Life Videos

Children in Heaven
“The Last Judgment”
The Meaning of the Book of Revelation: Souls Under the Altar
The Meaning of Easter
Who Was Swedenborg?
“Why Does the Bible Say ‘The Dead Know Nothing’?”

Free E-Book Downloads

Apocalypse Explained
Apocalypse Revealed
Secrets of Heaven


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  • About Swedenborg & Life

    In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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    When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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