Q. In my Bible readings I come across passages about “those asleep in Christ.” What is meant by those “asleep in Christ?”
A. Both the expressions “asleep in Christ” and “fallen asleep” are found in Paul’s letters. Whether you wish to call “sleeping” or “asleep in Christ” a metaphor or a euphemism, it means “dead.”
The Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Standard Version translation) says in a footnote to 1 Thessalonians 4:14, “those who are asleep” was a common metaphor for the dead. The footnote refers to the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, verses 11-16, where Jesus dialogues with the apostles about the death of Lazarus. In verse 11, Jesus tells the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” When the apostles fail to understand him, verse 14 tells us, “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead….’”
We ourselves use various euphemisms to talk about the dead and death itself. We speak about those who “rest” in Christ or peace, and we say “the Lord came and took her.” “Asleep in Christ” would also help convey the idea that it isn’t the end of everything when Christians die. Christians have the resurrection and life afterward to anticipate.