“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:5-8, NASB.
Go back and pay special attention to the underlined words. Paul knew that the time of his death was very near. Based on this text, does it appear to you that Paul was expecting to receive the crown of righteousness imminently?
Now, if Paul believed in the immortality of the soul – that is to say, that people go straight to their eternal reward, either heaven or hell, immediately at the time of death – then we might expect him to have said something different. For example, if he were sentenced to be executed tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, and he knew it, he could conceivably have said, “Tomorrow, I’m going to get my crown of righteousness.” If he had expected to receive it immediately at his death, couldn’t he have said, “in the very near future, God will give me my crown”, or, “very soon, I will receive my heavenly reward”? It would be quite logical. But instead, Paul said, I will receive it “in the future“. Sounds like he expected there to be a period of time between death and the awarding of his crown.
Remember, Paul knew that his death was imminent. Knowing this full well, the apostle said, “In the future, on that day, I will receive my heavenly crown.”
What’s more, in his previous letter to Timothy, Paul said this about the timing of Jesus’ second coming:
“… that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time…” 1 Timothy 6:14-15
Plain and simple: Paul placed the timing of his receiving his eternal reward, the crown of righteousness, not immediately upon his death, but “in the future“, “on that day“. And when did Paul say that day would come? Will that day come a near-infinite number of times, with the death of each saved soul, until the end of earth’s history? Or will it come “at the [definite article] proper time”?
“The proper time” sounds like a fixed point in the future. Not a different time which occurs every time a saved person falls asleep. All at once, “on that day”, all the saved will receive their eternal reward.
I must say that this backs up the concept of soul sleep as a biblically sound teaching, at least according to Paul. First we sleep, then we are awakened at Christ’s second coming, then we all get our reward – at the same time.