(copyright, Marcelo A. Tolopilo)
“I’d rather not talk about it!”
Most people would prefer not to talk about death. Yet as a human race it is most definitely on our collective mind. We spend billions of dollars every year trying to circumvent it through medicine. We read about it, think about it, joke about it, and
fear it—perhaps more than the dentist, public speaking, and for all I know even more than
clowns! Woody Allen once expressed man’s reluctant discomfort with the subject when he said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
The Bible’s perspective on death
It’s not an uncommon sentiment to think that the worst thing that can possibly befall a person is death. And yet for the Christian nothing could be further from the truth! Scripture actually calls those who die in Jesus “blessed.”
Revelation 14:13 states, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord …”
A remarkable reality! Because of our union with Christ, our death is a blessing, a gain (Philippians 1:21). What’s more, God views the passing of His people with tender, personal concern. In Psalm 116:15 we read, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones.” Spurgeon reflected that, because Christians have been “redeemed with precious blood” (1 Peter 1:18, 19), God views “the triumphant death of His gracious ones with sacred delight.”
In a manner of speaking, at our departure from this life God get’s to collect on His costly, beloved, and precious investment, believers. The Bible then, and especially the New Testament, sees death through the lens of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Because of the atoning work of Christ (His substitutionary death on the cross for our sin, His burial, and resurrection), death has lost its “sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Death is a weaponless, defeated, mortally wounded enemy. It is ultimately powerless over us, and so the New Testament speaks of death in terms of “sleep,” as the next step in our redemption “voyage,” and as our way “home.”
The Bible likens death to sleep
The most common New Testament euphemism for the death of a believer is “sleep.” In
1 Thessalonians, Paul refers to Christians who have died as “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus …” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). When Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was murdered for His testimony of the Lord, Acts 7:60 records his death with these words, “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.”
“Do our spirits go dormant at death?”
Does this mean that when Christians die they literally go dormant until the resurrection? Absolutely not! Believer’s spirits are no more asleep when their bodies lie in the grave, than Jesus’ spirit was asleep when His body lay in the tomb after the crucifixion. Though His body lay lifeless in the grave, the Lord’s spirit was alive and active.
In the same way, when our bodies lie in the grave our spirits are alive, awake and delighting in the presence of the Lord. Paul describes our post death experience as “being, i.e., existing, living” with Christ. In Philippians 1:23 he writes, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart(leave this life) and be with Christ (to live in His glorious presence), for that is very much better.” (In other words, being with Christ as a spirit, Paul says, is greatly preferred over this present life. We will explore this in greater detail in our next article).
“Why does the Bible refer to deceased believers as ‘asleep’?”
“So if at death we continue ‘being,’ ‘existing,’ why does the Bible refer to deceased believers as ‘asleep’?” The New Testament likens death to sleep largely for two reasons. For one, death ultimately is as powerless as sleep over the believer. Death, like sleep is temporary and will be completely reversed at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-ff)! Death has no more baneful influence over us, over our beloved believing friends and family (living or deceased) than yesterday’s power nap.
Secondly, the New Testament calls the Christian’s death sleep because when we die, we rest from our life-long toil, and hardship. Revelation 14:13 tells us that those who have died in the Lord do so “so that they may rest from (literally ‘rest out of’ or ‘be exempt from) their labors” (toils, troubles, hardships, weariness). When the Lord calls and receives our spirits, He intends for us to “rest.” One day we shall wade through life’s final challenge and say, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
Then we shall find complete and everlasting rest in Jesus from all our toil and trouble.
Scripture also speaks of death as the next step in our redemption “voyage”, and as our way to our final destination, “home” with the Lord Jesus. We will explore these together in our next issue of the Lighthouse.