(copyright, Marcelo A. Tolopilo)
In our last blog we began a brief series contemplating our voyage to resurrection morning, which for most Christians throughout history, of course, begins with our exit from this earth, death.
For many death is a horrifying specter
For many who do not hope in Jesus for redemption, the subject of death and dying can be an uncomfortable and frequently unwelcome topic. In fact, if an unbeliever’s conscience is active, he or she may abjectly fear death. Why? Well, there’s the trepidation of the unknown, the finality of the end of life and a pending sense of judgement to name a few apprehensions. Their fears are well founded because salvation from sin, death and judgement cannot be found outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Ultimately, all attempts to mask the anxieties associated with death with the opiates of this world (wealth, pleasure, prestige, etc.) fail miserably; and so, death for most remains a horrifying specter.
For believers the prospect of death is quite different
On the other hand, for believers the prospect of death is quite different. We do not face a wholly unknown shadow. What’s more, the Bible tells us that, while a formidable enemy, death is ultimately a vanquished foe (1Corinthians 15:26, 54-57). Hence—as we observed in our last article—the word of God speaks of the death of believers in terms of “sleep”, something that is temporary and completely reversible (Acts 7:60, 1 Thessalonians 4:14), and entering into “rest”, a time to rest from our labor and suffering (Revelation 14:13). In our present discussion we will note that scripture refers to death as our next step in our redemption voyage, a voyage that ultimately leads us home.
The Christian’s voyage: death is our departure, our release
When I took first year Greek in Seminary, the first word they introduced to us was the verb “luow” which means “to loose” “to untie.” The choice was deliberate because you see “luow” remains regular throughout its conjugation—a true irregularity in Koine (“common”) Greek. As such “luow” became our tutor to teach us the inflections of the Greek verb. We newbies learned to appreciate “luow” because of its predictable grammatical inflection. Soon we learned to love this familiar verb because of its usage in the pages of the New Testament.
Several years after finishing seminary, one day as I was knee deep in my sermon prep, my study led me to Philippians 1:23 where Paul expressed his desire to finish his work on earth and journey to Christ. His exact words were “…having the desire to depart and be with Christ…” Reading this verse I was struck by the term “depart” which in this context is an euphemism for death. I remember pausing and thinking to myself, “‘depart,’ hmmm. That seems like such a benign word choice for ‘death’.” And as I looked at it more closely, I discovered it was my old friend “luow.” Only this time it was compounded by a prepositional prefix “ana” (“up, back, again”). This grammatical amalgam has led interpreters to render the compound word “ana-luow” in this manner, “to release, unloose for departure,” “to return home,” to set free, essentially to untether in order to depart for home.
For the believer, death is not “The End!”, neither is it some frightful leap into a dark and unknown terror. It is an untying, an untethering, a release to depart. It is as Paul called it “a departure.” At death, the Gospel train has arrived and the call from our Master Conductor is “All aboard!” Death is our time to depart and “…slip the surly bonds of earth…” At death, my friends, we are set free, released. This then brings us to the destination of our voyage.
The Christian’s voyage: Our Destination, Home
Normally when we speak of a voyage we think in terms of going away somewhere, perhaps far away from home. When my paternal grandparents fled Poland for Argentina they packed what little they could in their luggage, boarded a large passenger ship and in haste and sadness left their beloved home and family forever. For believers, our voyage is not about going away, fleeing. Quite the opposite is true; it is all about coming home. That is our destination.
And for all who love the Lord Jesus, home is ultimately, only and forever where He is! The apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians with this very truth. He wrote, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body (death) and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Paul reminds us that death leads us home to Jesus!
No better place to be!
I truly love life. I love all the good things that God gives me in this life. I love my wife, my family, my church, the brethren, our ministry. I love art; I love nature; I especially love the ocean. There is so much to appreciate in this world. God has given us so many good gifts to relish and enjoy. But I tell you this, though I have not personally seen the Lord Jesus, I know that nothing of this age can compare to the joy of being in His magnificent presence!!! One glimpse of Jesus and we will know that there is no other place that we would rather be.
Take it from Paul. He actually got to see Jesus personally (Acts 9:1-8, Acts 23:11, 1 Corinthians 15:8) and His dwelling place in heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). He wasn’t allowed to elaborate on it much, but what he witnessed left him transfixed with what he saw and longing with all his soul to get back permanently to the glorious presence of His Savior. Ministry tethered him to this life (Philippians 1:22, 23a), but his heart was continually pulled inexorably towards heaven and the person of Christ (Philippians 1:23b). Again listen to Paul’s powerful words, “…having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better…”
The Christian’s hopeful view of death
Paul’s words are so bold in this verse and they summarize the Christian’s hopeful view of death. First, Paul uses an extremely strong term which our english translations render, “desire.” It means a “passionate desire.” In the New Testament in fact, this word is mostly translated “lust” or “lusts.” What was the passionate “desire” driving Paul? It was his great longing to “luow,” to “depart,” to be “released” from this life! Why? So that he might be with Christ, to enjoy the intimate fellowship of His Savior. Nothing on this earth, no matter how sweet, could compete with that in Paul’s heart. To make his point Paul stacked on the superlatives. He wrote “for that (our departure from this life and our arrival into Christ’s company) is very (“altogether abundantly”) much (“to a greater degree, much more”) better…” (“superior” “more excellent”). To rephrase the great apostle a bit, Paul said “Leaving this life and being at home in Christ’s presence is all together, most abundantly, exceedingly far more excellent than anything this life has to offer!”
One day we will leave this body and we will immediately arrive home to the company and fellowship of the Lord Jesus. That is our destination, the soul satisfying presence of our beloved Shepherd and Master. There and then we will truly be joyfully home at last!