Saturday, March 25, 2006

What happens to Christian when they die?

One of the ways the Bible refers to death is “sleep” (1 Thess. 4:13). This is not meant to suggest a loss of consciousness in any way because elsewhere, the Bible employs some very graphic illustrations of what happens at the moment a Christian dies. We think immediately of the words of Jesus to the dying thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). By “sleep” Paul is trying to convey to us how gentle and restful a thing it is, no matter how violent the departure may have been. When a believer dies, the soul passes into a state of perfect peace and calm and rest. As the Shorter Catechism puts it: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory…” (SC 37). To be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6).

This condition is sometimes referred to as the “intermediate state” because this is not the final condition of our future existence. At the end of the age, there will be a glorious reunion of body and soul. The body will be raised from death (unless they happen to be alive when Jesus returns and in which case their bodies will pass into another mode of existence—“caught up,” Paul says, “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). Our ultimate existence in glory—in the new heavens and new earth—is a bodily one, a physical one. But even in the intermediate state there is consciousness and awareness of one’s surroundings. It is a condition far more wonderful than anything we experience here.

It is worth thinking about: that believers at death go into the presence of Jesus Christ. Everything the Bible teaches on this suggests that we will be able to see and know and hear and feel. It is difficult to know how this can be without a physical body but this is what the Bible teaches and we must believe it! We will be conscious of being in the presence of others, too: loved ones who have died and gone to heaven before us; Christians that we have read about in church history (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo and so on). And the great saints of the Bible—Paul, Peter, John the Baptist. Mary the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, Isaiah, Elijah, Abraham)—all these are there to greet us.

And angels—who carry the soul into the presence of Jesus. Jesus spoke about this in the story of Lazarus: “the poor man [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side” (Luke 16:22). Lazarus died and the angels came. They were already fluttering about him when he died. They were gathered around waiting. What a wonderful thought!

And there will be immediate perfection. All the sin that has marred and hobbled our existence here (even as forgiven, redeemed Christians) will be gone. For the very first time we will experience what it is to be totally free from sinful thoughts and ambitions. Even the sin that may have resulted in our death will be forgiven. The blood of Jesus will prevail and we will be with the Lord. For ever! Our faith here below may give way. We may lose sight of Jesus but Jesus never loses sight of us. We may say: “But why doesn’t Jesus step in and prevent us from falling?” And I have no answer to that except to say that heaven is better for us and that God knows exactly what he is doing and is under no obligation to explain to all to us.

As First Presbyterian Church grieves today, our hope and confidence lies in God’s Word, God’s covenant, God’s redeeming mercy in Jesus Christ. These are the certainties, the tried and trusted truths that sustain when our hearts are breaking.

1 comment:

courtney said...

I've been looking for an easy answer to this question online and you summed it up very nicely for me. thank you.