If a Man Dies
Thursday, June 3, 2010

 

“If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14) 

Today, I met with a dear friend who has Lou Gehrig’s disease.  For those who have encountered the disease, you know full well its devastating effect on the body.  As I visited with this lovely man, I was reminded of the abuses which come from the pulpit.  Here was a man, truly in love with Christ, living past his infirmities and focused clearly on leaving behind a great witness to the Lord.  And of all people, he questioned His salvation.  I seethed inside as he told me his pastor had said that if you leave a Bible study, travel home exceeding the speed limit, are in a wreck and are killed, and you didn’t confess the speeding transgression before you die, hell was your destination.  How sad, this dear man was robbed of the eternal security offered in Christ Jesus.  I was offended to the point of ire, and surely I was more angry at the pastor than I was compassionate about my friend.  So I write tonight to say what I wish I had said to him.

 

Job is considered to be the oldest book in Scripture.  That makes his question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” one of the oldest questions of humanity.  That echoes one of the most frequent questions asked of Christian pastors.  “Will I go immediately to heaven or will I have to lie in the ground until the resurrection?”  This question is complex because we indeed are a resurrection faith and we know that at some point our physical bodies will be united with Christ forever.  But what happens until the rapture or the second coming? What will happen to us until then?

 

The answers to these questions, to our ultimate satisfaction, are lacking because we live in a world framed with time and space.  To think in eternal terms lies outside our experience and therefore lies outside our grasp.  However, within Scripture we have the answers to “what,” but we must leave the “how” to God until all is revealed.

 

First of all, Scripture is clear that we will be with Christ in a very recognizable form the very instant that life departs from this earthly tent.  Let me pick this statement apart.  First we will be recognizable.  Jesus said, “Now about the dead rising -- have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  (Mk 12:26,27)  At the mount of transfiguration, Peter, James and John immediately recognized Moses and Elijah.  (Mk 9)  In the story Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham was easily recognizable. (Lk 16) In each case, there is physical recognition of the ones who have passed from this life.  Secondly, we will be with Christ, immediately.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25,26)  He added emphasis to that as He hang upon the cross.  To the penitent thief He said, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” (Lk 23:24) Paul told the church at Philippi, “To live is Christ and to die is gain . . . I desire to depart and be with Christ.”  (Phil. 1:19-24) And to the church at Corinth he stated that to leave this earthly tent is to be swallowed up in life, and “we prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:4,8)  Obviously this was a compelling question of Paul’s churches because he was emphatic that we are not only a resurrection faith, but that we will not linger for even one second away from Christ. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor 15:54)

 

But the questions continue to haunt us.  What will we be like until the resurrection?  How does all this fit with the rapture of the dead and reuniting with the body.  With Paul, I can only answer those questions by saying, “How foolish! [which probably means,’don’t ask me.’] What you sow does not come to life unless it dies...the body that is sown perishable will be raised imperishable, ; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”  We will be different, but the difference lies in a glorious transformation as happened to Christ -- “we shall be like Him,” (1 John 3:2.)  That means we will be capable of physical activity -- eating, walking, talking.  It means that we will be able to be in Galilee one moment and Jerusalem the next.  It means that we will be able to appear and disappear at will (even behind locked doors).  And certainly it will mean that we will be fully recognizable.

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon conveys what I am trying to say far more poetically.  “Think not that a long period intervenes between the instant of death and eternity of glory.  When the eyes close on earth they open in heaven.  The horses of fire are not an instant on the road.  Then, O child of God, what is there for thee to fear in death, seeing that through the death of thy Lord its curse and sting are destroyed?  And now it is but a Jacob’s ladder whose foot is in the dark grave, but its top reaches to glory everlasting.”

 

“Where, O death, is you victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Cor 15:55-57) The “what” question is answered, but “how?” Let’s leave the “how” to God and remain excited about the great mystery.  It will be wonderful.  It will be perfect.  And it will be with our Lord Jesus Christ.  What else could we possibly need to know?

 That is what I wish I had told my friend.

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Victor, ID 83455
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