“We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Joel D. Otto
In the early centuries of the Christian church, it was common for Christians to gather regularly where their dead were entombed. The purpose was to remember those fellow Christians who had died in the Lord—especially martyrs who died for their faith—and rejoice in the hope of the resurrection. In fact, during one severe bout of persecution, Christians were banned from visiting their cemeteries. The hope of the resurrection was very real for the early church.
Our 21st-century world does its best to put off death. It’s obsessed with diet and exercise, medication, surgery, therapy. All of this can serve to mask the reality of death. Death is unnatural. It is ugly and nasty. It is what sinful humanity has earned and deserves (Romans 5:12; 6:23). No amount of embalming, make-up, or well-manicured cemetery lawns can change that fact. Everyone faces the death of loved ones. Everyone will face his or her own death. Death is an emotionally-charged subject, even if most people don’t want to think or talk about its reality. No one escapes it.
As Christians, we have to face death’s harshness. We also do our best to prolong our lives. Many Christians strive to care for the bodies God has given us by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and making use of the blessings of medicines. Yet we recognize the ultimate futility of these measures. No matter what we might do to live longer, we will all eventually face death—unless Jesus returns first. And our journey will also include dealing with the loss of loved ones.
But we react differently. The death of a Christian, while a sad time because we lose the companionship of a loved one, becomes a victory celebration. Our own death, while scary and unpleasant because of possible pain and an uncertain process, is the way God brings us to the heaven he was won for us and prepared for us (John 14:1-3). He gave his Son into death that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus is “the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in [him] will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
That is why we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We are confident that when we Christians die and are buried, our bodies will be raised and glorified when Jesus returns in glory (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20,21). Because our Redeemer lives, we will enjoy a new eternal, heavenly home where we see God face to face and enjoy life without suffering or sadness (Job 19:25-27; Revelation 21:1-4). With Christians down through the centuries, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
EXPLORING THE WORD
1. How might the promise of the resurrection give you comfort as you face difficulties in life?
We have God’s promise that these present sufferings we endure are temporary and fleeting. The glory Jesus has won for us is forever (Romans 8:18). At the resurrection, all of the problems and difficulties of this life will be gone because sin will no longer be present. God has promised us a final and full deliverance. We will be rescued from this world of troubles (Revelation 21:4; Revelation 7:14-17). Many of our difficulties involve our physical bodies. At the resurrection, God will give us glorified bodies that cannot suffer pain or die (1 Corinthians 15:42-50; Philippians 3:20,21). Perhaps most important, we will see our Savior face to face and worship him for all eternity (Job 19:23-27; Revelation 21:1-3).
2. Explain how you would find comfort in the promise of the resurrection as you face the death of Christian loved ones.
There are a lot of different places in Scripture to go for this comfort. But focusing on the promises God gives in his Word in connection with Jesus’ resurrection gives the most comfort. Jesus’ conversation with Martha at the grave of Lazarus assures us that those who have been brought to faith in Jesus have spiritual life now and eternal life because Jesus has conquered death. He is life itself (John 11:17-27). Jesus promised that he has prepared a place in his heavenly home for those who believe that he is the way, truth, and life (John 14:1-6). Death does not have the last word for those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Jesus will raise and glorify his believers (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). As we face the death of a Christian loved one, there will usually be sadness and grief because we are losing someone we love. We will not see them or talk to them again this side of heaven. But for Christians, death is a precious and blessed event because it is the way God brings his believers into their eternal rest, away from the troubles and hardships of this life (Psalm 116:15; Revelation 14:13).
In some ways, the exact comfort of Scripture that will serve us best will depend on the nature of the situation. Was this someone who endured a prolonged and painful battle with cancer? Was this an aged Christian who was taken peacefully? Was the death sudden and unexpected? A young person? A child? Different promises will provide specific comfort in different situations. But the one common factor will be the resurrection of Christ. Christians are buried with him and raised with him at our baptism (Romans 6:4,5). The Jesus who conquered death by leaving a sealed tomb alive now lives and reigns over all things for the good of his believers, including his believers who are facing death or facing life after the death of a loved one. And he will most certainly break open our tombs on the Last Day and give us the full and final victory over death forever.
3. Explain how you can comfort a friend at the loss of a loved one.
If the loved one of the friend was a Christian, see the answer to the previous question. If the loved one was not a Christian—or you’re not as certain as you might be if the person was a regular attender in worship and confessed his or her faith—then there isn’t a lot of comfort that can be given. You can assure your friend of God’s love for him/her in Christ, a love that will not be taken away, even if a loved one has died. You can remind them that finally only the Lord knows those who are his believers (2 Timothy 2:19). We can’t see faith in someone’s heart. But any death should remind us how fleeting life can be and the reality that our times are in the Lord’s hands (Psalm 31:15). Therefore, we need to be ready at all times by devoting ourselves to hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper. At such moments, Christians need to express compassion and tender support for those left behind. That compassion is a fruit of our faith and provides us an opportunity to share our faith.
Death is also a reminder of the urgency to share the good news of Jesus with our unbelieving family and friends. The following prayer conveys the kinds of thoughts one could share with a friend who has lost an unbelieving loved one. “We ask that you would give them the strength they need in this time of grief, and comfort them with the precious assurance of your love for them in Christ Jesus. May this death remind us all of how quickly our lives here on earth come to an end. Lead us all to use the time you have given us to grow in our knowledge of you and your Word. When you summon us, may we be found in sincere repentance and steadfast faith, prepared to stand before your judgment seat” (Christian Worship: Pastor’s Companion, p. 302).
Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015
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