Heaven – and death
1Thess.4:17 "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord."
People the world over have to recognise it as a fact. The stats prove it to be true everywhere. One in one dies. Death comes to us all without exception.
Now death is a serious subject and we should never treat it any other way. We need to know what happens when our bodies die. We need to know what happens when the soul and the body are separated.
Because death is a universal experience we shouldn’t be surprised to find that men and women have always tried to provide themselves with answers to help them come to terms with death, whether it be the death of others or themselves.
Some religious outlooks have plumped for the idea that death is not in any way definitive. Life is circular they say – we live and die only to return in some other form of life and so the whole circle can begin again. This is what people call reincarnation.
Those from a Judaeo-
Yet others have preferred to take an atheistic leap in the dark and simply to hope that this life is all there is. The appeal of such a viewpoint is that if there is nothing at all after death then, of course, there is no judgment to face, phew!
But isn’t such a belief at odds with the quasi-
The Bible tells us just why it is that men and women think as they do about such matters as life and death. It gives us several answers including this one:
Eccl.3:11 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart,"
When we think about death we must bear in mind certain truths that the Bible reveals to us. On the one hand the Bible forthrightly declares that the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death by his resurrection. It also teaches us however that death remains an enemy that each of us will have to face, our last enemy. While death is very important it does not have the last word – our Lord’s victory has seen to that!
We must return to our question: What does happen when our bodies die? (I am thinking specifically of the believer.)
Death brings us to Christ
In our previous studies we have seen that the central position in heaven is occupied by our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is indeed the One who makes heaven, heaven! When we realise that our thoughts about heaven should become much clearer – we will no longer be trying to think about the unimaginable but about the Lord whom we know at least in part. With such an understanding heaven should become more and more attractive to us.
Being with Jesus is the most important truth concerning our future as believers.
But does the death of the body have a negative impact on how we will be able to experience him in heaven?
Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica who were worried that it might. They were worried that Christians who had already died had somehow missed out on all the blessings that would be enjoyed by those who would still be alive in the body when Christ returned. Had these Christians simply gone and that was it? Was there no hope for them?
Paul’s answer was clear:
1Thess.4:13 "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
You don’t need to worry as if the intervention of death somehow handicaps God and prevents him extending his blessings to the believer who has died. Paul continues his explanation by drawing a direct link between Jesus own resurrection and God’s plan to similarly raise the believer from the dead:
1Thess.4:14 "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."
Not only do we not have to worry about Christian believers who have already died we don’t have to be afraid of our own coming death! Death will simply usher the believer into the presence of his Lord.
Details of the Lord’s Plan
Paul wants to encourage the Christians in Thessalonica with what he writes:
1Thess.4:18 "Therefore encourage one another with these words."
1Thess.5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up"
In order to encourage them Paul doesn’t simply say "Cheer up" or something similar, he explains what the Lord actually plans to do and it is the facts contained in this explanation which ought to be the source of real encouragement to his readers.
Paul is not sharing his own hopes and fears, nor is he simply referring to the views prevailing amongst the apostles of the church in general. These would have been important and worth listening to but what Paul has to share is much more important than that – he has "a word from the Lord" on this particular subject. It is a word that gives a lot of information:
The Lord himself will descend
Christian believers who have died will be the first to rise
Then comes the turn of those believers who are still alive when Christ comes to be raised up
These two categories of believer will form just one group. All members of this group will enjoy the same blessings.
Now let us look a little more closely at what all this means and involves.
The Lord himself will descend
The Lord’s coming will be personal – he comes himself – and it will be visible and it will be accompanied by audible sounds. This is no secret or hidden coming this is a very public coming indeed and it will a coming in great authority and with great effective power
There is a wonderful harmony to be found in Scripture. Here Paul tells us that the Lord will come with a cry of command. It is that cry to which Jesus had already referred when he taught his disciples while with them on earth:
We should have no doubts about the power, the authority or the effectiveness of this voice. After all it is the same voice that cried out loudly before the tomb:
I remember one time listening to a sermon and the preacher asked the question "Why did Jesus stand at grave and cry out ‘Lazarus come forth?’" The answer he gave was that if he hadn’t specified Lazarus all the dead would have been raised to life and all the graves would have been emptied!
No, there is no lack of power in the commanding voice of our coming Lord! This is the voice of the One into whose hands has been placed all authority in heaven and on earth! (Mt.28:18).
If the coming of Christ is signalled by his loud cry of command it is quickly accompanied by the voice of the archangel as the angels are sent out to gather the elect.
Mk.13:27 "And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven."
Matthew, in his gospel, tells us that the angels are sent off to carry out their mission with a loud trumpet blast:
Mt 24:31 "And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
In the OT we are told that trumpets sounded when God came down to meet with his people. This is especially evident on Mt Sinai when having led the Israelites safely out of Egypt God met with Moses as their representative and gave him the Ten Commandments:
In the prophets Zephaniah and Zechariah trumpets also sound as God comes to the rescue of his people.
The associations are clear. Loud trumpets blasts are designed draw our attention to divine rescue and divine presence.
And now as the Lord Jesus descends not only does he cry out, not only does the archangel speak but a trumpet, this last trumpet sounds:
1Cor.15:52 "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."
Our Lord Jesus comes in the fullness of his divine identity to complete the salvation he has already secured and so to be forever with his people.
The dead in Christ will rise
The Thessalonians are not to worry about Christians who had already died as though they would somehow miss out on the completeness of Christ’s salvation. It is these who will be raised first. Upon dying their souls had passed immediately into Jesus’ presence but now it is their bodies that are in view and they are raised up first.
Living believers too will be raised up
Having waited a moment for the raising of all those believers who had already died to be accomplished the wait is soon over and those Christians who are alive when the Lord returns are similarly raised.
One group – one united experience
Although these two categories of believer will have experienced the Lord’s return in different ways they will nevertheless be united in one glorious experience. Together they will be caught up in the air with Christ and so will they continue to be with him.
Death can’t separate the believer from Christ and neither will the intervention of death lead on to a diminished experience of him.
All Christian believers will be swept up to meet him! And as we have already been at pains to point out – that is the very essence of heaven. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome: