Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants (His saints, Jesus’ followers, His loved ones). (Psalm 116:15)
The Pain of Death and Loss
Liz Shepherd is a Boston artist and one of her works, “The Wait,” was done near the time her father was dying. Liz spent long days at her father’s bedside, feeling the fragility of life and the pain of loss. Her artwork explores the artist’s search for meaning and the aftermath of grief. “The Wait” includes four large empty chairs, and reminds me that we can feel empty and helpless when loved ones pass away.1 King David prayed, “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.”2 John Blanchard said, “We were born on the earth, we live here, and we cling to the earth as long as we can. Yet as Christians we do not actually belong here at all. Our permanent home is in Heaven with Christ.”
Old Testament Teaching on Eternal Life
Thank God, Christians do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.3 Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants.” Believers’ deaths, like their lives, are significant and important to God. He numbers all the hairs on our head and stores up all our tears in a bottle.4 Old Testament believers also had assurance of eternal life with God after death. Job said:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)
Likewise, Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead will live, LORD. Their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”5 And Daniel, speaking by the Holy Spirit said, “Your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise [toward God] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”6
Eternal life does not begin when we die. It begins when we first trust God as Lord and Savior in this world and for the world to come. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and all the Old Testament believers trusted in God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was promised, but who had not yet come in their lifetimes. Yet they still received the benefit of Christ’s saving work in advance of His incarnation. God takes cares of everything. 7
Jesus’ Resurrection Guarantees Eternal Life
The New Testament reports over and over that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared first to the women, then to the apostles, then to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters on one occasion, then to others.8 It wasn’t a myth or legend. It was a fact in history.
R. Fowler White wrote: “The military of ancient Rome really blew it. When it came to the resurrection of Jesus, the troops who guarded His tomb could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble by just giving up His dead body. One problem: they never did. They didn’t because they couldn’t. And they couldn’t because, despite what you may have read, Jesus’ resurrection was and is a well-attested fact, perhaps the best-attested fact of antiquity.”9 White quotes more evidence and reasoning to back up his strong claims and I agree with him.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead has swallowed up death in victory and His followers can say: “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”10 Author Stephen Travis wrote that all people who die trusting Christ are firmly grasped by Jesus’ strong love. And they will not be conscious of any passage of time until the moment when Christ returns for us. He likens this to the fact that when we sleep well, we hardly notice time passing between our going to sleep and waking up in the morning.11
Asleep in Jesus
Sometimes the New Testament says that believers have fallen asleep. Jairus’ daughter died and Christ was going to resuscitate her and said, “Stop wailing. She is not dead but asleep.”12 The Lord said the same after Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. He said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”13 The same kind of language is used in the book of Acts when Jesus’ believers die.14
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.”15 Paul is not just being polite or using an understated way to say that people died. He’s reminding us that another, better life awaits Christ’s followers with Him after this life is over. Believers enter Heaven when we die and the New Heaven and New Earth when Jesus returns at the end of the age. So just as sleep is a transition from one day to the next, the Bible teaches that Christ’s followers transition from life on Earth to life in Heaven with Jesus.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to trust you as our Shepherd so that we lack nothing. Lead and guide us along the right paths and refresh our souls. Even though we walk through the darkest valleys, help us to fear no evil, because you are with us. Cause your goodness and love to follow us all the days of our lives, so that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
Notes (various translations): 1 I am indebted to “Precious Departure” in Our Daily Bread for pointing me to Liz Shepherd’s artwork. 2 1 Chron 29:15 3 1 Thess 4:13. 4 Matt 10:30; Psalm 56:8. 5 Isaiah 26:19. 6 Daniel 12:1-3. 7 John 8:56, 5:46, 12:41. 8 Matt 28:1-10; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor 15:3-8. 9 “Media Bias and the Resurrection of Jesus” on ligonier.org. 10 1 Cor 15:55. 11 Christian Hope and the Future of Man (1980). 12 Luke 8:52. 13 John 11:11. 14 Acts 7:60, 13:36. 15 1 Thess 4:14-15.