Paul addresses his readers’ confusion about death. He shares a wonderful hope that the world doesn’t have. He also lets them know that the dead will be given special honor at Jesus’ return.
This is a passage where we could sit and debate theology but I don’t want to. I’m going to throw out a couple of scenarios that I have heard proposed regarding our text and let you take from them what you will. I will also throw out a couple of questions to maybe make you think about the different possibilities.
The main point Paul is making here is that those who die, when they are believers in Christ, are not lost to us. We will see them again because God will raise them up when He sends Jesus back for us. God even gives them the honor of being first when Jesus calls His family home.
Our text focuses on believers who have died. I think we can all agree on that. The first thing Paul addresses is that we don’t have to be sad, grieve, like those who have loved ones die who are not believers. We have a hope! That is the MOST important point shared here and the one that is indisputable.
But what about the logistics of this passage. When does the person’s spirit meet Jesus? Are they raised physically from the grave? What will we look like? I don’t have absolute answers to these questions but I want to talk about them anyway.
I have heard it said that the person who dies, their spirit waits until the rapture to finally meet Jesus but that they won’t notice the time delay. I have also heard it said that they go to Heaven right away. In Luke’s telling of the crucifixion story he shares the account of the thief who recognized Jesus’ deity. He asks Jesus to remember him and Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This lends credence to the second argument but there is another passage where Peter tells us, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). So was Jesus using God’s “day” or ours when He made the thief that promise? I’m hoping for the “meet Him immediately” scenario myself.
The second question of being raised physically from the grave is interesting to me. “Are we raised physically from the grave?” One debate that this has sparked is cremation or not for the body after death. Those who abdicate for no cremation do so on the basis that they want something for God to raise up in the resurrection. My question is, if you think you need actual remains, what about people who died so long ago that there is nothing left of their bodies? God Himself told Adam that his body would return to dust; “From dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Our bodies eventually decompose to nothing. We become worm food. Even bones decay but at a much slower rate than the rest of the body. If God had to have the physical pieces of each of us to resurrect us, would He have to know where each particle had been moved by the insects, worms and such? Imagine all the pieces flying back together in the air. Kind of like Star Trek’s transporter. Couldn’t He put burnt particles back together just as easy? On the other side of this is the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones. God used what was on hand in the valley and reanimated it. He used the bones that were on hand and then recreated the rest of the tissue and the living breath. Ezekiel’s language leaves me wondering if this was a dream in the Spirit world or an actual valley. If the second, what became of the new “bodies” after God was through with His object lesson?
The last question I posed is, “What will we look like?” I think this speaks more to will we have physical bodies or spirit bodies? Both the living and the previously dead will change in an instant. So how will that work? For this answer I went to GotQuestions.org. My understanding of their answers is that our body will be both physical and spiritual. Our physical bodies will no longer be corruptible or hold our spiritual bodies back. It will not be bound by our current laws of nature. Our spiritual bodies will be primary as they are the “living” part of us that Jesus birthed. No more sin. No more pain. No more death. And top of the list, able to be in God’s presence all the time. I’m looking forward to trying on that body!
Father God, thank You for making plans for me that are eternal. It would be easy to doubt eternity if You hadn’t given us some clues to it. I’m sure there are MANY more questions that will be answered when I’m on Your side of eternity. Thank You Lord Jesus for giving us a hope. Without Your work on the cross I would have ended there, or would have wished I had. I don’t even want to think about my body being in eternity without You. The opposite destination is NOT somewhere I want to wind up. Yes, Heaven is real and Hell is still HOT. Thank You that Heaven is my destination and that You have been working on a special bench just for us.
Father God, help my children recognize the choice they face and the facts of not choosing wisely. Help them choose life! I want a hope for them.