Death: A Magnificent Reward

Posted on May 30, 2017

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By David Ettinger

A Change of Perspective
hand skyMore than two decades ago, a young man from our church named Louie went home to be with the Lord. He was only 34, married, and had two young children. What made Louie’s passing so difficult for me to accept was that he was the godliest man I knew. He had a solid faith, remarkably intimate relationship with God, and was a lovingly bold witness for his Savior.

When Louie began his fight against cancer, most of us were certain he would overcome, either because of his youth or that God would work a miracle. The Lord, however, had different plans, and Louie left this world in the prime of life.

I struggled with this for a while, unsure of why God would “punish” such a valiant warrior of the faith this way. I saw Louie’s early passing as punishment; that, even for Christians, death was the ultimate penalty for sin. Then, a few weeks later, I read Isaiah 57:1-2, and it changed my perspective on Christianity and death. It reads: “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

On reading this, I thought, “Aha, this is why God took Louie so early! God was sparing this devout and righteous man from evil.” Or to put it another way, Louie’s early passing from this world was not a punishment at all, but a magnificent reward!

The Fear of Death
dark-cloudPeople have a natural fear of death because it is “the unknown.” For unbelievers, one’s guess is as good as another as to what happens once this life is over. For believers, the Bible tells us what comes next, but being mortal, we have no idea how to process our immortal fate.

Yet, we are better off than the Old Testament believers to whom death was dark, mysterious, and dismal. Job writes, “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave [Sheol] awaits me” (17:1). Nothing hopeful here; Job’s days were consumed by misery and, he was convinced, the misery would continue in death. Further, Job says, “If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in the realm of darkness …” (17:13). Notice the unmistakable tone of hopelessness and darkness. Death was certainly not desirable.

King David also lamented the prospect of death: “Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5). To David, there was no communication, worship, or praising of God. All contact between God and the deceased, he believed, was impossible. The Sons of Korah sound a similar note: “Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?” (Psalm 88:11). Again the grave, or Sheol (the Old Testament abode of the dead, both righteous and wicked) is seen as a place where the dead are separated from God; where communication with Him is nonexistent.

The Christian View of Death
hugIn contrast are two monumental truths spoken by Jesus. The first comes when Jesus tells His disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). The idea is that after mortal life, the destination for the immortal soul is warm and inviting, and Jesus is the one making the arrangements!

If you want a name for this place, Jesus says to the thief on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). If we know nothing else about this place, we know it is what Jesus called it: “Paradise.” This phrase serves as both a name and description.

What we learn from these two verses is that the place where departed believers in Christ go to is a paradise in which we have our own residence, arrive at just following death (“today”), and are forever in the presence of Jesus (“with me”). What an incredible destiny!

Not New
However, it did not take New Testament revelation to give us a marvelous view of the afterlife. Isaiah wrote 700 years earlier: “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (57:1-2).

exaltPart 1 tells us that most people regard death as natural and nothing of note. Yes, there is mourning, but death itself is the normal course of things; it “just is.” Part 2, however, tells us something else. To those who shrug off the death of righteous men and women, God says: “You don’t even realize that this is My special doing. I love this man and I desire to have him with me. He is too good a man to endure the nonsense of this world any longer; his place is in paradise with Me.”

Part 3 tells us that for the believer the rule of eternal paradise is “peace” and “rest.” According to Isaiah, “peace” and “rest” come as a result of being separated from evil and discord. Isaiah’s vision of the afterlife is far sunnier than those of Job and David, who must have been pleasantly surprised when they reached it.

A Magnificent Reward
If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior but worry about what awaits you when you leave this world, I hope this brief study has taken some of the sting out of your fears. It is clear that for the believer death is in no way punishment, but a magnificent reward for our faith in Christ. It will be a place of eternal peace, rest, and communion with Jesus.

You have much to look forward to!

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