Section 7: Salvation – Part 2
Week 4: Glorification
Day 2: Upon Death, the Believer’s Soul Enters into the Lord’s Presence
Death may not be part of God’s original design, but it certainly is part of our current experience. That, of course, raises the question: what happens when we die? It hasn’t been accepted by many throughout the history of the Church[i], but some have taught what is referred to as soul sleep. The basic idea is that we go into an unconscious state when we die, and we don’t “wake up” again until Christ returns. The Bible does occasionally refer to death as sleep. But when it does, the Bible is using “sleep” in a metaphorical way to signify that death is temporary.[ii]
Paul clearly does not think of death as an unconscious state. In Philippians, he reflects upon death, and says it is “better by far” because it means he will be with Christ. He says much the same thing in 2 Cor. 5:8 (being away from the body is tantamount to being with Lord). Nevertheless, he is content to go on with his life because he knows it involves fruitful ministry (Phil. 1:21-26). In what sense could falling into an unconscious state amount to being with Christ? Furthermore, how could that unconscious state be a better thing than the ministry Paul was doing?
Paul’s attitude toward death is shaped by an expectation that he will have the opportunity to consciously enjoy the Lord’s presence. That also seems to be the gist of what Jesus says to the thief on the cross. “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, emphasis added).
That truth is what gives us hope in the face of death. We know, on that very day, we will enter the Lord’s presence. And we know his presence is by far better than anything this sinful world has to offer.
What comes to mind when you think of death? Do share Paul’s assessment that it will be “better by far?” If not, why not?
Take a moment to imagine what it will be like to enter the Lord’s presence.
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House (1994), 819.