What he means, of course, is that he feels secure in knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain. To die means to live in the presence of Jesus. What concerns him is what the process of dying will involve. When I hear him say that, I agree with him.
What will death be like? What will happen when I die? What is the transition?
Years ago, Peter Marshall gave the analogy of a child playing in the evening among her toys. (Today, it would be as she plays with an iPad.) She has had a wonderful, busy, exhausting day playing and enjoying life. As her fatique increases, she slowly drops her head on the floor and is fast asleep. She doesn’t know that she has gone to sleep. She does not know that her father has picked her up and taken her to her bed. All she knows is that she wakes up refreshed the next morning to soft sheets and bright light. (adapted from Dallas Willard, “The Divine Conspiracy,” p. 87).
That’s the way it will be for a Christian.
No wonder Paul asked the penetrating questions (almost a taunt of death): “Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). In the same chapter, Paul described death for the Christian as sleep.
Paul knew we will not all sleep (some of us will be alive on earth when Christ returns), but we will all be changed. The return of Christ will be sudden and immediate (1 Cor. 15:51).
Paul used sleep as a description for the death of a Christian in 1 Thessalonians as well. Paul addressed the question of what happens to a believer who dies before Jesus returns. Does he miss out? Lose the benefits of Christ’s death? Now, after the writing of the Scripture those seem to be childish questions, but they were real concerns to the church at Thessalonica.
Paul told the church that those who die are not at any disadvantage. We should not be ignorant about those who “fall asleep.” God will bring with Jesus those “who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thess. 4: 13-14).
Somehow, even the process of dying does not seem so daunting, knowing that to die is gain and that Christ has prepared everything for us.
Paul ended his answer to the church in Thessalonica by telling them to encourage one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:18).
We should do the same, knowing that everything about us is in God’s hands–even our death. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
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