This is my third post about my grandpa since he went home. The first post included some reflections on his life and legacy. My second post focused on his life verse, Nahum 1:7. This post will deal with a question my mom has posed on more than one occasion since he died, namely, “what’s he doing now??” This is difficult because the Bible is for the most part vague with regard to the specifics of this question. However, it does provide enough to give us cause to rejoice and to long for the day when we too will be united with our Lord.
I have mentioned before that my initial reaction to the news of my grandpa’s death surprised me. Rather than initially feeling grief (which would soon come), a smile instinctively formed on my face. While this seems like a strange initial response, I think the reason is I immediately picture my granddad leaving his “body of death” in which he had suffered much, and meeting the savior for whom he endured faithfully to the very end. My grandpa LOVED Jesus with his whole being, and I think when those who know him think about that meeting it is nearly impossible not to smile. Not only is my grandpa’s pain gone, but he is experiencing the indescribable joy of meeting the Lord Jesus face to face. So, what I want to do is look at some of the passages that discuss my grandpa’s present experience.
2 Cor 5:6-9: “Therefore, being always courageous and knowing that at home in the body we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight; but we are courageous and we would rather be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. Therefore, whether at home or absent, we aspire to please him.”
Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live in the flesh, this for me is fruitful word, yet which would I choose I cannot say. I am hard pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and to be with Christ, for that is a whole lot better!”
Luke 23:43: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise!”
A couple of things are important:
1. There is a distinction between being present with the body (to live in the flesh) and to be absent from the body (to depart and be with Christ). Some people suggest that perhaps the soul “goes to sleep” until Christ returns and is thus in a state of unconsciousness until the resurrection. These passage seem to indicate that this cannot be the case. When someone dies, the “depart” to be with Christ, they are “absent from the body and at home with the Lord”, they are that very day “in paradise!”
2. To be with Christ is better! Not only is it better, it is a “whole lot better!” Philippians 1:23 uses a very emphatic phrase to make this point. To read it literally would be to say, “having the desire to depart and to be with Christ, for it is much more better.” Now you see why translators choose “far better/greater” instead! The point is that there is something wonderful to look forward to, and it is what my grandpa is experiencing right now. When Christ returns, he will wipe away the tears from all eyes, yet now he has already wiped them away from my grandpa’s. To be with Christ is far better.
But what about our activities? We can understand that my grandpa is in a better state, but does the Bible say anything about what takes place there? The book of Revelation gives us some images to consider:
Revelation 6:9-11 “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the alter the souls of those beheaded for the word of God and the witness they had borne. “They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
For reasons beyond the scope of this blog post, I believe the reference to “souls” in this passage to refer to all who have died in Christ, enduring to the end (Rev. 7:9; 22:14). So here we see a picture of those who have died in Christ which emphasizes their waiting. Though they have been perfected (Heb. 12:23) and are with Christ, there is something still to look forward to, namely the second coming of Christ, when the wicked will be judged and all will be resurrected. When Christ will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth to remain forever.
Revelation 20:4 “¶ Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
I should say that my grandpa had a different view of this verse then I do. (side note: I imagine he’s had a good chuckle regarding all the things we think we know while on this earth). Therefore, I don’t disagree with a man like my grandpa lightly, nevertheless, here I differ (although, I would say now we hold the same view!) Anyway, I believe this verse refers to those who have died and are with Christ. They are reigning with him in the heavenly places until he returns (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10. cf. Eph. 2:6). [We should remember that this is a difficult passage of Scripture that faithful believers can disagree on.]
Thus, these two passages indicate both a present reality and a future hope regarding those who are in heaven. They are presently reigning with Christ in a place that is far better than anything they have ever experienced. Yet they await their final vindication. When Christ will return, perfectly judge all things and usher in the age to come in its fullness. Then will the judgment take place, the resurrection and the putting away of all enemies, including death and Satan. Christ will then remove all pain and mourning from the earth, and wipe away all tears (Rev. 21-22).
However one reads this last verse, three things are absolutely certain. 1) My grandpa right now is with Christ; 2) His present state is far better than anything he’s ever experienced before; 3) He yet looks forward to Christ’s return, just as we do, when all wrongs will be made right and God’s dwelling place will be with his people.