“The resurrection of Christ has determined our existence for all time and eternity. We do not merely live out our length of days and then have the hope of resurrection as an addendum; rather…Christ’s resurrection has set in motion a chain of inexorable events that absolutely determines our present and our future. Christ is the first fruits of those who are his, who will be raised at his coming.”
This statement serves to set the death of a Christian in a context of resurrection life. We regard death as very much a thing in itself, and a thing to be feared. The New Testament sees it as the fulfilment of God’s purpose for us and the ushering in of a complete salvation where even death, our last enemy is overcome. In fact when he speaks of death Paul’s verb literally means death “is being destroyed” – it was defeated in the resurrection of Jesus and that defeat continues and is seen again in the death of every Christian entering into fullness of life.
Grudem has a magnificent passage dealing with why Christians die.  He makes five very helpful points. Death:
- is not a punishment for Christians. It is never the penalty of sin, although, of course, it may be the consequence of it or an act of discipline.
- is the final outcome of living in a fallen world. “In his great wisdom God decided he would not apply to us all the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work all at once. Rather, he has chosen to apply the benefits of salvation to us gradually over time…Similarly he has not chosen to remove all evil from the world immediately, but to wait until the final judgement and the establishment of the new heaven and new earth… In short, we still live in a fallen world and our experience of salvation is still incomplete.” As we have seen, the last part of the consequences of the fall to be destroyed is death.
- is part of the work of sanctifying us – making us like Jesus. Jesus himself was made perfect through suffering. “That death is not in any way a punishment for sin, but simply something God brings us through to make us more like Christ, should be a great encouragement to us. It should takeaway the fear of death that haunts the minds of unbelievers.”
- completes our union with Christ. We suffer with him in order to be glorified with him.
- reminds us that our obedience to God is more important than preserving our own lives. 
It is quite biblical to experience grief in bereavement, and the bereaved need special and skilled care. At the same time both our own death and that of friends and family members brings us into the immediate presence of Jesus with great joy. Death indeed has lost its sting. Of course, the death of unbelievers is different because there is no certainty that they are in glory. However, we are not the judges – that is in Jesus’ hands. We cannot tell how long someone persisted in their unbelief. I am sure we will have some unexpected encounters in heaven, so great is God’s grace.
On death the souls of believers go straight into the presence of Jesus. There is neither a period of refining (purgatory) nor do we sleep till Jesus comes. The Bible’s use of “sleep” in relation to death is simply a way of speaking about death that refers to the inactivity of the body. We live, serve and worship in fellowship with each other. However, this is not our ultimate destiny. There is more to come; there is “life after life after death”. We will have new glorious bodies like the resurrection body of Jesus and reign with him in the new, now united heaven and earth. This is the destiny of every Christian.
Such truths are obviously important when we face death, our own or someone else’s. Paul rightly says that we should encourage one another with reminders of our exciting future and glorious destiny.
- Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament on 1 Corinthians, p.760.
- 1 Corinthians 15:25.
- W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 810 - 812.
- Romans 8:1.
- 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 We should see the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 in this way.
- W. Grudem, E. Grudem, Jeff Purswell Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith.
- Hebrews 2:10. Also see Philippians 3:10.
- Hebrews 2:15.
- W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 812.
- Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 4:13; Philippians 3:10.
- Revelation 2:10; Revelation 12:11. See also article on persecution.
- 2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 14:13; Romans 8:38-39.
- 1 Corinthians 15:55-58.
- Philippians 1:23.
- Hebrews 12:22-24 suggests that there is still a relationship of the Church in heaven with the Church on earth in worship, referred to in the Apostles’ Creed as "The communion of saints".
- Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, p.160.
- Discipleship article on Glorification and the resurrection of the body.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:18