Where Have They Gone?
What Are They Doing There?
ďSo I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.Ē†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † †-- Ecclesiastes 4:1-2
The wise man, Solomon, after considering ďall the oppressions that are done under the sun,Ē the tears of the oppressed in this world, the power of those who oppress, and the fact that there is no comfort for Godís saints in this world of woe, said, ďI praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.Ē In the Book of Revelation, we read a similar statement. -- ďBlessed are the dead which die in the LordĒ (14:13).
††††† Yet, when you and I go to the funeral home and graveside to bid our loved ones good-bye, we are filled with sorrow and weeping. Why is that so? If the one God has taken is an unbeliever, the grief and sorrow is understandable . Those who die without Christ die under the wrath of God! If our sorrow is the sorrow of parting friends, that, too, is understandable. None of us like to part with cherished friends and loved ones. But if the sorrow is the sorrow of those who have no hope, uncontrollable anguish, or even anger at God for having taken someone we love, that is neither understandable nor excusable. Such sorrow reveals both ignorance and unbelief: ignorance of the blessed state of Godís saints in heaven, and unbelief regarding the Word of God, the promises of the gospel, and the finished work of Christ. †††† Godís saints in heaven, our departed friends are alive and well. Though their bodies have died and been laid in the earth, they are more alive and full of happiness than ever.
First, I want you to see from the Word of God that the soul of a redeemed sinner, immediately after death, enters into heaven, into a state of everlasting happiness. †††† It is not my intention to answer the foolish questions of infidels and heretics. Neither will I allow myself to be sidetracked by the foolish speculations of ignorant men and women about life after death. My purpose in this study is threefold: I want toÖ
1. Comfort and instruct Godís saints.
2. Persuade sinners to seek Christ.
3. And honor God in the process.
Therefore, everything I have to say about the wonder of immortality will be written with utter simplicity, appealing to no authority but the Word of God.
††††† You and I are men and women with immortal, undying souls. Though these bodies must die and rot in the earth like the brute beasts, our souls will exist forever. As soon as you die your soul will enter into a state of endless happiness or misery. Man does not die like a dog. When your dog dies, thatís all. It ceases to be. But when you die, that is not all. Your soul lives on, not in a state of sleep, insensitivity, and inactivity, but in the fulness of life and consciousness. Therefore, our Lord urges this question: -- ďWhat will it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?Ē
††††† The souls of believers, redeemed sinners, men and women who have been made righteous before God by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, the souls of Godís saints return to God at death. Our departed brothers and sisters, as soon as they closed their eyes in death, opened them again in glory. There they shall remain until the second coming of Christ. And when Christ comes again in his glory, he will bring them all with him, raise their bodies from the dust, and reunite their bodies and souls in resurrection glory. Believers yet living when Christ comes shall then be changed, glorified, and caught up into glory. And we shall forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
††††† I will not now say anything about the horrible state of the wicked and unbelieving after death. They shall immediately, as soon as they close their eyes in death, wake up in the torments of hell. O sinner, how I wish you could realize that. The wrath of God is upon you. If you die without Christ, you must be forever damned! To die without Christ is to die without hope! But for the believer, things are different. The believer, as soon as he dies, is alive forever. His soul goes immediately home to God in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-9).
††††† The Word of God, when speaking of the believerís death, always represents it as an immediate entrance into heavenly blessedness and glory. Actually, for the believer, death is not death at all, but the beginning of life. Our Lord said, ďWhosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never dieĒ (John 11:26). Godís elect never die! The death of the body is the liberty of the soul. And as soon as our souls are freed from this body of sin and death, we shall enter heaven.
††††† When the righteous perish from the earth they live in uprightness forever (Isa. 57:1-2). The righteous are those men and women who are born of God, made righteous by grace: in justification by imputed righteousness and in regeneration by imparted righteousness. When the righteous die, they are taken away from evil. They enter into a world of peace. They rest in their beds. Their bodies are in the grave. Their souls rest in the arms of Christ (Heb. 4:9-11). They walk in their uprightness. God reckons the righteousness of Christ imputed to us to be our righteousness. And he makes it ours. In heaven, our departed brethren walk in their uprightness, in spotless purity and holiness, in shining robes of bliss and glory.
††††† As soon as a believer dies, he is carried by Godís angels into heaven, Abrahamís bosom, the place of endless comfort (Lk. 16:22-25). ďAbrahamís bosomĒ was a Jewish expression referring to the place of heavenly happiness prepared for Godís saints between death and the resurrection.
††††† Every believing sinner, as soon as he dies, is taken to be with Christ in Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Paradise is heaven, the garden of God (Rev. 2:7). It is the third heaven into which Paul was raptured for a brief visit (2 Cor. 12:2-4), during his pilgrimage here. Paradise is the place of the divine majesty, the place of happiness, pleasure, and endless delight. It was to Paradise that Christ went as soon as he died, to obtain eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:12). It is a place of assured blessedness, promised to sinners who seek the mercy of God in Christ. Our Lord Jesus said, to the dying thief, ďToday (immediately) shalt thou (assuredly) be with me (in endless company in paradise.Ē
††††† Death for the believer is gain, infinite, immeasurable gain (Phil. 1:21, 23). Paul believed that, as soon as he departed from this world, he would immediately be with Christ in blessed communion. Believing the Word and promise of God, he looked upon death as a desirable thing.
††††† What is the state of the saintís life between death and the resurrection? I will not say more than the Bible says; but this much I know: The souls of Godís saints are not floating around in the sky. They have gone to a specific place, where Christ is. They are assembled as a glorified church (Heb. 12:22-23). Their souls exist in a recognizable form (Luke 16:23;Matt. 17:3).
††††† Do Godís saints in heaven have a body between death and the resurrection? -- A physical body? - No. -- A spiritual body, a heavenly form, a house for their souls? - Most definitely (2 Cor. 5:1). Every believer, as soon as he leaves this body enters into heavenly glory with Christ. It is this assurance of heavenly glory and bliss that makes death a desirable thing for the believer.
For the believer the death of his body and the freeing of his soul is a welcome relief (Phil. 1:21-23; Rev. 14:13). While living in this world, we seek to be content with Godís good providence. We want to glorify him by living before him in faith, resigning all things to his will. We would not change our lot in life, even if we could. Our heavenly Father knows and always does what is best.
††††† I am not weary of life. I cannot imagine a man in this world having a happier, more tranquil, blessed life than I have. I am blessed of God with a loving, devoted wife and family. I have the blessed privilege of being a part of a gospel church in the sweet fellowship of Christ. I am honored to be a preacher of the gospel. But life in this world, at best, is a burden to the heaven born soul. In this tabernacle we groan (2 Cor. 5:1-4). We groan for life! Our hearts cry, ďO wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death!Ē -- In this body we struggle with sin. In heaven we shall be free from sin! In this body we are tempted and often fall. In heaven we shall never be tempted and shall never fall. -- In this body we weep much. In heaven we shall weep no more. -- In this body we long to be like Christ. In heaven we shall be like Christ. -- In this body we long for Christís presence. In heaven we shall forever be with Christ! I have many friends in heaven whom I dearly love. I miss them. I do not sorrow for them; but, oh, how I envy them! ††† When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in a pack of wolves, when a fish is happy on dry land, then, and not until then, will my soul be happy in this body of flesh! Death for this man will be a welcome relief (Psa. 17:15).
A Real Place
I have shown you from the Scriptures that Godís saints, as soon as they die, enter into heaven, and that death for the believer is a welcome relief. I have already shown you that our departed friends have gone to heaven. They have not gone to purgatory. They are not asleep. Our friends who have left us are in heaven. But where is heaven? That is a question I cannot answer. God has not told us. Heaven is a place somewhere outside this world, somewhere outside time. But it is a place, a real place.
††††† Heaven is the place where Christ is. Heaven is the place to which he has promised to bring us (John 14:1-3). Heaven is the place where our departed friends are right now (Heb. 12:22-23). Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. In these eight verses Paul tells us four things about the believerís death and entrance into heaven.
1. Death is the dissolving of this earthly body. This body is of the earth. This body is only suitable for the earth. This body must return to the earth. And the dissolution of this body is no cause for sorrow. It will be like taking off a shoe that hurts my foot, a welcome relief! It will be like laying aside a tool that is no longer needed. It will be like tearing down a tent to move into a house.
2. In heaven, we shall have another house for our souls. ďIn my Fatherís house are many mansions,Ē houses, dwelling places. Our heavenly house shall be a house not made with hands, a house prepared by Christ, a house suitable to our glorious life.
3. As soon as this earthly tabernacle is dissolved, we shall enter that house Christ has prepared for our souls in heaven. There will be no lapse of time, no delay between the dissolving of this body and our entrance into our house in glory.
4. This is not a matter of conjecture, but of certainty. Paul says, ďWe know.Ē We know these things by the revelation of God in Holy Scripture, by the earnest of the Spirit (v. 5), and by faith in Christ (v. 7).
††††† What happens to the believer after death? Do you ask me, ďWhere have our departed friends gone?Ē They have gone to heaven. They have gone home. They have gone to be with Christ!
What are Godís saints doing in heaven? †††† The Scriptures speak sparingly with regard to the saintsí employment in heaven; but these five things are plainly revealed in the Book of God.
1. Godís saints in heaven are celebrating and adoring the perfections of God in Christ (Rev. 5:11-12; 7:11-12). Yonder, in Glory Land, redeemed sinners, heavenly saints, ever celebrate and praise the triune God for his glorious holiness, omnipotent power, infinite wisdom, covenant goodness, saving grace, invariable faithfulness, and everlasting love!
2. Godís saints in heaven are delightfully employed in beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ (John 17:24). Oh, my soul, what will it be to behold the glory of our Redeemer? We shall forever behold him as he is, with a constantly increasing knowledge of him. Heaven is the Garden of God where the Rose of Sharon is in full blossom; and the fragrance of it perfumes the whole place. Heaven is to behold Christ forever, never taking our eyes off him, and never wanting to.
3. Godís saints in heaven are employed in the constant exercise of every spiritual grace. Faith ceases because it is no more needed. Hope is no more because the saints in heaven have their hope fulfilled. But love never ends. There all Godís children truly love one another perfectly.
4. Godís saints in heaven are employed in the unending service of Christ (Rev. 7:14-15). They are engaged in prayer (Rev. 6:10). They sing the songs of grace to the praise of God, ever celebrating Godís electing, redeeming, regenerating, justifying, sanctifying, preserving grace in Christ.
5. Godís saints in heaven are engaged in constant, uninterrupted fellowship, communion, and conversation with one another and with the holy angels. We cannot here even begin to imagine what the conversations of saints and angels must be around the throne of God; but this much is sure: -- They speak constantly about Christ and the rich, free grace of God in him.
††††† Make certain that you are in Christ. Take comfort with regard to those who have gone to heaven. Be assured that our weary, troublesome lives will end soon; and they will end well (2 Cor. 4:17 - 5:1). A God given and God sustained faith in Christ is not only sufficient to enable the most feeble believer to overcome the corruptions of the flesh, the allurements of the world, and the temptations of the devil, but also to give him an easy, triumphant passage through death into glory (Ex. 15:16-18). In a sense, faithís last work shall be its greatest. When we are leaving this world, our bodies may convulse with pain, physical unconsciousness may set in, and we may have many spiritual struggles. Yet, once our souls are freed from this body of flesh, we shall be blest with such a sight and sense of our blessed Redeemer as we never had and never could have in this mortal state (Acts 7:55).
††††† ďSo I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.Ē