I’ve been thinking a lot about my future recently. Maybe its because I ‘celebrated’ (if that is the right word) my 65th birthday at the weekend. I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest divide in the world in not between life and death but between our perceptions of life and death. The apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica writes,
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
What is the simplest way of distinguishing those who have hope and those who do not? I believe it has to do with how we view death and loved one who have died. Do we refer to them in the past tense or in the present tense?
When Jesus was tested by the Sadducees in Mark 12 about the resurrection, Jesus replied,
“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:24-27)
Notice Jesus refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense, because they are living even though they had died two thousand years before. This is the great divide. The apostle Paul elaborates on this in his letter to the Thessalonians I referred to above,
“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18)
Notice Paul refers to those who have died in the faith of Christ in the present tense. He says they are asleep and one day will return with Jesus so that we will be together with Jesus for ever. If we put our trust in Jesus, this is our hope. This gives us courage to persevere when life gets tough, especially when bereavement comes.
One of the greatest and most precious promises Jesus ever made was spoken at the graveside of his friend Lazarus.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
Do you believe this? One way to know whether you believe or not is to reflect on whether you still refer to loved ones who have died in the past tense or the present tense? This is the great divide, the final frontier.