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The Dead in Christ


"The Dead in Christ"

August 25, 2012


The Assurance and Security of “The Dead in Christ.”

Not only in Paganism, but even within Judaism there were divergent views on the subject of the dead, their fate, and what was in store for them. Such differences became the basis for various Jewish sects, movements, and religious divisions ---  all professing to embody the true religion or faith of Abraham. Acts 23:8 confirms this specifically on the resurrection:  “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both…”

It was foundational to Paul that Christ was crucified and had risen.  He writes in I Corinthians 15:  “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins…But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.”  I Corinthians 15: 17,18, 20. Paul is confident. Christ was crucified on Passover; Christ risen on the day of the feast of First fruits. Looking ahead, Paul was confident the Scripture established that He was coming again.  But what became of those who died before His return. What assurance did they have? Two passages help us through their clarity:

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”  I Thessalonians 4: 16, 17
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”  I Corinthians 15: 51, 52
As conqueror, Christ exercises authority and dominion over all realms of existence, history, and life experience, even the grave.  This is the “All power given to (Him) in heaven and in earth” Matthew 28:18. Through faith, having assumed fallen humanity, Jesus lived a holy life, resisting temptation by faith.  Through the Spirit he let the Father work in Him, and never yielded to temptation while facing all the conspiratorial assaults and powers of Satan and the fallen angels, the world, and the governmental and religious authorities.  Jesus conquered the powers of darkness, laying down his life at Golgotha. He condemned sin in the flesh, even “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and brought life and immortality to light. His resurrection confirmed the holiness of his life, his performance, his obedience, his character, and his submission to the will of His Father and His God. 

The Blessed Hope of the Christian therefore stands out distinct from all others.  Unlike many Pagan views of Paul’s era, the dead who knew Christ, who believed in Christ, did not pass hopelessly into oblivion.  Upon dying, they entered into a rest where there life is hid with God in Christ. This blessed hope of the second coming includes the resurrection of the believer in Christ.  It is the third part of the main elements of the gospel; those three aspects being 1) the historical facts of the gospel planned from the foundation of the world and fulfilled in the incarnate Christ (I Corinthians 15: 3,4) ; 2) the fruit of the gospel in the life of the believer (including the peace, the rest for the heavy laden,  and new birth of justification by faith, and the sanctified life by faith);  and 3) the blessed hope of the gospel (the second coming of Jesus Christ, the finishing of the mystery of the God, Rev. 10:7.)

So we see that much of the clarity needed in regard to the dead in Christ is derived from a clear understanding of the cross of Christ. Paul believed that Jesus Christ’s resurrection served to establish the faith and hope of those seeking a true deliverer. He was indeed the Messiah fulfilling the words of the prophets. Beyond political deliverance, he established that He was the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 5). So when Paul writes to the Thessalonians concerning those who are asleep, he says that he does so on sound authority, “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (or come before)  them which are asleep….”  I Thessalonians 4: 15.

John wrote later in Revelation,  “I am He that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (the grave) and death.” Revelation 1: 18. We must note the exceeding greatness of His power: Christ not only had the key --- through his holy life, His death, and His resurrection --- but he used the key that he might lead captivity captive or as stated in the NIV “When he ascended on high he took many captives…” Ephesians 4: 8.

 “Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom: and the earth did quake and the rocks rent: And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection and went and appeared unto many.”  Matthew 27: 50-52
This is the Word of God, and Paul wants the Thessalonians to receive it, believe it, understand it and make it the basis of their hope on the resurrection, the state of the dead, and all of their faith. Similarly, even within the body of believers in Jesus as the Messiah and the Way, after his resurrection, there was a need for clarity particularly among those who were not fully taught.  No wonder a key part of the commission of Matthew 28 was to “teach” and (to continue)  “teaching.” This is what Paul was doing with the Thessalonians.

Those who died before, they too had a hope in Christ. His salvific work in his life, death, and resurrection covers all of humanity, as he took all humanity to himself. He bore our sins in his body on the tree, I Peter 2: 24. The benefits of his death and resurrection did not wait to begin after his death and resurrection, but were ours from the foundation of the world. Since the fall, every human has been able to experience the fruit of the life and the promise of the immortality which Jesus the Messiah brought to light through his gospel as the Lamb of God.

Nevertheless, it is clear that for all these brothers and sisters of the faith, who died in the Lord, including the Thessalonian believers, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”  Hebrews 11: 40

-Michael Horton