THE RESURRECTION (His and Ours) Is Not An Asterisk
We covered the comforting of the bereaved in a short series elsewhere on this blog, but let me pause and offer a quick reminder of the place of resurrection in our hope. The mythology of the "immortal soul" (which we have also looked at in previous posts) and the simplistic "heaven/hell" traditional dichotomy have combined to distract us from great undoing of the curse on men and the creation.
When an undiluted understanding of the resurrection is appreciated, its glories rise above all other things.
The glory of the resurrection of Christ is the great undoing of the curse of Adam ("In Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" - 1 Cor 15:22). He died, but did not decay (first reversal) and then rose in an immortal body (final reversal). The "Last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45) is the first of many who will rise from the sleep of death (1 Cor 15:20,23).
WHEN we are resurrected, only THEN we can say "death where is thy sting? Grave where is thy victory?" (1 Cor 15:54-55)
William Tyndale notes this about the doctrine of "bodyless souls" in his answer to Thomas More,
"And I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine [1 Thess 4:13-15], if he had wist [known] it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that their dead should rise again. If the souls be in heaven, in as great glory as the angels, after your doctrine, shew me what cause should be of the resurrection)."
IOW, if joy and heaven and glory are experienced at the moment of death, the resurrection is then relegated to as asterisk. When we exalt the hope of our future resurrection as our ONLY hope, we exalt His resurrection above all else!
COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS
No one in scripture is ever comforted with any thought apart from the hope of a future resurrection. As we have seen, the great resurrection chapter, 1 Cor 15, speaks of the sleep of the dead and the conquering of death only in resurrection.
No parties in heaven. No water fights in the River of Life. No partaking of the Tree of Life before their time. As scripture says of David, the dead are dead and their bones are with us to this day. No one, apart from Christ has yet ascended (Acts 2:29; 34).
We ask the bereaved why they weep. The answer comes back, we weep because of our loss. This is true, but if knew that a loved one had been taken away to a glorious mansion in the south of France, living without a care, without sickness, without pain, enveloped in love and fully aware that we would be joining him soon... would we weep? Well, our understanding is limited, but the Lord's is not.
We tell the bereaved about life in a mansion, but the Lord speaks of death as sleep, with the promise of resurrection. He never suggests anything else.
OUR FRIEND LAZARUS SLEEPS
When Lazarus died, the Lord wept (Jn 11:35). When Lazarus' sisters are told by the Lord that they will see him again, they do not answer, "yes, when we die and go to glory!" No, they answer (correctly), that they will see him "in the resurrection." They wept. Jesus wept. Because Lazarus was dead (the Lord previously referring to his death as "sleep"). But we do not weep as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13), our hope is future, our hope is resurrection (1 Thess 4:14). It is a future hope that will be realized in resurrection.
That is the glory of the resurrection of Christ. It is not an asterisk. It is not just "proving" something. It is the great undoing of Adam's curse! It the hinge upon which all scripture swings.
Here is comfort, just as we do not sense time passing in sleep, so it is with death. We lay down in sleep and open our eyes as though no time has passed. Because He lives, we will live also! "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power." (1 Cor 6:14)
"We should learn to view our death in the right light, so that we need not become alarmed on account of it, as unbelief does; because in Christ it is indeed not death, but a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us release from this vale of tears, from sin and from the fear and extremity of real death and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment, as on a sofa, until the time when he shall call and awaken us together with all his dear children to his eternal glory and joy. For since we call it a sleep, we know that we shall not remain in it, but be again awakened and live, and that the time during which we sleep, shall seem no longer than if we had just fallen asleep. Hence, we shall censure ourselves that we were surprised or alarmed at such a sleep in the hour of death, and suddenly come alive out of the grave and from decomposition, and entirely well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life, meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the clouds . . . . Scripture everywhere affords such consolation, which speaks of the death of the saints, as if they fell asleep and were gathered to their fathers, that is, had overcome death through this faith and comfort in Christ, and awaited the resurrection, together with the saints who preceded them in death."
-Martin Luther A Compendium of Luther's Theology, edited by Hugh Thomson Ker, Jr., p. 242
(as quoted here: http://www.aloha.net/~mikesch/luther-tyndale.htm)