Scripturally Comforting the Bereaved - Part 1
Understand that the dead are dead
How do believers in the Bible comfort the bereaved?
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. -John 11
What could the Lord have meant by saying that this sickness was “not unto death”? As we shall see, Lazarus surely died in the flesh. The Lord Himself tells us that Lazarus is dead. Was the Lord Jesus wrong? Of course not! Let’s continue and see what He was saying.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
Right in the middle of this passage concerning Lazarus’ sickness, we have this pronouncement from the Lord. I think there are two things that are being focused upon here.
First, those who sought to stone Him do not frighten Him for He knew that no man could take His life (Jn 10:18). He had the power over life and death (the central theme of the bible). His great pronouncement that He is the resurrection and the life was coming!
Second, he knew that Lazarus had “light in him.” The disciples needed to see with spiritual eyes (cp Eph 5:14):
- The mob could not kill him before His time.
- Lazarus was “asleep in Christ.”
These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
Where was Lazarus at this point? Was he off somewhere in bliss, resting in "Abraham’s Bosom" enjoying the blessings that he did not have in life? Would that not be a cause of rejoicing?
Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
Notice that no one comforts the sisters by assuring them that Lazarus was resting in bliss with Abraham. Perhaps the Lord will. Read on...
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
The compassionate Lord Jesus does not comfort her with thoughts of a "bodiless rest." He comforts her with the great promise of God, the resurrection of the righteous unto true life. There is absolutely no hint of a resting in Abraham’s Bosom or a blissful, bodiless soul. (And the idea of the dead already having their new bodies is contradictory to 1 Cor 15.)
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live…
Martha goes where we rarely go today: to the FUTURE resurrection! She does not believe that she will join her brother in Abraham’s Bosom or in a bodiless state in heaven. No, she says that she will see him when they are BOTH resurrected “at the last day.” The Lord Jesus does not correct her and say “No, you’ll see him in Abraham’s Bosom” or “You’ll see him in heaven.” He affirms her belief and states that HE is the resurrection and the life. All hope is in and in the resurrection and the immortality only he makes possible.
If one is a believer, though he may be dead (present state), he will live (future state). That’s it. That is the GLORY of the resurrection. That is what makes our Lord’s resurrection such a victory. He conquered the grave! He did not see corruption in the grave! Both Peter and Paul make this point central to their doctrine of Christ (Acts 2, Acts 13). We rob from that victory by teaching that bodiless “souls” enjoy bliss apart from resurrection.
Adam brought death upon us all (Rom 5:12); Christ brings the undoing of death, resurrection! And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. Well, do you believe this? The Lord Jesus was affirming that while Lazarus "died" and was "asleep" (made synonymous all through scripture), his life was hid in Christ. Lazarus was at the same time dead, asleep and alive. He was all of these things as he lay in the grave.
When Mary went to the tomb of the Lord Jesus she was asked by the angel “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” He then told her “I know you seek Jesus.” Mary wept because “they have taken my Lord.” Note she didn't say "It doesn't matter, he's with the Lord!" This was three days after His death. The “Holy One” spoken of by David was the Lord Jesus (cp. Acts 2). It was the Lord Jesus who did not see corruption in the tomb. It was Mary’s Lord who was laid in the tomb. It was Jesus after whom they were seeking.
Now, if there was anyone who could have comforted himself with the notion that Lazarus was enjoying bliss with the Father, it would have been the Lord Jesus. He could have assured Lazarus' sisters with that idea... but he does nothing of the sort. He wept because Lazarus was dead.
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
Jesus does not look for Lazarus anywhere else but in the tomb. He gives no comfort but the hope of resurrection. He speaks to the decaying body of Lazarus and not to a bodiless soul in someplace called "Abraham’s Bosom" (which history has shown was a creation of the Pharisees based on Greek mythology and which does not fit the witness of the scripture). He never says, “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (because it’s unscriptural). Resurrection is the hope he offers, and what a glorious hope it is!
THE YOUNG MAID
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples... And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.
Here again, no words of comfort about “Abraham’s Bosom.” And again we do not have the Lord ripping this girl from a place of comfort, rest and bliss and putting her back into a dying body (for this flesh is both corruptible and mortal). He says nothing of this because the state of the righteous dead is “as” sleep (it is not sleep, but it is similar to sleep). The life spirit returns to God who granted it and the body goes back to dust. Who we are (we do not "have" souls, we "are" souls) is kept in God.
THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
This was the testimony of the OT saints as well.
What was Job’s hope?
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me…
Again, how shall he “see God”? In his flesh. He DOES NOT SAY that even though the worms destroy his body, he will "see God in a bodiless form." No, he clearly tells us when he will see his redeemer: For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth… Job will see the Lord on the earth at his (Job’s) resurrection. That is his hope.
What does the Bible say of David’s death?
So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David . - 1 Kings
[Peter preached] Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. - Acts 2:29 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. - Acts 2:34-35
What did David say of David’s death?
“I go the way of all the earth."
And what did David tell us in the Psalms?
The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.
The Lord Jesus Himself tells us:
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
David told us that the dead don't praise God. Peter told us that David is dead at the time of Pentecost (after the cross) and that he "is not ascended."
The Bible comforts believers with the idea of resurrection.
The reason this topic is so important is because current teaching in Christian churches robs from the resurrection. It robs from what Christ accomplished in the grave and on the third day and it turns our own resurrection into a footnote. No, the conquering of the grave in resurrection is the victory (and not before)!! Men like William Tyndale (and even Luther) wrote vehemently against the idea of "immortal" souls floating around in the netherworld.
“And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection.... And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good case as the angels be? And then what cause is there of the resurrection? ... The true faith putteth [setteth forth] the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put [set forth] that the souls did ever live.” -William Tyndale An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue (Parker's 1850 reprint)
They knew that such mythology would only bring confusion. Look, if we understood that death is an "enemy" (1 Cor 15:26) and the penalty for sin (Rom 6:23), we'd never be bothered with such things as "Theistic Evolution." It is "immortal, bodiless, souls" that make such anti-biblical notions possible.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” - Gen 2
No warning of "fiery torment." Death is the penalty ("the soul that sinneth, he shall die"). Have we bought the lie of the serpent? We are mortal and corruptible beings. The only way out is to "put on immortality" and "put on incorruption" in resurrection (1 Cor 15). The idea that souls do not die, is from the evil one.
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die." - Gen 4
In my next entry, we'll look at Paul's way of comforting the bereaved and see how common beliefs about the Lord's own resurrection leave us with the conclusion that the Lord Jesus is Himself his own Trinity! Of course, he is not. We'll take a step back from tradition and continue to examine the scriptures.