Getting older makes me think about death. A lot. So does the story of a rogue virus. So does the data on the vaccines. So does the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. So does the increase of euthanasia, abortion, and wildfires.
No matter what we think of anything going on around us, the human mortality rate is still at 100%. As God says in his Book, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”.
As I have grown in relationships over the years, one thing I have learned is that genuine attachment to people never grows old. I understand that loss of relationships can leave an elderly person so lonely they want to just be done with life. I understand that so many painful experiences with rejection can cause someone to lose the will to live. I can even appreciate that we may deteriorate so much in a physical way that we are unable to maintain any personal attachment to people at all and so the desire to be alive fades away.
However, genuine attachments with people never grow old. There is never a feeling that we’re done enjoying attachments with people and we’re ready to die. And, in many cases, even when an elderly loved-one can’t hang on any longer to physical life, those left behind never see it as a good thing that the attachments are gone.
With death threatening us from every direction, these words of the Creator stood out to me in wonderful comfort this morning: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
This is a scenario where Jesus was talking with people who thought they believed in him while he knew they did not. Jesus couldn’t leave them like that because then they would die in their sins while thinking they were good with God. Jesus had to direct them to the only way they could truly know that they had eternal life.
What stands out is the promise that people “will never see death” if they keep Jesus’ word. Keeping Jesus’ word is not switching from Old Testament Law to New Testament Law. It cannot be performed by outward behavior alone. Jesus’ word is about loving one another as the Triune God loves us, so only when the love in the vine flows into and through the love of the branches is someone truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus introduced this same theme by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Hearing Jesus’ word and believing what the Father says about his Son is what opens the door to eternal life. As a result of experiencing this kind of faith, we are no longer under the condemnation of judgment, but have already passed from death to life. Jesus meant that this is true even for all the millions of believers who have died while waiting for his return.
Jesus put this straight into the context of death when a man named Lazarus had passed away. Jesus told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” It is so clear that this does not mean Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that it would not end in death.
When Jesus went to the town where Lazarus had died, he told the sisters, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus was telling them that, when someone believes in him, they will either live even if they die, or live without ever dying. Both are possible; it simply depends on where anyone fits into the unfolding events of history.
The apostle Paul explained this quite clearly when he wrote that, because Jesus died and rose again,
we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The dead in Christ who rise first are those who fit Jesus’ words, “though he die, yet shall he live”. Those who are alive and are “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” are those who fit Jesus’ words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
It all says the same thing. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” We will never see death even if we die because our soul/spirit goes to be with Jesus. We will never see death if we are still alive at the return of Christ because we are simply taken up along with those who are raised from the dead. Either way, Jesus gives eternal life to all who believe in him.
In our day, when it is so evident that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” it is absolutely necessary to know the Savior who, “came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The way things are going in the world, it is entirely possible that the evil things perpetrated by one government after another could lead to my premature death. In that case, as Paul testified, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
At the same time, the way things are going in the world, Jesus could appear at any time. Some of us may be the ones who never see death but are gathered together with those who are raised from the dead. The key is that, “we will always be with the Lord.” And that is what really matters.
I started with the dire warning that, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”. However, what God says next is what gives hope to all who trust in Jesus Christ. God’s word continues, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Jesus will “deal with sin” with all those who have rejected him. But, for those who have received him, we can wait eagerly for his return. Either we will die before Jesus comes and immediately go be with him while waiting for our resurrected bodies, or we will be alive when he returns and go to be with him without passing through death.
Either way, there is coming a grand event of receiving glorified bodies in which we will forever be with our Savior in the presence of his Father and the joy of their Holy Spirit. Trusting in Jesus Christ now is all it takes to receive this incredible gift of grace forever.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)