Whats it like to be dead?

1 Thessalonians 4

13Brothers 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. 14For 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. 15According 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. 16For 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. 17After 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. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Last week we came home via Wauchope so we could visit our friend of over 50 years, Phil Baker.  Parkinson's disease has progressed so far as to leave him extremely disabled and helpless.  This is compounded by melanoma which includes a tumour in his brain.  Any further treatment is not practical. He is as comfortable as possible and beautifully cared for in the nursing home.

Phil is dying. 

I am reminded of our visit to our brother-in-law, David, when he was receiving palliative care. Treatment of the cancer which was attacking him had reached its limit.

He asked me to wheel him out in a wheelchair so he could go out in the fresh air and sunshine.  He loved the feeling of a breeze blowing.  He had a question he wanted to discuss with me. He asked me, “Ken, what it will be like to be dead?”

Benjamin Franklin pointed out that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

At this stage of my life I no longer pay taxes so that leaves me only one certainty to go.

David’s question wasn’t irrelevant to him.  I don’t think it’s irrelevant to anybody. 

In addition, I don’t think it’s morbid to think about dying or being dead, and neither does the Bible. In today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 Paul wrote to encourage Christians so positively.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

When someone dies, of course we grieve for them.  We love them.  We miss them. We are so powerless to overcome the separation. The grief lasts, the memories, the joys, the regrets haunt us.

But because we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with Jesus those believers who have died.

The situation is not hopeless. Far from being hopeless we have a sure and certain hope.  

Others, who don’t believe that Jesus died and rose again have no hope - but we have confidence, assurance, comfort knowing that death is not a hopeless, useless darkness.

We know that Jesus will return in his resurrected body and you will be there in yours.

This has been understood as far back as  Job in the Old Testament

(Job 19:25-27) For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  

Notice what Job already knew: that his Redeemer lives and that his Redeemer will stand on the earth, and when that happens, Job will see God with his own eyes.  

Job is talking about the physical here: My eyes! My flesh! I will see God! And all this will happen when my Redeemer, who lives, stands upon the earth. You will see God as truly as you see the person in front of you right now.

In Romans 8 Paul wrote, we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

We do our best, along with some help from modern medicine, to keep our bodies going.  We are increasingly aware that there has been some deterioration, some wear and tear, some ageing. The good news here is that our bodies will be redeemed, won back and in good order.

And in Philippians we read, But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

That, too, is so encouraging!  Our less than ideal bodies will be transformed to be like the resurrected, glorious body that Jesus has.

There are some people who can tell you about what are called near-death experiences. All those people may have been very close to death yet never dead and buried. None of them were raised from death from their grave. And even after those experiences real physical death is still inevitable for them all.

Now we come to the answer to the question that David asked, “what’s it like to be dead?”

To get the answer ask someone who has been there; ask someone who has been dead and then raised back to life, never to die again.

There is only one such person.  Jesus.

He was most definitely killed.  He died. Experienced Roman soldiers made sure of that.

His body was buried in a tomb which was sealed and supervised by professional guardsmen. Yet later he was seen in bodily form, an embarrassment to his killers and enemies but a joy and encouragement to his followers.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who had seven demons cast from her early in Jesus' ministry. She was one of a very close circle of family and friends who followed his ministry until he was killed by being crucified. Mary is the first human Jesus chose to reveal himself alive to.  Early one morning God brought him back from the dead, from his tomb. 

They had not expected to find the tomb open and Jesus’ body gone so they asked someone they thought was the gardener what they had done with Jesus. When he spoke to them they were amazed to see him alive.  They recognised him. 

In your resurrected body you can talk and are recognisable.

Jesus miraculously appeared to two men while they are walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 - 33), a small village that was roughly 11 kilometres from Jerusalem. He chides them for not believing what the prophets foretold regarding the Messiah then explains to them all the Biblical verses that pertained to him.

The two men did not realize whom they are talking with until they stopped to eat. That moment 'their eyes were opened' and they realized it was Jesus they were talking with. He vanished from their sight! 

When resurrected your transformed body allows you to move, discuss, eat and make yourself known to others.

Jesus showed himself alive to those who participated in his last Passover meal. His miraculous manifestation occurs, after sunset, while the disciples are behind closed doors in fear of the Jews. For reasons unknown, the disciple named Thomas was not with the group at this time (see John 20:19). 

Closed doors don’t limit you when you are in your redeemed body.

After Christ leaves, the disciples tell Thomas that the Lord had appeared to them. Thomas doubts their words and states the following.

“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe at all” (John 20:25).

Jesus miraculously manifests himself again, after sunset, to his disciples, but this time Thomas is present (John 20:26 - 29). The Lord allows Thomas to observe the wounds he received in order to strengthen Thomas’s faith.

Now after eight days, His disciples again were hiding in a locked room and Thomas with them. Jesus came despite the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, "Peace be to you.”

Then He said to Thomas, "Put forth your finger, and see My hands; and reach out your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing . . . Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are the ones who have not seen, but have believed." (John 20:26 - 27, 29).

If it’s necessary for your resurrected body to show some scars then it will.

So Thomas was blessed because he had seen the resurrected Jesus but remember, “blessed are the ones who have not seen, but have believed.” That’s us.

At one occasion Jesus appeared to over five hundred brethren at one time after his resurrection (1Corinthians 15:6).

After partaking of his last Passover, Jesus told his eleven disciples (Judas was betraying him at the time) as they walked toward the Garden of Gethsemane, "But after I have been raised, I will go before you into Galilee". The Bible records this meeting did occur.

As instructed by Jesus after the last supper (Matthew 26:32) the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them to meet Him. And when they saw the resurrected Jesus, they worshiped Him; but some still doubted (Matthew 28:16 - 17).

Jesus showed himself to seven of his disciples while they are fishing on Lake Galilee. During this appearance Peter miraculously catches 153 fish in his net. That was when Jesus asked him three times if he loves him and Peter learns he will die a martyrs' death. 

Jesus made a special appearance to James his physical half-brother.. 

Finally, Jesus meets with the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1). He gives them, just before his ascension, what is referred to as the Great Commission. He also tells them they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples ask Jesus if he will now restore the kingdom to Israel. He states that it is not for them to know when this will occur and reminds them of the power they will soon receive from God at what we call Pentecost. He then blesses the disciples and begins to rise above the mount as he ascends to heaven.

In your resurrected body heaven is your home.

Two angels in white appear as the disciples gaze at the Lord lifting above the clouds. The angels tell them that Jesus will come back to the earth in the same way they saw him leave.

And after saying these things, as they were looking at Him (Jesus), He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

Now while they were gazing intently up into heaven as He was going up, two men in white apparel suddenly stood by them, who also said, "You men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, shall come in exactly the same manner as you have seen Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9 - 11).

Can you see how Jesus showed us what it’s like to be dead? It’s not so frightening after all, especially when you take into account the assurance that even when Jesus was taken up into heaven that this is not the end of the story.

He shall come again!

Read our passage again.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

When Jesus does return be assured you won’t miss it! The archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet will be unmissable.

This return of Jesus is just as clear in 1 Corinthians 15, Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

Those of us who have died will have their faith and patience rewarded and they will rise from the dead in their new, resurrected body. That’s why we are told to grieve for those who have died but to do so having been informed . That day when Jesus returns will herald the resurrection of dead Christians complete in their imperishable resurrected body.

Then those of us who are still alive that day be will also be transformed and caught up together with the others and together meet the Lord Jesus as residents of the new heaven and the new earth. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

It’s all too wonderful, too heavenly to grasp exactly how this works but we are assured this is going to happen.

Can you see this is a message of great comfort.  It is something to look forward to, something perfect.  We will have our new body and we will live in the new heaven and the new earth. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

It does seem strange talking about death and being dead.  Most people most of the time avoid the subject. Most people have no certainty about what it will mean for them. Most people think about it wishfully, even fearfully.

But as Christian believers we know what it means for us and other believers.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

We grieve, of course but we are comforted as we do so.

Because we are informed and because the situation is not hopeless we grieve, but not with the hopelessness that unbelievers must suffer. 

For them, “this is as good as it gets”.

Therefore, we can encourage each other with these words.  We are comforted by the hope, the assurance we have. We can deal with one of life’s inevitabilities; death, knowing it’s not the end, knowing the best is yet to come.


1445 Modified: 13-11-2023
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