“And he [the thief] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” For the past several months my community group has been going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Through this study we have gotten to discuss and explore the Biblical basis for many different parts of our faith, and this past week one of the questions discussed was number 37, which deals with the benefits believers, at death, receive in Christ.
Up until last weekend, death was not a topic I had given much thought too. Maybe due to my age, or a general carelessness, the question of what exactly happens when we die had never crossed my mind with any seriousness. However, after reading through question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the issue was placed front and center:
37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.
Here the topic of what happens to believers at death is addressed directly, and the answer is divided into two halves: the first focusing on the spirit, and the second on the physical body laid in the ground.
A good passage to read to understand the first half of the answer is Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Here we see that Paul believes that at death he will be with the Lord Jesus Christ in paradise. This is in contrast with many views such as those of Roman Catholicism, ‘spirit sleep’, and the idea that we just cannot ‘know’ what will happen after death.
Whenever looking at the second half of the answer, a good explanation to understand the importance of the physical body being united to Christ in hope of a future resurrection can be found in 1 Cor. 15:12-14, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Here Paul demonstrates the importance of the physical resurrection. Unlike many religions, Christianity does not downplay or minimize the importance of the physical—after all God made man and woman with both souls and physical bodies in the beginning.
Death is something that men have feared for thousands of years, and yet the Bible shows us that God, in Christ, has made a way of life. By studying this catechism question, and more importantly the Biblical passages that it draws from, we are reminded even more of the love that God has shown us—a love that enshrouds his people now, in the grave, and ultimately to the end of times and the resurrection.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11