My mother died over three years ago. Preaching her funeral sermon and standing by her graveside were the most difficult things I have had to do in life. A friend of mine reached out to me and said, “Nick, when you stand by your mother’s grave, remember this is resurrection ground.” Another friend comforted me with these words: “It’s at the graveside that we strengthen ourselves in the truth that the gospel really works.” My mother was a sincere and devoted follower of Christ. When Christ returns, she will rise from the dead unto eternal life. Right now she is “asleep in Jesus.”
When the Scriptures speak of the death of believers, they do so under the idea of “sleep.” Before raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus told the crowds “the girl is not dead but asleep” (Matthew 9:24). When He took His disciples to the grave of Lazarus, in order to raise His friend from the dead, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up” (John 11:11). And here in 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul says, “We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed” ( v. 51). Death for the believer is as if he or she is merely asleep because the certainty of the resurrection is the hope of God raising them to immortality.
Part of the resurrection awakening we await is for our departed loved ones in Christ to awaken to a transformed and glorified body. We will have the same bodies we have now, but they will be transformed into the likeness of the glorified Christ. When He comes, Jesus will impart the glory that is now His to those who are united to Him, whether in the graves or still alive on the earth when He returns. Scripture is clear that God will wake those who have fallen asleep in Jesus first, and then He will bring those believers who are still alive to Himself. Our frail, mortal, sinful flesh will be automatically made new, immortal, and sinless in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. How we should long for that day!
When the Scriptures speak of the hope of believers, it always does so by reminding us of these precious truths about the resurrection and glorification of our bodies. Whether it is the raising of those who sleep in Jesus, or the transformation of those who are still alive when He comes, we look with eager anticipation to that day. We long to be reconciled with those who have gone before us; but more than that, we long to be with them in the presence of Christ in glory.
Written by Nick Batzig