“Why Do Believers Die?” ~ A Memorial Service Message
By Steven J. Hogan
The Bible talks about the rapture of the Christians living on earth at the return of Christ. Since we live in the end times, then we know it won’t be long before this great event takes place. But not all saints now presently living on earth will be raptured – there will be many who die, who will leave this earth and take that glorious and rapid ride to heaven before Christ’s 2nd coming. It is important then to have a Biblical understanding of a Christian’s death, and in particular we need to answer this question: why does a believer die?
The Bible gives us many good answers to this question. And these answers, I’m convinced, will ease some of the pain you may feel at the loss of a loved one, a close friend or a family member. Yes, it is good to grieve, but you don’t want to be too sad. Your grieving should not be dominated by sadness – there needs to be some Biblical gladness mixed in, a gladness that will sweeten some of your tears, that will give you hope, and even help you to be thankful for the departure of your loved one or friend. There are many Christians who do not properly understand God’s perspective on the death of a believer. It is imperative then to know what the Bible says on this subject, because death for every believer is an absolute certainty, except for that remnant that will still be alive at the coming of Christ.
The following Biblical reasons for why believers die are ones that I’ve often shared at memorial or funeral services through the years, and I believe have comforted and encouraged many people, and I believe will comfort and encourage you as well.
The believer’s time on earth was finished. Psalm 139:17 – “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Job 14:5 – “Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with you. And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” God had already determined the exact days, months, and years that the believer was to live on this earth. They had been specifically ordained by God, and had come to an end. Therefore, this believer’s time on earth was up, and God, in accordance with His eternal plan, needed to bring the believer home to heaven, and not one day sooner, or one day later. And as believers, we need to always submit to the will of God, even in the loss of a loved one or friend.
The purpose and work of the believer on earth was finished. Acts 13:36 – “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep.” All the work that God wanted the believer to do on earth was done, and there was nothing more for him to accomplish. God knew exactly what this believer was to do, and if the person passed away, then obviously, his work on earth had been completed. Death then was the door this believer had to take to get to heaven, and the means by which his eternal life and eternal work for God could continue in a much greater and more glorious way.
God wanted the believer home in heaven with Him. Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” God the Father wanted His child to come home, for He had determined that it was better for the believer to be with Him in heaven than to be with us on earth. We need to see a believer’s death from God’s perspective, for while we may have wanted the believer to stay, God wanted him home, and who are we to argue with God? For God’s purposes and for God’s glory, and for the good of the believer, it was necessary for the believer to leave us and go home to heaven.
God wanted the believer to be with other believers in heaven. Numbers 20:24 – “Aaron will be gathered to his people.” A believer usually has Christian friends on earth, but this verse means that he was gathered to be with believing friends, family members and others who had gone on before him. Yes, it is good to be with friends on earth, but you have to think about this believer being with his friends in heaven, friends who love him, friends he loves, friends he has missed, and friends who are now perfect. Think about the encouraging reunion, the great celebration, the God-glorifying time this believer is now having in heaven with other Christians.
God wanted the believer to be taken away from evil. Isaiah 57:1-2 – “The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil. He enters into peace.” This world is a very wicked place, a place controlled by the devil. To physically die and finally be freed from the devil and his evil world system, and from every sin and temptation, is a most positive blessing for the believer. There is no more anger, worry, fear, pride, selfishness, covetousness, laziness, impurity, lying, anger, bitterness or jealousy. There is no sin, and not even a hint of sin, for this believer is now perfect, and is in a perfect place with perfect people, and most importantly, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jonathan Edwards said, “When a godly man dies, he rises from all remains of spiritual death, and comes into a state of perfect life. This body is like a prison to the soul, it exceedingly clogs, and hinders, and cramps it in its spiritual exercisers and comfort. But when a saint dies, the soul is released from this prison, this grave and comes into a state of glorious freedom and happiness.”
God wanted the believer to experience much more love, joy and pleasure. Psalm 16:11 – “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.” When this believer was on earth he experienced some of God’s grace, but not nearly to the degree he now experiences it in heaven. When he was on earth he tasted only a small portion of God’s mercy and love, for he was still living in his fleshly body, and still falling prey to sin. But now that the believer is in heaven, he is experiencing immense pleasure, perfect peace, great joy, amazing love, and incredible happiness. Why would we not want the believer to be with Jesus, and to be enjoying the pleasures of heaven?
Jesus Christ wanted the believer to be with Him so that he could see His glory. John 17:24 – “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which you have given Me.” On earth, this believer had a small taste, a little glimpse, a vague comprehension of the glory of Christ. But now that the believer is in heaven, Christ’s glory is on full display, and his eyes are fully opened to see His glory, to see Christ’s love, joy, holiness, power, kindness, greatness, wisdom and majesty. He is experiencing eternal life like never before, in his relationship with Jesus, in his love for Jesus, in his serving Jesus, in his fellowship with others, in his complete freedom from sin, and in the total absence of sickness, pain and sorrow. The believer is not asleep in heaven, but he is fully awake and alert, and is seeing, feeling and experiencing the great glories of Jesus Christ, and living like he has never lived before. He is experiencing life to the full, and that’s because he is with Jesus Christ.
God wanted the believer to be free from all physical pain. Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, crying or pain.” This is a comforting truth, that the believer who has just passed away, is totally free from any physical ailments, aches, pain, sickness, tiredness or weakness. Our lives on earth can be so influenced and even controlled at times by physical struggles, by how we physically feel, and it is so encouraging to think that our friend in heaven is no longer affected and afflicted by any discomfort or pain at all.
God wanted the believer to rest from his labors on earth. Revelation 14:13 – “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” The believer has finished all his earthly work for the Lord. And his work on earth was not usually easy, for it was tiring work, and hard work that sapped his strength and wore him out. It was labor, it was toil, it was work, day after day, week after week, and year after year. Now the believer is still working for the Lord, but he is working for the Lord in heaven, and it’s no sweat, no stress, and no tiredness. It is energizing work, encouraging work, work that is always fulfilling, productive and God glorifying.
God wanted the believer to be able to perfectly worship Him. Psalm 84:4 – “How blessed are those who dwell in your house! They are ever praising you.” The believer is finally able to fully and continually obey the great commandment, to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. You see, the Holy Spirit is enabling him to abide in the Lord at all times, and for the Lord to abide in him. Therefore, the believer in heaven is now worshiping and loving God at all times. He is able to perfectly and joyfully sing to the Lord. His relationship with God is perfect, with no sin whatsoever interfering with his worshiping the Lord. It is the most encouraging and glorious experience in heaven, being perfectly loved by God and being able to perfectly love God.
God knew that it would be gain for the believer. Philippians1:21-23 – “To live is Christ, and to die is gain… having the desire to be with Christ is very much better.” It is much better for the believer to be in heaven than to be on earth. The believer in heaven has no pain, no sin, no sickness, no sadness, no tiredness, no weakness, no worries, no fears, no conflicts, no disabilities, no difficulties or trials whatsoever. The believer in heaven has perfect joy and peace, and is fully satisfied. He is able to perfectly love and worship God. He has perfect relationships with believers in heaven, and he is with friends he knew on earth. Having gone from earth to heaven, he has gone on to the next stage of his salvation, and has taken the next step in his eternal life. The believer is with his best friend, with Jesus Christ in heaven, and there is great joy, intimacy, kindness, fellowship and communion in their relationship. Just think, the believer you know, the believer you may have seen or talked to just a few hours ago or a few days ago, is now standing in the presence of God, blameless, with great joy – “to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 25
God wants to use the believer’s death to instruct other believers still living on earth. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 – “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart… The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” A believer’s death is to instruct us that life is short, and that life on this earth can suddenly be over. We are to be reminded that while we are on this earth we are to live for the Lord, and not for ourselves. The death of a person is to sober us, to wake us up, and alert us to the fact that our day to die is coming (unless we are raptured). And then we will give an account to God of how we lived our life on earth. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12
God wants to use the death of a believer to instruct unbelievers still living on earth. Luke 13:2-3 – “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The unbeliever needs to know that this believer he knew or had heard about is now in heaven, that he is in a place of great joy, peace and comfort, and all because of the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The unbeliever needs to understand the gospel, that Jesus Christ paid for, was punished by God the Father for the sins of unbelievers, so that all people who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ will be forgiven, will be given eternal life, and will someday be in heaven. The unbeliever needs to know that he needs to repent of his sins before it’s too late. He needs to know that if he doesn’t repent, then he will die and perish, that he will forever be in hell, a place of great torment and punishment. John 11:25-26 – “Jesus said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will live even if He dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.’” Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring you to God.” John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not perish but will have eternal life.”
God wanted the believer to be in the house of the Lord. Psalm 23:6 – “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The believer is now in the best place possible, the house of the Lord. And he is not just visiting there, not just passing through, but he is dwelling there, is living there. This is his new home, his new place of residence, and it is very much unlike his earthly home, and is infinitely better than his earthly home. But most importantly it is the house of the Lord. It is the house where the Lord is living, a glorious place, a beautiful place, a clean place, a neat place, a peaceful and comfortable place. And in that place he is being treated wonderfully, kindly, for he is not a guest, and is not just a servant, but he is a child of God, living in his Father’s house, and living with Jesus Christ Himself. It can be no better, for it is the best place, the perfect place, a most wonderful place, and your believing friend is there right now.
I encourage you to consider these truths that convey God’s perspective on the death of a believer. Yes, you may be grieving and have strong feelings about the death of your loved ones, and understandably so, for this person has been an important part of your life, and maybe for a long, long time. But don’t live by your feelings. Think about the truth of God’s word with respect to a believer’s death, and when you do, you will still grieve, but not in a fleshly or worldly way, but in a godly way. And God will then increase your hope in Him, and your hope of what He has in store for you.
Finally, and don’t ever forget this – you will see your loved one or friend again, and be with him again, and to be honest, it won’t be that long from now – and then when you do, it will be forever and ever. Let the truth of this future and eternal reunion gladden your heart, encourage your soul, and stir you to praise our most gracious Lord. “For who is our joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20