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What Happens to Christians Who Die?, Part 1 B

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
June 27, 2023 4:00 am

What Happens to Christians Who Die?, Part 1 B

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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June 27, 2023 4:00 am

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Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep, and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes. That is the promise of Scripture.

You've probably felt the sadness of a loved one's death. You might also know the pain of losing someone who never put his faith in Jesus Christ. But can you imagine being a Christian who's taken up in the rapture and, once you're in heaven, not seeing the Christians you once knew? What if your loved ones who died before the rapture weren't there?

Now, those might sound like foolish questions, but the early church struggled with those same doubts. So how well do you understand the truth about the rapture and the day of the Lord? Consider that today on Grace To You as John MacArthur continues his series called The Rapture and the Day of the Lord.

And now here's John with today's lesson. What happens to Christians who die? What happens to Christians who die?

We want to know what happens after we die, and we would like to know what happens to the bodies of those we love when they go into the grave. Those are pressing issues, and they were equally pressing issues on the young believers in Thessalonica. Remember now, those to whom Paul wrote this letter had only been in Christ a matter of a few months, and they had only had just a few weeks, really, of exposure to Paul's ministry, so they were very much babes. And they had become very troubled about this issue of what happens to Christians when they die. Paul says, look, I know you're concerned about those Christians that die from time to time, and I know you're concerned that maybe they're going to miss the gathering together, and you loved them, and you want to see them again, and you want them to be there, and they're not going to be there.

And you're going to wonder where do they go, and where are they, and how can we recognize them if they're not there in bodily form, and it won't be like it was, and will the reunion happen? And he says, look, I don't want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans who have no comfort in the promise of a reunion. Reunion is here, beloved.

It is. It is also in the very terminology of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 1, when it's called our gathering together to Him. As we are brought to Him, we are gathered together to each other. There will be reunion.

There will be a gathering together. And he says, you don't need to fear, and you don't need to grieve about it like people who are looking at a dead end. We need to get that somehow deeply embedded in our hearts, don't we?

That is our confident hope. Partings here are just brief. Now, he says, I don't want you to be uninformed people about the Christians who are dying.

I don't want you to grieve as the rest who have no hope. Now, in order to eliminate that and to comfort you, I'm going to tell you about the gathering together. And this is what prompts his discussion of this great event. By the way, this is one of the three passages in the New Testament which are the key passages in delineating this event. John 14, 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4.

And we'll be intersecting with all three as we go through this great text. By the way, each time our Lord gave teaching through the Holy Spirit, each time this teaching came on this gathering together event at the coming of Christ, it was in response to certain distress. In John 14, the disciples were distressed and confused and discomforted.

Why? Because Jesus was what? He was leaving. And in the middle of their distress, they were wondering, what is going to happen to us? And so Jesus said, let me comfort you, I'm coming back. In the case of Corinth, some were flatly denying altogether the resurrection and denying that there ever would be a gathering together. And the Corinthians were confused, will there be one?

Are you ever going to collect us together? Is there going to be a resurrection? And so he writes 1 Corinthians 15 about resurrection and verses 51 to 58 about this gathering together itself.

And here you have the same thing. The Thessalonians are distressed and disturbed, maybe because of their lack of information and also because of some misinformation being given to them. And so in each case, distress, doubt, confusion, even denial has caused the Spirit of God to put this down.

Now I say that to say in all three cases it comes primarily as comfort. It comes as a pastoral message rather than an eschatological treatise. So this launches Paul then to discuss this event which we call the rapture. You say, now where do we get that concept rapture?

Go down to verse 17. The verb there shall be caught up is the verb harpazo, snatched...snatched. It means to snatch up, to seize. It means to carry off by force and it has the idea of a sudden swoop of irresistible force that just sweeps us up.

From a Latin word connected to this word comes our word rape to give you the idea of the force, the seizure, the snatching concept. And so there is coming a snatching away, a seizing by force, a swooping us off, gathering us together to the Lord in the future. And Paul says in order to eliminate your ignorance and your consequent grief and to bring you comfort, I'm going to tell you about it. All right, now he's going to tell us four things about it. The pillars of the rapture, the participants in the rapture, the plan of the rapture, and the profit or the benefit of the rapture. Let's at least look initially at the first one, the pillars of the rapture. What is it built on?

We've got to have a foundation for this. It isn't philosophical speculation. It isn't religious mythology. It isn't some kind of fable fabricated by well-meaning people who want to make folks feel good because of their sorrow. What is this great promise that Jesus is coming to gather us all together built on?

He gives us three elements to the three pillars, really, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the revelation of Christ. Let's look at the death of Christ. Verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died...stop right there. In this case, the if could be misleading. It doesn't suggest any doubt. It's only there to indicate logical sequence, the logical sequence of believing, if you believe.

And in this case, that condition is fulfilled. So you could say, since you believe that Jesus died, or based on the fact that Jesus died, that's just simply laying down a premise. Since you believe in Christ's death, it's thus and thus and thus and thus, and he follows with this statement. So if you believe, or if we believe that Jesus died, that's where it all begins. In order to believe in the rapture and in order to understand the coming of Jesus to snatch away His church, you have to believe in the death of Christ.

But what does he mean by that? Well, it was the death of Christ that paid the penalty for our what? Our sins. So it was the death of Christ then that brought us into the possession of eternal life. It is because Jesus bore our sins in His own body. It is because He became sin for us. It is because in His death He fulfilled all the conditions that God required to pay the penalty for sin. It is because of that that we can be gathered together by Christ into God's presence, right?

So we have to start at that point. It was in His death that He fulfilled all the conditions. So when Paul says, if we believe that Jesus died, he's not simply talking about the death of Jesus in some flat, one-dimensional martyr kind of mentality.

He is summing up in it the whole atoning work. If we believe, as it were, in the full implications of the death of Christ, then we know that judgment for sin has been satisfied, right? We know then that we, by virtue of that, have been made acceptable to God. And if we have been made acceptable to God, then there is a pillar on which the gathering together can occur.

If we are not acceptable to God, He's not going to gather us to Himself. If we don't belong to His Son by substitutionary death and faith in that person and work, then He's not going to gather us together. But because in His death we are saved from death, we believe in the gathering together. In fact, Jesus died, and notice He doesn't, referring to Jesus, use the word sleep. Jesus died feeling the full fury of death in all of its dimensions, as He bore in His body our sins, in order that He might turn death for us into sleep. One writer puts it this way, death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ. It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church, end quote. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church. Why? Because He paid for our sins.

You say, what does that have to do with it? The wages of sin is death. If the wages are paid, then we no longer face death, only temporary sleep. The sting of death is what? Sin, 1 Corinthians 15, 56.

It's like a bee. And when the bee stung Jesus and He died, the stinger was there and there's no sting left. And so there's no death. We need to say, not so and so died, but so and so in spirit is alive with Jesus Christ and their bodies asleep waiting for the gathering together. That's what happens to Christians when they die. Their spirit goes immediately be with the Lord, fellowship.

Their body goes into repose, sleeping. That's the first great pillar. That hope is provided for us in His death. Second one, verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.

There's the second pillar. When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father, it indicated that the Father approved the sacrifice of Christ and that in raising Jesus, He would raise those who were in Him. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, He indicated that Jesus Christ had triumphed over death, not only for Himself, but for every Christian. And that's why Paul goes on to say, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even there's the bridge, those two words...God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. You see, our resurrection and our gathering together at His coming is predicated on His resurrection.

I like what I, Howard Marshall at Aberdeen Scotland, wrote. He said this, God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them. He will treat us the same way He treated Jesus. And when Jesus died, where was His soul? Well, it was alive and it was proclaiming victory and triumph and His body was in repose. But God raised that body and joined it to that eternal soul of the second member of the Trinity.

And that's exactly what He's going to do for you. When you die, your spirit goes to be with the Father and with the Son and your body into the grave. But God will take that body out of the grave in the same way that He raised Jesus. He'll raise you to be joined with that eternal spirit into that final form like Christ.

You'll be like Him for you'll see Him as He is, says John. So even so is the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and what happens to Christians when He comes. The resurrection of us all is linked to the resurrection of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15, 23 says, Christ the first fruits and afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. As God raised Him up, as it says in Hebrews 13, 20, God will raise us up also.

Remember John 14, 19, Jesus said, because I live, you shall live also. 1 Corinthians 6, 14 says it directly. God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 14 says the same thing. He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you.

That's our hope. The pillar of the gathering together, the death of Christ, the penalty of sin is paid and God is satisfied that we are righteous in Christ and He can receive us to Himself. The resurrection, which is God's guarantee of Christ's perfect accomplishment and the guarantee of our resurrection who are in Christ, for He will treat us the same way He treated Christ, namely He will raise us from the dead. And then Paul specifically says it in verse 14, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

What's he saying? He's saying, look, dear friends, you aren't going to miss anything. Even the people who die aren't going to miss it. Based on the death of Christ and its perfect work, based on the resurrection of Christ and the Father's will, God is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. With Him means with Christ. When Christ comes in His glory to gather His people, those who have fallen asleep are going to be there.

That's the answer to the question. Now, what is this little phrase, God will bring with Him? With Him means with Christ.

But what do you mean God will bring? Some say it means that God will bring with Christ from heaven down the spirits of dead Christians to join their bodies. You know, it says later that we meet in the air and so that God will bring down from heaven their souls to meet the resurrected bodies coming up. They'll be adjoining together at that point. Some people say it means, no, God will bring with Christ back to glory all those gathered together, living and dead. Once they're gathered, God will bring them back to glory. You say, which is true?

Well, probably both. I don't think we need to get carried away and be too technical. Some have even said what it means is God is going to bring the spirits of these believers out of heaven all the way down to earth and they stay on the earth. That's one view. That view doesn't make sense. If you're going to come all the way to the earth, why meet in the air?

That's an unnecessary trip if we're going back. Secondly, that doesn't square with what the Bible says. You say, well, what do you mean? Look at John 14 for a moment. Verse 1, let not your heart be troubled.

Believe in God, believe also in Me. The disciples again were troubled because Jesus was leaving and they didn't know what was going to happen to them. He says, I'm going away.

That's right. In My Father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare what? A place for you.

Where? In heaven, in the Father's house. And if I go and prepare a place for you, there is a logical conclusion. I will come again and take you there. Does that make sense?

It does to me. I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also. I'm going up there to the Father's house and I'm going to fix a place for you and then I'm going to come and get you and I'm going to take you to the place I fixed for you where I am. That has to be heaven. So we conclude then that when Jesus gathers believers together, which way are we going?

Up. We meet in the air and we continue the heavenward movement. Yes, it's fair to say that our spirits, the spirits of Christians who have died come down to meet those bodies, but once the meeting takes place, we are gathered together to Christ. He gathers us to Himself and He takes us to where He is, which is clearly in the Father's house in heaven where He's been preparing a place for us. There has to be then some time interval there before to return to earth for the establishment of the kingdom. And so when Jesus comes, He says God's going to bring along all the gathered together, including those that have fallen asleep, God's going to bring them all to Himself along with Jesus Christ. That's the gathering together.

That's the event. And He says that those who have fallen asleep aren't going to miss it. So don't grieve for those who are dying and for yourself should you die. Again, I remind you, it really is clear that they had reason to expect that Jesus could come in their lifetime, right? Or all of these questions wouldn't have existed if they thought it was thousands and thousands of years down the road. Paul had given them the impression that it could come in their lifetime. One other note that I just mentioned to you, the end of verse 14, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. The best way to understand that phrase is a sort of phrase of what you could call attendant circumstance. The use of dia here can reflect the idea that they died in a circumstance of being related to Jesus Christ. They died in a situation where they were related to Jesus Christ. So all who have temporarily gone into repose in the graves as to their physical bodies in relationship to Jesus Christ are going to be there at the gathering. I just want to let you know, folks, that if you're ever in Christ, you're always in Christ. And you can be spoken of as being in Christ even though you're asleep, your body is asleep.

It's a permanent designation. We have fallen asleep in Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 15, 18. Those who died in Christ remain in Christ forever and ever and will be risen in Christ and collected with the rest who are alive. Now that's just the first part.

The good part is yet to come when we see one more of the four pillars and then the plan, the participants, the prophet from this. I was reading about a little girl, five-year-old girl who was watching her brother die of a very, very painful disease. He was much older than she and she loved him a lot. And after he died and the funeral was over, she said to her mother, she said, Mommy, where did brother go? To which her mother replied, Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.

She said, Oh, and that satisfied her little mind. Not long after that, she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend and her mother was weeping and saying, I've lost my son, I've lost my son, I've lost my son. Later in the day, the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?

Well, the answer to that question is no. Nobody's lost when we know where they are. We don't grieve as those who have no hope. Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep, and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes. That is the promise of Scripture. Thank you, Father, for such a promise and such a hope. We pray this day that there'll be no one in the hearing of this message who does not live in that hope. Father, we pray for those who have no hope, who look at death as a blind alley, a dark hallway, a dead-end street, have no hope of reunion, no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal joy. God bring them to the Savior this day. Save them, Lord. Save them with your grace that they might have the hope of those in Christ living and who have fallen asleep that someday we shall all be gathered together to be forever with Christ, to go to the dwelling place prepared for us in the Father's house, to be where our Savior is. How we thank you, Father, that that hope is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We pray in His name. Amen. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for being with us. John's current study is looking at the rapture and the day of the Lord. Now, John, let's go back to what you said today about the believer's confidence, the assurance that we will see Christ one day. I'm wondering what you'd say to someone who has that assurance. He knows and loves Jesus Christ, but when he thinks about the future, in particular about heaven, it doesn't necessarily seem all that interesting or desirable. What might that person be missing? First of all, I would assume that person is missing the information about heaven.

That would be a starting point, wouldn't it? You don't have any interest in heaven because you don't really know all that you can know about it. You know, when people take a vacation anticipating some great well-planned vacation, they want to get all the brochures so they can fill their hearts with anticipation about what they're going to experience. Well, the Bible has a lot to say about heaven. I've pulled that together in a book called The Glory of Heaven. Do I have to say this is the truth about heaven, not more fraudulent, supposed trips to heaven and hoaxes being foisted off on people from those who claim to have been to heaven and back, but the truth about heaven from God in Scripture. In fact, the subtitle of this book, the title The Glory of Heaven, the subtitle The Truth About Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life, so very, very important to know about heaven. By the way, to know how to get there through faith in Christ, that's really critical. The book The Glory of Heaven would be a great read for you. In the front end of it, we debunk all the hoaxes, all the false trips to heaven, and then we go right into the Word of God. The book, again, The Glory of Heaven. And I think if you want to encourage your own heart to anticipate heaven, you've got to know all there is to know about heaven, and then all there is to know about the Christ that you're going to meet there. That's the real attraction.

That's right. The Glory of Heaven will show you what your eternal home will be like if you're a Christian, what it means to live forever in God's presence, untouched by sorrow, pain, or fear. To order your copy, contact us today. You can call our toll-free number, 855-GRACE, or go to our website, The Glory of Heaven costs $11.50, and shipping is free.

It's also available in Spanish. Again, to place your order, call 855-GRACE, or go to And while you're online, download any of John's 3500 sermons, including all seven from this current study called The Rapture and the Day of the Lord. And our website also has daily devotionals written by John that are ideal supplements to your daily Bible reading. And if you have a smartphone or a tablet, make sure you're using the Grace to You app. It gives you access to all of John's sermons, and those resources and many others are free at That's our website one more time, And thanks for your faithful partnership and your prayers and for encouraging others to tune in each day. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for making this broadcast part of your day, and be here tomorrow when John continues his look at how you should live in light of the rapture. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-27 05:54:02 / 2023-06-27 06:03:50 / 10

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