"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).

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The Primary Reference Is to Bodily Death

 

The Blessed Dead in Christ

By Fred O. Blakely
Part II (Conclusion)
THE PASSAGE'S ULTIMATE SENSE
The blessing pronounced upon the dead in Christ, of course, has its ultimate and full realization in the world to come. That, as we have said, is undoubtedly the primary meaning of our text of Revelation 14:13. Those who die--literally leave the body-­being in the faith or in Christ, are blessed, and that from then on. So is the proclamation of the heavenly voice, with some amplification on the case by the Spirit.
The Blessed Reality. "True, death yet reigns. But his sovereignty is shorn of its worst power, since words like these fell upon the ears and hearts of men. The broken pillar and the extinguished torch are no longer fit emblems to place over the grave of our loved ones. The pillar rears its fair shaft and lacks not its beautiful coronal, and on the eternal shore the torch burns more brightly than ever, and is by no means gone out, though our dim eyes for a while see it not."
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.". "Not un­conscious, for such high epithet as 'blessed' belongs not to mere unconsciousness. Not in purgatorial pain, for neither would that be called blessed, Doubtless Christ's transforming, assimilating power, through the energy of the Spirit of God, goes on in the departed believer, as it is necessary that it should.
"And immediately that they quit this life. Such is the mean­ing of the word 'henceforth.' 'It means substantially even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the moment of their departure to heaven' (Hengstenberg). They die to rest. Death, therefore, is for them the Divine signal that the day's work is done, that the evening hour has come, and that they now go home to rest. The wearisome work and toilsome, trying task, which has often well­nigh worn them out--such is the significance of the word 'labor'--all that is over, and death is the Lord's call to now lie down and rest" (S. Conway).
The Condition Imposed. It is those who "die in the Lord" that are so blessed, it should be noted, not necessarily all those that were baptized into Him. It will no doubt be true with the church as it was with Israel in this connection. Although all of the nation that left Egypt were "baptized unto Moses," and at least symbolically partook of Christ for a while, a very great many of them did not enter into the rest which God had ap­pointed for them and to which He called them, because of their subsequent unbelief and falling away (I Cor. 10:1-12; Heb. 3:6-4:11). In order to claim the blessing of our text, one must get into Christ and remain in Him until death, keeping the faith despite all trials of it, and dying therein (II Tim. 4:5-8). No others will receive the blessing of Revelation 14:13, or those of chapters 2:7, 10-11, 17, 26-27; 3:4-5; etc. It is a false doctrine which denies this necessity, encouraging people to think of themselves as being certain of heaven because of a beginning faith, without the requirement for continuing in that faith, "steadfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:12-14; cf. Col. 1:20-23).
The Time of Favor. The time of the proclaimed blessing's effectiveness is declared to be "from henceforth." Some under­stand this to mean from the time of the voice's utterance; others, from the time of the Lord's return, set forth in the following verses. It seems to us that, as regards bodily death, the reference is to the time subsequent to death, as Conway has well said. Particularly would that appear to make sense to the immediate generation to which John wrote, which was suffering under the Domitian persecution of the church. Death would be a sweet and blessed release from their miseries and sorrows, from which time they would be forever freed from them.
So it is, of course, with the saints of all ages, now that Christ has "abolished death," and "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10). From the time of their death they are blessed beyond our powers of imagination to conceive (Ps. 31:19; Isa. 64:4; I Cor. 2:9). For God's children, all the trials of faith and the sufferings that go with it are this side of death. Death, that transitional agent devised by God, removes them from the sphere of suffering and sorrow to that of everlasting painlessness and joy.
The Element of Rest. As the Spirit enlarges upon the blessings of the righteous dead, He specifies the element of eternal rest, as we have seen. "That they may rest from their labors," is the aspect of the blessing stressed in the text. The rest is not from their works, which follow them, but from their "labors," the elements of stress and pain in their earthly lives and toils.
The rest into which the enChristed ones enter at death is neither unconscious slumber nor a hammock-type of inactivity. Beyond death we shall serve God incessantly, and with no sense of fatigue or flagging spirit (Rev. 7:15). The rest of reference denotes cessation from the work and fight of faith and everlasting deliverance from all opposition and all enemies. This, for those who die in the Lord, begins at death and continues forever. There--ah, there!--we shall take off the armor which it was necessary that we wear in this life of conflict, and fling it from us, since in that world "wherein dwelleth [only] righteousness" we shall no longer have need of it (II Pet. 3:13).
The Sharp Contrast. The sharp contrast at this point be­tween the state of. the righteous dead and that of the unrighteous dead should be noted. Whereas the former are in a condition of blissful rest, it is altogether different with the latter. They "shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night" (Rev. 14:10-11).
This final portion of those willfully alienated from God also has its firstfruit experience in this life, as Isaiah declares. "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isa. 57:20-21). Peace and rest, both in this life and in that which is to come, are to be had only in Christ Jesus, the Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6; Mt. 11:28-30).
The Saints' Rest. Elsewhere in Scripture, the rest which God has provided for those who endure the trial of their faith is also set forth. The souls of the martyrs, "slain for the word of God," which John saw "under the altar," were given white robes, and told to "rest yet for a little season," until God's overall purpose should be accomplished (Rev. 6:9·11; cf. ch. 20:4). In our Lord's account of the post-death experience of the formerly-suffering Lazarus, it will be recalled, the beggar of this world is represented as being "comforted," in contrast with this world's rich man, who was being "tormented" (Lk. 16:25).
Speaking of death, Job (in his comparatively restricted perspective), declared, "There the wicked cease from troubling; there the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). Under great stress, David cried, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest" (Ps. 55:6). Apparently, in something of this same yearning for the rest that remains for God's people, Moses observed that, even if it lasted for fourscore years, this life would soon be "cut off, and we fly away" (Ps. 90:10). Praise God for that! and the blessing that follows!
This blessedness awaiting the saints (Heb. 4:9) was typified in the history of Israel. For those who endured the wilderness trial of their faith and actually arrived in Canaan, which land typifies the heaven to which God has called us, the record is plain. "And the Lord gave them rest round about from all their enemies," it is recorded (Josh. 21:44). So shall it be, in a much more comprehensive way, for those who "die in the Lord," and so enter the promised land of paradise and heaven.
Certainly, no man in the flesh ever entertained one adequate conception of the glorious rest, and supernal experiences of fellowship with God and the glorified saints, as well as the unhampered service of God, that remain for those who die in Christ. In view of the inconceivable and ineffable splendor of that heavenly blessing which is set before us, let us, as the Apostle urges, "labor" to enter into it, lest any man "be judged 'to have failed to reach it" (Heb. 4:1, RSV), or "fall after the same example of unbelief" [that of the Israelites] (v. 11).
The Following Works. "And their works do follow them," declared the Spirit of the sainted dead. To where do they follow them? Primarily, to the Judgment, beyond question. That is the consistent doctrine of Scripture.
"God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil" (Eccl. 12:14). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (II Cor. 5:10). "Behold, I come quickly," announced Christ from heaven; "and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be," whether the work be good or bad (Rev. 22:12).
Thus, we read Paul's comprehensive declaration on the sub­ject in First Timothy 5:24-25: "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.•• Indeed, "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do," there being nothing "that is not manifest in His sight" (Heb. 4:13).
This following, or precedence (as the case may be con­templated), of the saints' work to the judgment is represented by the Spirit as a source of comfort and encouragement to them. "God is not unrighteous" to forget their "work and labor of love," and will surely compensate them in abundant measure for them (Heb. 6:10; cf. I Cor. 15:58). He is a meticulous record keeper (Mal. 3:16-17), and no work of faith or love shall be without full recognition and bountiful reward (Mk. 9:41).
The Continuance Here. It is quite true, of course, that people's works also follow them, or continue to speak for them, in this world after the people are dead. This is so as regards both good and evil works. For the righteous, this circumstance pro­vides them with the opportunity of, being dead, yet continuing to speak for God (Heb. 11:4).
The case of the well-doing Dorcas, who was "rich in good works" (I Tim. 6:18), is illustrative. "All the widows stood by" over her dead body, "weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them" (Acts 9:39). These spoke eloquently of the sister's love for God and His children. And so it is with all the good deeds and good preaching and teaching of the saints who have gone before us. They continue to glorify God and edify the embattled church.
For the ungodly and their evil works, it is the same. They continue to speak and to exert their damning influence. This situation is one that should strike terror to the most hardened heart. Judas Iscariot's unspeakably awful act of betraying the holy Jesus lives on, bearing witness through the centuries to the wretched man's infamy. So also of Herod's wanton slaughter of the Innocents, and all the other evil lives and deeds of scriptural record.
With contemporaries it is likewise. The moral perverts and perverters come forcefully to mind. Think of the Mae Wests, the Marilyn Monroes, the Errol Flynns, the John Lennons, the Elvis Presleys, the current espousers of sodomy, and the like. Their sensuous living, influence, and corrupting works have seduced millions into sin and pollution. Although they themselves are dead, their influence for the flesh and the Devil goes on, storing up for them "wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Rom. 2:5).
So does the life lived in the flesh and the works performed therein, whether good or bad, go on bearing fruit after the af­fected person has left this world for the next one.
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"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;  and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).

 

 

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