Consider how confusing it would be if rewards and punishments are now being applied. What purpose would be served by a resurrection? Why even have a resurrection? Obviously each soul would already have a determined fate, and the farce of some make-believe final judgment would be totally meaningless. All the pious assurances heard at funerals about loved ones in heaven are simply repetitions of Satan's first lie to the human family. The portrayal of imaginary, immaterial souls flying away from the body at death is not a source of comfort to grieving relatives. Paul described the time when the righteous dead will be with the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4; 16-18, and concluded with these words, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
Here is a perfect, inspired picture of true comfort, and we need to understand clearly what word Paul was referring to that would bring such comfort. The two previous verses give us the words, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Paul here describes without any limitation the way and means by which we go to be with the Lord. Don't overlook the word "so" in his statement. It means "in this way." By that little word Paul precluded every other way of being with the Lord. When he described the coming of lesus and the resurrection of the saints as being the manner and means of being with the Lord, he automatically excluded all other means of doing it. Then he admonishes us to "comfort one another with these words."
I repeat that there can be no comfort in the pseudo-Christian concept that some invisible, intangible entity leaves the body at death to be punished or rewarded. Is it reassuring to believe that unsaved relatives are suffering the torment of unquenchable fire? Is there solace in the picture of loved ones looking down from heaven upon the heart-breaking circumstances of those left behind? No wonder Paul was so specific in describing the second advent of lesus and resurrection as the only way anyone can be with the Lord after death and, incidentally, as the only way to be comforted at their departure.
Paul's magnificent declaration points up the glorious fact that death and the grave are not the end. There will be an awakening from the sleep of death. The righteous will receive the gift of immortality, but it will all happen "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:52, 53). lesus said, "Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28, 29).
All the dead will rise to face the great decrees of the judgment. Whether they went to sleep 1,000 years ago, or five minutes before Jesus appears, it will seem as only a fraction of a second.
Some have questioned the way in which Christ can restore the broken, decayed bodies of all the deceased of past ages. Some were blown to bits in explosions, others were burned up in fires, and many went down into the depths of the sea. Will it be any problem for the mighty Creator of life to bring back every soul and restore each personality? None whatsoever. He who numbers the hairs of our head and counts the sparrows in the sky will have no difficulty in restoring the identity of each individual.
We may not be able to understand the process, but we can believe in it anyway. There are many things, such as television and computers, which are mysteries to the average person who benefits from them, but that doesn't keep us from believing in them. If most of us are baffled by the complexity of common electronics, we should not expect to grasp the secrets of resurrection power. Nevertheless, we can have complete faith that God can and will restore life to all the dead.
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