By Randall A. Bach
I have grieved over more deaths of friends, family, and associates in the past two years than in any other period of my life. Many of those deaths seemed untimely in my eyes, which added to the grief. It felt like families were prematurely robbed of their loved ones. Hebrews 9:27 informs us that we all have an appointment with death. Whether that means there is already a date and time marked in an eternal calendar, I do not know. What it does mean is that except for a few notables in the Old Testament who were taken directly to heaven without dying and believers who are alive when Christ returns, death is inescapable. Sometimes the timing of death seems complete when the person lived a full and good life as a disciple of Jesus. We know their next destination. No regrets. Peace. Sometimes even if the death feels premature to us, it is greeted with resignation and relief if that person had endured suffering. We willingly let go of them because we do not want to see them in continued agony. Sometimes death seems hollow because it is the culmination of a life wasted on corrupted and sinful living, and we groan over what likely awaits that person in eternity.
So this reality has been on my mind and heart at every memorial service and funeral: Death is part of life. There is no Plan B. No alternative. No escape path. No denial. It is destined for everyone, whether rich or poor or any other distinctive category of person. Death is coming; we just do not know when. As I have reflected on the rich blessings from the lives that are now concluded, as I mourn the deprivation of no longer seeing those warm smiles, of no longer hearing those voices and laughs, of no longer singing together in worship, of no longer feeling those loving embraces, I am also moved by this reality: Life is also part of death. Grieving is for a season because there is hope beyond! Death is not the end, only the conclusion of this earthly dimension of living.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NLT) promises, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” There is only one qualifier in that promise: the believers who have died. Contrary to our culture’s desire to comfort by asserting that every dying person goes to heaven, God’s Word makes no such claim. Rather, the criteria are clear: God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
I am not fond of arguments. They resolve little, if anything, so I do not look for opportunities to dive into or add to an argument. However, several years ago I was in a men’s clothing area of a department store when I heard a young man and an older man engaged in a vigorous debate. I could tell they were talking about the afterlife, and I was so intrigued that I think I inspected every shirt and pair of socks in that department while I eavesdropped. The older man was professorial, knowledgeably intimidating, and clearly an atheist, declaring there is no afterlife! The younger man was a Christian, doing his best to represent a biblical view of life, death, and eternity. He valiantly held ground but was outgunned. I felt for him and decided to insert myself in the role of an innocent bystander and commentator rather than as another debate participant.
“Excuse me, but I could not help but be intrigued by your conversation. How fascinating!” I ventured.
The older gentleman seemed pleased, likely assuming his performance had been appreciated by a bystander. The younger man looked apprehensive, perhaps wondering if someone else older than he would make him feel even more outmanned.
“It occurred to me,” I said as I looked at the older man, “that if you are correct, then this young man will have lost an argument. However, if this young man is correct, you will lose everything.”
As I made eye contact for a moment with the older man, he seemed taken aback. He had anticipated appreciation for his superior debate skills but instead stood speechless, pondering what I had said. The young man’s face registered relief, as if an angel had intervened on his behalf. I did not linger. I had made my point and departed. I could hear the young man, having been encouraged, stating, “Like that man said….”
With the exception of people who are living when Jesus returns, death is inevitable. Life after death is also inevitable. However, what and where will that life after death be? The Bible gives us a few pictures of what heaven is like. My favorite description is from Jesus while He was hanging on the cross. He described heaven to the man next to him, also on a cross, in one word, “paradise.” While I grieve the loss I feel over people who have departed via death, my heart is uplifted and filled with joy as I contemplate that they are in paradise. Indeed, we do “not grieve like people who have no hope.”
Death is part of life; however, life is also part of death! Which leads to an extremely important question: Where will you spend your life in eternity? You and I don’t get to write the terms; God has already done that: “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” Only those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord will enjoy eternal life with Him.
Life is short. Death comes with life. Life in eternity is forever.
About the Author
Randall A. Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. Randall and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry almost as long as they have been married. They are grateful to have celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2021. Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches. A voice for Evangelicals, his work has been featured in several publications, including Ethics: The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Contemporary Application. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Randall has produced and edited several publications and other resources, including the Message of the Open Bible, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and a doctrinal course for youth called We Believe for Kids! He also led the creation of Acquire, Open Bible’s online leadership development site.