This will be my last installmenet on the subject of the present status of those who have died in the Lord. Grievers are usually curious about their loved ones. There is some comfort in a pastoral word about how our loved ones live in the presence of God around his throne. There is comfort in recognizing that we worship with the saints around that throne. When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” (the liturgical Sanctus) we join with the heavenly chorus that surrounds the throne. The church militant is one with the church triumphant.
While there is certainly comfort in these perspectives–and I relish them, meditate on them and enjoy them, this is not the ultimate hope of Christians. Even the saints around the throne are yet waiting for something more. The journey is not yet over. God has not yet redeemed the cosmos. Death has not yet been fully defeated. The dead have not yet been raised.
When Paul sought to comfort the Thessalonians over the death of some of the saints in the church there, he appealed not to their “intermediate” state (their present experience of the heavenly throne room) but to their resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. Just as we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, so we believe that God will raise those who have fallen asleep as well.
Paul says this in an interesting way. In 1 Thessalonians 4:14 Paul claims that “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Those who have died in the Lord will accompany Jesus at his parousia; the saints will come with him (1 Thess 3:13). They will share in the glory of that day, and their glory will be their resurrection as they receive glorified bodies. They will be like Jesus, the new human (Phil. 3:20; 1 Cor. 15:49). Those who are still alive will be changed (transformed) in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51).
The new creation will be complete as human beings live upon the new earth with new bodies. We will meet the Lord in the air, the earth will be refined by fire, and the “new Jerusalem” (the bride of Christ) will descend upon the earth united to her bridegroom. There, upon the renewed earth, God will dwell with his people as a husband dwells with his wife. Hope realized. Community restored. Everything new. Humanity together again. God and Humanity mutually indwelling each other. The journey completed, but only just beginning.