Absent from the body – Present with the Lord
Gordon S. Beck, Belfast, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The title of this article is taken from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 8, where we read, ‘We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord’.
Having seen his family decimated over the last few years, and many dear friends and fellow believers taken to be with the Lord, the writer has taken great comfort from the above verse. However, he is also aware that some believers have shadows of doubt, and have, at least, unclear and muddled thoughts as to the state and place of believers during the interval which divides death from the resurrection.
Now it is true that the scriptures, in the main, look towards the goal, and focus the mind and heart upon the return of Christ. They do not focus upon death, but upon resurrection and transformation. Indeed, it is true to state that redemption’s work will not be fully completed in us until these have taken place, for no part of the redeemed ones can be allowed to remain in death; the ultimate is the redemption of the body. Only then will death be swallowed up in victory, 1 Cor. 15. 54.
Having stated the above, it remains a fact that the vast majority of the Lord’s dear saints have passed over by way of the grave. We know not whether we shall be among those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, or be among those who ‘sleep in Jesus’, 1 Thess. 4. 14. So what about the intervening period? Is there some mystery, or a little uncertainty? While the Bible is mainly taken up with the glorious meaning of resurrection, it does not leave us in any doubt with regard to the waiting time, and the position of those who have gone before.
The Saviour’s words to the dying thief upon the cross were, ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise’, Luke 23. 43. It was the same prospect of going to be with Christ at death which encouraged the martyr Stephen in his last hour, calling upon God and saying, ’Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’, Acts 7. 59. The same blessed expectation moved the apostle Paul to write, ‘Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better’, Phil. 1. 23. Paul described this as ‘absent from the body . . . present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8.
Unfortunately, Satan desires to rob the saints of God of their belief in this blessed prospect. The word of God clearly teaches that the moment a sinner believes he or she is made ‘meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light’, Col. 1. 12. ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’, Heb. 10. 14. Our title, as well as our fitness for Christ’s presence, rests solely upon the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. In Him, the saints of God are safe forever:
’Safe in the arms of Jesus
Safe on His gentle breast,
Then by His love o’ershadowed,
Sweetly my soul shall rest’,
[Frances Van Alstyne].
Christ said, concerning the safety and security of His own, ‘My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand’, John 10. 29. Here is the ground of the believer’s confidence: nothing can touch the spirit of the saint of God which is held by the hand of omnipotence.
The child of God may be beset with many fears as death approaches, for, indeed, it is the last enemy. Other questions might be asked. How should we prepare for death? As the Lord Jesus has appointed the moment, He will prepare us. He has promised, ‘when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee’, Isa. 43. 2. Death indeed may be the ‘king of terrors’ to the mortal mind, but, to the Christian, it is the door into the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, consciously, and in a state which is far better than anything we have known as yet, Phil. 1. 23.
However, if we die before the Lord comes, for a while the body will rest in the dust, from whence it was taken, awaiting the shout of resurrection, 1 Thess. 4. 16. Then comes the transforming miracle by which the dust is formed into glorious bodies, free forever from sickness, pain and death, all this taking place in the twinkling of an eye, 1 Cor. 15. 52.
‘On that day of resurrection,
When the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the saints of all the ages,
Rise to meet Him in the skies.
We shall see Thee at the Rapture,
When the Lord shall burst the sky,
And the trump of God is sounded,
In the twinkling of an eye’,
AUTHOR PROFILE: Gordon S. Beck lived in Scotland and was associated with assemblies there before moving to N. Ireland some years ago. He is involved in education and fellowship in the assembly at Carrickfergus Gospel Hall.