By Dan King
The book of Revelation heralds the ruthless persecution of the church of Christ at the hands of imperial Rome. If written about 95-6 AD, as is usually (and, I believe, correctly) surmised, it falls in the second period of intense Roman suppression of the Christians, and thus in the reign of the cruel Domitian. Many Christians lost their lives at the hands of this vicious tyrant, but the Revelation impresses us with the notion that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to us:
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them (Rev. 14:13).
Like so many other areas of life, even death takes on a different aspect, when viewed from the Christian perspective:
1. Blessed are the dead. This is not a statement which may be viewed as universally true. All the dead are not blessed. Neither is death a blessing to all. In fact, if we know anything at all of what the Scriptures teach, in general, about the death of the wicked, it is that their death seals an eternal doom, from which there is no release: “And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment” (Heb. 9:27); “… the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments … ” (Lk. 16:22-23); “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake offire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. . . And death and Hades were cast into the lake offire. This is the second death, even the lake offire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:10, 14-15). On the other hand, the Bible loudly declares how precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps. 116:15). Some of the dead are blessed!
2. Who die in the Lord. The voice from heaven qualifies the proposition under scrutiny here with the certification that those who die “in the Lord” are the dead who are blessed. The New Testament provides to the sons of men a hope which transcends even death itself. Think of how exceedingly precious this promise is: every thing which one enjoys in this world is transient, the experience of its pleasure, as well as the thing itself. Take for example some article of clothing. It isworn and enjoyed for a time, then worn out and discarded. A tasty dish of food may be succulent for the moment, but eaten and shortly forgotten. Yet here is something which is enjoyed now, but only most fully realized and known, after we have departed this earthly sphere. This is the promise of God. And it is extended only to those who are “in the Lord” at the time of their departure! As Paul elsewhere said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Surely there can be no misunderstanding this passage! It grants no promise of hope to those outside of Christ, nor does it hold out any glimmer of a guarantee to those who may have forsaken their first love (Rev. 2:4). All spiritual blessings are in Christ, says the apostle, but surely there is no greater blessing than the promise of life eternal to those who die faithful “in the Lord.”
3. Yea, saith the Spirit. On this important subject of life beyond death we are not left with the speculations or opinions of mere men to guide us. Rather, upon this matter God has spoken. This safely removes it from the arena of human logic or reasoning. Upon every subject God has not revealed information, there are some secret things (Deut. 29:29). In other areas God has spoken “expressly,” that is, rhetos, “in specific terms” (1 Tim. 4:1). This is one of those things about which God has seen fit to provide plenty of information: “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep…” (1 Thess. 4:13).
4. That they may rest from their labors. In the previous verse John had spoken of the labor of the people of God: “Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith ofJesus” (Rev. 14:12). The passage presents the notion that God’s people ought to be busy about keeping the commandments of God and “the faith of Jesus.” The faith of Jesus is not just something we merely believe, but something we believe, and therefore, keep and do. This explains why there is something to “rest from” at the end of our course. Will we have anything to “rest from” at the end of our earthly pilgrimage? If we are busy working out our salvation in fear and trembling, then assuredly we shall: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13).
5. And their works do follow them. What follows us to the grave and beyond is not what we have, not what we have accumulated in life, but who and what we are and what we have done. To the selfish rich man in torment, spoken of by Jesus in Luke 16, Abraham said, “Son remember that thou in thy lifetime . . .” (v. 25). And, when the final day comes, and we all appear before the judgment seat of God, it is the works (deeds) of our lives which will follow us to the throneroom of the Almighty, and help to determine the destiny of our souls throughout the endless ages of Eternity: “For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10); and, again: “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is” (Rev. 22:12).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 6, p. 22
March 17, 1994