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IS SAYING REST IN PEACE FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS DIED BIBLICAL?

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The acronym RIP (or R.I.P.) is often seen carved on tombstones, and the words rest in peace are often heard at wakes and funerals. It comes from the Latin blessing requiescat in pace (literally, “may he begin to rest in peace”). Is it biblical to say, “Rest in peace”? The expression “rest in peace” is never used in Scripture in connection with a person who had died. So, in that sense, saying “Rest in peace,” is not expressly biblical.

At the end of the book of Daniel, an angel speaks of Daniel’s death, saying, “You will rest” (Daniel 12:3). And the prophet Isaiah says, “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isaiah 57:2). These two passages are the closest the Bible comes to the idea behind RIP. Still, the exact words rest in peace are not used.

Because the thought of death can be frightening, people through the years have invented some platitudes with which to comfort themselves. When someone dies, we often hear unbiblical statements such as “She’s an angel now” and “God needed another angel in heaven”; sometimes, we hear the bromide “He’s in a better place,” spoken with no thought that he might actually be in a worse place. People who never have time for God suddenly grow religious at a funeral. They try to assure themselves and others that, regardless of the deceased’s relationship with God while on earth, he or she is in heaven now. But we must not ignore what Scripture teaches.

The Bible is clear that physical death is not the end (Hebrews 9:27John 3:16–18). Jesus taught that there are only two options for every human being: heaven and hell (Matthew 10:2825:46Mark 9:43;). He gave a vivid picture of those two options in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19–31. In this account, the rich man, who had given no thought of God during his earthly life, went to hell when he died. Lazarus, who possessed nothing on earth but a pure heart, was taken to paradise. Hell is described as a place of torment (verse 23), not a place of rest. According to Scripture, a person who dies without Christ is not “resting in peace” (see John 3:18). “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 57:21).

However, death is entirely different for those who are “in Christ” (Romans 8:11 Corinthians 1:30). First Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that, while it is natural to grieve for loved ones who have died, we do not need to grieve for believers in Christ as though we will never see them again. There is hope mixed with the sorrow. The Bible often refers to the dead in Christ as “those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20Acts 13:361 Thessalonians 5:10). The biblical writers used sleep as a metaphor because death for a Christian is only temporary. Paul said that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Those who receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior are with Him in paradise when they die (Luke 23:43). So, after death Christians do enter a “rest,” and it is “peaceful.” However, is saying, “Rest in peace,” biblical?

The problem with saying, “Rest in peace,” is that it is framed as a prayer. In Latin, it is literally “May he begin to rest in peace.” Of course, praying for the dead is unbiblical. At the moment of death, a person’s fate is sealed. The Bible never teaches or even suggests that we should pray on behalf of those who have passed away. Saying, “Rest in peace,” writing “RIP,” and other forms of prayers for the dead are rooted in Catholic tradition, not the Word of God.

Prophet Nathan Emol

WHAT IS THE ETERNAL STATE OF A BELIEVER?

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A study of “the eternal state” is rightly seen as a subdivision of the greater study of eschatology, or the doctrine of last things. It must be admitted first that the only sure word of testimony regarding this subject is the Holy Bible; no other “holy book” or philosophy is as trustworthy or as informative as the Bible.

The Greek word most often translated “eternal” in the Bible is aionos, from which we get our word eon. Essentially, this word denotes having no beginning and no end, or having a beginning but no end, with respect to time. The exact meaning is always determined by the context. When this word is combined with “life” (Greek zoe), it denotes not only life without end, but a certain quality of life that is distinguished from mere biological life.

We know that all believers will receive resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42). Thus, we will not exist as disembodied spirits, but we will possess glorified bodies especially suited for an existence in the eternal state.

The Bible gives few details of what that state will be like. Scripture says that God creates a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem descends from God to the new earth (Revelation 21:1-2). In this new creation, “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). “So, we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Our existence in the eternal state will be markedly different from what we are used to now: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The curse that came with sin will never hold sway again (Revelation 22:3). We can hardly imagine a world without pain or sorrow, but that’s what God promises—a reality beyond imagination. “As it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).

Neither will our existence in the eternal state be marred by bad memories of the old earth. Joy will swallow up all distress: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

The eternal state will involve serving the Lord (Revelation 22:3), seeing God face to face (verse 4), and living in perfect health (verse 2) and holiness (verse 5). Second Peter 3:13 says that the new heaven and earth will be “the home of righteousness.” Sin will not cast its shadow anywhere in that realm.

From the beginning of creation, it has been God’s plan to bring His redeemed ones to this place of completion and glory (Romans 8:30Philippians 1:6). No more sin, no more curse, no more death, no more good-byes—all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In the eternal state, God’s perfect plan will be brought to glorious realization, and mankind will accomplish its chief end, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Prophet Nathan Emol

WHAT IS ETERNAL DEATH?

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 In short, eternal death is the fate that awaits all people who ultimately reject God, reject the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ, and remain in their sin and disobedience. Physical death is a one-time experience. Eternal death, on the other hand, is everlasting. It is a death that continues through eternity, a spiritual death that is experienced on a continual basis. Just as spiritual life, by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) is everlasting life, eternal death is never-ending. 

The most important question to be answered is “Does the Bible teach the doctrine of eternal death?” If the Bible doesn’t teach eternal death, then we can pack up and go home because there is no further debate on the issue. God’s Word, the Bible, is the infallible rule of faith and practice, and as such we must believe and teach only what it clearly teaches, and the Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of eternal death. We can point to several passages that explicitly state this, but for our purposes, only three will be needed, one from the Old Testament and two from the New.

• And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 ESV)

• And [the wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46 ESV)

• And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15 ESV). In verse 10, we are told that the Lake of Fire burns “forever and ever.”

All three of these passages (and more could have been added) have as their main context the scene of final judgment. In other words, when Christ returns, three things will occur: 1) The general resurrection of “the living and the dead”; 2) the final judgment; and 3) the inauguration of the eternal state. Each of these passages demonstrates that during the final judgment of all people, Jesus will separate the righteous from the wicked. The righteous will be ushered into the final state of glory, while the wicked will be sent to the lake of fire for eternal punishment and torment. Note too (particularly in the Daniel and Matthew passages) that the same adjective (“everlasting” or “eternal”) is used to modify both “life” and “punishment/contempt.” What is true about one (life) must be true about the other (punishment), that both are eternal and last forever.

The doctrine of eternal death is not a popular doctrine to teach or proclaim. To do so often opens one up to scorn and ridicule. However, we must not let that detract us from what the Bible so clearly teaches; namely, that due to our being born in sin and trespasses, we are under the just condemnation of God for our sin. If we do not embrace the saving message of Jesus Christ, we will perish in our sin and trespasses and be under God’s just judgment for our sin—eternal death. This is a sobering doctrine and requires the utmost care and compassion in its presentation.

Prophet Nathan Emol

WHO ARE THE DEAD IN CHRIST?

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Before identifying the “dead in Christ,” we should note the context in which this phrase is found. The immediate context is 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, which deals with the question of what will happen at the return of the Lord Jesus. Paul’s readers were concerned that when Christ returns, those who have died prior to then would somehow miss out. The primary purpose of this passage is to comfort those believers who have lost believing loved ones.

The message of this passage is a message of hope. Christians have hope that unbelievers do not have when they lose loved ones. There is hope beyond the grave for Christians, and part of that hope is that, at the return of Christ, those who have already died “will rise first.” After that, Christians who are still alive will be transformed. Both groups will be “caught up” and will meet the Lord in the air. Paul closes this section with an admonition to encourage others with this hope.

In this passage, Paul uses the common euphemism of sleep to refer to those who have died in Christ, i.e., believers. Paul wants to comfort his readers that those Christians who have died prior to the return of Christ will not miss out on anything. That is why he opens this section by saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (v. 13).

So to answer the question, the dead in Christ are those believers who have died prior to the second coming of Christ. (Note, whether 1 Thessalonians 4 is referring to the second coming or the rapture is a matter of debate.) Believers, whether dead or alive, belong to Christ. We get similar language from the apostle in his first letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:23). The dead in Christ applies not only to Paul’s original audience, but to all believers who have died in what can be termed the “inter-advental” period, or the time between the first and second comings of Christ.

Another question that may come up in this context is what happens to believers when they die? Certainly, Paul uses sleep to refer to their state, but does this mean that believers experience (for lack of a better word) an unconscious sleep-like state until the future resurrection? Those who advocate this position, called soul sleep, base it on passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. But it should be noted that “sleep” as used here is euphemistic. It is not meant to convey actual sleep. In fact, the experience of the believer after death and before the end of the age when Christ returns is conscious, blissful communion with the Lord. Paul hints at this in 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 and Philippians 1:23.

At death, the body lies in repose in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the last day, but the soul goes to be at home with the Lord. This is the doctrine of the intermediate state. Believers experience in a provisional sense the rewards that await them in heaven, while unbelievers experience a taste of their eternal torment in hell (Luke 16:19–31).

Prophet Nathan Emol

WILL IT BE POSSIBLE FOR US TO SIN IN HEAVEN?

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The Bible describes heaven or the eternal state in great detail in Revelation chapters 21–22. Nowhere in those chapters is the possibility of sin mentioned. In fact, we have the promise that, in the eternal state, we will never experience death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4)—the absence of those things is proof positive that sin is also absent, since those things are the product of sin (see Romans 6:23).

The sinful will not be in heaven but in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Nothing impure will ever enter heaven (Revelation 21:27). Outside of heaven are those who sin (Revelation 22:15). An Old Testament prophecy also assures us that the Kingdom of God will exclude sinfulness:
“A highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it. . . .
But only the redeemed will walk there” (Isaiah 35:8–9).
So, the answer is, no, it will not be possible for us to sin in heaven.

God wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3); that is, He wills to make us holy and free of sin. Our sanctification has three phases: positional sanctification, which saves us from the penalty of sin at the moment of faith in Christ; progressive sanctification, which saves us from the power of sin as we grow in Christ; and complete sanctification, which saves us from the presence of sin as we enter the presence of Christ. “When Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In other words, the process by which God sanctifies us involves justification, maturation, and glorification.

The glorification that God promises His children (Romans 8:30) necessarily includes sinlessness, because sinful beings cannot be glorious. Heaven, the place of God’s glory, is sinless. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (ESV), and he links the glorious appearing of Christ to our personal glorification: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). This glorified state will be our ultimate separation from sin, a total sanctification in every regard. It will not be possible for us to sin in heaven.

James 1:14 provides another assurance that we will not sin in heaven: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” In this sinful world, we face temptation daily, and James identifies two forces that prompt us to sin: our own evil desire (our sin nature) and enticement (the devil’s schemes). Neither of those forces will be in heaven. Our sin nature will have been eradicated in our glorification, and the tempter will have been consigned to the lake of fire where he can do us no harm (Revelation 20:10).

The Bible’s teaching is that heaven or the eternal state is completely holy. There will be no possibility of sin, we will be clothed with righteousness (Revelation 19:8), and will we be eternally confirmed in our state of bliss. The work that God promised to complete in us will have been finished (Philippians 1:6). Our deliverance will be complete, as the elect are redeemed—body, soul, and mind—to the glory of the Lamb (Revelation 5:6–10).

Prophet Nathan Emol