These verses give us a Christian perspective on death and, therefore, grief. Paul says, "For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord." Literally he says, "this we speak by a word from the Lord..." We know from John 21:25 that there are many things that Jesus said that were not recorded. This may be one of those things. Or it could be a direct revelation that the Lord gave to Paul or one of the other Apostles. However it came, Paul describes it as "a word from the Lord," which makes it authoritative. About what happens at the moment of death--and after death--a plethora of theories abound. But where we have divine revelation we do not need human speculation. We have "a word from the Lord." Here is what we learn:
Christian death is called "sleep"
"Sleep" is a Christian codeword for death. This is because there is much similarity between death and sleep. The Greek word translated "death" means "to lie down." I remember when my granddaddy Carl Williamson passed away. The wake was held at a funeral home in Butler, Alabama. One of my cousins, Jim Williamson, looked at him and said, "He looks just like he's sleeping."
Have you ever heard that expression? Of course you have. Why? Because the body at death looks like it is resting. Death only refers to the physical body. Only the body is asleep.
Jim also said, "He sure looks comfortable in there." In spite of his words I did not want to trade places with Granddaddy Carl!
Biblically speaking, death is separation
The biblical definition of death is given in James 2:26: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead...." There are three types of death spoken of in the Bible. The first is Physical death. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. The second is Spiritual death. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Ephesians 2:1 says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked...."
"Wait! How can I be dead and still walking around?" The death he means here is spiritual. Because God is holy our sins separate us from Him. Even though the physical body is alive, the spirit is dead. Since God is the source of all life, to be separated from Him is death. When we were lost we were "the walking dead"--physically alive but spiritually dead. When we put our trust in Christ, at that moment God's Spirit came to live inside of us and we instantly came alive (Ephesians 2:5)!
The third "death" is eternal. If a person dies without Christ they are eternally separated from God in hell.
Death is Only Temporary
Just as sleep is only a temporary condition, just so death is just a temporary condition. One day Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, and the body of every Christian will be resurrected.
Our word "cemetery" comes from a Greek word that means "a resting place." We bury our loves ones in a temporary resting place. Over the Thanksgiving holidays my son dropped my wife off at the hotel where we were staying. Although I was not with them I am sure Taylor did not say, "Goodbye mom. See you at the resurrection." He probably said, "Good night, mom. See you tomorrow."
A cemetery is just a "Holiday Inn" for the body. The bodies of every Christian in the graveyard are going to rise up and check out at the Rapture!
The Soul of the Christian is "With the Lord"
1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep." The only way He can bring them with Him when He comes is they must be with Him now! 2 Corinthians 5:8 says "and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord." Paul says in Philippians 1:23: "I have the desire to depart (speaking of his death) and be with Christ." At the moment of death the soul of the Christian goes instantly to be with the Lord.
A man said to his friend whose wife had recently passed away, "I'm sorry that you lost your wife." The friend said, "I did not lose her. I know exactly where she is--she is with the Lord." We have not lost our Christian loved ones--we know precisely where they are!
As Christians Our Belief Informs Our Grief
I remind you of what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." The Bible never says that we as Christians should not grieve when our loved ones pass away. Grief is natural, and even healthy. Jesus Himself grieved at the grave of His friend Lazarus. Grief is not a sign of weak faith, but of strong love. But as Christians we experience a grief that is tempered by hope. We know that death is not the end. We will see our saved loved ones again, and from that day forward we will never be separated again!