“A Better Place…”

I overheard two men talking the other day, and caught the last bit of a conversation they were having. I do not really know what they were talking about, but I can hazard a guess. They concluded their talk with “she’s in a better place.” My guess is that they were talking about a loved one who is now dead. Perhaps they were consoling themselves with thoughts that their loved one was no longer suffering and in Jesus’ protection until his return. But I wonder if those men knew what they were talking about. Does the Bible describe death – even the death of a believer – as “a better place”?

The first recorded death in the Bible was that of Abel, who was killed by his brother, Cain. The Bible states that “the LORD had regard for Abel.”[1] Did that mean that Abel was taken up to heaven when he died? No, the Lord told Cain “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”[2] Abel did not go to a better place when he died. He went to the ground where his brother had buried him. That was the very reason that the Lord cursed the ground for Cain. He told him that “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”[3]

The great saint and father of the Israelite nation was Abraham. When he died, did the Bible say that he went to a better place? No, it says that “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”[4] We went where his pagan ancestors had gone: the grave. The Bible says that “Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife.”[5] Of course, it is popular for people to speak of burying a body, but still believe that the real person has gone elsewhere. Moses, the author of Genesis, entertained no such delusion.

David was called a man after God’s own heart.[6] Surely if anyone was to be granted a residence in a better place at his death, it would be David. But the Bible declares that “David himself never ascended into heaven.”[7] It was his descendant, Jesus Christ, that would sit at God’s right hand until his enemies are made his footstool.[8]

When Jesus faced the death of his friend Lazarus, he wept. He knew that death was not a better place for Lazarus. He did not console Lazarus’ sister Martha with the notion that her brother was not really dead. Instead, he told her that “your brother will rise again.”[9] He had told his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”.[10] If Lazarus had gone to a better place, it would have been cruelty to bring him back.

Even Jesus did not go back to his Father at death. After his resurrection, he told Mary Magdalene “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”[11] He had been in the tomb, and he was raised from that tomb. His ascension forty days later came not as a result of his death, but because of his victory over death. His words to us now are not “do not fear death because it will take you to a better place.” His words to us are “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[12]

Christians can be comforted at the death of a loved one. Our comfort comes not because we believe death takes us to a better place. The Bible says “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing”.[13] David prayed that the LORD would deliver his life because “in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[14] Our comfort comes because we know death is not the end. It is a terrible prison where our body decays into nothingness while our personhood exists in a state of unconscious sleep. But our Savior has the keys to that prison. When he comes again, he will raise us from the dead and set us free from death forever.

The world needs honest Christians. It needs people who do not hide behind fairy tales, and deny the existence of death. It needs people who will tell them that death is real, but that Jesus is real too. The world needs hope that extends beyond the cemetery. Believers can offer that hope, but we have to do so with integrity. It is wrong to say that death is a friend when the Bible calls it an enemy.[15] It is wrong to imply that the blessed hope is a better place at death when the Bible says Christ’s second coming is the blessed hope.[16]

When the Thessalonians wanted to know about their loved ones who had fallen asleep in death, Paul told them not to “grieve as others do who have no hope”.[17] His instructions for them to teach each other were as follows:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. ”[18]

That is all the encouragement we need. Our hope is not in some mythical place that believers supposedly go when they die. Our hope is Jesus. He will not forget us. Death is real, but so is he.

[1] Genesis 4:4 ESV.

[2] Genesis 4:10 ESV.

[3] Genesis 4:12 ESV.

[4] Genesis 25:8 ESV.

[5] Genesis 25:9-10 ESV.

[6] 1 Samuel 13:14.

[7] Acts 2:34 NLT.

[8] Psalm 110:1.

[9] John 11:23 ESV.

[10] John 11:11 ESV.

[11] John 20:17 ESV.

[12] Revelation 1:17-18 ESV.

[13] Ecclesiastes 9:5 ESV.

[14] Psalm 6:5 ESV.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[16] Titus 2:13.

[17] 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV.

[18] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV.

Job’s Hope



Perhaps the earliest clear reference to the coming resurrection in the Bible is found in the book of Job. When contemplating the fact that he is mortal, he places all his hope in a coming Redeemer:

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God.”[1]

The meaning seems obvious, but perhaps I am reading too much Christian teaching into this text. Wharton insists that “the traditional Christian conception of Christ as the ‘Redeemer’ of Job 19:25 simply won’t do.”[2] He feels that assuming Job anticipates Christ’s redemption reads too much later theology into Job’s words. Instead, he argues that Job looks forward to being vindicated.

Yet Job’s words seem to say so much more here. He argues not that he is going to be vindicated in this life, but that he is going to see God in the next life. He expresses a hope not in survival after death, but in a complete restoration to bodily life. In short, he is predicting a resurrection. If that sounds too Christian to be acceptable, perhaps commentators need to come to grips with the fact that the Christian gospel is God’s plan for humanity from the beginning.

P. S. Johnston argues that Job may be referring to “vindication in the non-material world.”[3] But, again, all one has to do is look at the text to see that Job’s hope was in a real resurrection, not some shadowy existence in a bodiless afterlife.

The text of Job 19:25-26 affirms three things:

1. Job knew his redeemer was alive.

The word he used for redeemer was go’el. This word is the same used for a kinsman redeemer. In Ruth, it referred to a person living who had the answer to Ruth’s problem. Boaz was the one who made all the difference for Ruth and Naomi. If it were not for Boaz, Ruth’s story would have ended quite differently. Without rescue, there would have been no David, and no Jesus.

But that does not mean that Job assumed that his redeemer was a human being like him. His trust was in God. His hope was that from his flesh he would see God. The real person who would make a real difference for Job is God himself.

What Job affirms is that his own ability to stay alive is not the critical issue. What matters is that the Redeemer lives. Job had graduated from being like his miserable comforters. They were the “hands on” kind of people. They insisted that if there was a problem, there had to be something they could do about it. Job was learning that sometimes you have to take your hands off the situation and trust God. His confidence was not in his own ability to fix things, but in someone other than himself. He knew that he had a Redeemer, and it was not himself. Lahaye says that “regardless of the fate that would befall Job in the near future, he possessed confidence that God remained alive and well, and in perfect control of all creation.”[4]

2. Job Knew that God would take action in the future.

His confidence that the Redeemer would take his stand on the earth at the last was an eschatological belief. He was able to look beyond his present personal struggles and see that God had a plan. He knew that God was going to personally work out his plan for planet earth by visiting the planet.

The idea that God would take his stand is consistent with the concept of incarnation, but goes beyond it. It suggests not just Christ’s first coming, but also his second. The Psalms often use the term in prayers to God to arise and save his people.[5] The psalmists were not primarily thinking soteriology (salvation from sin) but eschatology (ultimate deliverance from evil. Job’s hope was in a God who delivers both spiritually and ultimately.

3. Job knew that he would be alive to see that ultimate restoration.

Job did not doubt the reality of death, he doubted its permanence. He knew that he was mortal. He knew that should the Redeemer delay his return to earth, it would mean his death. It would mean that his skin and flesh would decompose and return to the dust. He entertained no delusion that death was a gateway to a better life. Death was death – the destruction of the flesh, and total unconsciousness.

Instead of deluding himself with fanciful notions that he could live forever, Job aligned himself with his inevitable demise. But he was able to look beyond that dark time of unconsciousness to a time of new resurrected life. His confidence was that not only is God going to take his stand in the future, but that he (Job) would be standing right there observing it. His confidence was in a resurrection.

Notice how specifically Job describes his hope. He says “from my flesh I shall see God.” He does not say “as a spiritual entity I shall see God”. He anticipates his own, newly resurrected eyes will see God restore his creation. He even goes on to emphasize this hope by saying “whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”[6] His confidence is not in life for someone else, but in restored life for himself.

If I had no other text in the Bible to affirm my confidence in the resurrection, Job 19:25 would suffice. In this text, I see the reality that no matter what happens to me today, my Redeemer will be alive. I may not survive the troubles of this day, but my Redeemer will. My hope is in him. My confidence is not in something I can do, but in something he will do. My God is going to arise, and save his people ultimately. And when he does, I will be there witnessing it with my own resurrected eyes. Job and I will be standing there, with our eyes and mouths wide open, in awe of what our God is doing. This is our hope.

[1] Romans 19:25-26 NASB.

[2] James A Wharton, Job (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 89.

[3] P.S. Johnston, “Afterlife” in Dictionary of the Old Testament. (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 6.

[4] Tim Lahaye, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation: Clarifying the Meaning (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2011), 101.

[5] Psalm 3:8; 7:7; 9:20; 10:12; 17:3, etc.

[6] Job 19:27 ESV.