What, as Christians, can we say to those who face death, either their own or that of their loved ones? We certainly can give them the hope of Christ’s resurrection, if they or their loved one has trusted Christ in repentance and faith. We can also assure them that they do not grieve without hope because they, if they and their loved ones are Christ-followers, will one day see that loved one again.
But here is what faces us in the meantime: the twin realizations that—unless we too pass on soon—we will not see them face to face for a long time and that this is because our loved ones no longer live bodily on this earth. Yes, they and we will be raised with Christ one day; yes, we have hope in the resurrection; and yes, they are with Christ. But on this last note, perhaps there is some further hope we can offer.
Perhaps there is something more immediate than Christ’s second coming and believers’ resurrection to eternal life that we can preach to those grieving but not without hope. The hope that is more immediate, and one that is descriptive of our departed loved ones’ eternal state right now, not just some distant day, is that Christ, too, has experienced death.
He did not just experience dying only to rise again moments later, but he actually remained dead in the grave. He did not simply have his breath expire and then immediately rise to glory, but his body was buried and his soul departed to the place of the dead. And because he is God in the flesh, he defeated the place of the dead and the grave by descending into them and then rising again on the third day. In the Christian tradition, this hope is known as the doctrine of Christ’s descensus—his descent to the dead.
Scripture Reference: Luke 23:51-56
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