“[He] died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain. . .I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23).
“We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The Bible does not view our bodies as bad. Christianity is not like some ancient Greek religions that treated the body as a burden to be gladly shed. No, death is an enemy. When our bodies die, we lose something precious. Christ is not against the body, but for the body. The Bible is clear on this: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). This is a wonderful statement: The Lord is for the body!
But we must not go so far as to say that without the body we can have no life and consciousness. The Bible does not teach this. Christ died not only to redeem the body, but also to bind the soul so closely to himself that, even without the body, we are with him. This is a huge comfort in life and death, and Christ died so that we would enjoy this hope.
On the one hand the Bible talks about losing the body in death as a kind of nakedness for the soul: “While we are still in this tent [=the body], we groan . . . not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4). In other words, we would rather move straight from here to the resurrection body with no in-between time when our bodies are in the grave. That’s what those will experience who are alive when Christ returns from heaven.
But on the other hand, the Bible celebrates the in-between time, when our souls are in heaven and our bodies are in the grave. This is not the final glory, but it is glorious. We read, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “Gain”! Yes, loss of the body for a season. In a sense, “unclothed.” But more than anything else, “gain”! Why? Because death for the Christian will mean coming home to Christ. As the apostle Paul says: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
“Far better”! Not yet in every way the best. That will come when the body is raised in health and glory. But still “far better.” We will be with Christ in a way that is more intimate, more “at home.” So the early Christians said, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Those of us who believe in Christ do not go out of existence when we die. We do not go into a kind of “soul sleep.” We go to be with Christ. We are “at home.” It is “far better.” It is “gain.”
This is one of the great reasons Christ suffered. “[He] died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Sleep-like, the body lies there in the grave. But we live with Christ in heaven. This is not our final hope. Someday the body will be raised. But short of that, to be with Christ is precious beyond words.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.