And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from now on: Yes, said the Spirit…
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. By such word as this it is that Christ "hath abolished death." True, it is at the side of the open grave and over our dead that we read them, so that the stern, hard fact of death is still with us, and often well nigh crushing our hearts with its load of sorrow. Death yet reigns. But his sovereignty is shorn of its worst power, since words like these felt upon the ears and hearts of men. The Vale, vale, in aeternum vale! of broken hearted paganism is gone, never to return. The broken pillar and the extinguished torch are no longer fit emblems to place over the grave of our loved ones. The pillar rears its fair shaft and lacks not its beautiful coronal, and on the eternal shore the torch burns more brightly than ever, and is by no means gone out, though our dim eyes for a while see it not. And this unspeakably precious gospel, which brings us such glad tidings of great joy, it is which some men want to silence as effete and incredible, that they may substitute for it their own dismal speculations, the only outcome and clear utterance of which is that, in regard to religious faith, there is nothing solid under our feet, nor clear over our heads; all is one great "perhaps;" nothing certain - nothing; neither soul, nor God, nor eternal life. To all such we say, "If we be dreaming, as you affirm, then for God's sake let us dream on, unless you have some better, surer belief to which we may awake." But let us now think awhile of the unspeakably precious truth our text contains. And we note -
I. WHOM IT CONCERNS.
1. Those "in the Lord." "It is obviously of the utmost moment that we rightly understand who are spoken of. Alas! the context has warned as that the blessing here pronounced is not for all. The blessed dead are placed in marked contrast with those who in this life have borne the mark of the beast, which is the world, in their forehead and upon their hand. How glad are we, for ourselves and for those dear to us, when it comes to the last solemn moment, to forget that there is any distinction between the death of the righteous and of the wicked; between the death of one who has loved and served Christ, and of one who has lived 'without him in the world'? It seems so hard to preserve that distinction" (Vaughan, in loc.). But there it is, and may not be overlooked, though, to the unspeakable hurt of men's souls, it too often is. Now, "to die in the Lord," we must first have been "in the Lord." And can any be said to be "in the Lord" if they never think of him, never call upon him, never look to him, and never seek to live to him? "In the Lord" is the constant phrase which tells of a living trust and hope and love towards the Lord; and how can the description be applied where none of these things are? God help us all to remember this!
2. And these when they are dead. Just then, when we want to know something of them; when with streaming tears we yearn
"For the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still."
II. WHAT IT SAYS OF THEM.
1. That they are "blessed." What unspeakable comfort there is in this assurance for those who are left behind! Not unconscious, for such high epithet as "blessed" belongs not to mere unconsciousness. Not in purgatorial pains, for neither could that be called blessed. Doubtless Christ's transforming, assimilating power, through the energy of the Spirit of God, goes on in the departed believer, as it is necessary that it should. For St. Paul teaches us that "he who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Therefore that good work is going on still; death does not hinder, but accelerate it. But the process is not by those hideous means which mediaeval monks imagined, and which the very word "purgatory" suggests. But they are blessed; that is enough to know, enough to uplift the mourner's heart.
2. And immediately that they quit this life. Such is the meaning of the word "henceforth." "It means substantially even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the very moment of their departure to heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.).
3. They die to rest. "Yea, saith the Spirit, in order that (ἱνα) they may rest [or, 'that they shall rest'] from their labours." Death, therefore, is for them but the Divine signal that the day's work is done, that the evening hour has come, and that they are now to go home and rest. The wearisome work and toilsome trying task, which has often well nigh worn them out - such is the significance of the word "labours" - all that is over, and death is the Lord's call to them to now lie down and rest.
4. Their works follow with them. Not their labours, the element of distress and pain in their work, but their works. How do they follow? Perhaps:
(1) In that they are carried on still. They were works for the honour of their Lord, for the good of their fellow men - prayers and endeavours to draw others to Christ, intercessions for the Church of God, all manner of beneficent deeds. Are all these to cease? Is there no room for them where the blessed dead now are? Shall the sainted mother who here besought the Lord for her children that they too may be saved - shall she cease that "work"? The Lord forbid that she should; and our text seems to tell us that she, and all they like her, will not, for their works follow them.
(2) For reward. There is the scene, there the day, of recompense. Not here or now. "Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee." "Oh how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!"
(3) In their effects upon their character. We cannot see the soul, we saw only the man, and faulty enough he was, we well knew; but all the while, as the days of his life went on, and this or that work was put upon him to discharge, the soul was, by means thereof, as the marble by the sculptor's chisel, being wrought into a condition of beauty and faultlessness such as from the first had been in the Creator's mind.
(4) As ministers to their joy. The joy of gratitude that they were enabled to undertake and accomplish them. The joy of knowing that as seed they will yield blessed harvest, and, perhaps, of witnessing that harvest. St. Paul spoke always of his converts as his "joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus." Such "works" will be a joy to remember, to look upon in their results and to continue in. They cannot but be, every way, ministers to our joy.
III. THE EMPHASIS THAT IS LAID UPON IT.
1. It is declared by "a voice from heaven." This voice "may well be conceived to be that of one of 'the just made perfect,' testifying from his own experience what the true members of the militant Church on earth have to expect in heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). When we remember that the attestations to our Lord's Divine Sonship were made in similar manner by a voice from heaven, this declaration is thereby lifted up to a like high level of authority and importance.
2. It was commanded to be written. "This command to 'write' is repeated twelve times in the Revelation, to indicate that all the things it refers to are matters of importance, which must not be forgotten by the Church of Christ."
3. It is confirmed solemnly by the Holy Spirit. "Yea, saith the Spirit." With such solemn sanctions are these words so inestimably precious to the Church, introduced to our notice and commended to our reverent heed.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF ITS PROCLAMATION.
1. It was a truth most necessary for the time when it was given. See the circumstances of the faithful Church, how fearful their trial, how dire their need of all and everything that would fortify their minds amid such awful temptations to be unfaithful to their Lord. And what truth could be more helpful than such as this?
2. And it is needed still.
(1) To comfort us concerning our departed brethren in Christ.
(2) To strengthen us in view of our own departure.
(3) To cheer us amid work that often seems thankless and unfruitful, although it be the "work of the Lord." With our hope we ought never to be weary in such work. Noble work has often been done by men who had no such hope. Think of the three hundred at Thermopylae. Think of the holy men of old to whom the grave seemed to end all, to be the place where they should be "no more," and yet who became heroes of the faith (cf. Hebrews 11.).
(4) To every way ennoble and elevate our lives.
(5) To draw forth our love and devotion to him "who having overcome the sharpness of death, hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Are these purposes fulfilled in us? - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
WEB: I heard the voice from heaven saying, "Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them."