To depart in death and be with Christ is “far better” than life in this sin-cursed world, but that intermediate state is not our final hope. Better still is that day when our Savior appears from heaven to “transform our lowly [physical] body to be like his glorious [physical] body” and we are reconstituted as whole persons by God’s life-giving Spirit (Phil. 3:21).
Death and the intermediate state—the interim between death and the resurrection—are included under the heading of last things, but they are not the last things that will happen. The very last things are the glorious return of our risen, reigning Lord Jesus; the resurrection of the just and the unjust; the last judgment; and the new heavens and earth.
Nevertheless, death and the intermediate state are among the last things because unless Jesus comes back first, these are the next things to happen in our personal future. Since we bear the image of the God who plans the end from the beginning, we long to see into the future, both our own and that of the cosmos. God’s Word answers our longing for a glimpse of things to come—not exhaustively but sufficiently; not to satiate our curiosity but to reassure our anxious hearts.
Death: An Enemy Defeated but not Destroyed
Death is our enemy. Increasing pain and decreasing strength often precede it. Or it snatches life away unexpectedly, through accident or violence. It irreversibly severs human relationships, inflicting grief on survivors. Jesus Himself wept in sorrow at His friend’s tomb (John 11). Death ushers us into unknown territory. Death brings us into the presence of our holy Creator and Judge (Heb. 9:27). We do not welcome death.
But Christians need not fear death. Death is an enemy that is defeated but not yet destroyed. At Christ’s return and our resurrection, that “last enemy” will be eliminated, “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:26, 54–57). Yet our final victory was already secured when the Son of God partook of our flesh and blood, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–16).