A TIME TO BE BORN AND A TIME TO DIE (EXCERPT OF JOHN, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN)
An excerpt from John, Chapter Seventeen, by Robert B. Thompson.
Copyright © 1991 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Every saint without exception has been assigned a specific task to accomplish during his or her pilgrimage on the earth. It is possible to complete this task and to pass on to the next life with the glorious satisfaction we have accomplished our appointed work.
Let us think for a moment about the attitude with which every man and woman who is serving Christ should face physical death. It is unscriptural and unreasonable for someone who belongs to Christ to cringe in fear of physical death or to be unwilling to let go of a saved relative or friend when the Lord is making it clear that it is time for that person to come home.
A different viewpoint of life and death is that each of us has a specific work to accomplish. When our work has been accomplished to the Lord’s satisfaction we are permitted—not forced—to walk hand in hand with Jesus out of the prison of the flesh. We have finished the work Christ has given us to perform in the valley of sin and death, the battlefield of demonic opposition, perversity, and wicked people. Our probationary period is over. It is time for our release from the prison of the flesh. Now we are ready to come home.
The death of a saint is precious in the sight of Christ. He makes no mistakes concerning the time ordained for each of His holy ones to lay down his cross and go to be with Him in Glory.
“I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given Me to do. (John 17:4)
“I have finished the work which you have given me to do.”
To one of God’s conquering saints, the above sentence is among the most inspiring statements of all Scripture; for this is the attitude with which Christian people should face physical death.
There are two important concepts here—concepts that bear directly on each of God’s elect: (1) every saint without exception has been assigned a specific task to accomplish during his or her pilgrimage on the earth; and (2) it is possible to complete this task and to pass over to the other shore with the glorious satisfaction that we have accomplished our appointed task.
We cannot imagine a more marvelous hope than that of hearing the Lord Jesus tell us we have diligently and successfully completed our assigned task and now can pass over joyfully into the Presence of Christ, there to await with all saints the Day of Resurrection.
Truly, the nourishing “meat” that strengthens us to keep moving forward is to do Christ’s will and to finish that part of the work of the Kingdom given us to accomplish during our lifetime on the earth.
After years of observing Christians we have come to the conclusion that most of the Lord’s flock do not realize that each believer has a specific task to perform in the Kingdom of God. There may be a vague idea that somehow, somewhere, sometime, God has something for each of us to do. This may be as far as our understanding goes.
Why is it that the members of Christ’s Body do not know what their specific commissions are? It may be that we are not presenting our body as a living sacrifice so God’s will can be proved in our daily life. We may not possess enough zeal for the things of God.
Until we become willing to present our body a living sacrifice in total consecration to God we cannot know the will of God for our life on earth. Our heart is divided. Our mind is divided. Two competing interests and motives are abiding in us. Our own hopes, goals, and pleasures are competing with God’s hopes, goals and pleasures.
There may be a dim awareness in the back of our mind that Christ is expecting something of us.
A believer who never has received Christ as absolute Lord of his or her life is not actually a “Christian” in the New Testament sense of the term. It is the disciples who were termed “Christians” (Acts 11:26). A disciple is one who has abandoned his own life so he or she may give attention to the hopes, goals, and pleasures of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because the multitude of professing Christians are not all disciples, the doctrine of each believer having a specific task to fulfill in the Kingdom of God is not an idea that is set forth in every assembling of church members. In many instances the people are taught how to use the Scriptures in order to more successfully carry out their own plans and goals, not how to know the will of Christ in order to carry out His plans and goals.
Every member of the Body of Christ without exception has been assigned a part to play in the building of the Body, a talent to spend in the market place (Romans 12:6; I Corinthians 2:11). If we will seek the Lord in sincerity, committing our way to Him, acknowledging Him in all we do, He will lead us into the Divine plan for our life (Proverbs 3:5,6).
Then our daily food will be to do Christ’s will and to finish His work.
Christ died that we may live. Now we are to die so He may live in and through us, so His Divine Life may touch the people with whom we come in contact.
If we decide to save our life we will lose it. If we are willing to lose our life for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s we will save it. Our life then will multiply because Christ will bless the offering of our life and feed the multitudes of the earth with the pieces of it.
We are speaking of losing our life in the sense of giving up our own ambitions and joys and turning our attention to serving the Lord.
Let us think for a moment about the attitude with which every man and woman, boy and girl, who is serving Christ should face physical death. Christ Himself is our Example, as we study His prayer in John, Chapter 17. If we are a fleshly believer, if we view the great purposes of our life on earth as eating, working, sleeping, playing, and reproducing, then physical death is, of course, a tragedy. We no longer are able to eat, work, sleep, play, or reproduce. Our “life” has come to an end. Our loved ones will mourn in anguish over us. Medical science will attempt to restore the beating of our heart.
The ultimate evil has befallen us: we have died!
We can, if we wish, fearfully clutch our pitiful existence on this dark planet. We can battle our way along through the valley of the shadow of death, filled with dread that either we or one of our loved ones will be called home to the Presence of the Lord.
It is not wise for us to grasp in desperation our present evil existence to the point that God has to tear us away from it, or deal with us until we are willing to let go of some person dear to us whom Christ is ready to bring to a higher plane of living.
It is unscriptural and unreasonable for someone who belongs to Christ to cringe in fear of physical death or to be unwilling to let go of a saved relative or friend when the Lord is making it clear it is time for that person (whether elder or child) to come home.
Heaven is a land of beautiful residences and parks (the visionaries inform us), the place where God, Jesus, the elect angels, and our loved ones rejoice continually. Are we afraid to send a husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, or good friend to Paradise?
There is an altogether different viewpoint of life and death that Jesus is portraying in this chapter of John. It is the concept that each of us has a specific work to accomplish. When our work has been accomplished to the Lord’s satisfaction we are permitted—not forced—to walk hand in hand with Jesus out of the prison of the flesh. We have finished the work Christ has given us to perform in the valley of sin and death, the battlefield of demonic opposition, perversity, and wicked people.
Our period of testing is over. The darkness has been driven from our personality. Now we are ready to come home.
The death of a saint is precious in the sight of Christ. He makes no mistakes concerning the time ordained for each of us to lay down his cross and go to be with Him in glory.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. (Psalms 139:16)
The one thought that mars our joy is the grief our homecoming will bring to our loved ones on the earth. We shall find later on in Chapter 17 that Jesus was concerned about those disciples whom He had kept so diligently and now had to leave for a season.
We must realize that if we stay past our appointed time, the plan of God for our loved ones, their unique destinies, will be hindered. We must trust the Lord Jesus that He will keep through His own name those beloved family members so no harm will befall them.
While we were on earth the Lord enabled us to protect and provide for our family. It was always the Lord who provided the watchful care, not us. Can we doubt that His watchful care will continue now that our family has a greater need than before? Would it be like Him whose name is Faithful to abandon our family when we die?
Therefore we can walk onward hand in hand with our Lord Jesus having confidence that if we obey His will, our loved ones will be brought to maturity according to the loving plan of the Father for them. Also, their every need will be supplied.
There are several instances recorded in the Scriptures in which a saint was advised of the time of his death. Except for Hezekiah, the men of God who were notified did not mournfully beg God to change His mind. The Word speaks of their being gathered to their people; not of their perishing but of being gathered to their relatives and friends who had gone on before.
Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:8)
“Was gathered to his people.”
Jesus himself spoke, not of dying but of going to His Father. We understand, therefore, that physical death is a reestablishing of relationships.
Notice the dignity and strength in the death of the godly Jacob:
And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. (Genesis 49:33)
We see here that Jacob’s time had come, his work was finished. Jacob yielded up his spirit. This reminds us of the Lord Jesus. No person was able to take Christ’s life from Him. He laid it down and He took it up again (John 10:18).
The deaths of Aaron and Moses are outstanding examples of victory over the grief and fear that ordinarily accompany physical death—and these examples of victory took place under the old covenant! God commanded them to die. He took their spirits.
Aaron and Moses died in obedience to the Lord while in the full vigor of their physical lives. No weaknesses claimed their bodies. Perhaps their continued exposure to the Glory of God had rendered them somewhat immune to disease. They marched obediently into the midst of their deceased loved ones, laying down their flesh along the way.
Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. (Numbers 33:38)
Wasn’t that marvelous? Can you imagine anything more glorious than that? Aaron’s work was finished. For Aaron to have remained past his appointed hour would have blemished the perfection of the Lord’s work among the Israelites. Aaron’s generation was required to die in the wilderness in the forty-year period, and this was the “fortieth year.” Of course, Aaron’s calendar had been established before he was born (Psalms 139:16).
How triumphantly Aaron was called home!
It was time for Aaron to be reunited with his people who had gone on before, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as his many relatives and friends who had perished in the wilderness.
Aaron climbed Mount Hor, as God told him to do, and passed into the spirit realm—there to await the Day of the Lord along with his relatives and acquaintances. (He is still waiting, for he cannot be made perfect apart from us.)
We can imagine the veteran priest, now one hundred twenty-three years of age, as he rose up in the morning, took one final look at his beloved Ithamar and the grandchildren, tenderly kissed the weeping Elisheba, and started up the slopes of Mount Hor with his staff in his hand.
Moses, and Eleazar, Aaron’s oldest living son, were with him. Before they had gone very far up the mountain, Moses removed Aaron’s priestly garments and put them on Eleazar. No matter how much anyone is used of the Lord, when he dies the priestly office in which he served on earth is taken from him and given to another. The servant of the Lord has passed into the spirit realm but the burden of ministry must continue in the earth.
“Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor;
“and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.” (Numbers 20:25,26)
All of the congregation were watching for this was a very important event. Aaron was the first high priest of Israel. The glory was now passing to Eleazar.
Aaron mused over the events of his life: the days in Egypt; the fleeing of his brother Moses to the wilderness; the power of God Almighty resting on Moses and himself as they stood boldly before Pharaoh of Egypt; the terrible splendor of Sinai as the Lord’s Presence sanctified the stone of the mountain.
The never-ending pain of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu was still with him.
Aaron’s mind was touched with fear, then wonderment as he obeyed this last commandment of the Lord. What would happen when he reached the summit? Would the holy Shechinah blaze out from the rock and destroy him as it had his two sons?
The higher he climbed the stronger he felt. He could run if he wished, His feet were so light! A carpet of green grass covered the ground beneath him. Aaron had never seen such gorgeous flowers. Birds of every hue were singing more melodiously than he could remember.
Four people were walking toward him from just ahead. “Mother! Father!” Aaron exclaimed. “And there are my boys!”
Those watching from afar saw the empty husk of the first high priest collapse to the ground.
The passing of Aaron’s younger brother was as precious in the sight of the Lord.
“Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession;
“and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; (Deuteronomy 32:49,50)
Moses had been brought into such an intimate relationship with the Lord that the Lord himself buried Moses, in a valley in the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 34:6).
Moses and apparently Aaron also were in the best of health when they left the earth to go to be with their relatives. They possessed the physical strength necessary to climb a mountain. This is the way death ought to be: not an overcoming of our strength by the devil but a yielding up of our spirit when the appointed time comes.
How wonderful to take the last step (in the world) of obedience to God and to walk upright into the company of the heavenly host shouting Hallelujah all the way! May Christ give us the faith to walk on the water of death as He walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee.
It may have been difficult for Aaron and Moses and their families when they came to the hour of parting. Perhaps their wives had already gone on before them. Both men walked forward in joy to renew acquaintances with their relatives and friends who had died during the forty years of the wilderness wanderings.
We must remember that the Lord Jesus was a young man who was tested along the same lines as we. He too had a father and mother, brothers and sisters, as well as faithful disciples, whom He had to leave as He went to His Father.
But, as in every other matter, the Lord Jesus acted in unquestioning obedience to the Father, knowing that this always is (ultimately) the path of joy. His hour had come.
Jesus yielded up His Spirit on the cross of Calvary, but only when His work on earth was finished.
Paul had a strong desire to go home to be with the Lord, but the needs of God’s elect held him in the valley of tears.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. (Philippians 1:21-24)
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8)
Finally the Lord notified Paul that his work was finished. Can you imagine Paul’s joy?
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. (II Timothy 4:6)
No more chains for Paul. No more thorns in the flesh. No more whippings or stones or perils among false brothers. No more cold, dark, dirty Roman prison cells for this Hebrew of the Tribe of Benjamin. No more chains keeping him bound to a Roman soldier or to a sinful body.
Before Paul’s joyful gaze the golden streets of Heaven were appearing, the way lined with cheering throngs as the Lord’s runner plunged the last few yards to the finish line. He could see the Judge standing to His feet and applauding with the multitude the faithful saint to whom alone had been entrusted the explanation of the transition from the Law of Moses to the grace of God through Christ.
Moses, Elijah, James, and others of Jesus’ “mighty men” stood in the welcoming committee. A smiling Stephen was holding out his hands in greeting.
And there was Jesus! Jesus Himself was coming to receive this determined Jew who, in obedience to God, had dared to abandon his faith in circumcision and the Torah that he might trust in Christ alone for his eternal salvation.
The “new wine” in Paul swelled in adoration and glory until the old wineskin began to burst.
Compare this triumphant entry with the tormenting agonies the “believers” experience as one of their saved relatives or friends approaches the moment of physical death, sometimes with plastic and steel life-support equipment keeping his heart beating long past the completion of his task on the earth.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (II Timothy 4:7)
How did Paul know he had completed his appointed task? The Lord Jesus revealed it to him. May God grant that each of us may be walking in heavenly places so that when our time comes the Lord Jesus may be able to rejoice our heart with the announcement we have completed our assigned task to His total satisfaction.
Each of God’s conquering saints lives for the moment when Jesus says to him or her, “Well done, well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Lord.”
There are no words in any language more blessed than these. Truly, this is the greatest reward that can come to any human being.
Christ’s commendation had come to Paul of Tarsus.
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:8)
Peter also had been notified of his own homecoming:
knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. (II Peter 1:14)
We understand, therefore, that death is not meant to be the cutting down of the believer by tragic circumstances at some unfortunate, ill-timed hour. As is true of all other areas of our Christian experience, our physical death is to come as a normal, necessary aspect of our pilgrimage.
Death is just one more act of obedience to Christ—the next figure in the dance, as C. S. Lewis would put it.
Our physical death is the completion of our work on earth (until we return to earth in our glorified body on the Day of Resurrection), and the beginning of our new assignment in the spirit realm.
Our only regret is the temporary parting from our loved ones. And that separation is but for a brief season while they are completing their assigned responsibilities.
The Lord will continue to care for them and us as He always has.
I have finished the work which you gave me to do.
(“A Time to Be Born, and a Time to Die”, 4027-1)