We love getting your feedback and do our best to share scriptures answers to your fantastic questions.
A reader “Jesse” asked us the following question in response to our Gospel Journal article “Soul Searching: 5 things you should know about death”:
“…What do you take Paul to mean when he says in Philippians 1:23 that he wants to “depart and be with Christ”? In what sense are deceased believers “with Christ” before their resurrection?”
It’s a great question and one we’d like to answer below.
The Apostle Paul, under inspiration of God, wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison (Phil. 1:12-14). Despite his predicament, he remained strong in faith, prepared to die for Christ if necessary (Phil 1:20,21). He says:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 ESV
Whether in life, or in death he wanted to glorify God (Phil. 1:20).
Paul was not afraid of death, but he did have a struggle which 1:23 was at the center of. In verses 21 to 26 he discusses the benefits and downsides of life and death. For Paul, death would mean that his next waking moment (the resurrection) would be in the presence of Jesus Christ. If he remained alive, he could continue to write letters to and visit the churches that he helped establish.
This is the “two” he discusses. See the contrast highlighted below:
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Philippians 1:21-24 ESV
He ends this point by stating that for the sake of the Philippians, it was better for him to remain alive at that time.
What does it mean to depart and be with Christ?
With that context, we’re equipped to answer the first question: What does it mean to depart and be with Christ? The context shows us that the “departure” that Paul speaks of is clearly his death.
The question Jesse asks, “What does it mean to be with Christ?” Can be answered with the question “When will the dead be with Christ?” We looked at this subject in a previous article in our “Soul Searching” series Soul Searching – 5 things you should know about the Hope God offers, but it’s worth spending some time reviewing some key points.
Staying within the context of Philippians we see Paul clearly teaches that his hope of being with Christ Jesus was at the future resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:11, 20, 21). This makes complete sense with other scriptures that show us that the dead “know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Paul’s hope was to be one day in the future be raised from the dead and be forever with his Lord – something that 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
The Thessalonians had a similar question to Jesse’s. In the 1st letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, in 4:13-18 Paul tells the young church what will happen to faithful believers who die before Jesus’ return. This was a topic of particular concern for those in Thessalonika. To answer their question concerning death, resurrection and being “with” the Lord Jesus Christ:
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV
When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth, the dead in Christ will be raised from the dead. At that point, the believers will “always be with the Lord”. The reassuring point Paul is sharing with us is that the living and dead believers will meet again and together will be with Jesus Christ.
For more on the soul, immortality, death and resurrection feel free to read the entire series titled “Soul Searching” here:
- Soul Searching – 5 things you should know about Immortality
- Soul Searching – 5 things you should know about death
- Soul Searching – 5 things you should know about the Hope God offers