The Blessed Dead

“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 labors and their works do follow them.” —Revelation 14:13

TO UNDERSTAND THIS text it is necessary to recognize the three senses in which the words die and dead are used in the Bible:

1. Literal death, cessation of being—the opposite of life. “The dead know not anything.”—Eccles. 9:5

2. The condition of the world of mankind since Adam’s disobedience (Rom. 5:12), “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph. 2:1) This figurative use of the word dead was shown by our Lord in Matthew 8:22: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” These were physically alive, but were out of harmony with God, the source of life, and were on the broad road to destruction. They were on their way to literal death.

3. The condition of the true followers of Jesus: “Ye are dead.” (Col. 3:3) These are believers in Christ who have voluntarily renounced all human hopes. (II Cor. 5:17) Instead of living to get what human enjoyment they can, these use up in God’s service what life is left. True Christians are on the road to actual death as human beings, though they are counted alive as New Creatures in Christ. In this respect they follow their Leader from Jordan to Calvary. His true followers have the glorious hope of sharing his resurrection as heavenly beings—like our risen Lord. This hope is sure of realization in due time, because it is promised by the all-powerful Creator. Still, they give up the only tangible thing they now possess—their life as human beings with its privileges and enjoyments. Only those who have faith, who believe God’s promises, are willing to do this.

God created humanity with desires, cravings for the good things of earth. Living in the full sense consists of satisfying these desires. One normal human desire is for physical food. A part of living is to have this desire satisfied. There are many other cravings such as companionship, the study of nature, planning and making things. Those who can satisfy these desires say, “This is living!” Anyone who cannot enjoy the good things the Creator has provided might as well be dead. In the words of a common saying, “he is merely existing.”

A true Christian gives up any and all earthly enjoyments which interfere with his service for God. God chose an apt figure of speech when he described a true Christian’s condition as being ‘dead’ with Christ. He lives to please God, not himself. This condition, though described figuratively, is real, causing a definite change in a person’s life.

This ‘dead’ condition can change if one loses the will to follow Christ in this respect. Only if he continues in the proper attitude until his literal death, can he fulfill our text, and ‘die in the Lord’. Those who do remain in the body of Christ, having Christ for their Head, are truly blessed. They will enjoy a glorious resurrection like his. But even before this they will have spiritual blessings such as communion with God, knowledge of divine truths, and the rest of faith. The important thing is to continue in the attitude of being dead to earthly things.

This ‘dead’ condition begins when a believer in Christ renounces his own will and sincerely promises to do God’s will. In this way he becomes a true follower of Jesus, of whom it is written, “Lo, I come … to do thy will, O God.” (Heb. 10:7) His will for the true followers is the same as for Jesus. They are to use up their human life in God’s service, and to put to death all human hopes. They have a new mind, a new purpose in life.

This new mind with its treasure of knowledge of divine truths is in an earthen vessel, the human body. (II Cor. 4:6,7) The purpose only is new. Desires and cravings for earth’s good things are ‘built into’ the earthen vessel by the Creator. Since Adam’s disobedience there are also appetites for evil things—some come by heredity, others are developed by the individuals themselves, along with bad habits.

All human desires—good and evil—seek satisfaction and are a great hindrance to the new mind. Paul describes this conflict in Galatians 5:17: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott uses the word ‘desires’ instead of ‘lusteth’. This is proper, because good earthly things oppose the new mind, as well as sinful things. The same Greek word is translated ‘desire’ in Matthew 13:17, and Luke 22:15, and refers to longing for proper things. The new mind determines to do God’s will—the flesh draws in the opposite direction.

If we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill or ‘fill full’ the desires of the flesh. Some of these may be put out of our beings entirely, but not all. As long as we have the earthen vessel there will be conflict, and, as expressed by the Apostle Paul, “Ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal. 5:17) We groan within ourselves waiting for our deliverance. This will come in the first resurrection.

This fight against the human tendencies is called mortifying, or putting to death the deeds of the body. (Rom. 8:13) The Greek word translated ‘deeds’ is derived from a word described by Dr. Strong as an “action repeated many times,” which has become habitual. Some translators use the word ‘practices’—“Put to death the practices of the flesh.” Human desires are habits continually urging fulfillment. Each time one of these cravings asserts itself and demands satisfaction, it is not to be fulfilled, but opposed and put to death.

Since this may occur often, we are said to “die daily.” (I Cor. 15:31) “We are killed all the day long.” (Rom. 8:36) This verse goes on to say “we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” This is the way God views us as human beings. Our human life is to be used up, not spared. Our consecration meant that we were willing to do this very thing. We prove the sincerity of this purpose every time we fight against the natural human cravings. This is a daily dying, and it will not be completed until our actual death.

The followers of Jesus differ in one respect from their Leader. He was perfect, “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) He did not have to strive against evil habits as his followers do. God makes allowances for this in all consecrated believers who fight all depraved desires. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Rom. 4:8) “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isa. 61:10) But this is only for followers of Jesus who fight against evil habits entrenched in the earthen vessel. They do not fulfill these desires, but oppose them. An important part of their daily dying is to put to death all evil, selfish, ungodly tendencies.

Opposing the evil tendencies is only part of the Christian’s dying. If this were all, then we could not be said to be dead with him, for Jesus had no evil habits to put to death. Dying with him would not be putting away evil things, but putting to death similar things which tempted him. As a normal but perfect human being, Jesus had desires for earth’s good things. Among other things he desired were rest, peace, justice.

He sought rest on one occasion by attempting to get away from the multitude. (Mark 6:31,34) Apparently this was not God’s will for him, but he did not complain. He had compassion on the multitude and began to teach them many things. He put to death a normal desire for rest. We are not told whether this required a great mental conflict on his part, but he certainly put to death his own preference. (Rom. 15:3) Hebrews 12:3 says that Jesus endured the contradiction of sinners. This indicates an opposition to his natural human desire for peace. The statement that he ‘endured’ shows that a mental fight was required.

His Gethsemane experience shows clearly the conflict between the New Creature and the natural human desires. He expressed his choice to God: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39) He did have a will, a preference or choice, and expressed it in prayer. The human nature naturally rebelled against the injustice of dying as a criminal. The new mind, however, was intent upon doing God’s will at any cost. God’s will was that he should give his flesh, his perfect humanity, for the life of the world. The whole Gethsemane experience was a mental fight, but the New Creature won. The fact that Jesus had to fight is clearly shown by his advice in Revelation 3:21.

We must overcome as he also overcame. No one could be an overcomer unless there was opposition, something to overcome. Every Christian has experiences where the natural human desires differ from what is clearly indicated to be God’s will. The mental battle is won and we overcome when we, like Jesus, say from the heart, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Then we have put to death our desire. This may have to be done repeatedly, and therefore it is part of dying daily.

The human desires, good and evil, are counted dead from the moment of full consecration. They may be more or less dormant until stimulated by conditions around us. Seeing someone else having a new car, a fine home, a beautiful garden, or a good position, can easily cause the thought to come into our mind, Why can’t I have it, too? A normal human desire suddenly comes to life. It is not sinful unless motivated by envy or pride. However, it is an earthly desire, and could easily become a hindrance to our development as a New Creature. To gratify such desires might require expenditure of time, energy, and money which we had consecrated to use up in God’s service.

Anything more than a reasonable provision for ourselves and those dependent upon us can become a snare to us. It would be laying up of treasures on earth. Every time such desires come to life, they should be met with the question, “Do I really need it, and will it help me serve God better?” If this is done resolutely, the New Creature has overcome. It has put a human desire to death. This may have to be done many times, and is part of being “killed all the day long.”—Rom. 8:36

Another normal human desire is to improve conditions in the world. Discussions are going on around us continually, and it is but natural to think this or that side is right. If we permit ourselves to do this, the next step is to devote time or means to help this or that cause. This may seem right, but our knowledge of God’s plan shows that only his kingdom can bring a lasting solution to human problems. The best human plan comes so far short of God’s purpose that it would seem that all human systems must be destroyed in the great time of trouble. None of them is good enough for God.

Good intentions and high ideals cannot deal with ingrained selfishness of fallen man. God’s kingdom will be backed by divine wisdom and power. Our consecration to do God’s will requires that we put to death any temptation to solve world problems by busying ourselves with human organizations. This will often require a fight on the part of the New Creature.

There will also be opposition from the people on this particular point. Human wisdom would not agree to go to the extent of “the removing of those things that are shaken … that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Heb. 12:27) God’s way is best, and the new mind has full faith in the clear Bible statements that God’s kingdom will “break in pieces and consume” all others. (Dan. 2:44) May we never compromise in this fight between the natural, human, and the divine wisdom! The surest way to overcome is to quote scriptures and explain God’s plan in a loving manner. Positive declarations will make our overcoming easier than if we merely keep quiet while others express their opinions.

There is also the temptation to demand and insist upon our ‘rights’. Each person has rights which should be respected by others, but under Satan’s rule of selfishness, often this does not happen. At consecration, the Christian voluntarily surrendered all his rights as a human being. When the Christian is deprived of these for one reason or another, he should immediately remember that they are part of his sacrifice. Another helpful thought is to realize that the particular experience was supervised by God who could have arranged that our ‘rights’ be respected.

Jesus clearly taught that we should not demand our rights (Matt. 5:38-41), but this could of course be carried to a ridiculous extreme. For instance, if we did not take our paycheck, or ask for things we are entitled to, we could not live. On the other hand, one who goes through life demanding the full measure of his rights has the wrong attitude, and will never be of the kingdom class.

When Jesus was smitten, he made a simple, reasonable statement: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” (John 18:23) He did not fight for his rights but submitted, knowing that if it had been for his eternal good, his Heavenly Father would take care of him in all things.

Not only real, but fancied rights, seek gratification. The fallen human nature is selfish, and often makes unrighteous demands. The best way is to test each idea by the Golden Rule. (Matt. 7:12) Put yourself in the other person’s place. From his viewpoint, things might look entirely different.

No one should feel he has a right to be recognized as a speaker or leader among the Lord’s people. All opportunities to serve should be regarded as privileges with responsibilities for doing one’s best. Neither is it right to endorse or encourage anyone in insisting on so-called rights. The proper attitude is to be ready at any time to relinquish anything whenever the Lord’s providence indicates that this would please him. Being dead with Christ means that we are daily opposing and killing any desires, good or evil, which we find to be out of harmony with God’s will for us.

The best and surest method is to be active in letting our light shine, thinking about and telling others what we can about the glorious kingdom of God. Temptations to get and enjoy earthly things will be forgotten while our minds are occupied in God’s business. Like Jesus, we will encounter more or less opposition in this work. The human nature may rebel at this. The new nature must fight and put the old to death at such times. Even those most active in God’s service will still have to die daily, putting to death anything that opposes the doing of God’s will. The Apostle Paul said, “I keep under my body, … lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”—I Cor. 9:27

The first part of Revelation 14:13, therefore, means that the Christian who maintains his dead condition until actual death has the blessing that comes to final overcomers. He will have his great reward. The words “from henceforth” show that there is a special blessing beginning at a certain time. Verses 14-16 show that the time is in the harvest of which Jesus is the Chief Reaper. This harvest separates the wheat from the tares at the end of the Gospel Age. (Matt. 13:39) Verses 17-20 describe the harvest of the vine of the earth, as contrasted with that of the true vine of John 15:1-8. The time is therefore in the end of the age, when Jesus is invisibly present, but before being recognized as king by the world. He has the golden crown, but his presence is first understood only by his watching followers.—I Thess. 5:4

I Thessalonians 4:15-17 also divides Christians into two groups respecting time. When the Lord descends, the dead in Christ rise first. They are not hindered by those who are alive and remain. During the Gospel Age, as each Christian finished his course he fell asleep, figuratively speaking, in death. (I Cor. 15:6) Like Paul, they awaited the crown to be given “at that day.” (II Tim. 4:8) Before the Second Advent, all fell asleep. But in I Corinthians 15:51 we read, “Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” At death, Christians at the end of the age would not sleep, but would be changed instantaneously.

Like I Thessalonians 4:16 and Revelation 14:13, this shows the two divisions of Christians with respect to time: “at the last trump” (I Cor. 15:52), the “trump of God.” Those who die in the Lord after the Lord came, are those who do not sleep in death, but are changed instantly from the human to the divine nature.—II Pet. 1:4

It is also stated that they rest from their labors, but their works follow with them. (Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott, word-for-word translation) Those who die in the Lord ‘from henceforth’ continue in the same work they are engaged in before their death. The laborious feature, however, will be at an end, because having new, divine bodies they will never become weary. Those still in the flesh “labor in the word and doctrine.” (I Tim. 5:17) When they die they rest from labor, but their work is not interrupted, because the moment of death is the moment of change to incorruption.

The work of the saints is clearly shown in Isaiah 61:1-3. The first fulfillment was upon Jesus, the Head of the church. The Holy Spirit was given him because he was anointed to preach good tidings to the meek, etc. His followers are given the same Holy Spirit, and for the same purpose. This truth gathered the faithful ones to the truth in the Jewish harvest at the First Advent. During the Gospel Age it attracted those whom the Lord was drawing to the high calling.—John 6:44

At the Second Advent, the Holy Spirit serves as a sickle to separate the ‘wheat’ from the ‘tares’ in the Gospel Age harvest. We have noted that the context of Revelation 14:13 shows the time of fulfillment is this harvest, in which our Lord is the Chief Reaper. (Rev. 14:14-16) It is reasonable to expect that the glorified saints are with Jesus supervising the harvest work. Thus all the saints, those on both sides of the veil, are engaged in the same work. As each one here finishes his course, he is changed into a divine being; his work continues, but with greatly expanded power.

The divine commission of Isaiah 61:1-3 includes the proclamation of the “Day of Vengeance of our God.” Jesus omitted quoting this part of the text because this day had not then arrived. (Luke 4:18-20) Those who live in the harvest of the Gospel Age are to fulfill this, because at that time it will be God’s Day of Vengeance. Revelation 14:17-20 pictures this as the harvest of the vine of the earth being cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God. Both harvestings are connected with the time when those who die in the Lord are blessed from ‘henceforth’.

It should be noted that the Lord’s people this side of the veil do not execute the vengeance of God. They merely proclaim the fact that this is the time when he will execute it. They explain that this vengeance is particularly upon the great ones who have been oppressors of the poor. “The Day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon everyone that is proud and lofty, and upon everyone that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.”—Isa. 2:12

Under God’s providence, the proclamation of the message of the Day of Vengeance concerning economic inequalities has great power because it appeals to the natural selfishness of those who have less of the good things of life. It causes them to demand more and more of their real and fancied rights. These demands are more than can be met by leaders under the present human governments. This weakens the present systems and contributes to the eventual collapse of the kingdoms of this world. This is a potent factor in God’s method of destroying them.

Isaiah 42:13 shows that God “shall stir up jealousy like a man of war.” Military leaders stir up dissensions in the ranks of the enemy whenever possible. It. is a most effective method of weakening and destroying the enemy. The present evil world under Satan’s domination is and has always been full of inequalities. Those who have had the advantage over others have been able to maintain their exalted positions. But now conditions are changing. The ‘have nots’ are being made jealous of the ‘haves’, and they are demanding more and more.

God is doing this by the simple process of causing truth along all lines to be proclaimed in the world—the “increase of knowledge” (Dan. 12:4) on every subject. The whole message of the kingdom is proclaimed, but the selfish world hears only that which makes manifest the fact that they have been deprived of their rights. This stirs up their jealousy, and they do the destroying work themselves. Declaring the Day of Vengeance of God is a powerful message, mainly because it is his time for the destruction to take place.

Since Revelation 14:13 shows that the saints who die in the Lord do not cease their work, it must be true that those who are on the other side of the veil are working to the same end: promoting the interest of the kingdom. Since the glorified church has divine power, we may conclude that the greatest part of the work is done by them. Our part may be infinitesimal, and largely informative, but it is the Lord’s work and we should rejoice in our privilege.

Let us continue to ‘die daily’ by putting to death any human desire which interferes with our activities in doing his will. If we endure to the end in our good fight of faith, we will die in the Lord, and be changed instantaneously into his likeness! We will then be forever with the Lord!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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