Sooner or later we will all have to face the death of a loved one. Christians meet this reality more than most because we belong to a bigger family: the church. In the body of Christ, God blesses us with many brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers — all dear loved ones whose spiritual bond with us will never be severed (Mark 3:31–35).
We must all reckon with death. Someday we will all confront our own end, but along the way, we will also witness beloved friends and family pass from this life into the next. Death is a real enemy — a frightening enemy. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
I have watched people die in front of me. I have lost friends, young and old. Death is always ugly. Death always brings sorrow. And there is nothing wrong with grief in the face of death. Jesus himself wept over the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). God has so designed us that death is unnatural to us. We were meant to live.
But when we lose a loved one who is a believer, we need to remember an important truth that will help us deal with the loss. Grief will inevitably strike us, but by God’s grace, sorrow does not have to overcome us. This truth gets to the heart of the Christian faith and offers us insight into the person of Christ, the God-man.
Jesus Desires You
In John 17:24, we read words that, on close and prayerful reflection, should be very near to our hearts when a loved one dies. Carefully consider the language:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
As a man, Jesus has certain desires. He had desires on earth, and he still has desires in heaven. Here, Jesus has a desire that he makes known to the Father. He speaks, as he often has before that, of those whom the Father has given him (see John 6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:6, 9). Those whom the Father has given to Christ are the very sheep for whom the Good Shepherd laid down his life (John 10:11). Jesus prays to the Father for his beloved sheep in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, and he continues to intercede for them to this very day (Romans 8:34).
And what does Jesus desire?
He desires that his people be with him. Jesus is completely happy and satisfied as he reigns from heaven, but according to his prayer in John 17, he still has a certain unfulfilled desire: that his people join him in the home he has already prepared for them (John 14:2–4).
We May Lose, But Jesus Gains
When a brother or sister in the Lord dies, we should remember first and foremost that the Father has answered Jesus’s prayer. God is sovereign over our loved ones’ deaths, and he has purposes we may never understand (Deuteronomy 32:39; James 4:15), but we can cling to the truth that Jesus has prayed for his Father to bring his people home. When a Christian dies, the Father is granting to his Son a request that he first prayed nearly two thousand years ago on the night before he gave up his life for his people.
We can at least say this much: When a loved one passes, Jesus gains a lot more than we have lost.
Yes, we have lost. We will never again share sweet fellowship with that brother or sister in this life. The magnitude of the loss often eludes our words. But the loss is never beyond Jesus’s words: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”
Eternal Joy Beyond the Grave
Jesus knows he has a glory that is far beyond anything this world can offer. He knows that a true sight of him is worth more than millions of worlds. He knows that the sight of his glory will leave no one unsatisfied. Jesus is eager for his precious saints to enter true, eternal happiness with him.
We certainly taste many joys in this life, but nothing can compare to the pure delight of unhindered fellowship with Jesus. We are destined for unspeakable joy in his presence.
An Answer to Prayer
When you lose a loved one in the Lord to the Lord, you have indeed lost — at least for now. But that brother or sister has gained, and so has Jesus (Philippians 1:20–23). We may shed enough tears to fill buckets, but those streams of tears running down our cheeks will glisten with joy when we realize that our loved one’s death is nothing less than an answer to Jesus’s prayer.
The death of a dear loved one in the Lord may present one of the greatest tests of our faith. But can we trust that our loved one is better off with the Beloved? Will we believe that the Son of God is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners? If we do, then our grief is godly grief, and Jesus will turn our sorrow into great joy (John 16:20).
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15), and it can be for us too when we cling to the hope that death will never win (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). Jesus grieved himself so that we will never have to endure hopeless grief in the face of death.
In the end, death is just an answer to Jesus’s prayer.