Read Philippians 1:21-24 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. When did Paul expect to be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23) and “with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)?
Paul was driven with the passion to live “in Christ” now (2 Corinthians 5:17) and “with Christ” after His second coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4:17). For the apostle, not even death could break the assurance of belonging to his Savior and Lord. As he said in the epistle to the Romans, “neither death nor life” can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, , NKJV). “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8, NKJV).
With this certainty in mind, Paul spoke of the believers who already had died as “those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NKJV) and who will be raised at Christ’s second coming to receive eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:16-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
When Paul mentioned his “desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23, NKJV), did he imply that after death his soul would depart to live consciously with Christ? Not at all. In this text, “Paul verbalizes his desire to leave this present troubled existence and be with Christ, without reference to any lapse of time that may occur between the two events. This verse does not teach that Paul expected to go to heaven at death. He was very clear that he would not receive his reward until the Second Coming (2 Timothy 4:8).” — Andrews Study Bible, p. 1555, note on Philippians 1:23.
In short, Paul “is saying that the next thing he would know after departing (death) would be Christ coming in the clouds of heaven to raise the dead, when he would ‘be with the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). It should also be noted that the Bible writers at times refer to two events together that may be separated by a long period of time.” — Andrews Study Bible, p. 1555, note on Philippians 1:23.
But why would Paul prefer to die than to live? Because then he could finally rest from all his troubles, without needing any longer to suffer pain in his body. And he would do so with the full certainty that he would receive “the crown of righteousness” at the Second Coming (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NKJV). Though Paul certainly didn’t want to die, he knew what would follow when he did.
|Particularly in hard times, who hasn’t thought about how nice it would be to close your eyes in death and, the next thing you know, “be with Christ”? How does this thought help us understand what Paul was saying in Philippians?|