Text: Psalm 116:15

The Psalmist in Psalm 116:15 writes, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” This verse seems to declare that believers in Christ (Hebrew chasidim, i.e. pious ones) will experience death. However, an examination of earlier verses in the Psalm reveals that the Psalmist had already experienced deliverance from death – “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” (Psalm 116:8) If believers will be delivered from death, why then does the Psalmist not say “precious is the life of the saints” instead of “death”?

A similar issue occurs in John 11:11-27. In John 11:11, Jesus described ‘death’ as sleeping. However, later in verse 14, he stated as a matter of fact that Lazarus is dead. Then again in John 11:26, he proclaimed assuredly that believers in Christ shall never (double negative, ou mē) die. We know Lazarus was a true believer in Christ for the Scriptures tell us that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11:5). Therefore, will saints die? Why does the Scripture state that the death of saints is precious, yet on the hand declare that they will never die?

The Deaths in the Bible

There are three kinds of death found in the Bible :

1. Spiritual Death. This refers to how unregenerate man is spiritually separated from God, being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He is the enemy of God and corrupted by sin. He cannot discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). On the other hand, a true believer is made alive (quickened) from spiritual death in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4). Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he can now discern spiritual things.

2. Physical Death. This refers to the separation of the soul from the body (James 2:26a; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Luke 16:19-31). This is experienced by all men. However, there is a difference between the believers and unbelievers. For the unbelievers, their souls will depart to hell for judgement. On the other hand, the souls of believers will be found in heaven with the Lord – “absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

3. Eternal Death. This refers to the eternal torment of unbelievers in the lake of fire. Those who experience eternal death will be forever separated from the Lord. It is also described in the Bible as the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; 20:14; 21:8).

The expression “second” should not be seen as a “second kind” of death for there are three kinds of death in the Bible. Rather, the term “second” should be seen as the “second stage” or “second time” of death for unbelievers. Revelation 20 teaches us that unbelievers will be resurrected on the last day only to be sentenced to death again in the lake of fire, of which will be eternal torment and separation from God. This stands in contrast with believers, who will be resurrected with the glorified body unto eternal joy and life with God. Thus Revelation 2:11 states that the second death has no power over believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Believers have been delivered from spiritual and eternal death in the Lord Jesus Christ. The physical death is described in the Bible as “sleep” (Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6). This does not mean that a soul falls asleep after death without any consciousness as taught by the Seventh-Day Adventist and the Jehovah Witnesses. We know from the account of Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16:19-31) that souls remain conscious when they depart from the body. Other passages which teach the consciousness of departed souls are 2 Corinthians 5:6-9, Philippians 1:23-24 and Revelation 6:9-12.

Why then does the Bible describe the dead Christian as sleeping? Sleep is a temporary condition. At some point, one will awaken from his sleep. Though the soul is separated from the body, and the body lies decaying in the grave, the Christian will one day be resurrected with a glorified body. This resurrection is unto life and not death. Physical death thus has different meanings for the unbeliever and the believer. For the unbeliever, it is the sealing of his death and eternal torment, whereas physical death for the believer is commencement of life above with the Lord. This is the reason why Jewish cemeteries are often named “the house of the living”. It is with this in view that the Scriptures declare emphatically that Christians shall never die!

Precious to the LORD

Psalm 116:15 also tells us that the death of the saints is “precious” in the eyes of the LORD. The term “precious” (yāqār) is often used to describe the worth and value of rare stones and jewels. It is as if the “death” of the saints is an ornament so precious that it is highly treasured by God Himself.

Why then is the death of the saints so precious in the eyes of God?

Firstly, the time of the saint’s death is in the hands of God. The preceding verses describe how the Psalmist faces situations that threaten his life (nephesh). In his desperation, he pleaded to God for help. God heard his cry and delivered him from death. This filled the Psalmist’s heart with great joy in the LORD. So long as our duty on earth is not up, God will not allow our life to be taken. When death finally comes to the saint, it means that he has accomplished God’s task here on this earth, and it is time to come home. Till then, the Lord will preserve the life of the saint from the grave. This gives us great assurance as we strive to serve the Lord faithfully here on this earth.

Secondly, the death of the saints is precious because it involves the divine deliverance of the believer’s soul and body. While the verses before deal mainly with physical deliverance in the immediate context, they also look forward to the future deliverance of the believer where he will be together with the Lord forever. At physical death, the soul of the saint will be taken home to be with the Lord, awaiting the future resurrection where the soul will be reunited with a glorified body. The saint will thus not only walk in the land of the living here on this earth, but also in the New Jerusalem till eternity (Psalm 116:9).

Thirdly, the death of the saints is precious because it invokes us to praise and worship the Lord with greater fervour, joy and adoration. Should not the LORD be praised for delivering our bodies and souls? Should not the LORD be praised for His grace and lovingkindness? Should not we serve Him with increased zeal and love? It is with this in mind that the Psalmist proclaims in verses 16 through 19 – “O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people, In the courts of the LORD’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD.” (Psalm 116:16-19)

In Ecclesiastes 7:2, Solomon declares that it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. In the house of feasting, we are focused on the temporal “joys” of this world. On the other hand, the house of mourning reminds us of the brevity and transient nature of life. Moreover, the house of mourning for a saint is also a celebration of the precious-ness of his death, for the saint’s death is but a sleep – Christ has conquered the grave! We sorrow because of our memories of the departed, yet rejoice because of the heavenly hope in Christ. We sing together with the saints – “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

The question is: are you His saint? Will your death be precious in the sight of the LORD? Amen.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew