The title of this article comes from Revelation 14:13. The whole verse reads like this:
Then I heard a voice from Heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”Revelation 14:13 (NIV 1984)
Interpreting Revelation is a challenge on several levels. One is that it is not chronological in its organization. None of John’s writing are. Hence, it is hard to determine the timing of any of the visions.
This quote falls into a section discussing the beast and his mark. It is possible that this was an event in the first or second century. More likely, it is something that is still in the future. It seems to describe a demonic being that draws worship to himself. His devotees are marked (possibly tattooed) with a sign of their devotion. Not having the mark precluded a person from doing any commerce. Failure to worship the beast also got you killed.
We often think of dying as a bad thing. Especially if it is an untimely death. But the words of Revelation 14:13 give a different perspective. Death is the consequence of sin, but if we die “in the Lord” we are blessed. Let’s take apart this verse so that we can understand all that it is saying.
First, what exactly does it mean to die “in the Lord”. When we are baptized in the name of the triune God, Jesus connects us to Himself. We become a part of Him in some profound supernatural way. His death applies to our sins and God sees us as a part of Jesus. Jesus (though the Holy Spirit) also inhabits or connects with our body. Thus it can be said that we are “in Christ” and He is “in us”. When we die “in Christ”, we are taken out of this world and into Heaven until Judgment Day. The struggles, pain, and persecution of this world are done for us.
What is the content of “they will rest from their labor.”? The word “rest” does not suggest that we won’t have meaningful activity in Heaven. It absolutely does not mean that we will sleep unconsciously until Judgment Day. Rest simply means that we have begun a joyous leisure portion of our existence. “Labor” carries the connotation that our work for the Kingdom here is difficult, and it can be. I find joy in doing God’s work, but there can be resistance and unfruitfulness. For many there is great danger.
Whether we live in a time or place of great persecution of Christians or not, living and working is a sin-altered world is a labor. In Revelation 7 this life is referred to as the “Great Tribulation”. That title may fit certain times and places better, but relative to Heaven, it is all a tribulation. This year has reminded us of that.
Finally, what does “and their deeds will follow them”? It is very important to clearly understand the value of our deeds versus the value of Jesus’ deed. As far as the forgiveness of sins and access into Heaven, our deeds mean nothing. Our salvation depends solely on Jesus’ death and resurrection and God connecting us to that death through baptism. “Faith” in this context isn’t talking about a degree of trust we have in God’s promise of salvation or the historicity of Jesus’ death. It refers to the connection that only God can form with us.
Our trust in the promises of God and our response in the form of God-pleasing actions are not useless, however. They are the appropriate response to God saving us. They are the effect of salvation not the cause. God, who is most generous, looks at our deeds and chooses to reward them beyond salvation. That reward, whatever it is, can be in Heaven and more likely in the New Earth; that is how our deeds “follow us”.
What a great situation to be in. Yes, belonging to Jesus can put you in a dangerous position during your short life on Earth. But even here we are given the opportunity to be the hand and feet of Jesus and to do things that matter eternally. We don’t have to worry about saving ourselves, Jesus already did that. So in confidence and fearlessness we serve, and great reward follows faithful and humble service.