Why Did Paul Want to Depart and Be With the Messiah?
Why did Paul tell the Philippians "I am caught in a dilemma: my desire is to go off and be with the Messiah -- that is better by far -- but because of you, the greater need is to stay on in the body"? (Philippians 1:23, 24, Jewish New Testament)
Since Paul would go to the grave at death, why did he say he would be with the Messiah?
Notice that Paul did not say where he would go or when he would be with the Messiah. There is not one word mentioning heaven here, nor is there one word saying that he would be with the Messiah immediately. Then why the hurry for departure?
To understand what is meant here, turn to another scripture where Paul was ready to depart. In II Timothy 4:6-8 Paul wrote: "For as for me, I am already being poured out on the altar; yes, the time for my departure has arrived. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. All that awaits me now is the crown of righteousness which the Lord, 'the Righteous Judge,' will award to me on that Day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for him to appear" (JNT).
In these verses Paul explains what he meant by being with the Messiah. He does not receive his reward immediately at death. But there is laid up a crown of righteousness which the Lord shall give him at that Day. What Day? At the Messiah's appearing -- his second coming! And also at the coming of YEHOVAH God the Father Himself! In Isaiah 40:10 we notice this same day mentioned: "Behold, the Lord God [YEHOVAH] will come ... behold, his reward is with him ..." Check Revelation 22:12 also. Both YEHOVAH God and the Messiah are going to return to this earth!
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with [YEHOVAH] God's shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:16, 17, JNT).
This is when the dead "that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake" (Daniel 12:2). The dead have not been with the Lord these thousands of years; but they are awaiting the time when they will in the future awaken from the dust of the earth to meet the Lord in the air!
This is the time when, according to I Corinthians 15:52, the dead shall be raised incorruptible by the power of the spirit of YEHOVAH God. This is the first resurrection.
Now Paul's enigmatic statement in Philippians is clear. He was willing to remain alive for the sake of the Philippians who needed him as a teacher and apostle, even though he sometimes desired personally to be delivered from troubles by death to await the resurrection and be with the Messiah. To die is gain! There is no knowledge of passing time (Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Ps. 146:4). The next moment is the resurrection!
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