Rest in Peace

Don’t worry, no-one died. Actually Andy Irons did but this is not about him. Well, its a little bit about him, because the phrase ‘rest in peace’ appeared on my Facebook homepage several times today. Not unexpected really – happens every time someone dies. Rest in peace. What I do find slightly unexpected is when my Christian friends use it. Maybe its a deficiency in my understanding but I’m not really sure what it means when Christians say it. That is, I don’t know what they are trying to express when they say it.

As Christians we know this

27 People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. Hebrews 9:27

We also know this

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. John 3:36

Some will rest. They’ll rest in peace because they rest in Jesus. And for the others – this pithy expression of sympathy seems disingenuous at best.

The only way to rest in peace is to rest in Jesus. Want to know more?

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6 thoughts on “Rest in Peace

  1. wow – been thinking about this for a while, and particularly today as i saw it so many times.

    unless my thinking is also deficient, (maybe it’s related to what paul said in 1 cor 15:29?!), i think you’re right.

    good post.

  2. Unless I’m very much mistaken, ‘Rest in peace’ is originally a Christian expression. I haven’t looked into the history of it at all, but I think, theologically, it can be taken in two possible ways.

    Firstly, it could be taken in the sense that our deceased brothers and sisters are awaiting the resurrection. Their earthly work is done; now they patiently await their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, to be resurrected in a body like His glorious body. At any rate, that’s what I immediately think of when I see or hear the phrase.

    The second way of taking it, which possibly corresponds better with the original intention behind it, relates to the fuller phrase from which (I assume) it derives, and with that phrase’s Scriptural allusions. In the Requien Mass we say (or used to say) “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat” (Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them). This is speaking of the glory of the presence of the Lord, though whether pre-General Resurrection or post-General Resurrection is ambiguous. I suppose it could be either. This idea of rest harks back to OT understandings of Sabbath, when the people ceased from labour as God did so as to imitate Him and be united with Him, and it finds its NT corollary in Hebrews 4 and its application of Genesis 1 and Psalm 94. Here, ‘entering His rest’ denotes, on the one hand, present entry into the New Covenant and union with Christ (v3) but also a future entry into His rest (v11) which I assume must refer to Parousia/Judgement/General Resurrection.

    So I think the phrase is perfectly acceptable for Christians to use.

  3. Ah, ok. I seem to have misunderstood. Well, in that case, I suppose the usage of ‘Rest in peace’ would depend on your theology of election. I would probably still say it or something similar for a non-Christian, though as a prayer to God (May he/she rest in peace if you will it) than as a parting wish for the deceased, since it is God Who will judge this person, not I, and I don’t know if there was any faith in their heart at or before the end whereas He does. On the other hand, I could understand someone refraining from saying it for precisely the same reason.

    Incidentally, I’m still waiting for a plausible explanation of 1 Cor 15:29. It’s been bugging me for years!

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