Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Following the death of the beloved Billy Graham, all of Christendom in America was celebrating Rev. Graham's quote about his eventual demise:
"Someday, you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God." --Billy Graham
When that day eventually came, we did indeed talk about Billy Graham's death and rightly so. Billy Graham has died. It makes sense to talk about his death. Why did Billy Graham say that he wouldn't be dead? For the simple reason that most Americans, including the late Billy Graham, do not consider the difference or at least the significance between going to heaven and being resurrected. Billy Graham is most certainly "at home" with the Lord, as the Apostle Paul says:
"We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" 2 Corinthians 5:8
To be in the fullness of God's presence is indeed better than being in the flesh and absent from the fullness of God's presence. But the end game, according to the Bible, is not being in heaven but being resurrected in the body. Resurrection does not mean "going to heaven" but re-embodiment. Most educated Christians know that believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is required of true confessing Christians, but we don't seem to understand why this is necessary. Why did Jesus have to be raised bodily? The answer is that God's mission through Jesus was to reconcile "all things to Himself" (Colossians 1:20), which includes physicality: Jesus' body and the world, including the earth, that God so loves. That is why this ministry is called "The Gospel for Planet Earth." The hope of the Gospel of Jesus is not just hoping for heaven when we die; it is the belief that God destroyed death itself. Death can only rightly be defeated if we are no longer dead. Being in the presence of God is a beautiful thing beyond words, but it is not resurrection. The resurrection of Billy Graham will be the day when Billy Graham is bodily alive, as Jesus is, and is walking around in the creation that is full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
The ultimate destination of God's people is not heaven, but the fullness of heaven on earth. It is right to grieve the death of Billy Graham because death is still a bad thing. Death is the enemy of God's good creation. But it is also right to take comfort in the fact that Billy Graham is in a better place with Jesus right now. And it is even better to celebrate the future event of Billy Graham rising from the dead with all the righteous who have fallen asleep in Christ. That is the resurrection. And this is the hope of the Gospel for Planet Earth.