afterlife, death, gospel, Hamlet, Lazarus, resurrection, Shakespeare, sleep, the undiscovered country
Euphemisms smooth the edges and take the sting out of many sharp declarations of bare facts. We use them to remain polite or refrain from unduly unsettling our listeners. For instance, we seldom ask where the toilet is. Instead, we ask if we can use the bathroom if we are in someone’s home or the restroom if we are in a business establishment. Our everyday uses of euphemisms are a product of social convention and some hold no real relation to the raw reality. For instance, what do buying a farm or kicking a bucket have to do with dying?
While we may use euphemisms that bear no relation to the facts or conceal the truth, such is not the case with the Godhead. When the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit employ a euphemism, its choice always illuminates and deepens our understanding of the actual state.
11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”
13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” NKJV
Jesus’s use of sleep as a euphemism for death was gentle enough for his disciples to miss His point entirely. But even when Jesus intentionally obscured his speech, he always managed to do so in a way that imparted deeper understanding. When he declared that Lazarus was sleeping, he wasn’t endeavoring to confuse his disciples. He was instructing them.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. KJV
The Lord would never have us in Hamlet’s perplexed state regarding death.
“To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.”
Hamlet’s couching of death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” is false. Jesus not only returned from death, he conquered it. This truth is the crux of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: KJV
The bare bones of the gospel are laid out in the verses above. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. The Lord of life knows death and would not have us ignorant about it because remaining ignorant on the subject leaves us open to undue grief and hopelessness. It stands to reason that if He doesn’t want us ignorant on a subject, then He must provide us with information. This He does through our relationship with Him.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. KJV
As we will see in subsequent posts, the Bible provides a substantial amount of information “concerning them which are asleep.” But intellectual knowledge alone regarding life, death, and resurrection is not enough to carry us through the trials of this life. We need experiential knowledge—relational understanding—to fully comprehend what it means to live, die, and be resurrected.
Many have wondered what happens once death comes. Fewer have pondered how they should truly live. Jesus holds the keys to death and hell. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the one that descended to the lower parts of the earth and ascended higher than all the heavens. We need to know Jesus to understand death and what it means to be alive.
 See Matt. 13:1-23 for Jesus’s explanation for His use of parables.
 Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare, https://www.sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/hamlet/page_138, accessed April 5, 2019.
 Rev. 1:18.
 John 11:25.
 Eph. 4:9-10.