Because the thought of death can be frightening, people through the years have invented some platitudes with which to comfort themselves. When someone dies, we often hear unbiblical statements such as “She’s an angel now” and “God needed another angel in heaven”; sometimes, we hear the bromide “He’s in a better place,” spoken with no thought that he might actually be in a worse place. People who never have time for God suddenly grow religious at a funeral. They try to assure themselves and others that, regardless of the deceased’s relationship with God while on earth, he or she is in heaven now. But we must not ignore what Scripture teaches.
The phrase “rest in peace,” often abbreviated “R.I.P.,” comes from the Latin blessing requiescat in pace (literally, “may he begin to rest in peace”). Is it biblical to say, “Rest in peace”? It depends.
The Bible is clear that physical death is not the end (Hebrews 9:27; John 3:16–18). Jesus taught that there are two options for every human being: heaven or hell (Matthew 10:28; 25:46; Mark 9:43;). He gave a vivid illustration of those options in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19–31. In this account, Jesus demonstrated that the rich man, who had given no thought of God during his earthly life, went to hell when he died. Lazarus, who possessed nothing on earth but a pure heart, was taken to paradise. Hell is described as a place of torment (verse 23), not a place of rest. According to Scripture, a person who dies without Christ is not “resting in peace” (see John 3:18). “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 57:21).
However, death is entirely different for those who are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30). First Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that, while it is natural to grieve for loved ones who have died, we do not need to grieve for believers in Christ as though we will never see them again. There is hope mixed with the sorrow. The Bible often refers to the dead in Christ as “those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20; Acts 13:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). The biblical writers used sleep as a metaphor because death for a Christian is only temporary. Paul said that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). According to the Bible, those receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior are with Him in paradise when they die (Luke 23:43). So, to say “rest in peace” about a Christian is biblical.
We must keep in mind that only God knows the heart of every person. Only God knows whether a person in his or her last moments cried out to Jesus for forgiveness, as did the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). It has been said that one of the best gifts we can give our loved ones is to let them know by our lives and our lips where we will be spending eternity. Death can be considered merely a “change of address” for those who love Jesus, with a major upgrade in living conditions! About God’s children we can say with confidence, “Rest in peace.”