Abraham was gathered to his people
When we come to the end of Abraham’s life in the book of Genesis, Scripture makes it clear to us that we have not actually come to the end of Abraham’s life.
Genesis 25:8 tells us, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years.” The text is clear here, “Abraham breathed his last”—when you stop breathing, you die—“and died”—you can’t say it any more clearly than that. Abraham is dead!
Yet the verse goes on to tell us that Abraham “was gathered to his people.” Certainly this does not refer to Abraham’s bones being deposited in a family crypt with his ancestors, for Abraham had left the home of his ancestors. His body would be placed in the cave of Machpelah that Abraham had purchased for a burial place for his wife Sarah. Hers were the only bones in the tomb at the time of Abraham’s death, but the text is clear that Abraham “was gathered to his people” and not just to his wife. Moreover, Scripture also tells us that Aaron and Moses were “gathered” to their people, but both of them died in the desert and were buried there, far from any of their ancestors.
The fact that Abraham (along with Aaron, Moses, and many others in Scripture) “was “gathered to his people” is one of the early indications we find in Scripture that the end of our life on earth is not actually the end of life for us. Scripture lets us know that we can look ahead to on the other side of death—a new life full of joyful reunions with loved ones who have gone before us.
Shortly before his death, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote, “Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to God and to all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something…. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, ‘My God, I know this place. I am home.’ Somehow I think crossing from this life into life eternal will be similar. I will be home.” (from The Gift of Peace, by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin)
The end of life on this earth will actually be a going home to our true homeland and to joyful reunions with those who have gone before us.
Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary shared with a friend shortly before he died, “I’m going from the land of the dying to the land of the living.”
This world is where people die. Heaven is where death is behind us and where people live. When Abraham “was gathered to his people,” he left the land of the dying. He “was gathered to his people” in the land of the living. That’s how it is for all who belong to the Lord of life.