Communicating With the Dead

Jesus was unequivocal, the people who have physically died still exist. They are just not here:

32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Matthew 22:32 (ESV)

When you lose somebody, especially if it was unexpected, there can be a powerful desire to communicate with them again. We can have questions about their wellbeing, how to survive without them, and possibly how and why they died.

There are also less pure motivations for communicating with the dead. People may think the dead have some sort of profitable knowledge or can provide some sort of assistance to the living. For some it is just the attraction of dark arts or having some form of mastery over death.

Of course, communicating with the dead is impossible. Right? I wouldn’t be so sure. The Old Testament has strong statements against such a practice. Communicating with the dead is one of the reasons that the Canaanites were dispossessed from Palestine in favor of the Jews. Deuteronomy lists their sins and warns the Jews not to follow their example.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God,

Deuteronomy 18:9-13 (ESV)

Abomination is a pretty strong word. Why? The first set of motives listed above are not impure. Part of it is no doubt how this is possible in the first place. This is not using the power of God, nor utilizing something inherent in nature; this is using the power of Satan and his kingdom. As such it is dangerous. It can also be the source of twisted truth. It may also leave a person open to other manifestations of evil, like possession. It would seem that such practices were common in the ancient world and possibly the source of some modestly twisted information about life after death.

Keep in mind that at this time, everybody went to Sheol (for more information) https://afterdeathsite.com/2021/05/11/an-expectation-of-sheol/. This may matter. The righteous were segregated from the unrighteous. The one biblical story about communicating with the dead was communication with the righteous as King Saul summoned the prophet Samuel using the “Witch of Endor” in 1 Samuel 28.

13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy?

1 Samuel 28:13-16 (ESV)

Samuel was not pleased, and the desperate attempt of Saul did not help him.

Some would dismiss this as simply a mythical story and consulting the dead as a form of fraud. Certainly, charlatans exist in this area who are willing to take advantage of peoples’ grief. Another theory is that demons masquerade as the dead. This is not how it is presented in 1 Samuel however.

What about modern-day mediums? Are they just frauds? I expect that most, if not all, are frauds. It may also be possible that a person can have an equivalent to a “spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 12), but one that is not from God. Using such a service remains forbidden by God.

How should we handle devastating grief? https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/734

First, we need to trust the promises of God about forgiveness through Jesus and eternal life. https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/884 If we are not confident about our loved one being saved, then it is not forbidden to continue to pray for them. In the case of suicide, we need to understand how God’s grace actually works. We do not need to confess our sins as the last thing we do. https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/778

Trusting the matters of life after death to God is the right thing to do and leads to healing. Losing purpose from the loss of relationship is something we can actively pursue. We fill the void in our lives by helping others.

The Value of Now

As I write about what the Bible has to say about what can happen after our deaths, I often struggle to find a word or words that refer to our current state of existence. If I use the word “life”, I collide with how the Bible uses the word “life” to refer to our eternal existence with God. Paul even says that our existence with God after our deaths is “life that is truly life”. It implies that our current existence doesn’t really deserve the title of “life”.

There are many negatives that are true about existence as we know it. We all possess a sinful nature. This is probably a corruption of our God-given genetic code that makes understanding God without help impossible. It also leaves us with behaviors and desires that are contrary to what is truly good. Put sinful people on a planet together and you get family dysfunction, crime, war and many forms of misery.

This “life” also is diminished by “the curse”. I’m not sure if it is a punishment from God or just what happens when the original couple of humans reject God. The result is a separation from God that clouds our relationship with Him, an uncooperative environment, natural disasters, illness and many other forms of danger and frustration.

One last scourge is that this world is “given” to Satan. Satan himself claims this as he tempts Jesus in the wilderness. Beyond this Satan and his cronies are cast out of Heaven (Revelation 12:7-9), and where does he land? Here. Can’t be anywhere else away from us? This gives the extra kicker to human misery.

With this toxic stew, it should not be surprising if life has its challenges. Do not assume that this life will be fair, safe or happy. If we manage periods of any of these then we are truly blessed. They are not promised.

That said, we are not kept here for the sake of misery. Life has its purpose. First and foremost, it is during our brief stay here that Christ will connect with us and give us something better. Still, we are not translated into Heaven the moment we become Christians.

We have work to do. Our God-given purpose will be unique to this period of our existence. In Heaven and the New Earth, we will have purpose, and we will enjoy that purpose thoroughly. But our current purpose has a unique quality that makes now valuable.

Here, when we worship God in spirit and truth, we do so in an environment with none of the advantages of being with God in Heaven, and God knows it. He values worship like that. When we maintain a personal, respectful, trusting relationship with God despite the curse, it is a big deal.

This world is filled with the wounded who need help. There won’t be any in Heaven and the New Earth. This planet is out of sync and all living things suffer in some way because of it. When we are good stewards of the Earth, we bring healing.

Here is where you will be in contact with the spiritual lost. Your words and example can help to lead people to Christ. No one will need that in Heaven.

This world is a mess and it can be painful to live in it, but because it is a mess there is extra value to our service here. If, foolishly, you live here as if this is all there is and you neglect your God-given purpose to simply live to entertain yourself, then you are blowing it. Your pleasures will be limited. Your deeds will not follow you.

Because of the uniquely needy nature of this world and the creatures in it, I am asking for a long and productive life. I am willing to stay here as long as God wants me here, and no longer. I cherish what good times and good relationships I have here, because they help me through. I know that there will be much better to come. But I make the most positive difference now.

The Fear of Death

The fear of death is a common theme and the motivator for many actions. We will all face death and, in a way, we are slowly experiencing it through aging. The final day of our lives can seem like a big, impenetrable wall through which even our imagination cannot go. One of the reasons for this blog is to help people think beyond death.

During the holidays, my wife and I decided to watch the old movie, Moonstruck. I think we heard the theme song in an Olive Garden. Anyway, during the movie the father of the family (Vincent Gardenia) is having an affair. His wife (Olympia Dukakis) asks, “Why do men chase women?” The conclusion is this is because they fear death. We are moving inexorably toward becoming old and then dying. An affair may deceive oneself that you are not aging.

In another setting, I heard Aaron Rodgers (the quarterback of the Packers) explain some of the benefits he obtained from trying the hallucinogenic drug Ayahuasca. One he noted was that he no longer fears death. Why? He claims the drug helped him see beyond death. How might this be so? Ayahuasca and other methods like Transcendental Meditation (TM) definitely alter the functioning of your brain. Your experience may be completely an illusion created by your brain or you may have access to a place that is not here nor is it Heaven or Sheol. I once read the testimony of a high-caste Hindu who later converted to Christianity. He practiced TM and found himself in an alternate reality that he would later discover to be dangerous and deceptive. Where it is or what it is, is not clear.

Near Death Experiences (NDE) can have a similar affect. Are they simply a product of the dying brain, or a genuine experience of Heaven or Sheol, or could they be something real but deceptive? It sounds like Paul had an NDE that he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4. Do we know what we are experiencing in any of these states and what even exists beyond our current reality?

I am open to the idea that an NDE could give you an actual trip (not an illusion or even a vision) to Heaven or Sheol (https://afterdeathsite.com/2021/05/11/an-expectation-of-sheol/. With the completion of Jesus’ atoning death, humans are not excluded from Heaven and there may be conditions that cause a temporary excursion there. The Bible also shows the permeability of what separates this world from Sheol with the story of the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) and the summoning of the soul of Samuel. Non-God inspired peeks beyond the vail of death might be possible and the source of semi-accurate information about life after death found outside of Christianity.

But God gives a much clearer and trustworthy picture. Knowing the nature of God (His love, His honesty), the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the nature of eternal life (Heaven, a New Earth https://afterdeathsite.com/2017/06/13/the-new-earth-in-revelation-part-i/), and the reason we can have these things (Jesus’ death and resurrection) can minimize if not eliminate any fear of death. Making a big transition into something new and largely still unknown is still a little scary. But the firmer your faith in the source of eternal life, the more you are likely to not be scared at all.

How about fear of the process of death? The process of dying is still the consequence of sin. It is not as things should have been. Obviously, death comes in many ways, some painful and slower and some quickly. Knowing that God is near and cares for us all the way matters.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Psalm 116:15 (ESV)

We must and can live knowing that death is a reality that can come at any time. Last night’s football game between the Bills and Bengals had a frightening reminder of that. Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, suffered cardiac arrest likely caused by a perfectly timed blow to the chest. It was scary and hopefully Damar will fully recover. Should we let the fear of death stop us from sports where we might suffer such a blow? Every day we do risky things. Driving, talking while eating, and many more activities could result in a fatal accident. It is better to understand our temporary nature here and know that there is more.

Interacting with God in Eternity

Today, especially if you are living as a disciple of Jesus, you interact with God. At the most basic level, God keeps you and the universe you live in functioning. God is aware of your actions and thoughts. He hears your prayer, considers your situation, and moves in this world for your well-being. You can experience God teaching you when you study the Bible. You can experience God working through you when you step out to serve. It’s good but it is not what we would like.

We want to see Jesus and touch Him. We would like to see and feel the Father and the Holy Spirit. Will we?

The best and certainly the most underrated blessing of eternal life with God is the interaction we will have with God in Heaven and in the New Earth. What will that be like?

My understanding is that we will always be a creature that is in one place at a time. There will be no omnipresence for us even in Heaven. That said, I understand the Bible to say that we will ultimately have a very vast domain to explore: a recreated universe (not just a planet) and the whole domain of Heaven. With that I would infer that our means of movement will be greatly enhanced; but no matter where we go, Jesus will be near us. That will be a great blessing.

Right now, Jesus is with us as well, but we don’t perceive that. After we leave this life, Jesus in His already resurrected body will speak with us, comfort us, guide us first just in Heaven and then after Judgment Day everywhere.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 7:17 (ESV)

What about the other persons of the Trinity? It is true that when you encounter Jesus, you encounter them all, but will we specifically experience the Father or the Holy Spirit?

Jesus is still the incarnate Son of God. While omnipresent, He has a specific, human form. The Father and the Holy Spirit are spirit(s). I believe that means that they can take on forms but are not specific in their appearance.

One way we will experience the Holy Spirit is as the waters of the River of Life.

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Revelation 22:1

I don’t think this river is just something to look at. I expect that it is something to experience. We will wade into the river of Life and experience an interaction with the Spirit unlike anything we have in this life.

It would not be surprising if we encounter the Spirit in many forms, including human form. It will make for a uniquely beautiful relationship.

How will we experience the Father?

 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

Revelation 22:3-4

The curse is attributed as being the cause of many woes in this life: illness, natural disasters, defects in genetics, really anything that is not directly caused by sin. But what is it? I think it is just God stepping back a bit from the controls (Not stepping away). The world operates out of sync. It is a part of our rejection of Him as God. The curse also phases in (in Genesis) as people lose the face-to-face interaction with God. In Heaven and the New Earth, that will no longer be an issue.

There we will see the Father’s “face”. Does He have a face being a spirit? I’m not sure. What we will behold will be glorious. How we will behold it is still a mystery. Seeing God’s face implies a broader and more personal interaction. It is not just reserved for when we enter His throne room.

The experience of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will be the pinnacle experience of eternal life. The limited revelation we have and our best speculations I’m sure don’t come near to describing it. There is value, however, in trying to imagine what will come. It keeps us looking forward. There is also value in making the most of the interaction that we can have now. That sense of personal relationship with God keeps us strong in the faith.

What Did Jesus Mean By “Few Are Chosen”?

My picture of Heaven and the New Earth is one where there are many people and everybody who I ever knew in life. I don’t like funerals where there is any degree of doubt about a person’s destiny. Even if there is, we tend to put the best face on it.

Reality and desire rarely match. And even if the Gospel is literally the “good message”, there is some bad news mixed with the good news. The good news is that Jesus successfully fulfilled the Law for every person. A promise of forgiveness of sins and consequently eternal life with God is on the table. God has made good on long standing promises and His mission to save mankind, even potentially all mankind, has been enacted. The bad news is that in practice “few” get saved.

Where do I get this grim news. From my least favorite passages in the Scriptures:

14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:14 (ESV)

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

Both are out of the mouth of Jesus, who I have to consider an authority on the matter. There are other passages that corroborate this, so the fact that these are both from Matthew is of little consequence.

What does this mean? And why is it true? We have the universal desire of God to save all. We have the complete and sufficient life and death of Jesus to fulfill the legal requirements.

The Matthew 22 passage comes at the end of the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In the story a general invitation has been given to the populace to come to the wedding. One dude shows up without “wedding garments”, which would be provided. The King reacts strongly and the parable dissolves to bare truth, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The implied rejection of the wedding garment does in this man’s salvation.

The other quote is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus adds this information in the midst of a series of commands on how to live. Without the context of the whole Bible, one might conclude that the “narrow way” is a strict observation of the laws Jesus had just laid down.

The Sermon on the Mount is an example of how God uses the Law in different ways, even at the same time. The rigor of the Sermon on the Mount is meant to convict and to break any attempt to save yourself by your own actions. It is unachievable and already lost for a person with a sinful nature (that’s all of us). Martin Luther referred to this as using the Law as a mirror. We see ourselves, and the image isn’t good. Jesus’ statement of the narrow way is meant to create worry and to drive a person to another answer–God’s grace.

Jesus’ statement doesn’t appear to be an exaggeration for the sake of impact, however. The narrow way and the wedding garment are the same thing–the one thing that can save us.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 (ESV)

Being connected to Jesus is the one thing necessary. There are not other options that work, so it is “narrow”. It makes sense that this is true. If there were other options, Jesus wouldn’t have gone through what He did.

So how “few” is it? Many people lived and died and never heard the Gospel. I don’t believe that God would allow this to be a limiting factor. The function of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” seems to suggest, especially in 1 Peter 4:6, that Jesus can be evangelical even in Sheol. The limiting factors seem to be that many are hardened to the Gospel (Matthew 13:19) and Satan works to keep them that way. Others believe but find reasons to abandon the Gospel (persecution and difficulty, other worries of life). Some undermine the Gospel by changing the terms of God’s promise (the book of Galatians). Many become unrepentant sinners (John 3:19-20).

So what percentage can we expect? Is “few” relative to the whole population? Is “few” relative to the whole number that could have been saved? I hope it is the latter, but I wouldn’t be surprised that it turns out to be 10% or even less. Jesus seems to brace us for a low yield by some of His stories. But whatever the yield it will still be many people –a great multitude that no one could number (Rev. 7:9). We are blessed if we are counted among them.

What Will Our Resurrected Body Be Like?

Lately I have been considering my own health, fitness and appearance. I am 60. I think that I can say that I am in pretty good shape. But I have to add the qualifier: for a 60-year-old. If I were 25, I couldn’t say the same. Our health and appearance is a downward trend. God’s promise is not just that we escape the body. It is that we will receive a resurrected body at Judgment Day. Do we know anything about this resurrected body?

We do. First, it is not merely a repaired body. There were people raised from the dead in the Bible. They were fixed not resurrected. Resurrected is a more comprehensive overhaul. Jesus is the “first-born of the dead”. In other words, Jesus was the first resurrected human. He is also the Son of God incarnate. So as we look at the properties of Jesus’ resurrected body, we can’t be sure if it’s a resurrection property or a property of His divinity.

What stands out as different about Jesus post-resurrection? He is still touchable, He still eats, He still has scars from the crucifixion. These things are actually a little surprising, but good. Jesus is recognizable, but not always. The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Him until He breaks bread and then He disappears. Did Jesus change His appearance or mess with their minds? We don’t know.

Jesus also is able to appear inside the house where the disciples are hiding. The doors were locked. While I do not expect to be a shapeshifter or to impede the thinking of others, I would not be surprising if a resurrected body can move differently. The phrase “new heavens and new Earth” refer to the remaking of this universe. I don’t expect our domicile to be just another planet. I expect it to be a whole universe. If that is not enough to keep us engaged forever, I have an even stronger expectation that we will be able to move from Earth to Heaven and Heaven to Earth.

References to “heavenly bodies” in 1 Corinthians 15 and to “further clothed”, “eternal in the Heavens” in 2 Corinthians 5 leads me to understand that we will have a body that is meant for the time-space of Heaven, which I expect is parallel to this universe. A resurrected body is for this universe. To connect them both is a gift that makes us similar to angels as far as movement. This may also give us the ability to move at will great distances in this space.

Resurrected bodies also come into play in Isaiah 65. As noted in the article Wrestling with Isaiah 65, https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/1982, the text of Isaiah 65:17-25 may not be very literal. Some possibilities that arise from this section are: the ability to procreate; the ability to age well, die, and regenerate; the ability to work without laboring; and the ability to live in harmony with nature.

Will the resurrected body be indestructible? 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 speaks of this body:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (ESV)

The resurrection of our bodies is something that happens to both the righteous and the unrighteous according to Daniel 12:2-3. But those whose names are not “written in the book” because they are not connected to Jesus will have a different fate.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 4:1-3 (ESV)

The resurrected bodies of the unrighteous are apparently not imperishable. Imperishable, even for the righteous doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t damage them. The Trees of Life found in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22) are for the healing of the nations. “Healing” can mean a lot of things, but it could be a reference to resurrected body repair.

It typical for people to just think of going to Heaven. A New Earth, much less a resurrected body, is not on their radar. But these things are written about more than Heaven. A resurrected body is part of the package. Perhaps you are looking forward to the trade-in.

An Insight into Heaven

I am fascinated by those who were chosen as prophets. They tell us what they have received from God, but rarely give any insight into how they received it. As a pastor I have a “semi-prophetic” role. I don’t produce a sermon out of brute biblical research. I do experience ideas that are true to the text or texts, and they seem to come so easily. Too easily for me. It is a spiritual gift. No visions. No voices. No out-of-body experiences. What happened to John as he received Revelations? Was it a vision or a field trip?

This week is All Saints Sunday. It is a day to remember those who have gone before us, and a day to think about what comes next after we die. The text I am using is Revelation 7:9-17. It makes you think. Was it a trip or a vision? Where is this? When is this? There are clues. Here is the first part:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelations 7:9-14 (ESV)

I believe that it is very possible for God to take us anywhere in Creation, even forward or backward in time. That said, I believe that other visions of God’s throne room in Heaven, Isaiah 6 and Daniel 7 for example, are visions not trips. The reason is that Jesus said no one has gone into Heaven, among humans to that date, except Him (John 1:13). The reason, I believe, is that we could not tolerate it prior to our sin being atoned for by Jesus. John wouldn’t have that restriction. Still, the last line quoted above gives away that this is a vision.

Jesus’ blood cleanses souls not robes. The robes are symbolic of the human soul. Therefore, I think it likely that this is vision. Being a vision doesn’t make it unreal or just a dense metaphor of some sort. It is much like being there. Still, it is an input straight to his mind or right before his eyes.

Where is there? It could be Heaven, but it could be the New Earth. God’s throne room is currently in Heaven, but will move to the New Earth post-Judgement Day. There are no telltale clues in the text. The context places this in Heaven because it is in the midst of the opening of the seven seals. John’s Revelation moves across the breadth of the Earth’s remaining time several times. But this is in the midst of it. Judgment Day happens on the next page with the seventh seal and time resets.

When is it? Before Judgment Day, to be sure, but is it at John’s time? The clue is who is seen. John sees millions of people. By John’s date there would be the Old Testament righteous and those converted since Jesus (maybe 55 years), that might be a big number. But John notes that there are people from every tribe and nation. That wouldn’t be true then and not yet even. This is future, just before God wraps things up. The people are also described as “those who have come out the great tribulation”. It doesn’t say that they were martyrs as Revelation 6 and 20 note. So I don’t see that Heaven is only for those martyred. The great tribulation could be a period of time just before Judgement Day when persecution is very high, but it could also be a reference to every period and place in this life. Living under the curse and with sin and Satan is tough. Relatively speaking this world stinks.

The last part is exciting:

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:15-17 (ESV)

At first blush, maybe serving God in His temple “day and night” doesn’t sound exciting. It is hard to conceptualize what it will be like to see God and what exactly we will do but expect it to be very exciting and a type of duty that you will covet. Also, don’t think that this is your whole existence.

The end of 15 and all of 16 describe a curse-free existence. All the things that make life now uncomfortable and frustrating will be gone. That is true for the redeemed after Judgment Day as well. In fact the similarities between Heaven and the New Earth lead some people to conflate them. They are two distinct things.

Finally, verse 17 is an intriguing one. Jesus, the Lamb “in the midst of the throne” will be their shepherd. Maybe we are thinking about the throne as just a large chair. It could be a whole world, or even a whole universe parallel to this one. We will be will Jesus doing many things beyond our comprehension. And there will be no reason to grieve and we will have a reconciled memory of what we went through here.

When you consider even the little that we know about Heaven from this text. It is hard to imagine that there could be more. But God plans more. The resurrection of our earthly bodies and a new Heaven and Earth.

Insights from the Laborers in the Vineyard

Jesus gives us many parables that start like this, “For the kingdom of Heaven is like..” First of all, what is the “kingdom of Heaven”? This phrase speaks about how God works. Where He reigns, the place will operate like this. Calling it the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t necessarily limit these rules to Heaven. It can be wherever God reigns including the New Earth and even here and now in the lives of individuals. That is what we are asking for when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” So, in the case of the parable of Laborers in the Vineyard what do we learn? Here is the parable:

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

Out of context this parable seems to paint a picture of eternity being an egalitarian society. Everyone is equal. But perhaps the most important interpretation rule is “scripture interprets scripture.” Other passages on the same topic help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. In fact, the interpretation above seems to be in conflict with the passage that immediately precedes it.

27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Matthew 19:27-30 (ESV)

There are other passages like this one that seem to support the idea that some will be rewarded based on their stewardship of this life. The uniting phrase is the mysterious line, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” What does this mean?

In Matthew 19 the phrase indicates that many who are wealthy will not be the wealthiest in Heaven or in many cases even be there. The world is turned upside down. In the parable of the Laborers what order is turned upside down? It could be a comparison of someone who is part of the Kingdom from childhood to those who come to faith late in life. No doubt it is not time in the Kingdom that God rewards. I see this as a commentary on people groups rather that individuals. The “first will be last” phrase is often directed at the Jews. Many will expect preferential treatment of the Jews as the people of God, whereas other people groups are just receiving the Gospel now or will in the future. All have the opportunity to work for God’s Kingdom. All are saved in the same way–by grace through Christ. This isn’t a parable about the equality of reward to the individual, though the pay metaphor certainly pulls us that way.

If other passages tell us that Heaven is not egalitarian in every way, won’t that create problems? Here on Earth many problems are created by haves and have nots. First, Jesus is not explicit as to what reward is. It is likely to be honor. It looks also like it is relationships. The Parable of the Talents seems like it is responsibility or even property of some sort. Whatever it is, we don’t deserve it. It is not an entitlement. “We are unworthy servants we have only done our duty.”

The other thing to note is that we will be different. Sinful nature creates jealousy, inequity and resentment. Whatever God gives will be just and we will all rejoice that it is given. That said, Jesus and Paul encourage us to pursue reward, as long as we understand that we had to be saved by grace.

Insider Information from Jesus

Usually when one speaks of “insider information” you are talking about investments. There are laws against using information that is not available to the general public to either purchase or sell your stocks in a company to make a profit or avoid a loss.

In the strange parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-13), Jesus gives some good advice on investing from a true insider, and it is not illegal. The parable is strange, and it confuses people about what it is teaching. The context of this parable is that Jesus is teaching his disciples in the presence of the Pharisees (Jesus’ most fierce rivals). He has already done one thing of which they disapprove. He is hanging out with the rabble of society (tax collectors for the Romans and “sinners”) In response to their disapproval, Jesus tells three stories: the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now Jesus is going to pick on the Pharisees other glaring defect–their love of money.

The story is about a manager who is going to get fired. To cushion his fall, he seeks to make friends with his boss’ debtors by fudging the books in their favor. It is strictly illegal, and Jesus’ is by no means approving of fraud; but the boss in the story is impressed by the shrewdness of the manager.

Some people want to make the boss in the story a metaphor for God. It is not. Is the story about mercy or forgiveness? For a change, no. The story is about Jesus’ encouragement of his disciples being shrewd with their money. How? He wants them to invest in people. He wants people to hear the Gospel, repent, believe God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life, and inherit eternal life. How is this shrewd? You no doubt have heard the cliche, “You can’t take it with you.” It is almost true. All the wealth you accumulate in this world stays in this world, and you must leave. But if you have eternal life through Jesus and you use worldly assets (money, time, talent, etc.) to be a part of helping others have eternal life, then those people do follow you past the veil of death.

Jesus puts it this way,

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:9 (ESV)

People are a worthy addition to what God gives us in eternal life. They are a reward. Jesus says more:

11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

Luke 16:11-12 (ESV)

God considers many things that we have in this world to be ultimately his. We are just stewards and we will be evaluated on our stewardship on Judgment Day. Good stewardship can’t save us or add to what Jesus did for us, but it can be a source of something more. What are “true riches” in this sentence? Is it eternal relationship (i.e. people), is it honor, is it something else that we can’t imagine?

People who are saved by God’s grace in the first place need to be careful about feeling entitled. Good stewardship is just our job. But Jesus’ words bear consideration. Perhaps the best investment is the truly long-term investment.

Do We Become Transcendent?

This article needs to start with a definition. What do I mean by “transcendent”? In this case, I am talking about a quality of God. God is outside of the laws of physics and the constraints of time. He transcends how we normally think of existence for this reason. God can and does work within the created universe. His presence is found within the created universe. But He is not bound by it.

This idea of God being transcendent is mainly derived by His creation of all things, including the Laws that govern the universe. One must be outside to initiate either this universe or Heaven. The Bible also says that Jesus, “holds all things together.” The implication is that space-time is not necessarily permanent and continues to exist by the deliberate action of the Son of God.

Do we ever transcend space and time? Does our death make us transcendent? This idea is expressed in one theory of how our time of death relates to Judgment Day. The idea is that at our death we move outside of time to Judgment Day directly. There is no “Heaven” in our future. We move straight to the Resurrection. What would make this possible? Throughout the New Testament believers are described as being “in Christ” and as we are bound in some way to a transcendent being, we ourselves become transcendent.

This is very speculative about what “in Christ” all entails. If we are transcendent during the intermediate period, the period between our death and Judgment Day, then why am I not transcendent now? I am “in Christ” right now. I am quite bound to space and time for the moment.

I think it is fine to be speculative about eternal life as long as you know you are doing so, and you have no Word of Scripture to better guide you. In this case, I think we do:

 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11 (ESV)

Here we see martyrs (dead by definition) in Heaven (a part of creation). Heaven probably is a space-time that is distinct from our universe. Time in Heaven may not correlate with time on Earth in a one-to-one relationship. But it clearly has time. The martyrs are asked to “wait”. They wonder “how long?” Those are time statements.

Since this is Revelation, is this just a vision with metaphorical meaning that applies to us on Earth only? Are we being asked to wait? It’s possible, so I give you this additional verse.

 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV)

Paul’s language is a little confusing, but he is speaking about an existence in Heaven. Heaven is not the resurrection or New Earth. We come from Heaven with Jesus on Judgment Day to the Resurrection and the New Earth. (1 Thess. 4:14)

From this I would conclude that we are never transcendent. We die at a certain time associated with our universe. We arrive in Heaven at a time associated with Heaven. We experience time in Heaven. We return to this Earth with Jesus at a certain time. The laws of physics and our limitations within those laws may differ somewhat, but it is still a life governed by how God creates our environment. Being “in Christ” may have some aspects that we would never imagine, but being transcendent, even for a moment, is not one of them.

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