The Parable of the Talents and Judgment Day

In Matthew 25, Jesus gets His disciples ready for Judgment Day. In a series of stories He tells them what they should be doing now in preparation for that unavoidable day. One of the stories is the Parable of the Talents. It links for us the importance of good stewardship to Judgment Day results.

Stewardship is the idea that God has put us (humans) in charge of certain aspects of His creation, and we are to be good caretakers and managers of these things while we are alive. The parable of the talents uses money as a metaphor for all of these things. What things are we talking about?

Money is one of them. God has created a planet that sustains an economic system and places us with certain abilities to earn money, which God expects to be managed in a certain way. We are to be wise and efficient, generous, but not trusting or dependent on money rather than God.

There are other stewardships as well. We are stewards of our time, our abilities (both learned and supernaturally given), our bodies, the planet itself, and the knowledge of God that we receive. In general, we are to acknowledge that these things are from God, we want to help others with them, we want to respect the asset itself, but we never want to confuse the asset for God himself.

So here is the Parable of the Talents:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:16-30

Notice that the three stewards are given unequal amounts of money (a talent is about 20 years wages for an average worker). We have different portfolios made up of money, time, talent, relationships, health and natural resources. We are only responsible for what we have. The more we have, the more the responsibility and expectations.

Two of the three make the most of the opportunity. They use their lives well and bring a proportional return that would represent good done with the right attitude and motivation, bringing people to the forgiveness and eternal life that God offers, strengthening the faith of others and enhancing their discipleship, raising genuine praise for God, respecting His creation and resisting evil.

Their life work doesn’t save them. Like everyone, we are saved by Jesus’ life work. We are saved by a gift that covers the multiple failures and many sins. The Judgment Day evaluation of our stewardship is for the sake of reward. Since we are saved as a gift, do we deserve a reward? Absolutely not, but God does it anyway. What reward? The Bible is vague about this, but notice that the Master offers to put the faithful stewards in charge of even more– an impact that they will experience in the New Earth.

The third guy is the interesting and scary one. Who does he represent? He receives something, but in the end there is no return. Can somebody really produce nothing with their lives? This man represents those who hear God’s plan to save them but don’t believe it. They may even be culturally Christian, but they don’t expect a Judgment Day or eternal life, they only live for this life.

The Master seems angry and harsh, but consider the lengths that God has gone through to save us. Jesus’ death on the cross is no small thing. To reject it is a great offense on top of all of our sins. The unfaithful steward is bound and thrown into “outer darkness”, a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I don’t think I need to explain where that is.

It is interesting to compare this unfaithful servant with a representative person described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, which is also a Judgment Day picture. That will be the topic of the next blog entry.

What Will We Look Like?

One of my favorite Dave Chappelle skits was when he played a blind black man who was leading a KKK rally, because he didn’t know he was black. Everybody liked him so much, that they didn’t have the heart to tell him he was black. Racial stereotypes are not about a person’s skin, but our ability to see a person’s skin allows us to apply stereotypes. With all of the racial tension going on these days, I wondered what we will look like in Heaven and beyond, and should that inform how we think about people today?

Biblical writers who describe Heaven or the New Earth seem to have received their information in the form of a vision. They passed on a verbal description, but what they learned they saw. Unfortunately, people are rarely described. I cannot say for sure whether those in Heaven looked like adults, children, seniors or something completely different. I would assume if they did not look like adults something might have been said.

There are both males and females who are saved, but will we retain our sexuality or at least the appearance of our sexuality or will we become sexually vague individuals? The one picture involving people in Heaven is Revelation 7:9-17. It gives no clue to the male or female, young or old questions, but it does say this:

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…

Revelation 7:9

John can clearly identify race. It suggests to me that we will retain our racial appearance because God has made it and it is considered beautiful.

This should certainly give you pause if you hold any racial animosity. Here, everybody has a sinful nature and anybody could be capable of doing wrong. It is not inherent to their race, it is inherent to their species, and expressed individually. Once we are cleansed of our sinful nature, we will be diverse, beautiful and righteous. Remember that.

In fact the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel to save people eternally will continue until all people groups have sufficiently heard it:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:14

This is further verification that God values racial diversity.

With respect to sex or age, Isaiah 65, which writes about the New Earth, does speak about children being born and old men living out their years. These references make you wonder about how to interpret Isaiah 65, because the rest of Scripture speaks of eternal life and not being given in marriage. This would not preclude a literal understanding of this passage. It might refer to a different type of life cycle–one that might still include being male and female, young and old.

Without further information, I would expect that we would retain much of appearance. In Heaven, I expect that our heavenly bodies will reflect an ideal age, health, strength and retain our sex in some way. I do not expect us to be reproductive, but may have a way of physical bonding.

In the New Earth, I expect our resurrected bodies to have full health but to go through stages, never dying, but restarting. I expect we will retain racial characteristics and sexual characteristics and may even be reproductive. But there is much that is unknown.

The little information that God has shared, should be enough to understand your value to God as a female or male or as a member of any race. It should also move you to value others for what they are. Even people who are quite corrupted by sinful nature hold a value, because sinful nature is one thing that will go away. The ideal version of us all it still to be revealed.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be have not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

1 John 3:2

The Former Things Will Pass Away

There are a few things that I would like to forget. There are far more that I wish I could remember. I have completed an undergraduate and two post-graduate degrees. As I sit here in my office, I am surrounded by books that in theory I read at some time in the past. Do I remember all that I have read or heard? Nope. I am not expecting it to get better either.

What about after death? Will we remember this life: people, events, joys, sorrows or traumas? The answer is yes and no.

The first concern is about people. For the most part, we would like to remember people. The Bible says little about the relationships we will have with the people we now have a relationship. Jesus says, “In the resurrection, they will neither be married or given in marriage.” So our marital status will not carry over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t know our spouse, or remember that they were our spouse, or kids, or whatever.

Paul speaks of the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” This perhaps hints that those to whom we minister to in this life are a form of reward in an ongoing relationship in the afterlife. Beyond this people aren’t mentioned.

One particular concern is about all those whom we loved, but who failed to be connected to Christ. We want to think that all the people we care about will be saved. That is not a promise at all. Won’t Heaven and the New Earth be a place of grieving because of their loss? Because there is not a promise that all will be saved (quite the opposite) we need to proceed with a sense of urgency moved by our love in sharing the Gospel. Still, we cannot make people believe. If there is a sense of loss, it will be a fading one. Revelation 7 states, “and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” I would interpret that to mean that those who are lost will fade or just be gone from our memories.

There is more that people to remember or forget. What about the beautiful and positive things of this life? These things are the content of Revelation 21:24, 26, which speaks about the New Jerusalem as a metaphor for the New Earth “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the Earth will bring their glory into it…They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.” I doubt that “kings” refers to literal kings but rather the glory and honor of God’s people who “reign on Earth” as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned. So what is good and honorable about our lives will follow us.

That said, there are many painful and ugly things about this life and maybe our lives personally. Will these things follow us? To this issue the following passages apply:

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold I am making all things new

Revelation 21:5

For behold, I create new Heavens and a new Earth, and the former things shall not remembered or come into mind.

Isaiah 65:17

At least by the conclusion of Judgment Day, the travails, sins and pains of this life will be gone and wiped from memory. Everything will have a new structure and while some aspects of our current lives will be incorporated into life on the New Earth, significant changes will make it a new, enduring and joyful experience.

Won’t Eternity Be Boring?

When you hear the phrase “eternal life” does it excite you or concern you? I could understand at least one concern. Right now, with quarantine still somewhat in effect, life is a little boring. We just had a three-day weekend, and while I enjoyed sitting on my porch watching nature, it was a bit of a yawner. What will life be if it is eternal? Won’t Heaven and the New Earth become redundant at some point?

Let’s start with the experience of boredom itself. When we are bored the environment around us is failing to stimulate our minds sufficiently. We experience a loss of concentration, hormones that make us feel tired and perhaps a degree of anxiety. The biology that creates boredom is not the biology with which humans were created. We are a creation altered by sin and the curse. I definitely expect that boredom is part of the curse and once you leave your body in the grave, you will leave boredom in the grave as well.

Our new biology of a Heavenly body (1 Cor. 15:40) and then an earthly, resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:42-44) will have many differences, and with them many different emotional, spiritual and physical experiences. Can we say there will not nothing negative? Not quite. At least not until the re-creation of all things.

The one sort of negative picture we see is of Heaven in Revelation 6. The martyrs express a degree of impatience with the slow arrival of Judgment Day:

O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the Earth?

Revelation 6:10

Feelings like impatience and the desire for vengeance show that biology change alone will not remove negative feelings. They don’t say, “Hey we are bored waiting here.” That is significant because they are asked to wait, which is typically and ingredient in boredom now.

With the environment of Heaven and eventually the new Heaven and Earth be that much more stimulating? I expect so.

To experience the glory of God in a direct fashion is an experience none of us have had yet. Even those who have had a vision of it were enthralled. It was life changing.

Near Death Experiences tell of the experience of color and of music that is so heightened. If you enjoy these things now, just wait.

Social interactions are another thing that will be changed. The experience of people currently is a mixed bag of joy, frustration, anger, love and boredom. But we won’t be this blend of sin and the image of God. People will be a joy to be around:

Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.

Isaiah 65:18

Then there is exploration. We like to travel, and there is much of the world that we have not experienced. Of the 48 contiguous states, however, we have hit a lot of sights. Our bucket list for the continental United States is growing short. So, over an eternity, won’t the New Earth become a “been there, seen that” experience?

A couple of things, I would not assume to be the same. First, our interaction with nature will be greatly altered:

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the dust shall be the food for the serpent. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain

Isaiah 65:25

Won’t it be a joy to experience the wide array of God’s creatures in a friendly rather than adversarial fashion. Imagine doing it with a body that is not as limited as the one you have.

In fact, I wouldn’t assume we will be constrained to the New Earth. With a whole new universe and a whole new Heaven (the former dwelling place of God), why is the earth our only abode? Angels move freely from Heaven to Earth even now. Does the following verse suggest the same for us:

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.

2 Corinthians 5:1

A biology that won’t create the experience of boredom, an experience of God that defies comparison, a body or bodies that will have expanded limits, a new relationship with nature, and a whole new universe or two full of God’s creativity all lead to confidence that we will never be bored. That is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

Should I Let Them Go?

One of the toughest decisions we may have to make is to stop medical interventions and to let a loved one die.  We are eventually going to die no what we do.  We know that.  But somehow it seems right to pull out all the stops, no matter the cost in money and suffering, and to try to extend life–even if it is not right.  The medical profession is geared to do the same thing.   Even living wills often cannot stop efforts of relatives to keep life going.

It really doesn’t have to be that agonizing.  I put the biggest part of the blame on the person who is dying.  All of us should have detailed living wills, or at least candid discussions about death, even when we are in perfect health.  One never knows when things can turn for the worst.  Just look at those taken unprepared by the corona virus.  When I say detailed, I mean have the will cover some common medical scenarios.  For instance, if I have dementia, chronic pain, severe neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, “irreversible coma”, and the like; what do you want people to do if you are going to die with intervention?  Name it. By intervention, I mean administer such things as intubation, restart a stopped heart, have major surgery,  insert a feeding tube or even give antibiotics for sepsis.  No one has to do such things.

More important than your desire or willingness to go through painful procedures that may not give you quality of life, is your understanding of what comes next.  Your loved ones should know clearly your understanding.  Of course, your understanding doesn’t make it so.  But if you are closing in on death with no certainty, then you need to talk to people about what is known or believed and face the issue of death.  Too many people have coped with death by ignoring it all their lives.  That is very scary(and really foolish) at the end.  I have tried to minister to plenty of people, often relatives of our congregation members, who have found themselves in that predicament.

This entire blog has been dedicated toward explaining the Biblical revelation about life after death and how it correlates with other experiences like Near Death Experiences.What Should We Think of Near Death Experiences?  If someone is connected to Christ through faith and baptism, then they are ready.  Death alone doesn’t transport us to a “better place”.  Culturally, we just tell ourselves that to comfort us in our loss.  Jesus himself says that a majority don’t go to a better place, and he is the one who gives insight into eternity with proof.  He also is the only way to that “better place”.

Let me assume that you are ready.  You may not have a seamless faith in Jesus, that’s okay.  You are saved by a connection formed by God to Jesus and his death and resurrection.  You are not saved by believing hard enough.  You may have fear.  Few don’t.  Most people are afraid of the unknown.  If you or your loved one is ready, then why go through the physical suffering that medical science now affords us?  Say your good-byes.  Say what you have to say. If forgiving or asking for forgiveness is appropriate, definitely do that.  Medicine can make you comfortable through the death process.  Know that eternal life in Christ is not only better, it is much better.

Should you continue to extend the life of someone who is clearly not connected to Christ?  If you are a believer but your loved one is not, this is the time to pull out all the stops.  I would do it even if they were unconscious.  Tell them how you love them.  Tell them why you are explaining the Gospel.Why Everyone Needs Jesus Don’t accept denial at this point.  If they ask for baptism, baptize them.  Pray like crazy, because only God can create a saving faith, if anyone can.  Then, if it is their wish, let them go.  You will not know the result until you arrive in Heaven yourself.  Some pretty important stuff can happen at the final hour.

Earlier I said I primarily blame the dying person for not getting their loved ones ready for death.  If we are the “loved ones”, we bear some responsibility as well.  We should love each other, enjoy each other, talk frankly with each other about heavy subjects like death and life after death.  But do not create a relationship so dependent on anyone that we cannot conceive of life without them.  We put that level of dependence on God alone. Not everyone gets to die first.  Grieving cannot and should not be completely avoided.  Life and death decisions should be determined by the needs of the dying person, not their grieving family.  The family needs to be strong and prepared.  Again, denial about the reality of death is a lousy coping mechanism.

Covid-19 forced many people to die alone.  This is very sad.  Actually, I have found that some people prefer to be alone.  They will let the people holding vigil at their bedside leave, and then they will sneak out.  Most would like the comfort of someone nearby, even if it isn’t a relative.  Again preparedness is important.  I would love to die surrounded by my living family and friends, but I know that I am never alone if I belong to Christ.  If you have the same faith, make sure your family knows it.

I am not afraid to die, even alone.  In fact, I look forward to that day.  I am here to do the work of God, enjoy the unique aspects of this life, enjoy my family and friends, and then to meet you on the other side.

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.    1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 

 

Living With Hope Amid Hopelessness

Most people can avoid facing their mortality for quite awhile.  Sadly, this robs them of really feeling the need for Jesus; and consequently robs them of the joys of living with a God-given purpose among other things.  Still, avoidance is the coping mechanism of choice.  You learn it from your parents and it sort of works.

Death, in whatever form it presents to you, eventually penetrates the denial coping mechanism.  Whether war, or pandemic, or just getting old, the fact that our physical life will and must come to end corners you.  Now what?  Even worse, sometimes the luster so comes off of living that we despair of life and just want to die, not really sure of what comes next. Covid-19 can hit you either way.  You see loved ones dying and it is all out desperation to not allow it.  Even if the person has dementia and terrible health otherwise, we can’t let them go if we are not prepared.  On the flip side, social isolation might become the new normal.  The joys we once depended on might become too dangerous.  Depression slips in.

I have tried in this blog to paint a picture of what the Bible shares about life after death.  Some of it is frightening.  You want to avoid Sheol and Hell at all costs.  Some is absolutely beautiful.  Heaven and the New Earth will be the phases of our existence where we begin to truly live.  Rather than deny the reality of death, live knowing that our current existence can be made meaningful and even joyful by what comes next.

But is it real?  Think of all the worldviews and what they say about death and life after death.  Think about their explanation of the world, humanity, our history, our consciousness and the spiritual world.  What proof can they offer for their view?  What holes exist?  Do they sink the ship?

The Christian worldview has history (especially surrounding Jesus), archaeology, prophecy, the complexity and order of life, a coherent view of consciousness,  eyewitnesses of miraculous events (with reasonable credibility), including resurrections from the dead.  It also has corroborating evidence from Near Death Experiences.  Ultimately, it has the ongoing witness of the Holy Spirit to those who do not close their minds.

Every other worldview seems fatally flawed and unlikely if not impossible to me. I can understand why the adherents of other worldviews hold to those views; but culture, willful ignorance, wanting what you want regardless of proof, and resistance to the idea of God are pretty foolish reasons not to examine everything with an open mind when there is so much at stake for you personally.

Christianity is more than wishful thinking that can help you through tough times.  It is an explanation of this life that works.  I’m not saying that there are not unanswered questions, but they are not huge.  When you understand what the Bible is communicating you have hope.  Not “I hope so”, but a certainty of things you can’t see yet; and a certainty that you have been shown the way to life that endures in happiness forever.

Earth Day and a Doomed World

There are many “end of days” scenarios.  The most common used to be a nuclear holocaust, leaving only cockroaches.  That one isn’t completely gone.  Probably, now it is easier to imagine a virus that eliminates all human life,  still leaving only cockroaches.  Global warming, a massive asteroid strike, zombie apocalypse, you name it.

I’m not making light of the fears.  The fears are real.  In fact, the Bible guarantees an end of life as we know it.  2 Peter 3:10 asserts:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

This won’t be of human making.  This will be from God.  When?  We don’t know.  God will take His time, hoping that more people will reject their love of sin and desire to have God’s forgiveness.  God is patient, but not eternally patient.

If this world is destined to be destroyed by fire should we bother to take care of it?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

There are many flaws that God has placed into the world as a part of the curse.  Add to it the damage we do the world because of our sin.  The planet is stressed, but we can make things better.

It is important to note that the Earth was not made for us.  It was made for Christ.  Still, people have a very valuable stewardship role to play until the “day of the Lord”.

Stewardship is a God-given management role that God bestows on us.  We are stewards of many things and our stewardship will be one aspect of our lives that will be examined on Judgment Day.  On Judgment Day our eternal salvation still depends on our connection to Jesus, but our reward for faithful discipleship will examine our works.  That is what is meant by “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”  Judgment Day for the Righteous

Caring for the planet is a Christian’s responsibility.  It is everyone’s responsibility.  Doing a good job of this shows gratitude and recognition of our Creator.  It becomes a form of worship that praises God for the beauty and ingenuity that He has invested in this special place.

The Earth may be a small planet in a vast universe, but there is nothing common about it.  Life doesn’t exist here merely because there is water. It is the perfect size, with the perfect star, within a necessary distance from that star.  It has a moon that creates perfect tides, a perfect atmosphere with exactly the right amount of oxygen that both protects us from destructive radiation while allowing the right amount of visible light for photosynthesis.  It is also a clear enough atmosphere in a solar system between the spiral arms of our galaxy, so that we can look out and see the beauty, power and creativity of God displayed throughout the universe.  It is special.

We dare not abuse it for profit or convenience.  While able to absorb and adjust to some of our folly, it is not beyond our ability to seriously throw the planet out of balance.  Respect that.  Live, but live wisely.  Use as little as possible.  Throw away even less.  If you can make up for the carelessness of others, do so.  It is for our mutual good, but it is also for the glory of the Creator.

 

The Story of Lazarus: Resurrected or Fixed?

In John 11 we find the story of the death of Lazarus.  Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and all were friends of Jesus.  Lazarus fell mortally ill.  We are not told what type of illness.  In an attempt to help their brother, the sisters sent word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness.  Jesus was in Judea, keeping his distance for the time being from the Jewish leadership.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived just outside of Jerusalem.

Time was of the essence, but Jesus delayed His departure for two days.  He told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death.”  A true statement, though Lazarus would literally die and be dead for four days.  Jesus allows the death to happen to demonstrate His power over death and His compassion for all of us with respect to our eventual death.

Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”  They, naturally, assume Jesus was using the word sleep in the usual sense, but He was not.  Lazarus had died.  Why did Jesus and later Paul refer to death as sleep?  They want to save the word “death” to describe eternal exile from God.  The choice of sleep has lead to some confusion, though.  When we naturally sleep, we enter an altered state of brain activity.  We are not inanimate.  When we die, we may be unaware of the state and surroundings of our bodies, but we are very much aware and animated.  Our awareness will be of wherever our soul happens to be.  So where was Lazarus?

Lazarus was not having your typical near death experience.  He was dead for four days.  Still, as a pre-resurrection of Jesus person, I would expect that he was experiencing what every righteous, Old Testament person experienced–which is not Heaven but a part of Sheol.A Word You May Not Know: Sheol  As Lazarus is summoned from the grave, it would be easy to say that Jesus resurrected him; but that would not be technically correct.  As with people who have Near Death Experiences, Lazarus was temporarily fixed and revivified by Jesus.  Resurrection is something much bigger.

When Jesus comes out of the tomb after three days, He is resurrected.  His body is more than just alive again.  He has the full remake that humans have been promised by God:  no more sickness, aging, pain, death or whatever.  A new set of capabilities and less limitations can be expected as well.

The best modern medicine and even future science can hope to do for you is fix you.  That isn’t so special.  We look forward to being resurrected.  Resurrection may not even use that much, if anything, of your earthly remains.  It will be uniquely you, but cleansed of sin and the curse and perfected.

Lazarus would have to die again.  In fact, some conjecture suggests that Lazarus might have made it on a hit list.  His existence would have made him unpopular with Jesus’ enemies.  Now Lazarus is in Heaven.  Jesus has cleared the way.  Lazarus still waits for the resurrection.  It is something to which to look forward.  The Resurrection of the Body