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.

The Divisiveness of Eternal Life

I love the Bible. It has taught me and changed me so much. I understand how it has been transmitted down through history. I have confidence in its divine origin. But there are a couple of passages in the Bible that I just hate. I hate that they are true. No doubt God isn’t crazy about them either. Here is the first:

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

Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s Law was on behalf of all mankind. His being forsaken on the cross could be for literally anyone. That the reality is that “few” will benefit is tragic. That means “many” will suffer eternally as forgotten by God. I would be thrilled to have this not be true, but I don’t doubt the source.

The other was our “Gospel” lesson just this past Sunday. Jesus speaking:

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)

Jesus brings peace with God, which is the most important thing; but that doesn’t equate to peace between humans. A strong Satanic resistance campaign against the Gospel’s spread and acceptance accounts for most of the divisiveness. The rest is sinful human nature. Jesus knows this. Clearly, He isn’t thrilled with the fact; but it is the only way forward.

The result has been divided families all over the world. The consequences of which vary from heartbreak to violence. When somebody becomes a Christian in the midst of a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Jewish home, it doesn’t always or often result in accepting curiosity. Parents, spouses, or extended families can resort to threats, beatings, even “honor” killings. They are worried about family reputation, preservation of culture, and even the response of the gods. Jesus is seen as a Western culture invasion. But Jesus increasingly is not a part of Western culture. Jesus didn’t grow up in the United States or Europe. Jesus was a Jew. His culture is primarily the culture of God, not of some people group.

What Jesus did He did for the whole of Creation. It is a pity that the whole of Creation, especially every human being won’t benefit from it. Division on Earth will result in division in eternity. Some will have been made sinless by the death of Jesus and inherit Heaven and then at Judgment Day a New Earth in addition. Others will find themselves horrible surprised that they are consciously “alive” but excluded from the presence of God. It won’t be because they were not wanted.

When I think about my own “loved ones”, do I think they will all be with me? I hope so. There is a reasonable chance. Amongst the dead, I am not sure about the status of a couple of grandparents. God’s grace is very broad, but I didn’t see convincing evidence that God had reached them. Will my heavenly experience be diminished by their absence?

I answer this with a metaphor. In my yard there were a couple of bare spots where the grass had died. Its loss diminished my yard. Since then, grass has grown in and eliminated the bare spot. My yard looks whole again. And so will we be. We don’t want to lose anybody. Their presence would always improve our joy. We should be willing to take great risks to bring them the Gospel. The rest is on God. But maybe there will be losses. The bare spots will grow in through the beautiful relationships we will have with those who were strangers in life and with the face-to-face presence of God.

Where Is Satan?

Many people, including many Christians, regard Satan as a mythical being. It is right to say that Satan is not mentioned often in the Bible. Should he be? Need he be? The Bible makes us aware that such a being exists, but it is not about him. Satan is not the equivalent of God. Satan is a thinking, powerful, personal being–not just the personification of evil. Satan is the originator of rebellion within God’s creation. He is created by God as well. Both Jesus and the Gospel writers refer to Satan. Where is he now and what is his impact on our eternity?

We first see Satan in the Garden of Eden, which was on Earth. He tempts Eve, then Adam to question the honesty of God, and floats the idea that being like God was achievable for humans. That was the bait that sank the hook. The hook was the vast alteration of humans and all creation by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It seems mythy (my word–so you can’t use it for Scrabble), but Jesus does not cast doubt on the book of Genesis, so I will accept it as historical. Could it be real? Why not? An being of advanced being of great knowledge and power could create the means to genetically alter two human beings with direct contact. That we can almost do. How he manages to alter the rest of creation is more of a mystery.

Satan had access to Earth, now he held dominion over it. Evil and death would be the norm. In the rest of the Old Testament, you only see Satan twice for sure and possible two more times. In Job and in Zechariah you see Satan in Heaven as an accuser. In Job, he also has access to Earth as a disrupter and tempter. Two other “maybe it’s Satan” passages tell his backstory. Isaiah 14:9-16 and Ezekiel 28:14-19 do not refer to Satan directly, but rather the king of Babylon and the King of Tyre. The descriptions seem too much for a human. Could these men have been possessed by Satan himself or even been incarnations of Satan? If so, we learn that Satan is a cherubim/seraphim and that his downfall was essentially pride and wanting to be God. Sound familiar?

The arrival of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, changes things. Satan was still the dominate spiritual force on Earth, but he is no match against the Son of God, except perhaps in the fact that Jesus has human flesh. The goal of Jesus is to fulfill God’s law for all of humanity and to suffer the required punishment for sin, at least the demand for God to forsake (remove from His presence entirely), all humanity. The counter move for Satan must have been to get Jesus to fail or quit. Killing Jesus was attempted via King Herod, via Jesus himself during Jesus’ formal temptation, and lastly through the crucifixion. Did Satan understand that killing Jesus at the crucifixion was playing right into God’s hands? I think he figured it out, but too late.

Revelation speaks of Satan being driven from Heaven. This is somehow connected to Jesus’ work on Earth and likely Jesus’ death:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Revelation 12:7-9 (ESV)

So Satan no longer has access to Heaven. Why would he in the first place? It doesn’t say, but I would surmise that it had something to do with Satan knowing that God wanted to save humans and Satan using that as leverage to delay is own judgment.

Satan is cast to Earth. Again, why? It seems that at least some of Satan’s angelic followers are thrown into “prison” :

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell[a] and committed them to chains[b] of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;

2 Peter 2:4 (ESV)

I left the footnote annotation in this quote because it matters. Both the ESV and KJV choose the word “hell”, but the Greek word is different from any other in the Bible. I think “Gehenna” refers to what we think of as Hell–the post-Judgment Day place of eternal punishment. This is not “Sheol or Hades” either. They refer to the post death, pre-Judgment Day destination for human condemnation. This word is “Tartarus”, which is borrowed from Greek mythology. It was a prison for souls or specifically for the Titans. Here Peter uses it for a place that is possibly equated to the “abyss” found in Luke 8:31. Why isn’t Satan there? Instead, it appears that he is here with us.

Revelation 20:1-3 holds out this information:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit (Abyss) and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Revelation 20:1-3 (ESV)

The timing of this is greatly debated and beyond the scope of this blog. It would appear that Satan himself or at least some aspect of his power or following is still at work influencing the affairs of mankind. How much of the evil in this world is our own doing and how much can we say, “The Devil made me do it?” is unknown.

Satan’s final disposition is most relevant to the topic of this blog. In Revelation 20:7-10, we get the end of it:

 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:7-10 (ESV)

Cartoons and even great works of art can depict Satan as the ruler of Hell, joyfully tormenting the damned of mankind. That is not the case. Satan suffers with the damned. To be forsaken by God is a torment even for God’s first and greatest enemy.

Satan is on a misery loves company campaign. God is still saving people with the Gospel, and Satan is still opposing it using every avenue at his disposal. There is no need for you to share his fate.

Approaching Uselessness

We all need some sense of purpose. While we are still a part of this life, we will find purpose in many things: being a parent, having a job, even just entertaining ourselves. As we approach death and sometimes even before, a person can lose their sense of purpose. Things like a job loss, the death of a loved one or a steep decline in our own health will do that.

If one is facing death with no hope in Christ to have life after death with God, then you have a double downer. Death offers nothing but a false sense of relief and life offers nothing because it is a struggle to feel useful and there is no pleasure in living.

I have met people in this position. It’s the worst. I propose that you never have to be there. What God promises us by a connection to Jesus is real. It is not wishful thinking to make us feel better as we face our mortality. The evidence includes prophecies about Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, eyewitnesses who willing faced death, critics who came to faith, the persistent survival of the Gospel message despite various forms of persecution, people who have had Near Death Experiences, and our own ability to see God at work in us.

When we have a connection to Jesus (just trust the promise of forgiveness and be baptized) then faith can grow to absolute certainty about what comes next. We can approach our own death with expectant joy. It like anticipating the best day ever.

We can also deal with our own physical decline in a new way. A critical Bible passage about living is Ephesians 2:10:

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Two assurances pop out of this passage. First, that we are an ongoing project of God. God is shaping us through learning, positive experiences, and even negative experiences. This shaping continues right up to the end of this life. Why? Because there is more to come. Our negative, end-of-life experiences are not useless experiences. Second, that God has a wide array of purposes for us that also continue to the end of this life.

We may lose certain forms of usefulness along the way: we retire, our kids grow up, we have a stroke and can’t speak, etc. Purpose doesn’t end, it just shifts. Even if all we can do is pray, we have a powerfully influential tool in our hands. Use it.

What if our brain gets so demented that we can’t pray? I’m not sure this happens, but if so, our presence may fulfill God’s purpose in some way. When we are finally done, then we are out of here. We don’t need to unnaturally extend our stay here.

Is eternal life like a perpetual vacation? There are clues to ongoing, productive purpose in eternity as well. I expect there is a great deal of leisure and partying, however. Never boredom. Never uselessness. I can’t say the same for the damned.

If you are struggling with the purpose of your life or if you know somebody like this, share this article. I know that it is hard to see past your immediate loss or situation. There is hope–most excellent hope. There is also a new way to look at life and it isn’t a game.

Unprepared

Typically, when we say that somebody is prepared to die, we mean they are aware that their death is imminent; they have said their goodbyes, they have put their financial affairs in order, and they are just waiting. That is a very superficial way of thinking about death. From all that I have written about in this blog, being prepared is actually having a saving connection to Jesus. When you have Jesus, you may not wish to die, but you are ready.

If we think about our own mortality at all, we expect to die in the distant future. Even some people who are very advanced in years think of death as distant. They expect to have more time. Is this smart?

Think about how death can come unplanned. There was yet another senseless mass shooting in our country this weekend. People gunned down at a parade. It happens often enough that we become numb to the news. If we didn’t see it in person, it seems surreal. This is real. You will die. I have known people in seemingly great health die suddenly–a triple A (arterial aortic aneurysm), also known as the “widow-maker”. It may or may not be when you are old and welcome the departure. It may or may not be when you are prepared. It is best to always be prepared.

Again, I am unconcerned as to whether you have a will or burial plans. I am talking about Jesus. Don’t just expect that death will go well for all. The toughest news to accept from the Bible is the revelation that for most, death will not go well.

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)

“Life” in this passage means eternal existence with God, the Creator of all good things. “Destruction” is actually worse than is sounds. It doesn’t mean ceasing to exist. It means existence forsaken by God. It is unthinkable. So we don’t think about it.

Perhaps Jesus has a special way to deal with people who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Let us hope that this is true. The clear message of the Bible is that we need Jesus, because all of us are sinners. We need Him now, because neither life nor death is predictable. We don’t want to be unprepared.

I realize that this article is quite a downer. It doesn’t have to be, not entirely. I don’t fret about dying. I’m more upset about getting old. I want to do much more in this life and accomplish much more for the Kingdom of God. I am willingly to stick it out as long as God can use me and in whatever condition. But if death comes early, I am very happy about what God has promised me. I am excited to see what God has promised. I am satisfied with what God has accomplished through me to this point. If there is no more, that’s fine. It is very liberating to be prepared. Understanding life after death (what it is like, why we can have it or not) is very empowering.

Why not be prepared?

Making the Most of This Life

One criticism that gets launched at Christianity is that Christianity moves your focus to life after death and neglects this life. While individuals may do this, true disciples of Jesus know this is certainly not true. This relatively short period of our existence, that we give the misnomer “life”, is important for its own unique purpose; and you would do well to understand what it is all about. It is having eternal life as a promise from God that makes effort in this life meaningful. Without it we are just chasing the wind.

The most important thing to realize is that our purpose in life is not trying to earn a place in Heaven and the New Earth. All our efforts will be so feeble in comparison to the glory God wants to give us that trying to merit eternal life is a fool’s errand. Eternal life has to be a gift and Jesus is the giver. Once you are connected to Jesus then what? God doesn’t move Christians immediately to Heaven because there is work to do. Jesus wants to work primarily through us. Maximizing this relationship is making the most of our lives.

You could pick a different purpose for life. You could see life as a time to amass wealth or power. You could make your goal travel. You could even seek to make a scientific or technological breakthrough. These things will end up as meaningless. Solomon found that out. (Ecclesiastes) Don’t worry about what people will think of you when you are gone or if they even remember your name. Care about God’s evaluation. There are things that God does care about. If you work with God and do things His way, not only will your accomplishments leave a big positive impact on other people, they will be honored with some type of eternal reward by God. Again, it is important to stress that entry into eternal life is the work of Jesus and a gift to you; responding to that gift with a fruitful life pleases God and adds to your future existence in some way.

So, what matters to God? God wants to save people from a necessary eternal damnation and bring them to eternal life. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit working through story of Jesus and its associated promise of forgiveness and eternal life (the Gospel). First on the list of what we can do is to disseminate information about Jesus. Only God can make a believer, but we are part of the process via words and example. Everybody can do this.

Next, God wants more than people who believe Him. He wants disciples. He wants people who will learn and multiply the process. You can maximize your life by teaching your children, teaching others, and by financially and prayerfully backing others who do so. These two things are the main thrust of what cares about but not all.

God also wants kindness and care for others to flow from His people. Visit and care for the sick. Feed the hungry. Encourage the imprisoned. Help them to reintegrate into society. Fight injustice. Propagate the truth. Provide whatever kind of care that love requires. There are millions of opportunities to do these things.

God also includes us in spiritual warfare. Satan and his associates are real and present. They influence the minds of sinful people. Counteract their actions when you see it. Pray against the power of the evil one.

God also cares about our “normal” vocations in life. You have a job? Do it as one who is working for God. As long as the job is not illicit, it can be done for God’s glory.

Being a spouse or a parent or grandparent can also be done in a godly way that benefits your own family. God cares about this.

Got neighbors? Be neighborly. Help them. Get to know them. Pray for them.

We are also stewards. God considers us to be managers of assets that He puts in our care. This includes our body, our time, money, abilities, the planet, knowledge, relationships and more. Take care of them well. Use these things in a way that honors God.

Your ongoing relationship with God matters too. Communicate through prayer as with a friend. Worship God in sincerity (spirit) and accurately (truth). God seeks this type of interaction.

When you have eternal life through Jesus, your life is heaped with purpose. You will have purpose in eternity as well, but work in this fallen world is unique. All of these things are important to God but it is also important how you do them.

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Luke 17:10 (ESV)

You can’t do these things with a sense of entitlement. We are saved by grace, so we are not entitled. Humble service gains undeserved rewards. While there are many motives for doing these things, the best is love. Don’t work for reward. Work because you love God and God’s love is in you.

I hope that you can see that our lives can be meaningful to the last moment. Through transition of purpose, suffering, illness, even dementia.

Being mindful of our God-given purpose and pursuing it is living wisely. Maximize your life.

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