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.

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