Scattered to the Wind

I very common way of disposing of somebody’s earthly remains is to have them cremated and then to dump their ashes in a place that had some significance to them while they were living. Maybe it was a trail on a mountain or at the seashore or just scattered to the wind.

This raises a practical question for one of the things revealed by the Bible–the resurrection of the body. If our remains are scattered or even if they are not, the molecules that made up that body end up as part of the soil and very likely a part of another living being, maybe even another person. Right now, your body could have in it carbon that was a part of an animal, a bug, or possibly several other people. At the resurrection of the dead do we fight for our original molecules?

This is part of a bigger question. What constitutes me? We are not just temporary chemistry with the illusion of having a consciousness. That idea, advanced by hardcore evolutionists, does not match the evidence at all. It feels more like the opposite. That I am a soul that is merely borrowing a body. That idea is common in Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) The Bible argues that we are a soul and an earthly body, and I would argue, even a heavenly body.

What is resurrected on Judgment Day, and how can it be me? Throughout our lives we are exchanging atoms with the environment around us. We should not assume personal possession down to the atomic level. What truly distinguishes our physical, earthly self is our DNA. Even our DNA is a flawed blueprint of our earthly being as it contains mutations passed on to us from our original distortion in the Garden of Eden, all our ancestors, and some we have suffered in our lifetime. We are truly not evolving but devolving.

That is why I am skeptical that our resurrection will involve our disposed of remains much or at all. The resurrected body will be raised perfected and indestructible. I expect it will retain many unique qualities that will reflect who we are, but none of the acquired weaknesses and flaws. God retains the design of what we are physically. As Adam was made from the earth, so will we be raised from it. Not necessarily, from the earth of our old bodies, or even in the location. For this reason, choosing a burial place is more a consideration for the living than the dead.

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

Assuming that our dead body forms a literal starting point for the resurrected body may be true or may be pushing the biblical analogy of a seed too far. Either way God has the matter in control regardless of where our dead remains end up.

Is It Acceptable to be Cremated?

Cremation has become a very popular choice for dealing with our earthly remains. There are a variety of reasons why people choose cremation: cost, use of space, even environmental reasons. In the past, pastors spoke against cremation. Why? Is it a biblically acceptable choice?

The first thing to consider is the Bible’s teaching about the resurrection of our bodies. At Judgment Day all people, both saved and not, are to be raised in a physically imperishable form. (For one of many articles on this topic see the following) https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/825 This will be good news for those who have a part in God’s New Heaven and New Earth. It will not be so great for those who will be forsaken by God. (Use the search bar for more on all of these topics)

In the past, it was common for people to be cremated either in an attempt to stop their own resurrection or to make a statement that they didn’t believe in a resurrection. In such a context, cremation was unacceptable. That is typically not the motive today.

Another objection sometimes raised against cremation is that the Jews buried their dead and pagans burned their dead. In the case of paganism and Eastern religions, cremation did have a theological significance. These religions saw the body as something evil. Our goal was to be free of the body. Burning the body liberated the soul. Conversely, burying the body had a theological foundation that acknowledged that our body, even after death, was a part of us. We are not a soul renting a body. We are body and soul.

That said, there is no laws against cremation in the Bible. Having examples like that stated above do not create unwritten rules. God has no problem resurrecting a person regardless of how their body was disposed. It is not a given that He will use the very same molecules. You will get a body that is uniquely you that is appropriate for the New Earth or Gehenna.

Cremation sometimes can have a positive or negative psychological effect on a person before they die. Some are distressed by the thought of their bodies burning. Others are distressed at their bodies decaying or being eaten. Both are unnecessary concerns, because you will be unconnected and unaware at the time.

Scattering of ashes in a favorite place is a common practice. This too finds its origin in the idea being freed from the body. It is not the greatest witness but few think of the theological origins of such a practice.

There is nothing wrong with saving money. Nor is there anything wrong with being mindful of space or ecology. I would conclude that there is nothing wrong with cremation if that is your preference and not distressing for your relatives.

God is able to take you to the next step no matter what you do. He can even resurrect ashes flung to the wind.

Does Purgatory Exist?

The idea of Purgatory is something that most people associate with the Roman Catholic Church. It might surprise you that there are people outside of Catholicism that support the idea. The concept of Purgatory comes in two flavors: a purgatory where you work off your sins and a purgatory where you are purified to reach your final perfected state. From where do these ideas come? Let’s start with the first one.

The idea that you have to do something additional to what Jesus did for you on the cross is a particularly dangerous idea. It changes the way we are saved from being grace (a gift) to being something you at least partially do yourself. In the book of Galatians, the people of the Galatian church became convinced that they had to obey the law of circumcision in addition to their connection to Jesus’ death. This seemingly small error modifies grace and elevates human action to what Jesus did for us. Paul reacts strongly:

 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Galatians 5:2-4

There is no such thing as hybrid grace. Believing that you add to Jesus in any way nullifies the promise of forgiveness through Christ. This would be likely true for anything–including Purgatory.

Such a doctrine is easily believed because people doubt the Gospel. It seems too good to be true. It also puts all sinners on the same level, which surprises and offends some people. Belief in a purgatory that earns you salvation is clearly the product of someone who is not connected to Christ and could be the cause of someone falling away from grace.

How about the other type? The doctrine of purgatory does not get formulated within the Catholic Church until the 11th century. That seems like a long time ago, but it was already a millennium into the history of the Church. The idea of being purged of sin by some process or place existed long before this in Greek religion. An attraction to Greek thinking and a misunderstanding of a couple passages in Scripture could easily produce this thinking.

One passage that could be misconstrued is what I call the “Three Little Pigs” passage after the children’s story:

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV)

The purifying Purgatory is seen as a place where fire purifies you of your evil over time. This passage has fire but it is evaluating your deeds in life for the purpose of reward. This happens rapidly at Judgment Day. Verses 10 and 15 show that a person is still saved by grace. This is not a reference to a purgatory.

Another passage that could be misconstrued is Mark 9:47-49:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire.

Mark 9:47-49 (ESV)

The word translated properly as “Hell” (though it should be capitalized as a proper noun) is the word “Gehenna” which Jesus uses to describe the final post-Judgment Day place of punishment. It is a place of fire. Verse 49 is referring to the passage and process we just read about in 1 Corinthians 3. Again, it is a Judgment Day experience and not a purgatory. This is also what John the Baptist is referring to in Matthew 3:11, “(Jesus) will baptize you with fire.”

The final place of confusion is the nature of Sheol (Hebrew)/Hades (Greek). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we get a peek inside Sheol:

2The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Luke 16:22-24 (ESV)

Hades/Sheol is also a place of fire. No one is being purified or saved by it. In fact, the rich man is being punished. It is a place of waiting. Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead) and all of the Old Testament period righteous are waiting for Jesus to accomplish the atonement for their sins. The rich man and all who are damned are awaiting Judgment Day.

The Bible may hold out some vague hope that the Gospel can reach and save those who are damned and in Sheol.

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

1 Peter 4:6 (ESV)

This passage stands alone in Scripture. It is in the context of Jesus’ “descent into hell” (For more on this topic, Sheol, or other after death topics; use the search box in the right column to find other articles.) Do the fires of Sheol somehow purge a person so that they can receive the Gospel posthumously? There is not enough information to conclusively know this. The one passage often cited against this, Hebrews 9:27, really is misapplied in this case. These passages do not support Purgatory as a place.

While there is plenty of fire fulfilling various purposes in Bible, there is no Purgatory.

The Mystery of Faith

It is an encouraging and exciting thing to know something about what God promises can be our life beyond the grave. It is also an easy thing to assume that everybody will get to enjoy it. Thinking that someone could be banished from God and spend endless years in hopelessness and agony is too much for many to even consider. We don’t want to believe this, so we just won’t. Still, Jesus said this:

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

It is the worst news in the Bible. I would love to ignore it, but I can’t.

If you only knew this one passage you would think that getting into Heaven was by some difficult form of self-effort. It isn’t. Oddly, the way that people are forgiven of their sins and given a place with God is a gift. To top it off, it is God’s desire to give this gift to all. The whole process of making this gift ours is a mixture of easy to impossible.

Life with God is so valuable that to earn it one must be completely sinless (impossible). Since no human is, God created a plan where the Son of God would become a human and be sinless for us. (Easy for us) He would also fulfill a legal requirement that sins be punished by “eternal death”–being forsaken by God (Easy for us, miserable for Jesus). Jesus’ voluntary, sacrificial death is sufficient to cover any sin by anybody. But it doesn’t.

The last step in the necessary process is that God connects a person to Jesus in some mysterious way. The Bible states (1 Corinthians 2:14) people in their natural state (messed up by our sinful nature) cannot create or accept this connection. The Holy Spirit has to be able to create this connection for us. On the surface, creating this connection looks like an intellectual process. You tell a person about their sinful condition, share what Jesus did and why, proclaim to them God’s promise of forgiveness, and baptize them in the name of Jesus. They in turn believe it and are saved. While our intellect is engaged in the process, in the end believing isn’t a choice we make. It is the Holy Spirit doing something.

This is the mysterious part. What exactly does the Holy Spirit do? Why doesn’t this work for everyone? Why can’t the Holy Spirit create this connection all the time? Is it that people hold intellectual objections to this narrative? Might it be something else like genetics or brain structure? It is not for a lack of love on God’s part.

Whatever the barrier is, it can break at a time that you would never expect. Super-intellectuals, who were committed atheists, have come to faith and even they can’t really explain it. Hardened criminals have been moved to repentance and saved. People committed to other world religions have had dreams of Jesus, or miraculous healings, or just heard the Gospel and become believers. And yet others, who seem to be on the brink, just can’t believe.

For instance, Thomas Nagel, a renown professor of philosophy from New York University, in his book Mind and Cosmos, argues convincingly against the materialist, Neo-Darwinian worldview. He even states that he wished he could believe the Christian worldview of friends, but in the end, he can’t do it. It is a mystery why not. The fact that people do come to faith unexpectedly is both hopeful and aggravating. As somebody who wants others to have eternal life, you don’t always know what to do or expect.

If you are an unbeliever and somehow are reading this article, I would tell you that there is a lot at stake for you. You can’t change who you are. I can’t force you to believe in Jesus. But I would challenge you to read Jesus’ story in one of the four Gospels in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). It doesn’t take that long. It’s a worthwhile exercise even for cultural awareness. I would further challenge you to think about why you don’t believe this story and why you do believe whatever you do believe about this universe, life and death. It is my hope that God himself would work in this process and surprise us both in the best way possible.

You’re Invited to a Wedding Feast

As a pastor I would estimate that I have done around 200 weddings in my career. Here is a bit of a confession. I don’t usually enjoy weddings that much. I’m not much of a dancer, I shouldn’t drink to excess, the food is usually OK no better, and the room is often loud, so conversation is hard. That said, maybe a wedding feast isn’t the best metaphor for conveying the joy that awaits me in Heaven and the New Earth. Probably a Packer football game would be a better metaphor for me, except this week.

For many people in many cultures, however, weddings are a blast. Probably the most anticipated social event of the year. For this reason, Jesus uses a wedding feast to convey not only the joy to be expected but several other aspects. Let’s take a look at them.

We will start with Jesus’ first miracle at Cana (John 2). While this is not obviously a statement about eternal life, the significance of Jesus making this His first public miracle suggests that it is more than a miraculous favor for the wedding hosts. Jesus creates the “best of wines” and in an overflowing abundance (120-180 gallons). The message? God is preparing the best for last for His people. It will not only be quality, it will be quantity.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet. Again, the banquet is unmistakably speaking about eternal life with God and a wedding is used as a metaphor to convey the party nature of eternal life. The point of the parable is different, however. In this case, it is about the snubbing that the initial set of guests give to the invitation. This is about the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The invitation then goes to everybody else:

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Matthew 22:8-10

Notice that the invitation is to both “good” and “bad”. It speaks of the time of evangelization in which we are currently living. Behavior or character is not a pre-condition. Obviously, many non-Jews reject the Gospel as well, but the end result is still a “wedding hall filled with guests.” Jesus’ death and God’s promise could save so many more than will be saved. People foolishly reject it as fiction or choose other priorities.

A problem exists with one guest:

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 22:11-13

The wedding garment is representative of the righteousness that Jesus provides for us. We don’t do anything ourselves. It is a gift, but absolutely necessary. Though invited, this guest also rejects the Gospel and consequently finds himself in Hell which is described as “outer darkness..(where) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is wedding that you don’t want to miss, and don’t have to. The invitation is extended to you. The necessary righteousness is given to you. Why would people reject it and face the only alternative? You tell me.

The other wedding metaphor used to describe eternal life is in Matthew 25:1-13. Here a common wedding week game is used to teach. In Jesus’ culture the bridegroom would go away and build a room for he and his wife at his parents’ home. Then he would sneak back to the bride’s town where the wedding was held. The game was that the bridesmaids had to catch him returning. In this parable the bridegroom comes at night, and lamps that represent a person’s faith in Jesus as their Savior have to remain lit. The problem is that the bridegroom and Jesus’ return is a long time in coming. Some of the lamps run out of oil just as some people’s faith, when unfed, dies out.

When the festivities kick off the following happens:

10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:10-12

The promise of eternal life through Jesus is out there now. It has to create faith in a person now. It is too late after you die or when Jesus is visibly returning. It is a disaster to be shut out.

These comparisons of eternal life with God to a wedding feast are definitely double-edged. First, it will be great to be a part of it–a party, a joy. The invitation is extended. The requirements for entrance covered by God. But the other edge is a warning of disaster. To reject it or to be shut out due to neglect is the worst thing that can happen to a person. May it not happen to you.

Does Eternal Life Get Monotonous?

They call Disney World “the happiest place on Earth”, but do you know what, after a while I have had enough of it. I enjoy Disney World, but I couldn’t go there every day. I don’t care to go there every vacation. Comedian Jim Gaffigan put it this way: “Do you know what my favorite ride at Disney World was? The ride back to the airport.”

My point is not to bash Disney World. It is to ask a question. Doesn’t even the best place get monotonous? If so, won’t Heaven and the New Earth become monotonous as well? Do I really want eternal life?

There are many ways to address this question. I would like to start with the idea of boredom. We experience boredom because we are damaged creatures. Sinful nature has left us diminished. Our attention wanes, our energy drops and we get bored. Some of us more easily than others. With a Heavenly body and/or a resurrected body the modifications that sin made to us will no longer exist. I expect that it will be fundamentally impossible to be bored. That is hard to imagine. Which points to another problem in understanding eternal life– our limited imagination.

Many people who ask our theme question imagine Heaven to be one unending worship service, and they get bored in worship services. First, if one truly understands what they are doing, is engaged in interaction with God, and understands why God deserves their praise; then even worship services here are not boring. If you fail to have these three things, of course worship is boring. Surgery is boring for me, because I don’t know how to do it. A surgeon, on the other hand, is engaged–at least I hope so.

Heaven will no doubt have periods of group worship. They will be what we look forward to the most. God will be seen in all His glory and beauty. We will praise with heightened senses and abilities. It will be a transcendent experience, but it will not be the only experience.

New experiences, new people and endless new places will fill our lives in a very positive way. The details are limited in the Bible, but what words could you use? God is the creator of all good things, and His creativity is unlimited.

Another thing that cripples our understanding is how we find entertainment and exhilaration now. Much of it tied to what stimulates the brain that our sinful nature has created. We enjoy things more because they are forbidden. For many, fun is not possible without being altered by alcohol or drugs. Don’t expect that to be necessary in Heaven.

Jesus subtly conveys the fun aspect of Heaven and the New Earth by relating to how we use alcohol now. In His first miracle, at the wedding in Cana, He changes water into wine. First, it is at a party. Weddings were the biggest events of his time. Next Jesus creates not just wine, but the finest wine. The best is saved for last. Finally, it was not just a gift bottle. It was between 120-180 gallons–a super-abundance. This little miracle is a prophesy in the form of an action (theologians call them “types”) It is a prophesy of the great party that Jesus will make possible through His self-sacrifice for our sins.

I guess the final thing to say is that we don’t get to pick our own eternal destiny. If we are afraid boredom in Heaven, we don’t get to pick non-existence instead. We have been created to be eternal creatures. Where will we spend that eternity? You have been invited to a party, don’t throw away the invitation.

What Do Jewish People Believe About the Afterlife?

Recently I was watching the movie Silence by director Martin Scorsese. It is a movie about Jesuit missionaries in Japan during a period when the Japanese rulers wanted to eradicate Christianity. It is a disturbing movie as you might guess. The rulers wanted Japan to be Buddhist. They were afraid of losing their culture primarily, so they did some very un-Buddhist things to Christians. In the course of history so called Christians have also done some very un-Christian things to pagans and also to Jews. Early on Jews did the same to Christians.

The covenant that God made through Moses is the centerpiece of Judaism. It is completely focused on prosperity in this life. I have often wondered what Jewish people believed about life after death beyond an expectation of a bodily resurrection, which is clearly promised in the Old Testament.

I came across a recent article in the Jerusalem post by Rabbi Stewart Weiss https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/mind-and-soul/what-do-jews-believe-about-the-afterlife/ar-AARVwFc?ocid=entnewsntp&pc=U531 It is an interesting explanation of Jewish belief. One thing that sadly didn’t surprise me is that most Jews don’t believe in life after death at all. They don’t believe the Old Testament. They may still cling to the culture and their Jewish identity, but theologically they are less Jewish than I am. Many, I am sure, are agnostic and a fair percentage are oddly Buddhist.

Let me rant for a moment about the value of culture. Many people strongly identify with a religion when they in fact only identify with a culture. Culture is important, but when weighed against whether we have an eternity with God or an eternity exiled from God culture is an insignificant thing. Culture changes all the time. You can have a distinct culture and cultural identity but share the same knowledge of God with people outside your culture. If the rulers of Japan in the movie were interested in being Buddhist, they would not have tortured anyone. The same can be said for the current government of Myanmar. Truth about God is far more critical than anything else. The truth about the God who created us all is that He does not tolerate sin let alone torture. Doing it in His name makes the offense many times worse.

Now back to the question of the Jewish understanding of the afterlife. I found that there are more parallels to my Christian belief than I expected. The article spoke of four phases of existence. The first we are experiencing now. The next is known as Gan Eden (Heaven or Paradise).

The second phase is Olam Haba, or Gad Eden (heaven or paradise). This may be a spiritual paradise where we experience an overwhelming closeness to God, or, in some opinions, a kind of “holding zone” for our souls, awaiting an eventual reordering of the universe.

The Jerusalem Post, Stewart Weiss

This is much like Heaven as I have described it. We enter a paradise in the presence of God. It is “spiritual” in the sense that it is not of this dimensional space. It is also experienced during the Intermediate Period between our death and Judgment Day. I would add that it might also be part of our experience after Judgment Day.

Weiss has a third phase that would equate with the Millennium in some Christian theologies. This is something that occurs on Earth, pre-Judgment Day. It is where the Messiah radically changes humanity for the better. Weiss does not say if this is experienced only by the living. Some Christian theologies sneak an extra resurrection of the righteous in at this point. Others leave it as a primarily Jewish affair. Amillennialists, of which I would count myself, don’t expect a future worldly rule of the Messiah until after Judgment Day. References to a “1000 years”, and to knowledge of God spreading over the world are seen as happening now as the Gospel is spread.

Finally, there is the resurrection of the dead. He does not share details, but I would agree that the Bible both Old and New Testaments speak of this as the final, eternal phase.

The big difference, not mentioned in the article, is how one gets to take part in all of this. Jesus is not recognized as the Messiah or as the necessary atoning sacrifice for sin. Entry into the bliss of Heaven and the Resurrection is based on being good enough and that God will “balance the scales”.

The description of what is to come matters little if we are not a part of it. Redemption has come. The Messiah came to win redemption. Jewish or not, don’t miss out on what Jesus has won for us. Especially, don’t ignore this salvation for the sake of culture.

Does God Reward Us in the Afterlife?

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

Luke 17:10

These words of Jesus strike at the reason why this topic should feel awkward. As sinners, we don’t deserve a place in Heaven or the New Earth period. Nothing that we can do can compensate for our sins. The very fact that we are saved by grace should eliminate any thought of additional reward. Except it doesn’t. Jesus talks about it frequently, so does Paul.

Another passage that seems to eliminate any thought of individual reward and paint an egalitarian picture of eternal life is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20. In this story, workers are added to the workforce every three hours. At the end of the day, the workers who came in last are paid the same as those who worked all day. This is often interpreted to mean that our experience as redeemed people in the afterlife will be essentially equal.

There are two problems with this interpretation. First, the context around the parable shows that Jesus is speaking to the status of the Jews. They will be counted equal with people from other nations that come later. Also, salvation is never counted as a wage or prize that you earn. It is a gift that is beyond our earning.

When Jesus or Paul talks about reward, what could this mean? First, without grace reward is impossible. Our deeds can follow us only because our sin isn’t following us thanks to Jesus.

Then I heard a voice from Heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Revelation 14:13

The reward is God’s choice nothing is owed to us. Therefore, the attitude noted above in Luke is part of a rewardable deed. So is love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

When these are in place, some manner of reward is possible.

If any man builds on this foundation (grace in Christ) using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one passing through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15

This passage indicates that the saved may be rewarded or not. But what is the nature of the reward? Honor is a part of it. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) or the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19) give the accommodation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Honor is also spoke of in 1 Peter 1:7.

The two parables also speak of expanded stewardship in some form. Faithful stewardship results in being put in charge of more. Whatever the “more” proves to be.

We can also expect that our reward is somehow connected to relationships. Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as his reward:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

Honor, expanded stewardship and people, these are the most detailed description we currently have of our possible reward.

Reward is usually spoken of in the context of Judgment Day. Judgment Day for the redeemed is not to determine whether we are saved or not. That was determined long before that event. It is a judgment of our deeds. The reward is something primarily realized in the New Heaven and New Earth. I say primarily because an “inheritance” kept in Heaven is mentioned in 1 Peter 1:

In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in Heaven for you

1 Peter 1:3-4

This could just be the whole environment of Heaven both during the Intermediate period and post-Judgment Day or it could have in view some degree of reward. We will have to wait and see.

A lack of equality in honor, stewardship and relationship leads to jealousy and resentment here on Earth. That is all a product of our sinful natures. This will no longer be an issue during any time in Heaven or the New Earth because sinful nature is gone. It will only be an additional blessing that God chooses to give.

Will We Be Eternally Secure?

As we look at the Biblical narrative about the course of creation from its inception until now, we see a creation with several kinds of high reasoning beings who can either obey God or rebel. The rebellion of such beings has precipitated the less-than-ideal world we live in. The Bible points our hopes to the future when God will make all things new. But if it happened before, could rebellion happen again?

Ezekiel 28:12 and following is a section that may or may not describe Satan. It states that it is about the king of Tyre, but the description seems to not be about a mortal man but rather a “guardian cherub”. Cherubim, literally “living ones”, is the name given to a strange sort of being that lives in the closest proximity to God. There are descriptions in Isaiah 6 (called seraphim or “burning ones” there), Ezekiel 1, and Revelation 4. The Ezekiel 28 passage describes one that is cast out.

You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you;  you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.

Ezekiel 28:14-16 ESV

From where did the “unrighteousness” come? Further reading indicates that this being (presumably Satan) became proud and corrupted in his wisdom. It seems to be an act of free will.

Satan tactics with Adam and Eve give insight as well. Adam and Eve don’t know what evil is. They only know that they are not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they are capable of following that command or not. Satan feeds them a lie that may be similar to the lie he told himself,

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Genesis 3:5 NIV (1984)

Though naive, humans made an act of the will to rebel against God. Consequently, their will was never truly free again. It is always influenced by a sinful nature and possibly also by evil outside forces.

We have no information about what happened with the angels, only that some of them (possibly as much as a third) also rebelled. Was it also an act of willful disobedience?

With the arrival of a New Heaven and New Earth, we are promised a resurrected body without a sinful nature and the removal of Satan and his angels. Will we have a truly free will? If so, can such a mess restart or can someone be expelled. There is no long biblical discourse to answer this. There is the promise of “eternal” life, and on this we must put our hope given the lack of information.

I would not postulate that we will have a constrained will of some sort. God created His greatest beings to be free for a reason. Love is free. Love is not the output of a pre-programmed mind that cannot deviate. What will prevent deviation? We barely understand what the soul or our will is. It is hard to speculate. Perhaps it will be because of new, more bonded relationship to Jesus. Even now we are somehow part of the body of Christ. This isn’t just a metaphor. It is a mystical relationship.

In the scant information that we are given, there seems to be no anticipation of further falling away or divisions in either cherubim, angels or humans. The question of whether we could fall away is a natural one. But we are thinking of our future situation through the lens of our current situation. Sin exists here. Evil is personified now. And we are corrupted in our wisdom.

Understanding Life After Death

One of the most shocking moments I ever had from a theological point of view happened in Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the Chapel on top of Golgotha no less, where traditionally Jesus was crucified.  I heard a Catholic priest say these words to his tour group:  “I don’t know what eternal life is, but I like to think it has something to do with this world.  I like to think we live on in the memories of those who love us.”

My jaw must have hit the floor.  Did Jesus need to die to help people remember them? Nooo!  This priest was confused to the extreme, but confusion is not limited to him.  What happens after we die confuses many people for some reason.  The result is disagreement.

There are basically four ideas of what comes next. One is caught up in Paul’s use of the word “sleep” (see 1 Cor. 15:51 or 1 Thess. 4:13 for example).  In this model we are unconscious at our death until aroused at Judgment Day.  This model is quickly contradicted by 1 Thessalonians 4:14 which has the righteous dead returning with Jesus as he comes on Judgment Day. 

For since we believe that Jesus rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.

1 Thessalonians 4:14

It also is in tension with Revelation 6:9-10 where martyrs are conscious, in Heaven, and asking God how long they have to wait for Judgment Day.  For that matter, also Revelation 7:9-17 which shows people in Heaven in a pre-Judgment Day setting.

Another is a time-warp model that doesn’t have you sleeping but going direct to the Judgment Day. The idea is that because God must be transcendent (above the Laws of Nature), that we are also transcendent after our death. While I do believe God can do whatever He wants with us. Assuming transcendence is a jump. This theory also contradicts the same passages as soul sleep mentioned above.

Yet another is a super vague explanation that equates “heaven” with being a part of the body of Jesus.  That doesn’t seem like a bad idea at first, but it is essentially making “heaven” (not capitalized) be a state of mind or being. Essentially, I am in heaven now because I am part of the body of Christ.  It is not Heaven a place where Jesus is. Again, Revelation 6 and 7 speak against this. 2 Corinthians 5 also speaks of our having an independent body in which we are “clothed”. We do not exist as a being assimilated into Jesus until the Resurrection.

Here is what the Scripture tells us.  When we die (like the thief on the cross), immediately we will be with Jesus in paradise (Heaven – capital H), fully awake, fully aware and loving it.  I would argue that this experience comes with a heavenly body (1 Cor. 15:40, 2 Cor. 5:1), you are not formless or ghostly.  Then, when the time arrives, we will return with Jesus from Heaven to Earth.  We will receive a resurrected body, appropriate for Earth, and go through a Judgment Day experience (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  Judgment Day for the Redeemed is not a determination of salvation, but rather an accounting of our works and an appropriate reward.  (1 Cor. 3:10-15, et al.).  Where then?  Wherever you want.  God dwells with us on Earth, but I wouldn’t guess that Heaven is off limits either.

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