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.

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.

Family In Eternity

I have heard it many times. A person is dying but they are ready. Why? Because they want to see their spouse, child, mother or father. They are eager to see lost family. This is understandable. Our family are usually the people we are closest to and love the most during life. What do we know about the transition to eternal life and family?

One bit of information comes in Matthew 22. The Sadducees are trying to prove logically that the resurrection does not literally exist. They present a scenario where a woman loses her husband without having children. In Jewish law, the brother is to marry the woman and have children. The law served as a social, safety net as there was no government support for widows. In this scenario, the woman survives the death of seven brothers. Surely, the Sadducees argue, the resurrection would create massive family issues as people marry and re-marry during life.

Jesus answers their argument this way:

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30 (ESV)

Some people seize on the wording to say that Jesus is only saying that there won’t be weddings in Heaven. But that loses the context. He is saying that marriages created in this life are only for this life. Other passages support that marriage is a contract that ends with death. That may make you sad or give you relief. No matter how you feel about it, it is a stated fact. That doesn’t mean you won’t know and love the people you know and love now.

We are left to imagine what Jesus means by “they will be like the angels in Heaven”. The implication is that the angels have a very different arrangement than what we have now. Jesus is also talking about “at the resurrection”, so this is post-Judgment Day information and may or may not apply to the period between your death and Judgment Day when you will be exclusively in Heaven.

Some worry that we won’t even recognize each other or remember our former relationships. Here I present you a mixed bag of evidence. The first is Jesus’ resurrected bodily appearances. Sometimes He is not recognizable. Other times He is readily recognizable. Again, this is a resurrected body (so post-JD for us). He is also the Son of God, so this may not even apply to us. Another weird piece of information comes from the story of the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). In this story, Saul utilizes a woman, who knows occultic arts, to raise the Prophet Samuel from Sheol. It works, and Samuel is readily recognizable (and angry).

Near Death Experiences (NDE), for what they are worth, do include at times family who recognize each other and recognize their relationship.

I expect that not only will we recognize our families, but that we will know everyone else as well. Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah without introduction, to our knowledge. I also expect that there will be closeness and relationship that rivals the best family relationships with everyone else. Because of this, the significance of family will fade without the blessing of those who are our family being lessened.

What about family who rejects Jesus? Jesus is not optional when it comes to receiving eternal life. I expect that we can have our losses. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7:14 (ESV)

While I would like to believe that this passage says that we are saved in groups, I don’t believe it says that. It only indicates that our unbelieving family have a special priority and source of the Gospel because of us. Jesus indicates that in many cases a person’s enemies because of the Gospel will come from within their family. This is often seen in conversions from other world religions.

So, would not Heaven be diminished if not ruined by a family member who has rejected salvation? We certainly grieve them while on Earth. It would not surprise me if we would briefly grieve them in Heaven. But I expect that loss and even the memory of it to fade in the midst of the glory and love that will envelope us in Heaven.

Will our grief not be re-opened on Judgment Day? Perhaps, but we have this brief description of being in the New Earth:

The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17b (ESV)

I cannot guarantee that everyone in my family will be saved. In fact, I would bet against some who have passed. I would love to be surprised on this matter. All I can do is to be sure to share the Gospel while I can. I don’t want to feel like I left critical matters of salvation unspoken. The rest is in God’s hands.

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.

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