Will Many Be Saved?

Have you gone to many, or any, funerals where you assumed a negative eternal destiny for a person? This is so hard to think about that we simply hope for the best, even in cases where there is little evidence that this could go well.

We are not to judge. We don’t have the ability to know what interactions a person has had with God. But even with the fact that Jesus died for the sins of everyone, and that God desires all people to be saved, one sobering verse stands out for me. I call it my least favorite passage of Scripture:

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 (ESV)

The word “few” devastates me. It is a relative term, so against the billions of people who have lived and currently live “few” could still be a vast number. Still, to imagine an even larger number going to eternal damnation is staggering.

How can this be? Isn’t God love? Isn’t God all-powerful? Yes, He is. But He is also a God of justice who abides by what is “written”. So, He will not do a compromising end run around the Law, even for this. If Scripture is to be believed at all, people are damned and they are damned in vast numbers.

I would love to wrong about this. Perhaps, “few” is 49.999%. Or it could be “few” relative to the 100% that could have been saved. Maybe 95%. Or maybe the key is the word “destruction”. If destruction refers only to Sheol and not necessarily Gehenna, then perhaps Jesus would have a mechanism to evangelize the dead and to do so in mass. I’m not saying that any of these could not be, but the most natural way to read this verse is to expect many losses.

Who would make up the many? Good works can’t make up for sins. There would be many “good people” by our standards who would miss out. Many consider Jesus to be irrelevant and hold on to a “let’s see what happens” approach to death. They reason that either they just cease to exist, or it will be O.K. because they are nice.

Many hold on to an alternative worldview with an alternative means of salvation, even if they have heard the Gospel. Muslims hold on to a somewhat vague hope of Allah’s mercy if they follow the Five Pillars of Islam well enough. Hindus cling to gradual ascension through reincarnation if they live well. Cultural Christians cling to being “good enough” if they don’t understand the Bible. Then there are the atheists who expect to disappear. That is a lot of people.

Maybe there are multiple paths to salvation?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

It makes sense. If there were other ways, would God have made Jesus do what He did? If you don’t like it, speak to Jesus. I didn’t say it.

Many people have not even heard the Gospel of Jesus. What about them? I personally think that 1 Peter 4:6 alludes to how God deals with the Church’s failure to get the Word out.

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)

It is a somewhat vague, one passage testimony; but it makes more sense to understand this passage as Jesus or somebody preaching to the dead than all of the other weak explanations I have seen. If this were so, what sort of fool would reject the Gospel while toiling in Sheol? The mystery of faith is great. You would be surprised at how dense people can be.

When you add it all up it is sadly easy to imagine how the many end up in destruction. Can we move the needle in any way? Yes. Our witness to people matters. The few will still be a “great multitude that no could count.” (Revelation 7:9) I want to be in that multitude. I want those I love to be in that multitude. I want to have some role that many others will be in that multitude. And I still hope that the obvious way of understanding Matthew 7:13-14 is wrong.

Who Are the Elders?

They only show up in a few spots in the Bible, but their veiled identity is intriguing. In case you don’t know to whom I am referring, here is one spot:

 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:10-11 (ESV)

All of the references to this group come from Revelation. They talk but they are never explained as to who they are. Since they are not identified in Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, it is possible that they have been added since then. Perhaps they are 24 chosen representatives of the Old Testament righteous. The number 24 seems significant since that is twice the number of the tribes of Israel. This could be 12 from Israel and 12 from the nations.

One significant reference to Elders among the tribes of Israel is at Mt. Sinai. Here the number is not 12 or 24, but 70. These men are allowed to go up the mountain and to “see God”. Their experience ends up with an explanation of what was under God’s feet. It would seem that these men didn’t get the best view and are shielded from God by some type of floor. It is unlikely that there is connection between these two groups.

Another possibility for the 24 is a representative for each of the twelve tribes plus the 12 Apostles. This would include either Paul or Matthias in replacement of Judas, but it should also include John who is observing the group. To this I can’t say “no”, but I am not inclined to say, “yes”.

The elders do not permanently remain in a circle formation around God. In Revelation 7, one comes to speak to John:

 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,… 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

Revelation 7:11,13-14 (ESV)

First, this Elder doesn’t include himself as someone who has come out of the Great Tribulation. The Great Tribulation may be a specific time period or event during which persecution is or was intense. I would also entertain the possibility that the Great Tribulation is how the inhabitants of Heaven refer to Earth. In that case, the Elder would not have been an inhabitant of Earth. He is also not identified as something other than a human, though that does not absolutely rule out some type of angel.

Why would we be told about these beings without an explanation of who they are? Even the Cherubim are given a brief explanation. What is their function? Do they only praise God from the front row? All we see are the Elders in action within the throne room of God. Their function within the room is connected to worship.

Since Revelation is an apocalyptic vision, it is possible that the elders are symbolic. Their likely symbolism is that they are the Church. So if that is the case, we circle the throne of God, we throw down our crowns of glory and give praise to God. We are enthroned and given some measure of authority. That would be my first choice if not for the conversation in Revelation 7.

I would still say that these are 24 actual individuals chosen to represent the church as a whole. The message they silently give is that we, as members of the church, are given close access to God in Heaven. We will no longer be separated by a floor, vision, cloud, curtain or anything else that necessarily isolated us from direct contact with God.

Just One Life

About twenty years ago, I traveled to India. It was both a cultural experience and a place of many surprises. We landed in Hyderbad in the middle of the night. As our bus drove to the hotel, the streets were dark. I could vaguely make out the shadows of something on the sidewalk. I didn’t figure out until the next morning that it was all people who were homeless.

India is a nation that is primarily Hindu. A core belief of Hinduism is that this life’s situation is the just product of a previous life. Consequently, if you are homeless you deserved that fate.

You could even return as another living thing. The consequence was that roads would go around a tree. Still, this isn’t exactly a respect for nature. There was litter everywhere.

Another likely result of believing that you are on a journey through multiple lives was the extremely dangerous traffic situation. Overcrowding and poverty no doubt contributed to the situation, but it is easier to face death if you expect to be born again.

The Bible doesn’t take on the topic of reincarnation directly. It does speak of eternal existence for all, but it denies that this existence will be here–at least not immediately.

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28(ESV)

We die once, not over and over. Death is the separation of body and soul. Something that would never happen except for sin. We don’t lapse into non-existence nor even unconscious existence, we consciously continue in either Heaven or Sheol.

In this article, I am interested in the implications of this fact for this brief life. Is this life a throw-away, because something better is beyond it? Is it a time to pursue hedonistic pleasures because something worse is next? Is it as the famous polka says, “In Heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.”? Certain pleasure are earthly pleasures, so pursue them now. Some embrace this philosophy because they feel that the truth about our fate after death is unknowable. I obviously disagree. To the skeptic, I would point out not only Scripture, but Near-Death Experiences. What happens at our death is only unknowable if you don’t try to know. For something as important as this, denial is a fool’s strategy.

Far from an approach that neglects this life, the set of promises that come with connection to Jesus Christ makes this life brief but valuable and life-after death the true prize. Jesus takes the pressure of saving ourselves off of our shoulders and places it on His. Forgiveness of our sins, our inability of fulfilling God’s Laws are all settled by His life. Heaven and beyond that a New Earth are ours for the taking. They are God’s gift.

This life becomes valuable because of what we can accomplish here with the presence of God within us. We can make an eternal difference in another person’s life. We can be a visible representative of God Himself. These things are worthy enduring the finite amount of grief that this life will throw at you.

So what are some of the consequences of knowing what God has given to us? First, I protect my life and try to be a good steward of my health and time, because I won’t get the same kind of opportunity to serve once I die. It isn’t beer that I have to get here, it is sharing God’s promises and His love in an environment that lacks knowledge of God. Besides that, they probably do have beer in Heaven.

Next, I value other people, even my enemies. They are potentially savable. They would be transformed by a connection to Jesus. They can be a reward to me. Life is cheap in many places, but it is not cheap to me.

The circumstances in which people live can be the product of many things: misfortune, bad parenting, limited natural abilities, poor education, poor government, injustice, bad decisions. The list goes on and on, but I can be a source of positive change. Their circumstances are not set by a previous life.

I will get older and closer to death every day. I am neither concerned about death nor a loss of purpose on the way. I know where I am going next and why. I am going to Heaven because of Jesus. My purpose may change as I lose abilities, but I will have a God-given purpose to the end.

Interacting with God in Eternity

Today, especially if you are living as a disciple of Jesus, you interact with God. At the most basic level, God keeps you and the universe you live in functioning. God is aware of your actions and thoughts. He hears your prayer, considers your situation, and moves in this world for your well-being. You can experience God teaching you when you study the Bible. You can experience God working through you when you step out to serve. It’s good but it is not what we would like.

We want to see Jesus and touch Him. We would like to see and feel the Father and the Holy Spirit. Will we?

The best and certainly the most underrated blessing of eternal life with God is the interaction we will have with God in Heaven and in the New Earth. What will that be like?

My understanding is that we will always be a creature that is in one place at a time. There will be no omnipresence for us even in Heaven. That said, I understand the Bible to say that we will ultimately have a very vast domain to explore: a recreated universe (not just a planet) and the whole domain of Heaven. With that I would infer that our means of movement will be greatly enhanced; but no matter where we go, Jesus will be near us. That will be a great blessing.

Right now, Jesus is with us as well, but we don’t perceive that. After we leave this life, Jesus in His already resurrected body will speak with us, comfort us, guide us first just in Heaven and then after Judgment Day everywhere.

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 7:17 (ESV)

What about the other persons of the Trinity? It is true that when you encounter Jesus, you encounter them all, but will we specifically experience the Father or the Holy Spirit?

Jesus is still the incarnate Son of God. While omnipresent, He has a specific, human form. The Father and the Holy Spirit are spirit(s). I believe that means that they can take on forms but are not specific in their appearance.

One way we will experience the Holy Spirit is as the waters of the River of Life.

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Revelation 22:1

I don’t think this river is just something to look at. I expect that it is something to experience. We will wade into the river of Life and experience an interaction with the Spirit unlike anything we have in this life.

It would not be surprising if we encounter the Spirit in many forms, including human form. It will make for a uniquely beautiful relationship.

How will we experience the Father?

 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

Revelation 22:3-4

The curse is attributed as being the cause of many woes in this life: illness, natural disasters, defects in genetics, really anything that is not directly caused by sin. But what is it? I think it is just God stepping back a bit from the controls (Not stepping away). The world operates out of sync. It is a part of our rejection of Him as God. The curse also phases in (in Genesis) as people lose the face-to-face interaction with God. In Heaven and the New Earth, that will no longer be an issue.

There we will see the Father’s “face”. Does He have a face being a spirit? I’m not sure. What we will behold will be glorious. How we will behold it is still a mystery. Seeing God’s face implies a broader and more personal interaction. It is not just reserved for when we enter His throne room.

The experience of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will be the pinnacle experience of eternal life. The limited revelation we have and our best speculations I’m sure don’t come near to describing it. There is value, however, in trying to imagine what will come. It keeps us looking forward. There is also value in making the most of the interaction that we can have now. That sense of personal relationship with God keeps us strong in the faith.

What Did Jesus Mean By “Few Are Chosen”?

My picture of Heaven and the New Earth is one where there are many people and everybody who I ever knew in life. I don’t like funerals where there is any degree of doubt about a person’s destiny. Even if there is, we tend to put the best face on it.

Reality and desire rarely match. And even if the Gospel is literally the “good message”, there is some bad news mixed with the good news. The good news is that Jesus successfully fulfilled the Law for every person. A promise of forgiveness of sins and consequently eternal life with God is on the table. God has made good on long standing promises and His mission to save mankind, even potentially all mankind, has been enacted. The bad news is that in practice “few” get saved.

Where do I get this grim news. From my least favorite passages in the Scriptures:

14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:14 (ESV)

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 (ESV)

Both are out of the mouth of Jesus, who I have to consider an authority on the matter. There are other passages that corroborate this, so the fact that these are both from Matthew is of little consequence.

What does this mean? And why is it true? We have the universal desire of God to save all. We have the complete and sufficient life and death of Jesus to fulfill the legal requirements.

The Matthew 22 passage comes at the end of the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In the story a general invitation has been given to the populace to come to the wedding. One dude shows up without “wedding garments”, which would be provided. The King reacts strongly and the parable dissolves to bare truth, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The implied rejection of the wedding garment does in this man’s salvation.

The other quote is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus adds this information in the midst of a series of commands on how to live. Without the context of the whole Bible, one might conclude that the “narrow way” is a strict observation of the laws Jesus had just laid down.

The Sermon on the Mount is an example of how God uses the Law in different ways, even at the same time. The rigor of the Sermon on the Mount is meant to convict and to break any attempt to save yourself by your own actions. It is unachievable and already lost for a person with a sinful nature (that’s all of us). Martin Luther referred to this as using the Law as a mirror. We see ourselves, and the image isn’t good. Jesus’ statement of the narrow way is meant to create worry and to drive a person to another answer–God’s grace.

Jesus’ statement doesn’t appear to be an exaggeration for the sake of impact, however. The narrow way and the wedding garment are the same thing–the one thing that can save us.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 (ESV)

Being connected to Jesus is the one thing necessary. There are not other options that work, so it is “narrow”. It makes sense that this is true. If there were other options, Jesus wouldn’t have gone through what He did.

So how “few” is it? Many people lived and died and never heard the Gospel. I don’t believe that God would allow this to be a limiting factor. The function of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” seems to suggest, especially in 1 Peter 4:6, that Jesus can be evangelical even in Sheol. The limiting factors seem to be that many are hardened to the Gospel (Matthew 13:19) and Satan works to keep them that way. Others believe but find reasons to abandon the Gospel (persecution and difficulty, other worries of life). Some undermine the Gospel by changing the terms of God’s promise (the book of Galatians). Many become unrepentant sinners (John 3:19-20).

So what percentage can we expect? Is “few” relative to the whole population? Is “few” relative to the whole number that could have been saved? I hope it is the latter, but I wouldn’t be surprised that it turns out to be 10% or even less. Jesus seems to brace us for a low yield by some of His stories. But whatever the yield it will still be many people –a great multitude that no one could number (Rev. 7:9). We are blessed if we are counted among them.

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.

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