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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Confusing Heaven and the New Earth

One thing that seems to escape many Christians, even clergy and theologians, is that Heaven and the New Earth are two separate places. The idea that there is just Heaven and Hell has been broadly taught for generations. We have even gone soft on these. “Heaven” is almost never capitalized. Does this mean that the editors of various hymnals and Bible translations consider “Heaven” to be a concept rather than a place with a name? And many Christians don’t believe in Hell.

If you are of the impression that there is only Heaven and Hell, where did you learn that? What Bible passages were used? Or was this just the general description given you as a child by adults who never studied the Scripture for this topic? Such an idea can become entrenched in our mind. We are certain that it must be in the Bible, but it is not.

A couple of linguistic things add to our confusion. First, the Greek word for “Heaven” is used to describe “the atmosphere” (first heaven), “the universe” (second heaven), and the dwelling place of God or what I would describe as “Heaven” (third heaven).

“Hell” an English word with a long history of where it came from, is often sloppily assigned to two Aramaic words, “Gehenna”, which was just transliterated into Greek (so it is a Greek word too), and “Sheol” which is translated into Greek as “Hades”. I think it is interesting that one word is just borrowed by Greek (like the word “hard drive” is rarely changed in other languages) and the other is assigned a word with a lot of meaning. “Hades” is also a place of the dead for the Greek people. From this I would conclude that “Gehenna” and “Sheol” are not synonyms. They are two place names, and the latter conceptually fits with the Greek idea of Hades. The result is the tendency to merge places that exist before Judgment Day with those that only exist after Judgment Day.

Heaven, as most of us would think of it, clearly exists now. It is the visible dwelling place of God, the Cherubim (also called Seraphim) and the angels. It will continue to exist after Judgment Day but will not be the visible dwelling place of God. The New Earth is something spoken of in both Old and New Testaments. It is not Heaven and only will exist after Judgment Day. It becomes the formal dwelling place of God with the arrival of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.

Sheol/Hades is a place for the damned (and until Jesus made atonement for sin, the Old Testament righteous) that exists today. What I would call “Hell”, Jesus calls “Gehenna”, and John calls the “Lake of Fire”; does exist until after Judgment Day. That it is something distinct from Sheol/Hades is established in Revelation 20:14 where Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire. I guess at that point they become the same thing.

So will we be in Heaven forever? With the resurrection of our bodies on Judgment Day, the New Earth will become both our permanent dwelling and the dwelling place of God (Rev. 21:1-4); but there are some clues that Heaven remains in the mix somehow. First there is this:

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.

2 Corinthians 5:1

Does Paul mean “heavens” as the universe or as the current dwelling place of God? Is “heaven” wherever God dwells or a place of its own? I believe Paul is not speaking of the universe and that Heaven is a place, even after God dwells with man on the Earth. Another passage:

According to his (God’s) great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV 1984)

We do go to Heaven when we die. God and probably the New Jerusalem are a part of Heaven that is eternal, but will move to the New Earth. Still, I think this is saying that part of our eternal inheritance is Heaven, the place. The New Earth and Heaven could be our home eternally. There is the movement of the New Jerusalem, which could be the sum total of Heaven, to the New Earth. This would create a parallel to the merging of Sheol and Gehenna described above, but symmetry is all that interpretation has going for it.

While I can see that some of the questions that can be raised about our eternity are unanswered, merging Heaven and the New Earth doesn’t honor the Scriptures, which clearly describes them as distinct. Either way, these things are ours by grace. God prepares for us a body or bodies and a sin and curse free place of existence where we are with Him.

An Expectation of Sheol

All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Genesis 37:35 (ESV)

The above quote comes from the story of Joseph. His brothers, in spite, had just sold Joseph into slavery and then reported him as dead to their father Jacob. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and he is crushed by the news. He basically says that he will mourn until he dies, and then he will go where Joseph is–Sheol.

Sheol, the place of the dead, is where every Old Testament person expected to go. They are divided as to whether the experience will be a conscious or unconscious experience. None of them really look forward to it.

There is an expectation of bodily resurrection someday. This can be found in the oldest book in the Old Testament, Job, and it is briefly taught at the end of Daniel. Time will elapse between their death and the resurrection, however.

As mentioned in previous blog entries, translators have struggled with what to do with word, “Sheol”, and its Greek counterpart, “Hades”. Some translations have decided to make it “the pit”, “the grave” or even “Hell”. Usually it is marked with a footnote acknowledging that the word is “Sheol”. Basically, an admission that the translators were not sold themselves on the translation. For this reason Sheol is unknown to most Christians.

Is Sheol Hell? I capitalize both, because both are place names. And no, Sheol is not what I mean when I use the word “Hell” as a place name. “Hell”, for me, corresponds to the final place of forsakeness and suffering reserved for the damned. This corresponds with the word “Gehenna” or the description, “Lake of Fire” found in Revelation 20. Sheol/Hades is dumped into the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20:14. Clearly, it is a distinct place.

Does Jacob expect to suffer after death then? Not necessarily. Sheol is spoken of 63 times in the Old Testament. I am not certain how the people of the Old Testament acquired their knowledge of Sheol. It may have been from revelation from God, but not necessarily. Near Death Experiences and even the forbidden occultic arts could have given to society scraps of information about Sheol. It is allowed to remain in inspired works because it serves God’s purpose in telling the stories. At no place, is there a theological treatise on the nature of Sheol.

In general, Sheol is described as either unconsciousness or unawareness. It is always pictured as the wages of sin and bad. That makes it surprising that all, even the righteous, express an expectation to go there. Sheol is spoken of in poetic terms in Isaiah. It becomes a synonym for death, even though it retains the nature of a place name.

The Old Testament holds only a very modest hope for eternal life. The most detailed description of life after death applies to the New Earth described in Isaiah 65. This description itself is problematic as it describes existence more in terms of long, pleasant life rather than eternal life.

The lack of information about eternal life and the complete absence of an expectation to go to Heaven raises some interesting questions about the nature of revelation. If one sees the religion surrounding Yahweh (whether Jewish or Christian) as the product of humans, then you would explain the doctrine of eternal life as a development–something added later either because it was borrowed from somewhere else or imagined by somebody later. If, rather, you understand both Old and New Testaments as an ongoing dialogue between God and humanity, you understand that God can reveal information when He chooses to reveal information. Theological development is people having more information then they had before.

Sheol is “developed” by Jesus in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. No one would have better and more information about such a place than Jesus. In the story, Lazarus, a poor beggar, dies and is carried to Abraham’s side. The story does not immediately identify where Abraham is. From the Old Testament we should expect that this is Sheol. The rich man also dies and is take to Hades. Here the place is named. He is conscious. He is tormented by flames. Still, he is able to converse with Abraham. Lazarus, however, is being comforted. His place in Sheol is not a place of suffering.

Many jump to the conclusion that Abraham and Lazarus must be in Heaven. That is where the righteous go. But Jesus blocks that conclusion in John 3:13 by telling us that no one has gone into Heaven, at least not yet. Abraham and Lazarus are in a separate parts of Sheol divided by a chasm from the rest, but not prohibiting some communication between the two parts.

Some church bodies have given names to the pleasant part of Sheol. The Catholic Church refers to it as the “Limbo of the Fathers.” Others just refer to it as Abraham’s Bosom. Most just ignore it.

Sheol as a destiny for the righteous awaited the atonement for sins that Jesus would complete. I expect “Abraham’s Bosom” to still exist as a place. But it is now an empty place. Our expectations are now happily turned to Heaven. That humans should occupy Heaven awaited not only atonement but the expulsion of Satan and his minions as described in Revelation 12.

While I don’t need independent confirmation of God’s revelation, it does exist. Near Death Experiences include both seeing Heaven and Sheol as briefly described by Jesus. The expectation of the resurrection of our bodies still stands as a future promise awaiting Judgment Day.

Marriage and the Afterlife

In my last entry, I spoke briefly about Jesus’s words in Matthew 22, where Jesus states that “in the resurrection” we will neither be married or given in marriage but will be like the angels. The true focus of that discussion with the Sadducees was that there was such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. For those of us who don’t doubt that, our focus shifts to the topic of marriage in the afterlife. So let’s concentrate on that topic.

In Romans 7, Paul confirms that marriage is a bond for our current stage of life. He says:

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.

Romans 7:2

That context makes marriage sound like something undesirable. That is not Paul’s intent. He is talking about the application of God’s Law to our salvation and uses marriage as an analogy. Obviously, people feel differently about their marriages. Some cannot imagine life without their spouse, others can’t wait for life without their spouse.

Marriage originally was conceived as a permanent and joyful union. Since Adam and Eve lived before sin and were created to never die, marriage would have been a part of our permanent condition. Sin not only altered our relationship with God, it damaged our relationship with each other, and apparently changed the plans God has for us. Marriage still remained a positive and honorable bond, but it would no longer be without challenges; nor would it remain a permanent condition.

So what does God have in mind for us, both in Heaven and in the New Earth? Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, was about “the resurrection”; specifically because the Sadducees didn’t think the resurrection of the dead was literal. It is. This may mean that our time in Heaven during the “Intermediate Period”, the time between your death and Judgment Day, is yet another arrangement. Jesus said in the resurrection we are neither married or given in marriage, but are like the angels. He did not explain what the angels are like other than to imply that they are different than us in this regard. This passage from Matthew may be informed a little by a passage in Isaiah 65. Talking about the post-resurrection world, Isaiah says:

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, and the one not living out a hundred years would be accursed.

Isaiah 65:20

This difficult passage may be only contrasting the painful realities of pre-mature death in the current age to eternal life in the next. Still, we need to possibly consider that there may be an aging cycle within eternal life, and still some form of reproduction or regeneration. The aging cycle would not be something undesirable as it is today under the curse. Possibly it could be similar to the “Immortal Jellyfish”, which is a species that goes through a maturation process only to return to the beginning of the cycle without dying.

What does this say about marriage? Nothing more than if there is reproduction or regeneration is not the same as marital, sexual reproduction.

Does this diminish our need for relationships in the afterlife? I would think not. God is a being who desires relationships, and humans were made for relationships. While our relationships in the afterlife will be different, I would expect them to be more numerous, close and trouble-free. Perhaps marriage is not in the plans for our afterlife, because of the great number of close relationships that we will have.

Considering the little information we have about marriage in the afterlife, how should it inform our marital relations now? People often project their current relationships as being unchanged by death. This comforts them. While I doubt that this is accurate, there is little need to emotionally detach from a person who has died. You may not be married anymore, but for those of us who have been given eternal life through Jesus, we will have a new and better relationship to experience. It is hard to imagine, but Scripture hints at God’s innovations that will make relationships exciting and vital for an eternity.

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