What Will Our Resurrected Body Be Like?

Lately I have been considering my own health, fitness and appearance. I am 60. I think that I can say that I am in pretty good shape. But I have to add the qualifier: for a 60-year-old. If I were 25, I couldn’t say the same. Our health and appearance is a downward trend. God’s promise is not just that we escape the body. It is that we will receive a resurrected body at Judgment Day. Do we know anything about this resurrected body?

We do. First, it is not merely a repaired body. There were people raised from the dead in the Bible. They were fixed not resurrected. Resurrected is a more comprehensive overhaul. Jesus is the “first-born of the dead”. In other words, Jesus was the first resurrected human. He is also the Son of God incarnate. So as we look at the properties of Jesus’ resurrected body, we can’t be sure if it’s a resurrection property or a property of His divinity.

What stands out as different about Jesus post-resurrection? He is still touchable, He still eats, He still has scars from the crucifixion. These things are actually a little surprising, but good. Jesus is recognizable, but not always. The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Him until He breaks bread and then He disappears. Did Jesus change His appearance or mess with their minds? We don’t know.

Jesus also is able to appear inside the house where the disciples are hiding. The doors were locked. While I do not expect to be a shapeshifter or to impede the thinking of others, I would not be surprising if a resurrected body can move differently. The phrase “new heavens and new Earth” refer to the remaking of this universe. I don’t expect our domicile to be just another planet. I expect it to be a whole universe. If that is not enough to keep us engaged forever, I have an even stronger expectation that we will be able to move from Earth to Heaven and Heaven to Earth.

References to “heavenly bodies” in 1 Corinthians 15 and to “further clothed”, “eternal in the Heavens” in 2 Corinthians 5 leads me to understand that we will have a body that is meant for the time-space of Heaven, which I expect is parallel to this universe. A resurrected body is for this universe. To connect them both is a gift that makes us similar to angels as far as movement. This may also give us the ability to move at will great distances in this space.

Resurrected bodies also come into play in Isaiah 65. As noted in the article Wrestling with Isaiah 65, https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/1982, the text of Isaiah 65:17-25 may not be very literal. Some possibilities that arise from this section are: the ability to procreate; the ability to age well, die, and regenerate; the ability to work without laboring; and the ability to live in harmony with nature.

Will the resurrected body be indestructible? 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 speaks of this body:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (ESV)

The resurrection of our bodies is something that happens to both the righteous and the unrighteous according to Daniel 12:2-3. But those whose names are not “written in the book” because they are not connected to Jesus will have a different fate.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 4:1-3 (ESV)

The resurrected bodies of the unrighteous are apparently not imperishable. Imperishable, even for the righteous doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t damage them. The Trees of Life found in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22) are for the healing of the nations. “Healing” can mean a lot of things, but it could be a reference to resurrected body repair.

It typical for people to just think of going to Heaven. A New Earth, much less a resurrected body, is not on their radar. But these things are written about more than Heaven. A resurrected body is part of the package. Perhaps you are looking forward to the trade-in.

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.

Insider Information from Jesus

Usually when one speaks of “insider information” you are talking about investments. There are laws against using information that is not available to the general public to either purchase or sell your stocks in a company to make a profit or avoid a loss.

In the strange parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-13), Jesus gives some good advice on investing from a true insider, and it is not illegal. The parable is strange, and it confuses people about what it is teaching. The context of this parable is that Jesus is teaching his disciples in the presence of the Pharisees (Jesus’ most fierce rivals). He has already done one thing of which they disapprove. He is hanging out with the rabble of society (tax collectors for the Romans and “sinners”) In response to their disapproval, Jesus tells three stories: the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now Jesus is going to pick on the Pharisees other glaring defect–their love of money.

The story is about a manager who is going to get fired. To cushion his fall, he seeks to make friends with his boss’ debtors by fudging the books in their favor. It is strictly illegal, and Jesus’ is by no means approving of fraud; but the boss in the story is impressed by the shrewdness of the manager.

Some people want to make the boss in the story a metaphor for God. It is not. Is the story about mercy or forgiveness? For a change, no. The story is about Jesus’ encouragement of his disciples being shrewd with their money. How? He wants them to invest in people. He wants people to hear the Gospel, repent, believe God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life, and inherit eternal life. How is this shrewd? You no doubt have heard the cliche, “You can’t take it with you.” It is almost true. All the wealth you accumulate in this world stays in this world, and you must leave. But if you have eternal life through Jesus and you use worldly assets (money, time, talent, etc.) to be a part of helping others have eternal life, then those people do follow you past the veil of death.

Jesus puts it this way,

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:9 (ESV)

People are a worthy addition to what God gives us in eternal life. They are a reward. Jesus says more:

11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

Luke 16:11-12 (ESV)

God considers many things that we have in this world to be ultimately his. We are just stewards and we will be evaluated on our stewardship on Judgment Day. Good stewardship can’t save us or add to what Jesus did for us, but it can be a source of something more. What are “true riches” in this sentence? Is it eternal relationship (i.e. people), is it honor, is it something else that we can’t imagine?

People who are saved by God’s grace in the first place need to be careful about feeling entitled. Good stewardship is just our job. But Jesus’ words bear consideration. Perhaps the best investment is the truly long-term investment.

Making the Most of This Life

One criticism that gets launched at Christianity is that Christianity moves your focus to life after death and neglects this life. While individuals may do this, true disciples of Jesus know this is certainly not true. This relatively short period of our existence, that we give the misnomer “life”, is important for its own unique purpose; and you would do well to understand what it is all about. It is having eternal life as a promise from God that makes effort in this life meaningful. Without it we are just chasing the wind.

The most important thing to realize is that our purpose in life is not trying to earn a place in Heaven and the New Earth. All our efforts will be so feeble in comparison to the glory God wants to give us that trying to merit eternal life is a fool’s errand. Eternal life has to be a gift and Jesus is the giver. Once you are connected to Jesus then what? God doesn’t move Christians immediately to Heaven because there is work to do. Jesus wants to work primarily through us. Maximizing this relationship is making the most of our lives.

You could pick a different purpose for life. You could see life as a time to amass wealth or power. You could make your goal travel. You could even seek to make a scientific or technological breakthrough. These things will end up as meaningless. Solomon found that out. (Ecclesiastes) Don’t worry about what people will think of you when you are gone or if they even remember your name. Care about God’s evaluation. There are things that God does care about. If you work with God and do things His way, not only will your accomplishments leave a big positive impact on other people, they will be honored with some type of eternal reward by God. Again, it is important to stress that entry into eternal life is the work of Jesus and a gift to you; responding to that gift with a fruitful life pleases God and adds to your future existence in some way.

So, what matters to God? God wants to save people from a necessary eternal damnation and bring them to eternal life. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit working through story of Jesus and its associated promise of forgiveness and eternal life (the Gospel). First on the list of what we can do is to disseminate information about Jesus. Only God can make a believer, but we are part of the process via words and example. Everybody can do this.

Next, God wants more than people who believe Him. He wants disciples. He wants people who will learn and multiply the process. You can maximize your life by teaching your children, teaching others, and by financially and prayerfully backing others who do so. These two things are the main thrust of what cares about but not all.

God also wants kindness and care for others to flow from His people. Visit and care for the sick. Feed the hungry. Encourage the imprisoned. Help them to reintegrate into society. Fight injustice. Propagate the truth. Provide whatever kind of care that love requires. There are millions of opportunities to do these things.

God also includes us in spiritual warfare. Satan and his associates are real and present. They influence the minds of sinful people. Counteract their actions when you see it. Pray against the power of the evil one.

God also cares about our “normal” vocations in life. You have a job? Do it as one who is working for God. As long as the job is not illicit, it can be done for God’s glory.

Being a spouse or a parent or grandparent can also be done in a godly way that benefits your own family. God cares about this.

Got neighbors? Be neighborly. Help them. Get to know them. Pray for them.

We are also stewards. God considers us to be managers of assets that He puts in our care. This includes our body, our time, money, abilities, the planet, knowledge, relationships and more. Take care of them well. Use these things in a way that honors God.

Your ongoing relationship with God matters too. Communicate through prayer as with a friend. Worship God in sincerity (spirit) and accurately (truth). God seeks this type of interaction.

When you have eternal life through Jesus, your life is heaped with purpose. You will have purpose in eternity as well, but work in this fallen world is unique. All of these things are important to God but it is also important how you do them.

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Luke 17:10 (ESV)

You can’t do these things with a sense of entitlement. We are saved by grace, so we are not entitled. Humble service gains undeserved rewards. While there are many motives for doing these things, the best is love. Don’t work for reward. Work because you love God and God’s love is in you.

I hope that you can see that our lives can be meaningful to the last moment. Through transition of purpose, suffering, illness, even dementia.

Being mindful of our God-given purpose and pursuing it is living wisely. Maximize your life.

Scattered to the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44

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

Is It Acceptable to be Cremated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Purgatory Exist?

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

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

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

Galatians 5:2-4

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV)

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

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

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

Mark 9:47-49 (ESV)

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

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

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

Luke 16:22-24 (ESV)

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

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

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

1 Peter 4:6 (ESV)

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

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

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.

Are There Levels of Hell?

One book that I remember reading in high school and enjoying was Dante’s Inferno. Actually I read the whole Divine Comedy . It details a fictitious trip through Hell, then Purgatory, and finally Heaven. Within the Inferno section of the poem was a description of Hell containing nine levels. On each sinners experienced eternal punishment that fit their crimes. At the very bottom was Satan chewing on the classic traitors of history.

Interesting book but not biblical. Yet Jesus says a few things that suggest that Hell is not a uniformly miserable experience. For instance, when sending out his disciples on their first mission trip, Jesus instructs his disciples to shake off of their feet the dust of cities that will not welcome them. He says of these cities:

I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:15(NIV)

Descriptions of Hell are very few. Really the most detailed descriptions are of Sheol/Hades. Revelation refers to the “Lake of fire” as the final place of judgment that we call “Hell”. Jesus’ words above refer to the “day of Judgment”, so he is not talking about experiences in Sheol but rather post-judgment day. So how could they differ? Both would include being forsaken by God, for that is the penalty for sin.

In the next chapter Jesus says,

Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No you will go down to (Hades) If the miracles there were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.

Matthew 11:21-24 (NIV)

It would seem that the opportunity to believe and be saved that should have been enhanced by seeing miracles performed, actually creates a more grievous punishment if the miracles are ignored, rationalized away, or attributed to Satan. It is the later that most likely happened in these places.

Jesus suggests that seeing miracles would have at least prompted a temporary repentance if not salvation in some of the classic places of sin. This is not true in some devoutly Jewish towns.

What makes their experience “more bearable”? This question remains unanswered. It is not necessarily that there are circles of more intense suffering or longer sentences (because they are all eternal). The suffering of Hell is primarily psychological. It is being forgotten and excluded by God. To have nothing but to remember that Jesus was right there proving himself with miracles no less and you did not believe has to be an agonizing thought.

Might there be other circumstances like these? Perhaps a person ignored the love and constant witness of family out of pride or rebellion. Maybe others were among the ranks of the clergy and rejected their faith for flimsy reasons. In the quotes above both Bethsaida and Capernaum were the home towns of original disciples (Andrew and Peter respectively). Ignoring a witness or being offended by it because it came from family might be a source of greater “intolerability”.

In Dante’s fiction the punishment was made to fit the crime. In the end, the crime of damned will end up being rejecting the sacrifice the Son of God made to forgive their many lesser sins. One level suffices for all. Only the knowledge that this was easily avoidable makes it worse.

%d bloggers like this: