The Victory that Makes Eternal Life a Reality

We are closing in on another Easter.  For many the meaning will obscured by pretty dresses, candy and the Easter bunny.  These are fun, but we are not merely celebrating Spring.

Easter is a pivotal event for humankind.  Without Easter we have eternal existence but nothing that should be called eternal Life.  Jesus risen from the dead is more than evidence of life after death.  He is the cause.

It may not appear this way to the casual observer, but humans are created to be eternal.  Because of a major screwup on our progenitor’s part, we are all destined to experience the death of our physical body’s.  In fact, we are experiencing it every day as we age.  Our physical death will create a universal but unnatural condition of the separation of our soul (consciousness) and our body.  They were originally designed to be a unit.  This is the least of our problems.  God will exile our conscious self because of our sinfulness.  People have experienced this in Near Death Experiences (NDE) and returned to tell of it.  The Bible describes it in terms of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  That exile goes from bad to worse with the advent of Judgment Day when God forsakes us permanently.  It’s bad and we want no part of it.

That’s what makes Jesus’ resurrection such great news and a reason for a truly joyful celebration.  Jesus’ sole mission was to become a sinless human and then fulfill God’s Law’s requirement for the punishment detailed above by himself.  Jesus died without sin and was forsaken by God so that we never have to be.  Because of Jesus there is a way to Heaven and a place for us there.  That’s God’s promise to all who are baptized into Jesus’ death.

You may be skeptical because you typically don’t get a tour before it’s too late.  But prophecy, eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the experience of God calling you to faith, and, if you like, many NDEs confirm the story.  The Bible describes life after death with God as “truly life”.  It is as though what we have experienced so far hardly deserves the title of “life”.  In fact, our existence so far may be described in the Bible as the “great tribulation”.

If you would like a further explanation of what the Bible says is coming after death for those who belong to Jesus, please look up some of my previous blog entries on Heaven or the New Earth.  There is much to joyfully anticipate.

Happy Easter.

Do the Dead Watch Over Us?

When we lose somebody in death, we often are desperate for any sign that we are still connected.  Some of theses signs are quite baseless.  For instance, I have noticed recently a mime on facebook claiming that a cardinal at the bird-feeder is a loved one checking up on us.  Even if it helps, this is bad idea to perpetuate.  Where would an idea like this come from in the first place?  It comes from the New Age movement and intentionally manipulates our wishful thinking.

Another idea is that our dead loved ones are watching us and that we can speak with them in a fashion similar to prayer.  The likely source of this idea is Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The picture is that the living are on the field and the dead are in the stands watching.  This, however, is a misinterpretation of this passage.  The “witnesses” are not people witnessing us but rather witnessing to us.  This refers to all the stories of people of great faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11, not deceased loved ones.

When somebody dies, it is unbiblical to say that:

  • They have become an angel (Angels are not humans)
  • They are assigned as our guardian
  • Or that they are hanging out with other dead relatives

These ideas are merely comforting projections of things for which we still long.

The connection that does still remain is this:  we are still part of the Body of Christ together.  Both the Christians who occupy Heaven and those who still occupy Earth are all a part of the Kingdom of God and all are united to Christ.  As such, we all are concerned for the ongoing work of God and we all are eager for Christ’s return.

Might information about our actions and well-being be shared with those who went ahead of us?  Sure.  I would expect that to be likely.  Might God give our loved ones some opportunity to encourage us or help us grieve?  That does seem like the type of being God is.  He is compassionate and understanding.  So then, maybe the cardinal could a loved one?  No,  I’m pretty sure it is just a bird.


Is Life After Death Real?

I have spent the last couple of years writing about what the Bible says about life after death.  Today I am asking, “why believe any of it?

We are certainly motivated to think that this life isn’t all that there is for us.  The idea of simply disappearing drains any real purpose from our existence.  It also makes our aging an ever worsening scenario for which there is no escape nor hope.

There are plenty of reasons to think that life after death is more than false hope.  Real faith is the gift of God, but a little extra-biblical evidence certainly doesn’t hurt; especially if you are skeptical of the Bible at this point.

I often joke about the value of a field-trip to Heaven.  Of course, this is not something God is offering, but do some people actually have them?  Near Death Experiences are a curious phenomena that are actually quite common. One in seven people come close to death without permanently dying.  Thirty-five percent of those report a NDE (that’s 5% of the population) Skeptics want to dismiss NDE’s as simply a spike in brain activity right at death.  This explanation doesn’t quite fit the evidence.  Many don’t have enough of a brain left for the spike, and still have an NDE.  Most have been in a coma for a prolonged time, lowering their brain activity. A better theory for the brain activity spike is that when our spirit and body divide there is a surge of electrical activity.

NDEs happen to people of all sorts all over the world.  They do not seem to follow only people who expect life after death.  Many aspects are common among those who have experienced NDE’s.  For instance, going down a tunnel toward a light, being greeted by people they know, a sense of peace, and often the experience of being above your body and able to make detailed, accurate observations of things in the room or even down the hall.

Most people who have an NDE don’t want to come back to life.  Most, but not all.  Some people have experienced Hell.  They were eager to back to life.  That experience is life changing, too.  Would the prevalence of positive experiences suggest that most will be saved or that those with positive experiences are going to be saved?  I wouldn’t draw that conclusion at all.  Here I would count on the words of Jesus, who states that “few find life” and “no one comes to the Father accept through Me.”

I expect that NDE’s and their counterpart Out of Body Experiences (OBE) are similar to the experiences of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1f) and John in Revelation.  They are not exactly tours of Heaven, but rather visions intended for them.  Isaiah certainly experienced Heaven like a field trip, but Jesus states later that no one has gone into Heaven except the One who came from Heaven (John 3:13).  That doesn’t mean that no one can go there now and come back, but it does suggest an out-of-body middle state (Not yet in Heaven and not on Earth).  I would approach the information gained through NDE and OBE’s with caution, because it could be a vision created to deceive.

In the book “Death of a Guru”, Rabi Maharaj talks about the powers of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to take a person out of body and to places perceived as heavenly or at least other-worldly.  His later conversion would convince him that he was in great danger in these states of being deceived by Satan.  Some who have experienced NDE’s, later attempt to repeat the trip through methods similar to TM.  One famous example is neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander who was skeptical of NDEs until he contracted a serious case or meningitis and had one himself.  In a lecture of his that I attended, he announced that he was part of a group investigating the use of certain sound frequencies to liberate spirit from the body.  I think this is a bad idea.

Some NDEs may be legitimate God-given gifts.  They may even be direct experiences of Heaven, but Scripture remains the one safe standard of truth in this matter.  Other methods of experiencing life after death give some credence to dismiss a materialistic philosophy, but do not have God’s approval.  In my next blog entry I will discuss communication with the dead.

Go to Hell

We have probably all said this to someone or something in anger.  Or we have said its more profane equivalent.  These words flow easily without understanding their literal meaning.  Hell is not a place I would wish on my worst enemy or on the worst of people.

Is Hell real or was it just a fable to control people with fear?  Without a doubt the fear of Hell has been abused by some, but Jesus clearly speaks of its reality.  If you take Heaven seriously, you have no ground for not taking Hell seriously since Jesus spoke of it often, maybe even more than Heaven as a destination for mankind.

To be specific, I make a contrast between two words that are often rendered as “Hell”.  Jesus speaks of Gehenna and Hades.  These are not synonyms, so they should not be translated as the same word.  Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol.  It is the destiny of those without the forgiveness of sins prior to Judgment Day.  The characteristics of Hades do resemble that of Gehenna, so people have tended to conflate them.  Hades and Sheol constitute the majority of references to Hell in the Bible.

When I, and most people, think about Hell, they are thinking about the final place of judgement, not a temporary one.  Because of this, I prefer to reserve the word Hell for the post-Judgment Day destination of the damned.  That convention would limit the references to Hell to the following passages that I would like to handle a couple at a time over the next few entries.

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)

This passage comes at the end of the Sheep and the Goats story which definitely describes Judgment Day.  Just two words describe Hell here: eternal and punishment.  We will have to look elsewhere to find the nature of the punishment.  The disturbing thing here is “eternal”.  There is no end to it.  I would be more comfortable with “permanent destruction” suggesting that the evil people come to an end, or even “long” punishment.  Eternal is tough.  What could be bad enough to deserve eternal punishment?  The gravity of this has caused some to postulate that Hell doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t exist for any human, or it actually is temporary.  I think this passage is pretty clear.  People are going to eternal punishment.

In the same chapter are these words:

And throw that servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30)

Does this refer to the eternal Hell, too?  It doesn’t expressly say, but a couple of things would make me conclude so.  First, Matthew 25 is all about preparation for Judgment Day, so this seems like an outcome of that.  Then the words “outside” and “darkness” imply a separation from God, which is the ultimate judgment.  When Jesus was forsaken by His Father on the cross, it seemed that was far worse than the nails or other torments.  Jesus being forsaken results in our not needing to be forsaken, if we are connected to Jesus.

The other descriptors are “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth”.  Both sound horrible.  They also sound physical.  The final judgment is a punishment of both body and soul.  More about this later.

I would love for Hell to be either fictional or empty, but I would rather know the truth rather than be surprised by it.  I would also prefer to learn about Hell from afar rather than from experience.  Though unpleasant, please follow me as I look at the other references in the Bible.



The River of Life

One feature of the New Earth, that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the River of Life.  Once again, I don’t think this is a metaphor, but rather a physical feature running through the New Jerusalem.  That said, this river is not your usual water running downhill.

If you are familiar with the River of Life it is because it is found in Revelation 22.  Just like with magazines, a lot of us like to start at the back; so many people have read Revelation 22–the last chapter of the Bible.  You may be less familiar with Ezekiel 47.  Here is description of what is clearly the same thing.  So what is so strange about this river?

Let’s start with the source.  The river emanates from under the altar of the temple in Ezekiel and from under the “throne of God” in Revelation 22.  The temple was seen as a mini-version of what really existed in Heaven.  This is a reason to equate the future New Jerusalem with the current throne room of God in Heaven.

Water, as it spreads out and flows away, should get shallower.  This water gets deeper until it forms a river.  Along the river are trees which are identified as the Tree of Life in Revelation 22.  A presumably singular Tree of Life is mentioned in Genesis in the Garden of Eden.

This river isn’t the only thing to ever flow from beneath the throne of God.  In Daniel 7:10 a river of fire flows.  So what is this river?  The Holy Spirit manifests himself as many things:  a dove, fiery tongues and Jesus speaks of the Spirit as Living Water.  I think it is fair to understand the river as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and all life initiates with Him.  In Heaven and the New Earth, we may experience the Father and the Son as persons like ourselves in many ways.  The Spirit may be experienced in other ways including this river.

The Tree of Life is seen lining the river.  It, too, is an outgrowth, tool or manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 22 says, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  What healing will we need in the New Earth?

The honest answer is, “I don’t know”.   In Genesis, Adam and Eve were not forbidden access to the Tree of Life until after they had been exposed to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The reason was so that they would not “live forever”.  Here the reason is so that we will live forever.  Our physical bodies, though recreated, still may need the steady input of the Tree of Life; and not to worry, the Tree of Life is always in season.

I expect that our resurrected bodies will have some type of genetic information within them and some type of chemical metabolism.  Sustaining this metabolism indefinitely is whatever is in the Tree of Life.  It is the Spirit’s way of keeping us whole and alive.

No Eclipse in This City

This week was the long anticipated solar eclipse in the United States.  My city was very near the region of totality.  We experienced a 99% eclipse, which oddly barely dimmed the light.  As we continue to look at the New Earth, specifically the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 (this is the sixth entry), we find a wrinkle to the “new order of things” that relates to the celestial bodies.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

In the new Jerusalem you don’t need to go to a temple because you encounter God, the Father and Jesus, everywhere.  The presence of God is an interesting study in the Bible.  God is everywhere and somewhere at the same time.  He occupies a throne in Heaven and He also dwells in His people and fills all things.  You get the sense that His presence is different in each place, but very real.  Still, God’s presence isn’t something you can always sense in every place.  Not so in the New Jerusalem.  How we will encounter God in this city, I cannot say.  But I do believe it will be exhilarating, joyful and always desirable.

God’s presence in the New Jerusalem is so palpable that the city literally glows with God’s glory.  The physical radiation that accompanies God, His shekinah, makes the directional lighting of the sun, moon or any lamp irrelevant.  There is no darkness of any sort in the New Jerusalem.

On no day will its gates ever be shut, or there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

As mentioned before, the walls of the city are not for a protective purpose.  Once the city has arrived on the New Earth, there is no need to shut the gates; not just because there isn’t any night, but because there isn’t any danger.  Evil is excluded.  The evil that affects us all is gone.  The human inhabitants and visitors to the city have left their sinful nature behind.  They are what we are meant to be–loving, truthful, good.

That part is more exciting than a new planet.  We will be literally new people.  You won’t have enemies or people you can’t trust.  You won’t be in competition but rather you will be in love, with everyone. We won’t need armies, police or really even laws. We will be with God, each other and a restored nature.

Is anything the same?  Will there be anything carried over from the current Earth to the New Earth?  “The glory and honor of the nations” is mentioned.  This could be simply a reference to the fact that there will be redeemed people from every nation, but it could also speak to pure elements of human culture–the very best of what we are today.

It is hard to imagine, but it isn’t hard to know that this is where you want to be.  Who will make it?  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  Jesus, the Lamb, has always known who will be His.  Their names are recorded in a book.  His people will know that He died for them and they will be bonded to Him through baptism.  Some will be His almost all their life.  Others will be late arrivers, coming to faith in old age.  Praise God if you belong to Jesus.  If not, it’s better late than never, as the saying goes.

The New Earth in Revelation (part 3)

We left off at Revelation 21:5 in my last entry.  Verses 6-9 are important but not about the New Earth, so I will pick it up at verse 9:

One the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.  And he carried me away in the Spirit to mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

An angel takes the writer, John, not only to a different place but also to a different time.  The time that the New Earth is being set up post-judgment day.  Being taken “in the Spirit” doesn’t necessarily mean “out of body” but in this case it must.  John sees the “new” Jerusalem coming down like a landing space ship.  It is called “the wife of the Lamb” because in Isaiah 62:4, God speaks of Jerusalem being called “Beulah”, which means married.  The Church is also referred to with such a metaphor, but in this case, I think it is referring to the new Jerusalem.  So what makes it Jerusalem?  It is the city where the visible presence of God resides.  It will probably bear no resemblance or use any material from the Old City of Jerusalem, but the old Jerusalem prefigured this city of the future.

A question I have is whether this New Jerusalem is actually something that exists in Heaven already.  Is this the throne room of God that we see in all of the visions of Heaven?  We can’t know this, but it seems a real possibility to me.  In that case the following description, which we often attribute to Heaven, actually is a description of both Heaven and the New Jerusalem.

It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal,.  It had a great high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.  On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

If you Google “new Jerusalem” and go to “images” you will see how various artists have wrestled with this description.  Did it look like a walled city of the past?  If so, why?  I think this describes something more like a city within a crystalline cube.  It is four sided, at least at the base.  The dimensioning is given in the next section.  The names on the gates remind me of gates at a football stadium, especially Lambeau field which happens to have a gate named after the Oneida Indian tribe.  Walls would not be needed to keep out enemies as in the past, but would walls be needed because of the mobility of this city?  Something similar to the “Death Star” in Star Wars, only beautiful.

Jaspar is a stone that is not typically clear.  John grasps for gems he knows.  I think it looks more like a diamond.  Its beauty is something that probably defies words, and it will be a big part of our eternal existence.