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.

The Way That We Are Made

What makes a human being special, if anything? A Materialist would say that nothing is special. We are just a biological robot doing what chemistry is forcing us to do with no specific purpose. Materialism is a very disparaging philosophy that doesn’t fit our experience. I don’t believe it at all. I experience myself making choices, contemplating my existence, living with purpose; and even though I have not died and returned from the dead yet, I have a sense that I am not limited to my physical lifespan. That may lack scientific vigor, but the atheistic claims of a Materialist do as well, and are clearly rubbish.

Human beings are more than interesting chemistry. Complex chemistry is a part of our being, but not the whole of it. Most people have thought so. The dissenters have a clear bias–they don’t want God to exist.

The Bible says something different about humans. It says we were created in the “image of God”. What does that mean? I don’t think it is the common meaning of the term “image”. The Bible declares several times that God is a spirit or is spirit. While the meaning of “spirit” is also vague, I would gather from usage that it means that God is not set in his appearance by a defined physical form. Part of being created in the “image of God” is having a part of our being not connected to a defined physical form.

Our bodies are a “defined physical form” the way I am using the phrase. The Bible speaks of humans as also having a “spirit”. Our spirit may be what we experience as consciousness. But our spirit is not the whole of us. We are body, and possibly bodies, and spirit. Our spirit can be liberated from connection to our body. That is what death is. Our spirit can interact with our body. That is why we can control it and that is what is observed when mapping brain activity.

We know that our earthly body can die and decay. Our spirit cannot, which is another aspect of being made in the image of God. We are eternal. While I do not believe in reincarnation, I understand the Bible to say that we can have a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1). In that case, our spirit is interacting with a body made for the physical dimensions of Heaven. I also know from the Bible that we will have a “resurrected” body. In this case, our spirit is interacting with a recreated, indestructible body built for the physical dimensions of this universe. Being eternal, we will never lapse into non-existence.

Being created in the image of God means, among still other things, that we have an eternal, non-material part that can interact with material bodies that can exist within their respective physical realms. This is theorizing that Heaven is a parallel universe to this universe rather than a remote part of it. The same can be said for Hell. How we will spend eternity depends on our relationship with God.

Humans were not created by God to be in an antagonistic or forsaken relationship to Him. We were created for Him, to be with Him. But that relationship was broken a long time ago. When we come into being at our conception, we do not arrive with a good relationship and with an unblemished image of God. God creates us, but in the sense that He created the biological system of reproduction that makes us. We do not start from scratch. As such, we inherit physically a nature that is antagonistic to God and under God’s judgment. (Romans 7, Psalm 51:5 et al). The only fix for us is Jesus. Jesus’ actions created the opportunity to repair our relationship with God. God seeks us out to connect us to Jesus; and, if successful, to restore us to what we were originally intended to be.

Would we know this without being told about it by God? I doubt it. We would only experience a vague sense of something amiss. We would see a troubled and often ugly world made painful by human actions. We would walk blindly into our own deaths, perhaps expecting the end of our existence. Finding instead a far worse continued existence.

Created in the image of God is what we are for better or worse. Thank God, He did not abandon us to a hopeless fate.

The Unique Perspective and Mission of Jesus

If you wanted to know something about life after death, who would you consult? The obvious answer is someone who has died. Clearly, this answer has a problem. Death is typically a one way street. You don’t die and then come back to tell people about it. But throughout history there has been some exceptions, especially lately. There has also been work-arounds, though forbidden. And then there is Jesus, the one who not only died but rose again; the one who has created “all things unseen” and bridged an otherwise unbridgeable gap to eternal joy.

Near death experiences (NDE) are on the rise because of advances in modern science. They are intriguing accounts. For the most part they are brief. There is some consistency in the reports. There is also decent proof that these are not the memories of dying brain.

It seems that most people experience an ecstatically joyful experience with great beauty, heightened senses, and often meeting people that they know who are deceased. Some have experienced the opposite, encountering a place of agony, hopelessness and anger. These accounts clash with a common message that comes from NDEs, that all will be saved. This message also is contradicted by Jesus. So what does this say about the message and what does it say about the experience of an NDE?

We are definitely in unfamiliar territory when we cross over death. Is it real? Is it a vision? Can we be misled? It is exciting that people can report on heavenly experiences but we cannot give our trust to the information unreservedly.

Even less so what I termed as “work-arounds”. From Old Testament times the Bible reported practices of consulting the dead. These were forbidden by God. Why? These were also widely practiced. Were they real? If practices of consulting the dead were strictly forms of fraud, I could understand God forbidding them but not attaching such seriousness as we find in Deuteronomy 18:9-12:

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-12

Similarities between the after death beliefs in various religions are often attributing to copying between cultures. While this could happen, could not inquiries of the dead produce some similarities with possible distortions?

A current day practice called (TM) Transcendental Meditation produces out of body experiences. This might be just an altered state of mind, but we have to consider whether it accesses some type of space beyond our current dimension and that it could fall into the condemnation mentioned above. Are these work-arounds forbidden because the power used to do them is not from God, and/or does it leave the individual exposed to deceptions that will poison society if they are shared?

Jesus is something completely different from NDEs and forbidden procedures. Jesus has unique claims about himself. First, he claims to pre-exist his birth and to hail from Heaven.

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

As far as understanding the place of joy that exists beyond death, Jesus makes this unique claim and then backs it up with very public miracles involving health issues, control over the laws of physics and even raising people from the dead. Who else comes close to having authority on this topic and proving it?

With this quote He is not dismissing the possibility that others could have had visions of Heaven (like Daniel and Isaiah) or that others who came after His resurrection could have actual travel there. But I bounce everything reported to be information about Heaven and getting there off of the words of Jesus. He alone has the credentials for truth.

Then there is His mission. Jesus does a lot of good during His earthly ministry, but He is clearly the Son of God in human flesh for one reason-to change the course of what happens to us when we die. Jesus can tell us about life after death because He is making real life after death possible by fixing our relationship to God’s Law which would condemn us. I can trust a being who made such a great sacrifice for me.

Because of how God worked His plan, when I read about Jesus’ death on the cross I am looking at my death and forsakeness under God’s Law. Also, when I read of Jesus’ resurrection, I am reading about something that happened for me and will happen to me. I will be physically resurrected, and it will be a resurrection to a new level of glory.

If other sources of information are preferred they need to show why. Jesus is the source of our information, and its interesting and serious stuff.

The Folly of Flying Blind

Imagine that you are an airplane pilot and that you need to land your plane. Only today there is a low cloud blank over the airport. You cannot see where you are going. Luckily, modern instrumentation can tell you your location and altitude and speed. You can land blind if you rely on your instrumentation. Imagine if it wasn’t working.

With a large degree of certainty, you know that the ground is somewhere below you. Just go for it, right? Landing a plane is not an activity without high stakes. Hitting the ground in the wrong way in the wrong place has serious consequences.

Many people approach death this way. With a high degree of certainty they will die. Still, they approach death as if nothing can go wrong. Ignoring the topic, living in denial at least makes them happy for the moment. But death is an experience where you would prefer not to have a crash landing. Information is critical.

We can assume that every outcome is positive. People like that. But that is hardly proof that every outcome is positive. You can dismiss all evidence and revelation as unreliable. You can hedge your bets by being a “moral” person. You can convince yourself that there is nothing to be known about what comes next, and just “land the plane”, but that is folly.

Since we will all die, we should all be hungry for information about what, if anything, happens to us next. Don’t be quickly convinced that we simply cease to exist. The methods of materialistic inquiry may not serve you well in this instance. Reported near death experiences and revelations about God, Heaven, Hell or reincarnation all have to be carefully weighed as to their reliability. While you can’t arrive at an absolutely conclusive experiment or definitive experience, I believe that God can give you the certainty and clarity that you need.

Only God can give us the information we seek and confidence to trust it. The experiences of others may give some corroboration. For me, the weight of the information points to a judgment of each of us at death; and it is a judgment that we will fair poorly in without forgiveness from God.

The good news is that God is a being eager to forgive and eager to bless people with an existence after death that far exceeds in both length and quality what we are experiencing now. That eagerness manifested itself in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and death were part of a plan that provided a way for God to fulfill His laws and still forgive the sins of people. A connection to Jesus is a critical and necessary part of landing safely.

The objective of this blog has been to give you information about what the Bible says exists beyond this life. It is a more complicated scenario than most people realize. The complexity is caused because humans decided to rebel against God. Without the original sin of Adam and Eve, we would simply live forever in a world with no problems, new adventure and direct interaction with God. That is the end that God still desires for us. Jesus makes it possible.

Jesus and Eternal Life

Admittedly, this blog has put a lot of trust in the words of the Bible to inform us about life after death. It has especially put trust in Jesus’ message. Why? How do we know that Jesus wasn’t a fictional character, or a first century person with delusional disorder, or a liar, or a charlatan, or just a person with a great imagination, or misunderstood and mistranslated? How would we know the same things about other religious leaders, both living and departed, who claim to have revelation about eternal life. There are plenty of ways to explain away Jesus, if you want to do that.

There are exhaustive rebuttals for every negative theory mentioned above and then some. I will keep it basic. Several layers of objective evidence should make you at least be curious and listen to what He says. The final proof that moves you from skeptic to believer will have to come from God interacting with you directly. Nothing in history, or reality for that matter, is entirely above some skeptic angle of reasoning to reject it. Still truth is truth and reality is reality. Our perception and understanding of it is the thing that can be false.

So here are the “layers of evidence” that I would put before you on behalf of the credibility of Jesus:

  • Unlike many other “religious” accounts, the story of Jesus establishes a specific time and place. Jesus did not exist, “Once upon a time.”
  • While that time was a long time ago, approximately 2 B.C. to 33B. C.; it was not so long ago that we do not have outside archeological and documented references from outside of Christianity about Christianity and most of the places referenced in the story of Jesus.
  • Jesus’ life and many of the specifics of it were clearly foretold hundreds if not thousands of years before they happened. This includes specifics that you would not or could not arrange: place of birth, unique means of birth, general time period of life, location of ministry, miraculous proofs, style of death and more.
  • Eyewitnesses recorded acts of Jesus that were clearly miraculous and not likely to be illusions. These eyewitnesses all suffered for their testimony and did not seem to have a reason to lie.
  • Jesus’ greatest promoter after his death was a former enemy of the faith who encountered a resurrected Jesus.
  • The Bible is the most recorded document from antiquity by far. Detailed study of manuscripts can detect copying errors, but they are few and identifiable by comparison studies. The earliest manuscripts can be dated to within decades of the actual events.
  • Both the time of the conception, birth and death of Jesus can be correlated to certain conjunction of stars and a full lunar eclipse, which are verifiable through mathematical means.

While the life of Jesus is full of such things as healing the sick, raising the dead, teaching about God, teaching about good and evil; the main mission of Jesus was connected to doing something specific (and to the sensibility of many, strange) to establish the possibility of a desirable eternal life for human beings, who actually didn’t deserve it according to the Law of God.

Jesus’ death was not tragic and inappropriate. It was what He needed to do. It was not only an example of self-sacrifice. It was fulfilling requirements established by God’s own Law on behalf of our whole species. Jesus’ death and, worse yet, His being forsaken by the Father while on the cross; were all voluntary and planned. Without these actions nobody would be at peace with God. God’s judgement of our sinful rejection of Him would fall on us hard. Death would be something to avoid and delay at all costs.

The way God created us makes us eternally and consciously “alive” in one form or another according to Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us gives us an existence worth having. One cannot go back in time to verify Jesus’ story with your own senses. Usually, you cannot go beyond death to verify what is there or not there either. We depend on God sharing information about these things or we reject that information. The surrounding, verifiable facts should at least make you think.

Why Believe In Eternal Life?

You go to a funeral or visitation and there lies the body of a person you know. There is no movement, no sign of life. None of your senses tell you that this person still exists. There is just observable death and with it grief. Perhaps you want to believe that they are “in a better place”, but it could be just wishful thinking that we desperately need at this moment.

In another instance, you are sitting with a person in the process of dying. They seem to be having a vision. “I see Grandpa!” “The angels are coming for me!” ” I see Jesus!” You, of course, don’t see any of this. Is it real or is this just the expected delusions created by a dying brain? The same might be asked about people who have more terrifying visions. “I see fire!” “Help me!”

The sensory experience or even instrumental readings available at the time of death, all carry with them a large degree of doubt. Short of being able to freely move back and forth from this life to the next, all accounts are questionable. While I would put some weight behind the testimony of those who have had Near Death Experiences, I would consider our ability to measure or experience life after death to severely limited. Maybe someday we will have an instrument that can peer beyond death, but the current scientific orthodoxy has already decided that such a thing doesn’t exist.

That leaves us with two further means of information: one I can endorse and one I cannot. God can give to people the truth of what lies beyond the grave, if He so desires. And to a limited extend, that is exactly what He has done. When you are unequipped to investigate on your own, you are dependent on revelation. The other is a type of stolen revelation. Dabbling in the occult is tapping into the knowledge and power of other beings, evil beings, that can span the gap of death. God strictly forbids it. Why? He knows them to be prolific liars and deceivers. He knows them to hate our species, but that hasn’t kept people away.

The people of Israel were strictly warned against this type of inquiry. The people who occupied Canaan where deeply into these practices along with other disgusting forms of worship. For these reasons, they were being dispossessed of the land.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

Such practices and the desperate demand for such contact has also created a cadre of con-men and women who prey on sorrow. It leads many people to doubt that such capabilities even exist. But God was not warning about hucksters.

Revelation from Jesus, who is God incarnate, is our most trustworthy source of information. Others sources provide modest, secondary affirmation. Jesus promised to be straight with us.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

John 14:1-2

If we were limited to just this life, then Jesus would have said so. There was no motive to lie. But Jesus’ whole mission was to prepare a place for us. It already had been determined and revealed that people would face a Judgment Day and experience a resurrection from the dead. Jesus was preparing a further place and a better resurrection. He was going to become the way to have Heaven as a destination at death, and a New Heaven and New Earth as a home after the resurrection.

Jesus proved his reliability on such grand promises to his contemporaries by raising people from the dead, three in all; and then rising from the dead himself. Do you have someone with better credentials?

It is true that there is nothing like experience. I can guarantee that you will get you chance at that. But listening to the revelation that God has given us is more than just interesting information. It is critical and relevant to all. It is information intended for you and truthful. It prepares you for death and guides you in life. It can make you certain of things you cannot see or measure.

Reward In Eternity

The idea of receiving some sort of reward, honor or earned responsibility in either Heaven or the New Earth really bothers some people. It should make us uncomfortable a little. It is a fundamental truth that we don’t deserve to experience the joys of Heaven or the freedom of a new creation. We are sinners and we can only gain access to these places as a gift.

Still, the Bible (primarily Jesus) speaks of reward, treasure, and commendation frequently. So how can being saved by grace and receiving an earned reward go together?

It starts with serving as a disciple. One cannot even be a true disciple of Jesus without understanding that we are so chosen by grace. The same is true of being a “steward”. You don’t have the job unless you’ve been hired by God. So for a successful disciple/steward the right attitude is required. Jesus puts it this way:

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

There is no room for entitlement, competition, or pride. We serve Jesus because we love Jesus, we believe in Jesus’ work, we are commanded to serve, and if we receive nothing for it, it was still the appropriate reaction to how Jesus has served us by His life and death. That said, it doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t reward or honor whoever he wishes.

Just looking at the word “reward” as it refers to something that is given after death, we come up with this list:

Matthew 5:12/Luke6:23 Enduring persecution because of Jesus

Matthew 5:46/Luke 6:35 Loving your enemies

Matthew 6:1-4 Giving to the needy secretly

Matthew 6:5-6 Praying secretly (Could be an earthly reward as well)

Matthew 10:40-41 Supporting the workers of God’s Kingdom

Matthew 10:42 Giving a cup of cold water to a child (Indicating the scope of what God rewards)

1 Corinthians 3:14 Building on the foundation of grace in Christ honorably

1 Corinthians 9:17 Accurately and willingly sharing God’s Word

Colossians 3:24 Doing anything well as for the Lord

Speaking generically about God rewarding: 2 John 1:8, Revelation 11:18

Jesus speaks about laying up treasures in Heaven: Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 19:21 (for giving to the poor)

1 Timothy 6:19 Treasures in eternity by being rich in good works

Receiving a “commendation” from God:

1 Corinthians 4:5

Hebrews 11:2

Matthew 25:21,23

A reward, treasure or commendation is something earned. Entrance into Heaven or the New Earth is something given through the forgiveness of sins, because there is no way we could earn it.

It is clear that for those saved by Jesus, Judgment Day is about reward and not about salvation. Salvation has already been determined. It seems that God’s reward, whatever it is, can be received while living, in Heaven, or after Judgment Day. But what is it?

For good reasons the Bible is not specific. I think our sinful nature would be tempted to abuse thoughts of specific reward. The Bible does refer to honor coming through commendation. It also speaks of heightened responsibility in the New Earth for good stewardship here. (Parable of the Talents) One last idea is that reward can be connected to the people we assist. Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as his “hope or joy or crown of boasting…our glory and joy.” The thought of ongoing joyful relationships as a reward is particularly appealing.

One counterpoint often cited to the idea of reward is the parable of the “Workers in the Vineyard”. (Matthew 20:1-16) In this story workers are hired throughout the day to work in God’s vineyard. At the end of the day, they are all paid the same; giving the idea that eternal life is egalitarian. While equality in many respects will be the feeling in the Kingdom of God, since sinful competition and favoritism will be a thing of the past, this story speaks primarily of grace and love and not reward. Late comers to God’s Kingdom are as valued as those who have been there (as a people) for centuries.

One final verse to bring out on this topic is 1 Corinthians 3:15. This is a picture of Judgment Day for those who are saved. The section speaks of building on the foundation of Christ with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw. In other words, living in a way that is changed and honors God or simply receiving grace and being largely unchanged. Judgment Day will reveal how well our lives have been spent “by fire”. This describes some sort of supernatural judgment process. Verse 15 concludes the section in a way that shows the value of grace and the value of good discipleship:

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:15

What does awareness of this dynamic of God’s Kingdom do for us? It helps us trust in mercy of God for one. It also shows a value of our lives that does confuse salvation with good living. I take away peace that I belong to God and eternal life with Him is mine, even if I frequently fail. I also take away excitement about having a God-given purpose of life. It is my hope to please God and make a difference. It is my duty.

What Is Eternal Life?

I want to tell you of an encounter I had on Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. We were visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is a church in the old city of Jerusalem, where the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and of Jesus’ burial lie within one building. Many people, including me, don’t appreciate that Golgotha and the rich man’s tomb were so close together; but John’s gospel records that the place of crucifixion was in a garden. It was an ugly act placed in a beautiful place near the gate of the city. I expect it was to show Roman dominance.

When you enter at the ground level through the main door, the top of Golgotha (the place of the skull) is just up about the equivalent of two normal floors of a building to your right. The tomb is around a corner to your left. Our group went up to the Chapel on top of Golgotha first. The chapel is a somewhat sad story of in-fighting among the groups that control the church. There are three altars. The far right altar is Roman Catholic, the middle Orthodox, the left Arminian. We were in the middle and a group (presumably Catholic) was in the right portion of the chapel. I couldn’t help but overhear the presentation being made by the priest, who sounded American. To my shock he said, “I don’t know what eternal life is, but I think it has something to do with this Earth; we live on in the memories of people.”

I almost had a stroke. Here we are on the likely place where Jesus died and a member of the clergy suggests that eternal life is being remembered. In reflection on the statement made by the priest, I guess I assumed that everyone is clear about the nature of eternal life; and, clearly, I assumed too much. When we let worldly doubts, fears, and academic criticism get into our heads, we can believe that real existence beyond our deaths is impossible. The Jews also had a group, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. When this becomes your worldview, references to eternal life are nothing more than wishful thinking or, as the priest said, memories.

My question is, “What would Jesus’ dying on a cross 2000 years ago have anything to do with whether people remember me or not?” The answer is, “It doesn’t.” On that rock on which we stood Jesus literally suffered being forsaken by His Father. That selfless act enabled a promise of God to work. God extends to humans the opportunity to be connected to Jesus. When connected through baptism in the name of Jesus (not some other ridiculous formula), the forsakeness of Jesus becomes the fulfillment of what God’s law requires of us. Because we have not kept God’s Law, we are required to be damned (forsaken). Jesus takes that sentence for us. Having been made right with God, we can live with God in the joy and glory of Heaven (a real place and thus capitalized) and also in the New Earth (also real and as a proper noun capitalized). If you can’t tell, the failure of many books and bible translations to capitalize both Heaven and Earth when referring to the place is a pet peeve of mine.

It is also important to note here that eternal life does not just mean existence. After your death you will exist regardless of your standing with God. That is how you are made. You will actually exist, not just in memory. It is just that if you exist as a being forsaken by God, the experience will be so hopeless and horrifying that calling such an existence “life” is a gross disservice to the word. The Bible is not even thrilled with called our current existence “life”. Existence in Heaven and the New Earth is real life. Once there you will not care if people remember you. You will be having too much fun. Life after death is not some version of the Disney movie, “Coco”. Maybe that is where the priest learned his theology.

So take heart. Jesus has opened the door to life. This is not some vague concept. It is more concrete that you are now.

Prepared for Your Death

You are in good health. Maybe you are even young. Why should you think about death? The obvious answer is that all you have to be is alive in order to die. There is no particular age or way that it comes, and you are not guaranteed that you will grow old before death. But there is a better answer for why you should consider your own mortality. That is because living like you will die someday (and you will), will cause you to truly consider the purpose of life and help you to live fully and wisely.

If it were a fact that we just die and cease to exist, then truly life would be without purpose. In that case do whatever you want and can get away with. But that is not the case. Both the Bible and Near Death Experiences around the world confirm that we go on. The Bible also confirms that life has a purpose and it is a purpose often neglected by people.

When you don’t consider your mortality, or more accurately your immortality, you tend to do mostly what pleases you. Your life is measured by the number and quality of your experiences or the accumulation of your wealth. There is a bumper sticker that reflects this default philosophy, it says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” If that is on your car, you may want to scape it off before I see it. I will mock you.

Wealth simply passes through our fingers. We enjoy it only temporarily. Life isn’t a contest either. You don’t win anything for being the richest or having many toys. Some of the richest people in history have even concluded that dying with massive wealth was a source of shame and not honor. It certainly hasn’t done much for family dynamics as people quarrel over the estate.

Legacy is a concern of those who truly doubt the reality of eternal life. To be remembered well isn’t a bad thing, it is just not something that will enhance your existence. It is like having a great looking monument on your grave. Others will see it and not care. You won’t see it at all.

The most important quality of both life and death is to right with your Maker. Running a course independent of that chosen by God may feel like freedom but it is actually slavery to our inherent evil. If our death deposits us into the judgment of a Being we have denied and rebelled against, then nothing else matters. We are doomed. If on the other hand, we move from a life that has always been tainted into the arms of a Being that loves us and has compensated for our inherent evil, then that is the most fundamentally important thing in life. The meaning of life is connected to whatever comes next.

The good news is that God does favor the human race. We aggravate Him. We provoke Him. We do our best to write Him out of history. But God is a different kind of being. When He has decided to love someone or something, then He loves them regardless of their response. Despite ourselves, God has enacted a plan that puts a joyful, fun, social and unblemished life after death in our laps. He just has to get through our tough defenses to make it a reality for us personally. A connection to Jesus is the most valuable and indispensable asset we can have, and it is a gift that God is trying to give.

If you have a faith in Jesus as a Savior who has given Himself to die for your sins, then God has done it. He has broken through to you. Every other preparation for death is small by comparison, but there are more. The upcoming blogs will talk about how life impacts afterlife when you are connected to Jesus through faith and baptism. I hope you are curious enough to read them.

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.