Wrestling with Isaiah 65

The information that we have about God creating a New Earth after Judgment Day is found in a few, large sections: Revelation 21 and 22, a bit in 2 Peter 3, and a rather confusing section of Isaiah 65, and a bit at the end of Isaiah 66. The teaching of a bodily resurrection is found in a couple of places in the Old Testament and is clearly understood by the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus tells Mary that her brother will live. She responds, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” They had no expectation of going to Heaven at this point. They knew about the resurrection; but what kind of understanding did they have about life after the resurrection? Isaiah 65 gives a description, but how is it to be understood in light of what further revelation would reveal?

Isaiah 65:17-25 is our particular focus. It starts this way:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.

Isaiah 65:17-18 (ESV)

This clearly states what the section is about. It is about the New Heavens and New Earth. That is a part of God’s creation after Judgment Day. Revelation establishes that. The description that follows is confusing because it doesn’t seem to correlate with other passages about eternal life.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 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,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

Isaiah 65:19-20 (ESV)

At the time of Isaiah, people were lucky to reach their mid-fifties. Child mortality was likely sky high. The rest of the Bible speaks, however, about eternal life, not long life. This description leads some to interpret this verse as referring to a 1000-year, pre-Judgment Day period known as the Milennium. That does not jive with verse 17, however.

Critics of the Bible will say this disparity reflects that fact that people are making this up as they go. Future generations sweetened the pot by making it eternal. Neither really knows anything about life after death, if it exists.

It is a bad assumption to expect that God rolled out knowledge about everything all at once. While I am sure that God’s plans were known in detail before the creation of the world, the information He gave humans was in a “as you need to know” fashion. There may even have been elements of God’s plan that were contingent. God, being all-knowing, understood the outcome, but the results still were dependent on something happening successfully in time.

Isaiah’s revelation comes at a time where Jesus has yet to make atonement for sin. Theoretically, He could fail. God knows, however, that He won’t. Still, the Old Testament righteous must wait in Sheol for Jesus to complete atonement. The plan to include humanity in Heaven must wait for Jesus to complete atonement. And the full, glorious details of our post-Judgment Day life must wait for the same.

Isaiah 65 is a taste. It is a bit of a teaser. But it gives hope to those whose lives are pretty grim. So, what can we learn from it?

First of all, the people will be a joy. Today, people are not always a joy. In fact, some places have earned a reputation for being exactly, the opposite. But with sinful nature and the curse gone. People in the New Earth, including hopefully you, will be the opposite. It will be a pleasure to hang out with each other.

Death will not be an issue. No death in childbirth. At 100 years old we would be considered like a youth. This statement is hypothetical and stated only to make a point. Now it is possible, that we might go through cycle of aging in our resurrection bodies–moving from child to maturity and back. We will have to wait for the answer to that. But death won’t happen, because no one will be “accursed”.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.

Isaiah 65:21-23

We will work, and we will eat, and things will not be frustrating or work against us like now. No pests or disease in your plants. No five trips to Home Depot because your project is not working. No raiding bands taking your stuff. These were all very relatable to the people of Isaiah’s time and mostly they still are to us.

Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Isaiah 65:24

Our interaction with God will be immediate, unmistakable and wonderfully personal. This is the biggest deal of them all. Even true prayer-warriors hunger for a more tangible interaction with God. This will be accessible no matter where we are.

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord

Isaiah 65:25

Some people want to make this into a metaphor. They struggle to believe that nature gets to be a part of eternity. This is no metaphor. Animals of all sorts will be a part of the New Earth and they will be like the fauna of the Garden of Eden. They will be at peace. It will be like a giant petting zoo.

Will it include your animal? You may miss a beloved pet. All I can say is that it might. The argument that animals have no soul because they were not created in the image of God would have an impact on their not being in Heaven. The text doesn’t say if these are resurrected animals or new creations, but they are certainly new in their behaviors. Sin impacted creation, not just people. Jesus reconciled all things, not just people.

Isaiah 65 gives us a few details to contemplate. They are exciting details. Don’t let the odd presentation put you off.

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 Eternal Life Get Monotonous?

They call Disney World “the happiest place on Earth”, but do you know what, after a while I have had enough of it. I enjoy Disney World, but I couldn’t go there every day. I don’t care to go there every vacation. Comedian Jim Gaffigan put it this way: “Do you know what my favorite ride at Disney World was? The ride back to the airport.”

My point is not to bash Disney World. It is to ask a question. Doesn’t even the best place get monotonous? If so, won’t Heaven and the New Earth become monotonous as well? Do I really want eternal life?

There are many ways to address this question. I would like to start with the idea of boredom. We experience boredom because we are damaged creatures. Sinful nature has left us diminished. Our attention wanes, our energy drops and we get bored. Some of us more easily than others. With a Heavenly body and/or a resurrected body the modifications that sin made to us will no longer exist. I expect that it will be fundamentally impossible to be bored. That is hard to imagine. Which points to another problem in understanding eternal life– our limited imagination.

Many people who ask our theme question imagine Heaven to be one unending worship service, and they get bored in worship services. First, if one truly understands what they are doing, is engaged in interaction with God, and understands why God deserves their praise; then even worship services here are not boring. If you fail to have these three things, of course worship is boring. Surgery is boring for me, because I don’t know how to do it. A surgeon, on the other hand, is engaged–at least I hope so.

Heaven will no doubt have periods of group worship. They will be what we look forward to the most. God will be seen in all His glory and beauty. We will praise with heightened senses and abilities. It will be a transcendent experience, but it will not be the only experience.

New experiences, new people and endless new places will fill our lives in a very positive way. The details are limited in the Bible, but what words could you use? God is the creator of all good things, and His creativity is unlimited.

Another thing that cripples our understanding is how we find entertainment and exhilaration now. Much of it tied to what stimulates the brain that our sinful nature has created. We enjoy things more because they are forbidden. For many, fun is not possible without being altered by alcohol or drugs. Don’t expect that to be necessary in Heaven.

Jesus subtly conveys the fun aspect of Heaven and the New Earth by relating to how we use alcohol now. In His first miracle, at the wedding in Cana, He changes water into wine. First, it is at a party. Weddings were the biggest events of his time. Next Jesus creates not just wine, but the finest wine. The best is saved for last. Finally, it was not just a gift bottle. It was between 120-180 gallons–a super-abundance. This little miracle is a prophesy in the form of an action (theologians call them “types”) It is a prophesy of the great party that Jesus will make possible through His self-sacrifice for our sins.

I guess the final thing to say is that we don’t get to pick our own eternal destiny. If we are afraid boredom in Heaven, we don’t get to pick non-existence instead. We have been created to be eternal creatures. Where will we spend that eternity? You have been invited to a party, don’t throw away the invitation.

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.

Will We Be Eternally Secure?

As we look at the Biblical narrative about the course of creation from its inception until now, we see a creation with several kinds of high reasoning beings who can either obey God or rebel. The rebellion of such beings has precipitated the less-than-ideal world we live in. The Bible points our hopes to the future when God will make all things new. But if it happened before, could rebellion happen again?

Ezekiel 28:12 and following is a section that may or may not describe Satan. It states that it is about the king of Tyre, but the description seems to not be about a mortal man but rather a “guardian cherub”. Cherubim, literally “living ones”, is the name given to a strange sort of being that lives in the closest proximity to God. There are descriptions in Isaiah 6 (called seraphim or “burning ones” there), Ezekiel 1, and Revelation 4. The Ezekiel 28 passage describes one that is cast out.

You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you;  you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.

Ezekiel 28:14-16 ESV

From where did the “unrighteousness” come? Further reading indicates that this being (presumably Satan) became proud and corrupted in his wisdom. It seems to be an act of free will.

Satan tactics with Adam and Eve give insight as well. Adam and Eve don’t know what evil is. They only know that they are not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they are capable of following that command or not. Satan feeds them a lie that may be similar to the lie he told himself,

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Genesis 3:5 NIV (1984)

Though naive, humans made an act of the will to rebel against God. Consequently, their will was never truly free again. It is always influenced by a sinful nature and possibly also by evil outside forces.

We have no information about what happened with the angels, only that some of them (possibly as much as a third) also rebelled. Was it also an act of willful disobedience?

With the arrival of a New Heaven and New Earth, we are promised a resurrected body without a sinful nature and the removal of Satan and his angels. Will we have a truly free will? If so, can such a mess restart or can someone be expelled. There is no long biblical discourse to answer this. There is the promise of “eternal” life, and on this we must put our hope given the lack of information.

I would not postulate that we will have a constrained will of some sort. God created His greatest beings to be free for a reason. Love is free. Love is not the output of a pre-programmed mind that cannot deviate. What will prevent deviation? We barely understand what the soul or our will is. It is hard to speculate. Perhaps it will be because of new, more bonded relationship to Jesus. Even now we are somehow part of the body of Christ. This isn’t just a metaphor. It is a mystical relationship.

In the scant information that we are given, there seems to be no anticipation of further falling away or divisions in either cherubim, angels or humans. The question of whether we could fall away is a natural one. But we are thinking of our future situation through the lens of our current situation. Sin exists here. Evil is personified now. And we are corrupted in our wisdom.

The Sabbath Rest for the People of God

What is your mental image of Heaven? Is it exciting, relaxing, boring or catatonic? Artists, who are usually bad theologians, have done much to shape the picture of the place. Grabbing on to the image of Jesus coming the clouds, they have formed in our heads an idea of a cloudy Heaven. Heaven is nothing of the sort.

Paul and others may have done a similar unintended thing. To diminish the idea that our physical death is the ultimate punishment, Paul refers to the physically dead as those who “sleep”. The inanimate state of our bodies bolster that image. Adding to this are several passages in the Psalms which are quoted in Hebrews which use the word “rest” to describe our general condition in Heaven. Together they may paint the wrong picture in your head. It may make Heaven seem like a large waiting room with comfortable chairs but not much going on.

The Bible does little to describe what activity we will experience in Heaven outside of worship. This probably leaves people who find a worship service to be boring further convinced that Heaven is a consolation prize that they are not excited about. My point in this article is to not be mislead by an unintended connotation of a word. We have not experienced worship in Heaven. I expect that “boring” will not be a description that anyone will ever use.

I have already spoke about the choice of the word “sleep”, but what is meant by “rest”? The historical reference used in Hebrews 3 and 4 is the people who were with Moses during the Exodus. Their persistent disobedience and impatience drives even a very patient God to distraction. God does declare that these people will not enter into the promised land in Numbers 14, but it is much later in the Psalms that God speaks in terms of rest.

So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Psalm 95:11

What “rest” was being talked about? Was it simply that they would not settle down in Palestine and experience God’s favor? As this passage is quoted twice in Hebrews the author sees a parallel between the disobedient people with Moses and those of any time. He speaks of a planned “Sabbath-rest” that is intended for all God’s people. Our question is what kind of “rest” are we talking about?

Hebrews 4 and again in Revelation 14 speaks about this rest as a “rest from our labors:

Then I heard a voice 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

There is a lot of detail in this passage. First, to “die in the Lord” means that a person goes through physical death while being a part of the body of Christ. They are saved by their connection to Jesus. “From now on” is an interesting phrase for exactly when is this spoken? The context immediately preceding this is that it is in the midst of the tribulations caused by “the beast”. It is immediately followed by a Judgment Day picture.

Here on Earth we have to deal with a number of problems. Through the whole of Earth’s history we must deal with sin and the curse and their effects. During particular times the stress of persecution will make it even worse. To “rest” is to be free of these burdens. To rest is to no longer have particular responsibility for the struggle here on Earth, but the fruit of our time of struggle will “follow us” in the form of some type of reward.

Rest isn’t to become purposeless, for we will have other responsibilities; but they won’t be carried out in an environment of stress, resistance or evil. They will be a joy. Revelation 7:15 speaks of serving God day and night in His temple. Matthew 25:14-23 speaks of being put in charge of much. The details of these activities are not given, but it is clear that it is rewarding, active and pleasurable.

So if you harbor an image of Heaven and the New Earth that is dull and purposeless, think again. What we rest from is difficulty. What we experience is life that is truly life.

Confusing Heaven and the New Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:1

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

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

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV 1984)

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

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

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.

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