What Will We Look Like?

One of my favorite Dave Chappelle skits was when he played a blind black man who was leading a KKK rally, because he didn’t know he was black. Everybody liked him so much, that they didn’t have the heart to tell him he was black. Racial stereotypes are not about a person’s skin, but our ability to see a person’s skin allows us to apply stereotypes. With all of the racial tension going on these days, I wondered what we will look like in Heaven and beyond, and should that inform how we think about people today?

Biblical writers who describe Heaven or the New Earth seem to have received their information in the form of a vision. They passed on a verbal description, but what they learned they saw. Unfortunately, people are rarely described. I cannot say for sure whether those in Heaven looked like adults, children, seniors or something completely different. I would assume if they did not look like adults something might have been said.

There are both males and females who are saved, but will we retain our sexuality or at least the appearance of our sexuality or will we become sexually vague individuals? The one picture involving people in Heaven is Revelation 7:9-17. It gives no clue to the male or female, young or old questions, but it does say this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…

Revelation 7:9

John can clearly identify race. It suggests to me that we will retain our racial appearance because God has made it and it is considered beautiful.

This should certainly give you pause if you hold any racial animosity. Here, everybody has a sinful nature and anybody could be capable of doing wrong. It is not inherent to their race, it is inherent to their species, and expressed individually. Once we are cleansed of our sinful nature, we will be diverse, beautiful and righteous. Remember that.

In fact the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel to save people eternally will continue until all people groups have sufficiently heard it:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:14

This is further verification that God values racial diversity.

With respect to sex or age, Isaiah 65, which writes about the New Earth, does speak about children being born and old men living out their years. These references make you wonder about how to interpret Isaiah 65, because the rest of Scripture speaks of eternal life and not being given in marriage. This would not preclude a literal understanding of this passage. It might refer to a different type of life cycle–one that might still include being male and female, young and old.

Without further information, I would expect that we would retain much of appearance. In Heaven, I expect that our heavenly bodies will reflect an ideal age, health, strength and retain our sex in some way. I do not expect us to be reproductive, but may have a way of physical bonding.

In the New Earth, I expect our resurrected bodies to have full health but to go through stages, never dying, but restarting. I expect we will retain racial characteristics and sexual characteristics and may even be reproductive. But there is much that is unknown.

The little information that God has shared, should be enough to understand your value to God as a female or male or as a member of any race. It should also move you to value others for what they are. Even people who are quite corrupted by sinful nature hold a value, because sinful nature is one thing that will go away. The ideal version of us all it still to be revealed.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be have not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

1 John 3:2

The Former Things Will Pass Away

There are a few things that I would like to forget. There are far more that I wish I could remember. I have completed an undergraduate and two post-graduate degrees. As I sit here in my office, I am surrounded by books that in theory I read at some time in the past. Do I remember all that I have read or heard? Nope. I am not expecting it to get better either.

What about after death? Will we remember this life: people, events, joys, sorrows or traumas? The answer is yes and no.

The first concern is about people. For the most part, we would like to remember people. The Bible says little about the relationships we will have with the people we now have a relationship. Jesus says, “In the resurrection, they will neither be married or given in marriage.” So our marital status will not carry over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t know our spouse, or remember that they were our spouse, or kids, or whatever.

Paul speaks of the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” This perhaps hints that those to whom we minister to in this life are a form of reward in an ongoing relationship in the afterlife. Beyond this people aren’t mentioned.

One particular concern is about all those whom we loved, but who failed to be connected to Christ. We want to think that all the people we care about will be saved. That is not a promise at all. Won’t Heaven and the New Earth be a place of grieving because of their loss? Because there is not a promise that all will be saved (quite the opposite) we need to proceed with a sense of urgency moved by our love in sharing the Gospel. Still, we cannot make people believe. If there is a sense of loss, it will be a fading one. Revelation 7 states, “and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” I would interpret that to mean that those who are lost will fade or just be gone from our memories.

There is more that people to remember or forget. What about the beautiful and positive things of this life? These things are the content of Revelation 21:24, 26, which speaks about the New Jerusalem as a metaphor for the New Earth “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the Earth will bring their glory into it…They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.” I doubt that “kings” refers to literal kings but rather the glory and honor of God’s people who “reign on Earth” as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned. So what is good and honorable about our lives will follow us.

That said, there are many painful and ugly things about this life and maybe our lives personally. Will these things follow us? To this issue the following passages apply:

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold I am making all things new

Revelation 21:5

For behold, I create new Heavens and a new Earth, and the former things shall not remembered or come into mind.

Isaiah 65:17

At least by the conclusion of Judgment Day, the travails, sins and pains of this life will be gone and wiped from memory. Everything will have a new structure and while some aspects of our current lives will be incorporated into life on the New Earth, significant changes will make it a new, enduring and joyful experience.

Our Dependence on Revelation

What happens after our death is terribly relevant to us all.  After all, we are all going to die.  It is not like to get to try it out first to see if we like it, at least not usually.  We approach death blind with the exception of what we know from revelations.  Science, our normal go to, is limited here.  It would tell us that nothing happens, but if certain revelation is correct, then science doesn’t have the tools to test it.

How can you know?  We have purported revelation from every world religion and we also have NDEs (Near Death Experiences) to consider.   NDEs tend to not be consistent.  There could be many reasons for this, from people not having the words to relate their experience, to genuinely different experiences (like heaven or hell), to deceptive experiences, to NDEs not being legitimate experiences of an afterlife at all. In the end, NDEs can be exciting but they don’t provide much guidance except, perhaps, for the person who had one.

What weight can we give to the revelations provided by world religions?  How do you test them?  If there is not only God trying to communicate with mankind, but also an enemy of God trying to confuse mankind, then we are in a difficult spot.  Who are we to sort it out?

I think of Mary, Joseph and Zechariah who all experience an encounter with the angel Gabriel.  Their information would lead us in a very different direction than the reported encounter of Muhammad and Gabriel some 600 years later.  How would any of these people know for sure who they were dealing with, and how would we know whether the events happened at all?  Without a doubt, we will be biased by where we start–if raised Christian, then Christian; if Muslim, then Muslim; if skeptic, then skeptical of it all.

I’m sure each group can provide a line of reasoning that is convincing for them.  Only God can get somebody over this hump of bias if they hold a false doctrine.  Since eternal life is on the line, we all desperately pray that God would do so.

My line of reason is clearly Christian.  In full disclosure, that is how I was raised.  I also think that I am rebel enough to leave the orthodoxy of my youth behind if it doesn’t make sense, especially if it matters this much.

The experiences of Zechariah, Mary and Joseph have supporting evidence in prophecies that clearly pre-date them.  The Old Testament is proven to be written before this time by the Dead Sea Scrolls.  These prophecies have a degree of specificity to them that you couldn’t stage for yourself.  The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, a virgin birth, and the presence of John the Baptist are all in there.  Isaiah 53 in particular aligns with Jesus’ life.  It is not the life of merely a prophet, but the life of a sacrifice for sin.  Then we must consider the story of Jesus’ life, including clear miracles witnessed by many eyewitnesses who have no clear motive to lie.  All of the disciples of Jesus suffered terribly for their testimony.  I don’t believe people would do this if they knew it wasn’t true.  This is capped with the experience and witness of Paul of Tarsus, who was an admitted persecutor of the early Church.

If this is all a fiction, then when was it written and why?  How could such a fiction survive this long without cultural and military support?  Both existing bible fragments and testimony found in non-Christian sources point to existence of the Christian church to within a lifetime of the Jesus’ ministry.  A fiction could not have been written later.

Then there is the message itself.  The message is that God loves mankind, even though, He finds mankind to be sinful and un-saveable based on personal goodness.  So, God’s solution is to fulfill the requirements of the law that governs us and pay the price for the sin himself, by Jesus’ being forsaken and then dying on the cross.  That is love.  Self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is the ultimate love.  That action correlates with what the Old Testament hinted as the plan from the beginning.

Islam changes that plan.  It cannot conceive of God doing something like this or even a prophet being subjected to something like this.  So which is the deception?  Did the disciples of Jesus distort the story or was the story distorted within Islam from the very beginning because “Gabriel” wasn’t really “Gabriel”?  In the end, Islam offers only a legalized way of life and the vague hope that Allah is merciful to you.  It has largely advanced itself through conquest.  It doesn’t shy away from doing so.  Even Muhammed was treated abusively by this so called Gabriel.

We are in a poor position to judge, but the little clues just mentioned make me think that the God who cares about His creation isn’t the one who gave revelation to Muhammed.  Jesus, as Savior of the world, is the revelation for me.