The Resurrection of the Body

Many people have a model of the afterlife that is too simplified.  For them it is either Heaven or Hell.  To make it even more positive, many have scratched Hell from this list.  It is just universal happiness.  Who wouldn’t want that?  We cannot believe this into existence, however.  The Bible would teach us that we are merely hiding from the truth.

For those who do believe in Heaven and Hell, but just Heaven and Hell, the idea of the resurrection of the body does not fit in their model.  Why would anyone want that?  Still, the resurrection of the body is a prominent part of biblical afterlife theology.

Here are some important things to remember as we approach the topic of the resurrection.  First, the wages of sin is death.  Death has a two-fold meaning for a human.  First, it is the aging, expiration and decay of our physical being. Second, it is the forsaking by God of our immortal nature–our soul.  Through a connection to Jesus the forsaking of our soul is no longer necessary, because Jesus was forsaken for us.  As we all know, this is not true for the physical death of our body.  Our body needs to die, decay and go away because sin, that is sinful nature, is an integral part of our physical body.  It would be fair to say that we are suffering the wages of sin until the day of the resurrection of our bodies, because our body is a part of what we are.  We are not a soul renting a body.  We are body and soul.

God has redeemed us so that we can be both a body from this physical realm and a soul connected permanently to Jesus, who is also body and soul.  In a way, His plan is to return things to the way they were supposed to be in the first place.

The resurrection of the body is primarily a Judgment Day event for the whole of mankind.  I say, “primarily”, because it has already happened once.  Jesus is resurrected.  The Bible calls Him the “first-born of the dead”.  This title naturally implies more to come.  There is a big difference between being resurrected (like Jesus) and raised from the dead (like Lazarus for instance).  A resurrected body is fundamentally different from the body that died.  It is no longer subject to aging, dysfunction or death.  A person raised from the dead was still going to die again.  They were merely repaired and reanimated.

In my next entries, I will look at some the passages that speak of the resurrection of dead.  It is a long-standing expectation that raises interesting questions.

 

Judgment Day for the Righteous

Imagine this scenario, because you very well might live it.  You belong to Jesus through the faith He formed in you and your baptism into His death.  You have died years ago and have been with Jesus in Heaven, and now the Day has finally arrived.  What day?  Judgment Day.  This should be largely irrelevant to you, right?  Clearly you have already been judged and since you have been covered in the blood of Jesus, you have been found sinless in the eyes of God.  All of this is true, except for the irrelevant part.

The Bible clearly states that Judgment Day is a day of judgment for all–saved or lost, living or dead.  It is not a formality.  It has a real bearing on our future.

Matthew 25:31f tells the “parable” of the sheep and goats.  It is not exactly a parable.  It uses one metaphor to explain that on Judgment Day, the righteous and the unrighteous will be spatially separated like a shepherd does with sheep and goats.  This separation is important to note in this story, because it is where grace is found in this description.  A reader who fails to recognize this will observe the judgment of our deeds which is described here and jump to a very false and dangerous conclusion–that we are saved based on our works.

In this description, the people on the right (those who are righteous) are commended for all the good things they did.  But ask yourself, do you really think they never did anything wrong or missed an opportunity to do good?  Why aren’t they being called out on the carpet for all their sins?  It is because they are on the right, and those on the right have been saved by what God has done for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus covers their sins and all that is left is their good.

Those on the left are sternly rebuked  for their sins.  Ask yourself again, do you really think that these people never did anything charitable or kind?  Why are they only condemned for their failures.  The answer–they don’t have Jesus’ forgiveness, and without that no charity, goodness or kindness can compensate for or cover your sins.  It is all for nothing.  They are damned.  Some of them are relatively nice people.

For those who are ultimately damned, Judgment Day is about their damnation.  Clearly this is not a hypothetical group.  It is a substantial group–a majority even.  Why would a God of love do this?  Because He is also a God of uncompromising justice and He had already provided a costly solution that was soundly rejected by this group.

The Sheep and the Goats discourse describes the Judgment Day experience as if it were a group experience.  Next time, I will take you to another Judgment Day passage that describes it as an individual experience.  I think it is very interesting and important.  I hope you read it.

When Will It Happen?

Since Judgment Day was first mentioned, people have been trying to predict when it will happen.  This is true even though Jesus makes it very clear that no one knows the day–not even Him.  There are no hidden codes or mathematical formulas for predicting a date.  If someone is selling you one, run.  Sell nothing.  Don’t quit your job.  Don’t get out a lawn chair and look up at the sky.  The Bible offers no clues only criteria of what must happen first.

The more well know criterion is mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 as he tours the temple grounds with his disciples. He states:

And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

My main question is what defines a “nation”? The geo-political boundaries of the world are in constant flux. Some are not even recognized by the people who live within them. Revelation 5 offers insight :

You were worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9)

Language groups, tribal identity, racial groups and political groups all play a part in not only who will hear the Gospel but who will be saved by it. God would love to save all, but that seems to be something that will not happen. Even so, he will save somebody from every group.

Using such a definition there is more people groups than one might realize. For instance, defining how many distinct languages exist on Earth is a hard thing to do for definitions of what makes a language distinct are not standardized. Still, you can get a feel for the scale of magnitude. In 2009, Ethnologue, enumerated 6909 languages of which 2508 had a translated version of the Bible. The number is changing rapidly. Mission India, an evangelistic outreach group, shows that unreached people groups have been reduced in half during a mere four year period from 2010 to 2014. Of course, God gets to decide who is a people group and when we are done. The point is that we could be getting close.

The other criterion is found in Revelation 6:11:

Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

The context is Heaven where martyred Christians were eagerly awaiting Judgment Day. The Day has to wait until a pre-known number of martyr deaths was realized. This may cause you to wonder why God would want more martyrs. Martyrdom is a tragedy. Apparently, it is also a high honor to die because of your testimony for Christ. Future martyrs deserve the opportunity to fulfill this destiny.

This, of course, flies in the face of Islam’s definition of a martyr.  A Christian martyr commits no violence and has their life taken from them rather than deny Christ.  It is a witness (which is what “martyr” means) to the impact of Jesus on a person’s life in the form of bravery, gentleness and conviction.  The Islamic “martyr” makes a witness too–one that should be quickly understood as not from the God would created and loves mankind.

So what do we learn from these criteria? First, the reason the world continues to turn is so that more people can be saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Secondly, the path to the completion of God’s plan will include resistance, persecution and violence. Still, it is an eternal honor to be a part of bringing God’s plan to its completion.

Finally, we learn to be ready, because it could happen any day.

The Day of the Lord

In churches that use a pericope system (a system of bible readings that can cover one to three years), this time of year, near the end of the Church year, is often dedicated to passages about Judgment Day.  Judgment Day is definitely a part of the conversation if we want to be comprehensive in talking about life after death.  Everyone will be a participant in Judgment Day, says the Bible, like it or not.

Judgment Day is a very prominent theme in Scripture, all of the Abrahamic religions and even within our secular society. Prominent or not, Judgment Day is largely misunderstood, especially with respect to the role it plays in a Christian’s existence.

So what do you think of when Judgment Day is mentioned? Is it destruction and mayhem? Is it a mass extinction event caused by natural catastrophe, nuclear war, or even intelligent robots? Our fears get embodied in Judgment Day themes, and in general, Judgment Day is something we fear. There are fearful events connected with Judgment Day for sure, but there is also hope and promise.

In our study of Judgment Day and Judgment Day-like themes in the Bible, we start with a phrase, “The Day of the Lord”.

 The Day of the Lord

The first revelations about the coming of God’s judgment start in the Old Testament prophetic books. Here a phrase is coined, “The day of the Lord”. Immediately, we might conclude that “the day of the Lord” has to be Judgment Day. Without a doubt there is a connection, but it seems that there have been several such days with perhaps more to come. In each case, there is strong negative judgment carried out by God. Considering that God characterizes Himself as a God of love, why would the “day of the Lord” be a day of harsh judgment?

Several things are important to recognize about the character of God and His bringing judgments on the people of Earth. First, we must note that God is not quick to arrive at a day of Judgment, nor does He do so without a long time of warning. Bringing punishment is not God’s goal. Showing mercy, granting forgiveness and relenting from judgment are preferred by God. That said, God will bring judgment. We say that this is His “alien” character. It is contrary to His main character. But it is a part of His character and we would be wise to respect this.

Those who want to focus solely on God’s love for the purpose of dismissing judgment or denying hell, do no one a favor. Their logic about how God has and will operate is flawed. God does bring judgment, even permanent judgment on sin, but not without providing every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.

Probably the first chronologically to speak of the “Day of the Lord” is Amos, though it seems to be a topic already understood by the people around him. He says in chapter 5:

18 

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why would you have the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, and not light,

19 

as if a man fled from a lion,

and a bear met him,

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,

and a serpent bit him.

20 

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?

 

Apparently, people were looking forward to God’s judgment because they thought it would affect other nations and not them. But is this a reference to Judgment Day? Amos later explains, “I will send you into exile beyond Damascus”. In this case, “the day of the Lord”, is the Babylonian exile–a day when God will bring judgment on His disobedient people. So why talk about it here? The phrase is definitely used in a New Testament context to speak of Judgment Day. In other Old Testament references it could be so as well. Considering the use of “the day of the Lord”, it would appear that the Babylonian Exile was a type, or mini-version, of Judgment Day itself.

Isaiah also has language about the “Day of the Lord” that seems to be a double entendre. In chapter two he warns Israel about impending judgment on them because of their cultic practices, materialism and idolatry. Yet there are phrases here that are quoted in Revelation in regard to Judgment Day. In this case references to hiding from God in caves and underground. In chapter thirteen, the warning moves to Babylon. Their “day of the Lord” will come at the hands of the Medes, but Isaiah also speaks of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, both used in the New Testament about Judgment Day.

 

What Kind of Music Is In Heaven?

For many of us, music is a big part of everyday life.  Music can both sooth and excite.  It is proven that music can assist our memory.  It clearly interacts with our brains in a special way.

When we think about Heaven musically, probably the first thing you think of is the harp.  It is definitely a big part of our cultural picture of Heaven.  I once had a church member who was hospitalized and close to death.  Our local hospital had a woman who would go to patients’ rooms to play the harp because it was so soothing.  As this woman entered the room of my member, she asked, “Would you like to hear some harp music?”  This feisty old lady replied, “No, honey, I’ll be hearing plenty of that soon enough.”

But will she?  Harps are mentioned in Revelation 5 and 15, but it is important to remember that all of the pictures of Heaven found in the Bible are visions, not field trips.  The big difference is that a vision can have symbolic elements to it, similar to our dreams.  They can also be simplified so that we can relate to what was seen.  Harps were the possessions of the wealthy in the time of the Bible.  They represented having leisure.  That may be all the harp represents in Revelation.

The Bible, especially Revelation, does speak of singing in Heaven.  Including the phrase “new song”.  Those who have had out of body experiences of Heaven often also mention the music, and how captivating it is.  Expect heavenly music to be a musical genre that is truly something new to you.  Something hard to describe and never before experienced.  If you don’t care for harp music or even hymns, don’t let that darken your mental image of Heaven.  The desire to praise God and to do it with song will be as natural to you as breathing is now.

Daniel’s Vision of Heaven

Most of the information that we have about Heaven comes in the form of visions.  It is important to note that visions are not field trips.  They are messages.  As such, they come embedded with symbolic meaning or modify the reality of Heaven so that we can comprehend it.  One such vision is found in Daniel 7.

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing out from before Him. Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.

Here is a description ripe for misinterpretation. Remember that this is a vision, not a heavenly version of C-Span, where Daniel is watching the actual proceedings. Not only are we told that no one has gone into Heaven, we are also told that no one has ever seen God. So, even though Daniel describes God on His throne, he is not actually observing God. This image described here is then a symbolic image or manifestation for Daniel’s benefit. We would therefore be errant to conclude that God is an old man in a flaming wheel chair. First, the hair is white, not because of age, but because of glory. When Jesus appears gloriously in Revelation 1 his hair is also “white like wool”. The wheels referred to in Daniel no doubt correspond to “wheels” that are described in Ezekiel 1. The function of these “wheels” is unknown. Their description sounds somewhat like a gyroscope, but they are definitely not the wheels of a wheelchair.

What do we learn about Heaven from this reading?   For one, humans will not be alone there. God is attended by thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand (100 million or so) stood before Him. Thousands and millions of what? Not humans according to Jesus. These must be angels. Angels are not humans. They are a species all of their own.

It would also seem that God doesn’t just sit on a throne all the time. The court was seated, suggesting that there is somewhere else to be beyond the throne room.

The last thing to point out in this reading is the river of fire. In Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 a river of living water flows from the temple of God. In those passages the message is of God’s blessing. Here in Daniel the message is of impending wrath upon certain nations. In both cases the river is most likely a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus refers to the Spirit as living water, but juxtaposition would suggest that the river of fire is also the Spirit.

The throne room of God can seem like a very alien place, and indeed it is. From bizarre creatures like the Seraphim to the multi-formed presence of the Spirit, you might find it rather frightening in description. It is true that this isn’t your living room, but, though unworthy, it is by grace that we are invited to come to this place. Far from frightening, the experience of God’s throne room will be glorious.

Is It Perfect?

Many people resort to describing Heaven with one word, perfect.  Is it?  What does that word even mean?  Without a doubt the things that can make life here miserable will not be a part of Heaven by the time we get there.  But there is at least one section of the Bible that indicates that Heaven was at one time far less than perfect.

Revelation 12:7-10:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.

This is a very different idea of Heaven then what most people think about. Heaven can’t have war, can it? But it seems that Heaven had rebellion problems just as the earth does. Satan, the source of all rebellion against God, is seen prowling around Heaven up until the time of Christ. Jesus speaks of seeing Satan fall from Heaven like lightening.   Jesus’ victory seems to be soon after a military type assault carried out by Gods’ angels against Satan and his cohort.

We can see Satan’s Old Testament access to God’s throne room in the picture of Heaven found in Job. The account gives no physical details of the place but speaks of the relationships between the “sons of God”, which includes Satan, and God himself. Satan is a tolerated and yet rebellious figure in this story, but his expulsion seems to be prevented at the time. The reasons for Satan’s continued presence in Heaven throughout the Old Testament are uncertain, but the reason probably rests in rules whose existence we can infer through biblical phrases like “it is written” and “this must happen”.

In a similar fashion we can see Satan’s antagonistic presence in Heaven in Zechariah 3. Here Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, of some wrongdoing. Satan is strongly rebuked by God and Joshua’s sins are forgiven.

Another Heavenly squabble is told of in Jude. This time it is the archangel Michael disputing with Satan over Moses body. No details of this dispute are found in Scripture, but a story about this event is found in the apocryphal book, the Assumption of Moses. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would preclude anyone being “assumed into Heaven”, but apparently there is some truth in this reported dispute.

What do the stories in Job, Zechariah, Jude, and Revelation teach us about Heaven? For one, it was not as peaceful and perfect as we assume. That may no longer true, but the rebellion against God didn’t get its start on earth—it started in Heaven. Perhaps this may explain why God is intent on a new heaven and earth, as opposed to forever in Heaven.