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.

Won’t Eternity Be Boring?

When you hear the phrase “eternal life” does it excite you or concern you? I could understand at least one concern. Right now, with quarantine still somewhat in effect, life is a little boring. We just had a three-day weekend, and while I enjoyed sitting on my porch watching nature, it was a bit of a yawner. What will life be if it is eternal? Won’t Heaven and the New Earth become redundant at some point?

Let’s start with the experience of boredom itself. When we are bored the environment around us is failing to stimulate our minds sufficiently. We experience a loss of concentration, hormones that make us feel tired and perhaps a degree of anxiety. The biology that creates boredom is not the biology with which humans were created. We are a creation altered by sin and the curse. I definitely expect that boredom is part of the curse and once you leave your body in the grave, you will leave boredom in the grave as well.

Our new biology of a Heavenly body (1 Cor. 15:40) and then an earthly, resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:42-44) will have many differences, and with them many different emotional, spiritual and physical experiences. Can we say there will not nothing negative? Not quite. At least not until the re-creation of all things.

The one sort of negative picture we see is of Heaven in Revelation 6. The martyrs express a degree of impatience with the slow arrival of Judgment Day:

O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the Earth?

Revelation 6:10

Feelings like impatience and the desire for vengeance show that biology change alone will not remove negative feelings. They don’t say, “Hey we are bored waiting here.” That is significant because they are asked to wait, which is typically and ingredient in boredom now.

With the environment of Heaven and eventually the new Heaven and Earth be that much more stimulating? I expect so.

To experience the glory of God in a direct fashion is an experience none of us have had yet. Even those who have had a vision of it were enthralled. It was life changing.

Near Death Experiences tell of the experience of color and of music that is so heightened. If you enjoy these things now, just wait.

Social interactions are another thing that will be changed. The experience of people currently is a mixed bag of joy, frustration, anger, love and boredom. But we won’t be this blend of sin and the image of God. People will be a joy to be around:

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 65:18

Then there is exploration. We like to travel, and there is much of the world that we have not experienced. Of the 48 contiguous states, however, we have hit a lot of sights. Our bucket list for the continental United States is growing short. So, over an eternity, won’t the New Earth become a “been there, seen that” experience?

A couple of things, I would not assume to be the same. First, our interaction with nature will be greatly altered:

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

Isaiah 65:25

Won’t it be a joy to experience the wide array of God’s creatures in a friendly rather than adversarial fashion. Imagine doing it with a body that is not as limited as the one you have.

In fact, I wouldn’t assume we will be constrained to the New Earth. With a whole new universe and a whole new Heaven (the former dwelling place of God), why is the earth our only abode? Angels move freely from Heaven to Earth even now. Does the following verse suggest the same for us:

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

A biology that won’t create the experience of boredom, an experience of God that defies comparison, a body or bodies that will have expanded limits, a new relationship with nature, and a whole new universe or two full of God’s creativity all lead to confidence that we will never be bored. That is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

Life That Is Truly Life

I have no experience beyond what we all experience as being alive:  I am self-aware, my body carries out its functions, I experience a range of sensations and emotions and so forth.  It is not all good, but it certainly isn’t all that bad either.  At present, given the choice, I would choose to remain alive.  But it doesn’t take too much imagination to image something better, and what if there are experiences that I can’t even imagine because I have no frame of reference?

Paul, who had an out of body experience, throws out an intriguing phrase in 1 Timothy 6:

As for the rich in the present age, charge them not to be haughty,, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasures for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of life that is truly life.

What does God have in store for those that He saves?  Can there be a life so good that it would seem ridiculous to call our current experience “life”?  Imagine life free of pain, illness, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, boredom.  Imagine interacting with God face-to-face.  Imagine an existence with rich relationships with everyone: no conflicts, biases, loneliness or alienation.  These are just things readily imaginable.

There also can be breathtaking beauty.  Even in this world, you can see the creative genius of God and it is gorgeous.  Look into deep space and you can see God’s creative outlets, there for us to see from afar.  What beauty will surround us in Heaven and the New Earth?

The Timothy text speaks of “treasures”.  If you understand Scripture at all, you understand that we don’t deserve or earn a place with God.  We are sinners.  We deserve exile.  But the death of Jesus gives us a place with God.  It is a gift.  It is grace.  No further treasure beyond admittance should be expected, but the Bible frequently speaks of treasure and reward for faithful stewardship of what God gives us.  What could this treasure be?  Whatever it is, Jesus makes it clear that it is worth any sacrifice or suffering experienced here.

As we get closer to the end of our life on Earth, few of us are as forward thinking as we should be.  Because of our limited experience we long for the past and prefer to stay here, even if we are in pain.  The Words of the Bible try to turn us around to think about a future that is truly life.  Even the experiences of those who have had out of body experiences of Heaven affirm that the sights, sounds and feelings they had far outstrip the experiences of this life.

In length, in quality, in richness of experience, there is more.  There is life that is “truly life”, and Jesus makes it possible.

Check out my other blog, “Giving Christ”, which has many more articles about the role of Jesus and the power of God’s plan, the Gospel.Giving Christ

Who Do You Trust?

Do you think about life after death? I expect that most of us ignore the topic until it is forced into our attention by the death of somebody or a close call for ourselves. Maybe, we feel like not much can be known, or that the topic is too discouraging.

I disagree with the avoidance of the topic of death. Death is the biggest and most certain event in our lives. We should research what can be known. We should know it well. I have spent some time researching what the Bible says about several topics related to existence after death, and I think it is fascinating and extremely relevant. Knowing what is said changes your life. I am almost certain that you will learn a great deal by reading this series of articles. There is more to know than you think.

Unlike topics such as gardening, sports and health, information about our eternal destiny is not subject to our senses or experimentation. People occasionally do have out-of-body experiences where they see heaven or hell or something like it, and we will consider those; but no other topic is as dependent on revelation as this one. This is a big problem for many people. They don’t see any reason to trust religious revelation.

Most religious revelation comes with little to no corroborating evidence. For that reason, I would dismiss it as well. Jesus, however, is a different story. Jesus can be established as a real person in history by existing ancient texts both favorable and hostile to Him that date to within a few decades of his life. His words and deeds are recorded by those who were eyewitnesses, some of whom who were once hostile converts. His life was not just an ordinary life, especially as it relates to death. Jesus raised the dead and rose Himself from the dead. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and both prophecies about Him and miracles done by Him support that claim. Jesus gives us that connection with history that backs up what He has to say about life after death.

It is with great seriousness that I will try to set forth what Jesus and those He endorsed said about our existence after death. Some of it is not going to be what we want to hear. Some of it will not seem rational. You need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. What happens after death is such a serious topic, I want to know what is said regardless of whether it meets my approval. Therefore, I think it is important to cover the whole scope of what is written about life after death, both good and bad.

Please accept my invitation to look beyond the grave. You will find the following entries to be enlightening, serious, hopeful and motivating. We will all die. That much is sure. What comes next will be either the best or the worst part of our existence, and it is what Jesus has done and our connection to Him that will make the difference.

 

Next Article: We will begin to consider a biblical word that most people don’t recognize or understand—Sheol