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.

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.

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.

The Story of Lazarus: Resurrected or Fixed?

In John 11 we find the story of the death of Lazarus.  Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and all were friends of Jesus.  Lazarus fell mortally ill.  We are not told what type of illness.  In an attempt to help their brother, the sisters sent word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness.  Jesus was in Judea, keeping his distance for the time being from the Jewish leadership.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived just outside of Jerusalem.

Time was of the essence, but Jesus delayed His departure for two days.  He told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death.”  A true statement, though Lazarus would literally die and be dead for four days.  Jesus allows the death to happen to demonstrate His power over death and His compassion for all of us with respect to our eventual death.

Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”  They, naturally, assume Jesus was using the word sleep in the usual sense, but He was not.  Lazarus had died.  Why did Jesus and later Paul refer to death as sleep?  They want to save the word “death” to describe eternal exile from God.  The choice of sleep has lead to some confusion, though.  When we naturally sleep, we enter an altered state of brain activity.  We are not inanimate.  When we die, we may be unaware of the state and surroundings of our bodies, but we are very much aware and animated.  Our awareness will be of wherever our soul happens to be.  So where was Lazarus?

Lazarus was not having your typical near death experience.  He was dead for four days.  Still, as a pre-resurrection of Jesus person, I would expect that he was experiencing what every righteous, Old Testament person experienced–which is not Heaven but a part of Sheol.A Word You May Not Know: Sheol  As Lazarus is summoned from the grave, it would be easy to say that Jesus resurrected him; but that would not be technically correct.  As with people who have Near Death Experiences, Lazarus was temporarily fixed and revivified by Jesus.  Resurrection is something much bigger.

When Jesus comes out of the tomb after three days, He is resurrected.  His body is more than just alive again.  He has the full remake that humans have been promised by God:  no more sickness, aging, pain, death or whatever.  A new set of capabilities and less limitations can be expected as well.

The best modern medicine and even future science can hope to do for you is fix you.  That isn’t so special.  We look forward to being resurrected.  Resurrection may not even use that much, if anything, of your earthly remains.  It will be uniquely you, but cleansed of sin and the curse and perfected.

Lazarus would have to die again.  In fact, some conjecture suggests that Lazarus might have made it on a hit list.  His existence would have made him unpopular with Jesus’ enemies.  Now Lazarus is in Heaven.  Jesus has cleared the way.  Lazarus still waits for the resurrection.  It is something to which to look forward.  The Resurrection of the Body

Can You Tell a Person’s Destiny?

Knowing what happened to somebody who died, or knowing what will likely happen to somebody when they die are two pieces of information we can greatly desire.  Sometimes you want to know because you care.  Sometimes you want to know because you want to minister to them appropriately.  Sometimes that knowledge would help you to grieve.

But can you know?  Jesus urges us not to judge in Matthew 7:1.  This command is especially relevant here, because there are many factors that could lead to the wrong conclusion.  Here are a few:

One cannot determine a person’s eternal destiny based on how they died.  It is common to view a peaceful death that is well anticipated as a superior sign over a violent, unexpected death.  But the cause of death says nothing about a person’s eternal destiny.  Jesus confronted this popular misperception when a tower that was under construction collapsed.  People concluded that the workers who died must have been worse “sinners” than others.  Jesus put us all in the same boat.

Nor can we conclude anything based on experiences as one dies.  Some have visions of Heaven.  Some express nothing at all.  My own mother had the experience of “falling” as she was dying.  Sheol isn’t actually down and Heaven is actually up.  So experiences of going up or down are just caused by the failing of the brain.  In my next blog entry, I plan to start to address Near Death Experiences.  While both experiences of Sheol and experiences of Heaven occur, also in the mix are intentional deceptions by Satan.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on behavior.  When we are connected to Jesus and saved from our sins the Holy Spirit does change us for the good.  This change of qualities and increase in love should be observable.  But even saved people continue to struggle with sinful nature.  As such, the progress of our sanctification (being made into somebody good in our actions) can be slowed with periods of digression along the way.  Don’t get sucked into the “good enough” evaluation.  We are not saved by our deeds.  We are saved by Christ’s deeds.  While good works are valuable, they are neither the source of salvation nor a trustworthy way to evaluate whether somebody is saved.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on whether a person’s faith is unwavering.  Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace through faith.  This sentence uses the word “faith” to describe a connection that God makes between us and Jesus.  That type of “faith” can produce the “faith” that is certainty in what is unseen but promised by God.

Many solid disciples of Jesus can have frightening doubts as they approach death.  It is common.  You are not saved by your certainty.  You are saved by Jesus.  So do not get sucked into the “faith enough” evaluation either.  Comfort a dying person who is afraid.  Don’t beat them into believing better as if that were possible to do.

In the end, judgment is God’s business alone. Our ministry to the dying should be one of sharing and reaffirming God’s promises of grace.  Our “self-evaluation” can be this simple three-question quiz: 1.  Did Jesus really die and rise again?  Yes or no. 2.  Did God promise eternal life to all who call on Jesus?  Yes or no. 3  Is God a liar?   If you can answer yes, yes, no, it is because God chose you and gave you those answers.

Any other circumstantial evidence should kept at arm’s length.  It probably doesn’t mean anything.