Many of us memorized the Lord’s Prayer in grade school. The Manitoba Education Department prescribed daily Bible readings and a daily reciting of the Lord`s Prayer for the public schools. That has changed now, but many of us know the prayer from those days.
“I believe . . . in life everlasting.” The present Christian Church is waiting for the realization of our future hope, or are we?
The book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament Scriptures encourages us to be a people who wait. In Hab. 2:3 it says, “For the revelation waits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
I believe the Lord is speaking to Habakkuk about “life everlasting.” It is arriving, but it has not arrived yet! So we wait.
How do we speak of something that is not here yet? Perhaps little, and certainly not in terms of rigid dogma. We should think and speak with some caution, seeking to keep an open mind. We need to continue a careful reading of Scripture and not jump to quick conclusions—especially since the conclusion is not here yet!
But “life everlasting” has begun. We speak of it in the words of George Eldon Ladd as “inaugurated eschatology.” However, what we have so far is only the beginning, as important as that is (Luke 4:16-21).
I want to write about this eternal life in terms of New Testament teaching on a new heaven and a new earth. I will make reference to a number of texts and make comments on each one.
I also want to acknowledge the writings of N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton. They have been instrumental in awaking in me the anticipation of “life everlasting.”
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This passage speaks about what is known as the final state. The disappearance of the sea suggests the removal of evil and its influence. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is the post-resurrection Church, the bride of Christ, coming down out of heaven to the earth.
God himself will be with the people. Death, mourning, tears, and pain have passed away, along with the old order of things. Everything is being made new.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Here is Peter, shortly after Pentecost, preaching the good news of Jesus. The recently ascended Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything. Here, “life everlasting” is about the restoration of “everything.”
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Here in this amazing salvation text, beginning in verse three, Paul says some of the most startling words in the New Testament. God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Salvation involves the task of unifying everything that has been fragmented or alienated, thereby bringing oneness and wholeness and healing! How comprehensive is that?!
This is the nature of “life everlasting.”
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Paul does not limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to humanity. It speaks of peacemaking and reconciliation as all inclusive as possible in heaven and on earth!
2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
The text has the language of judgment and fire. But notice “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” It seems the fire will have a cleansing or purifying purpose. This suggests that the new heaven and new earth refer to renewal and restoration, rather than replacement and starting again from scratch. I think the language of destruction does not apply to the creation, but to the judgment of sin.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Here we have the imagery of labour pains in childbirth and the imagery of the Israelites groaning in the slavery under Pharaoh. These images are applied to the human condition, but moving well beyond that to the entire created order.
This is creation itself experiencing the liberation and freedom from the bondage brought on by the sin and rebellion of sinful humanity. It’s another salvation story of God, repairing what was broken in all creation, along with the redemption of the children of God.
Since the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, followed by the heartbreaking results of human sin and autonomy in chapters 3 and following, it has always been God’s intention, motivated by His matchless love and mercy, to see heaven and earth come together, so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven!This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced at His first coming and it will be fulfilled and completed when He returns!
Then we can joyfully and gratefully repeat the words spoken at creation: “It is good; it is very good!”
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
David Thiessen (BA, BTh, MCS) has done a lifetime of pastoral ministry together with his wife Merna. He served as the EMC Conference Pastor from 2000 to 2011. While he is toying with retirement, he is currently the part-time interim pastor at Mennville EMC in Manitoba’s Interlake.
What happens after you die? We might say, “You go to heaven when you die.” But that leads to other questions.
What is heaven like? There is no shortage of speculations. Some people imagine the Pearly Gates of heaven suspended high in the clouds. Those who are welcomed past the Pearly Gates are treated to bright lights, smooth Jazz, halos, and harps.
Others think of the lyrics of vacating this earth: “To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.” And still others struggle with any sort of vision of life after death.
How will we ever find clarity and understanding? As a starting point, we should resist the urge to say too little and too much about life after death. If we say too little, we risk missing out on the truth; if we say too much, we risk distorting the message of hope.
This is why we need to recapture a fresh vision of what both the Creeds and Scriptures teach us on life after death, and life after life after death. Faithfulness to Scripture and Creed can help us navigate the rough waters of confusion and caricature.
What Do Scripture and Creed Teach Us?
For starters, they teach the resurrection of the dead as the ultimate hope of the Redeemed. Our bodies will be glorified and recreated in the same manner that Jesus’ crucified body rose from the grave on Easter morning. This is not a disembodied soul going to heaven when you die. The resurrection of the body is properly not about life after death, but life after life after death. It is the promise of New Creation.
Now you might think, “How does that fit in with going to heaven when you die?” Well, while heaven may be a temporary place for the soul, heaven is not the ultimate destiny of the redeemed. As N. T. Wright notes, “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.” Let’s explore this further.
The Nature of Heaven
Heaven was created alongside earth in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will be “recreated” alongside the earth for union at the end of the age (Rev. 21-22). An ancient Jewish thinking saw Heaven as a physical place above the earth, and the abode of God. It’s perhaps best to view Heaven as not so much a physical location, but a realm and a dimension that exists both alongside and separate from ours in a mysterious interlocking relationship.
Heaven is a place where believers go in death. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he writes “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), or speaks of his desire to “be with Christ” upon death (Phil. 1:23).
While heaven is the dwelling place for the soul, the weight of Scripture points to an eventual future embodied resurrection of the dead, and not a disembodied existence apart from the earth. Heaven is a temporary resting place for the souls of the saints. Heaven and Earth will one day be joined as one in the culmination of the New Creation. John, the writer of Revelation, describes such a union with his description of the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to launch the new age (Rev. 21-22).
The Biblical Hope of Resurrection
The resurrection of body does not imply a disembodied soul escaping to heaven for eternity. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying, ‘going to heaven when you die’. It is not about the ‘life after death’ as such. Rather, it’s way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead. Resurrection is a second-stage postmortem life: ‘life after life after death’.”
The Creed says that our bodies will become like Christ’s resurrected body. It is a bold reminder that the New Creation that was launched on Easter morning, as Jesus burst forth from the tomb, will no longer be the “not yet” for those who wait upon the Lord. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).
The resurrection of the body is God creating for us physical, glorified, and immortal bodies that can participate in the New Creation in which there is no longer any death or decay. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This will take place when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead at the end of this age (Is. 65-66, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Rev. 20-22).
Does the Resurrection of the Body Matter?
Firstly, it teaches us that God has not given up on the mission of rescue and renewal. The biblical hope boldly proclaims God has been in the process of putting the world to rights, bringing order to chaos, and establishing shalom to our violent disordered world. The resurrection of the body is God’s supreme act of rescue from the curse of death.
Christmas reminds us of this! We are reminded that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to rescue and renew us. God assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom. 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal us of the curse.
As the Christmas carol Joy to the World declares, “He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found!” Christmas reminds us that Christ came to overthrow the curse of death by entering our cursedness
and overcoming it in the power of resurrection. We who are united with Christ, our rescuer, now await our final rescue through the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Secondly, it reminds that this world matters. Unlike the Gnostic inclination to devalue the material world around us, Christians confess that this is our Father’s world. A belief in the resurrection of the body is also a belief in our restored relationship to rightly rule and reign with Christ over God’s good creation.
This is why the Apostle Paul so closely connects the liberation of creation to the redemption of the children of God in Romans 8. When humans are put right, all of creation will be put right. God’s rescue project is more than just for individuals, but for all of creation.
This has huge implications for how we treat our Father’s world today. God’s work of New Creation has already been inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ, and in us through our baptisms. We as Christians ought to begin to live now in this age, the “not yet” promise of the age to come. This should challenge us to adjust our actions and attitudes towards the material world.
Lastly, it is a blessed hope for those whose are grieving the loss of their health. Our current bodies are wasting away, corruptible, and susceptible to disease and destruction. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people whose bodies were in various stages of giving out on them. The resurrection of the body reminds us that though we may grieve our current bodily failings, our future resurrected bodies will not fail us nor hinder us. Instead, let us look forward to the day where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).