Thursday, February 14, 2013

What About AFTER Heaven?

     How do we picture the afterlife? If the stuff we see on TV is any indication, we picture some combination of clouds, harps and general “floatiness.”  Now I would be the last person to have anything against clouds or harps and I wouldn’t mind floating from time to time, but the Bible points us in another direction. Again and again, we see emphasized that the Lord Jesus came in the flesh.  Moreover, his being in the flesh does not end.  In Luke 24, after his death and resurrection, Jesus comes to his disciples in Jerusalem.  They are frightened.  They think he is a spirit, a ghost.  But Jesus sees this and asks, “Why are you troubled?  Why are you thinking such things?” “Look at my hands, my feet.” He tells them to touch him, “Does a ghost have flesh and bones like me?”  Jesus is no ghost.  He is solid. Think of the implications.  We can say, “Our flesh and blood is at the right hand of the Father, reigning in power!”

     Sometimes we are confused by the fact that after his resurrection Jesus seemed to be able to go through locked doors.  We think this means he is somehow immaterial, but remember even before his death he was able to pass through hostile crowds.  Is there really such a difference between the two?  Now, this is not to say that Jesus is the same before his resurrection as after.  First, Scripture tells us we cannot die after being raised from the dead.  Second, we are almost unimaginably more powerful after our resurrection. We are “sown a ‘soul body’ but raised a spiritual body.’” (I Corinthians 15)  To say the same in other words, before the resurrection we are, as it were a “breeze body,” but after our resurrection we will be a “storm body.”  The Spirit within us will be more powerful than any hurricane, any super-storm! Even now we have glimpses of how it will be.  Even now we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work within us.”

     Many of us rightly ask about what will happen when we breathe our last breath.  The Bible assures us that we will be with the Lord.  As I was taught, “when we breathe our last breath our next breath will in the arms of the Lord Jesus,” or as the Bible puts it, “I saw the Lord ever before me; for he is on my right hand...therefore my heart did rejoice...thou wilt not suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” (Acts 2).  With such a savior we are confident that we will arrive in heaven!  Still, the theologian N.T. Wright asks a good question, “What about AFTER heaven?”  How will it be when God’s plan of salvation comes to fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead?  The answer is in some degree a mystery.  There is much we do not know yet.  But one thing is clear, at “the restoration of all things,” we will not be ghosts.  We will be flesh, blood and bone just like now, only more so.  Sorrow and sighing will be no more and death will be defeated.  The devil is finished and all tears will be wiped from the eye.  Jerusalem shall be renewed and made happy and have within her the healing of all nations (Isaiah 54, Revelation 22)

     In the very beginning God shaped Adam out of clay and breathed into him and Adam became a living soul.  See God’s faithfulness and love; he never gives up on flesh and blood and bone but instead brings it to glorious flower in the Lord Jesus, the pioneer who goes ahead to lead us into life eternal.