Appendix D: The Resurrection

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These writings were published previously in Afterlife website and/or From Death To Life magazine. They appear here as further evidence for the Advent Christian teaching that the resurrection at Christ’s return is the blessed hope of the church.

 
 
Better Than Survival

Recently, my wife and I joined a North American mission leader’s conference, together with some 1200 of our colleagues. On the closing session of the conference, they featured a young African-American poet, Micah Bournes. I hope that what he shared is going to be on his new album, because I would love to hear it again. It resonated with me, perhaps more than some of the other things said at the conference, because it spoke of the centrality of the resurrection. Micah said that our hope was not merely to float up into the sky when we die, but to be fully and completely and miraculously resurrected.

I don’t know whether Micah is a conditionalist, but it was refreshing to hear such words. They reminded me that we who believe in life only in Christ have a message that speaks to modern day Christianity. We feel the call to remind the world that its hope in Christ is not merely survival of a disembodied soul, but a restoration of life in its fullest as we were intended to live.

a conversation in Bethany

Jesus came to Bethany four days “too late.” His friend Lazarus had died, and Jesus did not even make it for the funeral. Lots of their friends from Judea had called on the two sisters, Mary and Martha, to “console them concerning their brother”[1] but Jesus had been a no-show.

The Bible records that once Martha learned that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated in the house.[2] The last we had heard of these two women, Jesus had instructed Martha that Mary had made the better choice by remaining seated at his feet and listening to his teaching.[3] Now, perhaps Martha has made the better choice. She is running to Jesus in her hour of grief.

The first words to come out of Martha’s mouth were “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”[4] That was probably true. There must have been a reason that Jesus had deliberately delayed going to Bethany once he was told of Lazarus’ illness. He knew that it was God’s plan that his friend succumb to that illness. It would have been torture for him to watch that happen, particularly since he has the power to stop it.

I cannot resist saying that I have often felt like Martha felt. I have wept at the passing of many relatives and friends, and have often been overcome by the irony that at the core of my hope is a Savior who can raise the dead. Resurrection, for me, is more than an appendix added on to my foundational beliefs. Like Paul, everything that I might endure in this life is “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[5] To me, a relationship with Jesus, and the resurrection hope that emerges from that relationship are one and the same.

The early Christians annoyed the Jerusalem rulers because they shared and preached the same hope. They spent their time “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”[6] In fact, sometimes their pagan listeners misunderstood them and thought they were preaching about two deities: Jesus and Resurrection.[7]

It is amazing how easy it is for people – even Christians – to go through their entire grieving process today, scarcely thinking about the resurrection. What a shame that this is not the hope the church has championed. The resurrection – not the ascension — makes sense of Jesus’ death. The hope of resurrection at the second coming makes sense of our own deaths.

Martha, reeling from the reality of her loss, saw in Jesus the epitome of that hope. She confidently affirmed of Jesus that “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”[8] She was inviting Jesus to raise her brother from the dead. She had every confidence that Jesus could not only have prevented her brother’s death, but that even now – four days too late – he could raise him to life.

Lots of people seem to be able to produce within themselves a decent “in this life” hope. They surround themselves with positive words and music, keep making positive confessions, and avoid negative vibes like the plague. But, once the last breath in their loved one is expired, that is it. The apostle Paul says that Christians are not to be like that. He argued that if “in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”[9] If our hope ends at graveside, it is a lie.

Martha’s hope was not dampened by the fact that her brother’s corpse had already begun to rot. She believed that nothing was impossible with God. She believed that Jesus’ power was not limited by her brother’s death. She did not lie to herself. She knew her brother was dead. He was not floating in the clouds, or off somewhere nice, playing a harp. He was stone-cold, graveyard dead. But Jesus could – and can – change that.

Jesus returned Martha’s serve (to use tennis language) by simply saying “Your brother will rise again.” Forgive me for taking that promise out of its context, but I first choose to apply it to myself. I have two brothers, and both of them have fallen asleep in Jesus. When I read those words, my thoughts go to them. I can hear my Savior assuring me that their deaths, although tragic, are not permanent. I want to share these words to console others, like myself, who are facing the ugly reality of the separation death brings. God’s word to us is that our brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, and friends and co-workers who have died are not forgotten. They have fallen, but they will rise again.

But, back to Bethany. Jesus was speaking to Martha, who had just “lost” her brother. He assured Martha that Lazarus himself will rise again. He did not say that Lazarus might rise again. He did not say that he wished Lazarus to rise again. He did not say that Lazarus had already risen again. Hope for Lazarus (and for grieving Martha) lay in the certainty of a future resurrection.

The volley continues as Martha assures Jesus that she agrees with that hope. She told Jesus “Yes,” …, he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”[10] That statement is both true and false. Lazarus lived in the first century A.D., and is most certainly dead today. He is among those who will hear the voice of Jesus and come out of their tombs at the last trump on the last day.[11] That makes Martha’s statement true.

But what Martha did not know was that Jesus was prepared to respond to her invitation to raise her brother that day. She had professed a confidence that Jesus could ask the father to raise Lazarus from death, and that the Father would comply with that request. What Jesus was actually telling Martha was not that Lazarus would “some day” rise, but that he would “this day” rise. So, what Martha meant by her reply was incorrect. She would not have to wait for resurrection day to see her brother’s resurrection.

Alright, I have to confess that I was taking Jesus’ promise out of its context when I insist on applying it to my brothers, Gary and Timmy Vann. Jesus was speaking to Martha. His promise applied to her brother, Lazarus. My real consolation is not that Jesus promised me that my brothers will come to life again. My real consolation is found in what Jesus said next:

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”[12]

Our hope is in Jesus and who Jesus is. There will be a resurrection on the last day, and Jesus was inviting Martha to go forward in time and (in something like a vision) witness that glorious event. The wording he uses paints a picture of resurrection day. Christ, the resurrection and the life, stands with one person in front of him, a representative person whom Jesus calls “the one who has died, believing in me.” Martha (I am sure) pictures this as Lazarus. Jesus tells the fate of Lazarus (and, by extension, all others who die before his return) in one word in Greek: Zésetai — “he will live.”

“and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Suddenly, the picture changes. There is another person in the picture. That person is “the one living and believing in me.” I’m sure Martha saw herself. She was “the one still living” and Lazarus was “the one who has died.” The promise of our Lord was that there would be a reunion, and that he (Jesus) would be at the center of it. This is what Martha wanted. She did not want to hear that Lazarus was in a better place. He was not. She was not interested in any conjecture about his secret survival in the intermediate state (between death and resurrection). Her hope was life in its fullest, shared with her brother whom she missed.

Jesus was sharing a glimpse into that great day when the dead in Christ (like Lazarus) will come to life again. Those who are still living (like Martha) and waiting for them to rise will also be changed. In fact, Jesus promises that they will “never die.” Any believer who is fortunate enough to still be alive when Jesus returns will be a literal referent of this promise. These fortunate ones will be changed from mortal to immortal in an instant. They will never die!

The apostle Paul first thought that Christ was going to return in his lifetime, so he put himself in the second category.[13] Later, when he realized that he would probably die before Christ’s return, he began to speak differently:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”[14]

Paul anticipated dying before Christ’s return, but anticipated his crown of righteousness not at his death, but at Christ’s appearing. He was not looking forward to “going on to his reward.” Instead, he longed for Christ to return with it.

Please note that for both people in the John 11 “vision” the hope Jesus described is his own return. Martha’s theological understanding of the “resurrection on the last day” was spot on. Jesus’ question to her was “do you believe this?” We should ask ourselves the same question today.

Note also how Martha’s reply makes it certain what Jesus was talking about. She said “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”[15] She understood that Jesus was not talking about some nebulous survival of Lazarus’ inner soul. He was talking about his second coming, which would enable Lazarus to live again – body, soul and all.

We all know the rest of the story. Jesus demonstrated the veracity of his promise to raise all believers by raising Lazarus that day. He overcame the power of the grave and enabled Lazarus to live again.

Of course, Lazarus grew old and died again. He once again became part of that vast throng of believers who await a resurrection, at Christ’s second coming. Only, when Lazarus is raised again, it will be for keeps. Jesus is not the only one who has ever been raised from the dead, but he is the only one whom death no longer has dominion over.[16] The others, like Lazarus, were raised to die again. Christ was raised “never to die again.” That is our hope as well. It is a future better than mere survival. It is a future of victory.

Exchanging This World For Heaven

A friend recently posted a quote from Dave Hunt, who said:

“The choice we face is not, as many imagine, between heaven and hell. Rather, the choice is between heaven and this world. Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven; but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven.” – An Urgent Call To A Serious faith.

Hunt stated in another book:

“The real choice we must and do make – daily, hourly – is between heaven and this earth. … Our attitudes and actions continually reflect our unconscious answer to the question: ‘Am I willing to leave this earth right now for heaven, or is there something that holds me here and thus something on earth which stands between my Lord and me at this moment?’” – When Will Jesus Come, p. 250.

My response to that FB post will be perhaps confusing to my many friends who are not aware of my conditionalist theological position:

“This world is the place that Jesus died to redeem. This world is the place where Jesus is coming (from heaven) to rule. This world is the place that God and believers will inherit (Psalm 82:8; Matthew 5:5). The gospel is not a call for us to exchange the world for heaven. It is a call for us to accept the grace of the one who is coming from heaven to earth. A serious faith takes the Bible seriously. While Christians are called not to love the present world or the things in it (1 John 2:15), we are never called to escape it. We are called to conquer it (1 John 5:4).”

There is a difference between setting our affections on things above and setting our hopes on leaving the earth. Hunt and many others of the traditionalist view seek to blur that distinction. They believe that the hope of the believer is to go somewhere else besides earth and be with God when they die.

This is the Bible’s definition of the blessed hope:

“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 ESV).

When people imply that the hope of believers is going to heaven when they die, they are exchanging the biblical hope for something else. Some have been so conditioned to believe that the goal of believers is to go to heaven that they never see the contradiction when they look at biblical texts.

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting to die so that you can see Jesus in heaven, or are you waiting for the appearing of Christ on earth? If you think your goal is to escape earth, why do you think that? I challenge you to read the Bible again, and look for the hope and the inheritance it describes. The only thing the Bible calls us to escape is hell. We are called not to escape the world, but to conquer the world for Christ:

“…whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4 NRSV).

You do not conquer something by running away from it, but by doing battle, defeating it, and claiming it for your king. That is what conquerors do. They overcome in battle, and claim new territory. Biblical faith does not urge believers to want to die so that the battle will be over. Biblical faith challenges believers to take this world back for the king it rightfully belongs to.

When human beings were placed on this earth, God did not say, “It’s OK for a while, but what I really want is for you to be in heaven with me.” No, he looked on the two people in Eden and said that it was very good. He called on them not to escape the earth but to have dominion over it, to fill it, and to subdue it (Genesis 1:26-28). He never rescinded that command.

When Jesus taught his disciples about things to come, he promised them the Holy Spirit from heaven (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, and he promised that he would return from heaven (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26-27; John 14:3). He never once promised them a trip to heaven before he returned. Why would he leave that out?

What Jesus promised us was a resurrection on the last day – the day of his return:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39 ESV).

“ For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:40 ESV).

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ESV).

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54 ESV).

Our king Jesus is the only human being who has ascended to heaven right now:

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13 ESV).

The only biblical hope is that he will return to take his rightful place on this earth as its king. It sounds right and biblical to talk about exchanging this world for heaven, but it is neither. The world is looking for answers. The least we believers can do is get the answers right.

The Next You

Law enforcement officers in this age of expanding technology have a number of new tools. Among the most intriguing are age advancement photography programs. Using these programs, one can alter a photograph of someone, and produce a photo of what that someone would look like years later. For example, photos of children who were abducted years ago can now be altered so that the public can see what they would look like today. Many lost children have been found due to this important tool.

Christian believers are also interested in what we will look like in the future, especially the post-resurrection future. One of our favorite places to look for snapshots of our post-resurrection selves is 1 Corinthians 15.[17] Here, the apostle Paul gives the Corinthian believers some insights into God’s plan for their resurrection. Paul does not do this simply to indulge their curiosity. This doctrinal section is intended to bolster the practical applications he seeks in his letter.

Some of those practical applications are as follows:

1. Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to reflect upon their insignificance when God rescued them (1:26). The resurrection reminds us that God intends to transform us, so what matters most is not who we were, but who we will be.

2. Paul wanted the Corinthian believers not to form rash prejudices that prevent them from enjoying the fellowship and ministry of others (4:5). The resurrection reminds us that we do not yet see the “finished product” God has in mind, so we should not be so quick to endorse some people’s ministry, or reject others.

3. Paul wanted the Corinthians to avoid all kinds of sexual sin (6:18). The resurrection reminds us that our bodies are not disposable playthings. They are God’s creation, and the Holy Spirit’s temple (6:19). They are to be taken very seriously.

4. Paul wanted the married believers in Corinth to regularly enjoy one another’s sexuality, not to deprive one another (7:5). The resurrection reminds us that although sexual relationships are temporary (Mat. 22:30), they are, nonetheless, legitimate, and should not be avoided in an attempt to be “more spiritual.”

5. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth who considered themselves “strong” to avoid actions which might be a stumbling block to “the weak” (8:9). The resurrection reminds us that we will soon be armed with abilities and powers beyond our present comprehension. But, with much power comes much responsibility.

6. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to discipline themselves like runners in a race, so that they might obtain the imperishable prize (9:24-25). That prize is the resurrection (Phil. 3:10-11).

7. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to avoid the mistakes the Israelites committed, e.g. grumbling (10:10), and idolatry (10:14), which caused them to go backward, rather than forward. The resurrection reminds us that our future selves are our real selves. We must look forward in faith, not backward in fear.

8. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to make God’s glory the basis for every decision they made (10:31). The resurrection reminds us that our bodies will be buried (sown) in dishonor, but raised in glory (15:43).

9. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to invest themselves in ministry with an attitude of love (12:31; 14:1, 39). The resurrection reminds us that those investments are not permanent. Like our present bodies, our current ministries will cease (13:8-10), but the love that should motivate them will not (13:13).

10. Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to stop associating with skeptics who doubt the resurrection (11:32-34). The resurrection validates all our effort to reach the world for Christ. When we take our cues from those who doubt the resurrection, it is as if we are in a drunken stupor, stumbling around without stability and direction. The resurrection gives us direction, because it serves as the goal of our effort, the target that we are aiming at.

1 Corinthians 15 reveals that the real, permanent You is not the present you, but the next You. Paul invites you to look ahead into your future as a glorified saint. He encourages some imaginative personal eschatological thinking. His argument can be summarized as follows:

I. THE NEXT YOU IS GUARANTEED. IT IS BASED UPON HISTORICAL FACTS.

The evidence for the next you includes these verifiable facts: 1) The Resurrection of Christ (3-8); 2) The apostolic witness through preaching (12-15) {and, by extension, all those who have spent their lives preaching the gospel since the apostles}; 3) The faith of Christians throughout the ages and the changed lives that faith has produced (17-19); 4) The commitment to Christ demonstrated by those who have been baptized (29)[18]; 5) The commitment to Christ demonstrated by those who have suffered in ministry (30-32).

Paul’s argument is that every aspect of the Christian faith and life points toward the next you. Every breath you take in this life, every word you say, everything you do, is a precursor to that permanent expression of you-ness in the next life. Rather than implying that this life is meaningless compared to the next, Paul implies the opposite. This life is important because it sets the stage for the main event throughout eternity. The next you will validate the significance of the present you. The present you is an investment in the future you.

II. THE NEXT YOU IS INTENDED BY GOD, AND WILL HAPPEN ACCORDING TO HIS TIMETABLE.

Paul uses the analogy of a harvest to explain the chronological order of the resurrection. The sequence of God’s resurrection/harvest is: 1) Christ, the firstfruits of the harvest (20); 2) those who belong to Christ (the dead resurrected, then the living transformed and raptured) (51-52); 3) the millennial reign (25-26) during which all of Christ’s enemies will be destroyed; 4) the end (of the harvest) which is the final resurrection of all the remaining dead (24) (see Rev. 20).

The resurrection, then, should not be just a minor blip on our theological radar screens. It belongs to those events by which God is shaping the destiny of his universe. In his providence, the next you is just as important as creation, the exodus, the incarnation, the cross, or Christ’s resurrection. Seen in that light, your existence today takes on new significance. You may think of yourself as caterpillar-like, but God has planned your butterfly-hood!

III. THE NEXT YOU IS NOT SIMPLY A RESUSCITATION OF YOUR BODY. YOU WILL BE THE SAME PERSON, BUT WITH A NEW GLORIOUS IMMORTAL NATURE.

Paul’s argument is that the next you will be the same you – only different. The seed and plant analogy assures that you will be the same person (37). The resurrection is not a re-creation, starting over with all-new materials (and hopefully getting it right this time). No, the seed and plant analogy speaks of a continuation of a life with which God originally intended to bless his universe forever. Sin entered your life and corrupted it, making it necessary for you to die. But God loves you too much to let that be the last note of your song.

The resurrected you will be the same you, purged of all those things that cannot abide eternal existence, and transformed into something extraordinary. The different flesh/ splendor analogies assure that your nature will be different (39-41). The next you will be as different from the present you as humans are different from animals. The difference will be as pronounced as the difference between celestial and terrestrial bodies.

The Adam/Christ analogy explains the essence of that transformation. Your new nature will “bear the likeness” of Jesus Christ! (49). All those inherited predispositions and character flaws and physical defects which identified you with your ancestors Adam and Eve will have been replaced. The stuff that the next you will be made of is described as “from heaven” (49) and “imperishable” (50).

IV. THE NEXT YOU IS NOT JUST AN ADDED BONUS TO YOUR SALVATION, IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.

Paul describes your present state: “of the dust of the earth” (46), perishable (50), mortal (53). That is not what God wanted. Satan has intervened and tricked humanity into the rebellion that has resulted in the present mortal state. God cannot endure that forever. He plans to purge his universe of the disease that humanity has become, so that it can once again be pronounced “very good.”

Your future state is imperishable and immortal. The next you is more than just a revived you. The next you will be you as God intended you to be. By his death on Calvary’s cross, Christ won the battle which has made the next you possible, but you have not yet received all the spoils of the victory personally.

Paul described his resurrection chapter as essentially the gospel message that he preached (1-2). It is right for believers to emphasize the benefits we already have because of the death of Christ: forgiveness of sins, permission to approach God in prayer, guidance from the indwelling Holy Spirit, etc. But let us never forget that the gospel is not complete if it stops there. You have not heard the whole gospel if the message you have heard fails to include the next you.

Jesus Has the Keys

The Bibles teaches that the wages of sin is death[19] but if people are found to survive it, and have an automatic eternal life beyond it, then death is not real. The wages are paid with bogus, fake, Monopoly money. If people just “cross the Jordon” and are found on the other side of “the great divide” — then death turns out to be a blessing, not a punishment. Yet, the Bible is clear that death came upon all people as a consequence of our ancestors’ sins. The Bible says “in Adam all die.”[20] The tactic that many people take in evangelization is to immediately deny that fact. The first thing they tell the unbeliever is that they will never die, no matter what. No wander that so many people reject their “good news.” They immediately deny the “bad news.”

The truth is, we all die. Those cemeteries are full of people, not just bones. Those tombs will one day be opened at the sound of Christ’s second coming, and the people within them will come out. Jesus said “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[21] They are bound to those graves until then. They are imprisoned in a dark, silent place, which the Hebrews called Sheol. The Greeks called it Hades. We call it the grave.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has the keys to that place. He can set people free from their imprisonment. He proclaimed “I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[22] To suggest that death is really not a prison in which people are confined before the resurrection is to – again — reject the Bible’s good news for some other good news. It is to say to Jesus, “you can keep your keys, death and Hades are not so bad.” To relish in life beyond death is to reject God’s plan to rescue us by Jesus. It is to swallow the original lie of Satan in the garden, that we will not surely die.[23] It is to presume that we are all born without the need of rescue. It does not do justice to what God actually says about death. Death is not a friend, giving us entrance into the Father’s presence. It is an enemy,[24] keeping us from our eternal destiny with him.

The Promise

“…this is the promise that he made to us- eternal life.”[25]

escape?

For many world religions, the ultimate goal of life is to escape it, because it is seen as a curse. People have to be reincarnated because they do not achieve the highest of realms, and so are condemned to keep coming back as living creatures, and keep trying again. All the suffering has to keep happening until souls can overcome their imperfections, and melt into the nothingness of nirvana.

The Bible does not depict life that way. In biblical Christianity, the ultimate goal is not escaping life, but experiencing it as God intended it. It is not escaping our desires, but realizing that God himself is the fulfillment of those desires.

a promise

Before the ages began, God made a promise.[26] He promised that all the things which make life unbearable will one day be removed. He made this possible by sending his only Son to remove the one thing that had made life something other than what God intended: sin.

Now, the crucified and resurrected Son of God stands as a marker in heaven. He is the visible symbol of all of the sons and daughters of God who will live forever. All those who are not in Christ will perish. But all of us who are in Christ will overcome all the pain, suffering and death that humanity has purchased by the original transgression.

the last day

Jesus’ promise to us is that he will raise us up on the last day.[27] Death is not an illusion, and the grave is not a recycling bin. It is a real dying, and a complete loss of life. But the Bible does not leave us there for eternity. Martha spoke to Jesus of “the resurrection on the last day.”[28] Jesus explained to her that he is that resurrection. On the last day, all who have died, believing in him, will be raised again to life.[29] All who are alive (on that day) and believe in him will be instantly transformed into immortal beings, who will never die.[30]

Non-Christian religions teach that life is the curse, and death is the way to get beyond it. The Bible teaches the opposite: death is the curse, and the promise of eternal life is the only way to overcome it.

gateway?

This is precisely why Christians should stop talking about death as if it is some gateway to a better life. The better life that the Bible speaks of will only begin at the resurrection. Death is not an entrance, it is an exit. It is not a friend; it is an enemy.[31] It is not a blessing; it is a curse.[32] It does not take us home. Jesus will take us home, when he comes back for us.[33]

a different promise

I know a lot of people who became Christians because they wanted to go to heaven when they die, and not the other place. They have essentially been promised a different promise. For example:

“Christ’s promise to his followers is that we shall join him in Heaven and partake in an everlasting life of joy, love, fellowship and purposeful activity.”[34]

“As you profess your faith in Jesus Christ, you have a steadfast promise that heaven is your eternal destination.”[35]

“In Revelation 2:7 Jesus said ‘to him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God’ … The tree of life symbolizes eternal life; the ‘Paradise of God’ is heaven. The promise to overcomers, then, is that they will live forever in heaven.”[36]

“To long for Christ is to long for Heaven, for that is where we will be with him.”[37]

“…the spiritual part of us relocates to a conscious existence in Heaven.”[38]

The Bible nowhere promises a change in location at death. God told the Israelites “you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”[39] Jesus spoke of an hour which is “coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out”.[40] The promise is life from the dead, not a different location at death.

evangelism

What would happen if believers in Jesus Christ suddenly decided to do our evangelism by sharing what Jesus actually promised? We would have to do the mature thing, and explain to people that the world has taught them that they have immortality, but the Bible says only God has immortality.[41] We would have to explain to them that their hope of life after death has nothing to do with their possessing a “soul.” Animals are called “living souls” in Scripture.[42] Our hope is a Savior, who can raise dead souls to life again.

Plato or Paul?

What would happen if the church discovered that its theology of life beyond death was borrowed from the teachings of Plato,[43] and not the epistles of Paul? Paul believed in the promise of a resurrection unto eternal life. He spoke of Christ as being the second Adam. The first Adam brought death, Christ will bring the resurrection of the dead.[44] And this will happen, not when the believer dies, but when Jesus comes again.[45] Paul wanted to know Christ, and to attain to that promised resurrection.[46]

lost means lost

What would happen if we told people that their lost loved ones are really lost. They will not be kept alive somewhere so that God can torture them perpetually because he made a mistake and made them immortal. They will be raised, punished according as their sins deserve, and then experience what the Bible calls “the second death.”[47] Hell will exist, not because God is helpless to destroy evil, but because God plans to destroy evil. And God should be feared exactly because he can “destroy both soul and body in hell.”[48]

The LORD promises eternal life, not to everyone, but only to those who believe in his Son. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, and those two are opposites. Death in hell will not be another form of life, but its absence. The story of salvation is not a retirement plan, but a rescue.

hope for now

The hope the Bible gives us is an affirmation of life today. It tells us that sin and all its consequences will be overcome and obliterated, and those who get eternal lives will be free to live them without the limits and pain and sorrow that exist today. But, other than that, our eternal lives will be, well… lives. They will not be some other kind of existence. Our creator made us to reflect his glory and his image. He intends us to do that for more than just threescore-and-ten.

But, since we are here now, and since Jesus is Lord of our lives now, there is no reason why we cannot start reflecting that glory and being remade into that image now. The Bible’s answer to the ugliness of life now is to replace it with the beauty of Christ now. For that reason, the Bible sometimes speaks of believers having that eternal life already.[49] It does not mean that we are already immortal, but it does indicate that our eventual deaths are no longer a thing to be feared. Death is now seen as a mere hurdle in the race, not the finish line.

pursuing God

A relationship with God is now something worth pursuing, because not even death will end that. It is a pearl of great value,[50] and I can spend everything I have on it. Even if it costs me my life, it is worth it, because “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”[51] All these things that people live for and die for – you cannot take any of them with you. But a relationship with God – that is what eternal life is for.

loving our neighbors

Some of our neighbors will be joining us in that eternal life. They believe in the promise, too. God loves them, and it makes sense for us to love them too. We will be sharing eternity together. But we have other neighbors who do not yet know about his promise, or have not yet chosen to believe it. How we treat them could make the difference. Either way, it makes sense to love them.

Without the promise, love is hard. Asking me to invest my time and resources in another person’s life is asking a lot. But, if I am assured that my time and resources are actually limitless, then loving does not seem such a challenge. Jesus once told a story about a man who was forgiven a great debt, and then refused to forgive someone else who owed him less.[52] Now that we realize the great weight that has been removed from us, forgiveness and love should come easy.

making disciples

The Lord who gave us the promise of eternal life also gives us the joy of sharing that hope with the rest of the globe. He said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””[53] The “all nations” is the location of our discipleship, and the “end of the age” is its duration. Jesus’ promise to be with us fits both. No matter where we are, no matter when it is, he is with us. His Holy Spirit empowers us to testify of him.

The hope of eternal life is sufficient to win every nation to Christ. There is no need to bolster the biblical promise with an imaginary location that spirits supposedly go when they die. Christ promised to come back and raise us from the dead. That promise is enough. Almost every culture has a mythology of life beyond death. Early theologians chose to borrow into some of those beliefs, adding them to what the Bible says. Now, evangelical theologians are pressed to continue alluding to those syncretistic concoctions, or else be branded as heretics.

perish

Conditionalists call on the church of Jesus Christ to go back to what the Bible tells us Christ promised. We ask believers to stop using the words “eternal life” as if they are code words for “go to heaven when you die.” They are not. Those words in John 3:16 are contrasted with the word “perish” which has also been stripped from its true meaning and used as a synonym for “burn forever in hell.” Perish is what people without eternal life do. Perish is what happens when God destroys his soul and body in hell. Perish is what happens when a sinner collects the wages of sin: death.[54]

Moses used the word for people who do “not live long in the land” because of their disobedience.[55] To him, it was not a code word for something that happens at death, but a description of death itself. Asaph said that people perish when God puts an end to them for being unfaithful.[56] Jesus said that people perish when they are killed by the sword,[57] or when they are crushed by a tower.[58] It simply means dying as opposed to living, and those are our choices in John 3:16.

remaining faithful

Our plea is not just about quibbling over which words to use as we evangelize. The promise that John records comes in this context: “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father.” [59] Being faithful to what we have been taught requires us to pass on the promise without the pagan embellishments added by centuries of theological mismanagement. Being faithful requires that we preach the gospel as Jesus preached it.

But that is not what happened. Roman Catholic theologians, wishing to advance their syncretistic doctrine of purgatory, taught that the Old Testament was wrong, and the Greek philosophers were right about human nature: all souls survive death. Jesus’ simple promise of a resurrection unto eternal life made no sense if that was the case. So, they simply reinterpreted his words. Some of the reformers dared to challenge this abuse with all the others, but in the end, this misrepresentation of the promise continued to hold sway.

Every generation there have been bold voices who speak up and ask the church to re-evaluate her stand on this issue. That is what we conditionalists want to do. We want to steal the hope of heaven at death, and replace it with the blessed hope, which is Christ’s return.[60] That blessed hope has been overshadowed by a false, unbiblical hope for much too long.

Victory Through Resurrection

(Devotional Thoughts from 1 Corinthians 15).

It is clear from what Paul says in this chapter that some in the Corinthian churches were trying to downplay the doctrine of the resurrection. Paul encourages the Corinthians to continue to preach it, because the victory that the believer has is the resurrection. If you take away the resurrection, Christianity is an empty religion with no real hope, and believers are “of all people most to be pitied” (19). The reason is that all human beings are born mortal. We have a death sentence hanging over us because of Adam’s rebellion. We imitate Adam by being creatures who return to the dust. But the resurrection gives us an opportunity to imitate Christ, the man from heaven (48). This will happen at the last trumpet, when Christ returns (52-53). The resurrection is our victory.

LORD, give us the courage and the wisdom to keep preaching the resurrection.

What Is An Evangelical?

At the office this week, one of my co-workers (who came from a Catholic background) was asking me about my church. He had heard the term evangelical before, but was not clear on what the word implied. I told him that when a church calls itself evangelical, it tends to emphasize the gospel, rather than some church tradition or heritage. The term comes from the Greek word euangelion , meaning “good news.” My co-worker’s question brought back to my mind something that I had learned some time ago: most evangelicals do not really know what the gospel is.

Oh, they know that if they believe in Jesus they can receive eternal life (and that is certainly true). But most would be surprised to discover that this conditional statement is not the biblical good news. The Good news that the Bible teaches is something different. Consider, for example, the following texts which contain the word euangelion:

“Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.”[61]

A kingdom one can join

This first occurrence of the term in the New Testament is remarkable for what it does not say. It does not say that the gospel is a theological concept that someone must believe. No, the good news is not about a theological decision one makes (or prayer that one prays) as much as it is about a kingdom that one can join. Jesus himself is the king of that kingdom. He teaches about himself, and then proceeds to back up that teaching about himself with miracles that prove he is who he says he is. The gospel here is not as much about what you and I believe as it is about who Jesus is.

“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”[62]

When Jesus commanded us to proclaim the gospel to the world,[63] he was not referring to another gospel: a gospel other than the one he was preaching. Yet he had not been proclaiming his death and substitutionary atonement. As important as that truth is, it is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is something else.

“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”[64]

Paul called his message “the gospel of the grace of God.” He was set apart to teach and proclaim this gospel.[65] It was the good news – not that we can do something for God (like believe in his Son) – but that God has graciously done something for us. The good news is Jesus himself – a gift of God’s grace.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.””[66]

acceptance of all that Christ is, all that he has done for us, and all that he will do

Knowing this gives the reader a fresh perspective on how Paul describes the gospel in Romans. If the gospel that is the power of God for salvation is the person of Christ himself, then the faith that leads to the righteousness of God is not just acceptance of his forgiveness. It is acceptance of all that he is, all that he has done for us, and all that he will do. The gospel does not simply draw our attention back to the cross. It also draws our attention to the eternal ramifications of the cross. It is good news, not just because of something done in the past, but also because of the future.

The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not simply the fact that God regards us as righteous because of what Jesus did for us. It is a righteousness that is imputed by justification, and imparted by sanctification, and realized by faith in future glorification. So, the good news that is the gospel touches us in all three tenses.

Past:

Jesus died for me. I have been saved from my sin by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. My sins are atoned for by his death. They are forgiven. I am no longer on the list of those whose destiny is eternal death.

Present:

Jesus teaches me. I stand forgiven, and have access to the Holy Spirit to affect true change in my behavior. I can now live in victory over sin, and grow in the likeness of Christ. The key to living this life is the gospel message that Jesus proclaimed when he was on this earth. He gave commands which can drastically alter my life. But I have to learn and obey those commands. I am a disciple of Christ. I must choose to live like one. The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. If I choose to live outside of the principles taught in the gospel, I have not responded to the gospel, regardless of what I believe about the atonement.

Future:

Jesus will make me immortal. I have an eternal destiny that will begin the day Jesus breaks the clouds and returns from heaven. On that day, if I am still alive, I will be transformed, and never taste death. If I die before that happens, I will be raised to life at Christ’s command when he returns, never to die again. The gospel is good news because it shows us the destiny that is our beyond the grave. It does not deny that death is real. It shows hope beyond death.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”[67]

This explains why Paul’s most extensive presentation of the gospel is found in a chapter entirely dedicated to the resurrection. There is no gospel without the resurrection. Because Christ was raised, we now can have victory over the penalty of sin in the past, and the power of sin in the present. Because Christ will raise us from the dead, we now have an eternal destiny – a future besides destruction in hell.

You cannot really understand the gospel without this perspective on the future, and that is exactly what the problem was in Corinth. The believers in Corinth had lost the good news of the resurrection. They had lost the gospel.

“how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”[68]

eternity amnesia

Throughout the world today, this problem continues to exist. People live with no eternal hope. They live for today because they think today is all that we have. Author Paul David Tripp calls it “eternity amnesia.” He outlines the following symptoms of this malady:

1. Living with unrealistic expectations.

2. Focusing too much on self.

3. Asking too much of people.

4. Being controlling or fearful.

5. Questioning the goodness of God.

6. Living more disappointed than thankful.

7. Lacking motivation and hope.

8. Living as if life doesn’t have consequences.[69]

We can understand it when people who do not know Christ live this way. But all too often, those of us who claim to know Jesus find the same symptoms. Tripp explains that “because we fall into thinking of this life as our final destination, we place more hope in our situations, relationships, and locations than they are able to deliver.”[70]

We are victims when we should be living in victory. The victory was already obtained by Christ. Because of what he did for us, we need never live as if these temporary lives are all that we have. We can see everything that happens now in the light of the glory that awaits us in eternity. We can tolerate pain and failure because we understand them to be temporary setbacks. We can better grasp the significance of success when we see it from the standard of eternity as well. We can look on every soul we encounter as another being who is potentially immortal and glorified, which might help us tolerate their present imperfections. We can have a better attitude about our own present failures to hit the mark.

“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”[71]

If you take away the resurrection, Christianity is an empty religion with no real hope, and believers are of all people most to be pitied. The reason is that all human beings are born mortal. We have a death sentence hanging over us because of Adam’s rebellion. We imitate Adam by being creatures who return to the dust. But the hope of the resurrection gives us an opportunity to imitate Christ, the man from heaven.

“As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.”[72]

People who live without the forever perspective can only hope to accomplish “of the dust” things. No matter how happy or successful or significant their lives, that happiness, success and significance will be buried in the ground when they die. But people who have a forever perspective – a gospel perspective, can accomplish “of heaven” things. We can make an eternal difference in other people’s lives by pointing them to the Saviour. We can get our minds off of the things which enslave others, because our focus is on serving the “man of heaven.” Knowing our future can free us to truly live in the present.

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.””[73]

The resurrection is God’s victory, and ours. The gospel is the good news about that victory. It is the story of God entering this world of sin and pain through his Son, and taking on that sin and pain through the atonement on the cross. It is the story of the crucial battle won on the cross, and demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection. It is the story of the final victory over sin and pain through the resurrection at Christ’s return. Coming to faith in Christ is entering into that story. We know how the story ends. That is why we can have an eternal perspective.

As we celebrate the resurrection, may the knowledge that Christ’s tomb is empty help us to avoid eternity amnesia. May we not live recklessly – like there is no tomorrow. But may we live fearlessly, because there will be a tomorrow. The gospel assures it.


[1] John 11:19 ESV.

[2] John 11:20.

[3] Luke 10:38-42.

[4] John 11:21 ESV.

[5] Philippians 3:10-11 ESV.

[6] Acts 4:2.

[7] Acts 17:18.

[8] John 11:22 ESV.

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV.

[10] John 11:24 NLT.

[11] John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

[12] John 11:25 ESV.

[13] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[14] 2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV.

[15] John 11:27 ESV.

[16] Romans 6:9.

[17]Unless otherwise stated, all Bible references are from 1 Corinthians, ESV.

[18]Note that the baptism Paul mentions here is not some kind of ritual proxy baptism. He is referring to those who become believing Christians and then are baptized at the prompting of evangelists like John the Baptist and others. Since John and many other Christian evangelists had already died, those they baptized have been baptized for (at the prompting of) the dead. Paul’s point is that since there will be a resurrection, those baptisms do matter.

[19] Romans 6:23.

[20] 1 Corinthians 15:22.

[21] John 5:28-29 (ESV).

[22] Revelation 1:18.

[23] Genesis 3:4.

[24] 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[25] 1 John 2:25 ESV.

[26] Titus 1:2.

[27] John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24.

[28] John 11:24.

[29] John 11:25.

[30] John 11:26.

[31] 1 Corinthians 15:26.

[32] Genesis 2:17; Deuteronomy 30:19.

[33] John 14:3.

[34] Grant R. Jeffrey, Heaven: The Mystery of Angels. (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 1996), 7.

[35] Patricia Elliot, Heaven or Hell (Apopka, FL: NewBookPublishing.com, 2011), n.p.

[36] John F. MacArthur, 1-3 John – MacArthur New Testament Commentary. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 184.

[37] Randy Alcorn, 50 Days of Heaven. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006), 6.

[38] Randy Alcorn, TouchPoints: Heaven. (Carol Stream IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 6.

[39] Ezekiel 37:13 ESV.

[40] John 5:28-29 ESV.

[41] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[42] Genesis 1:20, 24, 30, 2:19, 9:12,15;,16; Ezekiel 47:9 (although translators biased toward innate immortality usually translate nefesh chayah as something like “living creatures,” it is the same phrase which refers to humanity in Genesis 2:7.

[43] Dinesh D’Souza, Life After Death: The Evidence . (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2009), 48. “Christianity since Augustine does not espouse life ‘after’ death, but rather life ‘beyond’ death.” D’Sousa attributes this change to the influence of Plato’s writings on Augustine.

[44] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

[45] 1 Corinthians 15:23.

[46] Philippians 3:7-11.

[47] Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8.

[48] Matthew 10:28.

[49] John 6:47, 54; 10:28; 17:3; 1 John 5:11-12.

[50] Matthew 13:46.

[51] Mark 8:35.

[52] Matthew 18:23-35.

[53] Matthew 28:19-20 ESV.

[54] Romans 6:23.

[55] Deuteronomy 30:18.

[56] Psalm 73:27.

[57] Matthew 26:52,

[58] Luke 13:4-5.

[59] 1 John 2:24 NLT.

[60] Titus 2:13.

[61] Matthew 4:23 NLT, see also Mark 9:35.

[62] Matthew 26:13 ESV.

[63] Mark 13:10.

[64] Acts 20:24 KJV.

[65] Romans 1:1.

[66] Romans 1:16 ESV.

[67] 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV.

[68] 1 Corinthians 15:12b ESV.

[69] Paul David Tripp, Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Kindle edition, location 254-287.

[70] Forever, location 416.

[71] 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT.

[72] 1 Corinthians 15:48 ESV.

[73] 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 KJV.

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