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Life after Life after Death

Updated: May 7

Everything Jesus Taught about Heaven

Week Three

April 28, 2024

The Rev. Megan Collins

We’ve been in a series called Everything Jesus Taught about Heaven. We’re trying to see if what we may have thought about heaven lines up with what the Bible really teaches. So far we have looked at what Jesus taught about hell (and how it isn’t at all what we thought it was). Last week we asked the question where is heaven, and saw how heaven is, well, here. 

Today we are going to talk more about what happens when we die. It probably wouldn’t surprise you that what movies and tv shows tell us about what happens after you die and about heaven isn’t often based on the Bible.  It turns out what we may have heard in church growing up or from other Christians isn't necessarily in the Bible either. 

Before we jump in, I'll offer a reminder. The Biblical texts we are dealing with do not provide literal, clear answers on any of this. When we read about death and heaven and eternity in Jesus’ teachings and the rest of the New Testament, it’s full of images and metaphors. At best, we’ll work through these teachings together and learn what we can. But at the end of the day, that’s all it is, our best attempt at understanding these teachings. It’s all about trusting God with the details. 

But still . . . we’re curious. What happens when we die?

There’s actually more than one answer to this that we’ll need to talk about. The New Testament talks about life after death, but it talks a whole lot more about life after life after death. That second one, at least to me, is even more exciting to think about. Before we look more about the second one, let’s look first not at what Jesus taught about life after death, but what it looked like for him. We know from the gospel writers that Jesus died a very real death. He was crucified, which was the painful and public way they killed criminals, and then his body was placed in a tomb. This is a hard part of our Bible story. It’s graphic and can be painful to read. But there is comfort in it too, because there is nothing in your life, not even death, that Jesus hasn’t also faced. We forget sometimes when we think about death that God knows what it feels like to die. We believe, as Christians, that death wasn’t the end of the story, but that Jesus then rose from the dead. Then, he started talking to people. That’s where our story in Luke 24 picks up, when Jesus appears to a bunch of his followers. 

Luke 24:36-43

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 

Jesus had been dead. They had seen him. But now he is standing in the middle of the room. Jesus who was dead is now alive and standing there right in front of them. Then he says this:

39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.

Jesus is really clear here: He is not a ghost. He is in a physical body. He has hands and feet. They can touch him. He has flesh and bones, just like they do. 

 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

Even though they can see him, they still don’t believe he is really there, in a body. His followers are still thinking he might be at least part ghost. So he proves he is alive . . . by eating a piece of fish in front of them.

I really do think Jesus had a good sense of humor. He could have done lots of things to prove he was a real body. He could have asked them to feel his pulse or listen to his breath. That would have been such a beautiful moment, with the disciples drawing in close to place their hands on his heart and feel it beat, or feeling the warmth of his breath. But instead, he has them sit and watch him eat an entire piece of smelly broiled fish to prove he is alive. When Jesus lived after death, he wasn’t a disembodied spirit. He was in a body, with flesh and bones and a clearly intact sense of humor and a stomach to eat broiled fish. 

We believe we will have all of this too. 

In 1 Corinthians 15 it says 

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

In other words, what Jesus did, we will also do. This might be different than what you have heard before. We tend to picture ourselves as a floaty spirit being when we talk about eternal life. But that’s not what Jesus did. The word resurrection means a literal rising of the physical body. You and I, we will rise from the dead. In a body. If you want to read more about that later, keep reading in 1 Corinthians 15 because it talks more about what that might mean. Before we move on, maybe you are thinking, “Wait . . . this body? I’m not really looking to bring this body with me into eternity.” We don’t know specifics but we do believe that our bodies, while it is still us, will be changed, set free from disease and decay. 

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 

If your knee is aching now, it certainly won’t in the resurrection. 

A physical body is what we believe about life after life after death. We believe in resurrection not just for our bodies, but for the whole created world. We’ll come back to it in a minute. But first, this bodily resurrection, it is clearly not happening right now. We know that. The people we love who have died are not sitting in the same room with us, in a physical body - not yet.  So what happens now?

What happens in the in-between time, the time right after you die until the day we have this promised physical resurrection? 

Jesus has something to say about that too. In Luke 23:42-43 he says 

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Today you will be with me in paradise, not someday, not years from now, today. If Jesus said that to the thief, we can trust it is true for each of us. 

We don’t have a lot of information about what this paradise looks like. But we do have this passage from John 14:1-4:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’

This word for rooms is sometimes translated mansions. (This is too funny). It seems if we are going to be somewhere for eternity, we think it better be in a nicer house than the one we have now! But in the Greek, this word for rooms doesn’t mean a mansion. It is an abiding or dwelling place. This word is only used in John 14, where it is used twice. There is a sense to this word that it might be more of a temporary resting place, a place where a traveler would rest on a journey. But the most important part of this passage isn’t trying to figure out what the furniture will look like in paradise. It’s about the relationship. “Where I am, there you may be also.”  Where Jesus is, we will be there too. We don’t know much more than that. There is not a picture of exactly what this dwelling place will be. But what we do know is that in this paradise, in these rooms, Jesus will be there. We will be Him. 

What is life after death? What happens right after we die? We are with Jesus. 

Jesus doesn’t talk much more about it. Maybe that’s because all we need to know is we’ll be with him. So now let’s talk about life after life after death, the resurrection, the time when we follow in Jesus’ steps. 

For this part of the conversation, we’ll also bring in the book of Revelation. If you thought Jesus liked images and metaphors, the book of Revelation LOVES them. It can be a tricky book for that reason. There’s trumpets and horses and scrolls. There’s even a dragon at one point. Interpreting this complicated book is way more than we can do today. But Revelation tells us something really important about resurrection life. 

God’s plan is not to come and rescue God’s people and take them away.  

God’s ultimate plan is to have heaven, here.

Look at Revelation 21:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,‘See, the home of God is among mortals.He will dwell with them;they will be his peoples,and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed away.’And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

A new earth. A holy city, right here among us. God’s dwelling place among the people. No more death, no more grief, no more pain. Everything is . . . new. Everything is good.  We don’t know when, but we know this is what we are told is coming. We believe that just like Jesus came once before, here on the earth, He will come again. He won’t come to take us away. He will come here, just like he came as a baby in Bethlehem, and this time he will restore everything to the good it was intended to be. Everything that is wrong will be made right. On that day, we will be here too, in bodies. It's both redemption and resurrection. Maybe that day is tomorrow. Maybe it’s a billion years from now. We have no idea when this will be (and don’t for a second believe the people who think they do know). 

Here’s why this matters for today. Believing that heaven will be here, on earth, that we will be here in redeemed bodies and with a redeemed planet, means that all of this . . . it matters. There are Christians out there who will say we can burn down the earth and destroy the environment and hurt other people and ignore social justice because this is all just a temporary home. They say that trying our best to fix things up here is like arranging the chairs on the titanic. They’re wrong. 

This world matters to God. God was there from the very beginning. God said this world is good. God created us and loved us. Jesus healed sick bodies. He fed people who were hungry. He fought tirelessly against the unjust systems humans had created. This is completely incompatible with the idea that all of this doesn’t really matter, that our bodies and our world and our systems don’t matter.

This world matters now, and will matter for eternity.

The people here matter, and will matter for eternity.

If you keep reading in Revelation, it talks more about this holy city. It describes a time when  the glory and honor of each of the nations will be brought into the city. Now, this is again a passage full of imagery and metaphor so we are stepping outside of clear answers. But it seems in this image of heaven on earth that the best stuff from here - the art and the literature and the music, the way people changed the world to be more just - that perhaps the best things on earth have a place in this eternity too. Revelation's city image suggests that life after death isn’t one long church service. (Some of you just got interested). It’s a city. Some theologians speculate this means we won’t just rest and sing songs but that we will have good and meaningful work to do together. 

Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly like that, the good things we create and do now have have a purpose. They help show the people around us a glimpse of what God intended. We can’t bring about the resurrection and final redemption of all things just by doing the very best we can or by trying our very hardest. Only God can set all things right. But we can be a part of what God is doing in the world. When we do that, we help other people see how God is at work.

What did Jesus teach us about heaven? Maybe not as much as we would like. But we do learn this:

Ultimate resurrection is a true bodily resurrection. 

The final redemption is about redeeming and putting right this world, which means this world, and our lives here, matter.

Until then, after we die, we get to be with God

We'll conclude with the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.

That is resurrection hope.


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