“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hope Part II

In the previous posts, I have covered a lot of ground as regards God's providence, and the subject of death and dying. I now would like to close out this series by finally looking at the great hope that Christians have - ‘Our Eschatological Hope’.

Three things I would like to cover in this post:

o What is the physical resurrection?
o What is heaven?
o How does the Reality of our Hope manifest itself in our life now?


As I said last post, we simply cannot understand eternal life, death, dying or suffering without having a Biblical understanding of these terms. So, we have looked at providence, we have looked at suffering, we have looked at death and now we look at the final state of man.

So, let us start by looking at two passages of Scripture that will set the tone for the rest of the post.

Romans 8:18 – 25 -- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

1st Corinthians 15:50 – 58 -- I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.


PHYSICAL RESURRECTION

What is the final state of the believer and unbeliever. I am not discussing the spiritual state exclusively, but also the physical state. Well, we see in these passages, and in many others, that there will be a physical resurrection. When people think of heaven and the eternal state, they have a tendency to think of chubby little Hallmark angels and clouds as opposed to the Biblical concept of heaven being a place inhabited by people with bodies; physical bodies.

Paul clearly and unambiguously states that we will be raised into glorified bodies, not dwelling for eternity in some sort of ethereal, gauzy existence. And we will dwell on a New Earth and in a New Heaven, in our glorified bodies, serving, worshiping and dwelling in the presence of our God forever.

When a believer dies, they are taken into the presence of the Lord in a spiritual state – as Jesus told the thief on the cross -- "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." And we also find this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – Lazarus is carried away in the bosom of Abraham to heaven. So, when we initially depart from this plane of existence, we will be in heaven, but we will not be complete; the culmination of our resurrection will happen when the Lord returns, and soul and body are reunited in a glorified and perfected state.

1st Thessalonians 4:15 – 17 -- For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Even those who are alive when Jesus Christ returns will die in a sense, as their mortal bodies put on immortality, and their perishable dirt sacks are replaced with imperishable perfected bodies. So, yes, Virginia, there is a physical resurrection – and those who have departed first, those dead in Christ are raised first, and then those remaining will be translated into immortality.

The unbeliever will also be raised, but tragically, it will not be to bodies that have been glorified and perfected and in the presence of God forever, but to bodies that are bound for hell and pain. The unbeliever will be cast into the Lake of Fire with Satan and His minions, and there their worm will never die. They will forever be plagued with suffering – a suffering that is caused by being unprotected from God’s Wrath by the only mediator that is accepted, Jesus Christ.

WHAT IS HEAVEN?

So now we know that there will be a physical resurrection, but where will we be dwelling in our perfected bodies? Well, we will be dwelling in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And while there is a difference of opinion in how this new creation will take place, whether or not God will actually do away with the old creation completely, or simply restore and regenerate the old I will leave up to a discussion at a later date.

In the Revelation, as John was given the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth, his descriptions were marked with the presence of jewels and crystal clear gold, and precious stones. It is obvious that John was trying to find words that would describe the beauty of heaven. What we do know is that it will be beyond anything that we can dream of, or imagine in this life.

"OK, so it is beautiful; but what and where is it?" Well, I think Wayne Grudem says it well “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless.” We know that God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at all times in a way that we cannot understand, but He has always had places where He especially manifested His presence – in Israel it was the Tabernacle for example. So, Heaven will be the locus (if I may use that word) of His presence.

Will we recognize loved ones when we enter into this blessed place? Well, all I will tell you is this – Peter and the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah when they spoke with Jesus, and the disciples recognized Jesus Himself after His resurrection. What does that tell you?

HOW DOES THIS MANIFEST ITSELF NOW?

So, we have taken a brief look at heaven, the resurrection from the dead, and now we must ask ourselves, how should this knowledge impact our life in the here and now? Is there any impact in our lives? Well, let me put forth a few ideas quickly for you.

Colossians 3:1 – 4 -- If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

If you have been raised with Christ – if you are truly one of God’s children, what should you set your mind on? It is a sad truth that we Christians are as worldly and materialistic as the basest of pagans. We strive for, get consumed with, and suffer from, the same desires as the world. We do not set our minds on the things that are above. Yet, if we truly understand and believe the truth about our eschatological hope, should we not be a people who have their gaze fixed on the things above? What goes into your mind, what do you watch on TV, what do you desire above all other things?

Philippians 3:20, 21 -- But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Are you anxiously awaiting our Lord and Savior, do you live as though He could return at any time? Do you recognize that your citizenship is in heaven, above and beyond the earthly ties of citizenship – can you identify with the body of Christ around the world, or are you a person who is xenophobic and hateful towards those outside the pale of your earthly citizenship? We who are in Christ are all citizens of the same place!

Matthew 6:19 – 21 -- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Like the Colossians passage, this one stresses that we are not to store up things on this earth, but store up our treasures in heaven. Do you do that? Are you storing up your treasures in heaven – are you living in and for Jesus Christ, or are you abusive and self-centered, grabbing all the gusto in this life, to the detriment of your family; are you willing to get that promotion at work through the denigration of someone else; are you socking away all of your grain in the barn, to the neglect of God?

He speaks of a man like that in Luke 12:16 – 21 -- And he told them a parable, saying, The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Brothers and sisters, the siren song of worldly goods and desires beckons to us constantly and tirelessly, and it is hard to ignore that call. Let us keep our mind fixed on the things above, anxiously awaiting the glorious return of our Savior, praying that the Holy Spirit would strengthen and guide us through the rocks and shoals of this world’s treacherous and deceptive waters. And may we all say, Maranatha – Come Lord, Jesus!

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