Saturday, March 05, 2016

What is our afterlife like?

For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.1
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. John 14:2,3

The average Christian seems to make an assumption that heaven is the end of the road when we die. However, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a temporary abode—that Christ intends to come back to the world and rule in Jerusalem, bringing us back from heaven to earth.2 Geographically, the area of Jerusalem is to change drastically, so drastically that only the sovereign and omnipotent Creator-God could possible effect the changes. Read the words of Zechariah, the prophet, made so many years ago: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south (Zech. 14:4). In other words, a great valley will exist, running east and west, with the mountain range being split in two to accommodate the valley. Zechariah also lets us know that a river of what he calls the living waters will flow through this valley, both in east and west divisions.

How long will this earth last? Revelation, six times, tells us that it will last for a period of one thousand years: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6). In discussing this passage with fellow believers, I have found it often postulated that these thousand years are not to be taken literally, as the Bible nowhere else refers to them. Such a view is dangerous, as it is always dangerous to try to gainsay what God takes the time to say six times.

We are not told just how big this split is, but the valley must be enormous, for in the creation of the new heaven and new earth, which comes after the thousand years, we are told that the size of the city is about 1,500 miles. Perhaps the split is somewhat comparable because the new size of Jerusalem must be large enough to accommodate all the saints that are there. Interestingly, we are told that there is one mountain left in Jerusalem, and the prophets refer to the mountain left many times:
1. And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.
Obadiah 21
2. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Micah 4:2
3. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:9

So, evidently one mountain, where the Lord resides, is left in the middle of the valley. The mountain, in the midst of a new large valley, stands as a beacon directly the paths of other nations. We are told that other nations will visit Jerusalem each year in Zechariah 14: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (14:16). People of other nations will pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and will bring tribute to honor the Lord. In so doing, the Bible says that they will be blessed, and have their needed seasonal rains.

But what will we be doing there? I have a Christian friend who once lamented to me that he hoped God had a solitary cabin built for him, as he was unfit to feel right in the company of others. I reminded my friend that God intends to remake us into what we ought to be, rather than how we now find ourselves. Perhaps the best part of being there is that we will, for the first time, find ourselves as we ought to be, and as Lewis brings out so poignantly in The Great Divorce, we will live and be in reality with all of our illusions gone. Alcorn says, “God will not scrap his original creation and start over. Instead, he will take his fallen, corrupted children and restore, refresh, and renew us to our original design.”3 I do think my friend, or myself, for that matter, ought not to worry about the place God puts us, as I believe he will remake us exactly for that place.

I used to worry too much about everything being the same—sort of being in a massive place of socialism, with all the workers or worshippers being the same, replicated ad nauseam, but then I looked at the creative power of our God. Has he not made each of us differently? And does he not love each of us specially? Does he not signal that special love by giving each of us a unique name that no other man knows? A God who is infinite, at the least, has infinite ability to express a Father’s love to each of his children. I have no doubt that we will have manifestations of socialism, with each of us eager to carry one another’s burden, but I think that is as it should be, and will be without the sacrifice of being special and unique, a work of God. There is the bema seat of Christ, where crowns are given away as rewards, noticing the differences in us, and rewarding the faithful among us. We know that there is a crown of life, but there also is a crown of martyrdom, and recognition of those who have lived their lives of faith. And yet, elsewhere the Bible says that we will cast all our crowns at his feet, realizing that everything that we have, say, or do is because of his magnificent grace.

The Bible says that we will become like him, for we shall see him as he is. I used to think about my special doctrines, that when I at last made the afterlife, I could find out whether I was right, or someone else was right. But as I reflect on the glory to come, my best guess is that doctrine will become secondary, for in seeing him as he is, what else could possibly matter to us? Only that everyone there knows the Lord, and is filled, just as I am, with his glory, and are forever transferred into his image.

We will have new bodies, and will eat without teeth ever being worn out, or wrinkles ever coming, and most importantly we will not have pain or need. The Bible says that we will judge men and angels. I feel now like I could never do that, and perhaps it is the humility that I do live with, seeing others as better than myself. There are many people in the world without Christ who do good things every day, and I find it hard to judge them. But today I am not to be their judge, but rather to be their light, praying for the Spirit, if by any means they might be saved. In that day, the age of grace will be ended, and those who persist in their wickedness will find themselves judged, and judged righteously. Lewis reminds us, “Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it.”4 In that day I am convinced we will more fully understand both the justice and the love of God. (See 1 Cor. 6:2 & 3)

And I am afraid I will have to get rid of my default retirement jeans, 501’s, in favor of white robes. I do think the white robes are representative of our being made righteous, but they appear too often for me to think they will be less than literal. Our dietary needs will be taken care of with the living waters flowing out from the city and the tree with its monthly fruits. The leaves of that tree are to be used for healing of the nations, perhaps indicating that they have medicinal value, and I wonder if their application will have aught to do with our priestly duties.

All of this is but transitory, lasting a mere thousand years, but after that, God promises a new heaven and a new earth. We will be given a new Jerusalem that will measure more than 1,500 miles, an awesome construct to hold perhaps billions of Christians. The most amazing thing about afterlife to me is that the God of the universe singularly cares for and loves me so much so to make a special niche just for me. I certainly shall never tire of that which he has planned for me. He did not create heaven for me to linger in more than a moment, but instead he has deemed that he himself would become a servant to us, making a fit place of the old earth for a bit, and then surprising us with a new place, beyond all of our conception, but created especially for us. Reminding us of this astounding fact, Alcorn writes, “This is a picture of God’s ultimate plan—not to take us up to live in a realm made for him, but to come down and live with us in the realm he made for us.”5

There are many unanswered questions of course. What will the day to day experience of being with Jesus be like? How shall I be changed? What will seeing Jesus as he really is do, specifically? I am most interested in what I might learn—indeed in the learning process itself. I think, but am not sure, that I will still know in part, with regard to the knowledge of creation. I will know him, and that will wonderful, but I still find myself wondering if books and learning and teaching will comprise part of heaven. But that is probably because reading is my favorite activity, and I am a retired teacher. It is perhaps natural for me to wonder about these things, but it is a walk of faith not to be caught up in the “particulars”, but instead to have my eyes upon my Lord. The questions, or the particulars, ought not weigh us down so that we do not have our eyes upon our mission here.

And what, in view of all these things, ought we to be doing? Believing that there is an eternal destiny for every man ought to be enough for us to refocus on the Great Commission. There is no time like now to be giving to the world the picture of the Lord that he has shared with us. God is alive and well, and even after 2,000 years these things will come to pass exactly as foretold. Work hard, for the days are shorter than when we first believed.

1. Lewis, C. S. (2009-06-03). Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 41). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. That we will be in heaven for a time is brought out in many verses, but particularly in Jude 14, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” We are obviously returning with Christ to earth from being in heaven with him.
3. Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 2285-2286). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4. Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). The Great Divorce (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 140). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
5. Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 1085-1087). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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