Thursday, November 5, 2009

Heaven or Resurrection?

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about death, heaven, and resurrection:

Q:  I’ve always believed that our souls go to heaven when we die, but recently, I heard that our bodies will be resurrected.  What can we expect after death?

There is often a lot of confusion about what happens after we die, and many ideas, both true and false are circulating in the world.  There are some things we simply don’t know about what awaits us after this life (such as what we will look like, how old we will be, or when Jesus will come back), but there are also several things that we can know with certainty because they have been explained in the Bible.

God created people to have both a body and a soul, but when Adam and Eve sinned, death became a reality, and at death, the body and the soul of a person are separated.  The body remains on earth and is buried or cremated, and the soul goes either to be with Jesus or to eternal punishment. 

Much of what we know about what awaits us after this life, comes from Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  There, Jesus shows us that we will maintain our individual identities after death, and not simply cease to exist or be absorbed into the universe collectively. 

Additionally, He reveals that our condition is permanently and eternally determined at death.  This is also explained in Hebrews 9:27, when it says, “It is given man once to die, then to face judgment.”  This also rules out the idea of reincarnation, which proposes that we are brought back as another person or animal to live life again, as well as the myth depicted in popular television and literature that some souls roam the planet haunting the living or attempting to reconcile unfinished business after death.

From the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as well as from chapters 4-6 of Revelation, we find out that we will most likely be aware of the events occurring on earth after our departure.  At the same time, these events will not cause us disappointment or sorrow, nor will they be the center of our attention.  Instead, it will be the worship of God and the experience of His presence that will occupy our time and thoughts. 

We also know from what Jesus teaches about marriage in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, that we will not be married or have children after this life.  This is why people are free to remarry after the death of their spouse, and it is reflected in the wedding vows used in most churches when they promise to be faithful “until death parts us.”

When we talk about going to heaven, what we mean is that our soul goes to be with Jesus after we die, and the things mentioned above are all part of the state we typically think of when we talk about going to heaven.  Often people’s understanding of death, and the existence that follows it, stops at this point, but we don’t just “die and go to heaven.”  There is more to the story. 

The third day after Jesus died, He rose to life again, and 40 days later, He ascended into heaven.  At that time, and previously throughout the Gospels, Jesus had promised that He was going to come again.  We are still waiting for this Second Coming happen, and when it does, it will turn a new page in the existence of those who have died. 

When Jesus comes back, He will raise all people who have died, and their bodies and souls will be reunited.  Everyone who trusted in Him to forgive their sins and save them from their well-deserved punishment will live forever in a “new heavens and new earth.” (Isaiah 65-66, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 21) This new heaven and earth will not be like the one we now know, with its sorrows, difficulties, and pains.  Instead, it will be perfect, the way God intended when He first created the world before Adam and Eve sinned. 

In short, the timeline of existence after death looks like this:  A person’s body and soul are separated at death.  The souls of those who trust in Jesus will go to be with Him in heaven, and the souls of those who reject Him will go to eternal punishment.  One day in the future, Jesus will come back, raising all people from death and reuniting their souls with perfected bodies.  Those who trust in Jesus will live forever in these resurrected bodies in a new heaven and new earth.

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