Afterlife week 2
Welcome to week 2 of our series called Afterlife. We are looking at the two places that God has prepared “after our life” on earth is done; Heaven and hell. Last week we studied Revelation 21 and we said that heaven is a lot better than we think – the Bible gives us this vivid description of heaven – and it is going to a beautiful dazzling place.
And today, here in just a minute, we’re going to jump into some common questions about heaven. And, this is what I want you to know as we dive into this. The reason why we have questions about heaven, the reasons that these get brought up, is because oftentimes the Bible doesn’t clearly provide an answer to every single question we might come up with concerning heaven. That’s why it’s a question.
And, so I want you to know that when I pose a question, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll actually just tell you, “I don’t know.” But one of the rules in Bible interpretation is that when you come to a complex issue, you first start off and say, “Well, what do we know?” And then you move to what you don’t know.
So, you say, “Well, what is clear from Scripture?” And then let’s move to what is unclear. Let’s start with what is plainly known and then move to what seems to be concealed or unknown. And actually, by doing that then you can begin to employ some Biblical reasoning to some of these question and provide an answer to that – just as long as you’re honest about it.
So, we’re going to dive into some of these questions. The first question is this, “When you die, do you go straight to heaven?
The Bible says that when we die our body goes into the ground. In Genesis chapter 3, verse 19 it says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” So, the Bible says that our bodies go back into the ground, where we came from, and that our bodies and our spirit or our soul, they separate.
There have been some throughout church history who wanted to suggest – what happens to your soul? Does it go into this holding place, or does it fall asleep?
There are some who talk about soul sleep and they get that because the Bible will sometimes refer to the dead as “fallen asleep.” But, it’s important to understand that term is just a euphemism for death.
The reason that we can believe that is because if we go over to another passage, in II Corinthians chapter 5, verses 6 – 8 Paul says, “We are confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. ” So, Paul is saying there that if you know Christ, if you’ve responded to Him, that when your body dies, your spirit immediately goes to be with the Lord.
I take that to be a conscious existence with the Lord, so we will go straight to heaven when we die on this earth.
This brings up another question. Will we know each other in heaven?
I think Scripturally we can answer with a yes we will. In Luke chapter 15 we see that those who are in heaven rejoice over the individual salvation of people. What we get from that, is that heaven takes a great deal of interest in our identities. Jesus would often refer to people who had passed away by name.
One example of that is the beggar Lazarus from Luke chapter 16 which we will look at next week. In Matthew chapter 8, verse 11 Jesus says this, “I tell you many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
So, Jesus is essentially saying here that one day in heaven you’re going to actually sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob and everyone else that you’ve read about in the Bible. You’re just going to get to hang with them for a while. Share a meal.
Just imagine – who are some of your favorite people in the Bible? Maybe it’s Ester, maybe it’s Ruth, or David, or the Apostle Paul – you’re going to get to sit down with them and you’re going to say, “You know I’ve always wondered this David. Why did you do that? What was going through your mind when that happened.”
Or, “What was it like Daniel when you defied the king and were thrown into the lions den?”
And you’re going to have this conversation with them and I think that it is safe to say that if we’re going to know them, even though we’ve never personally met them here on earth, also we’re going to know each other.
In Matthew chapter 17, verses 1–4 we read about Jesus’ transfiguration – that word transfiguration just basically means transformation. He takes the disciples up onto a high mountain, and Jesus shows them His glory and in that passage from Matthew 17 verse one it says, “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.”
Now, the Bible doesn’t indicate that there were any introductions that went on. It wasn’t Jesus saying, “Peter, James, and John this is Moses and Elijah,//// Moses and Elijah, this is Peter, James, & John.” They didn’t do any of these introductions. Moses lived 1,500 years prior to this, and yet it appears as if they knew each other.
Not only do I think that we will have our identity, but I think this – this is really cool – I think for the first time ever you are going to be you, without all of the bad parts about you. Isn’t that awesome?
So, this is more than just even physical – think for just a minute about your personality. Do you have any personality quirks? Man I do. My daughter, Hannah loves to point them out to me.
Maybe some of you have a problem with your anger and you would really love to be done away with that.
Maybe some of you struggle with laziness, or gossip, or insecurities – whatever it may be – in heaven it’s you, but without all of the stuff that kind of drags your personality down. I’m really looking forward to that.
I also think that you’re going to recognize those who you love around you. It’s going to be a great reunion. I think that God’s going to give that to us as a gift. A reunion with those that we love.
This brings up this next, painful question that I have had asked of me several times. If someone I love isn’t in heaven, how will I be able to enjoy heaven?
This is just a very real question that people have had, we talked last week about Revelation 21 that God will wipe the tears from our eyes. That there will be no more grief, no more sorrow. But if I’m in heaven and somebody that I dearly love is not there, then how in the world am I going to be happy? How can I experience no grief and no sorrow?” This is a very complex question. Let me just say – it doesn’t have an easy answer.
There are some who have tried to deal with this question by suggesting that in heaven we’ll lose all memory of our loved ones. I don’t think that’s the case.
There are some who say that when we get to heaven, we won’t even be aware of hell. That will get wiped from our memory. But I don’t that’s consistent with Scripture either.
I think that’s to suggest that our joy in heaven is dependent upon something else other than God – largely ignorance. In other words we won’t miss what we won’t remember. I don’t think the Bible teaches that.
Theologian J. I. Packer offers this explanation to this very difficult question. It’s hard to hear, but I do believe that it is Biblical. Listen to what he says, “In heaven, God will judge justly and we will praise Him for it.”
Now, on this side of eternity with our finite thinking and with our sinful nature, it’s hard for us to know when a judgment is just or not. There are all kinds of other questions and objections that we end up bringing up to that.
But, this is the idea that in heaven we’re going to fully be able to know, and see, and to understand. We’re going to be able to see for the first time that God’s justice is not unfair. It’s not cruel. Certainly, it’s not heartless.
In Romans chapter 1, in Titus chapter 2, it says that God has revealed to everyone His existence and His grace, and given them opportunity to respond so that no one is without excuse. And even right now, God is beckoning your loved ones through His Holy Spirit to respond to Him. And they either receive or reject that.
I think in heaven, we’re going to be overwhelmed by the fact that we deserved hell, and yet, we’ve been given this gift of grace by God.
We’re going to fully come to understand this passage in II Peter 3:9 it says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness to be…” here’s the keyword, “…he is patient toward you , not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
I think we’ve have to understand that as much as it pains us to think that our loved ones might spend eternity without Christ, it pains God more. That He’s actually paid more. He’s felt it more. And, I think more than anything that we’ve got to come to this understanding – don’t let the reality of hell overshadow the joy of heaven. Hell has no power over heaven, and none of its misery will overflow into it.
And so let me just give you this very kind, but gentle challenge. To suggest, “I don’t think I could be happy in heaven without a loved one there,” is to diminish and to doubt the power of God’s promise and what He says He’s preparing for us.
I can’t fully understand exactly how all of this works. I just trust Him. He said there will be no more grief. There will be no more sorrow. It will make sense to you then.
What about this question? What will our bodies be like? Some of you are like, alright now we are getting the important stuff…
And maybe some of you have asked this question, others of you maybe haven’t, but it’s this idea of what will we look like? Well, we know in Revelation chapter 5 and 7 that there will be racial identities.
It says that there will be every tribe and language and nation and tongue represented there. But there’s no separation – there’s no racism there. Just different tribes and nations.
What about our bodies? I don’t think we will be a spirit bouncing around from one cloud to another. I don’t think we will be genderless, no identity, no face – whatever. I think that we will have a new body.
I think that it will be us, just perfected. Philippians chapter 3, verse 20 says, “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.” So we’ll have our identity in the Lord. He’ll restore us back to what we were originally created to be.
I’ve had some people who want to suggest, “You know in heaven everybody is going to be lean, and tan, have six pack abs.” Have you ever heard this? “In heaven calories don’t count.” People will say things like that.
I don’t know. I think we need to be really careful that we don’t impose our western mentality of what beauty and attraction is to heaven. Because, it’s been different in different cultures and different time periods. So we just need to be open to that.
What about this question? Will we age in heaven?
Now, maybe you’ve never thought about that before. But it is a question that has been brought up a lot in church history.
Theologian Thomas Aquinas once suggested that in heaven we will all appear to be the age that Jesus was when He died on the cross. Which would be 33.
Hank Hanegraaff says that our DNA is programmed in such a way that we reach optimal, physical performance in our 20s and 30s. So, in heaven that we’re all going to like the cast of Friends. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know.
The Bible does not speak to this at all. Really, when you start to think about this it’s a little bit of a silly question. The Bible says that our bodies will be perfected, and they will be eternal, and that’s good enough for me.
What about this question? What will our daily lives be like?
Are we going to have enough to do? You know, heaven is going to be awesome for the first six months to a year. But after several millennia, are we going to be bored? Are we going to be looking for things to do?”
I think the answer to that is absolutely not. I think that we will work, we will rest, we will worship, and we will play. In Hebrews chapter 4, verses 1–11, you can look that passage up later, Revelation 14:13 addresses this as well. Revelation 22:1 says that we’ll serve God, which implies all kinds of jobs, but one of the things it says that we’ll get an opportunity to do is that we’ll help God run heaven. I don’t know what that means, but that sounds awesome. I want to run the crane, because here on earth I could never do that job.
Understand this: work, as painful as it can sometimes be in our lives, is not the result of sin. Work existed prior to the fall and we need to understand that. So, I think God will take work and He’ll redeem work. We were made to be productive.
Think about this for a minute, work in your life right now and throughout your life has probably been one of the greatest sources of stress, grief, and struggle, and frustration.
It’s a very painful thing, isn’t it, to be in a job where you don’t enjoy your work. Any of you there right now? You have a boss and you’re just not clicking, or you went through all of this schooling and then you get the job of your dreams and you find out it’s not the job of your dreams.
In heaven, work is going to mean something and serving God in his Kingdom will actually bring us fulfillment in our life.
What about this question? I get this a lot. Will there be pets in heaven? It just got real in here…
Will there be pets in heaven? Very simple answer to this. If you guys are taking notes – dogs, yes. Cats, no. My wife and kids are going to kill me. I’m totally joking. In heaven we’re going to have to have something to hunt. Too far? Too far – sorry.
Hey, this is a legitimate question that I actually want to be very sensitive to because I know that there are many in this room who just love your pets. And, it’s a good gift that God has given to us. They provide companionship and I think that’s something God wants us to enjoy.
So let’s look at this. There are two sides to this. First of all, I think we’ve got to ask this question from the perspective of logic. So, if pets do go to heaven, how do they make the cut? If pets do go to heaven, what gets them in? We know that Jesus said that whoever professes the name of Jesus Christ and believes will go to heaven.
How does a pet do that, exactly? Is it if your pet goes to obedience school? Does that get them into heaven? What if your pet pees on the carpet one too many times, do they go to hell?
It’s just the pets of Christians? What about the pets of Atheists? Is it just the cute, fluffy, domesticate pets – what about the tarantulas and the piranha? You get the idea. Right? How does a pet respond?
Here’s the thing, God did not breathe spiritual life into animals. It doesn’t mean that they’re not a good gift, they’re a good part of creation, they reflect His glory. But, in Ecclesiastes 3:21 Solomon makes it clear that what we have in common with pets is that we have a physical housing that will one day pass away.
The difference though, is that we have a spirit that goes on. Solomon says that God has planted eternity into the human heart. That’s what that means.
So, pets are not eternal, they don’t have souls, they can’t intelligently respond to Jesus. So, based on that, it doesn’t appear Biblically that our pets will be there. – But on the other hand, there will be animals in heaven.
Look at the Book of Revelation and it mentions, lions, calves, leopards, eagles, and bears. Sixteen times in the Book of Revelation horses are mentioned including Revelation 19 when Jesus, Himself rides in on a horse.
And, like on earth, those animals will reflect the goodness, creative ingenuity, and glory of God. Not only that, they won’t be predators. Isaiah chapter 11, verse 6 says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.”
So no more mountain lion attacks, no more shark attack week, all of that goes away. So, really my answer is going to fall into the “I don’t know category.” There is evidence both ways to suggest either side may be true, we will just have to wait and see. You guys can fight it out in the hallway after church.
What about this question? Will people who make deathbed confessions be in heaven?
This is sometimes referred to as a foxhole conversion. This is the idea that that there is a soldier in a foxhole and bullets are buzzing by his head and bombs are going off at his feet and he says, “I better get square with God before I die.” And so he professes Christ right at the last minute. And answering this question, I think we need to be abundantly clear here, that God’s grace can cover anyone, anywhere, anytime – period.
Then we also need to understand this. Scripture is clear that God is the judge of the heart – there is no place for a human to say who is saved and who is not. To make that determination – we need to be very careful.
Now, Scripture does say that you will know them by their fruit. So it’s not to say that we can’t ask the question. But God is the Judge of this.
Two observations here. The first thing is that a death bed confession can most certainly be genuine. We have a good Biblical example of this in Luke chapter 23, verse 42 – the thief on the cross.
The thief on the cross is there, essentially a death bed. He knows that he’s going to die. He wasn’t selfish. He wasn’t looking out just for himself. He said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You go into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Here’s the next thing that we need to keep in balance with this. Statistics say that people who pray a prayer of repentance on their death bed and then they make a full physical recovery, most of them do not go on to live for Christ. This is the idea that there is a difference between just fear based salvation and a transformed life.
This is the idea that a person on their death bed is not just trying to save their hide, but that they love Jesus and there has been a transformation that has taken place. That gets a little muddy. That is a little bit different to discern.
And so what I just say to all of you who have loved ones and loved ones whose health is beginning to fade – take advantage of today. Don’t just make a mad rush to the hospital and say, “We’ve got to get this thing done. We’ve got to seal this deal.”
God can certainly work there and the point isn’t that God’s grace can’t capture them then, it most certainly can. The point is that His grace is ready for them now. That’s why the Bible says over and over again, today is the day of salvation.
And that leads us to the last question on heaven. It’s the most relevant one. It’s the most urgent one. It’s simply this – it’s for you. Will you be there?
Now of all of the questions that you can ask about heaven, that is the most important one. And if I were to ask you if you will be in heaven, and if you can’t answer straight up without stumbling and pausing, “Maybe, I kind of, sort of will. I’ve grown up in church and I’m a good person.”
If you can’t just say straight up, simple, immediate, “Yes, by the grace of Jesus I’ll be there.” Then today is the day of salvation for you. Maybe today is the day where you respond to the grace of God.