If someone asked you what happens after you die, what would you say? Do you really know what you believe, or what the Bible teaches about the afterlife?
I remember learning about death as a child. I think it was around my grandfather's funeral when I was eight or nine. That's the first time I saw a dead body. I saw him in the casket, looking so fake. I remember all my family members being sad. The preacher said that my grandfather was now with the Lord. I thought, "Well, at least part of him is still in that casket!"
When I talked with my mom, she tried to explain that when we die, we go to be with Jesus, but it's spiritual. So we don't have a body like we do here. I thought to myself, that's the most boring thing I could imagine! Everything I like about earth is something that I can see, taste, or touch. Spiritual things sure didn't seem very fun.
Now, mom was right... sort of. 2 Corinthians 5 says that when we are absent from the body, we're present with Christ. So when Christians die, our souls do immediately enter the presence of Jesus, and our bodies stay on earth and decompose. And we have to believe that's better than the pain and brokenness that we experience here. But it's not our ultimate hope.
Truth is, a lot of us don't really get excited when we think about heaven. We like it here. Life is good! We're comfortable. When we think about Jesus coming back, it feels more disruptive than anything. Rather than anticipation or joy, it brings feelings of sadness and despair. I think that's evidence that we've distorted our understanding of heaven and what happens after death. Let me show you a few things that could help to clarify the hope that the Bible shows us.
Searching for answers
At The Bridge, we've been teaching through Romans 8. Verse 19 says that "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." That's significant because it means that creation will participate in our salvation. We won't just be floating around in an ethereal cloud. We will see, taste, touch, and smell in a way that we can't imagine right now!
1. Our destination will be a physical reality.
It'll be a lot like life here, only completely redeemed and restored. And creation - sun, moon, stars, animals, insects, grass, trees, mountains - it waits in eager expectation for it to happen. The Hebrew literally says that creation "cranes its neck forward." One translation says that creation "stands on tiptoe" waiting to see what God is going to do in His children.
Paul goes on to say that creation was "subjected to frustration" - a reference to the curse upon the ground in Genesis 3. But that God subjected it in hope, meaning that He didn't curse the ground out of cruelty, or to be destructive. He did it with a plan to one day redeem it. One day, creation will be "liberated from its bondage to decay." God will abolish the law of entropy! No longer will things naturally break down and decay.
2. The universe will one day be governed by a new law. A better law.
Paul goes on to say that creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay to be "brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." When I read this, I tend to picture the children of God being brought into the freedom and glory of a new creation. But that's not what it says. Creation will be brought into the freedom and glory of God's children. What does that mean?
Have you ever stood in awe at a landscape? An ocean view, a mountain scene, or a sunset? In high school, I traveled to Europe and got to see the Swiss Alps. I remember stepping off a gondola and taking in a breathtaking view of a mountain. I was stunned. There are no words that can describe the beauty I saw. And there are no words to describe just how small I felt. I think this passage means that one day, creation will feel that way looking at God's children.
3. When God renovates the universe, He'll start with His children.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, "For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." The passage goes on, "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven... and so we will be with the Lord forever." That's our forever! Jesus will return, and those who have placed their faith in Him will be raised just like He was and receive a new, incorruptible, immortal body just like He did.
4. God's first step will be to give us a new body, one that doesn't ache or break down or sputter out.
God has an incredible plan for His children. All creation is standing on tiptoe waiting to see it unfold. Shouldn't we live with a sense of anticipation? One of the craziest lies that Satan could throw at us is that heaven could be boring. Can we just admit how absurd that is? Everything good about our lives will only get better in heaven. Everything bad about our lives will cease to exist.
If we don't live with our destination in mind, we will inevitably become discouraged or distracted along the way. Our hope is far too sure and far too glorious to become enamored with or disheartened by this old place.