EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - LIFE AFTER DEATH

THE BIBLE
Can we trust a book written 2000 years ago?

EYEWITNESS
Did the writers of the New Testament get their picture of Jesus right?

GOD - MAN
Is Jesus really God?

RESURRECTION
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

RELIGIONS
With so many religions, why Christianity?

SUFFERING
If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?

TRINITY
Understanding the Trinity.

SCIENCE
The complementary nature of Science & Christianity.

FORGIVENESS
What it is and why it matters?

GUIDANCE
How does God guide?

REPENTANCE
What it is and why you can't get to heaven without it.

BORN AGAIN
What does it mean to be converted and born again?

SAVING FAITH
The kind of faith that will get you to heaven

ASSURANCE
Can I know for sure that I am going to heaven?

TRUTH
What is truth and does it matter?

MORALITY
Does it matter how we live? A Christian view of morality.

THE CHURCH
God's vision for his family, the Church. A call to the churches of the new millennium.

PURPOSE
How can I find a great purpose for living?

IDENTITY
Who am I; Finding my true identity as a human being and as a child of God.

SELF-ESTEEM
How can I feel good about my self? The Christian basis for proper sel-esteem.

LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.

THE CROSS
Why did Jesus Die? What the Bible says about the Cross.

Grace
The importance of grace in the New Testament.

 

Resurrection, not reincarnation

Paul finishes his first letter to the Thessalonians with the prayer, “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The Bible distinguishes between the soul—the real living me that inhabits this body; the spirit—the part of me that distinguishes me from mere animal life and enables me to have a relationship with God, who is spirit (John 4:24); and the body, through which my soul and personality is outwardly expressed. However, each of these parts of my nature are vitally connected and important in making me who I am. We are people, not parts. In this respect Christianity differs from dualistic ideas that find expression in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, where the body is regarded as something evil in which we are imprisoned and from which we must eventually escape. In this view, which surfaces in much of New Age teaching, we go through many cycles of reincarnation, returning again and again to new bodies in this world. If we are fortunate, by good works and enlightenment we may eventually escape this bondage to our earthly bodies and be absorbed into Nirvana.

It is this transformation of the whole person, body included, in our future existence which is one of the distinctives of Christianity. Bruce Nicholls, in Is Jesus the Only Way to God?, puts it as follows:

Hindus may believe in many avatars, descents of God to earth; they may venerate the cross as an act of self-denial and self-sacrifice, which is a Hindu ideal, but they have no answer to the resurrection of the body. If Jesus is the only way to God, it is because the salvation of the person, body and spirit, is a hope profoundly different from all other religious hope. It gives a new dimension to salvation not found anywhere else. It is true that Muslims hope for the resurrection but as a recovery of the pleasures of this life, and certainly not to be transformed into the glory of the image of the risen Christ.

In Genesis 1 we read seven times that everything God created was good. That includes the human body. This is emphasised in the New Testament. When we put our trust in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, then our bodies become the “temple” in which he dwells and through which he longs to express something of his own character. “Surely you know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own. God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honour God” (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).

Apologist Ravi Zacharias, in an article in Christianity Today, speaking of the New Testament emphasis on “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), also emphasises this uniqueness of Christianity:

There is no other world religion or worldview that talks in those terms. In Islam, Allah is seen as distant and totally transcendent. In Buddhism, there is no god. In the core of Hindu thinking, you are, in effect, made to become god. But in the Christian faith, there is the nearness of God. We do not go to the Temple any more to worship; we take the temple with us. This body is the temple of the living God. There is communion. There is intimacy. We understand that this body is where God wishes to make His residence, and we see the sacredness of the human body.

It matters, therefore, how we treat our bodies. It is for this reason that Paul argues for sexual purity. “We are not supposed to do indecent things with our bodies. We are to use them for the Lord who is in charge of our bodies. God will raise us from death by the same power that he used when he raised our Lord to life. Don’t you know that your bodies are part of the body of Christ? Is it right for me to join part of the body of Christ to an immoral woman? No, it isn’t” (1 Corinthians 6:13–15).

Christianity, therefore, speaks not of reincarnation, escape from the body, but of resurrection, the recreation of the body. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul uses two metaphors for this process: that of leaving a tent (a temporary dwelling) for a new permanent house, and that of putting on a new suit of clothes. It is worth quoting this passage in full:

Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live.

These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever. While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked. These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. God is the one who makes all this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it. So always be cheerful!

As long as we are in these bodies we are away from the Lord. But we live by faith, not by what we see. We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord. But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him. After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or bad that we do while living in these bodies” (2 Corinthians 5:1–10).

It is interesting that in Romans 8, where Paul speaks of our adoption as “sons of God” through receiving the indwelling Spirit (v. 15), he goes on to say that this adoption will one day include “the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). James Packer, in I Want To Be a Christian, sums up the New Testament idea of resurrection in these words:

The raising of the body means the restoring of the person—not just part of me—to active, creative and undying life for God and with God.

This means, of course, that if we mess up this life, we don’t get another shot at it in some future existence in this world, as is the view of those who hold to a belief in reincarnation. The Bible is very clear on this. For instance, in discussing the uniqueness and finality of Christ’s “once for all” death for our sins, a death that never will, or can, be repeated, the writer of Hebrews compares it to our “once for all” death. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (Hebrews 9:27, 28).

The guarantee of resurrection

In the New Testament it is always the resurrection of Jesus that is presented as the guarantee of the resurrection of the believer. Take for instance this statement of Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians: “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). In the booklet Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? I have explored the historical evidence for the  resurrection of Jesus. Here I would like to focus on the significance and nature of his resurrection.

One of today’s leading New Testament scholars, Tom Wright, gave an address Easter and the Launch of the Church: an exposition of Luke 24 at a conference on The Future of Anglicanism, in which he spelled out four ways the resurrection of Jesus radically changed the views of the first disciples. These four modifications are evident in the earliest Christian writings, in Paul through to Revelation, in Clement and Ignatius through to Justin, Tertullian and Irenaeus—in other words in the major theologians of the first two centuries of Christianity.

First, “resurrection” is far more central to early Christianity than it ever was to Judaism. Wright, who is also a good historian, sums up very well the perspective of first-century Judaism on life after death and it is worth quoting him at some length:

Judaism had a wide spectrum of belief about life beyond death, but increasingly in the second-Temple period the Pharisaic belief in resurrection, based on Daniel 12 and Isaiah 26, and sometimes also on Ezekiel 37, gained ground and became mainstream. The Sadducees and probably others too disputed it, apparently denying all post mortem existence. Many Jews copied the platonic world of hellenism and believed in a disembodied blissful immortality. Resurrection was one point on a spectrum of belief; and it was a revolutionary doctrine. It went with the belief that God would vindicate Israel, would release it from slavery to paganism, would restore it to the pre-eminence it had under David and Soloman. ‘Resurrection’ could function as a metaphor for this restoration, as in Ezekiel; it could also function as a metonym for restoration, with the bodily resurrection of all God’s people as one part of the whole package. And belief in the resurrection was grounded, again and again in the literature, on two others: first, the belief in Israel’s God as the creator of the world, who would therefore restore his good creation; second, the belief in Israel’s God as the God of justice, who would bring justice to the world and would raise the dead so that the righteous could be rewarded and the wicked punished.

But the details of what precisely the resurrection body would be like were never spelled out.

However, when we come to the New Testament, the idea of bodily resurrection is no longer one point on a spectrum of belief. There is no part of the New Testament writings after the resurrection of Jesus had occurred, where his death and resurrection are not central to the whole message.

Second, “resurrection” for the first Christians was now a two-stage event: Jesus the Messiah as the first-fruits, then all his people, and perhaps all people, at the end, when he returns. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The idea that one individual would be raised to life and that this resurrection would be the guarantee of a future resurrection of others is never found in Jewish literature of that time. Yet, it is the very foundation of the first, and all subsequent, Christian writings. As Daniel Reid and Tremper Longman put it in an article ‘When God Declares War’, in Christianity Today, “The Resurrection is the first line of a new song that will one day enfold the cosmos”.

The idea that Jesus would be raised from the dead prior to the ingathering of the major harvest at the general resurrection when Christ returned was not a new idea to God, though it certainly was for the disciples. It was anticipated by the seven [8]  major feasts of the Jewish year which God had spelled out to his chosen people when he met with them in the desert at Mount Sinai, after their escape from Egypt twelve hundred years before (Leviticus 23).

PASSOVER and the FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS. These were held during the first Jewish month Nisan. Passover was a celebration of their deliverance from slavery to the Egyptians, when a lamb was sacrificed and the blood sprinkled on the doorposts of each home. It appears that Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:36; Revelation 5:6) who came to deliver us from a far greater slavery, slavery to sin, would have been hanging on the cross when the passover lambs were being offered in the Temple (see John 18:28). Passover was immediately followed by the Feast of Firstfruits, when the first sheaves of the barley harvest were offered in the temple. The barley ripened earlier than other crops. The main harvest was yet in the future. Jesus is the “firstfruits” to rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20) as he is the one who anticipates and guarantees the greater harvest yet to come.

The FEAST OF WEEKS or PENTECOST. This feast was held seven weeks later at the beginning of the third month Siwan. This marked the beginning of the main harvest. In the New Testament, the giving of the Holy Spirit occurred during this feast (Acts 2). The harvest of  proclaiming the gospel message and gathering in the converts began on this day.

For the next four months no feasts were held as everyone was busy gathering the harvest of fruit and crops. We are now living in the period of harvest and it is the prime responsibility of the Christian church to be involved in “bringing in the sheaves” (Matthew 9:37, 38; John 4:35-37).

The FEAST OF TRUMPETS, the DAY OF ATONEMENT, and the FEAST OF TABERNACLES. These three events all occurred in the seventh month, Tisri, and marked the end of the harvest. The Feast of Trumpets was celebrated on the first day of the month. It is significant that in the New Testament the blowing of the trumpet is three times associated with the return of Christ and the raising of the dead (Matthew 24:30, 31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). This will mark the end of the spiritual harvest, gathered in through the preaching of the gospel, and will focus on the harvest that the Lord himself will gather, either for reward or judgement (Matthew 13:36-43; Revelation 14:14-19).

The Day of Atonement was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the seventh month. On that day the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost court of the temple and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant. The removal of sin from the people was symbolised by the confessing of the sins of the people over a goat and sending it into the wilderness. This ceremony looks forward to the day when all that Christ achieved for us by his sacrificial death will be accomplished, and his people will be raised without sin and enabled to enjoy an unfettered relationship with God and one another. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament spells out in detail the significance of this day for Christians in chapters nine and ten of his letter.

The Feast of Tabernacles immediately followed the Day of Atonement. During this week the people were expected to live in booths made from the branches of trees in remembrance of God’s protection and guidance during their journey through the wilderness. It looks forward to the time when God’s people will dwell under his full protection and provision in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21 and 22).

All this means, of course, that God had it all planned out from the beginning. He is not taken by surprise! It was the disciples who were slow to catch on. They did very quickly, though, when they were confronted with the risen Christ.

Third, the resurrection involved not just a resuscitation, a coming back into a life identical to the present one, but a transformation. This would not be a transformation into a non-bodily spirit, but into a new body, with very definite links to the old body, but also with significant differences. This is the common understanding of the New Testament, which I will explore further in the next section.

Fourth, we find in the New Testament (not so much in the early fathers, where other concerns predominated) a quite new metaphorical use of “resurrection”, associated with conversion, baptism and holy living (e.g. Romans 6:4, 5; Colossians 3:1,2). We looked at this briefly under the heading “The nature of Christian conversion.”

One thing is clear. None of these four new understandings of the meaning of “resurrection” would have occurred unless the tomb of Jesus had been empty, and unless the disciples had personally encountered the risen Christ, as the records confirm that they did over a period of forty days. One could well argue that there is no greater historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than this. It was this event that motivated all their actions from then on and resulted in such rapid growth of the Christian church throughout the Roman empire as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. They lived in the shadow of the resurrection and their understanding of the Christian life was conditioned by it.

Another prominent New Testament scholar who has summed up very well the effect that the resurrection of Jesus had on the first disciples is Gordon Fee. In God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, he says:

It was the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the promised (eschatological) Spirit that completely altered the primitive church’s perspective, both about Jesus and about themselves. In place of the totally future eschatology of their Jewish roots, with its hope of a coming Messiah and the resurrection from the dead, the early church recognised that the future had already been set in motion. The resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of the End, the turning of the ages. However, the End had only begun: they still awaited the final event, the (now second) coming of their Messiah Jesus, at which time they too would experience the resurrection/transformation of the body. They lived “between the times”; already the future had begun, not yet had it been consummated. From the New Testament perspective the whole of Christian existence—and theology—has this eschatological “tension” as its basic framework.

Edward Gibbon, the historian of the Roman Empire, gave this, the confidence of Christians in eternal life, as one of the main reasons for the rapid spread of Christianity—they were gloriously dogmatic about it. Significant evidence of this comes from the catacombs on the outskirts of Rome, where Christians buried their dead. So far some thirty-five of these have been discovered and the total length of the galleries have been calculated at more than 500 miles. The earliest burials take us back to just before AD 150, only some eighty to ninety years after Paul was martyred there. Gradually they fell into disuse after the sack of Rome by the Goths in AD 410. Some seventy thousand graves have been counted in them, but this is a mere fraction of the whole, as only part of them have been explored. Since we know that for at least three hundred years, or ten generations, the entire Christian population of Rome was buried in them, the figure could easily run into millions.

The Christians always refused to speak of the departed brother or sister as having died, but rather as of one summoned or called away, “accersitus ab angelis”—summoned by angels. Side by side in these catacombs lie the rich and poor, slave and free, awaiting in perfect confidence the promised resurrection. The inscriptions reflect this assurance—“Happiest of women”; “Sopronia…happy, always living in God”; “Alive in Christ”; “Here rests in the sleep of peace Mala…received into the presence of God.” “Spes” (hope) is one of the words most frequently found in these inscriptions. They speak only of peace and joy in death. Here in the catacombs, for the first time in the pagan world, the power of death was denied. This was in stark contrast to the attitude of the rest of the population. Catallus caught the mood of the majority of first-century Rome when he wrote, “Suns may set and rise again. When once our brief light has set, one unbroken night remains.”

This transformation in the attitude to death was beautifully captured by the poet George Herbert:

Death, thou wast once an uncouth, hideous thing,
Nothing but bones… ,
But since our saviour’s death did put some blood
Into thy face,
Thou art grown fair and full of grace.

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that guarantees the forgiveness and future resurrection of all who choose to unite with Christ and his cause. If we have accepted him as our Saviour and Lord, the rest will follow.

In this regard, it is significant to note that Paul says that if we have received the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship” or “adoption”, and become God’s children, then we are “co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17). An heir to an inheritance does not receive it because he has worked for it, but it is a privilege and is given to him on the basis of his relationship with the owner. The New Testament declares that “all things were created by [Christ] and for [Christ]” (Colossians 1:16). It is by virtue of our relationship with him that we can be assured of sharing fully in the inheritance.

The writer of Hebrews describes this hope in the promises of God regarding our future as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”. It brings us into the very presence of God “where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (6:19, 20). It is an anchor that will stand the strain of the greatest storms.

The nature of the resurrection body

It is the resurrection of Jesus himself that not only guarantees our resurrection, but also gives us clues as to the nature of our future resurrection body. Harry Blamires, in an article ‘Heaven & Hell’ in Christianity Today, [9]  imagines what it might be like trying to explain to a caterpillar what it means to be a butterfly. Its risen body will be able to fly like a bird and escape all the limitations imposed by gravity on a creature accustomed to drag its long segment from level to level by a cumbrous array of legs. As for “seeing”, the caterpillar’s rudimentary apparatus that is sensitive to little more than the distinction between darkness and light will be superseded by the butterfly’s truly perceptive eyes. Though a caterpillar may have no awareness that it could exist in any other structural form, it is significant that in an encyclopaedia it is defined in terms of its future as a butterfly. It is the larva of the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Blamire says:

I cannot help wondering what an angel would find if he looked up ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ in the Encyclopaedia Caelestis: “The name given to the larvae of the saved in their prepupal stage as terrestrial beings. They are two-legged, two-armed, two-eyed and two-eared (and the most degenerate specimens are said to be two-faced!). They are wingless. They have only a rudimentary sensitivity to reality. They tend to measure everything wholly on the basis of their immature understanding as creatures imprisoned in the space-time continuum.

Though we have only limited imagination to explore our future existence in the kingdom of God, let’s use it as we see what the clues are. Paul spells out the most important clue. “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20,21). In choosing to become united with Mary’s DNA in her womb and come into this world by natural birth, Jesus had taken upon himself our human nature with all its frailty and limitations. [10]  In his resurrection he lifted that humanness to a new level (Hebrews 2:14, 15). “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthy man [Adam], so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven [Christ]” (1 Corinthians 15:49). If our bodies will one day be like his, what is his like?

What is clear from the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, is that his physical body was gone from the tomb and that his transformed body was a real body. On his first appearance to the gathered disciples he even showed them his wounds, saying to them, “Why are you frightened? Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:38, 39). This was the same Jesus they had seen nailed on the cross. To put their minds at rest he even ate food before them (vv.41-43). However, there were some things different about the risen Jesus. He could suddenly appear behind locked doors (John 20:19) and vanish in an instant (Luke 24:30, 31). There was something about him that transcended the material limitations of this world.

The most detailed passage in the New Testament on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul devotes the entire chapter to the subject. He deals with the certainty and importance of Christ’s resurrection and its consequence for the believer (vv. 1-33), and then spends the rest of the chapter giving details of our resurrection. He describes four differences between our earthly body and our heavenly body. In using the analogy of the transformation of seed into plant that we observe every day in the natural world, Paul declares, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raise in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (vv. 42-44).

First, it will be an imperishable body. Peter also uses the same Greek word for the environment that the new body will inhabit. “Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, [11]  spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). An imperishable body for an imperishable inheritance! Distortion, decay, and death will have lost their power.

Second, it will be a glorious body. In some way it will express the glory of God. We will be seen to be his handiwork. Paul declares that when Jesus returns he will be glorified in his holy people (2 Thessalonians 1:10). In Mere Christianity C.S.Lewis gives the following description of our transformed being:

a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror that reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.

Third, it will be a powerful body. No more failure. No more “I can’t do this. I can’t do that.” We will be enabled to do all that God intends.

Fourth, it will be a spiritual body.  It is interesting that whereas Luke’s Jesus declares that his risen body is “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), Paul says that “flesh and blood12 cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). In our present physical existence, every cell in our bodies is dependent on blood for its supply of oxygen. “The life of a creature is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). However, there will be something different about the structure of our resurrection bodies and what it is that gives them life. Tom Wright has a helpful comment about this contrast:

Luke’s Jesus insists that he [Jesus] does have ‘flesh’. What Paul means by ‘flesh’, though, is emphatically different; for him, the word ‘flesh’ indicates variously corruptibility, rebellion, sinfulness and death. For Luke, it just means ‘physicality’. Likewise, Paul’s phrase ‘spiritual body’, contrasted with the ‘natural body’, is not as in the RSV [Revised Standard Version] and NRSV, a way of saying ‘non-physical body’ as opposed to ‘physical body’; the contrast he is making is between a body, a physical substance, animated by the normal human life on the one hand and by God’s Spirit on the other.

Professor D. M. Mackay of Keele University, who was one of Britain’s foremost experts in the communications systems of the human brain, also has an interesting comment on this point in an essay in Inter-Varsity (1970):

It is not as disembodied spirits that God promises us eternal life, but as personalities expressed in a new kind of body—what Paul calls a ‘spiritual body’. Just as a message is still the same message, whether it’s spoken in words or flashed in morse code, so, according to the Bible, we shall be the same persons, whatever the material form in which our personalities may be expressed. Nothing in the scientific picture of man, however complete it may one day become, could effect the truth of this doctrine one way or the other.

Paul finishes off 1 Corinthians 15 with some stirring statements. This resurrection will take place “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (v. 52). Not all will die, as some will still be living when Christ returns (v.51). Most of us will still have to face death, but it has been “swallowed up in victory” (v. 54). When something has been “swallowed up” you don’t have to worry about it too much! The sting of death (our sinfulness and the problem of facing judgement) has been removed by Christ’s death on our behalf and his resurrection (vv. 55, 56). It is instructive that he finishes the chapter with a challenge for this life: “Therefore my dear bothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (v. 58). Nothing that we do out of gratitude to the Lord for what he has done for us will be wasted. What an incentive!

All this is, of course, development upwards. At the resurrection we move to a higher, not a lower plane of existence.

Hope for the physically and mentally challenged

If all we have described is true, then imagine what hope this can bring to those who are confined to bodies that prevent them from living the sort of lives that most of us experience. Beethoven, whose music has brought joy to so many, wrote some of his best works when totally deaf. It is recorded that his last words were, “I shall hear in heaven.”

Peter Chignell, in his autobiography Set Free, Now a Prisoner, tells the story of the death of his brother-in-law, Fraser, at the age of 33. Fraser had Down’s syndrome and he had swallowed his tongue, blocking his air passage. Peter continues:

My mother-in-law fell weeping uncontrollably beside the bed. I knelt beside her and prayed that the Lord would comfort her. Suddenly she gasped, stopped crying and started laughing. I prayed harder, thinking she had gone out of her mind.

Afterwards I said to her, “Whatever happened, Mum? You were crying one minute and then you started laughing.” She replied, “Peter, didn’t you see what I saw and hear what I heard?” I asked her to explain.

She said, “When my heart was breaking with sadness, Fraser’s voice said, ‘Mum, I am not in that old body any more. Look up—I am standing beside you. Jesus has let me come and show you my new body.’ I looked up and there was Fraser standing beside me, speaking clearly, and no longer having the features of a mongoloid. ‘Do not grieve, Mum, I am so happy to be out of that old earthly body.’ Then Fraser vanished.”

Peter explained that from then on, until her death some years later, she never grieved.

A lady who was both blind and deaf wrote to Decision magazine to thank them for sending her the magazine each month in Braille, which “can penetrate the darkness and silence.” She wrote:

My husband has gone to be with Jesus and I am alone, and yet I am not alone. I walk by faith, until the day I shall look up and see the face of Jesus, and hear his voice welcoming me home. No longer blind, no longer deaf, and there will be my husband waiting for me! Thank God for such a glorious hope!

Stuart Townend captures this thought beautifully in the last verse of his great song We have sung our songs of victory:

But I know a day is coming
when the deaf will hear his voice,
when the blind will see their Saviour,
and the lame will leap for joy.
When the widow finds a husband,
who will always love his bride,
and the orphan finds a father
who will never leave her side.

One who has expressed this hope very vividly is Joni Eareckson Tada, who was injured in a diving accident in 1967 that left her a total quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. Since then, through her personal faith and the organisation she developed for support of people with disabilities, JAF Ministries (Joni and Friends), she has brought encouragement and practical help to thousands. In her book Heaven Your Real Home [13]  she wrote:

I can scarcely believe it, I with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness—powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord-injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives someone who is manic depressive. No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope.

It is the physical nature of the resurrection which has inspired Joni. She is excited, she writes, “over how like the Rock of Gibraltar heaven is”. “We shall touch and taste, rule and reign, move and run, laugh and never have reason to cry.” She describes a Christian convention at which the speaker, at the close of the message, asked his audience to kneel for prayer. She watched as they did so. But of course she couldn’t do it herself. So she couldn’t stop the tears. It was particularly hard for her because, brought up in a Reformed Episcopal Church, she had been accustomed to kneeling for prayer. Then she remembered the resurrection:

   Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven I will be free to jump, dance, kick and do aerobatics. And although I'm sure Jesus will be delighted to watch me rise on tiptoe, there's something I plan to do that may please him more. If possible, somewhere, sometime before the party gets going, sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrection legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus.

Footnotes

[8] Seven is the number of completion and fulfilment in the Bible (e.g. The seven creation days of Genesis 1 and 2, and the fifty-four sevens of the book of Revelation).

[9] May 27, 1991, ©.

[10] I hope to deal with the true significance of the birth of Jesus in a future booklet The Real Meaning of Christmas: What Is So Important About the Virgin Birth?

[11] Italics mine.

12 Italics mine.

[13] Zondervan Publishing Company, 2001, ©.

 

 

 

 

Foreward

Preface

Part 1: Exploring the territory

Why it matters what we believe

The avoidance of death in our modern world

The reasonableness of life after death

Part 2: The Christian view of life after death

The nature of Christian conversion

Resurrection, not reincarnation

Between death and resurrection

The nature of Heaven

Stories of faith

What about Judgement

The future of unbelievers

A Choice to be made

Appendices

 



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