Heaven and Hell– clarifying remarks

These comments are a follow-up to last night’s lesson on death and the afterlife.  I encourage you to review that lesson before diving into these remarks…

Well, that lesson was controversial!  I understand the negative response though.  It’s tough to have your views of the afterlife challenged since it’s a place where we find so much comfort, so I want to clarify a few things:

Resurrection of the Body
As weird as it may sound to us, bodily resurrection is a crucial, nonnegotiable Christian belief, but we don’t really talk about it enough, so incorrect beliefs have crept in and undermined it over time.  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that if you believe in Jesus but deny a physical resurrection, you’re mistaken, so the idea of just being a disembodied soul forever runs contrary to Scripture.  That being said, there are a number of different beliefs about how and when that physical resurrection will take place and about what exactly the phrase “heavenly bodies” indicates.  Last night, I opted for the “soul sleep” theory based on my understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4, but there are other interpretations of what happens between earth and heaven, and I encourage you to study them for yourself.  Of course, regardless of what you think happens in the interim, the end destination doesn’t change.

Attachment to This Earth
Secondly, I hope you noticed how many of our commonly held views on the afterlife rely on an attachment to the things around us rather than an expectation of things to come.  In last night’s discussion, there was a lot of concern about very specific things, and if you dive really deep, I think you’ll see that many of our questions involve a hope for consistency between this world and the next when that shouldn’t be our first priority.  It’s understandable to want to preserve the things we have now, but when we talk about death and what lies beyond, our beliefs must be based in Jesus, not our other attachments.  I know this is tough to come to terms with, but it’s necessary as you contemplate your relationship with God.

Continuing to Work Hard
Lastly, everything we do must be with an eye toward the second coming of Christ.  We can’t just sit idly by and wait for the afterlife when we’re still physically able to serve in the here and now.  We need to work hard to prepare the way here.  We don’t know the day or hour when Christ will return, so in the meantime, we’re tasked with taking care of the world around us and caring for our neighbors as we seek to spread the Gospel.

Back to Biblical Basics
Ultimately, the main goal of last night’s lesson was to help you think through these things and return to a biblical understanding of the afterlife based on the second coming of Christ rather than popular culture.  We sought to affirm that Heaven and Hell are real physical places, and that –following your physical resurrection at Christ’s second coming– your entry into one or the other is determined by your acceptance of Jesus’s sacrifice on your behalf.  This is the core of the Christian understanding of life after death.  Most other things (soul sleep, the difference between an earthly and heavenly body, whether Heaven has a waiting room, etc.) are up for debate.

Please continue to ask questions and explore this topic, and reach out to me if you find yourself stuck on one particular issue.  It was a heavy conversation last night, and I’m saying some extra prayers for you this morning as you grapple with the things we discussed.

Grace and Peace,
Tom

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