Welcome back! In this last part of our foundations series we are going to look at
DEATH, RESURRECTION AND ETERNITY.
These are challenging topics for many reasons. Firstly, we are looking beyond “life as we know it” into realms that are very different. Secondly, the Bible does not clearly answer our every question, and thirdly, people have different interpretations of some Bible texts.
So I am going to try to stick to essential truths – and look at things we can see clearly in Scripture.
As we look towards the end of time as we know it, a major event will be
CHRIST’S RETURN TO EARTH
Listen to Acts 1:6-11 (NIV) as Luke records the events around Jesus’ ascension into heaven:
Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Jesus’ disciples recognised him as Messiah and therefore king. They thought this could be his time to assume rulership as an earthly king and liberate Israel from Roman oppression. But Jesus corrected their theology. Things were not going to happen as they expected.
Instead, Jesus reminded them again of their commission and his promise of power to fulfil it. And then he took off – literally! And as he disappeared from their view, two messengers from heaven told them a vital fact:
Jesus is coming back!
Mark 13:32-33 (NIV) records a moment when Jesus had told them some more about this:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
We know Jesus is coming back. But we don’t know when! So please be careful of people who tell you they know when he’s coming back. Jesus said no-one knows. Let’s be content to say “I don’t know”!
But there is something we must do. We must be ready.
When Jesus returns, he’s going to “wrap things up” – until then, we have a commission to get on with, to make disciples. Let’s do that!
It’s been a long wait – longer than many expected. Peter clearly faced this question and explains:
2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9 (NIV)
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘‘coming’’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ …But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Jesus is coming back – but in God’s perfect time! The wait is because of his patience and his desire for everyone to be saved!
Some may wonder though – could he have come back and we never realised it? Jesus made it very clear that his return will be impossible to miss!
Listen to Luke 21:8,9, 25-27 (NIV):
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
People have indeed come claiming to be Jesus… none of them were!
Jesus makes it clear that his coming with be unimaginably dramatic! Planets and stars will be disrupted to the degree that the nations of the earth will be panicked! This is is not a return that we could fail to notice!!
Jesus will return – in God’s perfect and patient timing. There will be no mistaking his return when he does so. Let’s be faithful to his commission to us until that day!
The next subject we need to look at is
I’m sure we’re all familiar with PHYSICAL DEATH, but as we look at the Bible, we see that there is another kind of death: SPIRITUAL DEATH.
Listen to Jesus’ words recorded in John 5:24-30 (NIV):
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life.
Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Jesus speaks of physical death, but he also presents spiritual death. He addresses people who are physically alive, yet will cross over from death to life. So we can be physically alive, yet spiritually dead… and then be physically alive and spiritually alive.
Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13 (NIV)
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.
Spiritual death can be thought of as a separation between our spirit and God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit is not bringing life to our spirit, so our spirits are dead. Sin does this to us. We are physically alive, but spiritually dead.
Jesus says that when we hear his word (the Gospel) and believe in him, we cross over from spiritual death to life. Our spirits connect with his, and his Spirit brings life to ours.
But our bodies remain mortal. There is still a physical death to be experienced. This physical death will be followed by a resurrection – into eternal life or eternal death. We generally speak of them as
“HEAVEN AND HELL”
When we look at the last book of the Bible – Revelation – we read a series of amazing experiences and visions. In them, Jesus showed John many things that will happen at the end of the age, some which are hard to comprehend. For this series, we’ll just look at two texts:
Revelation 20:10-15 (NIV) reveals something of the final judgement and what we commonly call “Hell” – what John calls “the second death” or “lake of fire”:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life.
The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This is a frightening vision of things to come! We see a great white throne, a judge, books and the dead.
We see that judgement is a reality we must face. And we see that judgement has two aspects to it:
– judgement in terms of what we have done (as recorded in “the books”)
– judgement in terms of whether our name is in the Book of Life.
I hope you remember from our session on salvation, that salvation is not by works – and here we see that, though our works are judged, our salvation is not dependent on the books that record those works. Our salvation depends simply on whether our name is in the Book of Life.
The consequence of our name not being in the Book of Life is dire – anyone whose name is not in the book of life will experience a second death – the lake of fire – what we commonly term “Hell”.
Its a terrible prospect. May this motivate us to point people to Jesus – that their names can be written into the Book of Life!
That’s heavy… thank the Lord for the Good News! Let’s look at the happy ending now!!
Revelation 21:1-5 (NIV) gives us a vision of what we commonly call “Heaven”:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Friends, those whose names are in the book of life have a wonderful eternal destiny! A brand new realm! Life lived with God! No more death! No more crying or pain!
How will it all work? I don’t know – we don’t have to know! Just know this: it will be all new! And all good!
This is our glorious destiny as followers of Jesus!
It’s a magnificent future! But for now, we live on earth (sorry to bring a “downer” like that!) For now we live in mortal bodies. We see in part, we know in part… but one day we will have eternal bodies, see in full and know in full!
So I close this section with a beautiful perspective on the physical death of a believer; to use the words of Paul and Jesus:
MOVING FROM OUR “EARTH TENT” INTO OUR FATHER’S HOUSE
Listen to what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (NIV):
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
If you’ve spent time in a tent – especially if you’ve done so in bad weather in an ageing tent – this analogy means a lot. For the non-campers, let me explain:
A tent is a temporary dwelling. It’s usually “just big enough” (which sometimes means too small!) It shakes in the wind and can even be blown over or blown away. It does not keep out the cold like a house and it can leak if old or saturated with rain.
When you’re in a tent and it’s cold, wet and windy, it can be rather miserable, especially if the tent is leaking. At times like that, we take comfort in the fact that, in a little while, we will go back home to our house. We long for our proper house, however humble it may be!
Paul uses this comparison to help us as we grapple with mortality and death. This mortal body is a tent; it will not always be comfortable – and it will wear out. One day the tent will be discarded, and we will move into a proper house.
So, for the believer, death is a “step up”, moving out of the mortal tent into an immortal house. As he puts it, “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
Jesus also spoke of a house; listen to John 14:1-6 (NIV):
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
As Jesus spoke of his impending death and of leaving his disciples, they were troubled. So he gave them this picture of their eternal future: a room in God’s house in heaven!
It’s a wonderful image. The only question left is the matter of getting there!
I wonder what went on in Thomas’ mind when Jesus said “You know the way to the place where I am going”.
I know the way? HUH? I don’t have the foggiest idea!
So Thomas “tells it like it is” – “we don’t have a clue where this house in heaven is! So how can we possibly know the way?”
We’re all in that place. We don’t have a clue where heaven is. No one does. There are no maps – its way off our charts!
But Jesus says it’s actually simple – the way is not a map, its a person – him!
The best illustration of this that I know is that of an airline. If you want to travel to a distant overseas destination, you don’t personally have what it takes to get there on your own. You need an airline. They are the way. You don’t understand how 400 metric tons of metal and people gets into the air and flies thousands of kilometers to your destination. You don’t have to! You just book your ticket and put your life in their hands!
You’ve just got to trust the airline. They are the way to your destination.
You’ve just got to trust Jesus. He is the way to heaven!
I think that’s the perfect place to end this foundations course. Thank you for your attention; I trust that this has strengthened your faith, made you a better disciple of Jesus, and equipped you to disciple others!