By Lambert Dolphin
The New Yorker regularly has very funny cartoons about heaven--I have subscribed since I was in college largely because of the cartoons. While some people believe that death brings simple extinction of personhood forever, many others assume that there is an automatic "heavenly reward" waiting for them after a long productive life here on earth. When a person dies after a long illness, mourners will sometimes say, "he is now in a better place"--without any consideration of the quality of life the deceased had lived. "The popular conception of heaven revolves around clouds, harps, and angels, with humanity marching through Pearly Gates to live a life of bliss. This conception is far removed from the biblical witness" (ISBE). The Bible leads one to see that life on earth is a preparation for something far greater and grander, as well as everlasting, but that only a very small number of people qualify to go to heaven.
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
The Biblical Heavens
The Hebrew word for heaven (shamayim), used more than 420 times in the Old Testament, is plural. The first use in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens (shamayim) and the earth (eretz)" is the equivalent of saying, "In the beginning God created the entire universe." The created universe has two realms that are linked together: one realm is physical and the other is spiritual.
The Greek, ouranos, is also plural, and very often translated "heavenly places" in our English New Testaments.
The Bible uses the term "heavens" to refer to the earth's atmosphere where the birds fly, to the stellar heavens where the sun, moon, stars, planets and galaxies and reside. The "third heaven" is the abode of God and the angels. The angels were created sometime during creation week since they live in a "place" (i.e., dwelling places in the spiritual realm) just as men live on the earth surrounded by an ecosystem capable of supporting us.
There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Corinthians 15:40, 41)
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We were created to live simultaneously in the physical and in the spiritual realm. It is our bodies which anchor us to the material world of space, time, energy, mass and motion. In our spirits we can commune with God and relate to Him on an entirely different time frame. Man has self-awareness and God-consciousness because we are created spiritual beings.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
...the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground (physical), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (spiritual); and man became a living being (nephesh = soul). (Genesis 2:7)
Adam's sin severed his relationship with God cutting him off from the Source of all light and life which is in the spiritual realm.
"God is a Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
Adam's relationship with God was restored soon after the Fall (as was Eve's), but his physical body was irreparably damaged and began to die. A consequence of the Fall of man was that God reduced the sustaining power flowing from the spiritual realm into the physical, causing the physical universe to begin to decay and run down. Opportunistic blights and blains began to increase (thorns, thistles, germs, bugs, diseases, etc). Along with this "curse" on the earth because of man's sin, a revolt by a large number of the angels set the entire creation on a downward spiral towards an eventual "heat death" governed by what we call in physics "the Second law of Thermodynamics."
And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19)
God's response to the Fall has been to sustain the Old Creation and to proceed to redeem members of the race of Adam, one by one. He is neither restoring, fixing, nor repairing the damage which exists in the Old Creation. He is committed instead to a New Creation.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the (old) creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)
We ought not to think of the heavenly abode of God as remote--far beyond the most distant stars. According to the Bible, heaven is really another dimension of reality--commonly what we call the spiritual dimension. The material world is in fact immersed and embedded in the spiritual world. Therefore heaven is neither far away, nor remote and inaccessible. (In theological terms God is both transcendent and imminent in creation). As recorded in the gospels, Jesus took Peter, James and John a short step from time into eternity--into heaven--on the Mount of Transfiguration:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1-8)
It is impossible to describe heavenly realities adequately to earthly, fallen creatures--who are trapped in a broken time frame. Objects and situations in the multi-dimensional space-time frame of eternity are most difficult to even imagine. In Perelandra, the second book in his blains Trilogy, C. S. Lewis works diligently to help us imagine a world of innocence where sin is unknown but about to be introduced. The Apostle Paul could only hint at what heaven would be like in describing his experience of being caught up into the Third Heaven:
I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise (gan, Persian word for an enclosed Oriental garden)--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:1-9)
Actually Christians already are dwelling in heaven. We have been seated there, in Christ with him at the right hand of God. When we became Christians we were placed into Christ and identified with him in his death, burial and resurrection. We are largely unaware that this relocation in the spiritual dimension has already taken place since we are still wearing our old fallen bodies which is the only means we have for sensing and interacting with the physical world.
"...And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:1-10)
"He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14)
"I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:19-20)
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them (i.e., to Mt Sinai]. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 1 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have [already] come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:18-29)
As mentioned, it is the physical body we live in now which links us to the old creation. If we have named Jesus Christ as Lord and invited Him to rule our lives, God has redeemed our spirits and souls, but He has not yet redeemed our bodies. That is, on the inside we are new and already citizens dwelling in heaven. If we could put on our new resurrection bodies--with their vastly improved sensory powers--we would immediately be aware that we were surrounded by angels and actually living here and now in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem.
"...our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
Second Corinthians Chapter 5 is full of insights into what happens to us when we die. Our new resurrection bodies are ready and waiting for us--they already exist. When we step into our new bodies we will immediately be attuned to life in heaven. Our resurrection bodies will be like that of Jesus. There is, furthermore, no soul sleep, no intermediate state, no limbo, and no purgatory. When we die, we step immediately out of time into eternity, and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" we time-travel to the day of resurrection and rapture. We are then instantaneously reunited with the believing dead of all ages. That is, all believers arrive in heaven at the same "time." We shall recognize one another in heaven, and believers of all ages will be able to meet together "outside" of ordinary earth-time frames. Resurrection bodies are no doubt capable of time and space travel and have vast capabilities our present bodies do not possess. This is in addition to the fact that in heaven we are removed from the presence of sin and our new bodies are completely sinless and immune from sickness, death and decay.
"For we know that if the earthly tent (present body = skenos, a tent, booth or tabernacle) we live in is destroyed, we have a building (new body = oikodome, a building) from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him." (2 Corinthians 5:1-9)
Ray Stedman develops these ideas in his book Authentic Christianity and the Canadian Bible scholar Arthur C. Custance did a thorough study of the differences between time and eternity in his book, "Journey out of Time." The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, treating the body as sinful. The Bible talks about the saving of the whole person.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24)
Who Can Go to Heaven?
heaven is not based on one's good deeds in life, this is part of our mythical,
cultural, popular, folk belief about heaven. Those who go to heaven enter on
the merits of Another--the Lord Jesus Christ. (The heavens as they now
exist are not free of sin--evil angels are active there--though they will be
cleansed at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus). Those who live in heaven
with Jesus will obviously be people whose lives have been transformed. After
all, heaven would never work as a place of bliss, pleasure, and happiness, if
our previously selfish, evil conduct was allowed in the door. Since the quality
and intensity of life in heaven is so much richer and more intense than
anything we now know in life, candidates for heaven must be made ready through
training and inner transformation. (1)
The Nature of the Resurrection Body
People always want to know if we will know and recognize one another in heaven, and the Biblical answer to that is most certainly, "yes." As for pleasures in heaven they will be much greater than anything we have experienced on earth. We know only of tainted life, of wrong motives and betrayal, of the excesses of wine, the misuse of drugs and the corruption that too much money often brings.
Resurrection bodies are radically different from the bodies we now inhabit--in the same way that a great skyscraper differs from a fragile, perishable common camping tent. The body of Jesus Christ after he was raised from the dead tells us all we really know about resurrection bodies. The activities of Jesus during the forty days He spend with His friends and disciples between His resurrection and His Ascension--as recorded by the gospel writers--give us tantalizing clues concerning the wonderful powers of the new bodies which have already been built for us. We also have an account by Paul in First Corinthians 15 which tells us that resurrection bodies are "heavenly in origin, whereas our present bodies are "of the dust."
Ray Stedman comments in depth on resurrection bodies as follows,
We have now come to what is, for many people, the key question of Chapter 15, the great resurrection chapter of First Corinthians. The Apostle Paul says,
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" (1 Corinthians 15:35)
It is obvious that skepticism oozes from those questions. In Verse 12 of this chapter, Paul had already recognized that some among these Corinthians were saying that there is no resurrection from the dead. "We do not understand how it can happen," they were saying, "therefore, we do not believe it will happen." So these questions were expressions of that unbelief.
For twenty centuries now the skeptics of all ages have asked these same questions. Of course, they amplify them by imposing various obstacles they see. They say, for instance, "We can understand, perhaps, that a body that has been carefully embalmed and placed in a grave might possibly be brought back to life, but what about those that have been destroyed? What about all the people that have been cremated?"
Just last week a friend of mine died. His body was cremated and his ashes were taken and scattered by an airplane out over the Pacific Ocean. "How are you going to restore a body like that?" the skeptics would ask. "What about those that are eaten by animals or by marine life? Those animals in turn have died; their bodies have returned to ashes and they have been taken up as parts of plants or other animals. How can God sort it all out?"
These questions always arise when unbelief faces this question of the resurrection of the dead. "How can it be?" That is what some of these Corinthians were asking. The clear implication was, "It cannot be; it is impossible."
The Greeks, of course, were teaching that it was a good thing, an advantage, to lose the body. The body was a prison-house, they taught, where we are limited and restricted. The Oriental religions, on the other hand, were teaching that many bodies were needed in a process of salvation, that you return to earth many times. Their question would be, "Which body is raised from the dead? Is it the 'cow' body you once had, or the 'gorilla' body you may have had, or the one you are walking around in now?"
Reincarnation would, for them, pose an entirely different question concerning the resurrection of the body. Well, Paul now answers these two questions the skeptics were asking, "How are the dead raised?" and, "With what kind of body do they come?" His answer to the first question is in Verses 36-38:
You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:36-38)
Notice what he is saying: First, "To ask how this can be is a foolish question," he says. Why did he say that? It is a normal question, almost everybody asks it, and yet Paul immediately brands it as a foolish question. The reason, of course, is evident in what he says next. It is foolish, he says, because everywhere around you are examples of what is happening in resurrection. He is referring to the normal process of plants growing from seeds or bulbs that are placed in the ground. They die, they lose their consistency, and out of them emerges another kind of body which is yet identical to the seed that was placed in the ground.
I do not think it is any accident at all that Easter comes in the height of the spring season. We do not know when our Lord was born -- Christmas is a debatable date -- but there is no question about the date of Easter. For centuries it has been pegged to the movements of the moon, and tied to the ancient Jewish celebration of the Passover, so that everyone knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that Easter Sunday is indeed the very day that our Lord rose from the dead. Easter, therefore, always falls in the midst of the awakening of earth from its death in winter and the coming to life again of things that once were dead. Thus Paul is pointing out that we have ample evidence in the processes of nature itself to believe in a resurrection of the body. Nature teaches us two obvious lessons.
First: Death is a necessary part of the process. Far from being an obstacle to resurrection, death is essential to it. You can put that in the form of an axiom: Nothing that has never died shall ever be raised from the dead. Obviously if it is going to be raised from the dead it has to die. Therefore, death is not an obstacle to resurrection. It is an ingredient of it and necessary to it. To balk at the fact that people die and the body loses its ability to function and its form and consistency as a body, ought never to be any hindrance to believing that life will emerge from it. The body must die just as the seed must die.
The second lesson that nature teaches us is this: The body that emerges from the seed that dies is different from the one that was planted. Put a grain of wheat or a kernel of corn into the ground and what comes up? Another grain of wheat or another kernel? No! What comes up is a green stem which does not look at all like what you put into the ground. Nevertheless it is tied to it; it is continuous from it; it has an identity with it. There is an undeniable tie with that which you put into the ground, and yet it is not the same; it is the "same" without being similar. Now, if you had never seen that process before, would you have believed it if somebody had said that that is what would happen? You would have looked at him as though he were mad and said, "How can that be?" because you can put almost anything else into the ground and that will not happen. It is one of those miracles that is so familiar to us that we miss the miraculous part of it. But Paul says it happens so frequently there should therefore be no struggle with believing in the resurrection of the dead.
On the occasion reported in the book of Acts where Paul is defending himself before King Agrippa, he says to the king, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?" (cf, Acts 26:8). And why should it, when we have the testimony of nature all around that this kind of thing can and does happen? If it was not incredible in the 1st century how much more should it be believable today, when, by the efforts of science, we know a great deal more about the processes of transferring energy and of retaining life. We are now familiar with a process called "cloning." Scientists say that it is possible to take a single cell of the human body, any cell, it does not have to be a sex cell, and by a process now known in theory, though not yet in practice, to restore that body completely as a human being. Why then should it be thought incredible that God can do it, that all he needs is a single cell from a body to restore the body exactly as it was? Man can do it; surely God will catch up with man one of these days.
Some of the other things that science is facing as possibilities are even more remarkable and confirming of this. Dr. Dirks, who is in this congregation, is in many ways the inventor of the great electronic computers we are so familiar with. Several years ago he told me that it is possible to take the genetic structure of any human being and reduce it to an electronic signal which could then be bounced off the moon and returned to earth and reconstructed as the human being again. If that is possible to science, surely it is possible to God. So why should there be this strange unbelief about the process of resurrection from the dead? Paul says it is foolish to talk that way when there is such a wealth of evidence from nature that this very kind of thing happens all the time.
Paul now faces the skeptics' second question, "With what kind of body do they come?" All right, supposing there is a resurrection, they said, "What is the resurrection body like? How will it differ from the one we have now?" Paul's answer is found in the next ten verses, Verses 39 through 49. He takes it in three movements: First, he goes back again to the lessons which are visible in nature itself; then he draws the parallel with the reality of resurrection; finally, in a great theological argument, he establishes the absolute certainty that this is going to happen. First, the lesson from nature (Verses 39-41):
For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Corinthians 15:39-41)
Paul is still back in the world of nature, of observable phenomena, which are designed to teach men spiritual lessons. Here is the first truth that he brings out. All bodies are not alike. Human bodies are different from bird bodies and animal bodies are different from fish bodies. Even the very nature of their flesh is different. If you do not believe that, you are going to have difficulty when you go to a restaurant because you would order beef and they would serve you fish and you would never know the difference. But there is a visible difference. In fact, science confirms this. There is such a difference that a trained scientist can tell whether a single cell comes from a human, an animal, a bird, or a fish. This is a wonderfully truthful and accurate scientific statement of that fact.
The second part of Verse 38 suggests that this difference is a result of the inner difference of nature, or personality, that these beings have. It says, "to each kind of seed its own body." In other words there is a correspondence between what the body looks like and what the being inside is like. That is why animals have various natures. For this reason, animals are used in Scripture as symbols of corresponding qualities about human beings -- wolves are always ferocious and dangerous, sheep are always helpless and needing protection, and pigs are always dirty. All these qualities are there because God wants to demonstrate to us truth about ourselves that we see reflected in the natural world. This is a great truth which I have not time to enlarge upon here. The second thing the apostle says is there are two major divisions of bodies, Verse 40:
There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. (1 Corinthians 15:40)
Now, "celestial bodies" are heavenly bodies. Paul goes on to list them -- the sun, the moon, the stars. There are also "terrestrial bodies," which are earthly bodies. He has already said what they are -- men, animals, birds, and fish. The point he makes is that there is a marked and deliberate difference between heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies shine. That is their function -- to shine, to have a glory about them. Earthly bodies, however, do not shine: They function, they articulate and coordinate in various says. That is the glory of an earthly body.
Heavenly bodies move in limitless space, which we measure in light years, but earthly bodies are limited. They have to function within a very tightly compressed time-space sphere. Heavenly bodies control and influence and affect other things. The sun affects this planet in every way. We are dependent upon it. The moon affects us too. It controls the tides and the seasons and much of our life, in ways we hardly understand. And the stars also affect the earth. So it is the nature of heavenly bodies to control and affect; and it is the nature of an earthly body to respond, to follow, to adapt. Thus Paul is pointing out a very important distinction which nature would teach us if we had the eyes to observe.
The third thing he says here is that there is a difference in the glory of celestial bodies. There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars, "for star differs from star in glory." You know how obviously true that is. The sun shines with a tremendous power. All of earth is dependent upon it. Solar power is far and away the greatest power known to man, and though we have only touched a fraction of its use, all energy in life, basically, comes from the sun. There is a different glory of the moon, but it has a profound effect, even upon lovers. Out together on a moonlit night they will do things they would not have done otherwise. Then the stars differ in glory. As some of you know, I have been enjoying the gift of a hot tub. While lying in it at night, studying the stars in perfect comfort, I have noticed the difference in their magnitude. Some shine brilliantly, while others are very faint and dim. What is Paul saying about all this? Well, he is saying that all this has its parallel in the truth of the resurrection. If you would only read the lessons of nature you would have a panorama of theological truth about the resurrection spread before you. Just open your eyes and see it, he says.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:42a)
And then he goes on to draw the parallel for us:
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:42b)
What is there about me that is perishable? Well, it is my body. My body is losing its ability to function. It is perishing; it is decaying; it is gradually slowing down. So are your bodies. They are going to perish one of these days, so do not look at me that way! Just as the seed buried in the ground becomes a beautiful plant, so an earthly body put into the ground in death, or scattered across the oceans, will become a body designed for the heavens, an imperishable body, no longer subject to decay. That is what Paul is teaching us here.
It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. (1 Corinthians 15:43a)
What is it about you and me that is dishonorable? Well, it is the body, isn't it? Let me tell you a secret about mine: It sags; it groans; it even smells. When it dies it will become foul, loathsome. One of the ugly things about the story of Jonestown was what to do with those corrupting bodies that no cemetery now wants to receive. When put into the ground, or in any other way disposed of, the body ends its existence in dishonor. But it will be raised, Paul says, in glory. It will be clean, sweet, fragrant, eternally fresh, and able to function in a marvelous way.
It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. (1 Corinthians 15:43b)
Isn't it amazing how we boast about our strength as human beings, yet just a tiny, invisible microbe can carry us away and end it all? A gnat so small you can hardly see can choke you to death. Human life is really very fragile and very easily ended. Muhammad Ali boasts that he is "the greatest," but a half-sick gorilla with one hand tied behind his back could whip him. There is nothing very impressive there. No, what you see up here, walking around before you, is a body that, Paul says, is suited to the soul:
It is sown a physical [soulish, literally, not physical] body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44a)
There is a "soulish" body. It is designed to function by the control of my soul -- my mind, my emotions, my will. I like to think of it as a kind of an "earth suit" designed for time, a "time suit" that I live in. It is not me. I live in it. And that is what your body is. I am standing up here wiggling the lips of my "earth suit," and you hear sounds coming out of it. You say that is me speaking to you. Well, yes, you are right. Behind the "earth suit" is me. I could not talk to you without it, but the "earth suit" is designed only for this life. It is not designed for anything else. It works fairly well in this life, but something could happen to this "earth suit" while I am talking to you and I would fall over and somebody would walk up here and say, "He's dead!" But it would not be so. I would not be dead. The "earth suit" would have died, but I would be as alive as I have ever been, and already enjoying the new body, the "heaven suit," the "eternity suit." There is also a body designed for the heavens, as well as the earth, and what the apostle is saying throughout this whole chapter is that there is a definite link between the two.
You see it so wonderfully in the resurrected body of Jesus. He rose from the dead, and yet upon his body still were the marks of crucifixion by which his apostles could be absolutely sure that it was the same Jesus in the same body. And yet what a difference! His body had been glorified, transformed. It was functioning at a different dimension and level of existence. It was able to pass through doors, able to appear and disappear, to eat or not to eat. It was able to function in fellowship with people in their "earth suits" and yet it was able to disappear from the earthly scene and still function in an "eternity suit," a "heaven suit" that God had provided for him. What a marvelous truth this is!
Now we come to the statement of certainty about it in the closing section, beginning in the middle of Verse 44. Paul argues:
If there is a physical [soulish] body [designed to be operated by the soul], there is also a spiritual body [designed to be operated by the spirit]. (1 Corinthians 15:44b)
And then he proves it:
Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being [soul]"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)
How certain it is! Paul says there are really only two men who have ever lived in all of history, and both of them he calls "Adam." There is the first Adam and the last Adam. Do not call him "the second Adam" because that would allow for a third and a fourth and a fifth. There are only two -- the first Adam, and the last Adam, Jesus. The only other human being to head up a race is Jesus.
The first Adam, Paul says, was made a living soul. He had a body made from the dust, and into that body of dust God himself, a Spirit, breathed a breath, and the joining together of spirit and body produced another phenomenon called the "soul," the personality. It is the presence of a spirit in a body that creates the soul and allows a person to function as a human being with mind, emotion, and will. That is what the first Adam was. Now, in the fall, the Holy Spirit that dwelt in the human spirit of Adam was withdrawn, and the human spirit was as though it was lifeless and dead. Man, therefore, was governed by his soul, the highest part of his being, which can feel and touch and taste and reason and think, but it has no contact with anything beyond and above. It is "dead in trespasses and sins," (cf, Eph 2:1). We were all born that way. Every human being is a son or daughter of the first Adam by nature.
But then there came a last Adam. Jesus, a life-giving Spirit, came, and as a Spirit he indwells, by faith, our human spirits when we receive him, when we open up our life to him. He regenerates our human spirit, and he is now, from that vantage point within us, beginning to impart life to the soul again, to recapture the mind, the emotions and the will and bring them back under subjection to his Lordship. So we begin to experience in our life, right now, the joy of being once again in right relationship with the God who made us. He is a life-giving Spirit, and he is waiting to impart life to the "earth suit" as well and to make it into a "heaven suit," designed for the heavens. And the order is determined by God:
...it is not the spiritual which is first (1 Corinthians 15:46a)
The Mormon church teaches that we were once spirit beings who then came to earth and became men, but this verse flatly contradicts that. It is not the spiritual which is first, it is the physical. We came into existence on a physical level, but designed by God, beyond that, is the spiritual. That is next, and death is but a stop in that process, and necessary to it. So now we are in a state of transition, as Paul goes on to describe,
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust [and we share that nature from Adam]; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is [notice the change of tense] the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47-48)
Let me ask you a question: Are you "of heaven"? Having been born into this race, part of Adam's race, have you gone on to become also a part of the Kingdom of God? Have you opened your heart to him? Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ into your human spirit so that you have the hope expressed here of becoming body, soul, and spirit, a man or woman as God intended a man or woman to be? That is the great question of all time. Are you also of those who are "of heaven?" For the promise is,
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [we look and act and talk and think like Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
I love the way John puts it. He says,
...it does not yet appear what we shall be. [The sons of God do not look any different than anybody else, do they?] But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
What a hope! What a difference that makes to everything in life! It transforms the way you act, the way you think. It transforms your dreams, your aspirations, what you do with your time. Everything is changed if you are a man of heaven as well as a man of the dust.
A City to Live In
Jesus has evidently gone to built a city for believers to live in. The New Jerusalem is the place believers go to live when they die--it is a great city in space, our headquarters from which we will travel down to earth to work on earth during the Millennium--and out into space on all sorts of adventures. There is no need for us to cling to the myth of heaven as a boring place, a platform of monotonous billowing clouds! Christians are already dwelling in that New Jerusalem as far as our spirits are concerned. As long as we are still in our old unredeemed bodies we are only aware of the heavenly city by faith:
"In my Father's house [the universe] are many rooms [dwelling places]; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3)
The Saints of the Old Testament will Join us There
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
"These [men and women of faith in the Old Testament] all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has [already] prepared for them a city." (Hebrews 11:13-16)
The church of Jesus Christ is ultimately described figuratively as both a woman and a city in the Bible. A city is not only buildings and streets and parks and homes it is also a community of people living together. This "city which is to come" is our new family home:
"Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, 'Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.' Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? 'Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.' So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman." (Galatians 4:21-31)
A marvelous vision of the New Jerusalem was given to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos near the end of the First Century. In redeeming the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve God has not merely restored them to Eden, the original Paradise. The New Jerusalem is a more glorious home and Eden. Born again as sons and daughters of Jesus, (the Last Adam) we have been granted higher privileges, position and opportunity than was granted to Adam and Eve:
"...And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming
down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I
heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with
men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself
will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death
shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more,
for the former things have passed away.' And he who sat upon the throne said,
'Behold, I make all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are
trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the
Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain
of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage,
and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the
faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters,
and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur,
which is the second death.'
"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.
"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man's measure, that is, an angel's.
"The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.
"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day-and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
"Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever...
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood. "I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price." (Revelation 21:1-22:17)
Heaven is a Holy Place
The Apostle Peter reminds us that heaven is for whole persons, for the liberated, the cleansed, for men and women, buys and girls who have restored and redeemed in body, soul and spirit.
Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." That word is the good news which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:13-25)
Heaven is an exclusive place. It is not for everyone. But anyone who wishes to go to heaven is welcome. Jesus is the Door. Come to Him!
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood. "I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price." (Revelation 21:6-8, 22:12-17)
The Jewish Perspective of Heaven
The history of the human race begins in the Garden of Eden (gan, Eden), the paradise where "the Lord God [came] walking...in the cool of the day"(Genesis 3:8). Since the expulsion from the garden, mankind has suffered illness, hunger, war and death. Still, the human spirit longs for "the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
Every attempt to establish "paradise on earth" has failed, leaving men to look forward to the "world to come" (olam ha'ba). Because Judaism doesn't emphasize heaven, it's led to the mistaken assumption that Jews don't believe in life after death.
Jews do recognize that there is a heaven. The Bible records that Enoch (Genesis 5:23-24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) were translated directly to heaven, unlike most who will die before God receives them to glory (Psalm 73:24). Rabbi Chanina bar Chama (2nd-3rd centuries) calls this glory Gan Eden (Pesachim 201a).
The Midrash Hagadol I:80 states: "The Holy One, blessed be He, will lead us there." Yochanan ben Zakkai (1st century) praised his pupils for their understanding of the divine throne (the merkava or "chariot"). "You are destined for the third heaven," he told them (Chagiga 13a).
Olam ha'ba is the opposite of hell (gehinnom) (Chagiga 15a). The Talmud tractate Kiddushin 39b states: "The reward for obedience to the divine commandments is not to be expected in this world alone" because it is written in the Mishna tractate Pea 1:1: "These are the good deeds whose fruit humans enjoy in this life, whereas the full reward waits in the future world for them."
Rabbi Elazar ha-Kappar warned: "Do not think that the grave will be your place of refuge. Because against your will you are born and against your will you die, and against your will you will arise again to life to account for your deeds to the King of Kings, blessed be He" (Avot 4:22).
Though the concept of paradise varies according to national, cultural and historical traditions, it's become a metaphor for the ideal.
"Things which the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, and which has not entered the heart of man, all those things God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9).