I’m so thankful for our Get Ready message series through 1 & 2 Thessalonians. After the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some people ask me some questions about the message I shared on 1 Thessalonians 4. Maybe you had questions also but didn’t feel comfortable asking. Here are a few of the questions I was asked and some answers that may be encouraging to you!
You talked about how people will be resurrected when Jesus returns, but what happens to people right after they die? Where are they now?
Great question! Generally speaking, Christians believe that after death, we begin to experience what will eventually be our eternal experience when Jesus wraps up history at his return. In Luke 16:19-31, we get a picture of this through one of the many stories Jesus told. He describes people who have died experiencing either peace or suffering. While we have to be careful not to draw too much from a story, it seems that those who have a relationship with Jesus, after death, experience more of that relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Philippians 1:23), while those who have chosen to live their lives without God will continue to experience that separation. Right after death, we experience union with God or separation without bodies; when Jesus returns, we continue that experience with resurrected bodies. These truths should propel us to two action steps. First, we should avoid judgment and certainty claims about people’s eternal state since only God knows people’s hearts. Second, we should do what we can to share the good news of Jesus with others with our words and by the example of our changed lives because God wants everyone to experience eternal life with Jesus.
Is heaven a physical place?
Many of our ideas about heaven have been constructed by pop culture, medieval fiction, and personal near-death experiences. The word “heaven” makes us think of long hallways of light with loved ones beaconing us, clouds, harps, and people turning into angels. The Bible doesn’t say a lot of information about heaven (or hell, for that matter). It seems like there is a present heaven (which is being in God’s presence in some disembodied way) and a present hell (which is being separated from God in some disembodied way). But the Bible describes a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21) after the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection. This future heaven (and hell) include some kind of re-created physical existence. We don’t know the specifics, but we can be in awe of God’s creative power and unlimited love for us and say YES to God’s love in Jesus so we can experience not only God’s plan for our future but God’s plan for us today!
If this idea of “resurrection” is God reuniting our bodies and spirits for eternity, what happens to people who have been cremated or whose remains have changed over the centuries?
Insightful question. The reality is that over time, most human remains are not preserved intact, so God “raising the dead” is not as simple as it sounds. Fortunately, God does miraculous work. If we look back at the creation story, it says that God originally formed human beings from the “dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), so it appears that God can re-form human beings in a similar way! It should also be said that some people have strong convictions about what they want to happen to their bodies after death (like cremation, burial, entombment, and donation to science). We believe as long as one’s personal remains are honored as part of God’s good gift, then God’s got the rest of this figured out!
Will we know each other in heaven? Can deceased people see us on Earth? Do dogs go to heaven? So is there present heaven right now and future heaven when Jesus comes back?
These are all great questions! I want to recommend a book that touches on all these questions – Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It’s kind of like one-stop shopping for all questions heaven-related. And, of course, our team would love to meet with you and talk through your questions!
Here’s an important perspective I have about topics like this. I love to talk about, think about, and study things that often leave me a little unclear about details. And if you are like me, you might find that the Bible doesn’t have simple answers to the many questions we have. So when I finish my asking, discussing, and reading… I move to a time of worship. I’m not talking about listening to music and singing (although that’s cool too). Worship is when we move our attention from us… to God. It’s when we celebrate our limitedness in the presence of God’s unlimitedness. I want to invite you into that space too!
Let me close by showing you an example of this from the Apostle Paul. After spending almost two chapters in the book of Romans reflecting on, explaining, and attempting to help the Roman Christians of his day find wisdom about the dizzying topic of free will and predestination, he ends with worship. He reminds himself and us that God’s wisdom is greater than anything our human minds can comprehend. May it inspire us as we think about the end times, heaven, and Jesus’ return! Here it is… Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.Romans 11:33-36