Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Eternal Life is a Place

Eternal life is a place.  It is a place where heaven and earth join without losing their identities.  To look upon this place and call it beautiful would be an understatement, because it is Beauty.  This place does not absorb self; but there self becomes true Self.  And there these true Selves, because they are true, freely and perfectly express themselves in never-ending and ever-unfolding opportunities as they bask in the light of perfect wisdom that is love.  This place therefore is Peace, the Sabbath rest--Shalom. This place is eternal life, because it is the kingdom of God Himself Who dwells there forever; for God is I AM.

The Lord revealed glimpses of this place to the apostle John.  Here is what John experienced.

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  For the first heaven and the first earth were gone and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride who has been adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice coming from the throne declaring, 'Behold! The place where God dwells is with people. And God will dwell with people and people will be a people belonging to God; and God Himself will be with people, and will be their God; and God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of people, and death will be no more, nor will there be suffering, nor weeping, nor toil; it will be no more because the first things were gone.'

"And the One who sits upon the throne declared, 'Behold! I make all things new!' and then He said, 'Write it down, because 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.  I will give to those who thirst from the stream of the water of life as a free gift.  The one who overcomes will inherit these things and I will be his or her God, and he or she shall be my son or my daughter.'" (Rev. 21:1-7)

One thing I have come to understand from reading the works of N.T. Wright--although, I cannot tell you exactly where at this moment--is heaven has been poorly portrayed to the world as a future disembodied state of people sitting in clouds strumming harps.  No, the place Jesus promised us who resolutely stand in Him by faith is His kingdom where God dwells with us.  It is the fulfillment of God's original creation purpose (Gen. 1:27-31; Ps. 8).  It is one reason why the resurrection of Jesus matters; He was not raised to a purely spiritual state, but to a new physicality encompassing both the spiritual and the physical in the way God intended for it to be.  And it would be this way because God created the universe to be His kingdom where He dwells with His image-bearers--humankind.  It is therefore why John was shown a new heaven and a new earth; not just a heaven only, but both the heaven and earth have been restored.  And God is the one who has accomplished it through His son, Jesus the Christ.

The young rich ruler who approached Jesus with the question, "Good Teacher, what will I do so that I will inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17b) certainly understood eternal life to be the place that is God's kingdom.  Every good Jewish person did, for they all knew what is written in Psalm 92:12-15:

"The godly grow like a palm tree; they grow high like a cedar in Lebanon.  Planted in the Lord's house, they grow in the courts of our God.  They bear fruit even when they are old; they are filled with vitality and have many leaves. So they proclaim that upright is the Lord, my rocky summit, and there is no injustice in Him." [NET]

For God's kingdom, read "God's house, courts of our God" and for eternal life, read "cedar of Lebanon, vitality, many leaves."

It is also why when Jesus a little later explained to His disciples how difficult it is for the rich to find the eternal life the rich ruler was looking for, Jesus spoke in terms of God's kingdom:

"Children, how difficult it is to enter into the Kingdom of God." (Mark 10: 24b)

Indeed, it is impossible for us.  But God in His faithfulness has done it for us through His son, Jesus the Christ.  This is why He told John in John's vision (above), "'Behold! I make all things new!' and then He said, 'Write it down, because these words are trustworthy and true.' And He said to me, 'It is done.'"

If through these few arguments we still fail to see that eternal life is a place, the Lord Himself makes the connection in the vision He gave John of God's kingdom. The source of life resides in God's kingdom: I will give to those who thirst from the stream of the water of life as a free gift. This is figurative of the fact we live in Christ because He lives--that is, through Christ we stand in the necessary intimate relationship with God Who is the source of life.  I say necessary because outside of God there can be no life. And this eternal life comes to us as we stand in Christ through the Holy Spirit Who indwells us like an eternal spring of living water:

"Whoever drinks from the water I will give to him or her, will absolutely not thirst into the age, but the water that I will give to him or her will become in him or her a well of water springing up into eternal life." (John 4:14)


"Jesus had stood up on the last and greatest day of the feast and cried out saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let that one come to Me and drink.  The one who is believing in(to) Me, just as the scripture said, rivers of living water will flow out from within him/her.  Jesus said this concerning the Spirit that those who believe in(to) Him were about to receive.  For the Spirit was not yet (given), because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:37-39). 

We also learn from John's vision there are no tears or suffering of any kind in eternal life.  God has promised it, and He is faithful.  It is useful to think about why this should be the case.  The suffering in this world stems from our desire to promote ourselves over others.  We do this because we have believed the lie we told ourselves that we can discover our true selves by exerting ourselves over others.  But we will never find our true self until we completely let it go in Christ. Jesus said,

"The one who finds his/her life (soul) will lose it, and the one who loses his/her life (soul) on account of Me will find it." (Matt. 10:39)

But we don't do this, and for this reason there is great weeping, terror, suffering, and toil in our world.

I was tempted to translate "toil" in John's vision (above) as something of the order "arduous and frustrating labor."  The reason is because we will do work in God's kingdom, and it will be the work that naturally flows out of our true selves and therefore rewarding and invigorating, not a burden.  This is contrary to the work we do in the present world; work in this world is toil, because it is froth with strife, disappointments, injustice, competition, defeat, and pain.  Well of course it is, because it flows from a caricature of our true self, and we are using it often as a means of discovering who our true self is.  But imagine what work would become if all of that went away, and each of us operated as he or she was created to be in the kingdom, unfettered by ignorance, jealousy, empire building, and so on. So it shall be in God's kingdom, where love binds us together in perfect justice (right order).

When I see what man has accomplished in the pursuit of science, I am amazed and tell people we shouldn't run away from scientific endeavors and discovery by vilifying or fearing science.  If God created us to be His vice regents over creation--and He did--then we will necessarily be about the work of understanding creation.  Indeed, we who have been created to fill this role in God's kingdom will be working to this end in God's kingdom forever because creation is infinitely complex.  But we won't be as the scientists of this world who, despite all their protestations of being purely objective, are really out to make a name for themselves over their peers at all costs.  This is why we are reading about so much falsification of data these days, and the incessant infighting in academia.  No, in God's kingdom the work of discovery will flow from love rather than selfish-ambition and conceit.  Our self won't disappear--indeed, it will prevail in perfect concert with all other selves--but Self will no longer concern us.

In God's kingdom we will know our true selves and live accordingly through the power of God's love working in us.  There will no longer be tears in God's kingdom, but much to do.

Finally, the Lord tells John all those who overcome will inherit their place in God's kingdom.  To overcome is to love as God loves by obeying Him in holiness.  This is of course impossible on our own, because again we look to ourselves for the answers that can only come from God.  This is why Christ came, so that in Him we can love in holiness through His love and holiness; we act perfectly rightly because we do so through Christ's perfect righteousness that comes to us through the indwelling of His spirit when we fully repent of ourselves and the world's methods and wholly entrust ourselves to Christ in His love by faith.  The apostle John explains it this way,

"Because everything that has been born from God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that is overcoming the world, our faith. Who is the one overcoming the world if not the one who is believing [unrelentingly putting his/her whole trust in Christ alone and living accordingly] that Jesus is the son of God?" I John 5:4,5

The answer is no one. 

God in His unfathomable love for us has restored His kingdom by taking on flesh and entering into human history to mend the broken relationship between Himself and His image-bearers--humankind; The relationship was broken because His image bearers thought they could find and hold life in themselves and turned their backs to the only source of life and died.  Jesus entered this death by dying ignominiously on the cross, was buried, but on the third day was raised through the power of God's love to eternal life, and exalted to the right hand of God to reign forever as king over God's kingdom. And this kingdom is forever.  Now those of us who turn to Christ by faith will live through His life, and therefore live forever together with God in His kingdom.

And what a beautiful place this eternal life is.


jesusandthebible said...

The new heavens and new earth are indeed the place of our eternal life--after all things are made new in the end (when Christ returns). And this will include resurrected bodies, not just disembodied souls. And the best kind of unselfish science can continue in this place.

Until then, there is also a place in heaven for those who die in the Lord. And since the resurrection of the body comes only when Christ returns, all of us who die "in Christ" before that return will end up in heaven enjoying his presence (without a new body or new earth yet). Thus the portrait of souls in heaven playing harps, while indeed less appealing than a new body and new earth, is also from Revelation. In Rev. 5:8-10, 24 elders in heaven fall down before the Lamb and with a harp sing a new song praising the Lamb who has made some from every nation a kingdom, and they will reign on earth (in the end). While this is different from a lonely individual on a cloud, it is about heaven (when the old earth is still around) and harps--and more importantly about joy in the presence of the Lamb.

bruce kokko said...

Thank you for your comment. It is a valuable add. Indeed, I find great comfort in Jesus' description in His parable of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke 16:22) of the angels carrying the spirit of Lazarus away to the bosom of Abraham.