No, I did not repeat “life after life” in this post’s title by mistake. Let me explain.
N.T. Wright has stirred up supporters and critics in his rethinking major Christian theological doctrines. Justification. Atonement. Predestination. Inerrancy. His “Reinterpretation” of the Apostle Paul and Pauline theology. His defining the “real purpose” for Christ’s death.
His daring and intrepid forays have launched him beyond the stuffy confines of the university and beyond the usual retirement activities of an Anglican bishop (which he is) into the arena of YouTube videos watched by thousands.
A “somewhat pagan” formula
American Christians usually do not take kindly to a Britisher finding fault with a cherished idea contained in hymns, folk songs, sermons, and embedded in American culture for over 300 years. So when he says that the following formula is “a somewhat pagan view,” fur begins to fly! What is the “somewhat pagan” formula? In his words, that “God gave us a moral standard to live up to, we broke that moral standard and thus deserve death, but God punished Jesus for our sins instead of us on the cross which means we are now able to get into heaven if we believe in what Jesus did.”
It’s at this point that I whole heartedly agree with N.T. Wright.
What’s missing in that formula?
Among other biblical teachings: (1) Original Sin, which banishes the faulty idea held by some that we were born as innocents with an opportunity and ability to either meet or break God’s moral standard; (2) Saving Faith, which is a deep trust, much more than merely “believing in what Jesus did;” and, (3) our Ultimate Destination, which is not heaven (nor a “soul-sleep” taught by some), but that yet-to-be-created new world where heaven and earth become one.
Think of all the hymns and songs that present heaven as our final destination rather than a temporary place prior to our bodily resurrection. Most of them were born during times of distress and with little else to cling to other than heaven. Wars, slavery, economic distress, famine, plagues, persecution all served to shape American hymnody.
“In the Sweet Bye and Bye”
“When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”
“When We All Get to Heaven”
“I’ve Got A Mansion, Just Over the Hilltop”
There is nothing wrong with singing those hymns and songs, if we remember that there is a final, eternal destination for Christians after heaven–a new eternal society where we will live, worship, work, and play in our resurrected bodies on a new earth.
Is life, after life, after life biblical?
The Apostle Paul states:
Romans 8:19 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [the resurrection]. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God [the resurrection].
22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies [the resurrection]. 24 For in this hope we were saved.”
The Apostle Peter adds:
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
And Jesus said:
John 6:39 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
And the Apostle John:
Revelation 21:1 “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. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 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. 4 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!’”
So Wright rightfully supplants the usual paradigm found in the frequently asked question, “Is there life after death?” with something far more biblical–“Life after Life after Life.”
Is there life after our physical death? Most certainly, YES! First, in heaven, until the resurrection, and, from the resurrection of our bodies, into eternity on the new earth.
“Life after Life after Life.”