Life after death, or life after life after life?

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”
“Beulah Land”
“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.”

8 Replies to “Life after death, or life after life after life?”

  1. Ken: Thanks for your words of truth and wisdom. God has truly blessed you with the gift of communication; and I am not sure I could ever express how much of an impact your life example has had on me. Please accept my thanks for your friendship over the years. As we approach the “end” of our lifespan, it is so comforting to know that it is NOT the end – but the beginning of “more life” that has virtually no end. I love you and Ruth; and wish you God’s hand of mercy and blessing as you continue to communicate His messages.

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    1. The friendship we have, John, is equally treasured by me. Whether you arrive in heaven before or after me, we have an eternal friendship right now! Ruth and I love you as our brother.

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  2. Hey Ken,

    Love your bloggin’.

    It’s interesting. I’ve spent the last couple of years studying a Precepts Revelation course and trying to think through how and what will occur. I just came to the thought you mentioned that we will be on the New earth rather than in heaven forever. Anyway, I also heard someone on TV mention it. Must be the Lord is trying to emphasize the truth to me! Anyway, thanks for sharing. Thankful the future for us is so magnificent!

    Karin

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    1. Greetings, Karen! Before you “think through how and what will occur,” you have to find evidences for the question, “When was the book written?” Was it pre-70 AD or post-70 AD? Was it fulfilled historically or is it about future events?

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  3. Thank you, Ken! I have missed your blogs and am glad you are publishing again! I once heard a sermon about our new Earth, and how perfect it will be. No aging, no ALS !, no need for jails, or banks, no widowhood, or divorce….. And probably no preachers, or teachers, or politicians! or repair men! No time – that’s a biggy, no regrets, or bad memories. Right after I bow down in awe and worship to our Great King, I’m going to give you such a very big hug, as you stand there in your perfect body, and thank you for being my Big Brother and Friend! I love you, E

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  4. Daniel & I enjoyed your blog as our devotional tonight. The Bible clearly teaches life after life after life, and NT Wright is right to emphasize it:

    2 Peter 3:13 (NIV)
    “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

    Yet, those short-sighted Christians who have set their hope “in heaven” might have good reason (beyond the Hymns) to be so inclined, as the NT speaks a lot (over 80 times) about what is “in heaven”…
    Our Father, our treasure, our reward, our citizenship, our house, and our country.

    Paul says:
    “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.”

    Hebrews says:
    “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”
    Heb 11:15-16

    Biblically speaking, I suspect “heaven” is often short for “the kingdom of heaven,” which has in view “the new heaven and the new earth,” ultimately.

    Thanks for writing.
    Your blog is a blessing to me.

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    1. It’s like justification and sanctification. You can’t have one without the other. And with regard to our future, it is both heaven and the new earth. To speak of the new, earthly home is not to diminish heaven, but a correction is needed. Many aspects of what happpens on the new earth bleed over into heaven. Features of life after resurrection get sucked up into heaven prior to resurrection. For instance Rev. 21 speaks of streets of gold. The gospel song, “Heaven Is Better Than This” says, “Walking down the streets of gold, in that land where we’ll never grow old,” referring to heaven. You cited 2 Cor. 5:1 where it should read, “an eternal house in the heavens” (plural noun).

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