Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. Desmond Tutu
The Bible Narrative is one of hope. It starts and ends with KINGDOM - humans ruling and reigning, in the presence of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had formed. The LORD God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river went out from Eden to water the garden.
Genesis 2:15-17 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever.
The Bible starts well, and ends well, from garden to garden city. The similarity in imagery in Eden and in John's Revelation is striking. In between these bookends, we have the story of man's REBELLION, God's RESCUE mission, man's RESPONSE and a RESURRECTION for all creation.
Most of us know the story of the fall well. Genesis 3. The choice to go against the word of God and follow the word of the snake. The consequence? Death. Not immediate physical death. Rather a state of living death. There was relational "death" between the humans themselves, and between them and God. There was a spiritual "death" in the sense that there was a moral and spiritual separation from God. Paul calls this being dead in sin (Eph 2, Col 2), and a physical death - a split between the dust and the divine breath from Gen 2.
This is the reality of this present age - a state of living death. We are alive, but not in the way we were created to be.
God's rescue mission, to bring life. The good news of the King: Jesus comes as the Messiah, promised King, to reverse this and start setting things right. But he does it in the most unexpected way - he goes to face death on the cross. Jesus had to be human to die. He had to die to defeat death. And he had to be raised to life to offer eternal life.
John 3:16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life
Colossians 1:13 He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
Jesus calls people to repent - to pay attention, because he is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. He demands a response, and that response means a drastic re-organization. Of everything. - In the first century, believer didn’t just mean someone who heard and agreed with Jesus; it meant someone who acted on that belief. That's why believers, like Paul, were accused of turning the world upside down.
Who is Jesus to you? Believing in Jesus as your King sets you on a TRAJECTORY to eternal life Paul unpacks it this way:
4 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. Romans 6:4-10
In other words, there is a newness of life now but a we will be then - the resurrection
The resurrection is not going to heaven. It's not life after death. It's life after life after death as N.T. Wright and others would say.
It follows something called the INTERMEDIATE STATE. It's a little of hard to explain and the New Testament writes don't say too much about it, but the idea is that this is the place the immaterial part of you is between physical death, and the coming resurrection, when Jesus returns, and everything is made new. It is something temporary, perhaps like an airport lounge.
Believers are ‘with Christ’ - Paul writes about being with Christ (Phil 1:21-23. John writes about the souls of martyrs (Rev 6:9-10), who are vocal.
Unbelievers - not to hell, but rather in Sheol (Hb) Hades (Gk ) - the place where the dead go, basically - the grave. We have no real clue if this is a conscious state or not.
1. it appears in the OT that both righteous and unrighteous go to Sheol, but in the NT, only the unrighteous, as the righteous are with Christ. Some hold that the OT righteous were taken up with Christ at his resurrection.
2. "hades" is unhelpfully translated as “hell” in some versions of the Bible, which makes this a little confusing
3. Purgatory - from Roman Catholicism, the idea is that those who have been baptized in the church but compromised by sin must spend time in purgatory, a process leading to purification to be able to later go in to God's presence. The time in this process is said to be able to be shortened by the prayers of others, and by financial contribution to the church.
Purgatory is not in the Bible, and in essence means Jesus work on the cross was not enough to make a person righteous.
AGE TO COME
Now we get to the resurrection. This is when Jesus returns to bring his Kingdom in fullness, when the dead are raised, there is the final judgement, and the new heavens and new earth that we read about in Revelation come to be.
Jesus spoke about it this way:
28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out — those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of condemnation.
ON the resurrection of life
It seems the enemy loves to portray heaven, as boring. Perhaps this is where the idea of clouds and harps come from. Really though, the new creation is the setting unimaginable joy. the Bible teaches that our forever home will be here, on earth! Yes, the new heavens and new earth, but many hold that this is a different quality of what is already here, rather than something completely new. I like this view, because it tracks what Paul writes about creation itself being set free (Rom 8:21)
We’ll reign over a resurrected universe, centered on a resurrected earth, with its capital city the resurrected Jerusalem We will eat, drink, work, play, worship, discover, invent, travel. Civilization will be resurrected, including human cultures with distinctive ethnic traits. There will be both resurrected nature and human culture. Together these elements combine to distinguish the eternal state, where God will come down and live with his people…because God is infinitely great and gracious, new creation is the ultimate adventure while hell is the ultimate sinkhole R. Alcorn
ON the resurrection of condemnation
In the OT, there is imagery of God's fiery judgement consuming evil Mal 4:1, Zeph 3:8. In the New Testament, there are or 8 mentions, mostly by Jesus, of hell. He talks about the fire of hell, thrown into hell, destroyed in hell (i.e. loss of purpose, ruined), judgement of hell, eternal fire, darkness, remorse, sadness. The word itself is "gehenna" in Greek and refers to a valley (Ben Hinnom) in SW Jerusalem where child sacrifices were performed in time gone by - basically an awful place. 2 Chron 28 (Ahaz), Jer 19. In Revelation, the word hell is never used, but there is reference to a lake of fire. So, there is imagery, metaphor and a literal place. Paul writes about an eternal relational separation from God 2 The 1:9Given what John writes about Hades giving up the dead, it's not likely that there is anyone in the literal hell yet.
12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. 13 Then the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; each one was judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. Revelation 20:12-14
How can a God of love send people there, many ask. Here are some thoughts:
God doesn't send anyone there! Getting there is a result of a willful choice to be independent and reject his RESCUE mission. Rather, God desires everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)
Hell is an eternal continuation of the present state of living death. It is a result of an entire life trajectory, and hence not a surprise.
It is a necessity for true freedom. There must also be the possibility love can be rejected, otherwise it is control.
These two passages from C.S. Lewis give great perspective:
"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not [refuse to] be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does." The Problem of Pain
“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.” The Great Divorce
Jesus always answered questions with questions… When we ask things like "What about the people who die without hearing the Gospel?" It's a fair question, but I wonder if Jesus might not bring it back to "What about you?"
I think it's important to see that how we respond to the Gospel, the good news of the King and his Kingdom determines whether we continue in a state of living death, to eternal death, or whether we begin a trajectory of eternal life. The former, in a place of eternal boredom and suffering, somewhere outside the city, or the latter, in the new heavens, and new earth, where their is endless joy, healing and life. These are both present and future realities.
Jesus, the King, offers us the newness of life now. The new way of being human. The Jesus way. The Spirit empowered way. We can live in the present age as people called to that future age to come, people called to live in the present in the light of that future hope.
I love this line from the song Magnificent Trinity, especially since today is Pentecost Sunday, and here we are a little over 2000 years later, preaching the same Gospel - the Good news of the King, calling people to give their allegiance to him and bring some of his future into the present.
It’s the gift of the Father to fill us with his love, and clothe us with power, to do the things he does