I attended a Doxology Spotlight Conference on May 1 and 2 on Death and Resurrection. It was a great time sitting at the feet of my seminary professor, Dr. Jeff Gibbs, and a new favorite of mine, Dr. Greg Schultz, of Concordia Wisconsin. It was also a topic which reveals how far afield many, even Christians, have gone from the Scriptures.
We shouldn’t assume that the Bible teaches less than what we currently think. My feeling is that it teaches so much more than we currently think or maybe even want to think about it. The main thing to note is that the Bible says much much more about the resurrection of the Body on the Last Day than it does about heaven, or the basic teaching about “dying and going to heaven.” And in the three texts from the New Testament which most definitely refer to the soul’s life after the body’s death, the term “heaven” isn’t used.
Here are our cases in point: Luke 16:19-31 (The Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus) has Lazarus dying and being gathered by the angels to “Abraham’s bosom.” Luke 23:43 has Jesus telling the thief on the cross that today he will be “with [Jesus] in Paradise.” Phil. 1:26 has Paul writing that he longs to “depart and be with Christ.” Common to the last two examples is a different definition of what happens to the soul after death. It is “with Christ.” The question is, where is that?
I can think of many other verses which have been used to refer to heaven. Problem is most of those do not work if they are applied exclusively to heaven. In other words, there may be other ways to understand those verses. The three above are the most inarguable examples.
Some questions for you, the reader. These questions will definitely help me frame how I will be teaching the Bible truths on the matter. If you are a member of St. John’s, please always feel free to respond to me directly. I would be happy to hear your answers to these. I’m not interested at present in right/wrong. I just want to know what people are thinking.
Have you been more concerned about “dying and going to heaven” than the resurrection on the Last Day?
When you or others talk about heaven does it include talk about being with Christ? Or is heaven a Christless thing in many conversations?
Do you think of heaven in terms of time and space, a place far away, eternal?
Do you think of the soul’s time with Christ as temporary until the resurrection of the dead, or do you think of it as eternal?
Does the thought of a reunion of body and soul at the resurrection bend your mind too far? Does the thought of getting a body back disappoint you, even if it is raised imperishable?
Is death “the final enemy” to you or is it something less fearful?
Again, I repeat, I’m not interested in right or wrong answers at this point. I’m more or less trying to measure to what extent our thinking about death and resurrection reflects the Bible or popular sentiment. The challenge of the Church in every age is to proclaim Christ without all the worldly assumptions.
One final note from my daughter, Emily. I was explaining some of the profound aspects of the Bible’s teaching on death and resurrection to her and she told me this: “It comforts me more to think of my family who have died as ‘with Christ’ than it does to think of them as simply ‘in heaven.'”
I think the Bible would tell her that she’s on to something there. It’s not that there isn’t a heaven. I just don’t think it’s the place many people today think it is. Is heaven a “place?” Or is it a person, The God-Man Jesus Christ?
John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”