This is the fourth post in my heaven series. If you are interested in reading all of them from the beginning… you can start with the first post here.
What we believe about our end significantly influences our present.
This isn’t just true for the topic at hand; it is also true in our everyday experiences. For instance, good companies have a vision and goals that orient their daily work toward those ends. And as a result, workers understand their work presently through the lens of where the company ultimately wants to be.
This principle, I believe, is significantly important for our discussion on heaven.
If the ultimate goal of one’s life is to go to a disembodied spiritual existence with God for eternity… then not only will one’s life activities (and the Church’s activities) be oriented around that end… but how one reads Scripture will be oriented around and influenced by that end as well.
But, if our future hope is actually different than a disembodied spiritual existence for eternity, and I believe it is, then it will not only influence our understanding of our identity and purpose in the world, it will also help us better understand Scripture as it relates to that end. I cannot underscore how important this point is for us to understand.
Let’s look at the end (our future hope), so we may better understand some seemingly confusing Scripture in light of it.
Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God.
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. Revelation 21: 3-4
There should not be any question that the consummation (the fulfillment, the bringing together) of our future hope looks like this: God living among us in a renewed and restored creation where the former order of things have passed away and where there will be no more death, anguish, sorrow, or mourning.
Since this is the case, it only makes logical sense that our future hope does not involve us as disembodied spirits floating around, but rather people who are clothed in new bodies, fully integrated spiritual bodies, that will feel, touch, sense, experience, taste, smell, hear, sing, and talk.
Having this understanding helps us unlock another commonly misunderstood passage in which Paul is writing to clear up significant misunderstanding by the Corinthians of, not just the physical resurrection of Jesus, but also of the future physical resurrection of believers.
His contention is that there is absolutely no point of putting his life on the line if Christ has not been raised from the dead- what do I gain if, merely from a human point of view, I fought wild beasts at Ephesus…if the dead are not raised at all. But, since Christ (the first fruits) has been raised to resurrection life, he is confident that those who belong to Christ will also experience the same bodily resurrection- for if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised.
Let me be clear…Paul is making the emphatic point that those who belong to Christ presently are guaranteed a bodily resurrection at some point after they die.
At this point in Paul’s letter, he begins to get even more frustrated at the Corinthian’s lack of understanding of the bodily resurrection, so he gets incredibly specific in his argument with imagery they might understand… and this where undue confusion for the average Christian has occurred. He says, that in the same way a seed must die when planted in order to then spring up as a different kind of body, so too the human body dies but will rise in another kind of body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
[The body] that is sown is perishable and decays, but [the body] that is resurrected is imperishable [immune to decay, immortal].
It is sown in dishonor and humiliation; it is raised in honor and glory.
It is sown in infirmity and weakness; it is resurrected in strength and endued power.
It is sown a natural (physical) body; it is raised a supernatural (a spiritual) body.
[As surely as] there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Had Paul wanted to say that a person becomes a spirit, he may have used a noun such as spirit (pneuma), but he doesn’t. He used the word body (soma) and then qualified it with the adjective spiritual (pneumatikos), which implies that Paul’s understanding of a resurrection body was a fully realized and fully integrated physical and spiritual body that is imperishable, honorable, glorious, strong, powerful, and supernatural.
To be sure that this is the case, Paul never once used the adjective pneumatikos to describe anything as a disembodied spirit. In fact, every time that the word pneumatikos was used by Paul in the New Testament, it was to convey the mark of the Holy Spirit on an object. Oddly enough, Paul described those of us who presently have the Holy Spirit as being pneumatikos (spiritual), and we are certainly not disembodied spirits right now!
The greatest evidence of new (kainos) creation and the renewal of all things, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For in this singular event the physical body of Jesus, which was once dead, came back as resurrected life- not as an apparition or bodiless spirit but as fully realized, supernatural, spiritual body. In the resurrected Christ we find the most perfectly integrated and the most fully realized Spirit (Pneuma) and body (soma). That is our future hope, a spiritual (pneumatiko) body (soma). Christ had a resurrection body of supernatural form that was tangible and touchable, for even Thomas the doubter was able to see and touch!
One day, that which we have been given a foretaste of presently (a portion of the Spirit)…will be the full measure. And while we inwardly have the profound joy of experiencing what it is to be pneumatikos, we groan inwardly and long for the day when our bodies will be pneumatikos, as well.
Read the next post here…