Discovering the Afterlife – Part 1February 26, 2009
A close friend recently asked me if I thought we would be married to our spouses in heaven. We launched into an entertaining and speculative discussion on the afterlife. This followed on an incident two days earlier where an acquaintance asked me if there would be animals in heaven. I liberally shared my very brief opinion on the subject and once again it was entertaining though hardly definitive.
I admit I can’t really get a full grasp on what the afterlife is going to be like. But I am convinced of this: It will be very different from what a lot of people think. I could write reams of articles on what I think will take place after we die, but my opinions, and three bucks, will get you a cup of Starbucks premium coffee. But I do know someone who can tell us the answers.
In the first chapter of the book of Acts in the Bible, we are told that Jesus walked around on this earth for 40 days after his resurrection. Then, he was taken up into a heavenly place. Ten days later, God sent Holy Spirit to fill the disciples to overflowing. I think I know why we don’t see Jesus around today. I definitely know why He had to die and be raised up from the dead. But this question intrigues me: Why was he alive for 40 days on this earth after coming to life?
Both the books of Colossians (Col. 1:18) and Romans(8:29) calls him the Firstborn from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:20 refers to him as the “firstfruits from the dead, the first of those who have fallen asleep”. There are other verses that teach this same truth, but here is the kernel of it: Jesus stayed alive for 40 days primarily to show us what the Afterlife is really going to be like!
For several weeks I’ve studied the accounts of Jesus walking on this earth after his resurrection. If he truly is representative of what we will be after we die, then we can learn a lot about the Afterlife by observing His nature as it is revealed in those 40 days.
A cursory study of those 40 days reveals many things. Here are the most important ones I see.
1. The Afterlife is not Just a Spiritual State: Jesus had a real body in the 40 days of his earthly afterlife. He could eat food. He could drink. He could be touched by other people. He existed in real places in real time. We are even told in Revelation that he bears the scars of his crucifixion in heaven. That has to mean that certain aspects of who we are – the most important ones – will be recognizable after we die.
2. The Afterlife is not Just a Physical State: Lest someone think that the Islamic vision of an earthly paradise is our eternal reward, Jesus counters that. He could walk through walls. He could appear and disappear at will. He has full access to heavenly places where the Father is. God the Father is spirit (John 4:24) and we will be spirit-beings. Adam and Eve conversed with God and saw God -yet the Bible makes it clear that no man has seen God. So their communion with God was on another plane than the physical. That only leaves the spirit realm.
3. Pleasure is present in the Afterlife: We assume by watching Jesus eat food that he is capable of doing that. But the clear picture in Revelation is that there will be no death. That means that no one will starve to death. That implies that eating will not be for fuel but pleasure. There will be feasts in the Afterlife. Jesus ate meals on three occasions in his resurrection state. If this is true, is it a stretch that other pleasurable things will also be available to us in the Afterlife? I can’t catalog what those may be, but I can assume they will play the role they were originally created for: To be subservient to our free choice and not masters of it. We were never meant to be ruled by pleasure. In the Afterlife, pleasure will not be in charge. That changes everything.
4. There is Still Work to be Done: Observing the totality of Jesus’ ministry during the 40 days he was alive after death, we observe that he fulfilled many assignments for God. If he is the firstfruits, then it is reasonable to believe that the Afterlife will not abolish work. We will still be given assignments to do in the New Heaven and the New Earth. What will be missing is “toil”. We will not grow weary. But I believe we will work.
5. We will still Be Unique in the Afterlife: Jesus had to keep the disciples in Luke 24 from recognizing him. That means he still had characteristics that would identify him as Jesus. But he had obviously changed as well. Mary Magdalene did not know he was Jesus until he spoke her name. What this tells me is that in the Afterlife, we will maintain certain qualities and characteristics of our temporary form and being. But these will be changed so that we can exist in God’s manifest presence and not be destroyed. They will not be so changed, however, that others will not recognize us. The exceptions might be those who were born deformed, or the still-born, aborted etc. All of us will have new, resurrection bodies that are not subject to disease, death or decay.
6. We can live on Earth in the Afterlife: Since Jesus was able to dwell in a physical place, it is possible to do so. Revelation suggests that all of creation, both physical and spiritual, will be remade back into paradise. It also suggests that we will be able to move freely back and forth. The new bodies will have to have the ability to exist in both places.
In the next article, I want to tie these things together and suggest some implications and conclusions.