New Testament Introduction - Lesson 11


In times of exile, people didn’t see God carrying out justice in their lifetime so they thought it must happen later by God raising them from the dead. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God, our body decays and eventually God gives us a heavenly body that will be everlasting like our spirit.

Ben Witherington
New Testament Introduction
Lesson 11
Watching Now


I. Afterlife

A. Resurrection

B. What happens at death?

C. Cosmology

D. Parable of the sheep and goats

E. Everlasting life vs. eternal life

F. The resurrection of Jesus changes the way people think about the afterife

G. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

  • When reading the Bible, there is a danger of reading our own ideas into the text and assuming they are there. A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.

  • Dr. Witherington continues the discussion on the importance of using context in interpretation and walks through the different types of context.

  • Matthew, Mark and John are like ancient biographies. Luke-Acts is more like an ancient historical monograph.

  • The terms “Son of Man” and  “kingdom of God” appear often in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God is the divine saving activity of God breaking into human history.

  • Luke uses Mark as a primary source. He organizes his material geographically “to” Jerusalem, while Acts is organized “from” Jerusalem.  Luke emphasizes apologetics to make his case that Christianity should be considered a legal religion in the Roman Empire. The divinity of Jesus is more vividly portrayed in the gospel of John than in the synoptics.

  • There was great animosity between the Jews and Samaritans that went back hundreds of years.  In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not only challenging stereotypes but shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew. It’s unacceptable to use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people.

  • Jesus teaches that there is not always a direct correlation between sickness and sin. The religious officials often thought that Jesus did not measure up to what they thought a prophet should be. All of Jesus’ miracles are acts of compassion, not primarily to prove that he is the messiah.

  • Salvation according to the gnostics is a self-help program for those with inside knowledge. The gnostic gospels were never on any of the canon lists of the early church. The church recognized the canon, they didn’t form the canon. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith each day.

  • Apocalyptic literature arises when justice is deferred. It develops the ideas of the “other world” and the “afterlife.” God is being worshipped for what he is about to do to transform the world into his kingdom. Dispensational theology supports the teaching of a rapture.

  • A genuine prophecy was intended to be understood and it was spoken in known languages. Apocalyptic literature was often written during periods of exile.  Worship is not about giving people what they want, it’s about giving God what he desires and requires. True worship requires that we are in the Spirit and give our whole selves to God.

  • In times of exile, people didn’t see God carrying out justice in their lifetime so they thought it must happen later by God raising them from the dead. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God, our body decays and eventually God gives us a heavenly body that will be everlasting like our spirit.

  • Parable comes from a word meaning figurative or metaphorical speech of any kind. They are analogies and part of wisdom literature. Jesus purposefully spoke in public in figurative ways to challenge people to think about the ideas he was presenting. He gives us insights into God’s character and the relationship between him and God the Father.

  • Parables are intended to tease your mind into active thought about God. You can tell the character of a person by what they do when they think nobody is watching. The parables have both justice and mercy, righteousness and compassion.

  • The first missionary journey started in Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark worked together. Paul shames his detractors by boasting about things that most people thought were shameful. Paul’s letters were written as conversations in context, not as theological tracts.

  • In the Old Testament, “hesed” refers to the love God promised to give to the people to whom he betrothed himself (i.e., Jews). The paradigm of “agape” is God in Christ. On the cross, Christ gave with no thought of return. Paul’s letters were meant to be read in a public discourse setting as an act of worship. An effective rhetorical presentation appeals to both the mind and the emotions of people.

  • Understanding the structure of rhetoric can help you understand scripture better and preach more effectively.

  • When Jesus came to earth, he accepted a slave’s position and willingly suffered a slave’s death. Jesus “emptied himself” by giving up his divine prerogatives. Jesus assumes the role of “Lord” (God) at resurrection and thereafter. Christ doesn’t reflect God’s glory, he radiates it.

This course is will help you begin to weave yourself through the maze of NT studies. During the course we will be exploring several major subject areas: 1) the history of the period in which the NT was written; 2) the social and cultural milieu in which early Christians lived; 3) the practice of the scholarly study of the NT (source, form, redaction, genre, rhetorical criticism et al.); 4) questions of introduction about the books of the NT (authorship, date, audience, structure, purpose); 5) the practice of exegesis and hermeneutics.

So, we’re going to review a topic that’s very important in Revelation. Revelation is all about the other world, and the afterlife. So, this is an important topic that helps us understand Revelation.

The truth of the matter is, that if we survey the Bible, the Bible is a book written over a period of well over a thousand years. And God’s people went through a lot in that period of time. And when we look at what the BIble has to say about the afterlife, you need to understand that it’s progressively revealed.

In the Old Testament times, the people that had the fullest form of an afterlife theology were the Egyptians. And they really believed you could take it with you. Go look at King Tut’s tomb, and what was crammed in there. You know, even little dog, Fifi, was crammed in there with King Tut. Because they believe you could take it all with you. This is, of course, the grave robbers ultimate dream. To find one of the Pharaoh's tombs.

The Egyptians believed there was a viable afterlife, and that you needed your body. That’s why the mummification. You needed your body. What they didn’t know about anatomy, however, is, that you know what they did? They would pickle your liver and your kidneys and your heart, and, this, that, and the other. Because you’d need those organs again in the next life. You’d need to be reassembled, right?

What they didn’t know is that this grey matter up here, they thought it was just goo. So, they sucked it all out with a straw and threw it away. So, you know, for Egyptians in the afterlife, it’s a no-brainer. Quite literally.

Greco-Roman views of the afterlife. The Greco-Roman theology of the afterlife has to do with [inaudible] [02:35] of the soul. And sometimes this view is actually confused with the Christian view, and fused with the Christian view. You see this in the Middle Ages. You hear an awful lot of Medieval preaching about the immortal soul. This is not a Biblical idea. The Greco-Roman idea is that the soul has always existed. At some point, it comes into a human body, but the human body is seen as the prison-house of the soul. So, that when you die, the soul keeps going.

Now, here’s the point. The soul, in Greco-Roman thinking, is inherently immortal. It’s not a gift. It’s not grace. It’s not happening as a result of conversion experience. Your soul is inherently immortal. You with me now? However many religious experiences, or lack thereof, you have an immortal soul. So, you should not confuse the Greco-Roman idea of the immortality of the soul with the Christian idea of everlasting life. Because these are two different ideas. Very important.

In the Old Testament, in the early part of the Old Testament, the only view of the afterlife that, really, we get much of, is this view of Sheol. You die, you’re gathered to your ancestors, and you go to the land of the dead. Do not pass go, do not collect a hundred dollars. The spirits of the dead. That’s what sheol is all about.

This is very different from later Jewish views. The Pharisees believed in resurrection, as Jesus does. But the idea of resurrection is an idea that comes late to Israelite theology. It doesn’t show up before the Apocalyptic Books. Which is the latter part of Old Testament history. We’ll talk about that.

What the Old Testament basically says, is that when you die, you go to the land of the dead, unless, you know, your name begins with E, in which case you might be beamed up into the living presence of God, if you’re Enoch or Elijah.

But I’d like for us to look at a text. First Samuel 28, for a minute. This is verses three and following. Now you already know this story, right? You know about Saul going to the medium at Endor. It’s a powerful story. Here’s the crucial bit. I’m going to start with about verse 8. “So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night, he and two men went to the woman, the medium at Endor. ‘Consult a spirit for me,’ he says. ‘Bring up for me the one I name.’ But the woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done. He’s cut off the mediums and spiritus from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?’”

Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.” Now, here’s the king, who’s already banished these people, and now he’s so desperate for a late word from God, that he’s going to Sister Sarah to get his palm read. Then the woman says, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. And when the woman saw Samuel, she freaked out, and cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are King Saul.”

The King said to her, “Don’t worry, be happy. What do you see?” And the woman said, “I see a spirit, a god-like figure coming up out of the earth.” “What does he look like?”, asked Saul. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. “Yep, that’s him,” said Saul. And he bowed down and prostrated himself, with his face to the ground.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Notice, not, “Why did you bring me down from Heaven?” “Why have you brought me up from the land of the dead, from sheol?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me, and he no longer answers me, either by prophets or dreams. So, I have to call on you to tell me what to do.”

And Samuel says, “Why do you consult me now, that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy,” and so on. Now, here’s the point. Where is Samuel? He’s just in the land of the dead. This is a genuine encounter with the spirit of the deceased, Samuel. Okay?

Here’s where I tell you that Old Testament people believe that the spirits of the dead are still out there, and can be consulted. And here’s where I tell you that all Greco-Roman people this as well. In fact, on the birthday of your deceased loved one, you go to have a birthday party at the graveyard. And, there’s a pouring tube into the tomb, so you can share the wine with them, while you’re partying on the tomb. Because they believed you can still have communion with the dead.

Why were the Corinthians baptising people by proxy for the dead? Because they believed they were alive in the land of the dead, and things could still be done on their behalf. Why, in the Medieval tradition are people asking for the saints to pray for you? Because they’re still alive. They’re out there, and just as Samuel can be consulted, so it was believed that the dead could be consulted.

In a Greco-Roman home, that Paul will have seen many times, there will be a cabinet with the death masks of your ancestors. You open the cabinet when you are in a quandary, and you’re going to consult your genius. That’s the Latin word that means the spirit of your ancestor. Gene-plural, from which we get the word “genie”, as in, I’m a genie in a bottle, that saying. That comes from this Latin word that refers to the spirit of the deceased.

When a Greco-Roman Pagan person wanted advice from beyond the grave, the first people they would consult with is their ancestors, the spirit of their ancestors. Which was called a genius. This is where we get the word genius from. Originally, it meant a bright idea that you got from your ancestors, who were on the other side of the divide.

Theology of the afterlife in the Psalms is theology of sheol. When you die, it’s like sinking to the bottom of the ocean. You go down to the bottom of the pit, and unless God rescues you, you’re just going to the land of the dead, and that’s the, that’s where you’re going to be.

So, there’s this sort of shadowy kind of afterlife. But it’s not really a very positive afterlife. It’s a shadowy existence. There began to be a more positive view of the afterlife, in the later, and especially the Apocalyptic prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. Remember, “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones. Gonna rise up one day.” Ezekiel 37. Remember that?

We begin to have this notion of resurrection for the very first time in Israelite religion, in Ezekiel 37, and then in Daniel. And let me read for you the reference, very quickly, to Daniel. Here’s what it says. Listen closely to Daniel 12. “At that time, Michael, the great prince, who protects your people, will arise, and there will be a time of distress, such as not happened for before the beginning of the nations, until then. But at that time, your people, everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the Heavens. And those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Here we have theology resurrection. It’s not an accident it comes first in Apocalyptic literature. Why? Because, dear friends, justice and redemption is not happening in this lifetime, for the first generation in exile, so they must assume that God, being the right person that he is, and being the holy person that he is, he’s going to get it done later. There will be justice and redemption later on the earth, and therefore, the way justice comes to the dead is how? By raising them from the dead. You see? So that’s where this is going.

Now, here’s my bottom line. The Old Testament, apart from passing references to Enoch and Elijah, one verse each, mentions little or nothing about God’s people, in general, dying and going to Heaven. The focus of the Old Testament is certainly not dying and going to Heaven, and now you’re going to hear me say that’s not the focus of the New Testament, either. The focus of the New Testament is on resurrection.

In Daniel 12, 2 and 3, we have both a bad and a good resurrection. A resurrection unto life and righteousness, and a resurrection unto shame and contempt. We will also find this in John 5, when Jesus talks about “the righteous will come out of their graves to life, but the unrighteous will not.”

We see this in Revelation 20. There’s a resurrection of “the righteous” at the beginning of the millennium, but there’s a resurrection of those who are going to be judged and condemned at the end of the millennium. So there is this belief that there is two different resurrections. Two different everlasting destinies.

I mean, it’s not enough to be raised from the dead. Resurrection, good thing. It depends on where you’re going from there. Major conclusion: You need to have a concept of progressive revelation. Because the Old Testament doesn’t help us very much, when it comes to the subject of the afterlife. I mean, there’s just not a lot to say about the afterlife.

The Old Testament is a very much this-worldly, this-life book. And it always has been. So, if you’re wondering why it is that your Jewish friends don’t have much of a theology of the afterlife, well, just look at their sacred texts. Doesn’t say a lot. You die, you’re gathered to your ancestors. Thanks be to God for a good life. L’chaim.

What the Old Testament does suggest, what little it does suggest, is that we should focus on the afterlife on this earth, and not on the other world, namely Heaven. So let me say that one more time. If there is any theme in the latter part of the Old Testament, in Daniel or Ezekiel, the future lies with the afterlife, not the other world. The future lies with the afterlife, and not the other world.

One more point. The Old Testament is very clear about this. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. Who is it that rises to shine like the stars, in Daniel 12: 2 and 3?

Participant: The righteous.

The righteous rise, to shine like the stars. It isn’t just anybody. The others rise to stink. Not so good.

What happens when we get to the New Testament period? Well, here’s the thing about the Sage Sees. If you want to know why they’re so sad, you see, it’s because they don’t believe in resurrection. In fact, their theology of the afterlife is just what is the [inaudible] [14:48]. You die, you’re gathered to your ancestors. There is no resurrection.

You’ll remember the ridiculous conversation between Jesus and the Sage Sees, about Levirate marriage. This poor woman was hard on men. She went through seven brothers. Who will be her husband in the afterlife? Now, there is, actually, a proper answer to that question. According to Jewish law, it will be the first man, because only the first man was really married to her. The Levirate marriage was just a way to raise up an heir, in a culture that required that you have a descendant, or the property goes to somebody else. So, there is a proper answer to that question.

But, you see, the Sage Sees were asking the question because they didn’t believe in resurrection, and they thought that no doctrine could be believed that lead to the ridiculous situation of one woman with seven husbands. They’re raising it to ridicule Jesus’ theology of resurrection.

Of course, he has an interesting and surprising answer. The Pharisees, like Jesus, believed in resurrection of the sort that we saw in Daniel 12, 1 and 2. Let’s hear what Jesus himself says about this. We’re going to look at just a couple of verses in the Gospel of John. John 5, 28 and 29. In passing, but it’s there. Here’s what he says, “‘Do not be amazed at this.’ says Jesus, “time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.’” Very clearly, he’s talking about the dead. He’s not talking about the merely spiritually dead, he’s talking about the actually dead.

“A time will come when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.” That is, God’s voice. “And come out. Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to condemnation.” Ahah. Which resurrection do you get in, on what basis? Does it have to do with behavior? Yes, it do. It do have to do with behavior in this life. According to Jesus, who ought to have known, our behavior after conversion matters. Some ministers of the Gospel have not gotten the memo.

But what happens at death? We’re in a very other-worldly mode, in the church these days. Even in the conservative Protestant church, people want to know more about Heaven, than they want to know about the afterlife, frankly. Because Heaven is closer. They think it’s far more likely that they’re going to die, than they’re going to last out until Jesus returns.

So, they want to know about the other world. They want to know what happens at death, but before the final resurrection. So, you could give them 90 minutes in heaven, and give them a preview of coming attractions, or you could look at the Bible. The Old Testament doesn’t tell us a lot about this. But we have some clues in the teaching of Jesus. And this will help us get ready for tomorrow morning. Because the next genre of literature we’re going to look at in the morning is the Parables. It’s gonna be Parables morning, tomorrow morning. We’re going to have a good time.

Luke 16. You know this story. There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen, and lived in luxury every day. And at his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores, longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. And even the dogs came and licked his sores. Yuck.

And the time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. “Rock me in the soul of Abraham,” the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to Hades, where he was in torment, and he looked up, and he saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in some water that’s cool, to cool my tongue. Because I am in agony in this fire.”

But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime, you received your good things then. While Lazarus received bad things. Now he’s being comforted here, and you are in agony. And, besides all this, between us and you, a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to there cannot. Nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” This word just in. This life is the place of decision. There ain’t a second chance in the afterlife.

Jesus says, “The answer. Well, then I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus back to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” And Abraham replied, “Well, they have Moses and the Prophets. Let him listen to them.” “No, Father Abraham,” he said, “if somebody will rise from the dead and go to them, well, they will repent.”

Not. If you won’t believe the Word of God, you won’t believe the work of God. Did you ever notice that? I mean, there are a lot of people who say, “If I could just see a miracle, then…” No, what would happen is you would reinterpret the miracle in light of your own world view. That’s what you would do.

“No, Father Abraham,” he said, “But if someone rises from the dead and goes to them, they will repent.” He said to them, “If they don’t listen to Moses in Provis, they will not be convinced, even if somebody rises from the dead.”

I could tell you a lot about the history of this story. This story is a story that is actually a story from all over the Middle East. It existed before the time of Jesus, and Jesus has modified it for his own purposes. But it’s a famous story about the afterlife. Its earliest form seems to have been in Egypt, and Jesus has adopted it for his own purposes.

What’s clear about this, is that Jesus believes there’s both a positive and a negative afterlife. There’s both a positive and negative other world. You with me now?

Now, let’s talk about cosmology for a minute. Because most of us get confused about this whole issue. Let’s think about it in terms of the ascension of Jesus. So, perk up. How did Jesus get into Heaven? Did he turn left at Mars, after he rocketed through the Earth’s atmosphere? Where exactly is Heaven?

See, we have this image of a three-story universe. Heaven is up, Earth is in the Middle, Hell is down. I’m telling you, that’s not what the Bible says. In fact, what the New Testament says is that the powers and principalities are in the heavens. They’re in the air. Satan is called the power of what? The air. He’s up. He ain’t down. He’s going to be down. He’s on the way down, but he’s not all the way down yet. Okay?

In fact, in the Book of Revelation, there’s a threefold fall of Satan. From Heaven to Earth, from Earth to the Pit, from the Pit to the Lake of Fire. It’s a real downer, the Book of Revelation, for Satan. There’s a threefold fall of Satan in the Book of Revelation.

Now, here’s the thing. The way I would envision this, is parallel universes. Here’s the material universe, here’s the spiritual universe. You can enter the spiritual universe at any point, from any part of the physical universe. The function of the Ascension was not to get Jesus into Heaven. It was to make clear to the disciples that he was no longer physically present. After all, he was appearing and disappearing all the time, during the Easter season. He could have just disappeared just one final time. Right? Right.

So, the function of the Ascension Is not for Jesus’ benefit, so we could see the feet of him. The function of the Ascension is for our benefit. To know he is no longer physically present, and we must wait for a power from on high in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Two universes. The material universe, the spiritual universe. You can enter the spiritual universe from any point in the physical universe, and vice versa. So angels and demons can go back and forth. There’s quite a lot of traffic between these two universes. There is another world that involves Hades and Heaven. But there’s also an afterlife. There’s also an afterlife.

Jesus does discuss both the positive and negative forms of the afterlife on this Earth. He calls the afterlife, the negative afterlife “Gehenna”, and this comes from the word, “hennum”, from the valley. Here we go. Now, let me show you what this is all about.

Here is the Temple Mount, over here is the Mount of Olives. Any of you know what valley this is? Between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount?

Participant: Kidron Valley.

It’s the Kidron Valley. Very good, bonus points for you. Down here below the Temple Mount is the city of David, which is Old Jerusalem. Still called the City of David today. And below the City of David is the Hennum Valley, the southernmost valley, at the southernmost part of Old Jerusalem.

Now, here’s what you need to know about the Hennum Valley. It has two hideous associations. First of all, according to the Prophets in the Old Testament, it’s a place of child sacrifice to the god Molec. Yes, some Jews actually did this. Really negative vibes about the Hennum Valley from antiquity.

But, more recently, the Hennum Valley, then and today, was the garbage dump of Jerusalem. This is where you went and dumped the wet garbage, the dry garbage, any garbage that you had, human awful, well it was awful. It stunk, it rotted. In the summer heat, it was really bad. This is Jesus’ picture of Hell. When he describes Gehenna, he uses this word because you’ve got a powerful illustration just down the road, and your olfactory sense is working overtime thinking about it.

Jesus, when he describes Gehenna says, “It’s the place where the worm, that not die, and the fire never goes out. Well, guess what? That’s a garbage dump. They burned their garbage in antiquity. It had maggots in it, because it had wet garbage in it. “The worm doesn’t die and the fire never goes out.” This is where Jesus gets his images for what we would call Hell, Gehenna.

It comes from an illustration from Jerusalem. We all have different ideas about the afterlife. Jesus warns both friend and foe about missing entering the Kingdom, and instead going to Gehenna. That would be Matthew 18: 2 to 9. The two ways you can go, is you can end up in Gehenna, or you can enter the KIngdom of God. That’s the way Jesus talked about this.

Consider the Parable of the Chief and the Goats. What happens to the goats?

Participant: [inaudible] [26:36]

They’re going straight to Gehenna, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Whereas the sheep are going into the Kingdom of God, which, by the way, is on Earth. We are praying in The Lord’s Prayer, what? Thy KIngdom come, thy will be done, where? On Earth as it is in Heaven. You know, be careful what you pray for. You’re praying for the end of the world. You’re praying for the justice of God to come to Earth. You’re praying for the conclusion of things. And as C.S. Lewis says, “When the author of the play steps out on the stage, the play is over.” Jesus foresees the Kingdom coming on Earth.

Now, what’s interesting about this parable of the sheep and the goats is, here for the first time, we have both the notion of eternal life, and eternal punishment. Verse 40, Yes, Jesus, you may be surprised to hear this, but Jesus has more to say about hell than anybody else in the New Testament. And, in fact, Paul has almost nothing to say about Hell. He hardly ever mentions it. Once, in Second Thessalonians 2. Basically, not anywhere else. It is a subject that Jesus says more about than anybody else.

Now, I want to make the theological distinction between the eternal and everlasting. The life that we have, in Christ, that we’re given as a gift of God’s grace, begins now and continues into eternity. It should be called everlasting life. This is not the same as eternal life. This is a translation problem. The only being who has eternal life is the Eternal One, who always was, is, and always will be. So, I’d rather us not call it eternal life. I’d rather us call it everlasting life, because that then allows, at least, for the concept that it began at some point in time. Whereas eternal life sounds like the immortal soul. It sounds like you always had it.

Jesus talked about eternal life, and eternal punishment. Let’s just listen to the very end of this Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Jesus says this, “Then the righteous will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink, and when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or need clothing, and clothe you, when did we see you sick or in prison, and go visit you?’ And the KIng will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

And then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger, you did not invite me in, I needed clothes, you didn’t cloth me, I was sick in prison, you didn’t look after me.”

They also answered, “But Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or need clothes, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?” And he says, “Truly, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you didn’t do to me.”

Then we have this verse. “Then they will go away to everlasting punishment, but the righteous to everlasting life.” There’s  the contrast. A very clear contrast. Two afterlife destinations. one for everlasting life and one for everlasting punishment.

Here’s an important question to ask. Do things change after the resurrection of Jesus, in terms of thinking about the afterlife? And the answer is, “Yes.” Thinking about the afterlife changes after Jesus rises from the dead, in the middle of human history. All by himself.

Still, throughout the rest of the New Testament, the emphasis is not on dying and going to heaven. The emphasis is on being conformed to the image of Jesus by the resurrection of the righteous. That’s what Paul is talking about, First Corinthians, 15. He says that Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection, and what are we? We’re the latter fruits.

Now, if you know anything about farming, first fruits, latter fruits, the first fruits are the harbingers of the latter fruits, you know, The whole crop involves all of us. What Paul says in First Corinthians 15, is, “When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise.” Notice it does not say all the dead will rise. What he says in First Corinthians 15 is the dead in Christ will arise, when Christ comes back. The other dead, do not arise, until the Kingdom of God spread throughout all the Earth.

And, we are told at the end of First Corinthians 15, that, when that happens, who is the last enemy to be conquered? Yes, of course, but death is is an abstract noun. What that really means is, the rest of the dead will rise at the end of the millennium. Because then there will be nobody in the land of the dead, will there?

If the Christian dead have risen at the beginning, when Christ returned. When Christ finishes putting all of his enemies under his feet, the last enemy being death, the other dead are raised from the dead. At that point, there is no more death. You get the point?

It’s the same picture in First Corinthians 15 that you get in Revelation 22. Resurrections, one of the righteous, one of the unrighteous, one at the beginning when Christ comes back, one later.

Now Second Corinthians 5:1 through 10 is the text I want us to finish with tonight. Because it gives us, actually, the most Paul ever has to say about Heaven. And it’s not much. Second Corinthians 5: 1 through 10. So, let’s hear now, the text.

Listen closely because it can be confusing. “For we know that if the Earthly tent we live in now is destroyed,” you notice he calls our body a tent, as in a temporary dwelling place, which is mobile. “We know that if the Earthly tent we live in now is destroyed, we have a building from God. An eternal house, a heavenly one, not built with human hands.Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. Because, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed, but to be further clothed with our heavenly dwelling. So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

“Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit, as the downpayment, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore, we are always confident, and we know that as long as we are at home in this body, the tent, we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body, and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him. Whether we are at home, in the body, or away from it.”

Now, listen to this last verse. It’s the kicker that will wake you up. “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one of us may receive what is due to them, for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Is there accountability for Christians for the deeds they do in the body? Yes or no.

Participant: Yes.

Yes. Absolutely. Now, let’s unpack this. Paul is talking about three conditions. Condition one, this stint, our earthly, mortal body. Condition two, a resurrection body, Condition three, he mentions only in passing, nakedness. And when he wants to talk about this, he says, “When you go to be with the Lord, you are absent from the body,” and what? Present with the Lord. Three different conditions.’

This body, absent from the body, the heavenly body, i.e. the resurrection body. Are you with me now? And the way that Paul describes absent from the body is nakedness. Now if you know anything about early Jews, did they see nakedness as a good thing? No, it was not preferable. In certain places, it was even shameful.

Paul’s vision of what happens when you die is, your spirit goes to be with God. This is what Jesus says on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my...spirit.” It’s your spirit that goes, not your immortal soul, your spirit that goes to be with God.

In Heaven, Jesus should be really easy to pick out. He’s the only one there with a resurrection body. We are simply spirits in the presence of God, when we die. What is confusing about this passage is, that when Paul wants to talk about the resurrection body, he calls it a heavenly dwelling place. That’s because, he’s not describing a closet in Heaven, that has bodies in it. He’s describing the condition of the resurrection body. It will be heavenly. It will be everlasting. It will be something God has fashioned for us in advance.

So, the point is not you get the resurrection body when you die. The point is, that eventually you are going to be in an eternal state of affairs, and you need to be in an eternal condition to be in an eternal state of affairs. You need to be in a heavenly condition to be in a heavenly state of affairs.

So, one more time, this body, a tent, temporary. When you die, that’s going in the ground, it ain’t going anywhere. Your spirit goes to be with the Lord. That’s nakedness. That’s absent from the body, present with the Lord. But when Jesus comes back, what happens to that body? Resurrection.

Now, we could ask an awful lot of questions about the resurrection body. The bottom line is, whether there is very little to reconstitute, or a lot, God can give you a resurrection body from scratch, if he need to. Even if there’s nothing left moldering in the grave. So you don’t need to worry about that.

If God can create something out of nothing at the beginning of human history, he can certainly do it again at the resurrection. So, that’s not something you need to worry yourself about. You know, it’s lead to unending speculation, though. My wife’s a biologist, so she knows far too much about these things. What I am told by my wife, is that some of the molecules running around in me now, have been in previous human beings, Julius Ceasar, Napoleon, et cetera. I don’t quite understand that. That’s what the scientists say. So, you know, if you’re not feeling like yourself, it may be because you got too many molecules left over from previous persons.  

None of that really much matters. What matters is, that when the Lord comes, whether through a raising of what was left of your old body, or whether reconstituting it, or whether constituting a whole new one, you are going to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. You are going to become what you admire. You are going to be given a body that is immune to disease, decay and death, suffering, sin and sorrow. And who doesn’t want to have one of those?