Summary: What will we be like for eternity?
This is the second message in the series, “Heaven: An insider’s guide.” Last week I invited you to email me your questions about heaven and I’ve received several dozen good questions. I was surprised to learn the most popular question asked is, “Will there be pets in heaven?” There will be animals in heaven. We know because in Revelation 19 Jesus is returning from heaven riding a white horse. But I’m not sure if we’ll retain ownership of animals in heaven; they belong to God, not us. Maybe all the animals will be like pets to us.
The second most popular question has been, “What will we be doing in heaven?” I’ll address than next week in the message entitled, “Heaven’s Activity Guide.”
In this message I’m going to answer the question, “What happens when a person dies?”
There are many theories about what happens after a person dies, but they usually fall into four categories. First, there is materialism, or atheism, that basically teaches when the body dies that is the end of existence—there is nothing beyond, like the epitaph on a tombstone in England that reads, “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up with no place to go.”
The second theory is reincarnation. Some of the Eastern religions teach that the soul survives after death, but it is reincarnated into another body. If the soul is enlightened, it is reincarnated into a higher life form, if not, it regresses into a lower animal form. Mark Twain once said, “I don’t believe in reincarnation—and I didn’t believe in it in my former life, either.”
The third theory about what happens after death is the Platonic theory of immortality. Plato suggested that the body is totally separate from the soul, and the body is bad and the soul is good. Death is the liberation of the soul from the body. After death the soul lives on without a body for eternity. Sadly, many Christians unknowingly embrace this Platonic belief.
The fourth theory, which is taught in the Bible, is called Resurrection. At death, the soul and spirit leave the body, but at a future date, the body will be raised and changed and reunited with the soul and spirit. That’s the broad belief, and in this message we’ll dig into the details.
One of the best passages dealing with what happens when we die is found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9:
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by 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 clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body 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.”
Even people who call themselves Christians often have strange ideas about what heaven is like. We get a lot of our misconceptions from Hollywood. I love the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart. But the opening scene gives us a faulty understanding of heaven. Frank Capra opens the movie with several people praying for George Bailey, who is in trouble because some money is missing from the Savings and Loan. Then the scene shifts to outer space where God is talking to an angel named Joseph. They summon an angel second-class, named Clarence, to go to earth and help George. Clarence is a man who died in the 1800s but he hasn’t yet “earned his wings.” In spite of the fact that he’s not the brightest bulb in the socket, Clarence, played by Henry Travers, succeeds in getting George to consider that his life is worth living. At the end of movie as George Bailey is standing by the Christmas tree, a bell on the tree rings. Zuzu says, “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.’” And Jimmy Stewart smiles and says, “That’s right. Atta’ boy, Clarence!”
That makes for a great movie, but it distorts what the Bible says happens to a person when they die. When a person dies, they don’t become an angel. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 16 that when Lazarus died, the angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom, which is another way to describe paradise. Let’s notice three things about what happens when a person dies.