In a recent post in response to a question a good friend had asked we gave some thought to what happens after death. This is a fascinating, and I believe a very important subject. Almost all people who believe the Bible have some concept of life after death. That concept may not always be as a result of an adequate understanding of what the Bible actually teaches since our thinking about this subject has been formed as much – or more – as a result of mythology than from what the Bible actually says. I want to revisit that subject today and investigate a little more fully the Biblical reasons for what I believe will be the eternal destiny of the people of God.
In the book of Romans, Paul’s “magnum opus,” he first laid out a devastating indictment against the whole of mankind. All are without excuse for being away from God because God has adequately revealed himself to the whole human race. Without exception, all have strayed away from him and were lost and without hope. In the latter part of the third chapter and further he develops the idea of salvation by grace through faith. In developing that idea he points to Abraham as the great example of faith and to the inheritance God had promised through him to his offspring. One part of that promise is stated in Genesis 13:14-17 – the land promise.
“The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (See also: (Exodus 32:13; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 4:21).
It is assumed by many that the land promise was intended just for the fleshly descendants of Abraham – the Jews – and that that land was that territory that now generally comprises Israel and Palestine. It is also assumed that since the end of the Jewish nation in AD 70 they no longer have a legitimate claim to the land and that the land promise no longer applies. Others assume that the land promise means that that particular piece of real estate rightfully belongs to the Jewish people in perpetuity. In other words, that land is their inheritance through Abraham and hence the ongoing dispute and occasional bloodshed that continues to go on there to this day.
But Paul makes it plain that the descendants of Abraham are not just the fleshly descendants, but that his family includes all who have faith in God just as Abraham had. This means that the promises of God to the descendants of Abraham extend to all those who are reckoned as his descendants. He points out that God had made this promise to Abraham before he was circumcised (circumcision was a sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham) so that people who were not circumcised could be included in the promises.
“He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:11-12).
Now look in the next verses at what the apostle says about the promise.
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” (Romans 4:13-14).
In Genesis the promise was “all the land that you see” (v. 15). According to Paul, however, Abraham would be “heir of the world.” Why now the inclusion of the whole world? Why has it expanded beyond the borders of physical Palestine? Obviously it was because the family of Abraham now included not just the fleshly descendants, but all those in all the world who are his children by faith.
But why would these children of Abraham by faith inherit the earth? This is where we must broaden our outlook to encompass what may be called the “missio dei” or God’s grand purpose for the entirety of creation. What is that purpose? For some, all God is interested in for this creation is getting those people who are going to be saved saved and then get them into heaven. At that point, according to the usual interpretation, he will be through with this present creation and will dump it into the great cosmic conflagration for total destruction. The saved ones will be whisked off to heaven to live and to engage in perpetual worship.
But to answer that, let’s get back to Paul’s thinking in the Roman letter. In the 6th chapter, with the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage as the background, he pictures enslaved people being delivered from bondage to sin into the freedom to be servants of righteousness through relationship with Christ (baptized into Christ). Then to show that our relationship with God must be on the basis of faith and not by law, he in the 7th chapter shows how law cannot accomplish that, even though one tries to his utmost to live up to the demands of law. Finally in the 8th chapter he describes how we are freed from the “law of sin and death” through the “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” We who are thus led by the Spirit are the children of God and know we are because the Spirit bears witness with our spirit.
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:12-14).
He then brings in the consequent truth about this relationship to God as his sons and daughters …
“…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (vs. 17).
But before the glory there is the pain. Jesus suffered before he was glorified because he was the Son of God. If we are sons and daughters as Paul is presenting the idea here, we will suffer also. The way to glory is through suffering. The suffering is as a consequence of living in this fallen, sin-cursed world.
But we are heirs! We have an inheritance! And what an inheritance! I especially like these expanded paraphrased renderings of Rom 8:18-21.
(Romans 8:18-21). [But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!
For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship].
For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it—[yet] with the hope
That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.
Romans 8:18-21 (PHILLIPS). “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”
Romans 8:18-21 (MSG). “That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.”
The revealing of the sons of God is the transformation of our mortal bodies into our spiritual bodies that will be suited for existence with him in his redeemed creation. It is his bestowal of our inheritance. It will take place when he brings all things together in the grand fulfillment of his eternal plan for his creation. The eternal destiny of God’s children and the destiny of the whole universe are tied together! New creation! New heavens and new earth. Heaven and earth brought together. God’s family all brought together in his glorious presence for eternity. God and his children together in his good creation now perfected and made suitable for his habitation with his children. What a day, glorious day that will be!
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).
Finally all the children of Abraham will be in that land of promise – the earth promised to our spiritual father.
So what do we do until that time? After looking at the same event through the lens of the resurrection the apostle Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). In other words, “Resurrection is coming so let’s get busy!” We might say, “Our inheritance is coming so we have work to do.”