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June 26, 2024: Paradise now and then the World to Come

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13, NLT)

After a Christian dies, then what? There is so much bad theology concerning this subject. Hallmark movies are always poor sources of theology. The death of small children brings well-meaning comments about the child becoming an angel. But we do not become angels, in fact we will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). The cultural imagery is often someone wearing a white garment sitting on a cloud playing a harp. But such depictions have no biblical basis, in fact, they are shown false by scripture.

The final words of the Nicene Creed look to the fulfillment of our hope: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This day has not yet occurred. When it does, the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NLT) This is the future of all Christians but not yet the reality for any. When this resurrection occurs, the new heavens and the new earth long promised will become the reality proclaimed in Revelation 21.

On the cross Jesus told the repentant thief, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43, NLT) But this was not the promised resurrection. It refers to what Jesus elsewhere assured his disciples: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…(John 14:2, NRSV) N.T. Wright says that, “the word for “dwelling places” here, monai, is regularly used in ancient Greek not for a final resting place but for a temporary halt on a journey that will take you somewhere else in the long run”[1] (N.T. Wright).  When we die, we are with the Lord. But the resurrection will still remain in the future.

The resurrection comes when the Lord returns, He will usher in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, we shall live in resurrected bodies in that new Edenic kingdom. We must forever shed ourselves of the Gnostic belief that our future denies our physical humanity. For our Lord came to restore our humanity created in the imago dei and to restore His creation. John describes that new day following the resurrection:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:1–4, NLT)

[1] Wright, N. T.. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (p. 150). HarperCollins.


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