My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday. It’s been a bit difficult for Jamie. Losing someone you love is always hard. It’s even harder when you can’t be physically present with your extended family during a time of loss like this. Jamie’s grandmother lived in Forth Worth, Texas. We currently live in Dunedin, New Zealand. Almost 8,000 miles separate us. And teardrops sting more when family is not there to catch them.
But we are not overcome with grief—we have hope. Jamie’s grandmother was a believer. Therefore we mourn, not as the world, but as God’s children: “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). As believers, we have in us the hope of resurrection. Far from being the end, death is the transition from this life to a better one. Christians do not fear death; the grave is the gateway to things far greater.
But what are these “far greater” things? What does the Bible tell us about life after death for the believer? Much. Here I will highlight only two realities.
The first reality is that when a believer dies, his or her soul goes immediately into the presence of God (Phil. 1:23; Luke 23:43). Heaven awaits us. There is no standing in the corner of purgatory nor is there some hibernation of the soul. Death is the breaking apart of body and soul, and when a believer dies the body goes in the ground and the soul goes to God. This is the way it is now, though it is not the way it will always be…
What I want to say here is extremely important, so listen closely. Heaven will be great, but it will not be the end. The old hymn needs some tweaking: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…” should be, “Heaven is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”
You see, the second reality is that believers will eventually receive new bodies and live eternally on a new earth. Heaven, then, is a sort of lobby before entering the theater. To truly understand this, we must see the pattern established on Easter Sunday—the pattern of the cross and the empty tomb. Do you realize that what God did for Jesus that explosive Easter morning is what He intends to do for the whole creation? Just as Jesus was physically raised, so will His followers be physically raised (Rom. 6:5-9). And, not only does Christ provide the pattern of resurrection for us, He also provides the pattern of resurrection for the earth (Rev. 21:1-4).
When Christ returns as conquering King, we will receive our new bodies, our physically resurrected bodies. Those who do not understand this will not long for home as they should. For whatever reason—probably because of the way the afterlife is portrayed in movies and in Pearly Gates jokes—we tend to think of our eternal resting place as some ethereal environment—a “floaty” place where the saints swirl about. Who wants to spend all their time with fat little cherubs, playing golden harps on fluffy white clouds? Not me. I’ll pass on the kindergarten playground after death. Thankfully, our eternal home will actually be nothing like this! We will not be spirits in the clouds; Scripture tells us that we will one day receive new bodies and we will live on a new earth. Since we will have bodies, it is right to think that the creative capacities God has given us will be retained in the life to come. We will paint, and build, and craft, and sing, and play. We will still have all of our senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. So get the ghostly existence out of your mind.
And what of our new and eternal home? Revelation 21:1-4 tells us:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Note the resurrection language: the “passing away” of the old heaven and earth and the “new heaven and new earth” that replaces it. We see the Easter pattern yet again. This will be the final resting place of believers. A real, physical earth where we will have real, physical bodies. But with one very important difference—everything will be perfect. God will be present and sin will be absent. Everything will be “just right.” So think about this earth, and all the things you love and enjoy about it, and know that all the beauty and majesty of this present world will not even begin to compare to the new earth.
All of us have had moments on this earth where we think to ourselves, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” Perhaps it’s the moment where you snuggle up with your family and drink hot chocolate next to a warm fire on a cold winter night. Maybe it’s that moment on a beautiful white-sand beach where the sun just begins to sink down behind the water. Perhaps it’s that moment when you reach the peak of a majestic mountain and feel the cool wind on your face knowing that you are higher than you have ever been before. But I have great news for you, fellow believer. The most ordinary moment on the new earth will be greater than the most remarkable moments in this life. It can get better, far better, and it will.
With no fear that life will ever end or that tragedy will descend.
With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships severed.
With bodies that experience no pain, no suffering, no disease.
There will be no more infections, no more heart-surgeries, and no more cancer. Our bodies will be perfected and we will live in a radically renovated and perfected earth. And best of all, we will be with God—forever. When we truly understand this, our prayer can only be: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
I once scorned every fearful thought of death,
When it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that past the pain
There is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
For living’s such a temporary art.
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
Our graves are merely doorways cut in sod.