Classic Christian Passages and Interpretations on Where We will Live After Death
I find it fascinating at how little thought many Christians give to where we will live after we die. I suspect that, for most of us, the general idea is this:
"We will stand before the Great White Throne judgement and, when God sees Christ's righteousness in place of our sinfulness, we will be admitted to Heaven. We will live there eternally where "all tears are wiped away". We will intermingle with all the saints of all the ages and with the angels and walk the streets of gold, singing and praising God forever."
I know that, having been brought up in the church, this was my idea since I was a child, so I understand how most people I've talked with have this idea.
However, is it really what the scriptures teach? Let me suggest that I'm not sure that the idea above is what is really taught in the scriptures. I will offer a disclaimer of sorts: I'm not sure that all the details are given and I trust God completely to do a great work in our abode in the afterlife. In the words of the popular Christian Singer / Song-Writer of the 70's and 80's, Keith Green, "If it took him one week to create the world, and he's been working on our place for 2000 years, hey man, this is living in a garbage can compared to what's going on up there!" I know God loves us intensely and will do things in a great way!
If the word of God commends the believers of Berea for being noble enough to "search the scriptures daily to see if the things being told them were so" (Acts 17:11), surely we should do the same with any doctrine, including that of our abode after death. So now let's look at the scriptures:
- Matthew 13:41-43 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
- Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
- Matthew 25:31-46 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ...45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
- John 14:2-3 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
- 1Co 15:42-53 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
- Heb 11:13-16 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
- Col 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
- 2Cor 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
- Philippians 3:20-21 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
- 1Thess 4:16-17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
- Isaiah 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. 18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. 19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. 20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. 22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. 24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
- Isaiah 66:22-24 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. 24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
- 2Pet 3:10-13 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
- Rev 21:1-21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. 9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; 12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. 17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. 18 And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. 19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; 20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. 22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. 24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. 25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. 26 And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Now, it is easy to read a passage with a previously formed interpretation and thus to miss exactly what the passage really says. It is always easy to read more into a passage than what it necessarily says. With this thought in mind, let me ask several questions and make a few observations. Remember, my only goal in all this is to accurately know the truths that God has revealed to us in His word regarding our eternal dwelling place.
- In the Matthew passages, have we added to the truth that the Lord will appear from heaven with all his angels at the end of time (which few people would dispute) and assumed that that is where we will all end up after judgement? Wouldn't every word in each of the Matthew passages be just a true and accurate if we were to live somewhere else after the judgement? For example, some people believe from the Isaiah, Peter and Revelation 21 passages that we will ultimately live on the "new earth". If that were so (and I am not saying it is), wouldn't all the passages in Matthew still be just as true?
- So, where do people get the idea about a "new earth"? Look at the last four passages above. The Isaiah passages seem to suggest a new earth will be created. Most commentators tend to "spiritualize" these passages. However, notice that the Peter passage seems to explicitly state that after the destruction of our present earth by fire, a new earth will be created. This tends to dampen the "spiritualization" approach to accurately interpreting these passages. This is where people that believe that a new earth will be created and that this will be our eternal abode get the idea.
- On the other hand, however, the passages above from 1Corinthians, Hebrews, Colossians, 2Corinthians, and Philippians sure seem to clearly indicate the in our future eternal dwelling place things will be considerably different. We will definitely have a glorified, spiritual body and a dwelling place in heaven. These passages are why some people believe that we will have only a spiritual dwelling place in heaven.
- So how do you reconcile these different ideas? Or do you? I will suggest that, perhaps, Revelation 21 and 22 provide the key. Notice that chapter 21 (given above) talks completely about the new earth and the new Jerusalem. But notice also that the new Jerusalem is "coming down from God out of heaven" (vs 2). The rest of chapter 21 describes a city that just could not exist in our current earth. Notice also that it is unclear whether the things referred to in chapter 22 are in the new earth or in heaven! Exactly where is the throne of God? Every other passage in Revelation seems to indicate it is in heaven (not on the new earth). So just how will the new earth and new heaven exist together? I believe that this is a mystery that will only be revealed when it happens! I have no disappointment in God for not revealing any more than this. How do you explain a spiritual realm to a physical being? How would I explain my love for my wife, kids and grandchildren to a grasshopper in the back yard?
I believe that God knows what He is doing, that He has revealed to us exactly the right amount of detail, and, finally that anyone who claims to know much more than this is probably a little over self-confident!
(Some humble thoughts that I have enjoyed thinking about and sharing!)
David Joyner, December 2, 2012