Kingdom Preview (5): Happily Ever After
Intro – How would you like to pick up the paper and read you died the day before? Happened to Mark Twain in 1897. Someone confused him with a cousin who was ill in London. Twain responded: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Well, that phrase could apply equally to the death of any true believer in Christ. Gone here, but more alive than ever over there!
God wants that hope to inform our whole earthly existence. He urges, invest there, not here. But misconceptions about what comes next cause many to hang on tight to now. Our text can help. The main point of this passage is that Jesus’ death is not incompatible with the kingdom – in fact, is critical to it! Even Moses and Elijah can’t stay in heaven without Jesus’ death. That’s the main message. But peripherally, we see kingdom conditions.
III. Portents of the Preview (hints of kingdom characteristics)
A. Is there really an afterlife?
Is heaven real, or just a fairytale to get us thru funerals? Moses and Elijah provide living, breathing proof. There is a life to come for believers.
B. What is the best thing about the kingdom? Jesus!
He is the key to entrance. He lights the whole universe. Everything revolves around Him. Jesus is central to the whole thing. But what about us?
C. What will we be like?
This preview shows we will be a lot like we are now. Moses and Elijah “stood” with Jesus. They were “talking” to Him. They spoke of His departure. They displayed all the characteristics of body and mind that we have. Phil 3:20-21 adds: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” In heaven, we will have a body -- a transformed body. It will be like and yet not like now. Paul names it in I Cor 15:44: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” It’s an oxymoron. In this world you are either body or spirit, but you can’t be both. But in the kingdom we will have spiritual bodies.
So what is a spiritual body like? Never seen one of those! But wait! Phil 3:21 says it is “like his glorious body.” There is a clue. Our body will be like His after His resurrection; it models ours. Are you sure? Look at I Cor 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus’ body is the prototype for ours. So what was it like?
Turn to Luke 24:36. It’s Jesus with the disciples right after resurrection. “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Look at this! A spiritual body can talk. It can be seen. It can be touched. It can hear. It can sense the needs of others. It has flesh and bones. It’s a lot like our present body, isn’t it? We’re not going to spend eternity like Casper the Ghost. We’re going to have substance; self-consciousness and identity. I like that.
But Jesus isn’t done. Let’s go on. Lu 24:40, “40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy [were afraid to believe for fear it was an illusion] and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.” As further proof of His substance, Jesus asks for food. A spiritual body eats! I see some fist-pumping “Yes!” In the kingdom, spiritual bodies will do a lot of eating. The Bible shows that.
At the last supper Jesus told His disciples in Mt 26:29: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” In Luke’s account He mentions eating as well. Later that evening, Jesus told His disciples in Lu 22:28, “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.” In Rev 2:7 Jesus says, “To the one who conquers [believers] I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” We’re going to eat from the tree of life! Spiritual bodies are good, right? They share many of the same physical, mental and emotional attributes of our physical bodies.
But there are differences as well. John 20:26: “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Can you appear through walls and locked doors? Jesus could. Acts 1:9: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” A spectacular ascension. He entered a sphere we cannot enter, let alone survive. We don’t know exactly where or what heaven is. It’s called New Jerusalem. Heb 13:14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” That’s the place Jesus has gone to prepare. According to Rev 2:12 it will come down to a new earth. As our bodies have substance, so must this city. Perhaps it occupies even now another dimension close by. We live in 3 dimensions. Physicists speculate that there are at least 10 dimensions, most of which we cannot get to now. Is it possible a spiritual body will provide access? We know that angels occupy the same space we do, while remaining unseen. Another dimension – one we will one day presumably be able to pierce. Whatever the case, the substantial place that God is preparing shares many of the characteristics of the present earth and our access is guaranteed wherever it is and however it is.
The most startling difference of all in spiritual bodies is most obvious. There stand Moses and Elijah – 1500 and 900 plus years of age respectively – doing just fine. Spiritual bodies last forever. John 5:24, “ Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Eternal life! Imagine! Barbara Walters asked John Wayne about watching his young self on screen one time. He said, “It’s kind of irritating to see I was a good-looking 40-year-old and suddenly I can look in the mirror and see this 71-year-old. I’m not squawking – I just want to be around for a long time.” Physical bodies don’t last. Spiritual bodies are forever. I like that.
D. Will we know each other?
“Yes.” Everyone knew everyone here – even from different historical eras. Paul says in I Cor 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Everything is partially hidden now. Even those who know us best don’t know all. But then we will know and be known deeply.
After the resurrection, Jesus was known after some false-starts! Mary Mag, in the early morning light, with tear-filled eyes and thinking He’d been stolen, mistook Jesus for the gardener. But the moment Jesus said her by name – Bingo! She knew. Immediately! The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Him, but we are specifically told in Luke 24:16, “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Who did that? God for His own purposes. Which implies that had God not blinded their perception, they would have recognized Him. Yes, we will now each other in heaven. John Evans, a great Scottish minister was sitting in his study one day when his wife entered and asked, “My dear, do you think we will know each other in heaven?” He turned to her and answered, “My dear, do you think we will be bigger fools in heaven than we are here?” Yes – we will know each other in heaven!
E. Do people in heave know what is happening on earth?
Perhaps – at least some? Clearly Moses and Elijah were aware of what Jesus’ had been doing, and they even knew what He was about to do. They knew that better than the disciples. We might attribute that to their having been sent to see Jesus on the mountain, but John 8:56 indicates that Abraham was also aware of what was going on even tho he was not present on the mountain.
Of course, with everyone in heaven on credit then, Jesus’ payment for sin was a big deal! Did they know other things? Rev 6:9-10, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” John’s having a vision of the coming Tribulation. He sees people in heaven who have been martyred and crying for revenge. They are given white robes to wait on God’s time. But they know God has not yet judged. In Lu 15:10, angels in heaven know when someone’s saved. At least in general terms, they know what’s happening.
F. What Other Conditions Apply? (no sin, etc.)
Other implications stem from the Transfiguration. They discuss what Jesus is about to accomplish in Jerusalem -- the culmination of centuries of promise starting with the first promise of a redeemer in the Garden of Eden. His death will deal finally and completely with sin. It is logical to assume, then, that there is no sin in God’s kingdom. In sin’s absence, perfection will reign.
Heaven reverses the Fall. Thus harmony between man and nature. Paul says in Rom 8: 21) “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22) For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Isa 11: 6) ff. gives a vivid description of some of what that means: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7) The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8) The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9) They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
In sin’s absence, we will also be changed as well. No more aging, no more disease, no more sorrow, no more fear, no more failure, no more crying and no more death. Rev 21:4, “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.” We will be physically, emotionally, spiritually perfect. Youthful – maybe mid-20’s. Adam and Eve would be a model. Won’t that be something? Mental and physical deformities erased. Clouded minds turned on.
Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed in a swimming accident in 1967 at age 16 is looking forward to heaven more than most. She says, "Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I should become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. If there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ’Joni’, although a much better, brighter Joni.” Randy Alcorn comments, “Inside your body, even if it is failing, is the blueprint for your resurrection body. You may not be satisfied with your current body or mind – but you’ll be thrilled with your resurrection upgrades.” I’m ready, aren’t you?
G. How Should This Affect Us Now?
Jesus answers in Mt 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The law said anything found on your property was yours. Didn’t matter how it got there. So this guy digging weeds finds a treasure! He covers it up and goes and sells everything he has -- the Cadillac, the boat, the house, the wife’s jewelry – everything. Why? So he could go buy the field. The treasure it contained was worth far more than what he sold. He wasn’t stupid for selling out; he’d have been stupid not to!
The point is God’s kingdom is worth way more than anything in this life! When Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” He is not calling on us to deep-six our existence. He’s not looking for martyrs! He’s not asking us to give up personal ambition, the dreams of our childhood, worldly pleasures, perhaps even our life, for nothing! The treasure of eternity with Him is worth way more than doing it my own way for 80 years. He’s not saying give it all up so someone can pin a medal on you that says “2014 Selfless Award Winner.” That’s not it. He’s saying sell everything you’re going to lose in the end anyway for a treasure that will last forever. That’s how the kingdom should affect us. Sell everything to get that! Whatever your do, don’t miss that.
For believers, denying self daily means living like who we are in Christ. Paul says in Rom 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 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.” Think about that. In Christ we’ve inherited, along with Jesus, the whole universe! So what are we doing trying to hang onto some little pittance of an earthly inheritance – like Gollum in Lord of the Rings hanging on for dear life to “his precious,” his ring, not even noticing the hideous monster that he is becoming in the process. Sell self! Get Jesus! Your inheritance in Christ is stupendous. Live like you believe it!
Conc – There’s a chorus we used to sing: “Heaven is a wonderful placeFilled with glory and grace.I’m going to see my Savior’s face,/Heaven is a wonderful place.” It’s true. God’s given us a glimpse to encourage us to sell all to get it. Are you in? Phillips Brooks, 19th century New England pastor, composer of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” He got sick once and was so weak that he wouldn’t allow even his closest friends to see him. However, when the agnostic Robert Ingersoll called, Brooks let him in. Ingersoll expressed his appreciation, but Brooks replied, “I feel confident of seeing my other friends in the next world, but this may be my last chance of seeing you.” So, will we see you in the kingdom? We urge you – Sell all to get Him.
In the last book of the Narnia Chronicles there is a wonderful paragraph. Lewis writes, “And as [Aslan] spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” For all of us, this life is either the end of the beginning and all the best is yet to come. Or this life is the beginning of the end – an end comprised of eternity without Jesus. God has given us this glimpse to invite us in and then to live like the children of the King that we are. For those who are in, reports of their death will be greatly exaggerated. Let’s pray.