5 Myths about End Times

Recently I’ve seen more Christians than usual warning about the imminent end. Perhaps in light of recent political events, an expectation/desire for Jesus to return has increased beyond the everyday. This has reminded me of several misconceptions people have about that time, the eschaton, so I figured I’d throw together this list of 5 popular end times myths.

  1. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters are signs that Jesus is just about to return. This is a common misconception, based on Mark 13:7-8 and the parallel verses. But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in those verse. He tells the disciples “don’t panic” when you hear of such things. These must come, but “the end won’t follow immediately” (literally “the end not yet”). Instead, they must endure for quite some time, for this is only “the first of the birth pangs” and in the mean time they will need to “watch out” for persecution.
  2. Babylon the Great is America/Islam/[insert modern power here]. In Revelation 17-18, John gives a dramatic description of a great city, called Babylon, which has fallen to ruin. Many popular prophecy teachers like to associate this with America, Islam, or some other modern power perceived as a threat or wicked group. Yet the original historical context clearly identifies this as Rome. Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), and had by John’s time seven notable kings (17:9-10). The empire relied heavily on puppet kings in the provinces (17:7,12). For John’s original audience, nothing would have sounded more like a “great city that rules over the kings of the world” than Rome (17:18). Like the Old Testament prophets, John prophesied God’s judgment on a wicked nation oppressing His people.
  3. The last days are just starting, about to start, or recently began. Biblically, the “last days” doesn’t just refer to the very end, the time of the Tribulation and return of Jesus. The last days began with Jesus, when He through His life, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years. (See Acts 2:14-21, Heb. 1:2, Jas. 5:3, 1 Pet. 1:20.)
  4. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all or mostly about the end times. Despite the common opinion, Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the Mount of Olives after He cleansed the Temple wasn’t mainly (or some people would say at all, but I’m not 100% sure about that) about the Tribulation and His future return. Instead, the primary point was the judgment about to come on Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70. Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:20-24 make this point the most clear. Jesus treated the impending fall of Jerusalem as an event of major theological significance, the last of God’s repeated judgments on His wayward people. He constantly warned them to repent or they would be desolated by Rome, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the other prophets of old warned about other kingdoms. When Jerusalem fell national Israel would fall apart, and only the new Israel of Jesus followers would continue in God’s purpose for election.
  5. Jesus’s return will mean the end of space, time, matter, and planet earth. As I have argued in previous posts, the universe is not to be permanently destroyed any more than our bodies are to die forever. Just as we will die, when Jesus returns the world will be burned up, but this is not a permanent end. God will redeem His creation through the Spirit (see Rom. 8:19-22), and it will become a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1), just as we have become a new man/new creation (cf. Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17). There is no Biblical evidence that it will be timeless, or simply spiritual, or non-physical, or that the earth will be gone forever. We’re not simply going to heaven forever; heaven is coming to us and recreating our world.
5 Myths about End Times

Bible Time with Owl City: Bombshell Blonde

Another new post series I’ve had in mind has been this: Bible Time with Owl City. Because Owl City. Since Owl City (i.e. Adam Young, the sole songwriter and singer) is a Christian and has made that perfectly clear, and some of his songs are either explicitly or implicitly founded on his faith, his material seems perfect for mining.

That said, I was a bit dismayed when I heard one of his newer songs, “Bombshell Blonde.” If you want to listen to it, here’s the YouTube link. Or just the lyrics. At first I was a bit confused and disappointed at what appeared to be a song basically about clubbing and trying to pick up a girl. Here’s the chorus, for example:

She’s a bombshell blonde, wired up to detonate!
I’m James Bond, live to die another day!
Bombshell blonde, high explosive dynamite!
She’s all I want so I, I’m on a mission tonight!

This bugged me. Adam had always appeared to be a rather genuine Christian, and around the same time I heard this song, his new hit with Britt Nicole “You’re Not Alone” was all over Christian radio. So a song that basically seemed to be about him trying to, well, get lucky with some hot chick was unexpected and unsettling.

Yet, precisely because this looked so out of character for Adam Young (his faith aside, his personality doesn’t even seem to match my initial impression of this song), I listened more closely until I realized something. The language used reminded me of Proverbs. So then it hit me: This isn’t a song about pursuing an attractive woman. It’s about resisting one. Evidence? Here’s Proverbs about seductive women:

My child, pay attention and listen to my wisdom and insight. Then you will know how to behave properly, and your words will show that you have knowledge. The lips of another man’s wife may be as sweet as honey and her kisses as smooth as olive oil, but when it is all over, she leaves you nothing but bitterness and pain. She will take you down to the world of the dead; the road she walks is the road to death. She does not stay on the road to life; but wanders off, and does not realize what is happening.

Now listen to me, sons, and never forget what I am saying. Keep away from such a woman! Don’t even go near her door! If you do, others will gain the respect that you once had, and you will die young at the hands of merciless people. Yes, strangers will take all your wealth, and what you have worked for will belong to someone else. You will lie groaning on your deathbed, your flesh and muscles being eaten away, and you will say, “Why would I never learn? Why would I never let anyone correct me? I wouldn’t listen to my teachers. I paid no attention to them. And suddenly I found myself publicly disgraced.”

Proverbs 5:1-14

So she tempted him with her charms, and he gave in to her smooth talk. Suddenly he was going with her like an ox on the way to be slaughtered, like a deer prancing into a trap where an arrow would pierce its heart. He was like a bird going into a net—he did not know that his life was in danger.

Now then, sons, listen to me. Pay attention to what I say. Do not let such a woman win your heart; don’t go wandering after her. She has been the ruin of many men and caused the death of too many to count. If you go to her house, you are on the way to the world of the dead. It is a shortcut to death.

Proverbs 7:21-27

There is actually even more material like this in Proverbs, but you should get the gist. Solomon speaks of these women in very attractive but deadly terms. Granted, so do many guys out looking for them anyway, but in this case the severity of the warning comes through loud and clear. Upon reexamining “Bombshell Blonde,” I think the exact same theme is present. Again, with this in mind, try reading some more:

That blonde, she’s a bomb, she’s an atom bomb.
Rigged up, and ready to drop!
Bad news, I’m a fuse, and I’ve met my match.
So stand back, it’s about to go off!

That vixen, she’s a master of disguise!
I see danger, when I look in her eyes.
She’s so foxy, she could lead to my demise.
So I’m running, ’cause I’ve run out of time.

All through the song, the same theme comes through that Adam is not going after this woman, but fleeing for his life. He’s running away and trying to save himself from the ticking time bomb. He is indeed on a mission tonight, not a mission to get something but to escape and “live to die another day.”

With that in mind, my confidence in Adam Young was restored, and indeed he seemed more clever than ever. I go on to present this as advice to all the guys out there: take Owl City’s advice. Don’t play around with desire or put yourself in the way of girls you know have a certain reputation. “It is a shortcut to death,” as the wisest king who ever failed to take his own advice said.

Not to be sexist, I should remind girls that it goes the other way ’round, too. Just because he’s sexy, or mysterious, or perhaps misunderstood, that doesn’t mean you should get involved. Be wary, especially when there are any signs of danger (even when that danger is simply your own desires). Flee youthful lusts.

Now, everyone, thank Owl City for being awesome. Until next time, listen to more of his music.

Bible Time with Owl City: Bombshell Blonde

Don’t Make Yourself God When You Read the Bible

The Bible is God’s word. This is a conviction Christians have shared since the beginning. When the Bible speaks, we believe, God speaks. We have been debating what exactly that means for quite some time, but nonetheless seem to agree that this is the case. So we try to conform our lives to what Scripture teaches.

Unfortunately, when we believe that God Himself speaks in 66 (or 73 if you’re Catholic, or 77 if you’re Orthodox) books written thousands of years ago by people with totally different situations, languages, cultures, and worldviews, we find ourselves in constant danger. Danger of what? Well, basically idolatry. When reading what we believe is God’s word, we run the constant risk of making ourselves God.

What do I mean by this? If the Bible is God’s word, and when it speaks He speaks in some way, then we remain committed to begin with to the truthfulness of what we find when we read it. But what happens when we read it wrongly? What happens when we misunderstand or misinterpret something? If we don’t realize it, then we take our misinterpretation as God’s own word, His perfect truth. Suddenly we’ve turned our error into divinely authoritative truth, and become obligated to live by it. Moreover, we think everyone else must live by it, too, since it is God’s own word we believe we have found.

When reading what we believe is God’s word, we run the constant risk of making ourselves God.

What makes this particularly dangerous is how easy it is to put our own thoughts into the Bible. For example, if I thought the only two options for alcohol were drunkenness or total abstinence, then by reading the Bible and finding an opposition to drunkenness I have suddenly made total abstinence into God’s word and command! Yet this thought were mine, not God’s or those of His inspired authors. And if this seems too obvious of a mistake, there are many more that are much more subtle.

The constant danger is making ourselves God by projecting our own ideas into the Bible, which we believe is God’s word, and therefore making our ideas into a universal authority. When we aren’t carefully self-aware, we run the risk of autolatry. If we fail to make a clear distinction between our fallible beliefs and the actual teachings of Scripture, we can collapse the I AM into “I (Caleb) am!”

Take as another example the doctrine of creation. There are many views out there: young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, framework hypothesis, historical creationism, etc. Some people repeatedly fail to distinguish between the way they think and the questions they want answered, and the way God has spoken and the questions He has answered. They read Genesis 1-2 as though there is no possible difference between what the text sounds like in their mind versus what the text was actually intended to say. This gives them what they think is a clear and infallible belief about creation, supposedly from God Himself, and so they condemn everyone who disagrees as going against God. Yet this is wrong. We are all fallible, and we all come to the Bible with loads of preexisting wrong ideas which careful Biblical learning is meant to correct. So we should be slow to shout “They’re contradicting God’s truth!” when someone disagrees with us about something the Bible says. We are not God, after all, so we might have something wrong about His word.

We are all fallible, and we all come to the Bible with loads of preexisting wrong ideas which careful Biblical learning is meant to correct.

But I don’t at all want to say we should be, because of all this, timid and relativistic. We don’t have to sit in a corner and say, “Well, I could be wrong, you could be wrong, and we all read ourselves into the Bible, so we don’t have any sure word from God to say one way or the other.” I may come off that way, I fear, but that’s precisely not what I’m saying. The solution to this is careful study of Scripture through the major questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Paying attention to the who (author, reader, and subjects) can give us the proper distance between our mind and the Bible we have. Paying attention to the what (what the text actually says) can keep us from twisting texts to fit into our existing molds. Noticing the when (the historical timing of the writing, and any stories involved) helps us keep in mind the differences between then and now so that we don’t squish out any meaning otherwise lost to modern folk. Thinking of where (geographically, on one hand, but also where in the Bible and within an individual book or argument a text is) reminds us to take wider contexts into consideration, so that we don’t try to force a text about A to answer question B in our minds just because they sound similar. The why (motivations and circumstances for this writing or saying, or even precise wording) gives us a bigger picture of what’s really going on so we don’t haphazardly mix and match unique Biblical concerns and circumstances with actually unrelated issues in our lives. Finally, the how (the structure, form, style, vocabulary, etc.) reminds us to keep an eye on larger themes, motifs, and points that we might erase if we simply think about what we want to think about.

The more Spirit-led readers you interact with, the more you can find what the Spirit has helped others realized but you have missed.

This all might sound hard, and it is. Scripture is much like the ocean: there are shores shallow enough for even babies to enjoy, but there are also depths even the most trained divers fear. While anyone can pick us the basic messages of Scripture (redemption from sin and death by God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit, for example) without trying too hard to keep themselves in check, the more you read the more work and skill it takes to understand everything the way you were meant to, instead of the way you naturally would or want to.

For this reason, I advise (and this is advice which I take myself) seeking out the wisdom and learning of other Christians. The more voices you have, the less of a chance your own voice can dominate. The more Spirit-led readers you interact with, the more you can find what the Spirit has helped others realized but you have missed. Sin, self-centeredness, and simple ignorance can all be corrected when we think and read Scripture within and as the Christian community, the church. This even includes, despite how some people scoff, the voices of Christian intellectuals and scholars who shed light you otherwise simply can’t find without serious research. Reading books, commentaries, and blogs, and listening to good preaching, all can help fill in the blanks.

Basically, check yourself. Remember your fallibility, and how easy it is to be wrong no matter how plain you might think certain parts of the Bible are. Never assume that your thoughts are God’s thoughts, or your ways His ways, even when you’re reading His own word. Sin and our finite lives get in the way. Just don’t make yourself God.

Don’t Make Yourself God When You Read the Bible

Heaven, Resurrection, and New Creation: Our Destiny in Christ

[This is a sermon I preached a week ago. Like my previous sermon, it is a long read.]

The Mismatch

I want to start out this morning with a few really simple and straightforward questions. No gimmick or trick; I’m just looking for totally natural answers.

What do you smell with? Your nose.

What do you see with? Your eyes.

What do you walk with? Your feet.

Okay, so now, what do all these things have in common? What are they all part of? Your body.

In that case, without body, could you do any of these things? See, hear, walk? No.

And where is your body after you die? In the ground.

So if after you die, your body is rotting in the ground, and you need your body to see, hear, and in particular walk, how can you be walking on streets of gold in heaven?

I’m guessing most people in here, and elsewhere, have never thought of or heard a question like this before. This to me indicates a fault, a crack, in the popular lines of teaching about heaven and life after death. I mean, this is a pretty basic concept. If we won’t have our bodies when we die, how can we be doing anything that involves a body while in heaven? A mismatch like this comes from years of confused traditions, and people randomly combining Bible verses from different contexts. Instead of the overall Biblical theology of life after death, we end up with a buffet collection of heaven parts from different categories. This morning I want to address what’s gone wrong, and how we can recover a Biblical vision of heaven and so on, a vision that might just change the way we see the world and live in it.

See, to be honest the entire emphasis in the church today on “going to heaven when you die” isn’t really from the Bible. The Bible doesn’t talk that much about that. It does talk about salvation and eternal life very often, but if you look through the Bible to see what those are about, you won’t find much about heaven, or even much about what happens when we die. What will you find? You will find something much better. In Scripture, the destiny of believers and the world isn’t just a spiritual place of being with God; it is resurrection and new creation. This is our eternal hope, not so much that Jesus will rescue us from this world, but that He will rescue us and this world from death and decay. Salvation doesn’t mean leaving space, time, and matter behind, but God renewing them all in Christ Jesus.

So I want to look at this all in three major points. (I am going to a Baptist college, after all.) The first is resurrection as the way we will experience eternal life. The second will be the relationship between heaven and the new creation as where we will experience eternal life. Finally, based on these two ideas, I want to look at the ways we get to begin living out eternal life in the here and now. By the end, I hope to have provided a clear vision of God’s gracious destiny for us and the way it can impact our lives.

As Christ, So Us: The Coming Resurrection

On, then, to my first point. Far more than what happens right after we die, Scripture points us to hope in a future bodily resurrection. This theme can be seen all throughout the Bible, starting with God’s promises to Israel. Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 talk about God destroying death and bringing His people new life. In Ezekiel 37:1-10, God uses the image of resurrection to show Ezekiel His future restoration for Israel. Daniel 12:2 shows us the first verse in the Bible which says straight out that there will be future resurrection.

In the New Testament, resurrection comes into even sharper focus. By this time the Jews had already studied the Old Testament enough to believe in a future general resurrection (except for the Sadducees), and Jesus kept this theme alive. He rebukes the Sadducees about the resurrection in Matthew 22:29-32, promises repayment for generous giving at the resurrection in Luke 14:14, and explains how God gave the future resurrection and accompanying judgment over to Jesus Himself. Then, of course, Jesus Himself died and rose again.

Jesus’ resurrection set the stage for resurrection becoming even more important to the early Christians than it was for the Jews. Paul makes a big deal about the coming resurrection in Romans 8:1-11, 1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Philippians 3:21, and 1 Thessalonians 4:14, among other places. Later on, Hebrews mentions the resurrection a few times, and Revelation tells the story of the future resurrection as clear as day.

With all of this Biblical evidence, and more that I haven’t listed, it should be clear how important the coming resurrection is meant to be. So in particular, I want to look at maybe the most important resurrection passage in the Bible. This is 1 Corinthians 15:12-58. It is long, and I will be here a while, but I won’t read it all right now. You should just be able to follow along with what I’m saying.

In this passage, Paul is responding to more trouble in the Corinthian church. They were mostly Gentiles there, which means they would be more influenced by popular Greek philosophies than the churches in Jewish regions. But Greek philosophy not only didn’t believe in resurrection, but thought it would be a bad thing. To most Greek philosophers, the body was at best unhelpful and at worst evil, so the goal was to escape it into spiritual bliss. Resurrection would seem nonsensical and unhelpful. Apparently, some people, probably from within the Corinthian church, were influenced by thoughts like this and so were telling others that there wouldn’t be a resurrection.

Paul got pretty riled up about this, though. As far as he was concerned, the resurrection was a very big deal. This is already different from what I hear in most churches. While most churches I’ve been in at least acknowledge there will be a resurrection, it isn’t given any emphasis, and the usual preaching is all about getting to heaven when you die. If you got rid of the resurrection, their normal preaching, teaching, and service wouldn’t really be affected. But in the Bible, that’s not an option. It’s a big deal that got Paul rolling on a long response.

So on to his response. In verses 15:12-19, Paul draws a strong connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our future resurrection. “If there is no such thing as a resurrection of the dead,” he says, “then even Christ hasn’t been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without meaning, and our faith without meaning, also!” He’s going so far as to say that if we won’t be resurrected, then Christianity is altogether pointless. He goes on to say that without resurrection, both ours and Jesus’, we are still in our sins and those who died in Christ already are lost forever. Without resurrection, we’re pitiful.

The reason for this deep connection between our resurrection and Jesus’ is rooted in the Jewish hope that Jesus showed up in. Before Jesus, the Jews only expected one resurrection, the final event where God would save Israel. But then after Jesus’ resurrection, what the early Christians believed was that the one resurrection actually started with Jesus. So Jesus’ resurrection and our future resurrection were both considered the same event, just split into two parts. And the second part, our resurrection, depends on His in the first part.

But moving on, in 15:20-28 Paul says that just like everyone dies in Adam, everyone will be made alive in Christ. First Jesus rose, undoing Adam’s own death, and next everyone will rise, undoing the damage we all suffered because of Adam. By doing this, Jesus defeats death and every other enemy. When the end comes, He will reign over all creation, death itself defeated, and He will give His kingdom over to the Father so that God can be, as he says, “all and in all.” By saying this, Paul shows just how crucial the resurrection is for Jesus and the victory of God. Without resurrection, death would not be brought under God’s rule, and there would still be another enemy out there.

Still, the argument isn’t over. Like I said, Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit thinks that resurrection is a big deal, so he gives even more proofs. First, he mentions baptism for the dead. Now, we don’t actually know what he is talking about. We have no record of baptism for the dead. But it is worth noting that Paul doesn’t say “we” anywhere about it. It doesn’t sound like he or the other apostles performed these baptisms. But some people did, and what Paul says basically is, “Look, why would people even do that if there won’t be a resurrection?”

From that point, Paul also points out the suffering of him and the other apostles. Why would they constantly risk their lives and bodies if that would be the end of them? If there won’t be a resurrection, Paul says we ought to forget about risking becoming a martyr and just enjoy the good life. Notice that he doesn’t put our hope for risking our life in going to heaven when we die. He puts it in resurrection, just like the author of Hebrews does in Hebrews 11:35.

Now we reach 15:35-44. Paul was aware of some objections people raised about resurrection, and he had answers from the Spirit. I should also point out that people wouldn’t have these kinds of questions if heaven was the focus of Paul’s preaching. Only a real, physical resurrection invites these questions. But on to what he was saying. He compares the our current body and future body to a seed and a plant. Our current body is like a seed. Our resurrected body will be like a full grown plant. What that means isn’t about physical appearance, as though our resurrected bodies will look like something totally unrelated to our current ones. He tells us the difference. Using the analogies from nature, he shows that the resurrection body will have a new glory and different kind of life. Our bodies now, in their natural fallen state, are mortal, dishonored, weak, and merely natural. But like the seed transforms, so will we. Our bodies will become immortal, glorious, strong, and spiritual. I like the way C. S. Lewis said it: “the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Unfortunately, modern ideas about what “spiritual” is may confuse us about verses 44-49. We are taught here that our natural body will become a spiritual body. Some people think that means our physical body will become a non-physical body, that our body made of matter will become a body made of spirit. This is certainly not what Paul is saying, as we quickly find out. First, I remind you about the seed analogy Paul used. Just like the seed and the plant, our current body and resurrection body will still be the same body, but changed. The natural body, made as simply a body from the dust of the earth, lives “according to the flesh,” that is, basically just like an animal of nature. The natural body is powered by basic biology and physical desires for needs like food, sex, and sleep. These things themselves aren’t bad, but the natural body only aims to satisfy these lusts at whatever cost, which produces the “works of the flesh.” It lives like there is no God, or grace, or Gospel call.

This is in contrast to the spiritual body. The natural body is rooted in Adam, who denied God’s call for the sake natural desires, but the spiritual body is rooted in Jesus, who lived out perfect communion with the Father and was driven by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual body is not a body made of spirit, but a body energized by the Holy Spirit, who helps us to live our Jesus’ own life connecting human nature and God Himself. This is how the “last Adam,” Jesus, became a “life-giving spirit.”

So the natural body and the spiritual body are a matter of nature and grace. The natural body is just a part of nature, acting like an animal to satisfy its instincts and desires. The spiritual body is raised by grace to live in God’s life in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. This is our destiny. No longer will we be controlled by our hunger, lust, sleep schedules, pride, instinct for self-preservation, or anything else purely natural. Our resurrected bodies will be filled with only the fruit of the Spirit.

Finally, in verses 50-57, Paul bursts into praise, excitedly summarizing the teaching of the resurrection. Mere flesh-and-blood, the perishable natural body, cannot inherit God’s coming kingdom, but we will be mysteriously transformed and rescued. In a moment, Jesus will return and all the dead will rise to immortal, imperishable bodies. This will mean the final defeat of death, and the victory God accomplished in Jesus will become a permanent and universal fact of the universe forever and ever.

Heaven for Now, New Creation Forever

So, with that awesome future in mind, I want to move on to the next point, that of where we will enjoy eternal life. After all, if we’re going to have physically resurrected bodies to enjoy forever, they’ll need to be somewhere. But this is where we need to be precise, because people tend to confuse two futures here. See, for the Christian there is both life after death and life after life after death.

Think back to what I was saying before about not having a body when you die. If you don’t have a body, what exactly is happening when you “go to heaven?” Where will we be in between death and resurrection? While we usually talk about this as heaven, the Bible never uses that word for where we go right after we die. Instead, it calls it either “paradise,” like Jesus said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, or “Abraham’s bosom,” a common Jewish phrase Jesus also used in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Modern theologians usually refer to this as the “intermediate state.”

Now, despite the picture we get in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we shouldn’t think of this place as something physical, with senses and bodies. Parables aren’t about the literal details, after all. We’re not literally a younger son who runs away and squanders our inheritance. That’s a picture of the reality. The real point of this parable in context was Jesus criticizing the Pharisees for their love of money. By showing a nameless rich man as ending up in torment but Lazarus the poor man in bliss, Jesus turns their expectation on its head, especially since the Jews tended to assume that more money meant you could stay in God’s favor better because you could afford more sacrifices and tithes.

But back to what the intermediate state is Biblically like. Paul mentions it in 2 Corithians 5:1-9. There he says that if his earthly tent, his current body, is destroyed then we have a new, imperishable house in the heavens. This doesn’t refer to as heavenly mansion, but, just like the earthly tent, it’s a body. This is the resurrection body he described already in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that he wants this new body so that he doesn’t have to be naked, or unclothed, that is, stuck without a body. Nevertheless, he insists, he is still better off without a body and with Jesus than with a fallen body and away from Jesus. Resurrection and the new body is the hope to have both a body and Jesus at once.

So, without a body, we won’t have our sense. We can’t see, or hear, or taste when we die. Our bodies are in the ground, after all. Without legs, we won’t be walking on streets of gold. We won’t even think or feel the same way that we do now, because right now our physicals brains have a huge influence. Life will be completely different in between death and resurrection.

In fact, in a way it is kind of like sleep. It isn’t exactly the same as sleep. Death isn’t just a knockout where we wake up on resurrection day. But Psalm 6:5 wonders who will give thanks when dead? Psalm 88:11 asks rhetorically if anyone will praise God’s faithfulness in the grave? Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that the dead don’t know anything anymore, and verse 10 says that there isn’t any work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave.

If we want to take these verses seriously instead of, like many Christians, totally ignoring them or trying to slip around them, we get the distinct impression that we won’t be conscious the same way we are now. After death, it will be something like sleeping until resurrection day. Yet the martyrs’ prayer to God in Revelation shows that we won’t be completely out, or completely unconscious.

So to summarize the intermediate state, the Bible seems to teach that after death we enter a state of rest and bliss. We enjoy being in some way with Jesus, while not being completely awake. It’s a completely different way of existing than being in a body. No streets of gold or mansions yet. Just rest in the arms of God until He brings us back to life.

But, as I said, this is only until He brings us back to life. After the resurrection, our eternal destiny will be to live in the new creation, also called the “new heavens and earth.” To look at this theme, I want to start in Romans 8:18-23. This is at an important point, leading up the climax of the Gospel in Romans. At this point Paul has been speaking of redemption in Christ, our future resurrection, and new life in the Spirit. Now he pulls all of these themes, which he had been applying to us, to the whole of creation. He says that the whole creation is eagerly awaiting God’s redemption in His people. Creation has been stuck in corruption and futility, but when God redeems the human race, the pinnacle of creation, the whole rest of the universe will join in.

See, our resurrection is Biblically part of an even bigger divine project. I want to read two texts which show the big picture. Colossians 1:19-20 says “For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.” And Ephesians 1:10 talks about God accomplishing His gracious plan “to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.”

The entire project is new creation. It starts with us, just like 2 Corinthians 5:17 says. Anyone in Christ is a new creation. Our old man dies and is recreated as the new man by the Spirit in union with the resurrected Jesus. Then our bodies get involved as our old bodies die and are resurrected by the Spirit in union with the resurrected Jesus. Finally, as verses like Revelation 21:1 show, when everything else is finished, the old universe will pass away and will be recreated as a new heavens and earth by the Spirit in Jesus.

I want to emphasize this last part. God isn’t going to get rid of the space, time, and matter universe. A lot of Christians seem to think this way, but this misses entirely the connection between Jesus’ resurrection, our resurrection, and the new creation. Verses like 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1, Psalm 102:26, or Mark 13:31, which talk about a catastrophic end for the world, aren’t to be seen as a total end anymore than our death will be a total end. Instead, like two of these verses specifically mention, this is only the death that leads to resurrection.

In fact, Jesus’ resurrection is key to understanding all of this. His physical body died. Three days later, that same body, same matter, came back to life and was transformed to new glory and immortality. His body wasn’t replaced, or turned into pure spirit, or annihilated. It came back to life, but more life than it ever had before. This is what will happen to our bodies, and this is what will happen to the whole world. The Bible teaches that the physical universe will die in fire and be raised to new life. All of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament ones imagine the new world in eternity as this world fixed and restored to God’s will and grace.

The most detail we have about the new earth is found in Revelation 21 and 22. These chapters describe especially what we might call, for lack of a better word, the “capital” of the new world, namely the New Jerusalem, which comes from God’s heaven to the new earth. John writes a dazzling description of this city using mostly vivid poetic descriptions taken from the Old Testament prophets. He tries to give us a glimpse of a world that is all as it should be, filled with the glory of God, and the end result of everything God has built through Israel and the Church in history.

With that in mind, we should be careful not to press the details for a physical picture of what the New Jerusalem will literally look like. John isn’t giving us a photograph of the world to come. It’s more like a van Gogh painting. He wants to raise the imagination to God’s promised new creation.

As one last point about this place before I move on, this is the only place where we find streets of gold mentioned in relation to the destiny of believers. And this isn’t heaven right now. It’s not where we go when we die. It is a future city, part of the new world God will transform ours into in the future. So we can see just another example of people confusing the different Biblical teachings, applying stuff from the new creation to present heaven. Yet the Bible itself doesn’t permit that.

So to pull this all together: this is our final destiny. It’s not eternity in a spiritual heaven. It’s resurrection and new creation. God’s heaven and our earth will finally join together to make the perfect world, the new heavens and earth, filled with the healing glory of God. This world isn’t new because it replaced the old, but because by God’s grace in Jesus and His resurrection He will transform everything everywhere into a greater reality than we could ever imagine now. It’s Earth 2.0, what the world was meant to be from the beginning.

Living in Hope

Hopefully, that’s an exciting vision, and my prayer has been that it is one you will see from the Scriptures is faithful to what God has said and done to and for us. But I’m not quite done. My point in all this isn’t just to get everyone to agree on what the Bible says about heaven. God doesn’t do things for no reason, and He certainly doesn’t reveal His plans for no reason. So for my last point, I want to look at the practical applications of this view of the Christian hope. How can knowing the destiny God has for us more Biblically change how we see and act in this world?

My key word on this point is “anticipation.” It’s not enough to simply believe what is coming. We must eagerly and actively anticipate it. And while it’s probably not enough, I can see three major ways to do so that I want to mention before I conclude. I think a Biblical belief in resurrection and recreation can give us a radical new opening for evangelism, a new ground for life that follows the resurrection pattern, and help us treat the physical planet we live on in a brand new way.

Let me explain the first one. In our society’s worldview, just like most other worldviews throughout history, resurrection simply isn’t a possibility. Anyone who thinks or says that someone will come back to life gets crazy looks and probably ridicule. Even the wildly popular show LOST, known for supernatural craziness happening left and right, held that “dead is dead” and no one ever actually came back to life even when you thought they did. It’s not the same if you talk about going to heaven. Most people think that’s fine and possible. In fact, a whole lot of people think they’re going there. But how many people expect to be raised bodily from the dead and enjoy eternal life on a recreated planet earth?

Just imagine. If you tell someone, “I’m going to heaven when I die. Are you?” they’re not all that likely to be surprised or challenged at all. People are familiar with this kind of witnessing. But, imagine if you said, “Well, I’m coming back to life after I do. How about you?” It’s shocking and subversive and perhaps a bit exciting as well. Preaching “dying and going to heaven” has nowhere near the possibilities for inviting people to fresh listening about the Gospel when compared to the hope of resurrection.

Then there’s my next example, the power of resurrection for Christian living. In this world, it is often hard to kill sin and live righteously. But Paul always connects the victorious Christian life to Jesus’ death and resurrection. The connection he points to is the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, so we can access that same resurrection power in the here and now.

The point of this is highly practical. If this Spirit could take a dead body and bring it back to life, certainly He can take our inner death and turn it around to new life. He is the one who makes it possible to crucify the old man with Christ and live as the new man from the risen Jesus. By sharing in Jesus’ resurrection through the Spirit, we can die to our flesh and self, refusing sinful desires, and instead live to God, raised in power to love and serve to a supernatural degree.

The power of resurrection for Christian living is even more clear when it comes to taking risks for the Gospel. The worst thing that could happen is that someone could kill us or our families, but if we know that we are promised resurrection then we don’t even have to fear this. We know that our bodily life won’t end when the world tries to stuff us out; instead we will be raised and vindicated publicly in the end. In fact, this was the motivation for all the early Christian martyrs. They were well known for spitting in the face of death, and they did this precisely because they believed that Jesus’ resurrection meant they would be raised to. With resurrection, we have nothing and no one to fear on this earth. This even includes every government, however much they might end up opposing us.

But finally, I want to point out the way that anticipating a new creation which is still connected to the present world can change the way we see it and all handle it. See, if this world isn’t going to be permanently destroyed, or be totally replaced, an interesting question comes up. What stuff on earth right now will still be around in the new earth?

This is where we find room to use a Biblically-controlled imagination. We don’t know exactly how what is on the earth now will translate into what is on the new earth. John could barely describe the place except in the most enigmatic of rich images. So what we are called to remember is what Paul told the Corinthian church on the basis of resurrection and recreation: “Therefore, my dear friends, stand firm, unshaken, always diligent in the Lord’s work, for you know that, in union with him, your toil is not in vain.”

See, what Paul tells us is that resurrection and recreation guarantee that our work in the here and now have eternal impact, because not only will saved souls last forever, but indeed the whole creation will endure once God redeems it. In fact, what Paul says about Christianity ministry in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 about ministry he would probably connect to all work Christians do in line with the Spirit.

It’s probably not completely obvious what I’m getting at, so I’ll ask a question to give you a better idea. When this earth dies in flame and then is recreated and filled with God’s glory, what will happen to this church building? Will it survive the purifying fire? What about your house? Or the White House?

This is a place where we don’t know exactly what to expect, but if we think creatively about what God has revealed about new creation, and the way Christian work will survive or perish, I think we can take a guess at some of this. Perhaps what is made or used for the flesh will be burned up, while what is made or used in the Spirit will make it through. We might find that the casinos have all burned down, but several small country churches where Jesus love’ always had shined through will still be there, looking more beautiful than they could have before. The scars of the Nazi prison camps might be completely eradicated, but a humble home where Christians habitually showed grace to strangers might seem strangely and wonderfully preserved.

And there’s more to think about than buildings. What about art? I find it unlikely that we’ll see that infamous crucifix in a urine jar when the world is remade, but how unlikely would it really be that the paintings of a passionate believer he painted to show God’s creativity will still be around for all to see? And of course it’s plenty likely that music made today which glorifies God will still be played in the new world.

With this all in mind, I think we can look at the world and think of some ways to make the best use of space, time, and matter all for God’s purposes. For some people, this might take the artistic routes of making paintings, sculptures, architecture, music, or poetry inspired by who God is and what He has done. Since we are promised that whatever we do for God’s kingdom through the Spirit will not be in vain, we can do all of this in the physical world without worrying that it will only be temporary.

There are other things to think about, too. If God’s not going to wipe this world off the map for good but instead renew and redeem it, then we need to take more responsibility for it than some people, even Christians, are willing to do. I’m not environmentalist by any stretch, but it would probably be a good idea for us to at least think through the environmental issues we see these days with something besides automatic dismissal. Even I do that a lot, but it’s probably not the proper response of a Christian to damage being done to God’s good creation. Basic care for this planet is a way of recognizing in the here and now the restoration that God is preparing to bring when Jesus returns.

There are obviously lots of other possible applications for recognizing and anticipating the coming resurrection, but I don’t have time to lay them all out here. Hopefully it will suffice to say that the future new creation and the resurrection, if you really think about them, can change the way you see the world, and so also the way you live in this world today. And if we do this, if we try to anticipate God’s final redemption, we might just find a little more grace in our lives now.

Of course, all of this is only relevant to you now if you have the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead in you. Without Jesus and His Spirit, you’ll be left out of the glorious future and end up experiencing the “resurrection to condemnation” mentioned in the Bible, which leads to the lake of fire. You’ll be part of what God removes from the world to redeem it. So if by any chance any of you have not believed in Jesus, now is the time. In Him you can have a good resurrection and new life, both in the future and today.

Heaven, Resurrection, and New Creation: Our Destiny in Christ

Using Psalms: Psalm 132 and God’s Promise in Christ

This is the first post in a new, ongoing series of mine, Using Psalms. The psalms have been given to us as a way of prayer and worship from God. Jesus Himself prayed, sang, and memorized these songs growing up as a Jew. They were part of God’s means of preparing Israel to give birth to its Messiah. And now they form a major component of Jesus’ own worship He offered to God in faith on our behalf.

Because of all this, when we engage the Psalms we can participate in the life Jesus lived for us, and share in His justifying faith. When we make the Psalms part of our devotions, we find ourselves miraculously joining in through the Holy Spirit with the devotions Jesus did in His earthly life. Since this is such a grand privilege, I wanted to start this series to look at how we can best read the Psalms and apply them to our own life and worship.

So for this first post, I’m doing Psalm 132. Here’s the text in the HCSB:

Lord, remember David
and all the hardships he endured,
and how he swore an oath to the Lord,
making a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
I will not allow my eyes to sleep
or my eyelids to slumber
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

We heard of the ark in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us go to His dwelling place;
let us worship at His footstool.
Rise up, Lord, come to Your resting place,
You and Your powerful ark.
May Your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and may Your godly people shout for joy.
Because of Your servant David,
do not reject Your anointed one.

The Lord swore an oath to David,
a promise He will not abandon:
“I will set one of your descendants
on your throne.
If your sons keep My covenant
and My decrees that I will teach them,
their sons will also sit on your throne forever.”

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His home:
“This is My resting place forever;
I will make My home here
because I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its food;
I will satisfy its needy with bread.
I will clothe its priests with salvation,
and its godly people will shout for joy.
There I will make a horn grow for David;
I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown he wears will be glorious.”

How can we best understand and apply this song? Let’s take a look. I see two important themes: God’s election of David as king and Israel as His people. Verse 11 recalls God’s promise to David and his royal descendants, and verse 13 starts telling of God’s plan for His chosen people, Israel. Both of these pick up what verses 1-10 were already assuming.

The basic aim of this psalm is prayer and hope. Israel is calling upon her God to remember His promises to vindicate and prosper them. The vision here is eschatological: they are awaiting the great Day when God will finally place all of Israel and the king’s enemies under their feet and give His people eternal glory.

Of course, we live in the AD, the year old our Lord. We’ve seen God’s final act for us accomplished in Jesus, the one to whom all of the Old Testament hopes and prophecies, including what we find here, were pointing1. So how does He affect this text?

First we find that in Christ God’s promise to David for an eternal kingdom is fulfilled. Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh2, and crowned the Son of God in power3. He reigns forever! Yet this promise of God to David said “if your sons keep My covenant.” So to truly keep His word God did not only enthrone the Son of David, but in fact He Himself descended into David’s line and became the heir who would keep God’s covenant and decrees, and so earn an eternal kingdom.

We also find that in Christ the desire and promise for God’s presence was fulfilled. In this psalm David sought to build a temple for Yahweh, and the people rejoiced in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. Yet now Jesus Himself has become the Temple4, the place where “the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily”5. Those looking for the Father no longer should seek an Ark or a building; He is visible in the human Jesus of Nazareth6 and, secondarily, in His church who through His Spirit is His body7.

This all means that the day the psalmist was looking for, the Day of Yahweh, has actually already begun, dawning in the life of Jesus. The Davidic King has been enthroned forever, and God’s presence has come to His people in Christ. This psalm of prayer can be for us a psalm of praise. Glory to God!

But, the sun hasn’t quite set on God’s day. God’s permanent restoration and victory for Israel is still hidden. Jesus has recreated Israel around Himself through faith by the Spirit, uniting Jew and Gentile alike in His church. But this Israel remains, like the Israel of old, constantly attacked by foes both spiritual and physical, not to mention the flesh of us all. We long for the day when Christ returns to “clothe His enemies with shame” and clothe us “with salvation.”

So we find a future hope and prayer left for us in this psalm. We can ask God to remember what His Son has done, “all the hardships He endured,” in His faithful human life. He was a temple, and built us up as one, too. Now God has fulfilled His promise and exalted His Son as King of Israel and Lord of all. Now we wait patiently for Him to unveil Jesus again before the entire world, so that He can both judge and give us the salvation and vindication we hope for. Israel and David, God’s gracious election, will be utterly fulfilled for all the world in Jesus. Perhaps, in light of all this, an accompanying prayer of application is in order.

Heavenly Father, exalt Your name. Glorify Your Son with the glory He had before the world began, and with the glory of His kingdom that He won by His faithfulness to You. You have glorified it, and You promised to glorify it again. We wait for that Day, and for Your salvation. Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us safely home. Amen!

Using Psalms: Psalm 132 and God’s Promise in Christ

Apology: Who I Am, What I’m Doing, and What I Should Change

Who am I? I’m Caleb, a silly, nerdy 20-year-old with an obsessive interest in theology and a (relatively) new family. I’m a student, a learner. I’m young and inexperienced, but nonetheless feel the constant need to try to wrap my head around things real adults have worked on for thousands of years. I have no qualifications unless Google proficiency and fascination count. In what should emphatically be taken in the least pretentious way possible, I am the creature Karl Barth called a theologian: someone whose encounter with Jesus and His Scriptures forces him into endless wonder, concern, commitment, and faith. I’m socially awkward and fail at developing the conversations and relationships which should characterize a Christian lighting up the dark world around him. I’m as fallible, both intellectually and morally, as they come, and well aware of it.

What am I doing? On this little blog, I spill my thoughts. I take the major ideas and debates running around in my head as I study and put them into concrete, written form to share with the world. Why do I share with the world? Different reasons, I guess. On one hand, I’m looking for dialogue. I want to share what I think and hear what people have to say in response. I want to know if you think I’m on the right track, or if you have a correction, question, or suggestion. Has anything I’ve had to say given anyone edification, clarity, or a challenge? I would like to find out. On the other hand, I’m also filled with “OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SO AMAZING AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO HEAR IT” zeal with some of the ideas I stumble across. I find what look like treasures to me in my studies, and then want to share them for the benefit of others. And sometimes I just find myself moved or touched and want to throw whatever helped me out there in case it can help someone else. Finally, in all honesty sometimes I just feel cheated that no one ever taught me something before, and I want to put it out there because I wish someone had put it out there for me all through my life.

So why am I babbling about all of this? Because I want to clarify myself. It has come to my attention at various times that I concern people about this or that, and that sometimes I confuse or flat out subvert some of my friends and family, by Christ and by nature. Yet I’m not a teacher, as if that weren’t obvious. But I want to make it clear that I don’t try to or intend to be. I might write like one sometimes, but that’s not conscious or intentional. It’s just the style I’ve wound up with. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, or even most of them, and even many things I say that I say with a lot of confidence or certainty should really come with labels like experimentalprovisional, or I just thought of this yesterday and may change my mind by tomorrow. Some of my posts really ought to come with expiration dates. 

In fact, the only thing I hold as axiomatic, the only belief which I cannot and will not ever question, is my belief that I am utterly fallible. I always believe that I could be wrong, and probably am in more than a few places. Because I view myself as radically prone to error, I call every one of my beliefs into question at some point or another. This, of course, includes all of my Christian beliefs, and praise be to God that Jesus has held up with remarkable (divine!) strength in all of my questioning. But I know most of you share a great deal of my beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. So these are also your beliefs that I call into question. But I don’t do this because of anything I see weak or wrong in the beliefs themselves, but because of what I see weak in myself, who believes them. I’m constantly testing and refining, because I know I can be wrong on absolutely anything. This doesn’t mean I think I am, and in fact I still hold to most things I’ve believed and been taught since childhood, although many of them have received new twists or emphases.

This brings me to another point where I confuse people. I spend a lot of time defending people I disagree with. Off the top of my head Catholics make a good (and controversial in my experience) example. Some people also seem to think pro-gay believers are in this group, though I have not given any defenses on here for them at all. But I do defend my opponents, despite strongly disagreeing with them. And I do this for a reason. I believe as a Christian I am called to truth and love, which in debate means an emphasis on clarity and charity. I must always make sure to represent people I disagree with accurately, and weed out misconceptions, straw men, and bad arguments against them before I even start to debate with them. A commitment to clarity and charity means I am not allowed to simply throw popular talking points at my opponents; I have to take them seriously on their own terms, give them a fair hearing, and only then make any serious work towards dismantling their position, though of course the whole time I am allowed to and should be clear that I disagree with them, sometimes strongly. (And honestly, once the caricatures are out of the way I am highly critical of both Catholics and progressive pro-gay believers, and even many people I like who agree with me on most things!) Yet I can’t spend all of my time on the defense of my opponents, no matter how much junk really needs to be cleared up. I can easily give off the impression that I don’t think our differences matter, or that we’re all perfectly okay as we are. That’s certainly not the right message.

But this all brings me around to the first word of my title: apology. I haven’t always been clear who and what I am disagreeing or agreeing with. I have confused people, and often haven’t given enough attention to who my audience is, and whether any given post will truly edify you or simply baffle you. Sometimes I’ve jumped the gun and posted something controversial before giving it serious thought. And honestly there have been a couple times I’ve just tried to get a reaction out of people. For all of this and more I am truly sorry, and ask that I can be forgiven on the basis of Jesus Christ, our common Savior, and His Spirit whom we all share. I have a change of direction in mind for this blog, one which I hope will contribute to edification, and reduce unnecessary confusion or controversy. Pray that God will keep me, and my blog, useful for the work of His kingdom.

In Christ’s love,

Caleb

P.S. I honestly encourage any of you who ever have a question, concern, or problem with what I’ve written to mention it to me. I’ll try to be humble and understanding, though I admit I won’t always succeed. But I have thick skin and want to learn, so by comment, email, or Facebook feel free to let me know anything you need to say.

Apology: Who I Am, What I’m Doing, and What I Should Change

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion

Ashley and I always feel compelled by the reality of the world and the grace of the Gospel to give.  We simply don’t see a way out. Scripture teaches generosity, and not only that. It also teaches care for those in need, justice for those oppressed, and mercy to those suffering. All of these causes can be advanced through giving as well, further prompting us to see generosity as an inescapable call.

Recently, we were looking for a place to give to, particularly one which helps orphans. After all, according to James, “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” (Jas. 1:27). If this is the case, how can we neglect to help them? But anyway, while searching for a good organization, we found the Global Orphan Project (or GO Project, for short). They do lots of orphan care around the world, both in the US and internationally. They connect with churches and do wonderful ministries. So we decided we should donate to them.

But then we saw an option to start a project. We had the option to start our own fundraising project to help orphans through their organization and website! How awesome! The project we started is called “Dine for Health.” Here’s the description from our project page:

In America, about 58% of families go out to eat at least once a week. In 2013, Americans spent over $700 billion at restaurants around the country. That’s a lot of money, averaging almost $7 per person per day. 

So what if we could redirect just a sliver of that massive flow of cash somewhere…better? What if that kind of money could give orphans fresh water, health care, and a clean place to sleep? Well, it actually can.

Through the Global Orphan Project, my wife Ashley and I want to help out with these basic needs. How? With a plea and a challenge. We ask this:

Would you consider matching every dollar you spend eating out for the next month with a donation to our project?

Every penny of the proceeds will go straight to work. The GO Project’s Health and Safety fund works to provide village orphans in several countries with clean water, medical care, sanitary living conditions, and pretty much everything else the kids need to stay healthy and safe.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you’ll consider helping this project. It is a way to follow Christ, after all. For whatever you don’t do to the least of these, you don’t do to Him. And then there’s this:

“What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.” James 1:27

Get the idea? Here’s what we’re asking. Every time you go out to eat from now until August 31, add up your totals. Then donate that amount to our project, which will go straight to the GO Project Health & Safety fund to provide for orphan care. Interested? I do hope so. Here’s the link:

Dine for Health GO Project

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion