The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Future

The In-Between Place

P.AllanChristians will spend eternity in heaven!  Right?  Wrong!  Heaven is an in-between place, what theologians call “the intermediate state.”

Our ultimate hope is the new creation . . .

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”–2 Peter3:13).

There we will live in a resurrected body . . . “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1

What about the Hollywood version?  You know, colorless white, harps, angels, clouds, George Burns,      What about my mansion on the corner of Gold Street and Diamond Boulevard?  Well, first, when have you known Hollywood to produce anything true to the Scriptures?  And second, Jesus uses metaphorical language in John 14     and John does in Revelation . . . This runs counter to some popular thinking about “heaven”.  The Hollywood version is all white with clouds, harps, angels and (in some cases) George Burns or       .  Wrongly interrupting John 14:   , we presume to be ushered to our mansion set beside a gold road.  A (rather moving) song from a few years ago celebrated, “If they could see me now, I’m walking streets of gold . . . ”  It implied that when we die, that’s where we go.  But the new, restored or remade earth comes at the very end, not when we die.  So where do we go when we die?

“We must agree with Berkouwer (a 20th century leading theologian of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands) that what the New Testament tells us about the intermediate state is nothing more than a whisper” (quoted in The Bible and the Future, Anthony A Hoekema).  If I had written the Bible . . . Oh, well . . .

From the Old Testament, it’s clear that death doesn’t annihilate us.  For example, Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah (Psalm 49:14,15).  And And I– in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (Psalm 17:15).  Our soul or spirit continues  on until Resurrection Day when we receive new immortal bodies like Christ’s.  The New Testament fulfills the Old, though, as Berkouwer wrote, only in “whispers”.

Whisper One—Luke 23:42,43.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Ed Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Whisper Two—Philippians 1:21-23.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . .

Whisper Three—2 Corinthians 5:6-8Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Edenic paradise.  Gain which is better by far than here in his body.  Away from the body means at home with the Lord for his people.

Whispers.

I prefer photos.

But whispers must be enough.  Enough for our imagination.  Enough for or hope.  Enough for our faith, which will turn to sight.

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Longing to Die to Be with Christ

Theologians call it “the intermediate state”.  It’s that temporary time between our dying and Jesus’ Second Coming.

That’s what I started writing about–about what that intermediate state is like.  Then I read one of the few texts telling about that time.  And it pulled me in a different direction.

Before looking at that text, let me explain my interest in the intermediate state:  simply, if we’re Jesus-believers  and we die before he comes again, that’s where we’re going.  So I want to know what it’s like.  Now if I were God, I’d provide photos in the back of our Bibles.  Instead, all we have are slim texts from which to infer a picture.  I started with the one below–and it pulled me away.  Maybe blew me away is more accurate.

” I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . . ”  (Philippians 1:20-23).

The writer is Paul.  He’s in a Rome house, chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, awaiting trial before Caesar.  Here’s what Paul reveals about the intermediate state.

1.  Wen we enter the intermediate state through death’s door, we gain.  It’s “better by far”.  Unnormal thinking!  I sit here musing on what I’ll lose– my wife, my children, my grandchildren, other significant relationships, and a thousand  things I’ve enjoyed here.  But Paul, on the other hand, looks ahead, forward to the gain that awaits.

2.   When we pass through death’s door, we believers are immediately with Christ.  Anthony A. Hoekema (20th century professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary) explained: “Analysai (to depart) is an aorist infinitive, depicting the momentary experience of death.  Linked to analysai by a single article is the present infinite einai (to be).  The single article ties the two infinitives together, so that the actions depicted by these two infinitives are to be considered two aspects of the same thing, like two sides of the same coin” (The Bible and the Future, p. 104).  Depart and be with Christ.

3.  “[W]ith Christ” is what makes dying gain.  “Christ”  makes the intermediate state “better by far”.  Christ is such gain that Paul admits, “I desire to depart and be with Christ . . .”  Paul longs to die to be with Christ.

This is where I’m pulled away.   Think.  What fuels Paul’s longing?  What makes him count dying gain? “For to me, to live is Christ.”  Dr. Gordon Fee writes, ” . .. since Damascus [Road), Christ became the singular pursuit of his life.  Christ–crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming King; Christ, the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship to God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.”

Paul himself expounds on this  . . .

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians3:7-14).

Again, Fee comments: “Thus if Paul is released as he expects, he will continue (now as always) in full pursuit of knowing Christ and making him known. Likewise, if he is executed, the goal of living has thus been reached: he will finally have gained Christ.”

Can you see why I was pulled?  I started to search for a picture of what the immediate state is like.  I ended up with a picture of what my life should be now.

I admit I’ve been pursuing healing more than Christ.  Somehow, by God’s grace, by the empowering of his Spirit, I have to change my aim.  I can still pray for healing.  (At this point, I can’t not.)  But pursuit?  That must be singular.  That must be Christ.

And for that I need no photos of the intermediate state.

 

 

 

 

 

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