April 29, 2014 Broadcast

Rising from the Dust

A Message by R.C. Sproul

When we die, our bodies decompose and disappear into the earth. But the Bible promises that in heaven we will receive resurrected bodies that have been transformed. What will these bodies be like? Will we recognize each other? Will we look young or old? Dr. Sproul contemplates these questions and more.

From the series: Heaven

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  1. devotional

    Rising from the Dust

  2. article

    Heavenly Mindedness

  3. article

    The New Day

Rising from the Dust

Pastors and theologians are often asked many questions about life in heaven. How old will we be? If I died at age 85, will I still appear to be an octogenarian? Will I recognize my family and friends in heaven? Will my dead dog or cat greet me when I enter that realm?

These questions arise largely because Scripture does not us give all that much information about the intermediate state — that place where the souls of men and women go between their death and Jesus’ return. For Christians, the intermediate state is heaven, and we are told life there is better than life in this fallen world (Phil. 1:21–23). But the apostles give few specific details about this place.

The dwelling of our souls in heaven is called the intermediate state because such existence is not the final destiny God has for His people. Christianity does not believe the physical realm is inherently evil; it is only presently suffering God’s curse due to our sin (Gen. 3:17–19). Jesus died not only to reconcile us to the Father, but to renew the cosmos and set the whole created order free from bondage to decay (Rom. 8:18–25). Once our Savior returns, our physical bodies will be resurrected and reunited with our souls, and we will dwell forever in the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17–25; Dan. 12:1–3). Our final state will be spiritual and physical. When we confess the resurrection of the body in the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm the resurrection of our bodies as well as of Christ’s physical body. 

While the Bible does not give an abundance of details about heavenly existence between our deaths and the return of Jesus, the apostles do give us some clear information about our final, resurrected life. Today’s passage tells us our bodies will be imperishable after they are raised (1 Cor. 15:42). They will not grow old or sick but will be preserved eternally. 

Most glorious of all, our resurrected bodies will bear the image of Christ, “the man of heaven” (v. 49). They will be free from sin, and nothing will hinder fellowship with others. We will also be recognizable to one another, just as Jesus could be identified by His followers after His resurrection (John 20:11–18).Rising from the Dust

Pastors and theologians are often asked many questions about life in heaven. How old will we be? If I died at age 85, will I still appear to be an octogenarian? Will I recognize my family and friends in heaven? Will my dead dog or cat greet me when I enter that realm?

These questions arise largely because Scripture does not us give all that much information about the intermediate state — that place where the souls of men and women go between their death and Jesus’ return. For Christians, the intermediate state is heaven, and we are told life there is better than life in this fallen world (Phil. 1:21–23). But the apostles give few specific details about this place.

The dwelling of our souls in heaven is called the intermediate state because such existence is not the final destiny God has for His people. Christianity does not believe the physical realm is inherently evil; it is only presently suffering God’s curse due to our sin (Gen. 3:17–19). Jesus died not only to reconcile us to the Father, but to renew the cosmos and set the whole created order free from bondage to decay (Rom. 8:18–25). Once our Savior returns, our physical bodies will be resurrected and reunited with our souls, and we will dwell forever in the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17–25; Dan. 12:1–3). Our final state will be spiritual and physical. When we confess the resurrection of the body in the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm the resurrection of our bodies as well as of  

While the Bible does not give an abundance of details about heavenly existence between our deaths and the return of Jesus, the apostles do give us some clear information about our final, resurrected life. Today’s passage tells us our bodies will be imperishable after they are raised (1 Cor. 15:42). They will not grow old or sick but will be preserved eternally. 

Most glorious of all, our resurrected bodies will bear the image of Christ, “the man of heaven” (v. 49). They will be free from sin, and nothing will hinder fellowship with others. We will also be recognizable to one another, just as Jesus could be identified by His followers after His resurrection (John 20:11–18).

Heavenly Mindedness

Randy Alcorn

Jonathan Edwards said, “It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . . . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”

In his early twenties, Edwards composed a set of life resolutions. One read, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can.” Unfortunately, many believers find no joy when they think about heaven.

A pastor once confessed to me: “Whenever I think about heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” “Why?” I asked. “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than hell.”

Where did this Bible-believing, seminary-educated pastor get such a view of heaven? Certainly not from Scripture, where Paul said that to depart and be with Christ was far better than staying on a sin-cursed earth (Phil. 1:23). My friend was more honest about it than most, yet I’ve found that many Christians share his misconceptions about heaven.

Scripture commands us to set our hearts on heaven: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). And to make sure we don’t miss the importance of a heaven-centered life, the next verse says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things [alone].”

While the present heaven is a pre-resurrected state, the ultimate heaven, where God will forever dwell with His people, will be in a resurrected universe (Rev. 21:1–4). Because of the biblical emphasis on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15), I think God wants us to ponder not simply where we go when we die, but where we will live with Christ forever.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). He chose familiar physical terms (house, rooms, place) to describe that place. He gave us something tangible to look forward to — a home, where we will live with Him.

The heaven Jesus described is not an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits. A place is by nature physical, just as human beings are by nature physical as well as spiritual. What we are suited for — what we’ve been specifically designed for — is the place God originally made for us: earth.

Scripture tells us we should be “looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). God has not abandoned His original design and plan for humanity to rule the earth for His glory. One day, He will reverse the curse and restore what was corrupted by sin. He will come down to dwell with His people on the new earth, bringing His throne, and heaven itself, with Him (Rev. 21:1–4; 22:3).

What’s your attitude toward heaven? Does it fill you with excitement? How often do you, your church, and your family talk about it?

If you lack a passion for heaven, I can almost guarantee it’s because you have a deficient and distorted theology of heaven (or you’re making choices that conflict with heaven’s agenda). An accurate and biblically energized view of heaven will bring a new spiritual passion to your life.

When you fix your mind on heaven and see the present in light of eternity, even little choices become tremendously important. After death, we will never have another chance to share Christ with one who can be saved from hell, to give a cup of water to the thirsty, to invest money to help the helpless and reach the lost, or to share our homes, clothes, and love with the poor and needy.

No wonder Scripture makes clear that the one central business of this life is to prepare for the next. What we need is a generation of heavenly minded people who see human beings and the earth not simply as they are, but as God intends them to be.

Theologians once spoke of the “beatific vision,” Latin for “a happymaking sight.” That sight was God Himself. Revelation 22:4 says of God’s people on the new earth, “They will see his face.” God is primary, all else is secondary. Joy’s tributaries are the overflow of the swelling river of God’s own goodness. He says to the one He welcomes into His presence, “Enter into your Master’s joy.” Anticipating the eternal joy of His presence allows us to get a head start on heaven by rejoicing in Him here and now.

Longing for that new earth, “the home of righteousness,” Peter says, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him” (2 Peter 3:14).

Knowing that our destiny is to live as redeemed, righteous people on a redeemed, righteous earth with our righteous Redeemer should be a powerful incentive to call upon His strength to live righteously today.

The New Day

David King

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:5). Surely, if this language of the risen, glorified Lord Jesus presupposes anything, in the light of John’s vision in verses 1–4, he intimates the complete renovation of all creation as the preparatory act by which God will consummate His eternal purposes for His people and bring them to their final fruition. This imagery: the new creation, the new Jerusalem, God’s communion with His Bride adorned in wedding garments, His dwelling with men, the end of sorrow, pain, and death — points to future realities awaiting the people of God in the new heavens and new earth. In a word, His work will be to make all things new.

But how are we to understand these realities, and what are we to make of them as believers? Moreover, where do we as the people of God fit into the picture of this divine revelation? When it comes to the question of life after death, there are fewer issues, if any, that express the apparent hopelessness with which many people live. “Why am I here? What is going to happen to me when I die? If there is a God, how will I face Him beyond the grave?” These are all questions that traffic in what we can call “ultimate issues,” matters bearing eternal consequences.

Given the uncertainties of our own generation, Christians bear the responsibility of being biblically literate on these matters. The Bible does address these eschatological realities. What it tells us is restrained, beautiful, glorious, as well as threatening for those who are not united to Jesus Christ in salvation.

Let us consider, then, the reversal of the Fall in the new creation, and how the state of believers will be affected in at least the following three ways in the new heavens and the new earth.

In his resurrected body, the believer will experience, in the first place, the end of death into endless life. Unlike his disembodied existence, characteristic of the intermediate state, in the resurrection the believer will be reunited to his former body that will undergo a radical transformation from its perishable state to that which is imperishable (Job 19:26–27; 1 Cor. 15:53–54). According to the teaching of holy Scripture, it will be an instantaneous metamorphosis (1 Cor. 15:52). In what is often called the intermediate state (that period between death and the resurrection), the believer’s body will remain subject to corruption and decay, while his spirit will be in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8, see the Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF] 32). Therefore, with reference to the intermediate state, there is no biblical support for a doctrine of Purgatory. Being in the presence of the Lord guarantees us that this period will be one of rest and happiness. Neither life in this state nor life in the heavenly rest is characterized as inactive (Rev. 5). Freed at this time from the last vestiges of sin, as well as from the restraints of a fallen world, the believer’s mental and spiritual faculties are increased, and made more active in knowledge (1 John 3:2). At death, the believer is removed from this present world, and will be severed from it till the day of resurrection. Though this state will be one of conscious bliss and happiness, it is nevertheless a state of imperfection, in that the spirit is deprived of bodily existence as per creation.

The Lord Jesus taught that there will be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust (John 5:25, 29), the one to life and the other to judgment. The believer’s renovated body will no longer be subject to decay and corruption, for the Lord Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21). There are a number of strands of biblical teaching as to what the resurrection of the Lord Jesus secures for all those who are united to Him, not the least of which is the pledge of their own resurrection and the destruction of death itself (1 Cor. 15:20– 26; 2 Cor. 5:5). The body of death, under the curse of a fallen creation and consigned to the grave, will give way to endless life in the resurrection at the last day (1 Cor. 5:51–55). Augustine summarized this reversal of the Adamic curse in the following manner: “After all, by the sin of the one we die in time, while by the redemption of the other we rise, not for a temporal life, but for an endless life” (The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, book 2.49).

Secondly, the believer’s resurrection will be marked by the end of sin into endless holiness. At death, in the intermediate state, the spirit of the believer is liberated from the body which remains under the power of sin and death (Heb. 12:23). But this state of the body will be reversed in the resurrection, when both body and soul will be reunited in a wholly spiritual and holy union (1 Cor. 15:42–44, 49). It has often been stated that the image of God in man pertains particularly to his having been created in an original state of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (for example WCF 4:2). The New Testament affirms that the restoration of these qualities, marred by the Fall, are part of the goal of the new creation (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). That process, already begun in the new birth, will find its culmination in the new heavens and earth (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–5; 22:3), in the reversal of the curse. Not only will we be delivered from this body of sin and death, but from the very presence of sin itself, and confirmed in endless holiness (Rev. 21:27) as we behold the Lamb face to face (Rev. 22:4). These eyes that have lusted after forbidden objects, that have seduced us into sin, which ought to be forced to look upon the fires of that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, shall then be renewed to witness the wonder of that reality to which M’Cheyne’s hymn gives voice:

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then how much I owe.

Thirdly, in his resurrected body, the believer will experience the end of sorrow into endless joy. If presently not seeing the Lord and yet believing in Him gives us cause for joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8), who can begin to describe that which awaits us in the new heavens and earth?

In Bunyan’s classic work, The Pilgrims’ Progress, “Graceless” (soon to be “Christian”), while engaged in conversation with “Evangelist,” expresses his fear of death and judgment. “Evangelist” replies with these memorable words, “Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils?” Life in a fallen world is marked by a few days, which are full of trouble (Job 1:14). Our present joy, to be sure, is often mingled with bitter sorrow and disappointment, all of which I am convinced is God’s means of weaning us away from this world of sorrow to long for the joy of that which is to come. The New Testament sounds this note of our future joy, no longer intermittent with sorrow and grief (Rom. 8:18; 1 Peter 4:13).

As the dawning of that eternal day draws near, may the prayer of John Donne find expression in our own hearts: “Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me; As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face, May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.” (“Hymn To God, My God In My Sickness”). We may rest assured, He is making all things new.

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