Rabbi’s Reflections – Saturday, July 31, 2019
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sat 31 July 2021 22nd of Av, 5781 Parashat Eikev
De 11:22-25 Isa 49:14-51:3 Jas 5:7-11
The Hope of Heaven
Our last meditation explored Ultimate Hope. I suppose this one could be titled Penultimate Hope. Right next to the ultimate hope of participating in the resurrection of the righteous is the expectation of going to heaven. Heaven, for most believers, is the next step taken towards Ultimate Hope.
It is written that at the Lord’s return the dead in Messiah shall rise. In fact, we know that they will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16b TLV).
The Scripture’s testimony to the coming resurrection is clear. Few doubt that the Bible bears witness to this expectation. But this is not all we’re called to anticipate. There is also the hope of a heavenly existence to which we transition when we die.
There are those who reject this hope. They think that the consciousness of the person who died shares the same state as the dead body. This is called mortalism, or soul-sleep. They believe the person who died is unaware of anything until the time the dead are raised.
There are a number of Scriptures which, misinterpreted, may lead someone to adopt this perspective. For instance:
After He said this, He tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m going there to wake him up.” (John 11:11 TLV)
Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, so with Him God will also bring those who have fallen asleep in Yeshua. 15 For this we tell you, by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall in no way precede those who are asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–15 TLV)
To clarify our expectations let’s look at the Messiah. Yeshua referenced the hope of David when He quoted Psalm 31:5.
And Yeshua, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I entrust My spirit.’ ” When He had said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46 TLV)
Stephen followed Yeshua’s example. Luke described Stephen’s death as falling asleep, but in this theologically potent narrative there is a distinction made between the body and the spirit.
They went on stoning Stephen as he was calling out, “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” After he said this, he died. (Acts 7:59–60 TLV)
(The Tree of Life Version provides a footnote that gives a literal translation: “he fell asleep”.)
Here’s a question: Was Yeshua unaware, insensate, after He died? What did Peter say?
For Messiah once suffered for sins also—the righteous for the unrighteous—in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Ruach. Through the Ruach He also went and preached to the spirits in prison. (1 Peter 3:18–19 TLV)
To continue, was Yeshua’s warning about the rich man and Lazarus divorced from spiritual reality? Of course not! This is what the Lord said:
It happened that the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. Then the rich man also died and was buried. (Luke 16:22 TLV)
Through this story the Lord explicitly taught that after death the soul lives on. At death there is an initial dividing of righteous reconciled believers – those who are united to the Messiah in this life – from those alienated from God in motive, nature, action and, alas, destiny.
John saw the disembodied souls of those martyred during The Tribulation. They were consciously participating in intercession.
When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slaughtered for the sake of the word of God and for the witness they had. 10 And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “O Sovereign Master, holy and true, how long before You judge those who dwell on the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:9–10 TLV)
In this life there might be some mystery, almost tantamount to confusion, attending spiritual experiences. Paul wrote:
I know a man in Messiah (whether in the body I don’t know, or whether out of the body I don’t know—God knows)—fourteen years ago, he was caught up to the third heaven. 3 I know such a man (whether in the body or outside of the body I don’t know—God knows)— 4 he was caught up into Paradise and heard words too sacred to tell, which a human is not permitted to utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2–4 TLV)
Note that what Paul did make clear is that he experienced, and expected, a separate existence of his inner-man, his soul, from his outer man. The inner man was being renewed every day while his outer man was falling into a state of mortality.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16 TLV)
Ultimately, he expected his inner man to be temporarily separated from his flesh, to depart, and be with the Lord.
For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. 22 But if to live on in the body means fruit from my work, what shall I choose? I do not know. 23 I am torn between the two—having a desire to leave and be with Messiah, which is far better; 24 yet for your sake, to remain in the body is more necessary. (Philippians 1:21–24 TLV)
He described his experience with the Lord, despite its richness, as akin to being absent.
Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6–8 TLV)
One day he expected to be fully present with the Messiah. He would be absent from the body and at home with Yeshua.
Let’s take a look at Hebrews 12 where it describes current spiritual reality.
But you have come to Mount Zion—to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, a joyous gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are written in a scroll in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous ones made perfect, 24 and to Yeshua, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22–24 TLV)
Right now, the spirits of the righteous-made-perfect participate in heaven’s jubilation. What causes this celebration? The writer to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews) was describing what John recorded in Revelation 4-5. Maybe we can find out a cause of celebration there.
When we read those chapters we find that God’s victory over suffering, evil, and the powers of darkness will be fully manifest and a new beginning will commence. This new beginning includes the joy and awe of the redeemed and those beings who are amazed at the scope of this redemption. We, who are the goal of God’s saving love, will be filled with what is described as unspeakable joy and come into the fullness of our true identities.
What is Our Hope for the Afterlife?
God has the capacity to relate to, and experience, both the spiritual and the material realms. The resurrected Messiah can do the same thing. The believer whose body has died cannot. However, they can relate to the spiritual realm. In the resurrection the full range of experience is given to the awakened saint.
Right now our experience of the material almost eclipses our interaction with God and the spiritual realm. At death this experience is reversed. At the resurrection wholeness is restored, fullness of human existence is brought into a holy fulfillment. The image of God in humanity will be fully restored. The resurrected believer will have a full awareness of these two spheres of existence.
Have you ever had a vivid dream? A dream so real that practically all your senses seemed to be active? Yet, you were asleep. Your body was not in an interrelationship with the objective reality in which you live.
It is in this sense that I understand the sleep from which the dead will awaken. What is the difference between a dream state and going to heaven? Heaven is real. The believer’s experience of heaven is real. Although the body does not participate, the soul does, and what the soul of the born-from-above human experiences is … I have to repeat myself – it is real, real, real!
It is something to look forward to. It is part of the believer’s hope.
Now to the One who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy to the only God our Savior, through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, both now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25 TLV).