Is there an afterlife? What happens when we die?
At death, the souls of Christian believers are made perfect by the power of God and immediately pass into heaven while their bodies rest in the grave awaiting the resurrection on the earth’s last day. When Christians die their soul immediately enters into the presence of God experiencing great comfort, rest, celebration and worship of God. During the resurrection at the last day, all Christian believers are raised up by the power of Christ and He will openly acknowledge that they belong to Him and that they are to be relieved from all charges of fault and sin because of His payment of their debts then they will be made perfectly happy in the total enjoyment of God throughout eternity.
Jesus received a glimpse of the horror and terror of His death while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane that sent Him reeling. He was “greatly distressed and troubled” and even said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Later “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (cf. Mark 14:32ff). Jesus was deeply affected by grief and sorrow, seized with anguish, trembling, collapsing, sweating profusely and fainting half-dead with sorrow. The very anticipation and foretaste of what he was about to experience threw His soul into violent agony.
Based on this scene we can learn mostly through deductive reasoning that what Jesus faced in death was more than the sum of the emotional pain related to the abandonment of his friends and the physical pain of the torturing of his enemies. In His death, Jesus would enter into the spiritual reality of cosmic abandonment by the Father which He would experience in time and space.
We can’t imagine this kind of pain, sorrow and dread. As He faced His death, He knew that it had in store for Him something much more sad and dreadful than normal death. If death were merely a passage out of the world, he would have no horror or terror about it, but instead with the enormous load of our sin pressing down on Him, in the garden he gets a glimpse of as Calvin says, “the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance.” Is there then any wonder that the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented Him so grievously with fear and anguish? Jesus must face FULL JUDGMENT.
So, confronting the deepest agony of Calvary Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Lane wrote,
The dreadful sorrow and anxiety, then, out of which the prayer for the passing of the cup springs, is not an expression of fear before a dark destiny, nor a shrinking from the prospect of physical suffering and death. It is rather the horror of the one who lives wholly for the Father… Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.
I was an impatient child. Some might say that I still am. But I remember doing a lot of waiting when I was younger. And it seemed that I waited forever for Christmas to come. In fact, I began my annual anticipation of Christmas Day on December 26th. Christmas represented everything that was special and fun about being a child, a rescue from the doldrums of math class and sibling spats. I wanted Christmas everyday but the sad part was that I had to wait a whole year for it to come again.
Memories of waiting for Christmas as a child help me deal with my anticipation and expectation of Christ’s return. I know well the truth of the common proverb, “To one who is in expectation, even speed looks like delay.” While there are lots of things that I enjoy about the world He’s given me: my wife, kids, friends, church, coaching, teaching, college football, music, coffee, Gulf Coast seafood and Disney World just to name a few, I am still reminded everyday that this is not heaven and it certainly isn’t home.
So, I live in expectation of Jesus coming back sometimes with both eyes lifted toward heaven, but more often cross-eyed with one eye on heaven and the other fixed on the earth. I long for a world that is free from sorrow, death, pre-mature babies struggling to breathe, cancer, chronic pain, the pressure to perform, the compulsion to be liked, relationship difficulties, my sin and your sin. In heaven, all of that goes away in an instant!
Moreover in heaven, I get to realize everything for which I have been created as I get to worship my Savior with a pure, unsinning heart. I receive my treasure and He is Christ, my Creator and Redeemer. I get Him and my eyes will be fully opened to the totality of what He has done for me!
The old Scottish Pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne penned a poem in 1837 which expresses some of these thoughts:
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
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.
I’ve always liked the song, “How far is Heaven?” by Los Lonely Boys:
Save me from this prison
Lord help me get away
Cause only you can save me now
From this misery
Cause I’ve been lost in my own place
And I’m getting’ weary
How far is heaven
And I know I need to change
My ways of livin’
How far is heaven, Lord can you tell me
I love the honest assessment of earthly life as ultimately unsatisfying, the description of life and maybe even the human body as a prison where we are locked up. I appreciate the admission of disorientation of not always knowing what to do or where to go. And it is so refreshing that he’s not blaming God or anyone else for his plight, he believes that he is part of the problem, “I know I need to change my ways of livin’.” He’s tired, he’s weary and he needs to know, “Lord, how much longer?”
The song expresses sentiments similar to that of David in Psalm 6:
Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?
Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
I am worn out from my groaning.
Sometimes we simply need to cast our eyes toward Heaven and cry out to the Lord for mercy so that He can assure our hearts that Heaven is not Far.
Ever have a friend build something up raising your expectations and later you’re disappointed because it just wasn’t as great as you had hoped? It is rare that what we imagine or hear about ever meets our expectations. When an expectation is created, our minds and hearts exaggerate and intensify the inherent value of a person, event or experience often leaving us disappointed when reality is met.
When the Queen of the South finally met King Solomon at the height of his piety and power, she said to the him, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.”
Her expectations were far out-done. She is far from regretting the expense of her journey and gifts because the reality of who he was far exceeded his fame and reputation. He was at least twice as good as she had heard! Solomon was ALL THAT and MORE.
If you could interview the Saints who have gone on to glory and ask them if their expectations were met as they met Christ and experienced heaven, they would say, “I’ve been in church my whole life and heard preachers tell about how great He is and the magnificence of heaven, but I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even a fraction was told me; Christ has far exceeded my expectations!”
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – 1 Cor. 2:9