12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2018
“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked”; Questions about Heaven
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we continue my monthly sermon series called “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked.” Today we tackle the topic of Heaven.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Heaven is one of those topics that everyone is interested in. Everyone. 2 months ago when I introduced this series, I basically said, “Here you go, kid. Take this piece of paper and write down any question you have.” And so you did. 11 questions – more than 35% of all 30 questions submitted – involved Heaven in some way. Now, you realize that this is like shaking your Christmas presents under the tree, right? We have some good information to work with, but we won’t fully know all the answers until the day we open that glorious, eternal gift and everything will be revealed. So…let’s get started.
First, some questions about entering heaven: “When we die, when will we enter Heaven?” “When we die do our souls immediately go to Heaven or do we ‘rest’ until Judgment Day?” “Why does the Bible say some will go to heaven right away but others will ‘sleep in the dust’ until called? (Daniel 12:2).”
As we Lutherans believe that Scripture teaches that at the moment of death the souls of believers enter the joy of heaven (Luke 23:43; Acts 7:59; Rev. 14:13), while the souls of unbelievers at death are consigned to “the prison” of everlasting judgment in hell (1 Peter 3:19-20; Acts 1:25). The departed souls remain in heaven or hell until the Day of Judgment, when they shall be reunited with their own bodies (Matt. 10:28; John 11:24; Job 19:26). The Lutheran church has always rejected as unscriptural the idea that the soul “sleeps” between death and Judgment Day in such a way that it is not conscious of heavenly bliss. Regarding the verse from Daniel 12, Daniel is supporting what we believe as Lutherans that at the end of the age, the dead shall rise and those who believe rise to everlasting life and those who do not believe are banished to everlasting contempt. Daniel is being poetic; the actual soul is long since departed, and the mortal remains wait “in the dust” for the Last Day at which time final judgment will be rendered.
We DO NOT believe your soul lingers here on earth for any reason including getting stuck as a ghost or being sent to an intermediate state like purgatory. In the moment of death the souls of the believers enter the joy of heaven. Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Stephen said in the hour of death: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). On the day of the final judgment, the redeemed souls in heaven will be reunited with their own (now glorified) bodies and will begin to enjoy the bliss of heaven in both body and soul (John 5:28-29; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15). What age will that body be? What will that body look like? Will my new, glorified body have a belly button? Don’t know…the Bible doesn’t provide those answers and I cannot speculate because I have nothing to work with. I know it will be newly glorified and free from sin…that’s it.
The question was asked “In 2 Corinthians 12:2 it reads ‘I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the 3rd heaven’ What is the meaning of levels of Heaven?” When Paul uses the phrase “3rd heaven,” he is using terminology known and used by the Jews in his day. In the next verse, Paul says the man was “caught up into paradise,” which Paul equates with the “3rd heaven.” The word “paradise” is a Persian loanword meaning an aristocrat’s private park, like Ca’ d’Zan, the winter home of John Ringling here in Sarasota. The Jews in Paul’s day believed God took the Garden of Eden and placed it into heaven, which is where the souls would go. “3rd Heaven” is not a mid-level Heaven between the 2nd and 4th floor/level. Instead, it is a term synonymous with “paradise;” Paul is referring to the place where the beauty and perfection of Eden will be restored and never end. In most other cases, the Bible simply refers to this perfect place as “Paradise or Heaven.” There are no levels as such; it’s all good!
Now, questions about our loved ones: “When you die, will you be back with your family?” “Will we recognize our loved ones when we get to heaven?”
Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, both of whom had died. Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man to hell. Yet, while in hell, the rich man could see and recognize Lazarus in heaven (Luke 16:19-23). Noted Bible scholar Francis Pieper explained that Jesus’ Transfiguration provides strong evidence that people who go to heaven will recognize each other. “At the transfiguration of Christ,” he wrote, “the disciples knew Moses and Elijah, whom they had never seen before.” Looking at the Transfiguration, Pieper concludes, “those who die in Christ and go to heaven will know one another.” If Pieper says so, that’s a BIG deal. He literally wrote the book on Christian Dogmatics…all 3 volumes. The Last Day will include not only the joy of seeing Jesus return, but also that we will have a joyous reunion with those who have already died in the faith (1 Thess. 4:14). Awesome, right?
Someone asked “If you have been married more than once, do you go with the first spouse?” I believe the intention of this question has to do with our relationship status in heaven. Whom will we be married to in Heaven? Regarding your relationships, Jesus said in Luke 20: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain…the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (34-35). Marriage was given on earth to point humanity to the ultimate loving relationship – our relationship with God and for the procreation of children. In Heaven, we will perfectly be in a relationship with Him and marriage will no longer be needed. We cannot grasp what it will be like to no longer be married or given in marriage after 50+ years of marriage, but in Heaven marriage doesn’t exist. You will know your spouse, but you will not be “married” to them as we know it now.
And now, the big finish: “How (do we) address suicide with loved ones and friends as it relates to faith.” Again, I think the intention is what do we say about the soul of a person who commits suicide? Every life is precious to God and should be precious to us. Life is a gift given by God and is to be taken by God and Him alone. Regarding death by suicide, our Synod does not have an official position regarding the eternal state of individuals who have committed suicide. Since the spiritual condition of an individual upon death is known only to God, one must proceeded cautiously in making judgments in this regard. Especially important in such situations is the state of mind of the deceased and whether the deceased was aware of what he/she was doing. Is suicide always an act of unbelief, which alone will damn a person? I would say “no.”
Does this answer all your questions about Heaven? No way. But we know that Heaven is the ultimate, most wonderful gift for us when we die, a gift secured by your faith in your living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the topic of next’s week sermon.