Monday, March 03, 2014

What is Heaven like? (Part 2)

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594
The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594 (Wikipedia)
(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

Do people have intermediate bodies in the present heaven? God and angels are in essence spirits (John 4:24; Heb 1:14), but human beings are by nature both spiritual and physical (Gen 2:7). God did not create Adam as a spirit and place him in a body. He first created a body and then breathed into a spirit. We cannot, it seems, be fully human without a both a spirit and a body. 

We don’t know for sure, but between our bodily death and our bodily resurrection, God may give us some
physical form while we wait for the Resurrection. Paul says that we long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 5:2-4). Some read that our intermediate state in heaven is one of disembodied nakedness. Perhaps, but others see Paul saying that at death we are immediately clothed with a heavenly dwelling to await the Resurrection. 

In Rev. 6:9-11, the martyred souls under the altar received white robes to wear until all the martyrs came in. Could the clothes be only symbolic of Christ’s righteousness? Or could physical clothes be symbolic of Christ’s righteousness like the Ark of the Covenant was a physical box symbolic of God’s presence?

It appears the Apostle John had a body in heaven. He grasped, held, ate, and tasted (Rev 10:9-10). Paul was not sure in his vision of heaven if he had a body or not (2 Cor 12:3). It is significant that he thought he might have had a body, because he did not consider a material form to be unspiritual as a Christoplatonist would.

We definitely do not receive resurrection bodies immediately after death. We receive them when the Resurrection happens (1 Cor 15:12-32). Until then, we wait in heaven (John 5:28-29). We do know that there is at least one physical body in Heaven: Christ’s resurrected body (Acts 1:11; 7:56)[1], and perhaps at least three. Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven in their physical bodies (Gen 5:4; Heb 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11-12). 

Beyond those three, Samuel’s form appeared to Saul and the witch of Endor (1 Sam 29:11-15), and both the witch and Saul recognized Samuel as the form of the real prophet and not an unidentified form. Was that his intermediate body? Moses and Elijah appeared physically with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Moses had died, and Elijah had gone in a whirlwind. Did they appear in their recognizable, intermediate forms? If so, perhaps because we are both physical and spiritual beings, we all have recognizable, intermediate forms.

Will we remember life on earth? Yes. The martyrs of Rev. 6:9-11 clearly remember what happened to them and the people who did it to them. In heaven it appears those who endured bad things on earth are comforted (Luke 16:25). Our deeds on earth will follow us to heaven (Rev. 14:13), both good and bad (2 Cor 5:10; Matt. 12:36). Our reward will be based on our lives on earth, so our eternity will forever remind us of our lives on earth (Matt 6:19-21:19:21; Luke 12:33; 19:17, 19; 1 Tim 6:19; Rev 2:26-28). Memory is a basic element of personality. If we are ourselves, then there must be continuity of memory from earth to heaven. Physical death and heaven will not do away with our origins and history or our knowledge of it.

Do those in heaven now see what is happening on earth? If the martyrs in heaven know that justice has not yet been served, then it seems that heaven’s inhabitants know at least some of what is going on in the Earth. When Babylon falls in Rev 18, an angel points to the events of Earth and addresses the inhabitants of heaven (Rev 18:20). The multitude roars with hallelujah when judgment is accomplished (Rev 19:11-14). Samuel remembered what Saul had done before Samuel died, and he was aware of what happened after he died, too (1 Sam 28:16-19). Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus at the Transfiguration about Jesus’ departure, and the fulfillment coming at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). We have a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run our race on the arena of Earth (Heb 12:1-2). There will be rejoicing “in the presence” of angels when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10). Who is doing that rejoicing? If one can see from Hell to Heaven, why could you not see from Heaven to earth? (Luke 16:23-26). But when you have the Lord Jesus to worship, His presence and our worship will probably take a lot of our attention.

[1] So Jesus’ resurrection appearances do not enter into this discussion since his body was the resurrected body. Those appearances matter for us when we come into the New Heavens and New Earth.
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