Ask the Authors-Question #4

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Question and Answer

The following is a concise answer to a question asked of the authors of this blog, intended to give a simplified answer to the question asked.  If you also have a question you would like to ask surrounding the Christian faith, you may pose your question by visiting the “Ask the Authors” page.  The warranted belief email address will be provided where you can ask your question.

Anna from Ukraine asked:

What does eternal life look like?

What will we be doing?

Will we recognize each other, and will we be married there?

Matt’s answer:

A picture that doesn’t do heaven justice
What I would want to say about eternal life, first of all, is that it probably doesn’t look like the picture we are given growing up in the church, or at least the picture I was given.  Whenever there was a picture or a video depicting heaven, it always seemed like everyone was sitting on a cloud floating in the air playing a harp, or something along those lines.  I didn’t actually realize how much my perception had been influenced by the picture until I did the School of Biblical Studies and read what was actually being said about the afterlife.  I found quite a lot of expectation to be focused on the coming of Jesus, the resurrection, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Of course, there are passages that indicate some kind of an intermediate state in between death on earth before the resurrection and the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Philippians 1:22-24), which could involve some floating in clouds, but I found the overwhelming hope of eternal life to revolve around what was still to come, when the fullness of God’s kingdom was revealed, old things passed away, and all became new.

What does the New Testament say?
Paul says in Philippians 3:7-11 that he counts everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, wanting to attain the resurrection from the dead.  He goes on to say, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21).  For Paul, citizenship in heaven was integrally connected with receiving a resurrected body.  This was also his hope when he was on trial (Acts 23:6, 24:15).  It was what we would share with Christ if we would be united with Him in death (Romans 6:5).  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul was shocked at people claiming that there was no resurrection of the dead (15:12), because that would make Christianity futile (15:14, 17).  No, Paul says that there is resurrection of the dead, raising what was sown perishable to a glorious and imperishable body (15:42-43) and it would come at the end (15:20-24).

What will we be doing?
The question is then what comes at the end?  The ideas of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 of new heavens and a new earth are picked up in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21-22).  What is uniform with these references, along with Old Testament references to the resurrection of the dead (Isaiah 26:19-21; Daniel 12:2-3), is that it will be a place of righteousness, where nothing unclean will dwell.  While that doesn’t give us so much information about what we will do, it does indicate that at least some of what we were able to do before will no longer be done.  What it does say for sure is that God’s servants will worship Him (Revelation 22:3).  The references in 22:1-2 could be taken to literally mean that we will have access to water and fruit, but I think it is much better to understand it symbolically as the life given by the fullness of the Spirit (John 7:37-39).  Paul says that we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14).  Going back to 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul says that we receive a spiritual body in the resurrection, he doesn’t mean an immaterial, transparent body, but simply that the body is led by the Spirit.  When the old things pass away and all things become new, there will no longer be evil and sin, so we will experience the full measure of the Holy Spirit like it was never possible on this earth.  We have small tastes of what it would mean through how the Spirit revealed Himself in Acts and other books, but as Paul said, he considered the present suffering to not be worthy to be compared with the glory that was to come.  Indeed, the creation will be restored from bondage and corruption, and so will we, because again, we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, but we will receive full redemption when the new heavens and new earth come (Romans 8:18-25).  I don’t think the Bible gives us a clear list of exactly what kind of activities we will do, if that’s what you were wondering, but whatever it is, it is more than anything we could imagine and is inexpressible in words (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Ephesians 3:20-21).
Will we recognize each other?

Well, if Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20-24) and “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory”, then we can expect that our resurrection body will be similar to His.  He was recognized, even if it took His disciples a while to get it through their heads that Jesus might be risen from the dead (Matthew 28:17; John 20:26-27, 21:7), and were even sometimes kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16).  Also, 1 Corinthians 15, in using the seed analogy, makes it seem like we might look different, because we have this new body, but the change is in the substance and character of the body and not necessarily the physical appearance (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).  Presumably, Elijah and Moses in Matthew 17, though not at this point resurrected, could be recognized, even though they were no longer alive in an earthly sense (Matthew 17:3).  Perhaps they might be seen in a different way, but they apparently lose none of their distinguishing qualities.  Matthew 8:11 also indicates that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in the kingdom and that they could be distinguished from the many coming from the east and west to have fellowship with them.  This is perhaps another indication of what we will be doing, having fellowship together, but the point is that, one way or another, we will still be ourselves and will not lose our distinguishing characteristics.  In fact, we will likely recognize each other better than we do now, just by our physical senses, because in the new heavens and new earth, we will know people we have never met before.  1 Corinthians 13:9-12 says that we know in part now, but when that which is perfect comes, we will know fully and not simply be looking as if in a mirror dimly.  As we share eternal life with the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:23), we will certainly know them.  Clearly God wants us to love one another on earth, for whoever does not love, doesn’t know God (1 John 4:8, 20-21), so if knowing God is what eternal life is (John 17:3), then the love will certainly continue in eternity.  For this, I would say we need to know whom we are loving to truly love them.

Will we be married in heaven?

I assume you have Matthew 22:23-32; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38 in mind in asking this question, but if not, these references directly address that.  I have heard a married woman ask a similar question, because she read these passages and thought it would not make sense to effectively not be married to her husband any more.  It is possible that this is exactly what the verses mean, that those who attain the resurrection of the dead and are in the new heavens and the new earth, where there is no sin, will have such an incredible love for everybody, that there will not be a special love designated for the spouse.  After all, if there is no sin and we have resurrected bodies empowered by the fullness of the Spirit, our love for each other would be pretty incredible.

However, the way I read it (and by the way, I have decided not to get married and to remain celibate, so it is not like this interpretation is just what I would like to believe) is that the emphasis is on answering the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection.  They are basically asking whose wife the woman would be if seven brothers married her in turn and died before leaving offspring, one after the other.  Jesus’ answer addresses their misguided understanding of marriage in an earthly sense, which would be at least in part for reproduction.  Especially in Luke this becomes clear, when Luke presumably interprets for his Gentile audience what Jesus means when He says they neither marry or are given in marriage.  Luke adds to Mark and Matthew’s account that “they cannot die anymore” (Luke 20:36), so the reason people don’t go through the action of marrying and giving in marriage is not necessarily because nobody knows who is what to whom, but because there is no more reproduction after the resurrection, which is the reason for the odd situation with the 7 brothers.  Of course, then, in the next verses (37-38), if Abraham is still Abraham and he is still living, presumably Sarah might still be Sarah, and both of them would know that they had been married.  There would certainly be a difference in function, but I don’t see an indication that there would be a difference in relationship.  I could be wrong about this last one, but that is at least my take on it, so you can decide which option makes more sense.  I suppose we won’t know for sure what it will be like until we are there, but the information that we do have indicates that it will be like nothing else, in a good way.

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