I remember when Jennifer started coming to Resonance Church. She always had a smiling, friendly face. She had a genuine eagerness to learn more about the Bible and to understand God's will. She grew spiritually. We witnessed the presence of the fruit of the Spirit in her life. She had the spiritual gift of “helps.” She served those in need through the Caring Ministry at Res and Meals on Wheels. She was a loving mother and wife. She lived an exemplary life of being a "good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23 NIV).
We all have our own personal story with our dear sister Jennifer. She fought a good fight against cancer. Though we are all devastated by her passing, I hope a biblical understanding of the afterlife brings us comfort during this time of grief.
This is a place of happiness and contentment where Christians rest. Our Lord Jesus Christ told the repentant criminal when they were hung on the cross, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23: 42-43 NIV). There is a theological discussion on whether this place is heaven itself or a different cosmogonical paradise before the final judgement. Regardless, this is a place of delight. In this verse, the word paradise, "paradeisos" in Greek, is derived from the Persian word "pardes", meaning a king's garden (1). This reminds us of the Garden of Eden. It is commonly believed that this paradise is very similar to the original intended state of the Garden of Eden. It is a place where what we desire to happen on earth is fully realized. As Christians, when we die physically on earth, our souls continue to live in paradise.
Eternal Life and New Body
Although we die physically on earth, our Christian souls continue our journey of eternal life. Because of God's love and what Christ did on the cross for us, the burden of eternal death has been taken away. "Whoever believes in [Christ] shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NIV). This life and body is without suffering or pain. "[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4 NIV). Not only are these afflictions removed, the very source of physical and emotional pain will also be gone (2). Ultimately, "…the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body" (Philippians 3:21).
Loving Presence of God
The ultimate splendour of eternal life is that we can rest in the loving arms of our Father in heaven. The Christian conception of heaven is essentially that of the eschatological realization of the presence and power of God (3). Heaven is not only a paradise where we dwell eternally; it is also a place where God dwells. Revelation 21 gives us a glimpse of what this looks like: "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Revelation 21:3 NIV). God's splendour, God's grace, God's kindness, God's love, are all fully experienced. Our relationship with God is connected at a profoundly different level. We will not feel alone, and our souls are satisfied.
Amid our grief, let us not lose sight of our hope in Christ. This is because "in [God's] great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade" (I Peter 1: 3-4 NIV).
- Cambridge Bible for School and Colleges Commentary. Luke 23:42-43.
- Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine, second edition. 2001. Baker Book House. Page 408.
- McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology, An Introduction, third edition. 2001. Blackwell Publishing. Page 571.