Where Will i Go When I Die
September 7, 2014
1 Corinthians 15:35-58
WHERE WILL I GO WHEN I DIE?
1 Corinthians 15:35-58
September 7, 2014
35 But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have?" 36 What a foolish question! What you sow does not come to life unless it “dies.” 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that it will grow into, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each type of seed he gives its own body. 39 Also, all living beings are not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish yet another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the beauty of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the beauty of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The splendor of the sun is different from the splendor of the moon, which is different from the stars. Even the stars differ from each other in their splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. While the body that is sown will decompose, what is raised is imperishable. 43 What is sown is miserable, what is raised is glorious. What is sown is weak, what is raised is powerful. 44 What is sown is an earthly body, what is raised is a spiritual body. If there is an earthly body, there also is a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being (from the earth)"
[cf. Genesis 3:7 – Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and God breathed life into him].
The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the earthly, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth and is earth. The second man is from heaven. 48 As the man from the earth was earthly, so are his descendants. And as the man from heaven is heavenly, so also are his descendants. 49 And just as we bore the likeness of the earthly man, so we will bear the likeness of the heavenly man. 50 What I am declaring to you, brothers, is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be transformed - 52 in a flash, in the blink of an eye, at the (sound of the) last trumpet.
By the way, doesn’t the statement, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,” sound like the theme verse for the church nursery? We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed. In actual fact, Paul means that not all of his readers will be dead when Christ returns.
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory [Isaiah 25:8].” 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" [Hosea 13:14]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
In 1897, Paul Gaugin, the famous French painter painted one of his most famous works, which he entitled, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”
As you move across the painting from right to left, there are various people, beginning with an infant on the very right and ending with an old woman prepared to die on the very left.
Unless you move through life without any thought about the meaning of your existence, the painting expresses important questions that all of us will ask ourselves at one point or another in our lives.
I think our passage this morning is a helpful reminder that we should continue to ask ourselves these questions, although I want to deal with them in a somewhat different way.
I. Three Questions I Should Ask Myself:
1. Where did I come from?
The question of origin is of vital important to all humans since it helps to define who we are.
I think that is why some people who have been adopted would love to find their birth parents. Illustration: my cousin Brian – his mother never knew her ancestry – so he fully embraced his native heritage.
It may also be the reason why many of us become fascinated with our family tree. Some research their ancestors as far back as possible. Some get into heraldry. They try to discover as much as possible about those in their lineage who preceded them.
Some visit the places where their ancestors lived.
And the reason why this is so interesting to us is not simply because it connects us to our past, but just as importantly, because it helps us to find our own sense of identity.
In my opinion, some people who hold a purely secular view of their existence refuse to follow the implications of their position through to its logical conclusion. Secular humanism is a very good example of this.
The Humanist Manifesto, first published in 1933, updated in 1973, and again in 2003, basically sees all religion in general and Christianity in particular as the root of most of the problems in human history. As such, Christianity or a belief in an afterlife is not only illusionary but downright harmful (HM II).
Secular humanism rejects the concept of anything divine, an afterlife, and an objective moral code, in favour of evolution by random chance, annihilation at death, and a form of moral relativism, based on a common sense of compassion.
Humanity exists as the result of unguided evolutionary change and it is the measure of all things and the only object of worship.
Ethical values are derived from human need (HM III).
Morality is based on understanding and concern for others (Amst. Decl. II). Each person is to be viewed as having intrinsic worth and dignity (HM III), simply because doing so is good.
Meaning in life is whatever meaning an individual choses to give it. To do so, it may be helpful to focus on self-fulfillment and compassion.
The whole goal of humanity is to save itself by looking after the environmental and naturally evolving into higher and better people.
Secular humanism actively seeks to influence political life and society to reflect and conform to its ideals. And it has been extremely effective in doing exactly that. All you need to do is watch the programs in TV, listen to what is being taught in our universities, read our newspapers, look at the decisions being made in our law courts.
Secular humanism has influencing main-line thinking to the point that its mantra of pluralism, tolerance and relativism, is all but unassailable.
However, if the human race is ONLY the result of the unreasoning forces of nature, the logical implications do not favour the primary assertions of secular humanism.
If life is the result of random chance, a freak accident, a fluke of cosmic proportions – and the human species is nothing more than an intelligent animal, whose existence as a race is but a blip in time – then…
… it seems to me there is no logically compelling reason for morality, altruism, or the need to save humanity.
There is no inherent purpose to our existence, no matter what meaning we may give it.
The universe doesn’t care whether we as a species survive or become extinct is insignificant.
It makes not one iota of difference whether you or I ever existed in the first place.
It is of no consequence whether or not our great-grandchildren will one day be poisoned by the nuclear and chemical waste we are burying in the earth or dumping into the ocean.
It matters not if the human race overpopulates, pushes countless species into extinction, or destroys itself in a nuclear holocaust.
It is irrelevant whether our societies turn into radical Muslim oligarchies, oppressive dictatorships or representative democracies.
It is inconsequential whether we kill off the elderly or harvest the unborn for stem cells.
If you think about it rationally, from the perspective of a secular humanist doesn’t it make more sense for the future survival of the human race if the majority of the current 7 billion 260 thousand human beings disappear? Only then does our planet have any chance of recovering from the untold damage done each day by humans? How much better off would the rest of creation and the survivors be if most of us were gone?
Even though secular humanism touts that it is not dogmatic (just working on consensus), or religious in any way, I don’t buy that for one minute.
It is religious in that it has elevated humanity to godhood and puts faith in the ability of humans to evolve naturally into better people.
It is dogmatic in that it brokers no dissent from its rules or beliefs. If you disagree with any of its tenets, you are branded a bigot or worse.
The Bible tells us that our existence is not the result of the unreasoning forces of nature that have, over millennia of time, produced us by random chance.
Instead there is a divine originator, a first cause, an author of life, a creator.
Life is the consequence of divine action or divine intervention, if you will.
The reason why we exist is the result of a design of cosmic proportions, a design of divine proportions. There is a divine purpose and reason for our existence. We are part of God’s plan and objects of his love.
Our significance does not simply lie in the fact that we are the most intelligent animal on this planet. Our significance and our identity has to do with our connection to our creator. That is why humanity has inherent worth. That is why the individual is important.
And it is God’s command to tend the earth that should make us environmentally conscientious, not simply the vague preservation of our offspring’s offspring, which does not seem to be a big motivator for better behaviour.
It is God’s indwelling Spirit and proper knowledge that will make us better people, not natural selection.
This brings us to the second question that each one of us should ask ourselves.
2. Where am I going?
Our own mortality should make us realize just how transient we are. If we are lucky then our great-grandchildren will still remember us vaguely. For most of us, we cease to exist in human memory with the death of our children and grandchildren.
I think that is why many of us have this yearning to somehow be remembered, to leave a legacy that will immortalize us.
It may be one of the motivating forces behind the desire to be known, to have celebrity status.
Some people seek to immortalize themselves in pictures, paintings and statues of themselves.
Think of all of those statues and ever-present portraits that have been made of dictators like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Sadam Hussain, Robert Mugabe, and many, many more.
The hope to be remembered is also a huge motivating force that lies behind some of our creative processes, our sense of accomplishment. People write books and paint paintings and build buildings or huge mausoleums in order not to be forgotten by future generations.
It is also the reason why it is so important for some people to have a son to carry on the family name.
To be remembered or to somehow immortalize ourselves is a way that helps us to validate our existence and bring some meaning to it.
If secular humanism is correct, then all that will await us after out death is annihilation, that is, the total cessation of all that we are. As soon as there is no more brain activity, who we are is gone forever.
They may dream of a further evolution of the human species a la StarTreck, where captain Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer, despite their various imperfections, are examples of the kind of person secular humanists envision.
Or, like Engels, Marx and Mao Zedong they dream of a social evolution that produces a just society for all. Unfortunately for this theory, people who lead or live under communism or any other authoritarian rule don’t become better or more just.
Like in Animal Farm – the pigs eventually were worse than the humans they overthrew, a picture of how Lenin and the Bolsheviks were much worse than the Tsar and his court.
As Paul mentioned earlier on in this chapter, if our existence is simply happenstance, a fluke of nature, then the best we could hope for in life is to get as much for ourselves out of it as we can: “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:32).
In our passage this morning, the apostle Paul is trying to explain the concept of a bodily resurrection, without which, as he has just finished arguing, Christianity is a hoax. And he is trying to point out what will happen at that time.
a. Our resurrected bodies will be like the risen Jesus
The first point Paul is trying to make is that our existence in the afterlife, while an entity of some sort, is otherworldly, heavenly, spiritual.
The bodies we have now are fragile, limited, prone to illness, and they will decay once we die. They are of this world and they will not enter the next. Our new bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body, Paul tells us in v.49.
The resurrected Christ could move from the spiritual dimension to the physical dimension, from the spiritual universe to the physical one and back again. He could appear and disappear. He could pass through physical obstacles like walls and doors. Gravity no longer mattered. His body was no longer able to be injured or decay.
b. We receive our resurrected bodies at Jesus’ return
Many individuals have taken the words of Jesus, what is written in the Pauline letters, what is found in the book of Daniel and in the book or Revelation, and have attempted to discern in greater detail God’s plan for the future, particularly how the second coming of Christ fits into it all.
There are passages, such as the one we are looking at this morning and 1 Thess 4, that speak of a time when believers will receive new bodies and meet Jesus in the air.
The book of Revelation speaks of a time of tribulation, a 1000 year reign of Christ, often referred to as the Millenium immediately preceded by one kind of resurrection for believers and followed by a second resurrection of everyone else at the final judgment.
Jesus himself had a lot to say about what lay ahead. He spoke of his return and the resurrection from the dead (cf. Luke 14:14; 20:37-38 = Matt 22:31-32; Mark 12:26-27; note - Luke thought only the righteous were resurrected! Luke 14:14; 20:35).
He predicted tumultuous times ahead for his followers. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and John 16 he speaks of the sending of the Holy Spirit, the persecution of the Christians, of the wars, earthquakes and famines that will come, the increase in lawlessness, the many false prophets and messianic claimants, and false predictions about when Jesus would return and the world will end (Luke 21:8), the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom to all nations, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, the setting up of the so-called desolation of abomination, and the darkening of the sun and moon.
By the way, all of these events, other than the 1000 year reign can be said to have already taken place, most of these in the first century.
c. The timing of Christ’s return is unknown
There has also been an unwholesome fascination with trying to set up timelines when all this will take place. Jesus made it clear that no-one but the heavenly Father knows the timing of these events. Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching that he will come unexpected (Matt 24:44), like a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2).
Whole denominations and many cults were founded on people’s fascination with the nearness of the end times, most notably
• Ellen White, founder of the seventh day Adventist church predicted that Jesus would return in 1845, then in 1850, and then within the lifetime of a group she spoke to in 1854.
• Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witness Church, predicted that Christ would return invisibly in 1874, the rapture for 1875, and the rapture for 1878. When none of these came about, he predicted the physical return of Jesus for 1914.
• After his death, the J.W. leadership predicted the end of the world for 1918, 1925, 1940’s and 1975. Pretty well every publication of the Watchtower magazine since 1879 proclaimed that the end of the world would come soon.
• Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, predicted that Jesus would return in 1891.
• Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the World Wide Church of God, predicted that Jesus would return in 1936, 1943, 1975 and finally before his own death, which occurred in 1986.
Well, we have had 2,000 years of anticipation and readiness with countless false predictions about the timing of Jesus’ return or the end of the world that continue into the present.
The apostle Paul himself believed that Jesus would return very soon, likely within the lifetime of some of his readers. Both in our passage, in vv.51 and 52, and in 1 Thess 4:17, he makes reference to those of “us” who have not died, who are still alive, but who, nevertheless will be changed and will meet the Lord in the air.
2 Peter makes reference to those in the first century who thought Christ’s return was long in coming - even then.
In the last days cynics will come, scoff and indulge their own fleshly desires. They will say, “Where is His ‘coming’ that was promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ 2 Peter 3:3-4
2 Peter answers these scoffers,
Don’t let this fact escape your dearly loved. With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some people think, but he is patient, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9
The author of the book of Revelation begins with this statement: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Rev 1:1; 22:6). He was certain that the things he was writing about were about to happen. And so he closes the book with this statement: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (see also 22:7,12)
d. If we die, we will likely be conscious until Christ’s return
Another question that is raised by 1 Cor 15, is what will happen to those who have died prior to the bodily resurrection? Some have argued that there is a type of soul sleep, a form of unconsciousness, between death and resurrection. That is the official teaching, for example, in the Seventh-day Adventist church, the Jehovah Witnesses, Christadelphians, World Wide Church of God under Armstrong, and others.
However, there are enough passages in the NT that seem to indicate that we will be conscious and aware even before we receive our heavenly bodies. For example, Paul wrote,
As long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. … I would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:6,8
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. … I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.
Jesus spoke in his parables of Lazarus and the rich man (as recorded in Luke 16) about the conscious existence of those who have died.
He said to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Steven said at his execution, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).
Now if we have answered the question of where we came from and where we are going, that should have a great impact on the third question that every person should ask themselves:
3. Why am I here?
Even those who do not see some divine significance and purpose behind their existence, seek to find meaning for their lives in the here and now.
The Christian’s sense of origin and destiny should result in a strong inner motivation, a strong sense of mission, the knowledge of a calling to fulfill the purpose of our existence.
Jesus told his followers that they must be constantly prepared to meet their creator by always being active in doing God’s work, always ready to give an account of their lives.
Jesus was adamant that all of his followers do God’s work while there is still time to do it (cf. Matt 24:46 = Luke 12:37-38), that they should be light in the world that is steeped in darkness. They should help all people, no matter who they may be, and love and serve each other.
Paul put it this way: We ought to do the good works for which we have been put on this earth to do (Eph 2:10), while living morally upright lives.
In other words, Jesus’ followers should live and manage their lives wisely - knowing that they are responsible and accountable.
Jesus was talking about a life-changing perspective - one of anticipation and readiness.
Paul refers to this in the very last verse of chapter 15:
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Our current priorities may be unimportant when it comes to our origin or our destiny. To realign our lives so that we will fulfill the reason why God has put us on this earth and so turn from self and sin, Jesus calls repentance. It is a turning from self, and a turning to God in humility, contrition and submission.
I think one of the things that we are afraid of is that if we come to God in this way we have to give up our own identity, that we can no longer be happy and fulfilled.
Do you think that Jesus had a sense of what his purpose was while on earth?
Jesus said that his mission was …
i. … to live in submission to and fulfill the Father’s will in every aspect of life (John 6:38).
ii. … to bring lost people into a saving relationship with God (Luke 19:10.
iii. … to bring abundant life, peace and joy to his followers (John 10:10).
iv. … to bring spiritual truth to others (John 18:37).
v. … to serve others sacrificially and die for them to bring them to God (Mark 10:45).
vi. … to bring lost people into a saving relationship with God (Luke 19:10).
Jesus clearly articulated his life’s mission, the reason why he existed and he followed this mission in every aspect of his life. Everywhere he went, everything he said and did, made this apparent.
Have you ever thought about what your personal mission statement should look like? What principles and truths are to guide your work and career, your family life, your marriage, the priorities you set and the choices that you make every day?
Would your personal mission statement include loving God without reservation and fostering a relations ship with him on a daily basis?
Would it include living out God’s will as a positive witness and influence on your neighbours, family members and friends by sharing your life with others in an authentic and redemptive way?
Would it include being a wise steward of the resources God has blessed you with?
Thinking through the consequences of our future destiny should be an exciting process. It is discovering the very reason why we exist.
WHAT IS MY MISSION IN LIFE?