I am amazed at how easily people speak of life after death with no real basis for what they think or say. It is apparent that Christian thought has so permeated our culture that even when Christian thought no longer holds prominence in morals, or in day-to-day decision making and living, people still cling to the Christian idea of life after death. Simply put, they believe they will go to heaven, whatever and wherever it is in the universe. Their views of heaven are undefined, or ill-defined, but they speak of it all the time at funerals and when they think of a deceased relative or friend. In fact, the requirement for going to heaven now seems to be simple: you die!
An extremely important part of Christian faith is the hope of triumph over death. It is common to most people, even in other religions and systems, to believe that they will live again after this life is over. There is no evidence that any other creature has such a belief or practice as humans. But what must be continually kept in mind is that there is all the difference in the world between a hope that has reasonable grounds and a hope that is a simply wishful thought. J. B. Phillips said, “In plain sober fact, our hope of passing through death to share in God’s eternal life rests upon Christ’s own demonstration with the enemy, his rising from the dead. It is the crux of the Christian faith.” If Christ was not raised then all his claims are false or irrelevant.
Sooner or later you have to make up your mind. Do you accept as sober historical fact the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? If you think at all you will soon realize there is little basis for your own life after death, and certainly for your own resurrection and the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 – 22:4), unless Jesus was truly raised as claimed by the early disciples.
What launched the Christian Church into the ancient world? When I stood in an ancient second century church meeting place in Rome, back in March, I realized in a wholly different and powerful way that these believers gathered in this spot, over the remains of the cult of Mithraism, precisely because they believed Jesus was alive and still with them by the Spirit as he had promised.
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I too have been concerned about this absence of any Biblical basis for the ‘blessed hope’ of the Christian. And I agree that all seem too have embraced ‘heaven’ as one of the entitlements for dying.
I was blessed early in the ministry to have a copy of Baxter’s “Saint’s Everlasting Rest” (1656) and only this week was reviewing what he said to this very question in chapter 4:”The character of the persons for whom this rest is designed”. Is not the source of the confusion to be laid directly at what has been proclaimed from the pulpits in the last 50 years? In training leaders for the future of the churches we must rediscover the Biblical basis for any hope.
Another excellent source for younger readers to be acquainted w/ is William Guthrie’s “The Christian’s Great Interest” (1658). Both of these men insist that if heaven is not our principle interest here on earth governing every other interest, we in fact have no Biblical basis for our hope of eternal life.