The Tent We Live in

1For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

When Paul the apostle wrote to the church at Corinth, he compared the earthly body that we live in to a tent, a short-term, impermanent home. What he was saying is that the real you, your spirit, is clothed with your fleshly body for the fifty to seventy years that you live on Earth. He says that when this “earthy tent” is destroyed, we have something much more permanent in heaven, a building from God, a home that is eternal, a body that is not built by human hands (v. 1), a heavenly dwelling (v. 2). As we get older, we become more and more aware of our mortality—we groan and are burdened and become more and more convinced that there has to be more to this life than what we can see with our physical senses. If only we could believe this truth—that we are created for eternity and not just for this world. It would change everything for us if we truly believed it. Paul went on to say that we are fashioned for this very purpose and that what is beyond the veil of death is the true life. The Holy Spirit living in us is a guarantee of what is beyond this world:

Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5).

A Christian enters heaven without a break in consciousness. Back on earth our friends bury our body, but they do not bury us! Personhood survives the death of the body. In the Bible, the Book of Acts, there is the story of a man of God named Stephen. As he was dying, he said, “Lord, receive my spirit.” He did not say, “Receive my body.” There was no break in consciousness for him—the Lord stood up from His normal seated position at the right hand of the Father to receive him (Acts 7:59). We would live very different lives if we truly believed that our life on earth is just transitory. If we believed that when we put off the tent of this body, we enter into true life (I’m presuming that you have received the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus), we would invest our time, energy, gifts and resources into more things that will last after we get rid of our earthly tent. What would God have us invest ourselves in this side of heaven? He would have us invest in what is important to Him—people. Seeking to help as many as we can to know God and be saved from the penalty of sin.

Sometimes as people are dying, their spirit often drifts between earth and heaven where they can see both worlds. A few hours before Dwight L. Moody, the great American evangelist died, he caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him.  Awakening from sleep, he said: “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me.  If this is death, it is sweet!  There is no valley here.  God is calling me, and I must go!”  His son who was standing by his bedside said, “No, no father, you are dreaming.”  “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming; I have been within the gates; I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed and then, following what seemed to the family to be the death struggle, he spoke again: “This is my triumph; this my coronation day!  It is glorious!”

My prayer is that you would ask the Lord to give you the free gift of eternal life that Jesus has bought for you in dying in your place. My prayer is that we will see Mr. Moody together and rejoice in the finished work of our Savior on our behalf. Keith Thomas

The Rich Man and Lazarus 

We are continuing our study on the topic of Hell. Jesus spoke more of Hell than he did of heaven, in order that men would turn from that place as their destination in eternity to receiving His forgiveness for sin. He told a story about two men’s experiences in eternity. He never states that this is a parable. We will meditate on this for the next few days. Here’s the first part of the story:

 19There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’ (Luke 16:19-24)

The color purple in the days of Christ was not an easy commodity to obtain. This rich man was more than likely clothed in Tyrian purple[1] (or Royal purple), the Prada, Armani or top fashion design of the day. The color was extracted from the mucus of a rare sea snail.  Aristotle assigned a value to it of ten to twenty times its weight in gold. The rich man also wore fine linen. The word used in Greek for fine linen is bussos, a strong rare thread secreted by mussels.[2] Kings, such as the Egyptian King Tutankhamen, wore this very expensive cloth. This rich man lived sumptuously every day. He ate the best foods, drank the best wine, and his house was the best mansion in town. We are not overdoing it by presuming that this man was well known in the whole country as someone to be envied. He was an influential celebrity of his day.

We are told that Lazarus was laid at the rich man’s gate or porch. The Greek word translated as “laid” is ballo. Literally, it means to throw out with force. He had been flung roughly, and it seems that he was just left to lay there, life slowly ebbing from him. The gate where Lazarus was thrown was more than likely the rear servant’s entrance where the servants deposited the rubbish and the dogs congregated and licked his dying skin. It was obvious to anyone that Lazarus was very ill, being covered with ulcerated sores. It is also very likely that he was too ill to go anywhere but stay where he was thrown and beg for the scraps of food that fell from the rich man’s table.

Dogs kept licking at his sores, and it is possible that he was too weakened through sickness and hunger to fend them off. We don’t know if the rich man had him thrown out because he was asking him for help or that others in the town had thrown him there because he was a health threat to the local populace. It seems that Lazarus was in no position to help himself. He longed to eat some scraps of food, but he was competing with the dogs for the scraps. Keep in mind that most dogs were not household pets at the time.

The Condition of the Two Men in Eternity: We are not told that anything happened for Lazarus at his death. No funeral, not even a burial was held in his honor. It is likely that, if no one cared for him while he was alive, his death was no different. Scripture speaks loudly in its silence on the subject. Contrast that with the rich man. We are specifically told that he was buried. I feel sure that it was a lavish ceremony with public mourning. His body was probably given a space on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem as only the rich could afford.

The procession to his burial place would require a horde of professional mourners, hired for such an occasion as was customary at the time. Of course, the rich man couldn’t care less as soon as he died. He was quite surprised to find himself in Hell. While living at the rich man’s gate, it is likely that no one knew the name of Lazarus, but everybody knew the name of the rich man. At the other side of death’s door, though, things are turned around; everybody knows the name of Lazarus. As for the rich man, no one has any idea of who he is, i.e. his name is not known, and all of a sudden he’s a nobody. How sad it is that many who believe that death is annihilation will find themselves very conscious upon entering eternity through death’s door. Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byssus

Is Death a State of Annihilation?

We are continuing our meditation on eternal things and specifically thinking of the topic of Hell. Some say that Hell is a place where a person who rejects God’s free pardon for sin is annihilated. The word annihilation means “to reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; to destroy utterly.” Three times in the passage we looked at yesterday (Scroll down for Matthew 25:41-46), though, Jesus used the same Greek word to describe the bliss of His followers, i.e. the word aiōnios, which means “Eternal, perpetual. When referring to eternal life, it means the life which is God’s and, hence, not affected by the limitation of time.”[1] That does not sound like annihilation. It is the clear teaching of Jesus that someone who rejects the gospel and continues in his sin, at the end of his life, will suffer eternal punishment.

Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin, leader of Russia from 1922-1953, accompanied her father at death’s door and said that she would never sit alongside an unbeliever who was dying again. She said that he went into Hell kicking and screaming. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Voltaire was said to have died crying out in torment, as was King Charles the ninth of France, David Hume, and Thomas Pain. Speaking for those who do know God, C.M. Ward said, “No Christian has ever been known to recant on his death bed.”

Why would a loving God send anyone to Hell? How bad does a person have to be to be sent to Hell? Is there a line that a person crosses?

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).

The creator God has established the way for salvation. The situation is that the entire human race is in the same boat. We have all fallen short of God’s ideal for living. None of us can say we have never sinned. If you have only sinned once, then it is enough to make you a sinner. We all suffer with the same disease. Sin is what eternally separates us from God. James puts it this way, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). If there could have been another way for God to get you to heaven, apart from sending His Son to die a cruel and torturous death, don’t you think He would have taken it? He has given man the gift of free will, but His justice demands that rebellion has to be penalized. A holy God cannot allow sin to be in His presence: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13). So, He honors the choices that a rebel who refuses to repent has made.

In His love for the human race, He initiated a rescue plan. The Son of God would take on human form and be a substitute to take the place of guilty man, taking the punishment upon Himself.  In that way, His justice would be satisfied, and He can reach out in love to save all who will turn their lives over to Him and walk in obedience to Him. When we repent and receive Christ, the Spirit of God gives us power to live for Christ. We also hold the answer for others, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power and boldness to speak to people about God’s rescue plan for the human race. We damage Satan’s kingdom when we speak the truth of God’s Word, and release precious people from his control. The church today is on the attack, breaking down every defense that Satan has raised against the kingdom of God. We are told that the gates of Hades (Hell) will not overcome the Church (Matthew 16:18). God has told us what happens in the end, and guess what, those that belong to Christ win!

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

[1] Key Word Study Bible, New Lexical Study Aids, AMG Publishers, page 1580.

Preparing for Death 3 (Scroll down for parts 1 & 2)

We are carrying on our meditation from yesterday about preparing for death. We saw that every one of us that belong to Christ are building something with our lives and that there will be a reward when Christ comes. Paul the apostle wrote:

10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

In verse 10, Paul says that each of us is building something. He reminds us to build with care. All labor in the Kingdom of God is built on the foundation of an intimate relationship with Christ. All other good works are just wood, hay and stubble. The quality of the building materials depends on the motives of the deeds done. There are a number of things that are significant about it, the first being that before Christ, their work will be shown for what it is (v. 13), every motive and every act will be brought out into the open. This thought is revealed elsewhere too:

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open (Luke 8:17).

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

The author John Bevere writes: Many have the erroneous idea that all future judgment is eradicated by their salvation. Indeed, Jesus’ blood cleanses us from the sins that would have kept us from the kingdom, however, it does not exempt us from the judgment of how we conducted ourselves as believers, whether good or bad.[1]

At last, all will be made known. All things will be uncovered. We will find out the great mysteries of this life. Nothing will be hidden. We shouldn’t take this just in the negative, for there are acts of kindness that many of us have done in secret before men, but God has seen the desire and motive of our hearts and will reward us openly. There will be others who have had no notoriety, but who have been laboring quietly in the backwaters of some jungle someplace where their labor has been sweet to our God. Some of you have given generously and sacrificially to care for the poor and have done it to God alone, in that you have kept it a secret from men. “…your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward (Matthew 10:42).

The Lord sees everything we have ever done for Him, and nothing escapes His attention. The day will come when we will gain our inheritance given to us in Christ before time began. What a day that will be. Keep on, Christian! Your reward is waiting for you!

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study Preparing for Death. Keith Thomas

[1] John Bevere, Driven by Eternity, Warner Faith Publishers, Page 186.

Does the Bible Teach Soul Sleep? (Continued from Part 1 below)

In the Old Testament, 1 Kings 17:17, we find a story about a little boy who was raised from the dead. He was the son of a woman who had helped the prophet Elijah. She was a widow, and this was her only son. The boy was ill and getting worse, until he finally stopped breathing (NIV translation). In the Hebrew, it literally says that his soul (Heb. “nephesh”) had left. In verse 22 of the same passage we are told that the boy’s life returned to him after Elijah prayed for the boy. The Hebrew word again used is “nephesh,” which literally means that the boy’s soul returned! Like Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, we again see the invisible part of a person’s being, his soul, returning to his body.

We are told that at this moment, in heaven, are the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23), and in another place, that when Christ returns for His church: “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Their bodies were in the grave but they themselves, the unseen part of their nature, their spirit and soul, are with the Lord. They are very much alive, but in a different realm, a different life. Paul the apostle wrote: “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He also writes to the church at Philippi about his desire to die and be with Christ:

22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:22-24).

Note that Paul is not expecting to be unconscious in sleep when he dies; he fully expects to be very much alive. He calls it better by far! The word “depart” in verse 23 above, is translated from the Greek word that was used for the loosing of an anchor. A.T. Robertson translates it, “To weigh anchor and put out to sea.” What a beautiful picture! It reminds us of the scene in the movie “Lord of The Rings,” when Bilbo Baggins departs the Grey Havens and puts out to sea to start a new adventure! It is a wonderful analogy of what some perceive as an end, but instead it really is a new beginning. If Paul was readying himself to go to sleep for two thousand years, I don’t see how that could be called “better by far.” No, Paul was getting ready to go to another place, a place that was “better by far!” A place where; “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Corinthians 2:14.)

Just imagine if a butterfly were to try to explain to a caterpillar what his new life would become. The caterpillar would have no frame of reference to comprehend what it would be like to fly, in a glorious new body, not bound to the earth. If the caterpillar were able to comprehend this, would it choose not to go into its pupa state and be transformed? During our time out of our body, we will have fellowship with the Lord in a spiritual place. The only reason that spiritual things are not as real to us now, is that we are bound to this earth, and only able to function on one level, one realm. But a day is coming when we will experience all that God has prepared for us. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3). Our purpose in this life, is to be prepared for this most excellent adventure into a realm which is described as: BETTER BY FAR! Keith Thomas