The Christian hope in life after death depends upon belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Death does not have the last word over human destiny: God does. Jesus conquered death, and so death does not finally separate us from God.
Jesus was raised from death to a new life, an eternal life given by God.
The Christian hope is that as God raised Jesus Christ from death, so God will raise us from death to an eternal life with him.
The Bible looks forward to a new world order under God. Scripture uses vivid pictures that attempt to describe the indescribable: entire existence in mutual harmony and at peace with its creator. There are descriptions of a new creation where all live in love, share an abundance of good things and know great joy. Images of banquets and wedding feasts, of water that never runs dry, of life-giving trees and an ever-welcoming eternal city express hope in concrete terms. These remind us that God plans for us a whole, fully personal eternal life together.
Jesus came preaching the coming of God’s Kingdom. His ministry of teaching, preaching and healing revealed a taste of the joy to come. In Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the outpouring of the Spirit, the life of the Kingdom of God was released into the world. All who accept Christ through faith can live in its reality and look forward to its completion at the end of time, when Christ returns.
To have a hope for Heaven is not to disguise the reality of death. Death is part of being human. But we have hope that death does not separate us from God. Jesus has conquered death.
We will still die physically, yet because of Jesus Christ, we need not be dead to God.
The phrase, ‘the resurrection of the body’ is the biblical way to express Christian belief in life after death. In the Bible the word ‘body’ means the whole person. We do not look forward to becoming mere disembodied spirits, but whole persons, fully alive with Christ in God.
Our resurrection depends upon the resurrection of Christ and follows a similar pattern. Jesus died a real death on the cross. His resurrection was a re-creation, not resuscitation. He was not raised only to die again. He had a resurrection body different from his human body, yet recognisable. Our resurrection, too, through Christ, will be a total re-creation.
We all die, but death is not the end for either the believer or the non-believer. For all will be raised to judgement. Our life beyond the grave is entirely dependent upon the mercy and judgement of God.
As Christians, we believe that world history is not purposeless, but is moving towards an ultimate crisis, which scripture sometimes describes as ‘the Day of the Lord’. In the Old Testament, the prophets used the term to look forward to the time when God’s righteousness would be realised on earth. The God of Israel would be revealed to all nations, for blessing and for judgement.
It is in this context that we can speak of judgement. Judgement reveals the triumph of good over evil, the righting of wrongs, the validation of the truth, the victory of love over fear, the new Heaven and the new earth.
All are accountable to God during life and beyond death. This is the clear message of the New Testament. We have personal responsibility for our lives, for the choices we make, for our attitude and actions, for our ultimate destiny.
God alone is the judge. We cannot dictate to God who will be saved and who won’t. But we can trust the judgement of God because he is the loving creator of all.
To believe in judgement is to accept the reality of Hell and Heaven. Biblical pictures of Hell are terrifying and vivid and remind us that to choose to reject the grace of God results in a separation that reaches into eternity. Ultimately, our God-given freedom includes the freedom to make choices with eternal consequences. As Hell refers to the agony of those who face eternity without God, so Heaven describes the bliss of those who enjoy the full experience of his presence.
Christian life is marked by a hope that reaches beyond this life, to life with God in his eternity. It is a life of joy in the presence of Christ, anticipating the life to come.
For us, the future hope is already part of the present. The Holy Spirit brings to us the living Christ, who makes his Kingdom a present reality. As we live out this future today, we invite others to share in our hope.