How did I discover my own Christian hope?
Never being taught while growing up the wonders of Bible prophecy, you can imagine, therefore, how excited I became years later when I started studying God's Prophetic Word, and I began discovering the Lord's fantastic promises about the future. I started jumping pews and swinging from chandeliers! People thought I had gone Pentecostal overnight! For the first time, I started getting excited about the future, and my hope began to grow.
Let me share with you some of the discoveries I made in my study of Bible prophecy. I think you will find them thrilling, and I pray they will build your hope.
1) Consciousness — My first discovery was that the concept of soul sleep is unbiblical. It is true that when we die, our bodies "sleep" metaphorically, but the spirits of the dead never lose their consciousness.
Jesus clearly taught this in His story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:9-31). When they died, their spirits went to Hades. The rich man's spirit went to a compartment called "Torments." The spirit of Lazarus went to a compartment referred to as "Abraham's bosom." On the Cross, Jesus called this compartment "Paradise" (Luke 23:43). The two compartments were separated by a "great chasm" which could not be crossed.
In Jesus' story both men are pictured as fully conscious. They even carry on a conversation with each other. Their souls are not asleep.
Paul affirmed consciousness after death when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he would prefer to be "absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." He repeated this sentiment in his Philippian letter where he wrote "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). He elaborated on the meaning of this statement by adding that his desire was "to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23).
When Jesus died for the sins of Mankind, Paradise was moved from Hades to Heaven. Paul attests to this in 2 Corinthians 12:4 where he states that he was taken up to the "third heaven," which he identifies as "Paradise." The Redeemed could not go directly to Heaven before the Cross because their sins had only been covered by their faith, not forgiven. Their forgiveness awaited the shedding of the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:22).
This means that when a believer dies today, his soul is taken directly to Heaven where he resides in an intermediate spirit body until the time of the resurrection. Martyred believers during the Tribulation are pictured in their spirit bodies standing before the throne of God clad in white robes and waving palm branches (Revelation 7:1-9). They are fully conscious as they sing, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10).
2) Bodies — My second discovery was that we are not destined to an ethereal existence as disembodied spirits. It is true that at death we receive an intermediate spirit body which the Bible does not define in any detail, but God has promised that the Redeemed will one day receive new glorified bodies.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we are told that when Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the spirits of those who have died in Christ. Their bodies will be resurrected in a great miracle of re-creation; their spirits will be reunited with their bodies; and their bodies will then be glorified. Those who are alive in Christ will be translated to meet the Lord in the air. Their bodies will be glorified on the way up, without experiencing death.
What a glorious promise! It is no wonder that Paul begins this passage by saying it is intended to give hope to believers (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He concludes it by saying, "Comfort one another with these words" (verse 18).
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reveals that the glorified body will be "imperishable" and "immortal." It will be raised in "glory and power" and will be spirit controlled, rather than controlled by the flesh (1 Corinthians 15:42-44,52-54). In Philippians 3:21 Paul further states that the glorified bodies which will be given to believers will be like the body that Jesus had after His resurrection.
Think about that for a moment. Jesus had a tangible body that could be touched and recognized (Luke 24:41-43 and John 20:27-28). It was body very similar to the bodies we have now, and yet it was also very different. It could pass through a wall into a locked room (John 20:26), and it could move about from one place to another at a high rate of speed (Luke 24:30-36).
His disciples were so startled and frightened by His ability to vanish and reappear suddenly at another place that they thought they were seeing a spirit. But Jesus countered that idea immediately by telling them, "Touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39).
To summarize, the Redeemed are promised glorified bodies that will be tangible, recognizable, and immortal. Further, the implication of a "glorified" body is that it will be perfected. The blind will see; the deaf will hear; the lame will walk; and the mentally impaired will have their minds healed. There will no longer be any pain or death (Revelation 20:4).
In the next part of this series on your Christian hope, we'll continue looking at what life will be like in Heaven.