Heaven: A New Perspective on Life | John Ankerberg Show

Heaven: A New Perspective on Life

By: Dr. Gary Habermas
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Heaven: A New Perspective on Life

In one sense, this could be viewed as the single most important chapter in this volume. Personally, I think that the New Testament perspective on heaven and its relationship to a believer’s life is the most revolutionary idea (next to salvation) ever penned. And the key word here could well be just that: perspective. God invites us to view life and death from His vantage point. This applies to and can revolutionize every-day aspects of one’s life as well, such as one’s worries and cares, ethics and involvement with one’s fellow man, possessions, wealth and even pain and death. The New Testament encourages believers to view each of these, indeed, one’s entire existence, from what we will term a “top-down” perspective: God and His Kingdom first, followed by our involvement with others in this life. In fact, it will be our chief thesis that being sure of heaven and operating from its vantage point can free us to enjoy our life more while still being involved with what God has called us to do.

In this chapter we will attempt to briefly view numerous New Testament passages which develop this idea in detail, followed by a consideration of certain questions concerning this topic. Our overall goal will be to stress the New Testament impera­tive to apply this perspective in one’s own life. The affect of this teaching on doubt will hopefully be made evident as we develop this theme.

A. Matthew 6:19-34: Worry

Few things dominate our modern lifestyle as much as anxiety about any number of ongoing concerns, both daily and longer range worries. And while this is Jesus’ best-known teaching on the subject, I think it is frequently misunderstood. Too often, it is assumed that Jesus started that subject at verse 25 and that His chief purpose was to tell His followers not to worry because God will care for them, even as He cares for the birds, lilies and grass (6:26-32). Besides, worry cannot change a thing, including adding a year to our life or an inch to our height (6:27). So why do it?

While each of these statements is surely correct and true to Jesus’ instruction as far as it goes, the overall indictment against worrying, as just presented, does not have the same “bite” as Jesus intended. The reason for this is that such encourage­ment is incomplete unless it is viewed in the more complete context of His words.

Verse 25 begins with “Therefore,” indicating that Jesus is basing what comes after on a previous point; verses 19-24 contain this content.

For Jesus, the believer should lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, for the former are indestructible, while the latter can decay or be stolen (6:19-20). Besides, as 1 Peter 1:3-4 reminds us in language quite reminiscent of Jesus’ words, our heavenly inheritance lasts forever, while earthly goods obviously do not. And our heart will be where our treasure is located (6:21). So if we live for earthly treasure we cannot, at the same time, serve God (6:24).

At this point, I think, Jesus’ admonition against worry takes on an entirely new perspective. It is true that God sustains all of His nonhuman creation without their worrying about it and that anxiety cannot change things, but these are additional reasons. The heart of the issue is that, if our treasures are truly in heaven, then we will simply not be as concerned about temporal things. It is true that Christians may have possessions, bills and jobs, for examples, but these are, in and of themselves, of no ultimate value except for any spiritual results.[1] As far as a believer’s loved ones are concerned, although this may be harsh, such relationships are only eternal to the extent to which the loved ones have also trusted the Lord.

So again, Jesus’ point appears to be that if our heart and our treasures are in heaven, then we have no need to worry, for these cannot be disturbed. But con­versely, if we are still anxious about earthly problems, we betray ourselves because then we are revealing that our hearts are at least partially elsewhere.

Similarly, when Jesus concludes His discourse by asserting that we need to seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, first of all, thereby still being provided with our needs, He is once again maintaining this top-down perspective. Thus, the order of His comments is heaven (6:19-24), earth (6:25-32) and the proper perspective between them (6:33-34).

Therefore, to be anxious about our earthly needs is to betray our first love. And while believers are, of course, only human, thus revealing typical frailties from time to time, we need to practice Jesus’ eternal perspective until it is our will, too.

B. Luke 10:25-37: Ethical Commitment

In this passage of Scripture (cf. Mk. 12:28-31; Matt. 22:34-40) Jesus is asked by a lawyer what was required for one to gain eternal life. In the ensuing conversation, Jesus agreed that the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all of one’s being, followed, second, by the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. When the lawyer responded by asking who one’s neighbor was, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. Here, a traveling man (presumably a Jew) was attacked by thieves and, as he lay wounded, a priest and a Levite walked by and ignored him. But a Samaritan, normally having no relation with Jews because of religious differences, stopped, wrapped the man’s wounds, took him to an inn and paid for his expenses himself. Then Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise.

So Jesus taught that there was an order in one’s love commitment: first to Godand then to man. And one ought to be radically committed to both, since the proper way to love God is with one’s entire being and the proper way to love man is by self-sacrificial involvement.

It is very popular today in some critical circles to teach that what Jesus really meant was that by being committed to others, we are actually fulfilling our love of God. In other words, instead of the top-down perspective, we are told that Jesus actually instituted a bottom-up arrangement instead. Thus, salvation is not an act of faith in Jesus, per se, but active involvement with others, which actually is faith in God.

Such an assessment is apparently motivated by desires to generalize Jesus’ teachings, often to make them compatible with those of other religious traditions. But this procedure actually has several pitfalls. Besides essentially teaching a type of works-righteousness, it very noticeably ignores Jesus’ many injunctions concern­ing the need for personal faith in Him. Such teachings are found throughout the gospel tradition. Jesus did not say that commitment to one’s fellow man constituted an implicit salvific trust in Him, but He did teach regularly that one must have faith in both His Person and His message.[2] Such interpretations are also reductionistic and tend to minimize Jesus’ other unique claims about Himself, as well.

So we must be prepared to do justice to Jesus’ teaching that loving God above all else is paramount and is a separate act. It is even the basis for loving man. In fact, in a sense, true love of God should issue forth into self-sacrificial love to others since God created man in His image and because Jesus Himself both practiced and commanded the same procedure. Once again, this is the top-down perspective which we have already identified. Whereas before this vantage point was applied to the problem of worry and anxiety, now the second subject is ethical involvement. In other words, while the issue of first importance remains the same (total trust in God), the second tier has varied according to the subject being discussed. But the per­spective always remains the same: issues in this life are to be judged by God’s heavenly vantage point.

C. 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10: Persecution, Pain and Death

It is frequently said that death is the cause of the strongest fears known to man. Yet, in this passage Paul handles the subject head-on and challenges believers to think about it in light of the top-down perspective.

At first Paul speaks of the persecution which he has undergone for the cause of Christ (4:7-16). Then he appears to shift the subject ever so slightly to the issue of pain and suffering in general (4:17-18). Lastly, his interest is the subject of death (5:1-10). To many, this might appear to be nothing short of a gruesome topic of conversation, but, through Paul, the Holy Spirit has inspired a beautiful meditation on an otherwise difficult subject.

At the outset, Paul points out that the persecution which he and others are under­going will ultimately lead to their glorification (4:14). This is quite reminiscent of the same theme in 1 Peter 1:3-9 (see next section) where early Christian persecution is also the topic. And in both places, the view is away from present circumstances to eternal life with the Lord.

Paul then speaks of afflictions which affect believers. His main point here is that such pain is only temporal and, as such, believers ought to be concentrating on eternal life instead (4:17-18).[3] Again, this is the top-down perspective and I think here it is shown to be a brilliant psychological tool as well as a time-space truth. Personally, I could think of no better topic of conversation with a Christian who is suffering pain.

Now some will immediately question this, pointing out that meditation on eternal life is all well and good, but that it is escapist if it is thought that such will lessen pain. And while this is a thoughtful response, I think that it is wide of the mark, and for at least two reasons. Initially, it needs to be strongly asserted that heaven is a fact, not an escape route.[4] Such is a crucial distinction, for if it is truly the place for redeemed believers, it cannot be just a fantasy to confuse suffering minds.

But also, I think there is a sense in which such meditation does, in fact, lessen pain. Just like those times when we think that we may really be sick, we frequently experience just such a lift after going to the doctor when we find out, perhaps, that it is a common form of the flu which has been “going around.” On such occasions, one usually feels instantly better upon receiving the news. In a similar way, meditation on heaven can have the effect of causing one to realize that everything will ultimately be fine. After all even if a believer was to die, he should know that such is not the end; the illness is not terminal. Such is Paul’s advice to the suffering Christian (4:17-18). Eternal life can be both real and satisfying for those who suffer.

Then Paul turns from the subject of suffering to that of actual death (5:1-10). Here he assures the believer that, even if we were to experience bodily death, we would not face the prospect of extinction but would still be alive forever. Paul longed for the new body which God would give him (5:2, 4).[5] The reason why death is even preferable is that while we are in our physical bodies we do not see Christ and are separated from Him (5:6-7). But, knowing that death meant union with Christ, Paul preferred to be with Him (5:8). This is precisely why Paul asserts that He would personally favor dying and being with Christ; to die is actually to gain (Phil. 1:21-23).

So once again we perceive the top-down perspective with the upper level re­maining virtually the same. In Matthew the chief goal for believers is to seek the Kingdom of God, where our indestructible treasures are located (6:19-21, 33). In Luke, after a question concerning eternal life, the highest priority is given to loving God with one’s entire being (10:25-28). And here in Paul’s teachings, believers should appropriate the reality of eternal life with Christ (2 Cor. 5:1-8). In each pas­sage, the goal for the believer is one’s eternal life with God.

From this perspective, life takes on new meaning on its “down” level. For Jesus, worry and anxiety can be controlled by having one’s treasures elsewhere (Matt. 6:25-32). To the lawyer, Jesus asserted that the love of others (even enemies) flows naturally from the love of God (Lk. 10:27, 29-37). Paul explains that considering eternal life with Christ should be of comfort in handling the subjects of persecution, pain and death (2 Cor. 4:16-5:10).

And really, no message should be dearer to the hearts of believers. What is innately more precious than life and true fellowship with other persons? If this is so, what could be more desirable than an eternity spent, among other things, with loved ones and with Jesus Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe? I personally cannot think of a more desirable state in which to spend eternity.[6]

D. Other Passages

Far more than just these three New Testament passages teach what we have called the top-down perspective. It has also been applied to other areas of life, as well. It may even be the most frequently utilized message in the New Testament for motivating the Christian to action, whether in helping our fellow human beings or in solving a bothersome problem.

The ultimate contrast here is made by Jesus in Mark 8:36-37 (cf. Matt. 16:26; Lk. 9:25) where He asserts that the sum total of the entire world is not worth one’s soul; nothing should be taken in exchange for it. Accordingly, we are not to fear those who kill our bodies, for that is all they can do. That which can corrupt our soul and send us to Hell is far worse (Lk. 12:4-5; Matt. 10:28). In these passages, the comparison is between eternal life and what earth has to offer—whether temporary wealth or death. But even in the latter case, the believer has nothing to fear because all that can be lost is one’s present life, which, once again, places us in the presence of Jesus Himself (2 Cor. 5:8). What an important teaching that can even place death in perspective and bid us not to fear!

Perhaps a good general statement is the one located in Colossians 3:3, where Paul simply states, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Here the contrast is straightforward and the order of importance should be clear.

More specifically, the subject of physical desires is compared to heaven in Philippians 3:18-21. Here Paul begins his contrast by viewing those whose chief desire lies in the pursuit of earthly things such as food or in the desire for their own glory. He sorrowfully notes that they are enemies of Christ (3:18-19). But a sharp difference is found between these and believers who already have heavenly citizen­ship and who will later receive bodies like the glorious resurrection body of Jesus Himself (3:20-21).

The idea that Christians are presently citizens of heaven is a beautiful truth and is reminiscent of Jesus’ teachings that believers currently have eternal life.[7] Such a reality that is true from the time of salvation provides even more impetus to lay up treasures there and to think “top-down,” because we already are possessors of heaven!

The subject of wealth is another area for the application of thinking from God’s perspective. Paul directs comments to those who are rich in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, warning these individuals not to be proud or trust in their possessions. Rather, they ought to trust in God Who is responsible for the wealth in the first place. Further, they are to engage in good works, being willing to utilize their wealth for distribution to those in need (6:17-18). Such activities build one’s heavenly treasures, apparently affecting the quality of one’s eternal life (6:19).

This passage in 1 Timothy is quite reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19- 24 concerning the building of one’s heavenly “bank account.” In fact, Paul seems to say that sharing one’s wealth appears to be a specific means to that end.

Another text which contains some similar encouragement, only to very poor believers, is 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. Here the Macedonian Christians, who lived in poverty themselves, willingly contributed to the needs of other believers (8:2-4). But even more interesting in terms of our thesis, the Macedonians presented them­selves to the Lord first, and then to the needs of others (8:5). Although we are now speaking of poor believers instead of wealthy ones, the order is the same (see especially Lk. 10:25-37): God first and then others.

One sobering aspect of these exhortations concerns the believer’s duty to share with others whenever someone is in need. Many times similar admonitions are made to average members of the Christian community to provide for those in need. Further, the New Testament as a whole contains many exhortations to sacrifice, even if one is not wealthy, for the sake of God’s Kingdom.[8]

And the issue of perspective should still be obvious here: God and His Kingdom is to be placed first above our wealth and possessions. Besides, what better invest­ment could one possibly make than to invest in eternity? As Jesus has already told us, if it is given to the Lord, our wealth cannot later be stolen, rot or be devalued. It is safe, invested for eternity in the “banks” of heaven.[9]

The reality of persecution is the topic for a number of other perspectival com­ments. First Peter 1:3-9 (mentioned just briefly above) is the most detailed of these texts. With the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation, we are informed that this historical event is the basis for the believer’s eternal life. And the Christian’s exist­ence in heaven, like that of Jesus, is also incorruptible and permanent (3:3, 4).

As a result, Peter urges believers to view the present persecution as a temporary problem through which they would persevere and emerge with a much stronger faith (1:6-9). Strangely enough, Peter tells them to rejoice in their salvation and eternal life right while they are suffering (1:6). This is the chief top-down element in this passage. Just as Paul tells believers to meditate on eternal life during suffering, here Peter explains that true believers can rejoice even in the middle of persecution, all because of having a proper perspective on God and immortality. For the worst that can happen (in human terms) is to die, yet this ushers us into Christ’s presence. For while we do not see Him now, full salvation follows (1:8-9) when we will be with Him forever (cf. 1 Pet. 5:10).

In two other portions, believers were thanked for assisting persecuted brethren. In Philippians 4:14-17 Paul compliments the Philippian believers for being concerned with and taking care of his needs. His point was not that he wished to receive gifts but he wanted these Christians to add to their heavenly accounts (4:17). The author of Hebrews also praises his readers for joyfully identifying with the needs of believ­ers who were in prison, reminding them of their rewards in heaven which are both more enduring and far better than earthly possessions (Heb. 10:34-35). In both contexts, the reality of heaven was held as the primary reward to be sought above earthly treasures. In fact, the latter were to be utilized to facilitate the former.

A fascinating item in the top-down perspective occurs in Hebrews 11. Here the subject is that of the believer as a pilgrim whose true home is not on earth but in heaven (cf. Phil. 3:21). For example, Abraham is said to have been looking for a city which was nowhere to be found on the earth, whose Builder was God (11:8-10). We read that Moses preferred to remain with his people rather than enjoy all the riches of Egypt because he was seeking God (11:24-27). In fact, numerous saints are described as being “foreigners and strangers on earth” (11:13). Their goal was to find a land other than their own; they were seeking a heavenly country (11:14-16). Yet, they did not receive these promises in their own lifetimes, but such is to be fulfilled in the future (11:13, 39-40).

This idea of the traveler on a journey is a truly exciting one because of the thought conveyed in the text that the goal was heaven (11:16). This is a rather revolutionary aspect of the top-down perspective in that it portrays the believer’s time on earth as a continual, lifelong pilgrimage toward heaven. And in a sense, believers are never fulfilled until they arrive there. But it should be carefully noticed that these travelers were not inactive; each was committed to the Lord and to his individual ministry.

The idea of the believer’s journey to heaven has also appeared as a major idea in classical Christian literature such as The Pilgrim’s Progress. Another such ex­ample is Jonathan Edward’s “The Christian Pilgrim,” which is an exhortation to the single-minded pursuit of eternal life. As Edwards explains:

[quote] Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on any thing else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?[10]

Lastly, we briefly mentioned earlier that Philippians 1:21-23 is a classic passage regarding death, where Paul asserts that, given his preference, he would choose dying and being with Christ, which is far better than living here. That kind of convic­tion is significant, especially because Paul had both seen the Lord (1 Cor. 9:1) and had a vision of heaven, perhaps while being left for dead outside Lystra (2 Cor. 12:1-5). At any rate, he very much wished to be with Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8). From Paul’s top-down vantage point, heaven is not only to be preferred above earthly life, but his ministry unto the Lord was done in light of heaven (Phil. 1:24-26).

Even this brief survey indicates that there are many New Testament passages which argue that one’s earthly actions ought to be done from the perspective of the Kingdom of God. This twofold stress on the believer loving God and spending eternity in a relationship with Him should be a tremendous catalyst in obeying Jesus’ second command of radically loving one’s fellow human being.

E. Questions

Some might pose several queries or even objections to the thesis presented here. For example, one may wonder about the Christian who asserts that, now that he is saved, he does not need to be involved in “earthly” things like social concerns. Or while it may manifest a different attitude, a similar result proceeds from those who are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” While these could represent divergent positions, both advocate non-involvement in social concerns (or at least that such is not very crucial).

It should be fairly obvious that such theses are quite opposed to several of the texts discussed above. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus stated in the strongest terms that involvement with other persons in need is the second highest command. While it is true that such is not the very highest, it was given more importance than all the others after it. First Timothy 6:17-19 commands wealthy Christians to be generous in contributing to the needs of others. In Hebrews 11, believing pilgrims are not only seeking heaven, but they were honored for their involvement with the needs of others in the world. Additionally, Christians are encouraged to do likewise (Heb. 12:1).

But not only are Christians told to practice such involvement with others, but we are also given examples of those who got involved in this way. In 2 Corinthians 8:1- 5, poor believers assisted others in spite of their own poverty. In both Philippians 4:14-18 and Hebrews 10:34-35, believers contributed to other persecuted Chris­tians.

Additionally, the Christian message might even be said to naturally lead to in­volvement with others as an integral extension of the gospel. Thus, one is saved by trusting commitment to Jesus Christ but, being the second commandment, believers are then to turn to assisting others. This is true for more than one reason. Jesus showed His love by dying for us (Jn. 15:13) and He called on believers to show self-sacrificial love to others (Jn. 15:12). It may be helpful here to be reminded that the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 is an answer to the question of the identity of the neighbor whom we should love (Lk. 10:27, 29). In fact, helping others is said to essentially be done to Christ Himself (Matt. 25:40; cf. 10:42). Conversely, when we do not show love to others, we fail to show it to Christ, as well (Matt. 25:45). Besides, if fellowship with God in heaven is the greatest good, love requires us to encourage others to exercise their choice or at least to be informed in this matter.

Lastly, the fact that some Christians do not practice the love of man called for by Jesus is not an indictment against Christianity as a whole. It simply shows that some do not obey Jesus, not that His teaching is thereby mistaken. In the case of those whose views keep them from being of any earthly good, it ought to be clear that this is not a biblical position; it is rather an example of the very self-centeredness and smugness against which Jesus constantly warned.

Another issue concerns those who question whether what is being taught here is any sort of salvation by works. So it is crucial to point out that a discussion of salva­tion per se has not been the point of this chapter at all. Basically, we have only spoken to believers who have already trusted in the Person of Jesus Christ and His death to pay for their sins, believing that He was later buried and raised from the dead (as outlined in Part 4). When we discussed love for one’s fellow man, we were already referring to those who had previously become Christians. I want to be very clear about this. The first level of commitment is to God; that to our fellow man comes after salvation has already been attained.

A very important tendency in contemporary theology questions the last point and asserts that all Jesus meant was that by loving others one essentially does fulfill the first command to love God. In other words, this position holds that Jesus did not require any personal salvation in the sense of commitment to Himself. Rather, to be committed to one’s fellow man is to be committed to Jesus Christ. Thus, there is no specific content which one must personally believe in order to obtain salvation. To say it the way it is frequently verbalized, we encounter God in our neighbor.

This is a serious challenge to the orthodox understanding that salvation is a personal relationship between the individual and God, achieved through the exten­sion of the grace of God to the one who then trusts in Him. Such a concept is inter­preted as being achieved through an encounter with one’s neighbor. But there are at least two major problems with such conjecture.

Initially, this view does injustice to Jesus’ repeated teachings that one’s personal trust in Him is indispensable for salvation.[11] But additionally, it is also clear that His work (and His death, in particular) is crucial to one’s salvation, and as far more than just as a moral example.[12] Thus, beyond simply a commitment to others, as important as that is, the nature of the gospel is chiefly the content of who Jesus is and what he has done. But in addition, salvation consists of personal trust in (and commitment to) the Jesus of that gospel content.[13] So, if one wishes to be consis tent with the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, one’s trust in the Jesus of the gospel is required for personal salvation.

Now, of course, one may hold that Jesus was wrong or that He should not be interpreted literally. But such a position is opposed by the evidence, for instance, of His resurrection. For since Jesus was raised from the dead, this provides strong reasons to hold that His teachings on salvation are true, especially since it was His central message.[14] To restate this point, since Jesus was raised from the dead, His teachings are accurate. And if any of His teachings is true, those on the Kingdom of God and how to get there certainly would be since this is His chief message, as recognized by virtually all theologians who deal with this topic.[15]

Lastly, a serious query concerns the reason why believers lay up treasures in heaven, for one might wish to do so for the sake of rewards themselves or to display one’s own glory. Recognizing that such selfish goals are certainly not the point in the New Testament passages such as those discussed above,[16] we should perhaps restate the nature of the biblical hope. We have said that the highest goal for man is to fellowship with Jesus and our loved ones forever. The loftiest statement of any human, ecclesiastical creed may be the one contained in the Westminster Confes­sion which states that the “chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy Him for­ever.”

For this reason, Christians should constantly examine their motives and deter­mine to keep the top-down perspective in check so that both one’s desires and one’s practices are biblical. A constant balancing of priorities is crucial here.

Peter Kreeft proposes an interesting experiment which will perhaps be useful in ascertaining the true nature of one’s motives with regard to our longing for eternal life.[17] If Jesus said to you, “Make your own heaven—you may have whatever you wish, including… wealth,… power,… pleasure,… peace,… or great glory and honor from all of your friends.” While you are thinking about each of these, as well as other options, you then hear Jesus add, “However, there is only one condition—you will never see my face.” What is your very first thought? Did you experience a sudden chill or did you feel crestfallen? Or were you secretly satisfied in spite of the condi­tion?

If the former response was yours, this may be a fair indication that your desires may at least be heading in the right direction. If, on the other hand, the latter re­sponse was inwardly desirable, then I would suggest that something needs to be corrected, perhaps through repentance and the healing work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe meditations such as might emerge from Part 8 on the Person of Jesus might be utilized in order to bring the delight of His presence and fellowship into our consciousness.

F. Conclusion

It was stated at the outset that this could be the most important chapter in thisvolume. But its relationship to the subject of doubt may not be immediately known.

Earlier (Part 5) it was said that perhaps the strongest impetus to affect one’s volition and cause faith to grow is the nurturing of a heavenly vision. Thus, setting one’s sights on this highest goal can cause one to make biblical decisions in light of it.

But this heavenly perspective can also have a tremendous affect on other sorts of doubt, as well. For example, assurance of the reality of eternal life could ultimately solve what is perhaps the chief question confronting those with factual doubts. In this case, the evidences for immortality, such as Jesus’ resurrection, supply the factual basis, while practicing the top-down perspective then serves to apply the data to practical life situations such as those mentioned in the New Testament.[18] Thus, beyond the evidences themselves, this perspective specializes in the application of the facts. More particularly for factual doubters, continuing to center on the reality of heaven until it becomes a habit can serve to calm and perhaps even still the great­est uncertainty known to man. As Paul asserts in 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:8, Christians can both know that they have eternal life (5:1-8) and meditate on its meaning for victory over life’s concerns (4:17-18).

For those tending towards emotional doubts, the reality of eternal life with God in heaven could be the most comforting truth to calm raging fears. It will perhaps be remembered that the key in controlling this type of uncertainty is the constant prac­tice of supplying truth instead of the untruths which one is believing (Phil. 4:6-9). But

Christians could scarcely learn any deeper truth than that outlined in the New Testa­ment. And with regard to the application to emotional doubts in particular, Jesus said it best in Matthew 6:19-34: the believer ought to lay up treasures in heaven, realizing that if his heart is truly there, he should be able to conquer life’s anxieties. In this case, man’s chief cause of worry (death) has been dealt with; if the worst that problems in this life, (such as emotional doubts) can do is affect the believer in earthly terms, he has nothing ultimate to fear. And conversely, God has promised that over earthly needs will be met, as well (6:33).

Now it would be a mistake to assume that exhaustive knowledge of heaven is needed in order to fulfill these tasks. Neither is such being proclaimed here. As a matter of fact, we know comparatively little about the nature of eternal life. But the facts indicate that Jesus died and, by rising from the dead, revealed to us all that we need to know to conquer such doubts. In fact, not only does His resurrection insure the truthfulness of His teachings on this subject of central importance, as mentioned above, but when the disciples saw the risen Jesus, they actually saw walking, talk­ing, eternal life.

Thus, the resurrection both confirms Jesus’ teachings on the subject of eternal life, especially since it was His major message, and it is also an actual, direct example of that new life. As such, every bit of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is actually corroboration of the believers’ life after death. We may not know very much above heaven, but the resurrected Jesus insured the truth of it and provided enough information to conduct our lives by His top-down perspective.

What a glorious truth has been provided for believers! Christianity is not based on a mere hope-so eternity. In the New Testament, Christian hope is based on the factual data; it is as sure as is the resurrection of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:3-4). And beyond the mere facticity of this event, such a teaching also provides us with a heavenly perspective for the everyday doubts, problems and fears of life. These fears need not dominate a Christian’s earthly existence.

Read Part 10

Notes:

  1. For example, Christians involved in a ministry of some sort (I mean in the broader sense, beyond the professional types alone) can certainly reap some eternal results.
  2. There are at least two aspects to Jesus’ demand for personal trust and commitment to Him. Jesus both required commitment to His own Person (see Matt. 10:37; 18:3,6; Mk. 10:29-30; Lk. 24:47; Jn. 1:12; 6:47) and the appropriation of the work which He performed in His death (Mk. 10:45; Matt. 26:28; Jn. 3:15-17).
  3. The subject in 4:17-18, may in fact, still be that of persecution. But, except for rewards which accrue to believer’s due specifically to such persecution, Paul’s words would still apply to the issue of Christian suffering in general.
  4. It must be remembered once again that this is not a book of apologetic evidences, as we pointed out in Part 3, although we did list some evidences for the resurrection there which are relevant at this point. For additional details and an argument from Jesus’ resurrection to eternal life, see Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic, especially chapters IV-V and Appendix 3.
  5. There is much discussion as to whether Paul is here speaking of the intermediate or the final, eternal state. But that he is addressing the issue of eternal life is not actually debated. See Robert Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976; Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1987), pp. 149-154.
  6. Again, see Kreeft’s Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing.
  7. This is most commonly a Johannine theme. See Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 1 Jn. 5:13. Cf. Eph. 1:13- 14; 2 Thess. 2:13-17.
  8. See such passages as Matt. 19:27-30; Lk. 12:33; 14:33; Js. 2:15-17; 1 Jn. 3:17-18.
  9. By these last statements it is not meant that Christians are to selfishly accumulate “heavenly wealth” as if for their own advantage. See section E below.
  10. Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings (New York: New American Library, 1966), p. 142.
  11. For a few examples, see Matt. 10:37; 18:6; 19:28-29; Lk. 24:47; 1:12; 3:3-5, 36; 6:47. Compare 1 Cor. 15:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:21-23; 1 Jn. 5:13.
  12. For instances, see Matt. 26:28; Mk. 10:45, Jn. 3:15-17. Compare 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:24.
  13. Again, see Part 4 for a discussion of the content of the gospel and its relation to one’s faith.
  14. Once more, to avoid confusion, this is not a volume of apologetics. An outline of some of the evidences for the resurrection is also included in Part 3.
  15. On the centrality of salvation in the teachings of Jesus, see particularly those texts where Jesus states the chief purpose of His coming, such as Mk. 2:17; 10:45; Lk. 19:10; Jn. 10:10. On the recognition of this point by contemporary theologians as a whole, see Habermas, The Resurrec­tion of Jesus, Chapter IV-V.
  16. In fact, Rev. 4:10-11 graphically portrays the 24 heavenly elders casting their crowns before God’s throne so that He might receive the honor and glory.
  17. This exercise is adapted from Kreeft’s Heaven, p. 27.
  18. Such a strategy would then be similar to that which was presented in Part 3, where Christian evidences supplied the basis (even though such was not developed in this volume) for the practical application to the factual uncertainty.

Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. Gary Habermas

Dr. Gary Habermas

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