Eternal life is one of God's promises to the faithful, to those who know God and persevere in overcoming. As we saw on the previous page, Jesus said "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
There are many other verses about the promise of eternal life. John 3:16 and Romans 6:23 are often quoted:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When do we receive eternal life, and how do we receive it? There is certainly plenty of confusion and misunderstanding about this. Some believe that if they are judged worthy they will go to heaven forever, just after they die. Others believe that eternal life is only a concept or idea, that it is not to be taken literally. Neither is correct. Fortunately a short study of the scriptures can provide clear answers to these questions.
The apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Thessalonika about the afterlife, explaining to them that the dead or "asleep" were not lost but would be resurrected to eternal life at a particular time in the future. Here is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede, or take the place of] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Immediately several things have been explained:
1. The faithful do not receive eternal life until some time in the future, at "the coming of the Lord," when "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." At that time "the dead in Christ shall rise first." So until "the coming of the Lord" the dead remain dead, in their graves. Until that time, no one (except Jesus) will have been resurrected to eternal life.
2. After the dead are resurrected, then the faithful who "are alive and remain" will join them as they "meet the Lord in the air."
3. Note that nothing was said about going to heaven. It was only stated that the faithful would "meet the Lord in the air" and would "ever be with the Lord." Yes, there are verses such as Matthew 5:12 which state "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." But it is a mistake to conclude that anyone will go to heaven to get their reward. Jesus plainly promised to bring the rewards with Him at His return from heaven to Earth: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12).
A few questions have been answered. But other questions have appeared. What and when is "the coming of the Lord"? What happens after the faithful "meet the Lord in the air"? Are the resurrected still flesh-and-blood mortal humans, but with eternal life? Are those who "are alive and remain" still mortals, but with eternal life? And what is the "trump of God"? Some of these questions are addressed in a letter Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth. Here is 1 Corinthians 15:50-53:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Here Paul shows that "at the last trump" the dead in Christ will instantly be raised to immortal, incorruptible life. The faithful who are not dead or "asleep" at that time will also be instantly changed from mortal to immortal. This change from "flesh and blood" to "incorruption" would be necessary for them to be able to "inherit the kingdom of God." More will be said about the kingdom of God and the trumpet soundings shortly.
Paul compared the mortal to the immortal in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; from this we see that the resurrected faithful will be given a spiritual, not mortal, body:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It [the mortal body] is sown [goes to the grave] in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Jesus also spoke about the mortal and the spiritual. He explained, as did Paul, that in order to enter the kingdom of God one must first be "born again" of the spirit. He went on to show that those who are "born of the spirit" are invisible, like the wind:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)
In Matthew 22:29,30 Jesus was asked a trick question about marriage and the resurrected dead. In His response Jesus showed that the resurrected would in fact be be similar to angels, which are spirit beings:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
So we have seen that when resurrected "at the last trump," at "the coming of the Lord," both the dead and the living faithful will receive immortal, spiritual bodies similar to those of angels. Then they will be able to "inherit the kingdom of God," and from then on will "ever be with the Lord."
Note that another type of resurrection possible: from death to mortal, physical life. An example was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, as recorded in John chapter 11. Many years after the resurrection of the faithful there will be general resurrection of the remaining dead to mortal life. Revelation 20:5 describes it: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." They will apparently be raised to mortal life for a period of time, for their spiritual education and judgment (see Revelation 20:11-13).
Revelation 20:5,6 continues with another description of the first resurrection, when the faithful receive eternal life, and can never die again:
This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Remember one of Jesus' promises to overcomers, in Revelation 2:11:
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
It is the will of God for the faithful to receive eternal life. Those in the first resurrection receive eternal life as spirit beings. They will never be mortal again and can not possibly die again. A "second death" can happen to those who are resurrected as mortals at the later resurrection. If they are not judged worthy to receive eternal life, they will die again, a second time, without further hope of resurrection and life (Revelation 21:8). Those who suffer the second death are gone forever, destroyed, permanently non-existent. Those who teach that God punishes the wicked with eternal torment in some sort of hellfire are in error, and are teaching a flagrant lie about the nature of God. To eternally punish anyone would be both pointless and pathetically sadistic.
Revelation 20:6 above showed that those in the first resurrection "shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." What is that all about? Who will they be priests to, and who will they reign over? As we saw earlier, both the apostle Paul and Jesus showed that the faithful could not enter or "inherit the kingdom of God" until they were made immortal, spirit beings. Now we will explore the promises to the faithful to inherit the Kingdom of God.
The Revelation is the last book of the Bible. It was given by Jesus to the apostle John to show the faithful the future, in prophecy. The first verse of the Revelation explains:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.
In the Revelation, trumpet soundings - seven of them in all - comprise and describe the events of the seventh, final "seal" of Revelation. We have already seen that "at the last trump" the first resurrection will occur. And you may recall from 1 Thessalonians 4:16, that at the same time "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." Revelation 11:15 shows what else will occur at the seventh, final trumpet:
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
At the "seventh trump" we now have four events:
1. "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" and
2. "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven" and
3. "the dead in Christ shall rise first" and
4. "we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air."
There are certainly many opinions about what the kingdom of God is, and is not. Rather than deal in opinions, here are a few of the many scriptures about the return of Christ and His establishment of the kingdom of God on Earth.
Verses about Jesus' return:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5)
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
...and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30, 31)
Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations [referring to Armageddon, see Revelation 16:14-16 and 19:11-21] as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. (Zechariah 14:3,4)
Verses about the Kingdom:
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44)
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)
And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one. (Zechariah 13:9)
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD (Jeremiah 31:34)
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. (Micah 4:4)
Verses about the faithful inheriting the kingdom:
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Jesus, in Luke 12:32)
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Jesus to his disciples, in Luke 22:29, 30)
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Jesus, describing how He would reward the faithful upon His return. Note that this is part of a plan - God's plan - which has been in place from the beginning! (Matthew 25:34)
And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27)
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. (Revelation 2:26,27)
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them... and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
... seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness (Jesus, in Matthew 6:33)
There are over 110 references to the kingdom in the four accounts of Jesus' life, in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are many more references in the other books of the Bible. The Kingdom of God, often referred to as the "kingdom of heaven" in the book of Matthew, was a central theme in Jesus' preaching. Jesus used many parables to teach about the kingdom, many of them illustrating what should be done in order to inherit it.
Those who reign with Christ in the Kingdom of God will be able to teach and help all mankind, lovingly guiding all into a right relationship with God and neighbor under the leadership of Jesus. This is the future promised to "the saints of the most High." Surely it is a more meaningful and loving future than some sort of an eternal vacation in heaven.
Jesus never promised we would go to heaven or live in heaven; rather He promised eternal life and an inheritance in the kingdom of God. The very first request in the "Lord's prayer" is for the Kingdom of God to come:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven... (from Matthew 6:9,10)
Unfortunately some have been confused by Jesus' statement, "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). Clearly the verses above show the Kingdom of God will arrive on Earth in dramatic, visible, physical power. So how is it possible for the Kingdom to be "within you"? Here is the explanation: where God rules, there His Kingdom is. If He rules within you, then His Kingdom is indeed within you. And when Christ returns and rules the world, His Kingdom will indeed be established in full authority on Earth.
It is the will of God for the faithful to inherit the Kingdom of God; it has been God's plan since "the foundation of the world." We have seen that the resurrected faithful "shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6). But what happens after the first thousand years of the Kingdom of God on Earth? How does the kingdom become "an everlasting kingdom"?
Previously we saw Revelation 20:5: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." After the millenium - the first thousand years of the kingdom of God on Earth - all the remaining dead will be raised to mortal life and educated, and given an opportunity to know God and to receive eternal life. As described in Revelation 20:11-15, those who reject God will be removed, destroyed forever, in the second death. After that there will be no more mortals. Only those who have received eternal life, as spirit beings, will remain.
Then we will be ready for the next part of God's plan for man: we will inherit the universe and dwell with God forever. Revelation chapter 21:1-8 describes what God has planned:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
God says "Behold, I make all things new." There will be "a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away." God promises that "He that overcometh shall inherit all things": we will inherit a re-created universe. God promises each of us that "I will be his God, and he shall be my son." God promises a "holy city, new Jerusalem" where He "will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
It is the will of God that we dwell with Him forever and inherit all things. God will be with us. The entire universe will be ours. God has revealed to us a future far greater than our technology could ever provide us, even surpassing our greatest hopes. Can we in this present, mortal life even begin to comprehend the extent and wonder of these promises? As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9,
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
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