Philippians Day Five
September 23, 2020, 5:00 AM

Life After Life after Life
Philippians 1:19-24

I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ
this will turn out for my deliverance,
as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed,
but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body,
whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

A few years ago, theologian and prolific author N.T. Wright wrote a series of popular level books, distilling his years of heavy-lifting academic work, unpacking and analyzing Christianity's development in the Second Temple period (sixth century BC through 70 AD). The series began with “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.” Wright took aim at some common Christian misconceptions of heaven— specifically, where is it? Often when a Believer dies, we hear people say, “He’s in a better place now.” The unspoken “better place” is, of course, Heaven. Wright writes that a Heaven in the sky, sweet bye-and-bye, needs to go bye-bye. Wait for it.... Heaven is no further than the soil where your two feet are currently parked! When Jesus comes back again, he will restore the heavens and the earth— this terra firma —to its original Edenic state. At that time, the dead will be raised, and those in Christ will inhabit a pristine, restored creation. We’re talking Resurrection stuff here… Heaven doesn’t happen until the Second Coming, when our bodies will be raised from the graves, just as the body of Jesus was raised from his rock-hewn tomb. Incidentally, this is why we Presbyterians call funerals “A Witness to the Resurrection.”

That leaves the question of what happens when people (in Christ) die. What happens then? This question has been known in systematic theology textbooks as “the Intermediate State” – i.e. the home of the human soul between Heaven and earth. I believe today’s featured passage in Philippians 1:19-24 speaks of the Intermediate State. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…” “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” To be with Christ. To take your final breath and open your eyes to see your Savior. (However, this place is not the final place. We shall come to this shortly.)

Likewise, Paul speaks of this state in 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8-9, as well: “We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” At home with the Lord is to be in his presence. This is the Intermediate State. Present with Christ to await the Day of Resurrection. We call that future Day the Eschaton; or the Consummation; or the Day of the Lord; when the curtain call in the Book of Revelation reveals the descent of the New Jerusalem. Note well the direction: Heaven coming down to earth! But, in the meantime, before that Time, we have the Intermediate State.

There are other subtle references to the Intermediate State in the New Testament. For instance, there’s the conversation with the repentant thief on the cross: “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43). Today in Paradise! Paradise=the Intermediate State.

The well-known and beloved funeral text in John 14:2-3, which many imagine as the final state of Heaven, is actually another presentation of the Intermediate State: “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Being with Jesus. Even as the Day of Resurrection is yet future to the day of our own death –we can never ever be separated from his love and his presence.

He references this again in the “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17— “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24).

But now this. I saved the best for last. Paul gives us another mind-stretching picture of this being present with Christ in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 — “I know a man in Christ [third-person Paul] who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Perhaps God gave Paul the sweet encouragement he would need to endure all manner of suffering for his witness to the Lord Jesus? Think about it, if you could have the curtains of reality pulled back for just a micro-instant and see the heavenly dimension ready to break out upon the world, wouldn’t you be certifiably fortified for Gospel boldness in any and every circumstance, come what may? [!]

Returning to N.T. Wright’s book, he has a catchy phrase he uses to describe heaven. He calls Heaven – “Life after Life after Life.” After our physical, earthly life terminates in death, we are immediately present with the Lord (Third Heaven?) – Life; awaiting there the Resurrection at the Second Coming – the next Life. So it goes - Earthly Life; Life with Christ; and Resurrection Life. Life after Life after Life!

Perhaps this is why John says in Revelation 14:13, “I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord Jesus. Blessed indeed!

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