Studies in Second CorinthiansChapter 5
LIFE AFTER LIFE What Is So New About Your Hope?
The Scriptures tell us: be prepared at any time to give the reason for the hope we have to everyone who asks us. (1 Peter 3:15) Suppose, if you will that someone has raised a question about “Life after Life” — a very popular topic these days. Using the Bible, especially our assigned chapter, as the reason, the dialogue might go somewhat like this:
Q:I have heard you say that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (5:17). Presumably your hope of life after life would be something quite new and different in the world?
A:Absolutely. “‘No mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor 2:9).
Q:What is so different and new? When the Corinthian letters were written, there was a lot of talk about life-after-life. Years earlier the Egyptians believed that a body properly embalmed and entombed in a monumental pyramid had the prospect of another life. And the Corinthian Christians must have been familiar with the ideas of the Golden Age of Greece. People like the Dionysians then held that someone’s soul lives forever in bliss when it is finally freed by death from imprisonment in matter and flesh — usually after repeated unfortunate reincarnations in some physical prison. New Age channelers in America and Hindus in India are still offering these things as their hope. Hollywood script writers love to have the dead become ghostly, disembodied spirits that still look surprisingly like their counter- parts “on this side”. The same in some comic strips.
So what is so new and different about your hope?
A:A vital part of the answer lies in our study chapter. It starts with a comparison of our present, temporary habitat (“the earthly tent”) with the future eternal home of believers in Christ.
Q:What’s the difference between the two habitats?
A:Some key points: Our present habitat is quite imperfect, being so much involved in “human hands” which have quite spoiled God’s perfect creation. Like ourselves, it is mortal, temporary (4:18), destined for destruction, when the earth will be laid bare by fire on the Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10). In spite of the countless good things the Lord provides, this present existence can be loaded with groaning, (v. 4) pain, and trouble (recall chapter 4). Moreover, since we walk by faith, not by sight (v. 8), we are in a sense “away from the Lord”, whom we would please and in whom we trust.
Q:You call that hopeful?
A:And most meaningful. In our present habitat (“while in the body” v. 10) we, like Paul, have opportunity to know Christ, believe in Him, and “please him” (v. 9). So we can be “always confident” (v. 6) as we live out our days, looking forward to the time when we all shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the gracious inheritance due him (v. 10).
Q:And what is that?”
A:Back to verse 1, if you will. “A building from God an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands”.
Q:That’s pretty lofty for a flesh and blood person like me. Like your Paul, I have no desire to be “unclothed” (v 4), becoming a sort of naked spirit.
A:Actually the Bible encourages us to think of our life-after-life eternal home in very physical, down to earth terms. Jesus spoke simply of the meek “inheriting the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The apostle Peter echoes the prophecy of Isaiah 65:17 that God will create new heavens and a new earth, which he pictures as the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). In Revelation 21:2 we are given to see “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. So the dwelling of God will be with men.” So, our writer says, we will have left our present habitat (“away from the body”) to be “at home with the Lord” (5:8).
Q:Now just a minute. Your text says that the eternal house is “in heaven” (5:1).
A:Yes, in preparation. Jesus declared that He has gone “to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). When He comes back to the restored earth he will be able to escort us to our quarters, made glorious by His presence, in the Fathers House. For an exciting picture of perfection in the eternal city, read Revelation 21.
Have you ever gone camping in a tent? In spite of the hard ground and the lack of a shower, you were probably quite content knowing that tenting was temporary. Your permanent house with all its creature comforts was waiting for your happy return. That’s the picture before us in chapter 5:1-10.
Q:I’m not sure I could be suited to life in this glorious eternal city. The weight of my years is heavy upon me, and I feel I am wearing out.
A:We take heart from the Word of 1 Corinthians 15. Read there how we shall be changed by the creative working of God in the Resurrection. Then this mortal (oh, how mortal!) shall put on immortality; this mortal will be “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4). “The Lord Jesus Christ … will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
Q:You sound so sure about all this. How can you be considering that all you describe of life-after-life is completely beyond human experience?
A:The Spirit has revealed these things through Christ in the Word. And — according to the text (v. 5), He has been given to us. His joyous presence is Life — a foretaste of our future life, and a sort of down payment that guarantees what is to come.
Q:This lovely picture of life-after-life is obviously drawn for Christians. As your oft-quoted John 3:16 has it: “Whoever believes in Him (the Son of God) shall not perish but have eternal life.” Do you see any hope for an inquirer like me?
A:A glorious yes rings out from the remainder of our chapter. In dealing with the universal problem of sin, the root cause of mortality, we are told that Jesus, as a sacrificial substitute, “died for all, and therefore all died” (v. 14). Every person on earth is encouraged to see Jesus as dying to make atonement for his/her sin. It was the world that God was reconciling to himself in Christ, not counting peoples sins against them (v. 19). The status of the whole human race was changed from guilty to innocent. Justified!
Because of this, those who have been led to receive their new status in faith have become Christ’s ambassadors (v. 20). Addressing any and all, they implore people on Christ’s behalf: “be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (vv. 20-21).
Don’t you find yourself drawn to this? Enjoying in Christ what makes possible the believers sure and certain hope of true life-after-life?
I implore you, be reconciled to God!
–Rollin A Reim