It’s important to know what happens after this life, and Jesus Christ has not left us guessing. There is a lot that remains a mystery, but he has told us enough to be sure that there is an eternal life and that life after our death will be real and wonderful—that is, for those who trust in him.
How real is all of this? Guesses are not much help. Wishing won’t make it happen. We need to hear from someone who knows and we need to be persuaded that what such a person says includes us. Jesus said a number of times that he could give us eternal life—that is, a quality of life that would begin now and continue after our death. But all this came together when he was killed and then rose from the dead. Here is where he gained the credibility to tell us what is to come.
Some think faith in God and in Jesus Christ is a leap in the dark, but it’s not really like this—especially when it comes to knowing what happens after death. Jesus Christ died. Pure and simple—he was dead. Then, he was seen alive by numbers of people, even by many people at one time. We know the conversations he had with various people and the effect he produced on those he met.
Some claim these records are just made up, but they are people who have already decided that miracles don’t happen. If you read the Bible text as it is, it passes all the usual tests of historical reliability. This is important because faith in Jesus Christ is not an idea or a philosophy or a wish. Jesus shows it is real by dying, and rising from the dead with a new body—same person, same body, but transformed now into something eternal. So what happened?
First, Jesus appeared to two women. Perhaps they needed to know first. Perhaps they were better at assimilating something that was totally unexpected. Whatever, they told the apostles Jesus had chosen, and two of them raced to the empty tomb. The body wrappings had collapsed. Apparently, Jesus didn’t need to unravel anything to get free.
Then, Jesus appeared in a locked room—without breaking in. The disciples had locked themselves away because they were nervous about what the authorities might do next. The locked door was no trouble to Jesus. He just came in.
Now clearly, the disciples were dealing with the same Jesus they had known. They knew who he was. He repeated what he had said before he was killed—’Peace be with you.’ He had more reason to say this now that before, because death was not a threat any more. He hadn’t just ‘cheated’ death by escaping it. He had defeated it by rising from the dead.
He was the same Jesus who had hung on a cross, and had the same body—even though it was now changed. The disciples were still having trouble believing a crucified Jesus could be talking to them. It must be a spirit they thought. So he asked them to feel the holes made by nails in his hands and feet. He asked for some fish to eat so they could see it disappear!
He also reminded them that he had prophesied all this. He showed them that this is what their religion was about—the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead, and God’s forgiveness for sin must be announced everywhere. Forgiveness and eternal life belong together. God can see what we are of ourselves, and it doesn’t warrant eternal life. But Christ died in the way sinners deserve to die—and he did it for us and in our place. His resurrection is not just saying that there is a thing called eternal life, It is saying that we can have it because we are relying on what he has done about our sins.
Put in another way, Jesus came to remove the shroud—the death garment—in which we are all wrapped. God had said earlier that he would ‘swallow up death for all time’ and ‘wipe away tears from all faces’ (Isaiah 25:7-8).
A week later, Jesus repeated his visit to the apostles, and this time, Thomas, who missed the first meeting, was present. The others hadn’t convinced him that Jesus was really alive, so Jesus told him to do the feel test—’Check these wounds in my hands and in my side!’ Thomas is the prototype for all of us who were not there when Jesus rose. The Lord expected him to believe without seeing for himself. But he did say, ‘You are blessed because you saw and believed.’ And then he added, ‘Blessed are all who haven’t seen and yet believe!’
Jesus doesn’t need to pop up out of nowhere to make people believe. He has appeared to chosen witnesses and told them to go everywhere announcing, not only that we can live after dying, but that we may be forgiven by believing his message. This is what makes life after death believable. We are forgiven because Jesus died in our place. We don’t have to fear death because we are forgiven. It will be good to meet God, not dreadful.
There were other remarkable meetings with Jesus, especially at the side of a lake when Jesus told disciples where to put a net to catch some fish, and then he ate some with them, sitting around a fire. At that time, Jesus completely rehabilitated Peter who had failed badly. Peter now had confidence, not only in Jesus but also in what Jesus would do in him.
For a final time, Jesus came to his apostles. He told them he had all authority in heaven and earth. He said he would be with them to the end of time. Then he ascended into heaven. He was lifted up until he was lost to sight in a cloud. The Jesus Christ in whom Christians believe has returned to his Father, God, but returned as a human being, raised from the dead.
Now, where does this leave us? We have no way of finding out what happens after death, but Jesus does. He says he will give eternal life to all who believe in him. ‘Eternal life’ is literally ‘life of the ages’. It’s what you have beyond this present life, but it is also what you have when you give up making out you are good enough as you are. Simply, you are trusting him to forgive you. It is a quality of life, not merely a length of life. In that sense, eternal life has begun already. Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that we know the Father (God) and Jesus Christ whom he sent.’ If you know God, you can be sure of the future.
Jesus is called ‘the first fruits’ of all who have died, meaning that he is the first of the ‘crop’. He rose from death, and those who trust him will rise—like he did. He had a body and could relate and converse and eat, and his followers will also have a body and converse and eat. Jesus no longer had restrictions as to what his body could do, and it certainly wasn’t going to die again, and we will have a body in which we will know one another and relate and converse, and we will never die.
In fact, the body Jesus has now must be more than what the disciples saw and touched. He appeared to them in a manner suited to the occasion. But when Christ comes to Paul, there is nothing ordinary about his appearance (Acts 9:3-5)! When John sees Christ in a vision, the Lord is glorious and fully in command (Revelation 1:12-18).
Paul tells us this mortal body must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53). John says we well be like him because we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). We ourselves will not be ordinary but transformed—ready for a ‘forever’ life.
That leaves a lot we don’t know, but then, it is amazing to know this much. Jesus is the key to it all. He said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies’ (John 11:25).
Suggested reading: John 20:19-29
© Grant Thorpe, 2/8/2019