Have you heard about May 21, 2011? According to some, that day will be the day of the “rapture” when all righteous Christians souls will fly off to heaven and everybody else will be left to punishment on earth. In an attempt to know the future, Christians for centuries have been trying to figure out the date of Judgment Day. For our purposes, let’s move beyond that debate and investigate something else going on here.
Biblical literature is neither clear nor consistent when it comes to describing what happens when people die or what happens on “Judgment Day.” I Thessalonians 4 describes a day when those who have not yet died will be “caught in the clouds together …to meet the Lord in the air.” This goes along with Elijah being taken away into heaven in II Kings 2, Enoch being taken up by God in Genesis 5, and Jesus himself ascending straight to heaven in Acts 1 (liturgically speaking, that’s Ascension Day). So we have a definitive answer, right? When we die (or when the Lord comes back) we will be snatched up into heaven.
Let’s do a little bit more investigating. I Corinthians 15 speaks of those who have died receiving new life in a resurrected state. The physical body will die, says Paul, but a new spiritual body will be raised. This also seems to go along with the experience on Easter morning. Jesus didn’t die and immediately fly up to heaven. His body was reconstituted through a resurrection. And the final image we find in biblical literature is that of the new creation descending from heaven to earth. Revelation 21 says, “Then I saw a new heaven a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:1-2). Notice: nothing is flying up to heaven. Heaven is coming down to us.
So does this trivial debate have any great importance? Yes, but not in the most obvious sense. Rather than trying to figure what’s going to happen when we die, I say we figure out to live a heavenly life right here. Why wait to sucked up to the sky or for you to get a new body? God is Lord of Lords right now, so go ahead and live like it.