For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. -- Hebrews 9:24
Thursday, January 30, 2014
No Particular Place To Go
I don’t have much time today. Paul says we are ambassadors for Christ – someone sent on a mission into an alien environment. He elsewhere depicts us as soldiers, standing our ground on a hostile field. We are called by Peter, pilgrims and strangers, echoing Moses’ naming of his son, Gershom, saying, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” God invades and rules over the natural world through us. The full extent of this mastery of the material is seen in Jesus whom the winds and seas had to obey.
We understand how Christ was an invader in the Incarnation, but when He ascended, He became, in a way, an invader in the halls of heaven. This may be the most overtly neo-platonic verse in the Bible – at least as far as I can recall right now. You can read back in Exodus, when Moses was on the mountain, that he was shown the realities and, so far as was possible, outfitted the Tabernacle accordingly.
An aside: the Tabernacle has long seemed to me to be “better” than the Temple as it better represents both Christ and us. It was covered in skins, just as we are. I am suspicious of the Temple as encouraging a strain of apostasy that remains today in a measure of inappropriate reverence for buildings. Anyway.
The righteous dead went to a place called “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”. It was a place of rest and ease, but it was not heaven. Hades was a segregated gated community: paradise on one side, gehenna on the other, kind of like Missouri and Illinois. But when Christ descended into the realm of death, he “led captivity captive”: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:7-10)
It sounds like Jesus broke the righteous dead out of their somewhat pleasant prison and took them with Him as He returned to heaven, where they (and we), apart from Him, had no place. Jesus didn’t lie to the repentant thief on the cross. He said, “This day, you will be with Me in paradise.” He just didn’t add that it was only a weekend trip. Then they loaded up the truck, and they moved to Beverly.
Christ is now in heaven, in that reality which we think of as ideal, representing us, speaking and interceding on behalf of us. That’s a good thing to know. Moreover, I am not one who puts much credence in concepts like “soul sleep”. Paul uses the euphemism “sleep” for the death of the physical body. I don’t think that those who have died are no longer conscious – though I freely admit I could be wrong. If I’m not, there’s no reason to think that those who are absent from the body and consequently present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) are unaware of that which Christ is aware. I believe that some of those who are now at home with the Lord could well be interceding on behalf of those who remain in their earthly bodies.
That may not sound exactly earth-shattering, but it is pretty strong stuff for us Protestants. I don't think anybody is praying to saints or Mary; they are asking the saints for agreement in praying to the Father. "Pray for us sinners." I don't see where that is much of a problem. It would not surprise me to some day hear that an old Baptist preacher goes up every once in a while to remind the Lord to watch out for this old hillbilly.