Here I am, returning once again to what I consider to be one of the definitive Scripture passages concerning the end of time as we know it, and the continuation of time as God knows it. We find several important passages about the hereafter in the New Testament. There are a few in Revelation, but we should remember that they are addressed to first century Christians suffering through abuse and torture for their faith. There is the passage in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-18), but true as it might be, it isn’t what we want to believe about the afterlife. There is Matthew 22:23-33, where the Sadducees ask Jesus about marriage in the resurrection, but that is a specific answer to a specific question. None of these passages gives us an understanding of what we must do to gain access to God’s presence.
Recently, I found four statements about the hereafter which I find interesting. The first is from Confucius. When asked by one of his pupils, “What about death,” the master replied, “When we do not yet know enough about life, why worry about death?” I’m sure Confucius believed that whatever happened after death would take care of itself. He says we need to worry more about how we live this life. Sounds like Confucius had read Jesus’ words in Matthew 25—except that he lived about 500 years before Christ.
Does Confucius have anything to say to Christians? I believe so. If we look at his words in light of Matthew’s description of the final judgment, we might say, “Seek to understand what God wants of us here on earth. If we follow Jesus’ teaching we will devote ourselves to lives of service. Then when we stand in front of the great Judge, we’ll have nothing to worry about.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman sent somewhat the same message when she said, “Eternity is not something that begins after you’re dead. It’s going on all the time. We are in it now.” We believe that God’s time is timeless. It stretches from forever to forever. We also believe that millions upon millions of people have already “passed into eternity,” meaning that they have left this life and begun another one. If this is true then we are, as Gilman says, in the midst of eternity even now, and God’s kingdom is already here. Look at Matthew 25 to see what that means for us.
We hear Don Osman echoing the same thought. He says, “What about the ‘hereafter?’ The after depends on the here.” We can’t wait to begin living our life after death until after death. We must live it now. We should celebrate God’s presence with us and God’s kingdom in everything we do. Return to Matthew 25 to see how this should play out in our lives.
Finally, John Sutherland Bonnell said, “What a person believes about immortality will color his [her] thinking in every area of life.” I teach a course entitled “World Religions,” so these words hold special interest for me. Each religion has a belief about what happens after death. Some believe nothing happens: once we die, everything ends and there is nothing more. Some believe in reincarnation: we should strive to be the best we can in this life to ensure a better existence in the next life and a final freedom from rebirth. Some believe we must develop a personal relationship with God now—be reconciled with God while we can. This, they feel, will ensure union with God after death.
All these religions teach that our objective in this life should be to do good. Most religions subscribe to some form of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That takes us back again to Matthew 25. Which side we are sent to depends upon the life we live: loving service in the name of the God who calls us—or not. Our after depends upon our here.