Crystal blue water, white sandy shores, palm trees swaying in the warm tropical breeze, ice cold lemonade in your hands…aaahh…feeling it, aren’t you? If a tropical paradise escape seems just the thing for you, then you are probably experiencing what every human being at one point or another has experienced…that insatiable desire to escape.
Well, sorry, I don’t have a free Bahamas vacation to offer you today (you have to go to another website for that). But I can give you a glimpse into another kind of paradise you will one day be able to escape to. This paradise is talked about at many places in Scripture, one at the end of the book of 1 Corinthians. After spending the last year writing online reflections on 1 Corinthians for my church, (which I’ve also posted here), I am not surprised that Paul would top off his book with a concept related to our eternal homes. After all, it was eternity which motivated so much of Paul’s actions. His zeal for the world which lay beyond this one compelled him to give his life for the Kingdom…fully and with no reserve.
One of the main things Paul focuses on in relation to the heavenly paradise that awaits us is the concept of “bodily resurrection,” the truth that at some point on the other side of this life, we will be given new eternal bodies. Now, I know what you are thinking: ”Great! Can I have a taller, thinner, or more muscular one?!” Well, I’m not so sure about that. But we will get a body that is certainly not prone to weakness like the one we have now. Our current body is a body subject to decay. A body that tires. A body that ages. A body that can be overtaken by disease. In fact, Paul has a word for our bodies that captures the essence of all of these problems. He calls our current bodies “perishable” (vs. 50, 53, 54). When our lives are wrapped up, no matter how long they are, our bodies will be like a styrofoam plate at the end of a party…having served its purpose and ready to be disposed of.
You see, in heaven, this kind of body simply won’t do. In eternity, we will need a new body. We will need an imperishable one. As Paul says, “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (vs. 50). How this happens is still a mystery and will certainly be in the arena of the miraculous. It seems that it will be an instantaneous transformation that will happen at the end of time. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (vs. 51-52). A trumpet in Scripture represented a gathering call. When the trumpet sounded in battle, people would gather. Here, it appears that at some time after Jesus returns, all the followers of Christ will be gathered, those who have “slept” (died) and those who have not. At this time, everyone will be given new imperishable bodies. Although we do not know for sure how this will happen, one thing that we can count on is that at some point, in some way, it will happen. Then we will spend the rest of eternity in our new and improved outer shells.
This is a significant concept for several reasons, not the least of which is that it points to our very purposeful existence in heaven. Many times we picture heaven as some kind of angelic existence where we will be standing around (when we are not flying) and singing all the time. But this is, at the very least, a flawed understanding. Contrary to many misunderstandings spread through our culture, we will not be angels in heaven. We will be who God created us to be: humans with a very purposeful and active existence as humans in heaven. While it is a challenge to determine what are physical realities and what are symbolic spiritual realities in Scripture, the Bible speaks of us walking, serving God, working as rulers , and eating from the tree of life and at a wedding banquet, where we will eat the “finest” of food and drink (Rev. 19, 22; Isa. 25). Essentially, we will be doing human things with our human bodies. It will be a unique existence, but a real human existence all the same. And it will last a long, long, long, long time.
This reality of eternity is part of what compelled Paul to close out this chapter with an exhortation on how we should live in the here and now: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (vs. 58). Paul’s point is that since we know that we will live with God in heaven for all eternity, we should live in light of that reality. My good friend and mentor, Tim Loyola, speaks about focusing our thoughts on the things of God in terms of “escaping to reality.” God and the things of him, including our eternal home, are the true reality of this world. They are what truly matter. They are what really last. And when we focus on this reality, we escape from the burdens of this life into a life of joy and happiness. A place where God will be with us forever in a way we have never experienced before. In Revelation, we are told that in this place, God is making everything new, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4). Sounds like a place that it would be great to escape to, doesn’t it? It certainly will be better than any paradise you could find pictured in a travel brochure.
It is in this escape to reality by focusing on heaven that we will gain a fresh perspective that compels us to live in the here and now differently…very differently. We will not only invest for this life, but we will be certain to invest in the next. We will not only prepare our children for their short years of life here on earth, but we will prepare them for their more than trillions of years in the afterlife. We will not live for ourselves or even just for others, but our focus will be on living for the One who we will be with for all eternity.
While I still long for blue sea vacations in the here and now, I know there is an eternal paradise in my future…with a new body, freedom from problems, indescribable joy, and everlasting fulfillment. One day, I will make my escape to this very real reality of heaven and will be in the presence of a very real God in a very real paradise…a paradise that is worth living for.