Do Christians who die await the return of Christ before going to heaven?

Q. What happens to Christians when we die? Do we wait for the return of Christ before we are taken to heaven? This scripture is what prompted me to ask the question: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Also, is it by default that as Christians we would be spared from hell if we believe in our God and that Jesus died for our sins and we pray for forgiveness and forgive the others? Or would we be vetted further?

In answer to your first question, I’d invite you to read the following post, which I wrote in response to a different but similar question and which I believe will address your concern:

Do the souls of believers “sleep” after death until the resurrection?

In that post I say that “all things considered, my overall sense from the Bible is that the soul of a believer does pass directly and consciously into the presence of God upon death.” However, I acknowledge that this is “a question on which people of good will who are equally committed to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures have long disagreed. So we each need to be ‘fully convinced in our own minds’ but respectful of the other position.”

In answer to your second question, there’s another post on this blog that I can recommend. It, too, was written in response to a different but similar question, and I think it will speak to your own question:

Are we saved simply by believing, or are there works we need to demonstrate?

In that post I conclude that “if we claim to have been saved by trusting and believing in what Jesus did for us, we should reasonably expect that salvation to manifest itself in ‘works,’ not things we do to earn or secure our salvation, but things that flow naturally from it.” We will not necessarily be “vetted” by such things, but they do give us the opportunity to “vet” ourselves and confirm that the fruits of salvation are appearing in our lives.

I share some similar thoughts in this further post:

Don’t our works actually matter to God?

There I observe: “I think the simplest way to summarize the New Testament position on this subject is to explain that while it doesn’t teach we are saved by works, it does teach we are saved for works. That is, God has saved us so that we will be able to live in the way He has designed.” Once again, seeing these results in our lives can give us greater assurance of salvation, which is what I believe you are asking about.

I hope these leads are helpful to you.

How can we “esteem others” who aren’t living as they should?

Q. Paul writes in Philippians, “Let each esteem others better than themselves.” My question is, how can a born-again Christian esteem other members of the church when the majority seem to live like non-believers? They attend church on a regular basis, attend Bible class, and sing in the choir, but you know for a fact they are living like non-believers. Smoking, drinking, partying, going to clubs, gambling, using foul language, etc. If they are not doing these things, they still don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle. They never talk about the Lord, read their Bibles, witness to anyone, etc. They are just good church attenders. How can one esteem these people better than themselves?

God sees us not as we are now, but as the best we can be. And God relates to us that way as well—never giving up on us, always believing in us, forgiving us and giving us second chances.

I think Paul’s admonition in Philippians is an invitation for us to relate to our fellow Christians in this same way. Certainly if we saw others through God’s eyes, as the best they could be, and if we believed in them as God believes in them, we would have no trouble esteeming them as better than ourselves, recognizing the many ways in which we personally fall short.

Often Christians who are struggling just need a fellow Christian to come alongside them, encourage them, and believe in them. This is difficult for us to do when we regard others with human eyes, but if we ask God to give us a glimpse of them as He sees them, as their Creator, we will have a whole new perspective.

It’s great that you’re taking this admonition to heart and asking how you can live it out. I suggest that you start maybe with one person in your church and ask God to help you see them as He sees them. I believe this will have a revolutionary effect not only on your attitude and perspective towards that person, but on the influence you will have in their life. You’ll likely want to pray this for more and more people in your church as you see what God does in you and through you.

What does the Bible say about cleansing your chakras?

Q. What does the Bible say about cleansing your chakras or anything similar to that practice, if anything?

I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t really familiar with the practice of cleansing the “chakras.” I did an Internet search to find out more about it, and they are apparently considered, in the Hindu tradition, to be centers of energy in the body. But I also found many other people asking the same question you’re asking, and I particularly liked an answer that was given on Quora.com to the question, “Do meditation and belief in Chakras conflict with Christianity?” Here was the response from someone named Gavin Hurlimann:

“The Bible is silent about chakras because they are part of the inner tradition of Indian religion. Meditation however, is 100% encouraged by the Bible—as long as you meditate on what is good, acceptable & pleasing to the perfect will of God. The great King David said in Psalms, ‘I will also meditate on all Your good work, and talk of Your good deeds.'”

I think that answer put it very well, so I hope it is helpful to you.

 

Who sent the Wise Men to find where Jesus was?

Q. Who sent the Wise Men to find where Jesus was?

It appears that no one actually “sent” the Wise Men to find Jesus. When they arrived in Herod’s court, they told him, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Apparently the Wise Men had some expectation of the Jewish Messiah or “king of the Jews,” and they were watching for signs of his birth. I discuss that further in this post:

Why would the Magi have wanted to worship the king of the Jews?

Was Jesus “deeply moved” or “furious” at the tomb of Lazarus?

Q. In Nancy Pearcey’s new book Love Thy Body, she states that though many English translations say that Jesus was “deeply moved and troubled” at the tomb of Lazarus, the original Greek actually means that he expressed “furious indignation.” Pearcey then quotes Os Guinness as saying that Jesus was outraged because “evil is not normal” and that the death of Lazarus was contrary to the good and beautiful world God had originally created. What are your thoughts on this?

I have not yet read Love Thy Body, and I also have not yet read The Dust of Death, which is the book by Os Guiness that she is quoting from, so nothing I say here should be taken as an informed comment on the overall argument of either of those books. I can, however, offer my thoughts about the translation of the Greek expression that’s used to describe Jesus’ reaction at the tomb of Lazarus.

First let me quote Pearcey more fully, relying on a citation I have found online: “Why did Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus even though he knew he was about to raise him from the dead? Because ‘the beautiful body was split apart.’ The text says twice that Jesus was ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (John 11:33, 38). In the original Greek, this phrase actually means furious indignation. It was used, for example, of war horses rearing up just before charging into battle. Os Guinness, formerly at L’Abri, explains that standing before the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus ‘is outraged. Why? Evil is not normal.’ The world was created good and beautiful, but now ‘he’d entered his Father’s world that had become ruined and broken. And his reaction? He was furious.’ Jesus wept at the pain and sorrow caused by the enemy invasion that had devastated his beautiful creation. Christians are never admonished to accept death as a natural part of creation.”

To assess these claims, let us explore the use of the Greek verb embrimáomai, which is the term that Pearcey says indicates “furious indignation.” It is true that it has a literal meaning of “snort”; it’s used in plays by Aeschylus and Lucian to describe the snorting of horses. However, we need to recognize that words have figurative as well as literal meanings. In linguistics it’s known as the “root fallacy” to hold that words carry their original, literal meanings with them everywhere they go. They don’t.

For example, this same verb is used in the two following accounts:

Two blind men call out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” (Matthew 9:29–30)

A leper comes to Jesus and asks to be made clean. He reached out his hand and touched the man. … Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. (Mark 1:41–44)

Clearly the meaning in these two passages is not that Jesus was feeling furious indignation. Rather, he was “admonishing urgently,” which Lidell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon lists as another, figurative meaning of embrimáomai.

Another use of the verb in the gospels, however, does come closer to the meaning of anger:

A woman anoints Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. (Mark 14:4–5)

So we see that the term can have the meaning of anger and indignation, but that this has to be determined from the context. So what about the context at the tomb of Lazarus? Two things there indicate that Jesus probably was not “furious,” but “deeply moved” (as many English versions put it; Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament lists this as a further meaning of the word). First, Jesus wept. And second, the text says that the strong emotion being reported was internal, “in his spirit.” One would expect “furious indignation” to have primarily an external expression instead.

So I think we need to conclude that embrimáomai is used figuratively in the gospels to indicate strong emotion, but that we need to determine from the context whether this is anger, urgency, or grief. One further observation is that even if Jesus actually was “furious” at the tomb of Lazarus (and the context suggests otherwise), the text itself would not be telling us why this was the case. Pearcey and Guiness would be supplying their own theological rationale for this, but many other explanations could also be offered. Nothing in the account intrinsically rules out death having a place in how God works in the world.

Personally I find that the following quotation, taken from a longer meditation that has been making the rounds recently on social media, captures very well what Jesus was actually doing at the tomb of Lazarus:

”He cried. He knew Lazarus was dead before he got the news, but still, he cried. He knew Lazarus would be alive again in moments, but still, he cried. … He wept because knowing the end of the story doesn’t mean you can’t cry at the sad parts.”

James Tissot, “Jesus Wept” (Brooklyn Museum)

Will the earth be “destroyed by fire” or “found”?

Q. I recently heard someone say, in order to support the idea that we need to care for creation, that the statement in 2 Peter often translated as “the earth and everything in it will be burned up” would be much better translated “the earth will be found.” Do you agree with that? I was always under the impression that the Biblical teaching was that the earth would ultimately be destroyed, which seems consistent with Revelation 21 when it talks about a new heaven and a new earth “coming down” to replace (?) the first heaven and the first earth after they have passed away.

Is this the fate the Bible predicts for the earth?

The issue in the 2 Peter passage is not actually one of translation, but of textual criticism. This is one of the many places where the ancient manuscripts we have of the Bible differ in what they say, and so we need to try to figure out what the original reading was.

One principle of textual criticism is that the reading that best explains the origins of the others is most likely to be the original. And while there is actual a much wider variety of readings than usual in this case, there is one reading that does seem to account for all the others. But this is only because that reading seems to make so little sense in the context that it appears to have generated a variety of attempts to account for it.

Many ancient manuscripts do indeed read, “The earth will be found.” This would mean, on the face of it, that if you look for it, it will still be there. But this seems to contradict the other things Peter says will happen on the “day of the Lord”: “the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will melt and disintegrate.” So we would actually expect Peter to say just the opposite, that the earth will no longer be found. He seems to be offering a Hebrew-style poetic parallelism, with the three-fold repetition that was used for finality and emphasis. Creation is being depicted in three parts, and so we would indeed expect something like, “The heavens will disappear, the elements will melt, and the earth will be gone.”

As Bruce Metzger helpfully documents in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament, ancient copyists dealt with this apparent problem in a variety of ways. Some added a negative: “The earth will not be found.” Others added an extra term to create readings such as, “The earth will be found dissolved.” And still others changed the verb: “The earth will disappear,” or, “The earth will be burned up.”

Modern scholars, Metzger continues, have made their own proposals. One has suggested that arga, “useless,” dropped out after erga, “works,” because of the similarity between the two words, and that the original reading was, “The earth and the things in it will be found useless.” Other scholars have proposed Greek terms that are similar in sound and spelling to “will be found” and that seem to accord better with the context: “will flow,” “will flow together,” “will burn to ashes,” “will be taken away,” etc. (If I had to choose one of these, I’d choose arthesetai, “taken away,” because it’s the most similar to eurethesetai, “found.”)

Finally, I would add, Bible translations, if they don’t choose one of the alternatives (“burned up” is most common), offer their own interpretations of what “will be found” might mean. But these are uniformly negative, in keeping with the general sense of the passage, rather than positive in the sense of the earth being preserved: “the earth and the works on it will be disclosed” or “exposed” or “seen for what they are” or “laid bare” or “exposed to the scrutiny of judgment.” So there really isn’t a mandate for creation care in those translations.

I personally think that if “found” is the original reading, it most likely has a sense of “laid bare” or “exposed,” that is, of everything being stripped away. But even if this is a description of the destruction of the physical creation, and even if the passage you cite from Revelation does depict the present heavens and earth ultimately being replaced, I still think there is a mandate for us to take good care of the creation while it’s here and while we are living on it.

As I say in another recent post on this blog, “We express our faith in what we believe Jesus will do when he returns by the way we live as we are expecting him. Under the reign of Jesus, the physical creation [whether new or renewed] will be healthy and beautiful. And because we believe that, we should do everything we can to help it be as healthy and beautiful as possible even now. Otherwise, Jesus would have every right to ask us, ‘If you knew that this was what I was going to do when I came back, why didn’t you get started on it while you were waiting for me?'”

So I think it’s actually helpful to point out that there likely isn’t a direct statement in 2 Peter to the effect that “the earth and everything in it will be burned up.” I think it’s helpful to observe that this statement rather says, more cryptically, that the earth will be “found.” As we’re trying to puzzle out what that means, we might end up thinking a little more carefully about how we can take good care of this earth while we still have it. And I believe that would be a good thing.

Why does God allow religious wars and persecutions?

Q. I firmly believe that God created Heaven and Earth, and is still in control! It troubles me, however, when you look back through history and see all of the people unjustly killed and persecuted in the name of religion. Not only do these wars and persecutions seem unbiblical, they have done harm in promoting the kingdom and bringing people to Christ. Why has God allowed these events when in fact they seem counterproductive, in our eyes anyway, to His plans? Thank you.

This question is another specific case of a general issue that I address in an earlier post on this blog entitled, “Why do some people seem to suffer more than others?” In that post I suggest that “without freedom there can be no love. But freedom creates the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, of suffering, as freedom can be, and is, misused. I believe that God knows, in a way that we cannot know, that a world with both love and suffering is infinitely better than a world with neither love nor suffering, and that those are the only two possibilities.”

Religious wars and persecutions are a very disturbing example of the misuse of freedom, since, as you note, in the name of Christ they actually undermine the cause and reputation of Christ (when they are carried out by Christian people). When we see the devastation that they bring, it can be a real challenge for us to continue to affirm the things I say just above. Those things can seem abstract, while the pain of the world is very real. But I think that if we respond to that pain through persistent faith in God and love for others, then we fill find that this response is just as real. If there is to be love in the world at the price of suffering, then let us do all that we can to overcome that suffering through love.