Life in the World to Come

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

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Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  (John 5:24-30)

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St John the Evangelist tells us of a time when those who have died will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it will live – be resurrected from death.  Everyone, good and evil will be resurrected either to life or to judgment.  Many in the early church were convinced this meant a bodily resurrection, not just giving life to the soul.  St Methodius of Olympus (martyred in 311AD), for example, writes that the time of prophecy and foreshadowing came to an end with the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  Christ begins a new reality for all humanity in which we rise from the dead and overcome the effects of sin and death.  Methodius envisions a fleshly and bodily resurrection for us.

“For the Law is a shadow and type of the image, that is to say, of the Gospel; and the image, the Gospel, represents the truth which will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus the ancients and the Law foretold and prophesied to us the features of the Church, and the Church foretells those of the new order.  And we, who have accepted the Christ who said I am the Truth, are aware that the shadows and types have come to an end, and we press on towards the truth, proclaiming it in vivid images.  For as yet we know in part, and, as it were, through a glass, for that which is perfect is not yet come to us, the kingdom of heaven and the resurrection, when that which is in part shall be done away (John 14:6; 1 Cor 13:9, 12:10).

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Thus will all our tabernacles be established, when our bodies rise again, their bones once more fixed and compacted with flesh.  Then shall we celebrate to the Lord the day of joy in a pure manner, receiving now eternal tabernacles, never more to die or to be dissolved into the earth of the grave.

For our tabernacle of old had been firmly made; but it tottered and fell by the Fall.  And God put an end to sin by man’s death, lest man become a sinner for all eternity, and, since sin would be living in him, be under eternal condemnation.  And this is the reason why man, though he was not made mortal and corruptible, dies and his soul is separated from his body, in order that his transgression might be destroyed by death, being unable to live after he was dead.  Thus with sin dead and destroyed, I can rise again in immortality and sing a hymn of praise to God who saves His children from death by means of death; and in accordance with the Law I celebrate the Feast in His honor, adorning the tabernacle of my flesh with good works, just as the prudent virgins there with their five-flamed lamps.  (THE SYMPOSIUM: A TREATISE ON CHASTITY, pp 134-135)

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Like other early Christian teachers Methodius believes death was not a punishment of humans for sinning against God, but rather was God’s way of preventing us humans from sinning for all eternity.  Just as some believed after death there is no chance to repent, so many believed that in death there was no longer any chance to sin.  Death thus was used by God to end the effects of sin in each human being.  Now, in Christ, God is destroying sin and death, enabling us to live forever with God in His Kingdom.  We show our thanks to God for this salvation by doing God’s will – the good works commanded by Christ in the Gospel.  Satan may have thought he had created a conundrum which God could not escape:  either God lets humans, now under the power of sin, to live forever as sinners, going from bad to worse, ever increasing in sin and becoming further alienated from God, OR, God could only stop sin by surrendering humans to Death and leave them in Hades where they would live separated from God forever. The revelation of the Gospel is that God had His own plan in which God used death to stop sin from continuing forever, and then destroyed sin and death by the death and resurrection of His Son.  Satan, sin and death all belong to the fallen created order, that God is bringing to an end by establishing His new creation.

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

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