I’m a child of two worlds.
I was born in Washington D.C, but spent most of my formative years in Nigeria. As a result, I’ve experienced different aspects of life on two continents with two very different cultures.
Perhaps the one that presents the most contrast are funerals.
Here in the U.S, funerals are mostly somber events that you attend with a sense of reverence (it’s why we dress in black). In Nigeria, however, funerals feel more like a party!
If someone were to blindfold you, then drop you in the middle of a Nigerian funeral and take your blindfolds off, you’d think you were at a festival because there’d be lots of music, dancing, singing, colorful clothing and food-galore. This is especially true for Christian families because death is viewed as a homecoming into God’s presence (hence the need to see you off with celebration).
In 2008 at my dad’s funeral in Nigeria, my siblings and I were at the head of a large procession with musicians, dancers, extended family members, well-wishers, and a colorful troop of men carrying his casket. Having all grown up here in the west, we were more in a somber mood mourning as we escorted the casket to its final resting location. Apparently, my siblings and I were in the wrong #mood. So much so that one of my uncles actually came over to reprimand us because we weren’t more celebratory!
So, we actually had to “snap out of it”, and pretty much party along.
Talk about a clash of cultures!
So, which is it?
Is death a somber event or should it be a celebratory homecoming? What happens when a follower of Jesus Christ takes their last breath in this world and opens their eyes in the halls of glory?
Well, the unequivocal assertion of the Bible is that the grave is not the end! In fact, for everyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, death is the beginning of your best and most meaningful life yet. The apostle Paul states it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
If we were to take this passage and wring it out, here’s the big idea that would flow from it: YOUR FIRST MOMENTS IN GLORY WILL SHOCK YOUR SYSTEM TO ITS CORE (in a good way).
Forget for a moment all the new explorations that eternity holds when you’ve been there ten thousands years, in those first few moments alone, at three realities will become crystal clear!
SHOCKING MOMENT #1: THE SUDDEN REALIZATION THAT ALL YOUR STRUGGLES ARE FINALLY OVER!
To appreciate what this moment will be, I need to first point out WHAT YOU WILL BE when you pass from here to glory.
When a Christian dies, your physical body as you know it, with all its flaws and weaknesses is buried in the ground (or cremated), but your soul IMMEDIATELY goes to heaven in what is known as an intermediate state. While there, you won’t yet have your resurrection body (that awesomeness comes at Jesus’ 2nd coming – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:35-44), but you will have some kind of transitional form that is physical in order for you to enjoy a physical heaven.
On the day when your soul reunites with your body, and when in the mystery of God Christ makes it into a glorified resurrected body, you will find that your new physical body is stronger, faster; you’ll have more stamina, more athleticism, more coordination, and will simply be all round sturdier! Even your mind will have more memory retention and the capacity to process information faster because in eternity, you’re not going to need your mind and body less, but you’re going to need it more and because you’re going to be using it a whole lot more!
In a sermon by Donald Macleod, titled, “The Joys of Life in the Resurrection Body”, he writes,“Not only the Creator but the Creation, too will be an object of wonder to the redeemed. [The new heaven and new earth] will challenge their intellects, fire their imaginations, and stimulate their industry. The scenario is a thrilling one: brilliant minds in powerful bodies in a transformed universe.”
Perhaps the greatest reward of your moment of resurrection will be the realization that your body is fully and finally willing to cooperate with the voice of the Holy Spirit in you! In other words, your body and mind will finally be FULLY responsive to whatever the LORD God will instruct you to do!
It’s for this reason, among others, that your first moments in glory will shock your system to its core in the best of ways!
The second shocker is…
SHOCKING MOMENT #2: WHAT AND WHO WILL BE THERE
In an effort to describe the, “what” of heaven, I wrote several sentences trying to describe its beauty, but then deleted them because truth be told, mere words fail to capture what those first moments in glory will be like. Our finite language cannot describe the grandeur and majesty of the infinite God.
The closest illustration I can show you of what that moment will be like is the experience of deaf people hearing their own voice for the first time or colorblind people seeing color for the first time.
Watch this video below, and then keep reading.
Heaven will be just like that where you’LL have several hundreds of moments where you go:
+ “Wait, is that the River of Life?” (Revelation 22:1-2)
+ “Are those the pearly gates?” (Revelation 21:21)
+ “Is that the tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden?” (Rev 2:2:7; 22:2)
+ “What do you call these colors?” (Revelation 4)
+ “Is this pavement real gold?” (Revelation 21:21)
+ “Is that dad?”
In those first moments alone, you will experience enough firsts to have filled your lifetime on earth!
So, let’s talk about the, “WHAT”. First of all, it’s important to point out that heaven is a real physical place, perhaps more real than where you presently live! When Jesus said in John 14:2-4 that His,“…Father’s house has many rooms…” and that He was “…going to prepare a place for you”, He didn’t go off to puff up clouds in some ethereal location.
Heaven is a real place populated by real people. It has real entry gates, real streets, real buildings with real trees and even a river!
2nd, and perhaps most important is that JESUS WILL BE THERE!
In the book of Revelation 4:2, when the apostle John is shown a vision of heaven, the single, most dominant feature in all of heaven was God’s throne. Revelation 5 and 22:1 further tells us that the throne also happens to be “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (a reference to Jesus Christ – John 1:29)
If there’s one thing you should be looking forward to about heaven, it should certainly be to lay eyes on the one through whom we have been adopted into the family of God!
Now, here’s what the lamb of God, Jesus Christ says about our heavenly home in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, Jesus Christ is not only presently reigning as king in heaven, but it is only through Him that you can GET into heaven.
It’s for this reason that also present in heaven will be your loved ones who also trusted in Jesus Christ, some of who you knew on earth, many of whom you never met but will instantly recognize. And they will recognize you too!
Christians whom you last saw elderly and weak will be in their prime, young and energetic.
Children who died at birth will be there, alive and well exuding youthful joy!
An indicator that this will be a joy-filled family reunion for the ages (where we will truly know and recognize each other)is the fact that in Luke 9, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop in the presence of Peter, James, and John, we read that Moses and Elijah also appeared in some form with a recognizable physical body to talk with Jesus. Peter, James, and John were in such awe of their presence that Peter offered to build an altar in their honor, a plan that God shut down pretty quickly by pointing out that Jesus was indeed His Son with whom He was well pleased!
Think about that for a moment. Moses and Elijah were centuries apart from each other, and even further apart from the disciples. There’s no way the disciples would have known what both men looked like. It’s not like the disciples had their photos in their back pockets to verify who they were, yet, in Jesus’ presence, they instantly recognized who Moses and Elijah were!
In heaven, you are not going to need nametags nor will you need to Facebook-stalk or Insta-crawl anyone’s account to know who they truly are! You will truly know each other and be fully known!
It’s for this reason, among others, that your first moments in glory will shock your system to its core in the best of ways!
The third reason is because despite all the difficulties and pain you have experienced in this life, you will finally recognize that…
SHOCKING MOMENT #3: REALIZING IT WAS WORTH IT ALL (to have chosen to follow Jesus Christ)
Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 again, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
It’s quite incredible to hear Paul utter these words, especially when you consider all that he has had to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 is like a bad medical diagnosis of all he suffered.
He was dealing with the debilitating effects of multiple beatings and lashings.
He’d probably sustained a traumatic brain injury, what we call a concussionback when he was stoned by an angry mob at Lystra in Acts 14.
He’d been dragged unconscious outside of the city and left for dead, not to mention his constant traveling and that one shipwreck in Acts 27.
Make no mistake about it, this dude suffered some serious after-effects from those ordeasl. His joints were probably stiff, and he probably suffered from severe inflammation; and oh, did I mention that according to Galatians 4:15, his eyesight was probably failing? (The didn’t have contact lens or eye glasses back then).
Throughout his ministry, Paul was just plain wearing out, or as he writes in verse 16, “he was outwardly wasting away”.Yet, this is the same guy writing, “We don’t lose heart…” because instead of fixing his eyes on his own mortality, he anticipates his moment of GLORY. That’s why he says in verse 17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
The glory being achieved for us is a reference to what we will experience when we stand in God’s presence and experience HIS glory!
Presently, in our natural state, if you were to look at God’s glory unfiltered, it would annihilate you (you’d explode), which is why in Exodus 33:12-23 when Moses asked God to show him His glory, God agreed but had to hide Moses in a the cleft of a rock (basically a bomb shelter) to keep him from being exposed to the full force of His glory.
What I found most interesting about that account is that God only allowed Moses to see the tail end of His glory after He had passed, yet, even with that brief glimpse, Exodus 34:29-30 says Moses’ face was glowing with light, so much so that people were afraid to go near him!
The instant you take your last breath in this world and step into glory, you will be utterly blown away by the explosive grandeur of God’s presence, yet you will be able to withstand His glory and majesty without the need of a bomb shelter or special glasses.
It will all have been worth it because in the presence of God’s presence, your struggles will forever be over.
Neuro-muscular disorders, heart diseases, cancer, and every other illness that limit your mobility or thought WILL ALL BE GONE!
Writer’s block will finally be gone!
The Christ-likeness you’ve been trying to achieve in this life will finally be perfected as your mind and heart finally march in line with what the Holy Spirit is leading you in.
The passage that many of us have quoted most of our Christian lives will finally be realized because it will finally become crystal clear how God worked everything out together in a pattern for good(RomanS 8:28).
It’s for this reason that “…our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
And it’s for these reasons, that your first few moments in eternity will shock the living daylight out of you! (…in a good way, of course).
Armin Sommer is the senior pastor of Grace Church on the Mount. Segun works in collaboration with pastor Armin weekly to prepare and preach the sermons.