Here’s a thought: Please understand, I am not trying to be unsympathetic or insensitive, but I think it is important that we (the people of God) proclaim biblical truth at all times, especially when someone dies!
Here are some things we (the community of believers) need to quit saying when someone dies because these statements are biblically incorrect and potentially misleading:
1. ‘They earned their wings’ – There are several things wrong with this statement. First, since we are not saved by any works we do, but rather by grace, why would we associate death with ‘earning’ something? What makes God’s grace so amazing is that we don’t deserve it and we can’t earn it! Second – When a believer dies, they are not transformed into angels or given wings! Humans will always be humans and angels will always be angels!
Third- ANGELS DON’T HAVE WINGS! In every occasion of angels appearing on earth in the Bible, they appeared as ‘normal’ men! The only angelic ‘winged’ creatures mentioned in the Bible are the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2, 6) and the cherubim. These creatures are not regular angels, but guardians of God’s throne! The idea that all angels have wings comes from English literature, not the Bible!
2. ‘They have earned their crown’ – Same as in ‘earning their wings.’ Whatever God gives us is because of God’s grace, not because we earn it! The crowns we will receive from God will be ‘rewards’ for our faithfulness, not bonus payment for our work! A careful reading of the Bible will help us to understand the fact that death is an enemy, not a friend! (1 Corinthians 15:26) The only crown given because of death will be to those who died (were killed) because of their faith. In Revelation 2:10, the crown of life will be given to those ‘faithful unto death.’ This is not about people being faithful until they died, but rather about people being faithful to the point that their faithfulness cost them their lives!
3. ‘They are watching over us now!’ ‘They are our guardian angels now!’ – For one thing, as stated before, humans are not transformed into angels when they die. In addition, the Bible describes the state of deceased believers as ‘resting from their labors.’ Could or would they honestly be at rest if they were tasked with the job of ‘watching over us?’ God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirt, along with a detachment of angels are already watching over us! The help of our deceased loved ones is not needed!
4. ‘It was just God’s will.’ ‘God took him/her/them’ – Death is never God’s will! Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). The ONLY reason people die is because of sin! (Not necessarily because of that individual’s sin, but because of the Fall of Adam. Genesis 2:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 26) Death was not part of God’s original intent! In fact, the blessed hope of the Bible is the Resurrection! In the Resurrection, believers will live again, not in Heaven, in a spiritually disembodied state (the state of dead believers now) but on the new earth in glorified physical bodies! (Revelation 21-22). It is not God’s will for people to get sick and die! It is not God’s will for people to be killed in accidents or murdered! We need to quit saying this!
Didn’t mean for this post to be so long! But if we seek to comfort people in their bereavement, the only real comfort is in the truth of God’s word, not in our erroneous interpretations of God’s word!
As I am writing this, our country; the United States of America and the world is in the midst of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 pandemic. However, the thing that is troubling me, even more than the pandemic itself is the diverse reactions and responses to it!
Even after all this time and the untold numbers of those who have fallen ill and died, there are many who are still claiming that it’s not that bad and that it is more important to get back to work to save the economy! In the state of Georgia, where I live, the governor has lifted restrictions and allowed businesses, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors, barber shops and other business where it is impossible to maintain social distancing to re-open! This is being done at a time when the rates of infection and deaths are still going up and the state is nowhere near bringing testing up to point to adequately gauge the virus spread! (One of the suggested federal guidelines stipulated that no state should attempt to reopen until there has been at least a 14-day decline in the infection rate!) The governor states that he has been listening to the medical and scientific experts, but one wonders who they are when the data suggest otherwise.
But at any rate, the thing that is so disturbing to me is that our country; the United States, is any and everything but ‘united!’ In the midst of this pandemic, which is the greatest crises this nation has faced since 911, many members of Congress and the President are obsessed with petty politics and political power! Instead of working together for the good of the country, many of our government leaders are focused on what’s good for their own political party and power base!
For the last several years, even before this present crisis, the American public and even the world has been subjected to an unbelievable display of petty, immature, and narcissistic behavior that is unmatched in the history of American politics! If someone had suggested twenty years ago that this would have been the ‘norm’ of American politics, they would have been deemed as crazy, because such levels of incompetence and the absence of human decency were beyond anyone’s imagination!
Who would have thought back then, that there ever would come a day in America when there would be a debate about which is really more valuable; the economy or human lives? Who would have thought that there would come a day in our country when people would have to actually decide, on a personal level, whether to go to work to pay their bills or stay home to save their lives?
The government leaders are saying that the economy should open when there are acceptable rates of infections and deaths. But what about the people who are actually being infected and the people who are actually dying? Is the sacrifice really worth it to them? In a country where there is already systemic discrimination in health care and benefits, is it reasonable to sacrifice the health and lives of people who were already being sacrificed and think there is some moral justification in it?
There is an effort by some to show appreciation for the health-care workers and other people who are hourly and daily sacrificing their health and lives for the sake of others, and that is good. But, would those who advocate opening up the country for the sake of the economy in spite of the overwhelming good-sense recommendations that it is too soon, be willing to make sure those and the families of those who get sick and die as a result of this premature action be compensated in some way? I think not! For those who are pushing such actions have already, by their actions, prove they value dollars over human lives!
I am not an economist, neither am I a business owner, but I do have bills to pay! Therefore, I have enough sense to know that we cannot indefinitely pause the economy! I know we cannot keep our present course indefinitely! But in the meantime, we should be willing to be patient and make some sacrifices if that means we are saving human lives! For we must all remember, the numbers we see and hear about in the discussions about infections and deaths, are not just numbers; they are people! They are husbands, wives, daughters, sons, grandparents and grandchildren! Their sickness and their deaths have an immediate impact upon the lives of countless other people!
And so, I appeal to you, no matter where you stand on the issue, this is much bigger than petty politics! It’s more important than the label of Democrat or Republican, liberal or moderate, right-wing or left-wing! When a person is sick or dead, none of that matters! This virus does not care about ethnicity, race, political persuasion, or social status! The real issue is not about numbers, because even just one is one too many! It’s not about dollars because how can anyone put a dollar-value on a human life? No! It’s not about the numbers or the dollars, it’s about sense! A sense of decency! A sense of mutual respect! A sense of what is right and what is wrong! As far as the dollars are concern, I hear a carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee, asking questions that have echoed down throughout the centuries: “What good will it do someone if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or, what can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:26 CJB) My modern-day Miller Translation is this: “What good is it to restart the economy at the expense of human life? What profit is it to the economy if people are too sick or too dead to benefit from it?” Some one might say that it will benefit those who are left! But how cold and callous can you be to sacrifice the life of someone else for your own? Such an attitude of one of privilege and superiority, which just might be the root-cause of this debate in the first place!
Recently, a friend
posted on his Facebook page the poster you see above. I replied to his post by
saying: “Good admonition! The problem is that most modern Christians have no
idea what the Kingdom of God is!” Now, the irony of that reality is that the main
theme of the ministry and life of Jesus was the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of
God was the subject of every one of his sermons! The Kingdom of God was the
object of every one of his teaching sessions! The demonstration of the power
and presence of the Kingdom of God was purpose for every one of his miracles!
Yet, those who claim to follow him today, know very little about the Kingdom of
God as he presented it!
Now, I hope
you noticed what I just said: I said, “Those who claim to follow him today know
very little about the Kingdom of God ‘as he presented it!” Most of what we
think we know about the Kingdom of God today was gathered from the writings of theologians
(Early Church and modern) and from ideas in art and culture, but what did Jesus
say about the Kingdom of God?
As I write this, I am reminded of the frustrations I experienced as a young teen, helping my father in his work. My father was a greens-keeper at a golf-course and in the course of his work, he repaired and worked on small engines and the equipment used to maintain the course. When I first started working with him, during the summer-breaks from school, my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I was a little slow in remembering the names of the tools he worked with. For example, when my father would have his hands full working on a machine, he would ask me to bring him a Phillips-head screwdriver or a crescent-wrench. More often than not, before I got the hang of it, I would bring him a flat-head screwdriver or a pair of vice-grips instead! It was really frustrating for me to be rifling through the tool box, not knowing exactly what I was looking for! Often, when I couldn’t figure it out, I wouldn’t bring him what he asked for, I would just bring him what I thought he asked for!
the way it is with many Christians today! They really don’t know what Jesus
meant when he said: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
. .” And since they don’t really know what he meant, they just go by what they
think he meant! Just like the difficulty I experienced when looking in my
father’s toolbox, it’s difficult to look for or even find something, when you don’t
exactly know what you’re looking for!
So, what did
Jesus mean when he said; “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his
righteousness. . . ?” Well, I finally learned the tools my father needed by the
process of elimination. In other words, even before I found out what vice-grips
were; I found out what they weren’t! Therefore, let’s first look at what Jesus ‘did
not mean’ when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Now, there were times when
he did, but most of the time, when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God
or the Kingdom of Heaven, he WAS NOT talking about the Heaven we most often
talk about! I remember as a young Christian, when I first read Matthew 6:33, I
just assumed that Jesus meant that our first priority should be; to seek to live
a good life so that we might go to Heaven after we die! But that is not what he
said and that is not what he meant!
Most often, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the sovereign rule or the authority of God; the realm of God’s rule. In the preaching and teachings of Jesus, the terms; Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven were not primarily referencing a place or location, but rather the act of ruling or the state of submission to God’s rule. Therefore, to ‘see’ and to ‘enter into’ the Kingdom of God in John 3:3 and John 3:5 are not references to seeing and walking through the pearly gates after death, but rather, to perceiving, understanding, and submitting to God’s sovereign rule in one’s life now! Note the tenses, Jesus did not say; ‘will not see’ or ‘will not enter’ (future tense), he said; ‘cannot see’ and ‘cannot enter’ (present tense). Now, there were times when he referenced the future aspect of the Kingdom of God. In the parables, he talked about the angels separating the wheat from the tares and separating the good fish from the bad fish. He talked about going away and preparing a place for us in John 14; that was future tense.
So in summary,
here is what the Kingdom of God is from what we have discussed so far:
The Kingdom of God is the sovereign
rule of God.
The Kingdom of God is a present
The Kingdom of God is a future hope.
Now, I don’t want this post to be too long, but I just want to focus on the aspect of the Kingdom of God as a present reality before I go. While traditional Christianity has done a good job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a future hope, it has done a very poor job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a present reality! The reason for that might be because it seems to be hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality that the Kingdom of God is not one or the other, but rather, the Kingdom of God is both! The Kingdom of God is indeed the culmination of history when God shall subdue all evil and sin, death and sickness will be no more and we will reign with God throughout eternity. Yes! That is the Kingdom of God! But the Kingdom of God is also, the sovereign rule, authority, and power of God working in and through the lives of His people for the purpose of His will being done presently on earth as it is done in Heaven! You see, the problem with traditional Christianity is that only one aspect of the Kingdom of God has been presented! We’ve done a great job in preparing people to die, but we have ignored the fact that there is one thing everybody must do before they die; they must live! We’ve done a great job in preparing people for life in the here-after, but we’ve done a dismal job in preparing people for life in the here-and-now! The Gospel that Jesus preached was like the candy I used to eat as a kid, called; Now-and-Later. But the gospel we preach makes the same mistake we made with the candy when we were kids! Although the actual name of the candy was and is: Now ‘and’ Later, we called it: Now ‘or’ Later! Jesus preached a ‘now and later’ message, but the message of most modern preaching is ‘now or later!’ And that message has no appeal to a person who is struggle to make ends meet and to survive in life! It’s really no real consolation to know that things will be better after they die; they need some relief now! The Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached addresses that need! In Mark 10:28-30, we read: “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:28-30 KJV) Did you read what Jesus said? He said; ‘now in this time. . . and in the world to come. . .” The real Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel Jesus told us to actually preach is the now ‘and’ later Gospel!
There is a lot more I could say about what the Kingdom of God is, but if I keep going, you will quit reading! But read Matthew 13 in your Bible. In that chapter, you will discover several examples of what the Kingdom of God is and what the Kingdom of God is like; now and later!
One of the first Bible verses that many of us learned was John 3:16, which, according to the King James Version, says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16 KJV) The same verse, in the English Standard Version (ESV) says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16 ESV) The terms; ‘everlasting life’ and ‘eternal life’ are synonymous; the KJV says ‘everlasting,’ while most of the modern translations say; ‘eternal.’ In the Greek text, it is the same word, which literally means; ‘without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting.’
Now, I used the term ‘literally’ because although the definition talks about not having an end, the term is used, in most cases in the Bible, not to signify the length of life, but rather, the quality of life! When you really think about it, the truth of the matter is this; everyone who has ever lived, will actually live forever! The big question is; where? For you see, when the Bible speaks of death, it is not talking primarily about annihilation or a cessation of existence, it is talking about separation! The Apostle Paul described the condition of the Ephesian believers before they became believers as that of being ‘dead in your trespasses and sins.’ (Eph. 2:1) In 1 Timothy 5:6, Paul described a widow, who was living in luxury as being ‘dead while she lives.’ In each case, the primary meaning of death was separation. Physical death is the separation of the human spirit and soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of a person from correct fellowship and relationship with God. Eternal death is the eternal separation from the fellowship and correct relationship with God. According to the Bible, everyone of us came into this world DOA; dead on arrival. The most important thing in life is the race against time! For it is of the utmost importance not let death (physical death) catch you dead (spiritually dead)!
Well, that’s enough about death, the purpose of this post is to talk about life! More specifically; eternal life! Now, what most modern believers do not understand or have otherwise failed to incorporate into the practical reality of their lives, is the fact that eternal life is a present-possession of every believer! If you are a true believer in Jesus, you will not get eternal life when you die and leave this world; you have eternal life now! Jesus said in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (NKJ) John, the Apostle wrote in 1 John 3:14-15: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (NKJ) Most ‘religious Christians’ don’t read the Bible correctly! They believe they will gain eternal life when they die! But the truth of the matter is; if you don’t possess eternal life now while you live, when you die, it will be too late! Those same ‘religious Christians’ also believe they will enter the Kingdom of God when they die, but according to the Bible, a person is either in the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness; right now! Paul wrote in Colossian 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (ESV) Note the tenses! Paul didn’t say: “He ‘will’ deliver us. .” He said; “He ‘has’ delivered us. . .” Paul didn’t say that God ‘would transfer’ us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” He said that God ‘has transferred’ us to the kingdom of His dear Son! The sad reality is the most Christians are not aware of this awesome reality! They have placed their hope in a delayed lay-a-way plan wherein they only hope to receive eternal life and enter into the Kingdom of God; after they die, in the sweet by-and-by! But that is NOT what the Bible teaches! The good news of the Gospel is that those who believe in Jesus, have eternal life; right now! Those who believe in Jesus are in the Kingdom of God; right now!
Well, what is ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ life? As stated earlier, although the literal meaning talks about the length of life, the biblical emphasis is not on the length of life, but rather on the quality of life. Jesus, who is the Life, gave this definition in his high priestly prayer in John 17:1-3, where we read: “Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you gave him authority over all flesh, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent– Jesus Christ.” (Jn. 17:1-3 CSB17) According to Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God and the one He sent – Jesus Christ! Now, we should note at this point, that ‘knowing’ in the Bible does not signify a mere intellectual exercise, but ‘know’ or ‘knowing’ in the Bible, denotes an intimate close relationship! (Such as in: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain. . .” Gen. 4:1 KJV) Therefore, Jesus defined eternal life as an intimate relationship with God the Father, through His Son; Jesus Christ! Eternal life only comes through and by way of the One who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 CSB17) Do you really ‘know’ Jesus? If you do, then you have eternal life right now! This eternal life is the life Jesus came to give, according to John 3:16 and John 10:10. Eternal life is Jesus living His life through us by way of the Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul’s words recorded in Galatians 2:20.
Oh fellow believers! We have such a great salvation, but the sad reality is that too many believers die with most of their food still on their plates! They die without ever scratching the surface of the depth of provisions God had for them in this life! They are like the story I read about a couple who saved all of their money to pay for a cruise. They had never been on a cruise before! In fact, prior to this cruise, they had never even left their small home town! Well, after they boarded the ship, during the entire cruise, they never ventured out of their room! Every day, they sat in their room, eating the sandwiches they had packed, looking out of their windows at the ocean and at other people who were enjoying themselves on the ship. Since, they never ventured out of their room, when the captain learned of their absence from all of the ship’s functions and festivities, so he sent a steward to check on them, for he feared they might have died during the voyage! When the steward knocked on their door, he was amazed to discover the couple had been happily secluded in their room for the entirety of the cruise! He asked them why they had not partaken of the amenities and festivities of the ship. The couple replied that they couldn’t afford it! The steward asked to see their tickets and after inspecting their tickets, he was almost speechless! He explained to the couple that when they paid for their tickets, every meal, every amusement, every show, and every amenity was also included in the price of their tickets! The sad reality was, by the time the couple discovered this, the cruise was over and the ship was returning to port!
Well, that’s the way it is with many Christians today! They have packed their lunch and they are eating in their rooms because they believe their only reward will come after they die and go to Heaven! They have not read Romans 8:32, where the Apostle Paul said: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (KJV) They don’t realize that over two thousand years ago, every blessing was bought and paid for on Calvary’s Cross! The Apostle Peter reported: “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Pet. 1:3 CSB17) Yes! Everything we need for this life, God has already provided! It’s all included in ‘eternal life!’ Jesus said: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ‘ or ‘What will we drink? ‘ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:31-34 CSB17) Freedom from worry and anxiety is included in eternal life! Seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness is eternal life! All these things (the things we need in life) being added is included in eternal life! What is eternal life? Eternal life is the abundant life! It is the life of intimate communion, fellowship, and relationship with God the Father through Jesus the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who resides in every believer! When is eternal life? Eternal life is now . . .and later!
As I write
this, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being flippant, disrespectful,
or insensitive to those who have died or to those they left behind. My aim is
not to agitate but rather to educate. With that being said, let me get into
what stimulated me to write this post.
I was perusing
my Facebook page the other day when I ran across this post of someone commenting
about a person who had recently died. I was particularly arrested by their
suggestion that the person who had died had; ‘earned their wings!’ Now, this
was not the first time I had seen that comment, for across the years, I had
read it too many times for me to count! Perhaps, this time for me was the
proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! At any rate, I felt the need to
write this post to address this erroneous idea.
There are basically
three errors that are inherent in the notion that when a person dies they have ‘earned
their wings.’ First of all, the idea of ‘earning’ is completely opposite of biblical
teaching. The Bible teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather is the
result of God’s unmerited divine favor, known as grace! The Apostle Paul wrote
to the Ephesian church; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and
that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should
boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJ) Therefore, there is nothing we can ‘earn’ because
everything we receive from God is by God’s grace! The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah
wrote: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are
like filthy rags. .” (Isa. 64:6 NKJ) [in
the Hebrew text, ‘filthy rags’ is a reference to a woman’s menstrual cloth!]
The best we have to offer in regard to earning merit with God is utterly repugnant!
Secondly, where did this idea that we will get ‘wings’ when we die come from? (I wrote about this false notion more extensively in another post: Forever Human). Perhaps it comes from a misunderstanding of a statement Jesus made to the Sadducees in regard to marriage after death. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30 NKJ) Men will be ‘like angel’ in that there will be no marriages, not like angel as in being of the same class of being as angels. And where did we get the idea that angels have wings? The only biblical reference to angelic creatures having wings is in Isaiah 6. If you read carefully, you will note that these creatures were not ordinary angels, but are specifically named as: Serephim. There is no record in the Bible of ordinary angels having wings! In addition to that, a careful and correct reading of the Bible will reveal that the function of angels is to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Hebrews 1:13-14) Therefore, for humans to become angels at death is a demotion rather than a promotion! In God’s hierarchy, angels are beneath us, not above us!
Lastly, I also talked about this more extensively in another post (All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven), but it does not matter how much suffering a person went through on earth, that does not qualify them for Heaven! I know we would like to think that all of our loved-ones and friends are at peace in Heaven, but the biblical truth of the matter is all of them are not! Everybody who has died is not resting in peace! The only thing that qualifies a person for Heaven is a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ!
I know we say things like this in an effort to comfort the bereaved, but I think it does more harm than good when the comfort is based on false hope! Therefore, as we seek to comfort those who are bereaved, let us be careful to give them real comfort from the Word of God and not false comfort from worldly ideas or Facebook theology!