Theology

Anglican Priests – Ontological? Functional? Or Something Else?

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The 1st of May is the anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. One year I placed a pic of it on my FB page and my friend who was priested with me (standing on the right of me, I am the bloke in the middle) also placed the same pic on his FB page. What I found interesting was that he received many comments and ‘likes’ whereas I received no comments and about not many likes.
Of course it is FB, it does not really mean anything because the world of FB is not real, but what is real is that my friend who was priested with me is a very staunch Papalist Anglican priest where I am very much a Reformed Anglican Priest.
His view of being a priest is ontological whereas my view of being a priest is functional (though I suspect he agrees with some aspect of the functional view). For those who are not sure what this means here is an explanation:

A view of the Priesthood – Ontological
When a person is ordained as a priest, there is a change regarding your very nature. In essence you become a different kind of person, a different king of Christian, and this is not to do primarily with your role, (though it shapes and dictates your role) but with who and what you become. God affects an ontological change in the very nature of who you are. Deacons, Priests and Bishops who hold to this view see themselves as being in Holy Orders until they die, still recognised as one by retaining their title even at retirement and still wear their clerical garb. The Roman Catholic Church holds to this view. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that ordination “confers an indelible spiritual character” which “cannot be “repeated or conferred temporarily” (CCC#1583). “The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently” (CCC#1583)
The late Rev John Richardson (aka The Ugley Vicar) describes this view like this:

In ordination, the person being ordained is, as it were, ‘made into’ a priest — he (or she) is no longer quite what they were as a layperson, and is not simply ‘authorized’ by ordination, but is changed and ‘empowered’ by it. The views on this ‘empowerment’ may vary, but the essential characteristic is that priest and laity are in some way separated in what they are, not just in what they do. We will call this simply the ‘priestly’ model, since for most people, the word ‘priest’ conjures up exactly this ‘set apart specialness’ of someone different from the layperson.

A View of the Priesthood – Functional
When a person is ordained as a priest, nothing happens to them in regards to their nature. The change is only in regards to what they can do publicly. Actually what priests do in church anyone Christian can do in their own homes.
And as for the prayer in the Anglican ordinal asking God to send down The Holy Spirit, is so that the Newly ordained priest may do what the ordinal and the Scriptures set out for them and require them to do. Scripture is very clear what the role of the Priest (the term priest is an English version of the Greek word Presbyter, although many Reformed Anglican Priests avoid the term due to perceived Roman Catholic/sacerdotal connotations) is to be. The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) are very clear on what the role is of a Priest, and the Anglican Ordinal very clearly states what the roles, requirements and expectations are of a Deacon, Priest or Bishop and the roles are functional.

So while I do not hold to the ontological view of the Priesthood (due it its origins lying in Roman Catholic Theology rather than the Scriptures,nor is it supported by the Anglican Ordinal), I do wonder if the understanding of the Functional view of the Priesthood is deficient in some way?

It seems to me that there are two weaknesses with the current understanding of the Functional view of the priesthood (not the view itself):

1. The role of priest is professionalised – Where they are likened to that of a CEO, service leader, preacher, Bible study teacher, manager of other clergy (who are called paid staff). In other words the role seems to be reduced to that of someone who is a paid professional, rather than a role that is vocational and one of calling. So one’s suitability as a priest and effectiveness as a priest is discerned by ‘success’ (however ‘success’ is defined in modern 21st ministry culture) and in practice one’s godliness, holiness, piety, love for others is minimalised or reduced.

2. The role of a priest is compartmentalised – It allows for the vows ordinands make at their ‘priesting’ to be compartmentalised from every day life and their roles to be compartmentalised from everyday life when the reality is that neither is possible. Whether a priest likes it or not, (although there is no ontological change within them at the ordination), the way they are perceived by people will change. Whether those views held are right or wrong; based on weird theology or something they have imbibed from childhood or previous experience; whether they are Christians in their own church, or unbelievers outwith their church; it cannot be avoided, even when they are not in church, even when it is their day off, and even if they are out and about not wearing a clerical collar attempting to be anonymous. Once a person is ordained as priest, it does not go away, and there is no off switch. Of course they can take a day off from ministry,(and they should) but they cannot take a day off from the vows that they made at their ordinations, nor decide to reject the very doctrines that they affirmed at their ordinations; just as they cannot take a day off from being a Christian and they cannot take the day off from how people will see them.

I was at the shopping centre recently buying a DVD, I was not wearing a clergy collar and the girl served me and she remembered me from her Mother’s funeral I conducted. In her eyes, I was the priest. At the moment I was not leading a service, nor reading the Bible, nor preaching, nor was I managing church staff, so according to the functional view I was not a priest. But in her eyes I was, simply by being.

As I read recently on another blog:

“There are appropriate whole-of-life expectations for ministers such that they cannot ever switch off from their role in the same way that a pilot can when they’re not flying. And even once they’ve retired from a position, a failure to live up to their ordination vows can have significant impact on those that the clergy have previously ministered to in a way that a pilot’s post-flight behaviour doesn’t affect their previous passengers”.

I saw a blog post recently pertaining to the UK series entitled Rev and the author notices the confusion between being a priest and leading the church; the ontological view of being a priest and the functional view of being a priest. The author looks at it from the problem of the ontological view (i.e Just because someone is called to be a priest, doesn’t mean they’re called to lead a church). We see this with the Rev’s main protagonist Rev Adam Smallbone. Rev Adam SmallboneIn short he is absolutely not suited to being a Priest. But because his role is defined by the Ontological view, therein lies the problem. The author points this out in his piece and I think is absolutely correct when he says:

The result is people like Adam Smallbone in Rev. He’s a nice guy; he’s clearly got some kind of call on his life. But according to that list, he isn’t called to lead a church, and the tension in the series comes from fact that no-one quite grasps that he may well be called to be a priest by the C of E’s understanding (Ontological), but he isn’t called to lead a church by the Bible’s understanding (Functional).
We see the problems shining through in the series. Adam isn’t a good preacher; as a result his congregation don’t have transforming encounters with God’s word and so don’t change. We see that painfully clearly when it comes to welcoming a repentant paedophile into the church. Adam understands grace, but he hasn’t communicated that understanding to the rest of the church, so they reject him. Adam’s wife isn’t properly on board with him being a vicar – she clearly resents it and it causes all kinds of problems for her faith, and for his leadership. I know both from personal experience and from that of friends that if a vicar’s spouse isn’t keen on them following the calling to lead a church, it won’t work. The tragedy is that Adam has been badly let down by the C of E in its confusion between the calling to be a priest and the calling to lead a church. As a result, everyone loses – Adam, the local church, the wider church.

This is the weakness of the ontological view, but the weakness of the current understanding of the functional view is just a serious. A priest who is professionalised and is compartmentalised and sees their role as a priest as a job rather than a calling and a vocation is just as unhelpful as the Rev Adam Smallbone.

So back to my FB pic. I suspect that the reason why my post did not receive so many comments from many of my Evangelical ‘friends’ is because they don’t view being priested as being that much of a big deal. To use the  analogy:

“Being ordained is a bit like getting your pilot’s licence. You need one to fly but it’s no more than a mark of recognition that you’ve proven yourself able to fly, that you choose to be an active pilot and that the authorities are happy to accept you. There’s no way in the world that just issuing a licence gives you your flying skills and there’s no reason to hold a licence once your active flying career is over”.

If this is the understanding of the functional view of the Priesthood then I think it goes too far however the answer I believe is not for Anglican priests to embrace the oncological view of the priesthood but to re-examine the functional view in light of God’s Holy Scriptures, and to a lesser extent (though not insignificant) the Ordinal. Scripture is clear that all Christians are members of a new Royal Priesthood, however those whom God has called to be ‘Priests’ like every Christian are to be living examples of those who worship God in Spirit and in truth who offer their bodies to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and this means as an ordained Anglican priest their oaths made at their ordinations, the doctrines that they affirmed and the promises that they made are to be lived out transparently (and by God’s grace, contagiously) every day, and it does not matter if they are not rostered down to lead or preach that Sunday or whether they have parish council coming up that week.

Not ontological, but more than merely functional.

Why I Don’t use Alpha

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There is no doubt about it…the Alpha Course has proven to be immensely popular over time. In recent times the course has been updated, the most recent versions of Alpha I have seen (presented by two twenty something Canadian brothers in Christ) are very well put together. The production is of high standard, the two guys come off very natural and not cheesy at all. But having said that I would not use Alpha and here are the reasons:

Alpha is weak on sin and on the atonement

Episode Why did Jesus Die – quotes

“The Bible says that deep down in our core we are broken and this brokenness leads us to act in a way that hurts us and hurt others and the Bible calls this sin”.

The bad things we are do are evidence that we are broken.

Sin can make us feel like we are chained up and not free to live life to the fullest.

          There is a cost to sin, it can lead to spiritual death, destroy our relationship with God.

Sin has broken our friendship with God

Sin builds a wall between us and God.

Alpha does not define sin Biblically but defines sin as being broken. However this is a consequence of sin, not its substance and presents sin in anthropocentric terms. The consequences of sin that Alpha mentions are true, but does not present sin from a Theocentric position. It does not say anything about God’s wrath or holiness, or that sin is rebellion against God, and that we have offended him. Humanity without God is the subject of God’s wrath. We are not slightly displeasing to Him, with the occasional doing the wrong thing, rather by nature ‘we are objects of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3) because we have offended against God and broken His holy law. The root cause of sin is not a ‘broken relationship with God’; the root cause of sin is that mankind has universally rebelled against God’s holy laws and therefore offended God himself. I find this to be very concerning, as a deficient and unbiblical definition of sin will lead to a misunderstanding of the cross. If the diagnosis is inaccurate then the cure will be ineffective.

Alpha is light on the Cross

Again in this episode sin is defined as being ‘the things we do wrong’ – (which is the effect of sin)

Jesus on the cross was carrying your sin and my sin and therefore he was cut off from God, not because of what he’d done wrong but because of what we’d done. Do you see where this leaves us? Free to have relationship with God”.

There is no mention of Jesus being the propitiation for our sins – the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement is given very little weight – that Christ died not simply in our place but took upon himself the wrath of God against sin. Sin again is defined in a human centered way, sin = the things we do wrong (to whom?, In the course the answer given is not ‘God’. What is said is incomplete – Alpha presents the cross as dealing with the wrongs we have done, our brokenness and disconnectedness, but it does not present the cross as dealing with the sin being what it is – rebellion against a Holy God who will punish sin.

God is a loving heavenly Father who wants us to be close to him. Sin has left us disconnected. Many of us live our lives without any sense of his love and uncertain about where we stand with him. No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from, God wants you to know his love. God welcomes us with open arms. He’s inviting all of us to turn to him and Jesus’ death made a way for us to know God. You can be forgiven of all the wrong you’ve done and be given a fresh start.

I think there is a danger when any sermon, book, or teaching presents an attribute of God as being the only attribute of God. The attribute of God that is the focus in Alpha is love. And of course this is Biblical, but it is not God’s only attribute. There is nothing in Alpha about God’s holiness (in my view this is a big omission on the part of Alpha) and this omission contributes to the reason why the death of Jesus is presented as an act of love but without any connection with the reality of God’s holy anger. We are left thinking that Christ sacrificed Himself to rescue us from the consequences of sin and that is all.

When Alpha is viewed as a whole the cross is not central to the course. Compared side by side with Christianity Explored this is quickly apparent:

Alpha          

Christianity Explored (CE)

Alpha: Who is Jesus?

 CE: Introduction

Alpha: Why did Jesus die?

CE: Jesus who was he?

Alpha: How can I be sure of my faith?

CE: Jesus why did he come?

Alpha: Why & how should I read the Bible?

CE: Jesus his death

Alpha: Why & how do I pray?

CE: What is grace?

Alpha: How does God guide us?

CE: Jesus his resurrection

Weekend away

Who is the Holy Spirit?

CE: The Church

Alpha: What does the Holy Spirit do?

CE: The Holy Spirit

Alpha: How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?

CE: Prayer

Alpha: How can I make the most of the rest of my life?

CE: The Bible

Alpha: How can I resist evil?

CE: What is a Christian?

Why and how should I tell others?

CE: Continuing as a Christian

Alpha: Does God heal today?

CE: Choices – Herod

Alpha: What about the Church?

CE: Choices – James & John

Alpha’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit is Charismatic – and teaches clearly that the “fullness of the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) is a subsequent experience to conversion.In the session How can I be filled with the Spirit? – in all intents and purposes it could be entitled How can I be baptised with the Holy Spirit? In the latest Alpha video one of the Canadian guys (who are very good presenters) says:

Every Christians has the Spirit, but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit”.

This is the charismatic doctrine of subsequence, yet it is presented as if this doctrine is orthodox. The results of this teaching are divisive in that the application of this teaching is that there is a two-tiered Christianity. Instead of being two types of people, the unbeliever and the believer, there are three; (1) the unbeliever, (2) the believer who is not filled with the Holy Spirit, (3) the believer who is filled with the Spirit. This teaching comes from a misreading of Acts, where the book of Acts is primarily interpreted through a hermeneutic grid that deems Acts to be prescriptive rather than descriptive. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest anything other than that the believer receives all of the Holy Spirit at the point when he or she puts their trust in Jesus and are justified.

Alpha has greater emphasis on the third person of the Holy Trinity than on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in the gospels, particularly the farewell discourse in John 14 – 17 is ignored. These chapters teach us that there is an unbreakable connection between the Word of God and the Spirit of God, a connection which runs right through Scripture. That connection is that they both point to Christ. For the Spirit, another ‘Counsellor’ (John 14:16-17) ‘will guide you (the disciples) into all truth’ and He (the Spirit) will bring glory to me (Jesus) by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:13-14). Given what Jesus teaches about His Holy Spirit we should expect Him to point towards Jesus and His words and not to himself and use the Scriptures to do this. Yet in Alpha, the Lord Jesus Christ is not central, he has been moved aside for the Holy Spirit.

Alpha’s teaching on Conversion is different –

We live in a unique time in history: the age of the Holy Spirit. He’s at work in the world today in a way that was never known before the day of Pentecost (then a quotation from Gal 3:14 but ignores the context of the verse). Men and women from every country and culture and economic background are invited to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The mandate of the Gospel message is that people are to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, Then, and only then, will the regenerate person be justified before a Holy God, be filled with all of the Holy Spirit, and have absolute assurance of anger propitiated, sins forgiven and of heaven ahead. Alpha seems to invite people to have an experience of God’s love and of the power of the Spirit (and the examples given are healing, words of knowledge, the gifts of speaking in Tongues) rather than calling for obedience to the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Conclusion:

While Alpha has its strengths, such as the videos that have come out, the presentation, the quality is very good, the two Canadian guys are very good at what they do, and no doubt God has used Alpha to bring people to himself. But the fact that God uses crooked sticks to make a straight line is due to his grace not due to the Alpha Course in my view. For Evangelicals the lack of emphasis on the Holiness of God, its deficient view of Sin, of the Cross, and the Charismatic pneumatology and take on conversion should give us serious pause when it comes to using this course with unbelievers, especially in light of the fact that there are so many better alternatives such as Christianity Explored.

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What Happens When We Die?

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One of the many strengths of the Anglican Church (which is the denomination in which I belong to) is that it is creedal, or another way of putting it, it is confessional. Each week Anglican churches state what they believe by saying together one of two creeds, The Nicene Creed, and the Apostle’s Creed.

The Apostle’s Creed came to us in the 3rd century, the earliest from 215AD and it contains doctrines which can be traced to statements that were current in the time of the Apostles. Most Christian denominations have come to use the Apostles Creed as a statement of Biblical orthodoxy.

But I wonder if many Christians don’t really know what to make of the line in the creed which states (about Jesus Christ):

‘Was crucified died and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

At face value, it appears that the intention of this clause in the creed is to say that when Jesus died, he really did die. But since Jesus did die, where did he go? All Christians agree that Jesus went to heaven after he rose from the dead. But where did he go when he died? Where was he in that interval period between his death and resurrection?

To my limited knowledge there appears to be three views regarding what happened to Jesus during this interval period:

View 1 – Jesus descended into Hell after he died – “as it was necessary for Christ to suffer the full extent of human punishment for sin, which he would not have done if he had not gone to the place of eternal punishment”. (Gordan Bray, The Faith We Confess, p.29).

View 2 – Jesus went to Heaven at death but experienced Hell on the cross – as he bore the full brunt of God’s wrath for sin. So he went to Hell at the cross in a sense and at death Jesus went to Heaven. (This is the view of the great Reformer John Calvin – Institutes, II.xvi.10).

View 3 – Jesus did not descend into Hell nor ascend to Heaven after he died – but went to a place of interval, that is the place of departed spirits.

For many years I used to hold to the second view and strongly rejected the first for two reasons:

  • If Christ had to endure eternal punishment beyond death then his words, “It is finished” (which in the Greek is one word), are incorrect and Jesus work on the cross was actually ‘unfinished’ or ‘not quite finished”.
  • If Jesus did upon death immediately enter Hell then his promise to the criminal in Luke 23:43 was not true.

 What about the third view?

Well…to be honest, it was a view that simply did not enter my mind. The only time I can remember having a conversation about this view was when I was invited to a Rotary Dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Hunters Hill in Sydney in year 12 (back in 1992). I do not remember how the conversation started, all I remember is that I was speaking with an elderly Anglican Christian brother about what happens when we die and he told me that at death Jesus went to some place called Hades (pronounced Hay-deez) and this meant “place of waiting”, or place of interval. Mentally I arrogantly wrote him off as a misguided wannabe Roman Catholic who was trying to teach me that there was a placed called Purgatory and so this view was not one that I visited again for a very very long time.

However this conversation has come back to visit me again in that I have children who like to ask me deep theological questions as I put them to bed:

“DADDY, WHY IN THE APOSTLES CREED DO WE SAY THAT WE BELIEVE THAT JESUS DESCENDED TO THE WORLD OF THE DEAD AND THAT HE WENT TO HEAVEN AFTER HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD?” “

“WHAT IS THE WORLD OF THE DEAD DAD , IS THAT HEAVEN OR HELL, OR IS IT SOMEWHERE DIFFERENT”?

I also had niggling questions of my own, that had a habit of coming back to visit me too. Questions such as:

If Jesus experienced Hell on the cross when he drunk the cup of God’s Wrath…

  • Does this mean Jesus went to Heaven twice; firstly after he died, and then again when he ascended into heaven?
  • How could Jesus have preached to those spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-20) if he went to heaven when he died?
  • Why does the Apostle Creed say that after Jesus died he descended to Hades? [It is important to note that in its original version the Apostles Creed states that Jesus descended to Hades, not hell and some churches have correctly noted this and have altered the Creed at this point to read “He descended to the world of the dead”]
  • Why does the Apostles Creed say that Jesus only ascended into Heaven after he bodily resurrected?

It seems that the comment from that elderly Anglican Christian dinner twenty-three years ago is a comment that refused to go away. Another question that also refused to go away was a question that is linked to the question, “Where Did Jesus go when he died?” is the question:

WHERE DO WE GO WHEN WE DIE?

In my humble view I think there are three different views:

View 1 – “When we die, we go to heaven”. This is the most common response and most likely because it is the simplest response. It is the response we tell small children in kids talks, and in kids church and to our own children when they were small. And of course it is true. However, there are two things that are very important to consider:

  1. Heaven is ultimate final destination of the Christian; it is the place where Christians will be when they are bodily resurrected, when the body & spirit are reunited again, in the place that Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:1-6) .This is what is understood by the term resurrection and Christians believe this because Jesus is our model.
  2. This resurrection, this coming together of body and spirit again will only occur when the Lord Jesus returns.

The problem with the first view, although it is true, it is only true in a sense. In modern Christian circles today, the term Heaven has become short hand to mean something other than our final destination. It also fails to take into account that when Jesus died there was an interval between his death and resurrection, between the separation of his body & his spirit, and their coming together again (which happened when he rose from the dead on the third day). We know this to be the case because from Friday afternoon to Sunday Morning, Jesus’s body was in the tomb. The amount of time the Lord Jesus spent in this place of interval was short but an interval none the less.

View 2 – “When we die we enter into soul sleep”. This view states that when we die, we are in a sense asleep and ‘wake up’ when Christ returns. This view states that there is no place of interval between death and resurrection. The view can be expressed like this:

Take Bill, he is a 93 year old Christian man who dies sometime in the year 2017. His granddaughter Nina is 23, who is also a Christian. She dies at the age of 93 in the year 2087, 70 years after Bill. For us who are alive on earth, both of them are asleep in Christ and will ‘wake up’ on resurrection day when Christ returns, but from their point of view there is no interval and both of them arrive in Heaven at the same time, (which according to this view is the time when Jesus returns). This is buttressed by comments such as “Well God is outside of linear time, so time is not a factor to consider when we Christians die”.)

Although this view seems more common, it has no Scriptural support and it fails to take into account the Bible’s teaching that says that spirits of those who have died are alert and aware of their surroundings and are not soul sleeping (i.e. Luke 16:19-30; Rev 6:9-11 just to name two references). The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus is also a good case in point (Luke 9:30-31). On the mountain of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Christ regarding his impending death in Jerusalem. These Old Testament figures certainly were not in a state of “soul sleep”. It also arises from the misunderstanding of the NT word that is used to refer to the death of Christians, which is the word for “sleep” (Greek ‘koimao’). The word is found 18 times and while the word does on occasion mean natural normal sleep (see Mt. 28:13; Lk. 22:45), however predominately (15 of the 18 times) this word is used figuratively for death of the righteous (1 Cor. 15:20; 1 Thes. 4:13-15) and lies in contrast with the death of the unrighteous in which a different word is used  Historically this is why in the Western world burial grounds are called Cemeteries as the word Cemetery comes from this Greek word and it means ‘place of rest’, but it is the body that is deemed to be at ‘rest’ (figuratively speaking) in the ground awaiting the return of Christ when it will be made imperishable, not the soul.Finally this view fails to take into account the example and model of the Lord Jesus, when he died, his soul did not sleep. (See further down – The Second Clue)

View 3 – “When we die we go the place of interval”.

Although perhaps this view may seem rather novel to 21st Century Evangelical Christians, historically Christians have always known that there is an interval between a Christian’s death and bodily resurrection, that long or short (depending on the time between the Christians’ death and Christ’ return) there will be an interval during which we will be disembodied spirits, just as Jesus was between his death and resurrection (remember he is our model) and when Christ returns, our spirits and bodies will be brought together again, (see 1 Thess.4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:12-49).

The Lord Jesus also used a term to refer to this place of interval and the word that he uses is the word that I mentioned earlier, the word that was in the Apostles Creed, the word ‘Hades’. It is the word that Jesus uses in Luke 16:23 in the account of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Yet most of our translations of the Bible translate the word as ‘Hell’ and have inserted a footnote suggesting that Hell and Hades two words that mean the same thing. However they cannot be the same place for Jesus deliberately uses a different word that we translate as the word Hell and it is the final destination where unbelievers go when they are bodily resurrected, to the place that has been prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt 25:31-45). Hades should not be confused with Hell.

Also it is important to mention that Hades is not Pergatory. Pergatory is a man made invention, a place where a person is cleansed from their sins in order to make them acceptable to be in God’s presence. Hades is the term that simply means place of departed spirits, the place between death and physical resurrection, the place of interval, the place where our Lord Jesus went during the time between his death and physical resurrection from the grave on the third day.

The First Clue – Luke 23:42-43.

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The first clue comes in what Jesus said to the dying criminal on the cross (Luke 23:42-43). The criminal said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus answered,

“TRULY I SAY TO YOU, TODAY YOU WILL BE IN PARADISE WITH ME.”

In his life Jesus was very deliberate in the use of his words, he used words that had very specific meanings to the people he was talking with. On the cross, Jesus did not promise the criminal who acknowledged him as Lord that he would be with him in heaven. (Remember Heaven refers to the place where the righteous will go after they have been bodily resurrected at the return of the Lord Jesus). I used to think for many years that Jesus’ use of the word paradise was of no significance due to the word paradise being synonymous for Heaven (just as I thought Hades was a synonym for Hell.) However Jesus’ use of the word ‘paradise’ was deliberate and it meant something very specific to Jewish ears.

‘Paradise’ in the Bible days was a term used to refer to the King’s garden. It is used in referring to the Garden of Eden, of the Garden city at the end of the Bible. Paradise in the Bible refers to the garden of the King. This is not the palace of the King, it is not the Father’s house, it is not the place of many rooms that the Lord Jesus talks about in John 14[2]. Jesus is saying to the criminal in a sense, “I am not taking you to the Father’s house today, but I will take you into the king’s garden and I can do that today and we will be there together.

This tells us that the interval is much nearer to Heaven[3] than what we can ever be on earth. Paradise will be far better than anything we have experienced in this life because we are walking in the unimaginably close, intimate personal presence of the King of Kings. But it is not our final state! There is even more to come!

The Second Clue – 1 Peter 3:18-20a

In days gone by and in some places today a palace not only has a garden where the imagesKing walks with his friends but also has a dungeon, a cell that is not in the palace itself, it is a prison. In the NT there are hints, that in the place of interval there is not only a garden of wonderful delight, walking with the master, but also a prison, a place of separation. Perhaps one of the most perplexing statements

 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed  to the spirits in prison, 20 because they did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared,

The Apostle Peter tells us that the Lord Jesus was made alive in the Spirit at his death (so no soul sleep); he tells us which spirits the Lord Jesus preached (or perhaps declared his victory to); those who were drowned in the flood of Noah. Jesus did this between his death and resurrection. And notice the Spirits are in prison, not in the garden.

The Third Clue – Luke 16:19-31

The-Parable-Of-The-Rich-Man-And-LazarusIn this well known parable from Jesus often entitled The Rich Man & Lazarus’,  we see that at death there is a place of segregation, where the unrighteous are shut off and shut out. This segregation and separation from Almighty God (and from God’s people) is the worst kind of segregation. There is also suffer

In this place of interval there will be suffering for those who are in the place of separation. What kind of suffering? We don’t really know, but we do know that there will be mental suffering because the memories of those who have died will be active. And regret will be one of the most awful things unbelievers will have to bear. The regret of knowing that the life they have known on earth is over and that there is no altering of one’s choices and no comfort of any sort. This certainly seems to be the experience of the rich man in Luke 16. So in this place of interval, that Jesus calls Hades, there will be two different environments, a prison and a garden.

The Prison – What we know?

  • One cannot go back from this prison to life on earth.
  • One cannot go from the prison to the garden to walk with the master.
  • One is completely aware of their condition and their surroundings – there is no soul sleep.
  • It is a place of segregation and separation – from God and from God’s people
  • It is a place of suffering for those who are there and they are given no comfort. it will be a place of regret and anguish, with no hope of any kind.
  • It is not a permanent or final stage of existence.

 The Garden – What do we know?

  • We will be very much awake in paradise. There is no soul sleep
  • We will be with the Lord Jesus Christ! And enjoy beautiful fellowship with him and all of God’s people.
  • We will be with Abraham (Luke 16) – we will meet all the people of the Faith. For this is the King’s garden party. Angels will also be there.
  • If you die alone, or unwanted or uncared for, or in a tragic accident, God has his angels waiting for you on the other side to care for us! It is wonderful! No wonder the Apostle Paul says he longs to depart and be with Christ which is better by far. (Philippians 1:23
  • We will be with Jesus in that place of Interval the moment that we die. Just as Jesus promised the man on on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
  • It is not a permanent or final stage of existence.

Summing Up

When Jesus died he went to the world of the dead, the place of departed spirits. In this place there are those are enjoying paradise with the King, but there are also those who are in prison. Both environments exist in this place of waiting, or place of interval where all the dead await their resurrection bodies that are fitting for their ultimate destination. Either God’s mansion (that Jesus promises that he will prepare for us – John 14:1-6), or into the place that is prepared for the Devil and his angels which the Bible calls Hell.

So if you think of the process of death and dying in these Biblical terms, you will realise that for those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, Paradise will be far better than anything we have experienced in this life because we are walking in the unimaginably close, intimate personal presence of the King of Kings. It sounds inexpressibly wonderful doesn’t it? And it only gets better!

Post Script:

I am very thankful to God for my four children and their hard questions. I am very thankful to the work done on this subject by Bishop Julian Dobbs[3], Bishop Derek Eaton[4], and for that twenty three year old conversation that refused to go away.

References:

[1] When Jesus talks about the his Father’s house with many rooms, he is not talking about the interval after death, but to a distant future, because he says that he will come back to take [us] to be with him, “that you may also be where I am”. (See John 14:1-4)

[2] At the risk of being repetitive, Heaven is the place where the righteous will go after they have been bodily resurrected at the return of the Lord Jesus.

[3] The Right Rev Julian Dobbs  who is Reformed Evangelical Anglican Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of CANA East, (which is one of four missionary dioceses in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) in 2015 presented some online Bible studies  Studies entitled What Happens When you Die, and one of those talks was on Hades. It can be listened to here.

[4] The Rev Derek Eatonis a retired New Zealand Anglican bishop. He was the 9th Anglican Bishop of Nelson, from 1990 to 2006. After 16 years as Bishop of Nelson, Eaton returned to Africa to become assistant bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt. Since returning to New Zealand from Africa in January 2009, Eaton and his wife have been chaplains to Bishopdale Theological College.