Can of Worms and the Communion of Saints

September 27, 2000

Twice now, the discussion of judgment and resurrections is likened to a can of worms. I can see them now. If you are fishing, you only need one worm to bait the hook, but what happens when the can is opened. If they are all slimy and wiggling around, all trying to get out at once and going off in different directions, you may have a problem getting quickly back to the fishing. If you are queasy at all, it makes it even harder to get them back into the can. Yuk. Others have no problem with it at all.

Of course getting into these discussions are not as low on the food chain as these worms and those of you that are keeping up are getting fed whether you find it as intriguing as I or not. It is really hard to focus on one part of the judgment resurrections because each question opens so many other questions. We are bringing up salvation and damnation, Jesus reigning in our hearts now and reigning over the nations later, a physical temple or a spiritual one, time and eternity, physical death and spiritual death, rebirth, baptism, heaven, hell and the kingdom, millennial positions, sleep and translation and each question here opens a new can of worms. I think that the best answers to these questions are made this time with "the Lord has deliberately made the eschatological aspects of the final judgment difficult to put into a clear order of events," and "it's not what we know but who we know that will count most." At this, we are reminded that some revelations are to remain closed for a time but we should understand more perfectly as the day draws near.

In perspective, what we have learned here is that it is appointed once to die and then the judgment and judgment begins at the house of God. The key here is not faith, except without true faith, we cannot come to God; the key here is humility. If we truly die to ourselves, we may live and we are judged righteous. Those that cannot humble themselves before God and rather try to live the Christian life in pride, cannot really believe in Him enough to be an obedient servant. The understanding of eternity is to know God and understand His "I Am" nature. To be the eternal I Am is pure existence. God simply is and when we truly enter into His Holy Place, we may be assured of that divine nature and that we have passed from death unto life.

The points raised in this list have been good and we can learn much from the responses, this time and of the previous ones. Edwin starts out here at the risk of appearing troublesome by trying to define some of the terms discussed. Rather than adding to the confusion, I can really bear witness to the points raised and would direct you to consider what he is saying here. Also in Paul's teaching of physical and spiritual manifestations.

However, I find it a fascinating subject in that I would rather know the answers than to have so many questions. We can come away knowing more than we did before and we have had some truly good revelations on the subject. We may never know enough to really understand these things completely. For me, anyway, but I am still learning. That said, I am looking forward in time to understand these things more fully.

Even so, I would like to take this discussion one step further. No one has yet taken me up on the communion of saints for reasons that should be obvious. What we have been discussing up to now on the issue of the resurrection judgments is not too controversial and for the most part has not been divisive. Some of these things remain a mystery and some things we may know and agree on. The doctrine of the resurrection is considered a principle of Christ and if so, it is the fact of our spiritual birth that is the important thing. But what of those that have gone? Are they not also saved as we are being saved? If eternal life begins when we are reborn, are they not still part of the same body as we?

The bible teaches three heavens. The first heaven is the firmament that we can see by looking up, the second is the starry heavens beyond our world and the third heaven is in the realm of God. When Jesus was baptized, heaven opened up and the dove descended, Jesus was later received into heaven, John saw heaven opened, angels descend from heaven, those in heaven rejoice, there are signs from heaven, our reward is in heaven, the saints will come down from heaven, there is bread that comes from heaven and our names are written there. Elijah and Enoch were taken up into heaven, Stephen looked and saw heaven opened up and Paul was caught up to the third heaven. No matter how we look at it, there is a heaven above and if Jesus is there preparing a place for us and we are to be as the angels of heaven, then we shall also be there.

Also in heaven are those that have gone before us; this is our blessed hope. That means that the communion of saints must include those that are with us here in bodily form and also those that are with Jesus in eternity.

Now before I am accused of heresy, know that the communion of saints is the orthodox position, for the most part, only unbelievers and puritan fundamentalists deny it. And before I am accused of necromancy, know that the Bible teaches that God is the God of the living and not of the dead. If our loved ones in the Lord are resurrected into an eternal realm then they are in heaven now. The issue between the Pharisees and Sadducees was that one believed in the resurrection and one did not. The answer again was that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. The early church Father's believed in it as well as the mystics, but as far as I know, it was not popularized until Saint Augustine. I believe that the unity of all the saints is a tremendous power that the church of today should be restored to.

Certainly, we should have the faith to pray for ourselves but we would think nothing of asking others in the body of Christ to also pray for us, especially those that we know are close to Jesus. How much more so those that have been glorified in heaven. Those that have gone on are with the Lord now and are of the same body of Christ that we are. Either we believe that they are in heaven now and in a glorified state or we do not. I believe in the resurrection of believers and I believe that time is different than eternity and I believe that if the saints are to be coming with Jesus that they are there now. I believe then, this is a valid argument to have saints that are alive now in communion with those that have departed. There is but One Body. Putting these things into proper perspective is to hold these truths that we already believe as obvious conclusions to the issue of the communion of saints.

There has been division over this issue but if we truly believe in a resurrection and that God is God of the living, then there should be no problem with it.

What do you think?


You have really opened a large can of worms with your questions about judgment and time and eternity. This has brought to the surface a lot of misconceptions as well as many true revelations.

I would like to add to the confusion by giving some definitions of the terms that have surfaced: I may get into all kinds of trouble by what I am about to say, but that doesn't seem to bother me much. I am an old man, and I have weathered a lot of storms. Some of the following may conflict strongly with the beliefs of some of our friends, but the following are not meant to be dogmatic statements, but merely as points of departure for future discussion. This is taking most of a night, so please hang in there with me.

  1. There is first of all some confusion about the initial process which starts our Christian experience. Some of us use the term "saved" to describe this initial experience. I believe it is more accurate to speak of rebirth. A doctor friend gave me the understanding that the process of rebirth consists of four steps: Believe, repent, be baptized in water, be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He said that, if the birth process was too greatly dragged out, the baby and/or the mother die. This gave us the understanding that this process of being born again has to be done as completely and quickly as possible. I greatly agree with several of your respondents that all of these, including the baptism/immersion in the Holy Spirit, are essential from the beginning.

  2. In Romans 6, Paul explains that when we were baptized, we were united with Christ in His death and rose to a new life. Paul then exhorts us to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to righteousness. This reckoning, or practical believing, appropriates the benefits of our baptism into our daily life. We are dead to the old life. Christ has become our life. He lives His life through us. Romans 7 brings us face to face with the impossibility of living Christ's life under our own effort or on the basis of law. Romans 8 shows the wonderful possibility of living the life as we walk in the Spirit.

  3. Those who believe have eternal life. What does it mean to believe? When Jesus did His first miracle at Cana, He "manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." What did believe mean in this instance? Everybody that saw what had happened believed that Jesus had done the miracle. But John says that "His disciples believed in Him." They did not just believe that the miracle happened, but they perceived something deeper about Who Jesus was. So believing in Jesus means, at least, believing in Who He is and accepting His as He is.

    Subsequent lessons taught the disciples to "have faith," which was obviously the next step. They found themselves in a boat on the lake. A storm came up. One time, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat; another time, He was not even in the boat. He chided them for their lack of faith. Then He showed them the meaning of faith, by speaking to the storm, telling it to stop. Faith, therefore, meant to be able to do the things Jesus could do by a word of command.

    Other lessons in faith involved giving food to great crowds of people with a boy's box lunch. Later, faith meant being able to deliver an epileptic boy, cursing an unproductive fig tree. Believing in Jesus, means being able to do His thing. This too is eternal life.

    Eternal life starts for us when we start to believe in Jesus in the sense described above. It is a life of utter dependence on Him and obedience to Him.

  4. We need to understand that in Scripture the words life and death are used in two senses: physical life and death, and spiritual life and death. Physical existence, which we share with animals, is called life, and the departure of the soul from the body is called death.

    Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were also spiritually alive. This meant that their spirits were in a right relationship with God. Their spirits, under God, were in command of their souls and their bodies. Since the Fall, the desires of the flesh and the emotions are in command. The spirit, no longer in touch with God, is dead. This is known as spiritual death. When Paul speaks about our passing from death into life, he is talking about our spiritual rebirth and its continuation. We walk as those who have been raised from death into life.

    I believe the passage in 1Thessalonians 4 is talking about physical death and resurrection. Those who "sleep" are those who have departed this earthly life. He says that when Christ comes, they will be resurrected (Probably with new resurrection-type bodies). Those who are on earth at the time, will be transformed (have their bodies changed into resurrection-type bodies)

    The stunt, of course, is to determine in all cases when Scripture is talking about physical life and death and when it is talking about spiritual death and life.

  5. It is difficult, or almost impossible, for us to understand what it meant by eternity, since we live in a time and space continuum. Eternity is more than infinite time ("for ever and ever"). A friend of mine in seminary defined eternity as : "What God wants." Really, eternity is a description of Who God is. Eternity transcends time. We catch glimpses of the meaning of eternity as we walk closely with Jesus and begin to know the Father through Him.

    When we receive Jesus, we break out of time and into eternity. They who believe in Jesus have eternal life (John 6:47). Those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life (John 6:50). Jesus' sheep hear His voice and He gives them eternal life (John 10:21). Eternal life is a gift of God (Rom 5:21; 6:23). God gave us eternal life and this life is in His Son. (I John 5:11). Eternal life is not dependent on our physical life, it is not dependent on time, it is not dependent on the limitations of our earthly existence. It begins when we accept Jesus, and it continues beyond time and space limitations. Our life after this physical death is simply a continuation of the eternal life that we have experienced in Jesus since our conversion.

  6. The part in I Thessalonians about those who sleep and those who rise up has to do with the physical or natural life. Paul is saying that we should not be upset if some of our Christian friends have died the physical death. At Christ's coming, they will be physically resurrected and will continue their eternal life in God's end time purposes . Christians, who are still physically alive at the time of His coming will join with those who have been resurrected at His coming. All will go out to welcome Him at His coming and will return with Him as He comes to establish His Kingdom in its fullness on earth.

  7. A lot of the confusion can be illuminated if we can clear our minds of the "rapture" theory based on the vision of the little girl, Margaret McDonald in Scotland. This vision does not agree with Scripture. I wasn't around when you all discussed this earlier, so I undoubtedly missed something and maybe should not be bringing this up now. But I notice it keeps being mentioned and seems to interfere with clear thinking in other matters. There is no "rapture" in Scripture. The word rapture means ecstasy, not flying away to avoid trouble on earth. I had the advantage of learning about this theory in Indonesia where the word used as equivalent with the English word "rapture" is penyingkiran which means removal, setting to one side, or taking away. Even this is not really scriptural, though it may be more defensible.

    Jesus taught that those who endured to the end (not those who got taken our to the way) would be saved.

    When Jesus comes again, it would be unwise for the saints to take off some place. If they go out as far as a cloud to meet Him, they ought then to come on back down to earth where He is planning to establish His Kingdom in its fullness. If they take off some place, they will miss all the fun and find themselves separated from Him and His purposes.

  8. All right, let's look at the word saved. The Greek verb sozein which is variously translated, saved, healed, delivered, made whole, means being rescued from something: sickness, death, demon possession, sin, or trouble of any kind. This can very often be the first part of the process of being born again. But Scripture also links our ultimate salvation with the continuation of the whole process of the Christian life: acceptance of the demands of discipleship, entire sanctification, walking in the Spirit, witnessing for Christ, becoming a party of the Body of Christ, doing the greater works Jesus recommended, being formed as the perfect Bride of Christ, enduring to the end. Being born is not the ultimate in Christian maturity any more than the birth of a child is the end of that child's life..

  9. What about judgment? Judgment is spoken of in a number of ways, and I have more questions than answers.

    Jesus said that those who did not believe (that is, who resisted understanding or accepting Who He is) were already judged. In John 5, Jesus is quoted as telling the unbelieving Jewish leaders about His authority to judge. He speaks of this judgment in the present tense, implying that right then and there He could pass judgment. The implication seems to be that the future final judgment is a continuation or culmination of the judgment that happens all along.

    Jesus also talks about the disciples' judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:18). When does this happen?

    There is a judgment that is intended to be corrective. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul exercises his right as an apostle to speak this kind of judgment and in fact encourages the congregation to exercise this kind of judgment.

    Final judgment is, of course, in the hands of the Lord. I imagine that, at Judgment Day, we will be in for some surprises.

  10. I don't know where people get the idea that Christians "go to heaven" when they die. I don't seem to remember any Scriptures that state this clearly. I do know a lot of Scripture that says that we are already in the heavenly realm (for example, Ephesians 2:6, Hebrews 12:22 ff). This agrees more and more with my experience.

  11. I suspect that the Lord has deliberately made the eschatological aspects of the final judgment difficult to put into a clear order of events. I find that eschatology is easier to see as it unrolls than ahead of time.

    I have written more than I intended to. I know that it is not very well organized and some of it is probably not adequately thought through. But I hope it will give some of our friends some food for thought and prompt some further responses.

    In Jesus' love

    Edwin Stube

    Hi Jay, I really don't have time today to write this in any detail but the issue of a second judgement has come up. I was watching a documentary by a Toronto Jew who was in search of the lost tribes of Israel. This man is a world class documentary filmmaker and a serious seeker of truth. He was able to locate many tribes that still had not returned to Israel. Now from his Point of view he had to ask if there were any Levite priests available to serve in the restored temple. He was able to identify a group on an island off the coast of Africa in the Mediterranean Sea. The visuals were of them worshiping and dancing, and proclaiming the coming of their Messiah.

    I was touched by the sincerity of their desire for the Lord. They were real seekers, and I asked the Lord what He was going to do. This is what I understood Him to say.... The time of the gentiles is not over until He returns and comes as the Messiah for Israel. The temple will be established in Jerusalem and Jesus will rule and reign there for 1000 years. All that is promised to the Israel for a physical deliverer will happen. There is a physical manifestation of His kingly rulership and a spiritual. There is a spiritual judgement and a physical judgement. There is a spiritual temple (our hearts) and a physical temple. There is a physical covenant (old) and a spiritual covenant (new). When Jesus returns He will be the Messiah coming to deliver Israel. There is a 1000 years in which the Spiritual temple (His people) will assist Him in His rule, then a judgement.

    Paul Weigel

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