This question reaches to the core of some very challenging presuppositions, and the answer is vital to every Christian desiring to be faithful to our Lord and Christ. So to begin, let’s see how scripture defines and characterizes the inheritance we seek. We can begin in 1 Peter 1.
1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Here are my observations:
- Our living hope comes through the resurrection of Christ, a resurrection from the dead.
- The inheritance we hope for is an imperishable one, undefiled and unfading. The language is similar to the Apostle Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 15:24-49.
- It is kept in heaven and guarded faithfully.
- To be revealed at some future time. Does this mean it’s not revealed at our death?
Let’s continue to see what Peter is saying.
1 Peter 1:6-7, 13
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- Any suffering we experience now will result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Christ.
- Likewise the fullness of God’s grace is not experienced until then also (Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28; Revelation 6:12-17).
We can see that he clarifies, and even repeats, that the full grace associated with our inheritance doesn’t come about until the revelation of Jesus Christ. He also clarifies exactly what we can expect at that time.
1 Peter 1:8-9
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
So the salvation some claim today as being received when we die, contradicts what Peter is saying here. He makes it very clear that our expectation of inheritance should be focused on the return and revelation of Jesus Christ, not before.
He finishes up the chapter in the same tone with respect to our inheritance. Here he’s contrasting the perishable seed of Adam, from which we all descend, with the imperishable seed of God, in which our hope is based (1 Peter 1:21-25). The perishable seed is:
- Like grass that withers
- Like flowers that fall and die
- Yet the word and promise of God remains and is trustworthy; to complete the new creation in us what He’s already done in Christ.
The implication from Peter’s letter is that our inheritance, the imperishable salvation of our souls, occurs when Christ appears to the world. Though not consistent with current traditional or denominational Christian teaching, which insists your inheritance of salvation is acquired at death and each believer ascends into heaven, one is forced to ask if what Peter claims is consistent with New Testament scripture?
Look to the Gospel Preached
When we look to the gospel preached in the first century, we see a different focus from what is preached today. Yet it is to the original authors of the scriptures that we must look, since the insight they gained from experience and revelation from Christ, provides a more unfiltered view of the work of God in Christ for us and in us.
When delivering the first gospel message, Peter outlines clearly the process of death and resurrection exemplified in Christ. We can see this outlined in Acts 2.
- This Jesus, though crucified and killed, God raised him up from the dead
- Through resurrection, he gained victory over death, and in immortality he could no longer be held by death’s grip.
- King David prophesied this:
- David’s mortal flesh dwelt in hope – of what?
- That his soul, his mortal life, would not be left in the grave. David foresaw God’s Holy One.
- God will not let his Holy One, the Messiah, see corruption in the grave
- Through this Holy One is the path to life (everlasting life)
- Those who ultimately dwell in his presence are full of gladness
- King David died and is buried. His body did see corruption in the grave, but his hope is in the Holy One.
- David did not ascend into heaven at death (vs 34)
- This is consistent with the claim made by Christ himself – No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
- King David foresaw the resurrection of Christ
- That the Holy One was not abandoned to the grave
- That He would not see corruption (in the grave), being the Son of God (1 Peter 1:3a).
- God raised him from the dead
- King David did not ascend into heaven at death, nor has any man
- Yet the resurrected Lord sits at the right hand of God
- Until such time that his enemies kneel before him
- This Jesus is both Lord and Christ
According to Peter’s understanding and expectations for the Messiah, Yeshua the Christ was delivered up according to the plan and foreknowledge of God that Christ would attain victory and power over death for all (vs 23-24, 37-39). In this Peter shows that the significance of Christ is in his resurrection.
This seems fitting when we look at the example set forth in Christ, the firstborn of many brethren. At what point in the work of Christ did he ascend into heaven?
- Was it in the midst of his suffering?
- Was it at his death?
- Was it during his burial, being in the grave for three days?
- It was after his resurrection to glory!
The Apostle Paul provides a similar example in Acts 13. Though the rejection of the gospel message by the Jews is consistent (and prophetic), Paul was certain it was a necessary step (vs 26, 46-47). What we should find compelling is the response of the Gentiles – the unbelievers who did not know God. They were not considered the people of God, and whose only context for knowledge of God is what they might have heard through association with the Jews.
- Paul first clarifies the underlying purpose to which he is committed – the good news of the gospel (vs 30-33).
- This “begotten Son of God” is made a light for the Gentiles
- That God may bring, and they therefore receive, salvation to the ends of the earth
And how did the Gentiles respond?
- They began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord
- And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region
What was the word of the Lord that they heard from Paul?
Acts 13:26-32 – First many witnessed to the work God did for us in the man, Jesus the Christ
- He is the fulfillment of the message of salvation (even among the Jews, though they did not recognize him)
- Though innocent, they put him to death
- After his death they buried him in a tomb
- But God raised him from the dead
- And he appeared to many around Jerusalem, and these are his witnesses
- This is the good news that God promised to their forefather. He has fulfilled it.
The word that these Gentiles heard was of the faithfulness of God in the death, burial, and resurrection of this man, Jesus. This is the redemptive work of God. Paul then goes on to answer – who is this man Jesus?
- This man, Jesus, is the Son of God
- Begotten by God
- Though he died he did not see corruption
- God promised this through his servant David
- David himself is dead and buried, and saw corruption
- But he whom God raised from the dead did not see corruption
- It is through this man, Jesus, that forgiveness of sins is proclaimed
- Everyone who believes is given freedom (reconciliation)
Later, Paul contrasts the current reality of mortal mankind and death which has power over them, with the eternal life that Christ has accomplished through his sacrifice and resurrection to eternal life. The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 is dedicated to the subject. What Paul makes clear is that without the resurrection of the dead there is no hope for humanity. They will all perish.
1 Corinthians 15:12-18
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
The Message of Scripture
Is this resurrection from death to immortal life the consistent theme throughout scripture? A review of the New Testament reveals nearly three dozen references supporting this same concept introduced to the world by men of faith. I’ll provide a sampling of these.
Fourth Gospel 6:40(1) (41-51) – For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Romans 6:4-5, 8-9
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
2 Corinthians 4:11-14
11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
Philippians 2:16 – holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 3:10-11, 20-21
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
Hebrews 9:15, 27-28
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
1 Peter 1:3-9, 13
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. . . . 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 5:1, 4
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: . . . 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
When faced with the overwhelming evidence of the work in Christ for us and in us, which is to be completed at his return and appearance in glory to the world, one has an obvious choice to make. Do we continue in the traditional and denominational teaching of salvation delivered at death and our ascension into heaven to dwell with Christ, or do we accept the clear teaching of the first-century disciples of Christ?
This was the challenge I was faced with many years ago, and I encourage all those faithful in Christ to invest the time to dig deeper. Does this answer all the challenging questions relating to what happens at death and our hope of glory? No, but it does lay the foundational presupposition from which these other questions must be viewed and answered. Fortunately, God has given us his Holy Spirit to serve as a guide.
At the close of each article, the relevant presuppositions that support it will be cited. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.
- God is proactive and purposeful in all that he does (Matthew 13:34-35; Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 1; 1 Peter 1:18-21)
- God is faithful and will fulfill in those called and chosen what he has already completed in Christ (Fourth Gospel 1:9-13)
- God and his Christ are involved in a redemptive work for humanity.
- A key method in God’s redemptive work involves the offering of reconciliation, redemption, and salvation to eternal life – all through belief in Yeshua as the Son of God.
- Entering into belief in the Son of God we leave behind the state of being under God’s wrath, which exists to humble the proud and correct the deceived. (Fourth Gospel 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; 9:21-23; Isaiah 2:6-22)
- All will have the opportunity to receive God’s righteous judgement and be led into the truth of Yeshua, the Christ, but some will not surrender to truth. (1 Corinthians 15:22-26; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-13; Fourth Gospel 12:44-50; Romans 2:12-16; 11:32; Revelation 20:14-15)
- God’s redemptive work on humanity’s behalf is to save them from the second death, not the first death. (Genesis 2:16-17; Fourth Gospel 3:16-21; 5:24; 6:40; 17:1-3; Romans 5; 6; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Hebrews 9:25-28; Revelation 20:6)
1) Due to the dispute over the authorship of the fourth gospel, typically attributed to John the brother of James and author of the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ, I have concluded on the side of such authors as J. Phillips (ISBN13: 978-0-9702687-3-0) who has shown conclusively John could not be the sole author and instead attribute primary authorship to Lazarus – the disciple whom Christ loved. I will therefore refer to the book as the Fourth Gospel.