The custom of commemorating all the saints of the Church on a single day goes back at least to the third century. All Saints Day celebrates the baptized people of God, living and dead, here and around the world, on Earth and in Heaven, who make up the Body of Christ. On this festival, many Christian congregations remember the faithful who have died during the past year and celebrate with anticipation their and our transformation on the Last Day, the day of resurrection.
While we may face death with fear, the liturgy and the texts appointed for All Saints Day call us to hear the Lord’s promise. He is with us in life and in death and, in the end, “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
1 John 3:1-3 begins with our status “in Christ” and concludes with an eschatological reflection which causes the reader to ponder, “What is Heaven going to be like?” Indeed, what are we going to be like, “when he appears?” John’s reflection explodes three popular misnomers about eternal life (a quality of existence—divine life, not a quantity of time, per se). First (and this is where everything gets derailed) the goal or purpose of salvation is not so your spirit, when you die, goes to Heaven. Second, because the goal or point of salvation is misplaced, there is a misunderstanding about what Heaven is like right now. This yields a third error, namely how Heaven—as many people understand it—is not the end of the story. There is life after life-after-death that must be recognized as the end of the story and what Heaven will really be like.
The first thing John wants his readers to know is exactly who and what we are. So, he opens with an exclamation in v.1: “Behold! Consider how lavish is the love which the Father has showered upon us!” John’s excitement invites us to lay hold of this above all else: the lavish love of God. It is the lavish love of God which has motivated the Father to claim us as His children. There is a great gospel word in here and it is the word “given” (ESV). God’s love is not simply exhibited toward us, but imparted to us, “given to us.” And it is this imparted gift of God, the impart love of God, that makes us His children. This is where we have to begin if we are going to understand anything about life after death.
Additionally, it is astonishing that God’s love is showered upon us—we poor, miserable sinners. We deserve anything but divine love and grace and mercy because of our sinfulness and idolatries. Yet, the Lord loves those who otherwise would and should be unlovable.
The extent of God’s love, which has graciously been showered on believers through the washing of the water with the Word, is our inalienable possession we have as a baptized believer. This divine love and divine giving of Christ results in our justification. In fact, the gospel language here is much stronger than the language of, “God so love the world,” in John 3:16. It is this lavish love of God in and through Jesus the Son that results in us being called God’s children. And this, John says, is what we are! In God’s giving, you are justified by grace and changed, regenerated through divine self-giving.
The lavish nature of God’s love is indicated by the fact that He, as Father, is the author of our being adopted as sons and daughters through Holy Baptism. Why have you been adopted as sons and daughters? Because of the lavish love of God. And it is in this we find the nobility of the Christian’s position and our identity: baptized believers are children of Him who is God.
John describes God’s relationship to His believing people as “Father” to “children.” The description is significant both as an indication of God’s personal and loving nature and as a definition of the resulting status of Christians. We are God’s children and members of His household: not only in name, but also in fact. There is a twofold reality here to be taken into consideration. First, consider how and what God does to make us His children. He sends His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, to be us, to live as us, to do what we are supposed to do but never do, to fulfill the righteousness to which we are called and never obtain and, what is more, to bear the penalty for our treason. In other words, the Father sends the Son to be us so we may be His sons and daughters also.
But how did He send the Son? He sent Christ in the likeness of human flesh. This is why He was, “born of a virgin.” It is critically important to always hold before your auditors how Christ redeemed us in the flesh and that, indeed, even our flesh shall be redeemed. There is no greater proof of this than His own resurrection. God did not save us by mere edicts pronounced in the sky or waving a magic wand. He came here clothed in our flesh. He lived the life we do not. He bore the penalty we should. Salvation was accomplished when a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, was nailed to a tree and three days later clamored out of a tomb with a transformed human body as a real historical fact. John turns our eyes to an actual historic event, person, place, where God accomplished the salvation of the world. Jesus saves human bodies because we know His body was redeemed when it broke out of a hillside tomb.
We are saved in both spirit and body by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross He said at the moment of His death, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And so, His spirit immediately went to be with the Father in Paradise. Jesus uses the word “paradise” (remember how our Lord told the thief on the cross he would be with Him that day in “paradise”). Jesus provides the exact pattern for what happens to us upon death: our spirits go to paradise, which we like to call “Heaven.” This is what is properly meant by, “life after death.”
But that is not all. There is another life after “life-after-death.” On Easter morning, by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus’ spirit re-entered His transformed and glorified human body, the same body born of a virgin, only this time the Holy Spirit had perfected it and altered its properties so it would be capable of immortality and habitation in the spiritual dimension of reality. Simply put, Jesus saves our bodies too. The proof of life after life-after-death is the resurrection of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what the ultimate goal of salvation is all about. Jesus was saving us and this world in the totality of our being: body and spirit, the entire living soul and, moreover, the very planet itself. God is committed to this physicality. He created it. He clothed Himself in it. He saved it and resurrected it. If Jesus got out of the grave then all those united to Him will get out of the grave, or the ocean, or wherever, and be transformed. God transforms the body and the spirit. As Christ is so we shall be.
This is why Holy Baptism is so graphic: infants and adults alike are symbolically drowned; their bodies and spirits put to death by being united with Christ’s crucifixion. This is not something merely internal, an asking Jesus into your heart. It is external, physical. It happens to you in the totality of your person. You are baptized body and spirit. Your whole soul undergoes a death to crucify the old nature with Christ. Then the soul emerges from the waters. The waters wash down over you, body and spirit. This is a graphic pledge and effectual uniting with the resurrection of your spirit. As it becomes, “born again,” and, “born from above,” the Holy Spirit now inhabits what was once unholy, but it is also the pledge and effectual uniting with the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul is explicit about this in Romans 6. Peter is graphic about it in 1 Peter 3. And here, John is explicit too.
What our resurrected bodies will be like is, for now, as mysterious as the incarnation and the Holy Trinity. Notwithstanding, “we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him.” A threefold sequence of events is anticipated all based upon the fact of the Son of God really being human, died and rose again: “He will appear; we shall see Him as He really is; we shall be like Him.” Bodily resurrection is still in the future for everyone except Jesus. Paul is quite clear in 1 Corinthians 15:23: “Christ is raised as the first-fruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ will be raised as He has been raised.”
“Going to Heaven when you die,” is not held out in the New Testament as the main goal. The main goal is to be bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. If we want to speak of, “going to Heaven when we die,” we should be clear this represents the first, less important, stage of a two-stage process. That is why it is also appropriate and perhaps better to use the ancient word “Paradise” to describe the same thing.
Therefore, according to the Bible, the ultimate destiny of Christians is bodily resurrection, an event which has not yet happened. This means all such persons are currently in an intermediate state, somewhere between death and resurrection in Heaven or Paradise. There are no category distinctions between Christians in this intermediate state. All are in the same condition. All are “saints.” Your departed loved ones, along with the saints of old are in Paradise with the Lord. There is no such thing as purgatory. There never was.
So, what is Heaven right now? It is an antechamber to the completion of our redemption, the resurrection of our bodies, when Christ returns to fully and completely establish Heaven on Earth visibly, tangibly, totally. Better stated, Heaven or Paradise is a staging area for the global invasion of the departed saints and Christ the King of the world.
The saints in Paradise are waiting, keeping one eye on the time and another eye on the evangelistic efforts of the Church. They are waiting and, by what we read in the Book of Revelation, they are a bit zealous, eager for God to wrap things up on the Earth, so His Name might be glorified, and His will be fully done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Heaven, then, will be on Earth. Just as Revelation says: the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem will descend and rest upon the Earth and it will be here that Christ will rule and reign for ever and ever among the people He has redeemed in the totality of their bodies. This is why we confess in the Apostles’ Creed: we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Everlasting life is embodied life and the realm in which persons shall live eternally embodied is right here on the new Earth.
The Christian assurance that, in the end and in glory, we shall see God in Christ and become like Him (v 2), has practical and ethical implications for the present. While we will never become completely like Jesus until, “we see Him as He really is” (v 2b), this very certainty supplies a challenge for the believer to become like Christ now (cf. 2:6). “Everyone who has this hope in Him keeps himself pure, just as He is pure.” The idea of hope (the confident expectation that, in Christ, the believer will at the end share fully in God’s eternal life) is an incentive to pureness of living in the present. The exact significance of, “keeping oneself pure,” in this context is indicated by the next section (introduced by v 4), which sets out the conditions for living as a true member of God’s family: the renunciation of sin and the pursuit of pure living. The hope of being like Christ in the end, that is to say, should inspire (and can produce) Christ-like behavior even now. But hear this Gospel: when you do not (and that is all the time) it was the lavish love of God which made us the children of God. And so, we are.
ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατήρ (what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us. ποταπός) is not a question but rather an expression of admiration at something so wonderful (cf. for example, Matt 8:27; Mark 13:1).
ἀγάπην διδόναι only here; διδόναι is more significant than ἐνδεικνύναι or a similar expression. It means: “to give, to bestow.” God has made His love our property, our possession.
διὰ τοῦτο ὁ κόσμος οὐ γινώσκει ἡμᾶς. διὰ τοῦτο refers back to the preceding thought, namely because we are children of God.
οὐ γινώσκει means: “does not know us,” i.e. our inner nature, which we as τέκνα Θεοῦ possess, is to the world something incomprehensible.
All Saints Resources:
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching I John 3:1-3
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I John 3:1-3.
Additional Resources for Proper 26:
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.