Jesus (almost) Ignored the Afterlife
Then Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” – Luke 19:9 (NRSV)
Jesus rarely talked about the afterlife. It just wasn’t a major aspect of his teaching. When he did broach the subject, the afterlife was determined by behavior not by belief.
This might come as a surprise. Listening to some Christian leaders, we might conclude that Jesus talked about the afterlife nonstop, advocating people everywhere to accept him as personal Lord and Savior (a phrase that occurs exactly zero times in the Bible) thereby securing one’s place in heaven over hell.
Jesus rarely spoke about the afterlife because he was too busy preaching about salvation, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven as present realities. The Luke 19:9 text is only one example. Jesus said to Zacchaeus “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Today. Right now.
Salvation was not the result of a confession of belief about Jesus. It was revealed in Zacchaeus’ pledge to change his life and business.
I affirm the afterlife. It seems clear that Jesus did too. It also seems clear that the divine reality of whatever comes “after” overlaps with the here and now.
If belief matters, it matters only insofar as it changes our lives for love.
Holy One, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.