Hebrews 11:35: Beliefs On A “Better Resurrection” In the Next Life


Posted on September 17, 2023
By Larry Billinger

This past weekend, our pastor delved into an intriguing sermon about our bodies in the next life. One segment of his discourse centered around Hebrews 11:35, which brings forth the concept of some receiving a “better resurrection.” The digital age has its perks: our pastor encourages the congregation to shoot real-time questions and comments during the service. Interestingly, this notion of a “better resurrection” seemed to raise numerous eyebrows and stimulated some questioning inquiries on this belief. This left me pondering – why is this concept challenging for some to grasp? Diving deep into this query sheds light on an array of cultural and theological influences that shape our understanding.

Arguments Against A “Better Resurrection”

Universal Equality in Christianity

The Bible frequently emphasizes the unity of all believers in Christ. Galatians 3:28 elaborates, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Defeating this argument: Given this context, while Galatians 3:28 asserts the essential spiritual equality of all believers in Christ, it doesn’t directly address the nuances of rewards, roles, or “better resurrections” in the afterlife. The verse is about our equal standing and unity in Christ right now, on this side of eternity.

The Nature of God

Our scriptures portray God as just and impartial. Romans 2:11 asserts, “For God does not show favoritism.” This often leads to the belief that heaven will mirror this impartial nature.

Defeating this argument: Romans 2:11 is being taken out of context here and primarily discusses the impartiality of God’s judgment regarding sin and not necessarily about rewards in heaven or the nature of the resurrection. It speaks to the universality of God’s standards, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, is judged righteously.

Reactions Against Earthly Injustice

Given the profound disparities on earth, many hope heaven serves as the ultimate utopia where these inequalities dissolve.

Defeating this argument: Often times the emphasis is often on God’s justice, righteousness, and the righting of wrongs, rather than on creating a uniform experience for all believers. Here are some scriptures that address these themes:

  • Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” This verse highlights the elimination of suffering and pain, pointing to a redemptive, restorative future in heaven.
  • Luke 6:20-21 – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Jesus emphasizes that those suffering now will experience reversal and blessings in the Kingdom of God.
  • Matthew 25:34-36 – “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Here, the acts of righteousness done on Earth, especially to the least and downtrodden, have eternal implications.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17 – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Paul reassures believers that the trials and tribulations they face on Earth are temporary, and they lead to an eternal glory.
  • However, none of these scriptures guarantee a “uniform” experience in heaven. While they emphasize a redemptive, restorative, and righteous future, they don’t negate the possibility of varying rewards or roles based on one’s deeds or faithfulness on Earth, as indicated in other passages.

Other Beliefs

For many Christians, the concept of a “better resurrection” as mentioned in Hebrews 11:35 might be challenging to accept, particularly due to certain theological nuances presented in other religious beliefs, which may have inadvertently influenced or colored their perceptions.

  • Islamic Beliefs: Islam describes Paradise (Jannah) as a reward for those who lead righteous lives. A notable and often misunderstood aspect is the idea of ‘virgins’ or “houris”. Some inaccurately link this only to those martyred in Jihad, creating a skewed perception of Islamic heaven that might make some Christians wary of hierarchical rewards in the afterlife.
  • Mormon Beliefs: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents a detailed structure of the afterlife, suggesting different levels of heaven: Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial. The distinction between these realms is based on one’s earthly actions and decisions. Such a tiered view of heaven might make some Christians uncomfortable, as it introduces the idea of varied experiences in the afterlife, even though all souls are resurrected.

American Idealism

The democratic ideals rooted in America’s foundation, where everyone is considered equal, might inadvertently shape our theological understanding of heaven.

Defeating This Argument: In addressing the argument related to “American Idealism” and its potential influence on the idea of a “better resurrection,” it’s important to distinguish between earthly cultural ideals and biblical teachings. If the democratic values of equality found in American Idealism are wrongly imposed onto biblical theology, they may obscure or misinterpret the original intentions of the scriptures.

Arguments For a “Better Resurrection

  • 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 – “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it… If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” This passage indicates that while salvation is the same for all believers, the rewards can differ based on one’s deeds and the quality of their spiritual work.
  • Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Jesus himself speaks to the idea of rewards being meted out according to deeds.
  • Revelation 2-3 – In Jesus’ letters to the seven churches, He offers different rewards to those who overcome. These rewards range from the right to eat from the tree of life to authority over nations, each reward being distinct.

The Bible emphasizes personal responsibility, faithfulness, and the subsequent rewards or consequences. While salvation is available to all believers, the nature of rewards in the afterlife can be varied based on one’s life, actions, and faithfulness.

Therefore, the assumption drawn from American Idealism that everyone will be “equal” in heaven in every sense might not align entirely with scriptural teachings. While there is foundational equality in the value and worth of every individual, scripture also highlights different rewards and responsibilities in the life to come based on one’s earthly life.

Desire for Simplified Theology

A heaven devoid of earthly complications, including hierarchies, offers solace and simplicity to many.

  • Rewards Based on Deeds (1 Corinthians 3:12-15):
    • In this passage, Paul talks about the foundation he’s laid (which is Jesus Christ) and how others build on it. People can use various materials: gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw. On the day of judgment, each person’s work will be tested by fire. If it survives, they will receive a reward. If it’s burned up, they will suffer loss but will still be saved. This analogy clearly differentiates between the quality of deeds and suggests that there are varying degrees of reward in heaven. The deeds we carry out in our earthly lives, whether big or small, all have consequences in the afterlife.
  • Parables of Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30):
    • The Parable of the Talents is a classic example. A master entrusts his servants with varying amounts of money (or talents). Upon his return, those who have been diligent and made the most of what they were given are rewarded, while the lazy servant faces consequences. Jesus isn’t talking about money but is using this as a metaphor for our spiritual responsibilities. The clear takeaway is that our faithfulness and stewardship on earth have implications for our status and reward in heaven.
  • Crowns and Rewards for Specific Virtues (2 Timothy 4:8 and James 1:12):
    • The New Testament often alludes to crowns awaiting believers. For instance, 2 Timothy mentions the “crown of righteousness” for those who have longed for Jesus’ return. Similarly, James talks about the “crown of life” for those who persevere under trial. These aren’t physical crowns but symbolize specific rewards for certain virtues or trials faced in life.
  • Promises to the Churches in Revelation (Revelation 2-3):
    • In the early chapters of Revelation, Jesus addresses seven churches with both commendations and criticisms. To each church, a unique promise is given to those who overcome their challenges. Whether it’s the right to eat from the tree of life or a white stone with a new name written on it, these rewards suggest a nuanced and varied experience in the afterlife based on earthly faithfulness.
  • Roles and Responsibilities (Revelation 20:6):
    • This verse points out that those in the first resurrection will have significant roles. They’ll be “priests of God and of Christ” and will rule with Him for a millennium. This isn’t just a general promise but a specific role and responsibility, highlighting that there are distinctions in the afterlife based on our commitment and relationship with Christ on earth. It’s similar to when someone is chosen to be a team captain or class representative because of their dedication and leadership qualities.

By analyzing these verses in detail, it becomes evident that the Bible does suggest variations in experiences and rewards in the afterlife. These differences are not arbitrary but are based on one’s faithfulness, deeds, challenges, and relationship with God during their earthly life.

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