In the closing minutes of the movie, Star Wars, Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi, we see an image of the translucent spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker smiling and looking on as (bodily-present) Luke Skywalker and others celebrate their victory over the evil empire. It is not only a depiction of good triumphing over evil, but also of redemption: the same Anakin who redeemed himself before death and now lives on as a “good spirit” for many years lived according to the ways of the “dark side” and could have had a different afterlife outcome, or so we might infer.
This picture of a spiritual vapor-like existence after death is not unlike the image many Christians have of the next world. The makers of Star Wars have created a world in which one’s eternal destiny is purely spiritual, where the ultimate goal may be to become “one with the [spiritual] Force” and thus exist in a higher plane from which to view and possibly interact with the solid world below. But the true God of our real world has a much bigger plan in mind; He has planned a future that is much more like a never-ending homecoming party than like an eternal out-of-body experience.
Here’s what God tells us is really going to happen: While we may exist with Him in some kind of spiritual communion after we die and before Jesus returns (the thief on the cross was told by Jesus, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” that is not the final word. The separation of a soul from his body is not what God intended. It is death, a result of sin, and an evil and lamentable situation. But when the day of the Lord finally arrives, tangible salvation will come to the entire creation. All of God’s enemies who would not accept His Son as Savior will be sent away forever, and so also will disappear pain, death, sin, and all corruption. The entire cosmos will be remade (“a new heaven and a new earth” in Isaiah 65:17) and this paradise will be not only spiritual, but also physical. That’s right physical! Our aged and decayed mortal bodies will be replaced by immortal ones, just as Jesus was raised with a mortal body as the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18).
We will not be Anakin Skywalkers in a sense-deprived purgatory. We will be vibrantly alive, able to touch, able to taste, able to feel, and able to embrace our loved ones and even our Lord with a purity and joy unlike we have ever experienced. All will be in harmony in the universe. Worship will never end. Everything we have ever enjoyed in the past, even our most ecstatic moments, will be like a dim shadow of the awesome prospect of life forever with our God. It will be like C.S. Lewis stated in the closing pages of The Last Battle, which ended his Chronicles of Narnia series. Concerning the main characters arrival into the new creation, Lewis writes, “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Rev. Jason Toman