“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?" Acts 1:11
As a faculty member in a department of religious studies, I read a lot of essays these days about the nature of religion generally and even about Christianity specifically. One of the most common misconceptions is that the reason people believe in a religion is that they want an answer to what happens after they die, but that modern science has invalidated that belief.
This idea might be accurate for the leaders of ancient Egypt, who seemed obsessed with how they would carry on in the afterlife. But that’s not the only story: if you were to look at many religions of the world—take Confucianism, for example—interest in life after death is about as low a priority as I can imagine. It wasn’t even true for almost all of the Old Testament, which doesn’t have much about life after death. When Jesus comes on the scene in the first century, reason the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead is that they couldn’t locate it in the Scriptures. Even more, it strikes me as false, at least for Jesus and Paul, who are much more interested in how we live today in light of the resurrection.
Jesus, and the Bible generally, just don’t seem that interested in answering every question about the afterlife. As I’ve heard the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright repeat on a number of occasions, we might say, “I’m so glad I get to go to heaven.”
But Jesus’s take is this: “Yes, I have been raised from the dead. There is victory over death, and you can be assured I’ll take you there. For now, get to work.”