I Go to Prepare a Place for You
Last year many media outlets reported that the famous Chinese terracotta warriors, when originally entombed, were more sophisticated that first thought. Recent excavations show that the beautifully sculptured figures were painted in splendid colors. In addition new excavations have revealed many more burial pits containing replicas of horses and beautiful chariots; real bronze weapons and tools; utensils, gold and silver treasures and artifacts. Archeologists have even discovered palaces, buildings and chambers buried underground. These discoveries give greater understanding about the court and administration of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di.
The burial complex of the first emperor, who lived from 259 to 209 B.C. is located in Lintong county, close to Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Xi’an, was China’s capital city for more than 1,000 years. In and around the ancient capital are the tombs of more than 70 emperors and thousands of other people who were slaughtered and buried with them.
The emperor commenced with this project when he was crowned a minor king at age 13 and work continued until his death 37 years later. It was built at a huge human and financial cost. At one time, according to the Xian Municipal Council1the emperor conscripted around 700,000 craftsmen and convicts for the project. The logistics of keeping them working, fed, watered and quartered must have been staggering! Moreover the skills and materials needed to individually design, sculpt and kiln-fire those thousands of clay figures is a mind-boggling feat. Move over Khufu and Tutankhamen!
Qin Shi Huang Di’s burial complex covers an area of 56 square kilometers and is a staggering accomplishment. The centre of the complex comprised a replica of the imperial city including outer and inner walls, gates, underground palaces and administration buildings, chambers, and the emperor’s tomb. The tomb was buried in a 115 metre high man made mound. It is believed that in this instance too, family members, concubines, guards, generals, courtiers and construction workers were slaughtered and buried with him, to accompany him to the next life ... The emperor even had pre-armed crossbows installed at tomb entrances which would shoot automatically if the tomb was disturbed. The tomb proper will not be opened until Chinese archeologists are confident they will be able to manage their 2200 year old gruesome find without damaging it.
The complex has more than 400 burial pits. Not only were these pits skillfully designed and sealed, but so well camouflaged that they remained undiscovered for some 2200 years. The main burial mound is a vegetated hillock that blends perfectly as a natural part of the landscape. It is one of those curiosities of life that Chinese farmers sweated and toiled, turned the soil, dug wells, built towns and buried their own dead for all that time, oblivious to the vast cemetery that lay just a few meters beneath their feet. Since the 1970s many pits have been opened, including the famous No 1 pit containing over 6,000 soldiers and about 45 chariots with horses, all beautifully constructed and arranged. Today this pit, measuring 230 by 62 meters, is covered by an immense hangar like structure. On entering the building your breath is taken away by the immensity and orderliness of the army. Generals with their splendid steeds, chariots and armed guards face the tomb’s front gates, ready to lead out the immense army behind them. Around the perimeter of the massed army are hundreds of guards facing north, east, south and west.
Qin Shi Huang Di was a tough fighter and a hard, cruel ruler. He was also a man of vision and action. He fought many wars, conquered 6 states and in 221 BC unified the country under his centralized, tyrannical rule. He built the first sections of the Great Wall, he standardized the nation’s writing system, currency and measurements, and developed a network of highways.
Elaborate preparations for the afterlife
This mighty emperor however was not satisfied with the power and glory in this short life. Indeed he craved for immortality, so he made the elaborate preparations for the next life. He left no stone unturned to eternalize himself, his family, advisors, servants, armies, guards, palaces, treasures, horses, chariots and everything else he needed. Indeed the entire arrangement is so thoughtfully ordered and prepared that the overall purpose cannot be mistaken: the king and his well equipped entourage stand ready to spring to life and continue ruling the empire on the other side of the grave.
But on his death he will have discovered it was all in vain; he failed, because we cannot take our material possessions into eternity. Countless others, like the pharaohs of Egypt and king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon likewise discovered the vanity of similar labors.
Ecclesiastes 5:15 says it plainly:
As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand.”
Furthermore Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 32 give a vivid description of what faces ungodly rulers as they enter Sheol.
While rulers of the past made elaborate preparations for death, today we see almost the opposite. In stubborn unbelief many people leave this life with a final act of rebellion against God: they demand that their bodies are cremated. Even in death many want to make a final statement: there is no God and beyond the grave is oblivion, so our bodies shall be annihilated.
Fear and uncertainty
Others fear, even loathe death because they don’t know what to expect beyond the grave. This feeling is clearly expressed in a drawing by Pablo Picasso called “Self portrait facing death”. It was drawn in June 1972 just 8 months before he died. One of Picasso’s close friends, Pierre Daix, who wrote a biography of Picasso,2discussed this drawing with the artist. He uses the words fear, sadness, violence, horror and incomprehension to describe the expression on Picasso’s face. Another commentator uses the word chaos. The intensity of his fear is obvious: the eyes are so wide open that it’s painful. Great uncertainty is also expressed in the eyes; the pupil of one eye is small and the other large. Picasso clearly did not know whether after death he would face darkness (dilating the pupil) or bright light (contracting it). As a man who always rejected the God of Scriptures in his art, Picasso had to admit that his unbelief and stubbornness means there is absolutely no comfort, certainty or hope in death. Perhaps he expressed what most unbelievers carry into the grave.
Today Picasso’s admission, which includes a sizeable dose of honesty, has been surpassed by a trendy but less honest way of dealing with death. You simply don’t focus on it; you just avoid thoughts about what happens at death. Instead you celebrate the life of the deceased. They stay “positive”, keep smiling, listen to upbeat music, but ignore the obvious warnings that come with death.
All these ways to deal with death provide no peace of mind; instead they leave a feeling of uncertainty, unease, dread. Despite the bravado, the preparations, the rebellion, the avoidance, everyone who denies God is uncertain about what happens beyond the grave.
The comfort of the Gospel
In the Gospel of John chapter 14 Jesus tells his disciples He is about to die. He understands the disciples are troubled by this. Therefore He comforts them with this message:
In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.John 14:2-4
See how majestic and beautiful is the gospel of Jesus Christ! In one blow it shatters earthly ways of dealing with death; it takes away concerns, doubts and fears about death. We need not worry about taking silver, gold or replica mansions. Jesus is preparing a majestic place for us! He wants us to be free guests in His mansion which has enough space for all true believers. And there is more: He himself will come again and receive us, not just into the regal mansion, but into His presence! We will not just live in the king’s palace, but live with Him, face to face. Let us also closely consider, as Easter approaches, that Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection made this possible. His shame, anguish and precious blood have reconciled us to God. Today He pleads with the Father for us. When we accept this in true faith He will, at His time, welcome us into His glorious presence.
Need for preparation
We must however also prepare for this. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reveals to us that glorious mystery of the resurrection and says:
...we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Paul, however, concludes this chapter with a practical call to prepare. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).
Paul urges us to stand steadfast, unwavering in the true faith. Today this true faith is summarized in the confessions of the church. Let us not for a moment give any of it away. Don’t get fooled by strange or trendy ideas; don’t have itchy ears; don’t be distracted by trivialities; do not follow the world in its vanities. Instead, abound in the work of the Lord. Get deeper insight into God’s Word and increase your understanding how to apply it in your life. Then together with your brothers and sisters you can strive for what Paul also says in Romans 12:1-2:
present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
When we do this we will receive every assurance and peace of heart that Jesus Christ has ascended to prepare a most beautiful place for us.