Check out parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.
This final post deals with some of the "so what?" questions that come up in my mind as we talk about the resurrection of the body. Many people can't figure out why it matters, so I hope to deal a little bit with that.
Some qualifying thoughts…
1. In this whole discussion of future benefits of Christ’s resurrection, we should not lose sight of the fact that there are present benefits as well. Since Christ has defeated sin, we can be free from sin today. Romans 6 carries out this thought. Paul hints at this in 1 Cor 15:17.
2. None of this is to deny the temporal nature of “the way things are.” We are told time and time again not to cling to the temporary pleasures of today.
What does it matter?
1. Because the Bible says so. This may appear flippant, but it really isn’t. If the Bible says that we will be resurrected, then we ought (at the very least) assume that it is important. This is especially true when we consider that this is the very completion of our salvation!
2. True reversal of what happened in the Garden of Eden. This is clearly seen in Revelation 22. “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there by any curse” (22:2-3). God’s plan is to reverse the curse that was levied against Adam and Eve in the Garden. The imagery of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21-22 intentionally echoes the Garden- and is even better!
3. God is not settling for plan B. By affirming that God’s original proclamation of creation as “good” and His desire to restore creation, we affirm that God is not simply a troubleshooter who had His plan thrown off track by those pesky humans. True, humans have marred creation with their rebellion. But even man’s worst rebellion has not ruined the inherent goodness in creation and its original worth to which God will restore it.
4. Helps reclaim eschatology in the Church. Much of the discussion on eschatology in American Christianity is dominated by talk about dates, tribulation, the Anti-Christ, the rapture, etc, that the hope that permeates the NT can be lost. Throughout the NT, Christ’s 2nd coming is seen as something to be longed for and a motivator for action. While most would agree, they still seem to get stuck on details the NT gives little information about and miss the victory that comes at the end. I find it heartbreaking the discussion of the “end times” tends to lead to confusion, fear or apathy (or some combination of these)- yet none of these were ever the intention of the NT authors!
5. There is comfort in knowing where we are going. It is interesting to note that where we go when we die is not where we will live forever. Where we go when we die is an intermediate state. Granted, it seems to be a wonderful place in the presence of God (Phil 1:23, 2 Cor 5:8). But that should make us long for what is beyond even that. If dying and going to heaven right now is better than this life, then how much better will living in a re-created world be!
In Romans 8, we see that Paul finds comfort during present sufferings in the fact that is “glory that will be revealed in us” (v18). But, note that the glory he is referring to is the redemption of our bodies- not simply dying and going to heaven right away (as true as that is). How different this is from the consolation we often give to others in suffering!
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we see that Paul comforts those who have lost loved ones- not by informing them that “they’re in heaven now”, but by reminding them that someday, Jesus is coming back and all His people will be reunited forever. This is, essentially, 1 Corinthians 15 in miniature. Yet, we consistently comfort those who mourn with thoughts about them being in heaven, which is comfort, to be sure. But, we are comforting them with something less than what God has planned!
6. There is value to the created order. In much of Greek philosophy the created order was something to be looked down upon. There was a higher spiritual existence that fair exceeded what we see here on earth. When one dies, their souls are transported to some disembodied existence where they remain forever. However, in the Bible, God values what He has created. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising since He declared it all “good” when He first created it. Apparently, He values it enough that He was to see it completely redeemed.
This has some practical implications. First, in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul deals with the Corinthians who thought that the physical body was meaningless, therefore one has the right to do what they want with it (good Greeks that they were). Paul counters by pointing out that God is “for the body” and intends to raise us as He rose Christ from the dead (v14). Since God places such value on the body, so ought we.
Second, by analogy, we can make the same connection to creation as a whole in Romans 8. If God cares enough about the created order to redeem it fully, then we ought to care enough about it to honor it now, just as we should with our own bodies.
7. We share what belongs to Christ. This is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated aspects in modern Christianity. Those who are in Christ are “co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17). Christians have an inheritance with Christ (because of Christ). This is seen here in resurrection. Christ has won victory over death, and shares that victory with His people- that is, they are raised from the dead just as He was.
There are other places with similar ideas. For instance, in Daniel 7 the Son of Man receives an eternal kingdom and is worshipped by the nations. In that same chapter, the saints also receive the kingdom- but are not worshipped. In Ephesians 1, Paul says that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies. In chapter 2, Paul says Christ’s people are also seated in the heavenlies- but not at the right hand of the Father. The examples of Daniel 7 and Ephesians 1 show us that Christ shares in His victory, although there are certainly limits. In the same way, Christ shares His resurrection with His people.
In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul says that he wants to participate with Christ in His sufferings and “somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” In the next chapter, Paul talks about how Christians “eagerly await” Christ’s return when He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (3:20-21). This echoes what Paul says in Romans 8:17- “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Christ shares His glorious resurrection with His people. That is what it means to be “in Christ.”
8. Treats death for what it really is- an enemy. There are hints in the church of the popular notion that death is just the beginning of a new journey (see Gandalf in LOTR). While our life as Christians certainly doesn’t end at death, the Bible itself treats death as an enemy that must be defeated. Death is not a part of God’s original plan for creation, it was the consequence of human sin. We know this by nature as well; death doesn’t simply feel like a new beginning. It hurts. It should; it’s a consequence of rebellion against God.
9. The resurrection points to the total view of the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God” is the primary focus of Jesus’ preaching. Contrary to much of popular Christian opinion, this kingdom is not simply a matter of collected souls for some disembodied existence. Rather, it is His kingdom here on earth. This kingdom is inaugurated in Jesus, and is carried out through the Church. This kingdom involves feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. In understanding that God’s people will be resurrected in (imperishable) bodily form, we see that this is the final “installment” of the kingdom.
Part of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was His healings; these 2 things cannot be separated. In God’s kingdom, sickness & demon possession are seen for what they are- not a part of God’s original plan. In Jesus, these problems begin to reverse. As Jurgen Moltmann stresses, the kingdom of God- when it has fully arrived- is the restoration of the natural (original) order of things: “Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded” (The Way of Jesus: Christology in Messianic Dimensions p99). These miracles point to what is to come- Moltmann says “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p65). Resurrection is ultimate healing- it fully restores what has been destroyed.
10. Avoids an “incomplete redemption.” The common view of “life after death” understands redemption as souls going to heaven. However, God’s plan of redemption is far more complete than that. He has not only given people souls, but bodies. Those bodies are affected by sin just as the soul is. God’s plan is not to discard what has been marred by sin, but to redeem it and set it free.