“For if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:16-18
It is quite clear that the resurrection of Christ is the one event upon which our entire faith rises or falls. Paul, quoting from an early creedal statement, says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “According to the Scriptures,” would of course be referring to the Old Testament Prophets.
The Pharisees often debated with the Sadducees whether or not resurrection could be a reality. Many Jews confidently believed that God would renew his creation and restore what was lost. But not even the Pharisees expected the resurrection to happen until the final Day of the Lord.
The resurrection of Christ even took his closest disciples by surprise. Jesus goes before us all by being the “firstborn among the dead” (Col. 1:18). The apostle Paul believed in this resurrection, not only in the possibility of it, but in the reality that he had indeed seen the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus (Acts. 9).
“It’s one thing to believe it. It’s another thing to see it.” ~Benjamin Linus, LOST, “Dead is Dead” season 5, episode 12 (Ben’s response to seeing John Locke alive again.)
For a person to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to accept that they too will pass from death to a new bodily existence at the second parousia (i.e. “coming”) of Christ. Jesus himself passes from an earthly body to a real “spiritual body” and promises that those who follow him shall do the same (Jn. 11:25).
Jesus not only spoke of this new existence, but he allowed his closest followers to witness the glorious transfiguration, and later his visible presence in his resurrected body (Matt. 17; Lk. 24:36-49).
According to Paul, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred” people in this new body. And at the time of Paul’s writing, these folks were “still living” and you could go talk to them yourself (1 Cor. 15:6).
Life After Death
Contemporary visions of the “afterlife” stand in stark contrast to the uniquely Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead. Let’s take a moment to briefly examine what others believe about the divine destiny of man.
We have already seen the Platonic or Gnostic vision of the immortality of the soul. This view seeks to emphasize the individual. In this vision, our lives culminate at death when the soul is released from the body and we are freed from the imperfections of the material world.
According to this view, discarding the body is necessary to reach the world of eternal ideas and touch the divine.
Another prominent view teaches that we all are destined for a blended union with the divine. Proponents of this idea, often known as monism, believe that God is impersonal and lacks personal distinctions. To become “one” with the divine is actually to lose all of your own personality and be absorbed in with the “great spirit” in the sky.
This view undermines the personhood and character of God as well as the personal nature of human beings.
Reincarnation goes a step further in this idea of union with the divine. According to this view, we do not blend with the divine immediately, but after a series of “rebirths” that continue until the soul has reached perfection. Since this cycle of rebirths is actually never-ending, life is ultimately meaningless. It believes the real person to be only the soul that moves from body to body.
Reincarnation denies the perfect God-created union of spirit, soul, and body.
Finally, we can’t leave out those who believe that a person simply ceases to exist upon death. This belief may just be the saddest of all things a person chooses to embrace. Believing that everything ceases at death rejects the created order left by God to lead us to knowledge of himself (Rom. 1:20). And it denies that internal longing for life beyond the grave.
This person should stop to observe the seasons. Winter can be dreadful, but Spring is forthcoming.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:51-52
Somehow believers have failed to recognize that Scripture teaches that the culmination of our earthly life is found in the future resurrection of the dead when the Lord will break through from heaven and establish his Kingdom upon the earth. They have missed John’s revelation of the Holy City “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).
Instead, many have embraced an eschatological view that propagates some of the tenants of the pagan ideas already discussed. We see this most clearly in Christian funerals and popular teachings on the eschaton (i.e. “last things”) from the pulpit and the pen of preachers everywhere.
Pop-culture Christianity teaches a distorted view of death and the last days. And I believe it is partially born from a resistance to suffering in the New Testament fashion. We say we have the Kingdom in mind through “winning the culture” by legislating sin, when in reality we don’t wish to rely on the foolishness of the cross and suffer as Christ in patient love. We, like the world, are fighting against death instead of embracing it with hope in the resurrection.
American Christianity has made it possible for us to look past Paul’s words, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12) and “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29). We have built for us a faith that wants nothing but comfort in this world, only to turn and grieve in sorrow as the world grieves.
We have failed to know the true hope that comes by first confronting the ugliness and reality of death. To cope with the “sting” of death we resort to absurd beliefs that are more reflective of pagan teachings than they are of our distinctly Christian hope in the resurrection.
How can we know the victory until we have felt the defeat? Death has “lost its sting” because of the finished work of Christ (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:55). Why would we ever use language that takes away from that work?
Evangelical Christianity has largely adopted pagan ideas of the “afterlife” that allows us to continue propagating the “no suffering for me” theology.
The Left Behind Series has done much to further the idea that what we all need is to escape or be “raptured” from this evil world and our lowly, decrepit bodies for a future “spiritual” existence on the other side of the cosmos.
Meanwhile, we are learning to care less and less about the soul of a terrorist, genocide, and the many ways we are destroying the planet.
What does it matter when the Christian life can be summed up in “going to heaven when you die”… which translates: this world isn’t so important after all. We can hardly see the urgency and the importance of it because the Gospel has been mixed with worldly political agendas.
You have heard it many times at funerals before and probably have said it yourself at some point: “they are in a better place… they have gone home.” Our hymns even reflect this Platonic idea of the soul’s escape from the body. “I’ll fly away O glory… when I die hallelujah by and by… I’ll fly way!”
Really? Are we flying away or are we awaiting the resurrection of the dead for a new existence when heaven comes to earth? If we are flying away, where are we going? Cause I’m not too sure I want to go there anymore.
Does this sound like a teaching that reflects our hope in the resurrection of the dead? Is it a development or a deviation from the Gospel that testifies that someday soon heaven will break through to this groaning earth and God’s reign will be known among the nations? According to the New Testament, it’s a clear deviation from the Gospel of “peace on earth.”
Why do we insist on furthering a dim view of the Christian hope?
We should stop and reconsider our anticipation in the resurrection of the dead when a believer is struck by the awfulness of death. In a better place, I’m sure, but “home,” I should think not. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, sure. (Lk. 23:42-43; Rom. 8:38-39; Phil. 1:23). But who can be home when they are separated from their body?
It is in the climatic event of resurrection that we shall enter our rest.
“The doctrine of the resurrection affirms that we do not enter into the fullness of eternity apart from the body, but only in the body.” Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, pg. 588
When we reduce the Gospel to a few clichés and water it down with pagan ideas of life after death, all that is left is to convince our neighbors that hell is hot and that they better hop aboard the J-train before it shoves off headed past a few stars to the right and on till morning. Are we followers of Christ or members of the Heaven’s Gate cult?
If we believe there is life after death without the body, then we have greatly misunderstood our hope in the resurrection of the dead. All the saints past and present await the coming judgment and resurrection of the dead. It is as if all of creation is on the edge of its seat crying out for that passing from death to life (Rom. 8:22; Rev. 6:9-11).
Heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”
“Now, at the climax of God’s salvation in the bodily resurrection of believers, the final enemy is defeated, the final victory won.” Michael S. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, pg. 281
Until heaven comes to earth and God remakes the world for our new resurrected existence, we live in that hope. We live to testify of the coming Kingdom of God that is already, but not yet. Winter is here and the times are dreadful, but Spring is coming!
Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part III
May 24th, 2009 at 11:27 pm
Excellent post David! I am looking forward to Part III!
May 25th, 2009 at 6:14 pm
I guess I’m going to have to break down and read Wrights Surprised by Hope..haha. Great stuff man
“Until heaven comes to earth and God remakes the world for our new resurrected existence… we live in that hope. We live to testify of the coming Kingdom of God that is already, but not yet. Winter is here and the times are dreadful, but Spring is coming!”….that’s great! Love it!
May 28th, 2009 at 4:23 am
It has been a pleasure reading your work on this blog and this series has been particularly interesting. I tumbled to your blog by way of Frank Viola’s a little while back and have been impressed with not only the depth of thought, but the intestinal fortitude it has taken to make the choices you have made. You have my love and respect as a brother in our Lord.
This series has given voice to some thoughts I have been tossing around in my own head. What you have written here is an astute and accurate commentary on the Christian subculture that exists here in America. You are absolutely correct in identifying the eschatology and “foreign” views on death and “afterlife” currently held by much of that subculture as the drivers for misunderstanding the Resurrection. So many in “the Christian bubble” (a phrase I use often to describe my own formative experiences 🙂 have no grasp or perspective on the fact that the views they hold are very “young” and largely unsubstantiated in church history. The very unfortunate results, however, are the fruits that these views bear.
I look forward to the conclusion of this series and of more to come. Thanks brother!
May 28th, 2009 at 4:33 am
Ray, thank you for your wonderful words of encouragement. I needed them when I received them. Thank you!
I am also blessed to hear a bit of your own journey. I look forward to hearing from you at the close of the series.
May 29th, 2009 at 6:50 am
Great series. Why not just come out and say that premillenialism is a flawed doctrine? You are approaching that in many ways, but I think it needs said more explicitly. I also have to take issue with your apparent glossing over of 2Cor5:6-8 “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (KJV)” To say it is “nowhere in the Bible” is not really accurate and opens your argument to easy criticism. Better would have been an explanation of the verses in context with 2Cor4, 1Thes4, and 1Cor15. This way you could easily correct the misinterpretation of “going to heaven when we die”.
Also, you might have Part 3 already done, but if not, maybe you could readdress the problems with penal substitution? From my perspective, substitutionary atonement in in error because it emphasizes Christ’s death over his resurrection. In fact, it does not even need or require resurrection. It is flawed in that it sees Christ’s saving work as completely finished on the cross. Any discussion of the importance and centrality of the resurrection must rightly include atonement theory, no? 🙂
I love your words and ideas here. Definitely in the vein of “Surprised By Hope”, and a continuing discussion that is much needed.
May 29th, 2009 at 1:33 pm
Thanks for following.
I would like to address so much more in my posts than I have. Unfortunately, I must be mindful of the length so that others are not discouraged from reading.
Where I said, “to be absent from the body IS to be present with the Lord” is indeed “nowhere” to be found in the Scripture. Of course I believe this is open for criticism, as is a great deal of what I write, but it is a truthful statement. What I believe Paul to be saying in 2 Cor. 5:1-10 is not to make a theological point of any kind, but to encourage the believers in “So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (v.9). To be clear, the point I am trying to make is that “home” IS referred to as being in the body AND in being with the Lord. We shall not say with confidence that to be with the Lord in some bodiless existence is home at all.
Finally, my submission is that many believers seem to have “home with the Lord” as the end of their journey. But we can’t truly be home until the resurrection of the dead. I will deal with this more in the final post. I will address “being home in heaven” in more detail. If you have read Wright, as I agree with him, you know that “heaven” is not our eternal home. And this is usually what believers have in mind when they proof-text Paul.
Ken, I am a teacher. I prefer to not always come out and say things as explicit as others would like. I hope folks will draw their own conclusions and connect the dots. I actually think that at times we can turn others away and contribute to the building up of walls when we make such “explicit” opposing statements. I do not wish for doors to close without someone first having a new thought on the matter. I hope that makes sense.
I will be posting Part III next month. It will be a bit longer than the first two. I am still deciding what I will include and how it is best to communicate the living that should be born from understanding our true hope in the resurrection. Thanks again and I look forward to your comments on the final chapter of the series. Peace, bro.
May 29th, 2009 at 2:33 pm
Hello brother, good to hear your thoughts. I agree (and David, no we are not trying to write you third installment for you! :)) that looking at atonement views might also play into this topic quite well. I personally find issue with the PSA argument when it is the only leg given for the atonement to stand on. I tend to view the atonement of Christ as such a huge, reality shattering event that I lean on not viewing the various atonement theories as completely “either-or.” I think this is another one of those wondrous “tension” arguments that we all love (and, unfortunately, beat each other about the head over).
All of that to say, to tie in atonement theories with eschatology and “afterlife” beliefs currently held by much of the American church might help to continue to explain where it deviates from the “the Apostles teaching.” Wow, that was a very long, very compound sentence. 🙂 I shall now cease and desist and get back to getting the house ready for the in-laws to be here. Thanks guys!
May 29th, 2009 at 2:43 pm
I will keep this in mind when I’m writing the final piece. Thanks for the input guys.
May 29th, 2009 at 3:03 pm
Thanks David. I understand your reasoning for the lack of explicitness and could learn a bit from your restraint.
And emphasizing the word IS (as you did in your comment) makes your point much clearer than as originally written. There is a group of us who understand what you mean, but that is not who you are trying to teach.
I enjoy following your blog. Keep up the good work!
June 5th, 2009 at 10:40 pm
That was fascinating, David. I was just about to ask about 2 Cor. 5:1-10, but you have already addressed that. This is good stuff to think about. Thanks.
October 14th, 2009 at 2:16 pm
David, peace through Him,
FINALLY, I found a web site that tells it as it is ! I have grown so weary of man’s false doctrines of easyism .
I have been studying His word, through prayer and hard work; for about 45 years now. Thanks be to Him and His Son’s Spirit that I have not been carried away by men’s false paintings.
It is so hard today to try and find a congregation teahing the truth of His word. I have just about given up hope to finding one. Saying this, I still hear inside of men; ” hang on ” .
I, feel, that we must look back to what His disciples and Paul went through before we really start to cry to loud . The congregations of today need to consider this too .
I shutter when I hear; we will soon be taken away from this world anyway; and be flown away into the sky !
Study to show yourself accepted of God, why; He will take care of us anyway you see ! Standard theme for today’s S.B. .
Thank God for Him giving a site where thought may be generated to learn what He really is saying to man.
Blessing In The Christ
October 14th, 2009 at 2:23 pm
I am truly blessed by your encouraging words. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
May the Lord bless you in your pursuit of Him.
November 24th, 2009 at 10:52 pm
Hi David –
I’m wondering about your assertion that the phrase, “absent from the body, present with the Lord” is not found in Scripture. While I take your point as it relates to that exact phrase, I’m thinking of 2 Corinthians 5:6 – 8 and Philippians 1:19 – 25 and would be very interested in your comments.
November 24th, 2009 at 10:56 pm
Thanks for reading. I answered this question in the comments above.
May 15th, 2010 at 2:52 pm
I’ve been thinking about this same subject. I keep thinking of the words of Jesus “the meek will inherit the earth.” Revelation is clear that the New Jerusalem will be here on earth and it’s also clear that God has been wanting to make His abode here on this planet.
I guess my only question is, when we pass away, do we get to be with the Lord until our we receive our resurrected bodies? I’ve heard many views and opinions on this subject and none seem to convince me. Could you possible shed some light on this?
May 15th, 2010 at 5:01 pm
Michael, thanks for reading.
Here is what I wrote to someone recently about the “interim” state between this life and the next:
“I’m not totally convinced that we will not be “conscious” in some form during the interim state (Phil 1:23; Lk. 23:42-43). I have never been comfortable with a total unconscious reality. In talking to Edward Fudge, he described it as a child asleep in the arms of a parent, but sort of able to hear the hum of the lullaby. It would appear that Paul believed this state to be in some way better than the first… (he believed he would be with Christ) still awaiting the resurrection of the dead. I don’t believe we are active in this state, but I don’t know if I am prepared to confidently say that we will be completely unaware of God’s ongoing “love story” work in creation. I do believe we will be aware of his saving love.”
May 15th, 2010 at 11:06 pm
Yes, interesting. This is sort of the view I’ve taken on the subject. Thanks for replying. Keep up the good work in your writings! 🙂