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Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III

“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.

Pop-Culture Christianity

“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

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Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part I of III

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:13-14

In Acts 17:16-34, the apostle Paul, while in Athens, was brought to the Areopagus because he was preaching “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” Athens was the center of Greek philosophy. The popular view of resurrection among the Greeks was… well, there wasn’t one. That is of course if you have in mind a physical resurrection from the dead. If a person actually believes that the dead can rise, then no, according to the Greeks, there can be no such thing as “resurrection.”

Greek Philosophy

The Platonic view taught that heavenly bliss was an escape from our physical bodies for a purely spiritual existence where the “shadows” become reality, but only in a disembodied state. No wonder their response to Paul was, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean” (Acts 17:20).

The Greeks, the wisest of the wise, did not accept a literal and physical rising of the dead. Resurrection, or anastasis (lit. to stand again), can only mean a spiritual rebirth or gnosis of the eternal things, not an actual dead body coming to life again. For the Greeks, it goes beyond the belief that a dead person could live again. Rejection of the resurrection was founded in the philosophical idea that the physical world was evil and only a shadow of that pure spiritual realm.

Greek philosophy largely embraced the idea that the soul needed to be freed from the material world of imperfections into the eternal realm of ideas. Some believed this meant there was, therefore, no moral code because material things were of no consequence.

The Corinthian church saw these ideas threatening its community. Immorality was being accepted among the saints, and they were gathering around one or two individuals like unto the way of Greek philosophical practice. This is still popular today.

“Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom…” Paul, 1 Cor. 1:20, 27; 2:6-7

Whether it was of the Stoic or Epicurean flavor, there was no room for Paul’s message of resurrection. According to the Greeks, dead men can’t rise, nor should we want them to. Therefore, many of the leaders rejected the idea, but others would hear Paul again and become followers of Christ (Acts 17:32-34).

Gnosticism

Plato’s teaching on life after death was the prevailing view among the Greeks. As the good news of Christ was being preached in the first century, these philosophical ideas slowly merged with Christian doctrine and sort of a Christian Gnosticism was born.

Paul was constantly combating these foreign ideas and the threat of “another” good news. It was a century later that we have the Gnostic “apocryphal” books written to promote this merging of Greek ideas with Christian teaching (e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Mary, Judas, etc.).

You can see the continued popularity of these teachings in movies today (e.g. The Matrix, V for Vendetta, The Truman Show, etc.). Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the latest to promote the Gnostic view of Christ.

The goal is to strip Christ of his divinity and his sinless human nature. The same teachings that promote this disembodied spiritual future also accept the idea that the Creator (Yahweh) is evil and the serpent of the Garden of Eden is the agent of good come to cut man lose from his puppet strings.

According to Gnosticism, the serpent, the devil, brings knowledge of what is really going on. What man needs is to be freed or “awakened” by the “secret” knowledge or gnosis. Man needs to throw off rules and regulations of the flesh in order to embrace “spiritual” living. He needs to recognize his own divinity apart from God. Taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would do just that.

If man will only take the “red pill” and choose enlightenment, he shall indeed see “how far the rabbit hole goes.” We should find a sobering reminder from the movie, The Matrix.

“Zion” in Gnosticism leads us on a ship, named after the God-defying Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, to a dark city below the earth (i.e. hell). It will not be an orgy or a party portrayed in The Matrix, but an eternity separated from Christ where man ceases to bear the divine image. Hardly a future any of us would hope for.

If you can prove Jesus of Nazareth was like the ordinary man on the street, having that corruptible nature called “flesh,” and that there was no physical resurrection of the dead, that Jesus was merely revived after his crucifixion, and that he spent the rest of his days in Spain having kids with Mary Magdalene, then you can undermine the entire Christian hope. It is a distortion of the first century synoptic Gospel’s account that is satanic propaganda disguised as “knowledge.”

Gnosticism is an absurd attempt to falsify the Gospel message and its presentation of Jesus as the promised Messiah who was both God and man. I am confident that, at least for now, the idea is only embraced by a few who live with their heads in the clouds. However, these ideas have indeed wiggled their way into Christian eschatology and our teachings on heaven and the resurrection.  (I’ll address this in Part II.)

This fabricated “secret” message may be able to make money at the Box Office, but the Gnostic Jesus holds no weight when it comes to reliable testimony and the historicity of the New Testament. We have plenty of evidence that suggests that the account of Christ we have in the New Testament Gospels is the real deal.

“Jesus is either the flesh-and-blood individual who walked and talked, and lived and died, in first-century Palastine, or he is merely a creature of our own imagination, able to be manipulated this way and that.”
N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? p.18

We, therefore, must decide what we do with Jesus and his recorded resurrection from the dead. Everything hinges on the resurrection—everything. We will choose to align ourselves with orthodox Christian belief or be swept away with the rising tide of heretical doctrines of demons.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that 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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:3-5

Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III


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