Resurrection Facts: There is a Bigger and Better Picture

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typcial Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same calibre as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Conrinthins 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a diembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, sceptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and sceptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

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Resurrection Facts: Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ.

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? I remember vividly the first time I capsized a sailboat. You might think it would be a sudden thing and that you would find yourself in the water before you knew it. But it wasn’t. It seemed to happen in slow motion. With the boat laid over on its side, the hull slowly sank into the water. I even had time to say to my sailing partner that day “well, here we go.” We knew we were about to get wet and there was not a thing we could do about it.

The apostle Paul speaks of something coming that we can do nothing about: “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) There is much that confirms this fact. History confirms it. Study the history of any era in any place and time and time again you will see the same thing has happened; “In Adam all die.” Look to science and the same thing is confirmed again. Indeed the news there is worse as scientists point out, quite matter of factly, that some day the sun will go out and the earth will be no longer life permitting. “In Adam all die.” Look to the arts, and there you will find many novels, poems, songs, music, paintings, and movies dealing with the theme of mortality and what is the meaning of life when “in Adam all die.”

Of course the Bible itself confirms that “in Adam all die.” We can look to the time death entered our world:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam ate the fruit. The consequence was death: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). Some may point out that Adam and Eve did not in fact die that day. However, they did start dying that day. When the Bible says “for as in Adam, all die” the word for ‘die’ is in the present tense so could be translated “in Adam all are dying.” We tend to think we grow until we are 20, have a perfect body until we are 60 and then we start the ageing process. Being in my mid 40’s I can attest to this being untrue with the ageing process being quite underway. We actually begin the ageing process at conception. Our bodies are continually changing so that even while we are living, we are also dying.

To continue in the Greek, “in Adam all die” is also in the active voice. This means it is something we do, something we are responsible for. We can speak of this or that disease “taking us,” but in fact it is we who are doing the dying. We are responsible. Now some will deny this. “Put me in the Garden of Eden, I would have done better!” But when we are being honest we will relate to Paul who said:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:21-24)

“For as in Adam all die.” And there is nothing we can do about it.

That is the bad news. Is there any good news? Well yes, because we have only read one half of the verse so far: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Back to the Greek; “All will be made alive” is in the future tense, so even if we feel we are presently dying, hang on, death is not the end of the story. When we are “made alive” we will have a new beginning within God’s grand story.

“All will be made alive” is also in the passive voice, meaning it is not something we do or are responsible for. Someone will do for us something that we could never do. This takes us back to verse 3 of 1st Corinthians 15 where Someone does something for us: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” All those sins we have committed that show we are no better than Adam and are sharing in the same fruit? Yes, Jesus died for those. The bad news gives way to very good news!

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is very good news indeed but we might be very typical and think it is all about us. We get to enjoy eternal life. But there is more going on here. The resurrection of the dead is not just about us.

Consider that back in the Garden of Eden there seemed to be new rulers in town. The serpent was powerful in temptation. Adam and Eve were powerful in exerting their own will and doing their own thing. Soon Cain was powerful in the ending of his brother’s life. And on it goes down through history with people wielding power and enforcing wills. “Just try to stop me God!” With all that exercise of power let’s read what happens with the resurrection of the dead:

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

That can all sound quite complicated, but it points to something very simple; God’s rule, God’s sovereignty, for God’s glory. While salvation is really good news for what it means for us, it is also about the glory of God. He is “all in all.” The spanner thrown into the works by the evil one, and by Adam and Eve, does not upset God’s apple cart at all. Despite Satan’s best efforts to drive a wedge between humanity and God, despite Adam and Eve’s sin, despite yours and mine, The LORD will be

. . . among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.
(Revelation 21:3)

God’s purposes will be accomplished, God’s Kingdom will come, God’s glory is intact.

Let us go back to the original question. Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? The resurrection of the dead in Christ to eternal life is something Satan and the powers of evil know is coming  and there is not a thing they can do about it. When we repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, then our resurrection becomes something coming that no one can touch. Not because we are better than Adam, but because God is all in all.

(All scripture references are from the NRSV except “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” which is taken from KJV.)

Resurrection Facts: Yes, There Will Be One.

When we Christians talk about the afterlife you might get the impression that we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Asked what happens when we die, there is often a reference to either going straight to heaven or hell, or of being reunited with loved ones in a spirit world. I imagine that my favourite bass player thought he was capturing Christian theology when he penned these words for a song by the Who in the 1960s:

On top of the sky is a place where you go if you’ve done nothing wrong
If you’ve done nothing wrong
And down in the ground is a place where you go if you’ve been a bad boy
If you’ve been a bad boy
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die?
In the place up above you grow feather wings and you fly round and round
With a harp singin’ hymns
And down in the ground you grow horns and a tail and you carry a fork
And burn away
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die? (Lyrics by John Entwhistle)
There is something we can refer to as “pop theology.” That is, many people believe and say things that fit more with what popular culture believes and says, or what popular culture thinks Christianity believes and says, than what the Bible actually teaches. Often Christians will echo the belief that when it comes to the afterlife you are a disembodied soul or spirit for the rest of eternity. Pop theology is far from Biblical theology here. Those who believe pop theology today are not far from the Christians in Corinth who also had a pop theology problem. The Christians in Corinth had come to believe the Gospel and that Jesus rose from the dead. But it seems they continued believing the common theology of the culture they lived in, a Greek culture which tended to believe that when you die, your soul is freed from your body, never to have a body again. The apostle Paul addresses their pop theology:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12)

In other words “why do you say the future is only about being disembodied souls and deny that we shall be bodily raised?” Instead of taking their theology from Greek thinking, they really ought to be taking their theology from Jesus Himself, the fact He rose from the dead, and from where Jewish theology had been pointing all along.

Paul’s argument begins in verse 12. We might interpret “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead” as meaning He was raised from a state of being dead, but the Greek behind it is quite explicit; “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead ones.” So if Christ is raised from among the “dead ones” we ought to expect the same for all the “dead ones.”

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:13)

The line of reasoning is easier to see if we think of it this way: “If we are not expecting the dead to be raised but rather to be disembodied souls, then why didn’t Jesus appear following his crucifixion as a disembodied soul? Why was the tomb empty?” 

Paul goes on to point out the logical consequences of not believing in the resurrection of the dead and therefore of not believing that Jesus rose from the dead:

and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

There is much to be said about this, but suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus was many things including the confirmation of who Jesus is and what God was doing through Jesus’ death. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, history may have recorded that he was simply a miracle worker and teacher who said some quite blasphemous things about himself. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is confirmation of who He really is, and that in His death God really was doing something about our sin.

So Paul’s main point to the Christians at Corinth? Move from the pop theology of the society around you and move into theology that comes from God Himself. Does this have anything to teach us today? Very much so as our views of the afterlife can often be informed by pop theology also. Consider the following:

  • We can focus too much on people, substituting our own sense of greatness for the greatness of God. While it is not wrong to long to be with our loved ones when we die, it becomes too much when the afterlife becomes all about that reunion, and not at all about being with the LORD. When I die I suspect my wife and children will miss me, they may even pine for me. But my hope for them is that their heart’s cry will be not for my presence, but the presence of the Lord. My prayer for them is that their longings to see the LORD face to face will overwhelm their desire to see me again. As John the Baptist put it: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). If we find it hard to let our loved ones take a lesser place in our longings when they pass on, or if the fact we will not be married in eternity disturbs us, then perhaps we do not have a great enough glimpse of the greatness and glory of God. We fall into pop theology when our focus is too much on people and not enough on the LORD. 
  • We can think our bodies are bad. If we think the goal is to become a disembodied soul, we might come to think of our bodies as something awful to be discarded ASAP. When we recognize that the future points to a bodily resurrection, yes a changed body, but still a body, then we can more clearly see that when the Lord gives us a body, it is a gift, it is a good thing. He already has given us a body, and it is not something awful, but rather a gift, one we will want to take care of.

Unfortunately, not only is pop theology messing with the minds of Christians, it also affects those who do not believe. Too may people think they are rejecting Christianity when in fact they are rejecting pop theology. So when people say things like “Christianity teaches that if you are a bad boy you go to hell” then we need to remind them that we are all bad boys and girls and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we hear people say things like “if you are good you will go to heaven” we need to remind them that Jesus teaches “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Salvation is made possible by God Himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is by His grace. And salvation does not mean becoming disembodied souls with wings and harps. Salvation means the effect of sin that has separated us from God has been dealt with. It means life in the full presence and glory of God becomes a reality and will be most real when we are raised from the dead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away
(Revelation 21:1-4)

(All Bible references are taken form the NRSV)