Easter: The Promise of Future Resurrection

Happy Easter! He is risen!

2000ish years ago, He who was in the form of God took the form of man, the form of a servant, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8) He was despised and rejected, pierced for our transgressions, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)

I’ve written about the crucifixion before in a few different posts before, so check them out if you like: Encountering the Crucifixion and Incarnation: The Humility of Jesus.

Today I want to talk about the rest of the story, the resurrection, the greatest event in history, upon which the entirety of the gospel hangs. This post will be longer than usual, but this is a subject that deserves a bit of in-depth study. So welcome to Easter Bible Study with Caitlyn!

Future Resurrection in Scripture

Growing up, even though I grew up in the church, I didn’t have much understanding about the importance of the resurrection of Jesus. We make such a big deal out of the cross–wasn’t that the point? Jesus died in our place so that our sins could be forgiven and we could go to heaven, and that’s the gospel, right? And the resurrection was… a bonus confirmation to prove to the world that Jesus was God, a happy ending like icing on a cake. Talking about “the hope of Easter” never quite made sense to me, because no one ever actually explained to me what this hope was, as differentiated from the hope of the cross. (Ironically, the Veggie Tales line “He died for us to give us life, and to give us hope, He rose” came closest, because at least it acknowledged a difference between the cross and the resurrection.)

The more I study the Bible, though, the more I see a far bigger picture than that. Here’s what Paul said about the resurrection:

  • Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)

Paul isn’t arguing that God is capable of bringing dead people back to life. The believers who denied the “resurrection of the dead” didn’t have a problem with that. Jesus had raised many people during His ministry, and even the Old Testament has a few examples. (1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 4:32-35; 2 Kings 13:20, 21) Individuals without a pulse getting back up and continuing to live their lives was rare but not unheard of.

The issue at stake was a future, mass resurrection. This is the idea that when Jesus returns, believers will be raised and given new resurrected bodies that will live forever. Paul ties Jesus’ resurrection directly to that future resurrection of the dead, and argues that you can’t have one without the other.

It probably won’t look exactly like this.

Somehow, I think we’ve lost sight of this. I don’t know how typical my experience is, but I don’t think I heard a single teaching or sermon on the future resurrection until I moved to Kansas City six years ago, in my early 20s. That was when I started putting the pieces together and finally saw what had been right in front of me the whole time.

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them bodies. (Genesis 2:7) This is huge. The original, ideal state was human beings with sinless spirits living in immortal bodies. Somehow (thanks, Platonic philosophy and Greek dualism) we’ve gotten the idea that our bodies are a prison for our spirits, and in an ideal world we would be free of such physical restraints. I know I used to think like that. However, that’s not the picture in the Bible. God really likes matter. He likes tangible material. His original ideal was for us to have bodies to live in, and in the resurrection, we will again have ideal, glorified, immortal bodies.

The theme of the future resurrection of the dead appears all over Scripture. It first appears in glimpses in the Old Testament:

  • And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
  • For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. (Job 19:25-26)
  • Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! …the earth will give birth to the dead. (Isaiah 26:19)
  • You…will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. (Psalm 71:20)

The resurrection of the dead was central to the apostles’ teaching. Paul made it one of his key points in Athens (Acts 17:32) and later said it was the reason he was on trial before the Jewish council (Acts 23:6). The author of Hebrews even listed it with the “elementary” teachings of the faith. (Hebrews 6:12)

Then also, we have this really fascinating thread running throughout Scripture calling Jesus the “firstborn of the dead” and other similar phrases.

  • …to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
  • …He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead… (Colossians 1:18)
  • …Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead… (Revelation 1:5)
  • that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead… (Acts 22:23)
  • Christ the firstfruits… (1 Corinthians 15:23)

So in Jesus’ resurrection at Easter, He became the first of something BIG that will affect all who believe in Him: a future, mass resurrection that is a central part of the hope of the gospel.

What Will Our Bodies Be Like?

So when will this happen? What will it be like?

I don’t promise it will look like this.

The Bible states super clearly that the resurrection of the dead happens when Jesus appears. That’s when we will receive our resurrected, incorruptible, eternal bodies. These bodies will be in many ways like Jesus’ own resurrected body.

  • When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)
  • For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)
  • Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
  • But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body… (Philippians 3:20-21)
  • Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him… (1 John 3:2)

Based on these verses, I think we can get a hint of what our future bodies will be like by looking at Jesus’ resurrected body at Easter! Apparently, He could appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:31, 36-37; John 20:19), and He still had His crucifixion scars, at least from the nails and spear (Luke 24:40, John 20:27). People didn’t necessarily recognise Him right away (John 20:14, John 21:4), but at a second glance, He clearly looked like Himself. He even ate with His disciples. (Luke 24:41-43) I think some of His glory was still veiled during that time before His ascension, because when John saw Jesus at Patmos he saw His face shining like the sun. (Revelation 1:16)

1 Corinthians 15 is a goldmine of information about the future resurrection and our resurrected bodies. It describes our future bodies as imperishable, and says that they will be glorious and powerful, while our natural bodies now are dishonourable and weak by comparison.

  • So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishableIt is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in powerIt is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

In his next letter, Paul says that our current natural body is like a tent, and we are groaning with longing to put on our future, immortal body, which is like a house by comparison. He even says that compared to having that future body, being without it is like being naked.

  • For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…” 1 Cor 5:2

Different Kinds of Glory

1 Corinthians 15 also talks about different kinds of glory for different bodies.

  • And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:7-42)

This passage isn’t making the straightforward binary comparison of verses 42 and 43 (perishable/imperishable, dishonour/glory, weakness/power). This is comparing several different things within a series (humans/animals/birds/fish, sun/moon/stars). I believe this is saying that each believer will have a different kind of glory on our resurrected bodies.

The sun/moon/stars analogy seems especially apt, because Daniel says that the wise will “shine like the brightness of the sky above… like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3) and Jesus says that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43) I really think we’re supposed to understand something here about the glory we will have in our resurrected bodies, especially since we know that Jesus’ resurrected body shines like the sun (Revelation 1:16).

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” 1 Cor 15:41-42

The idea of differing glory makes perfect sense when we compare it to everything Jesus said in the gospels about eternal rewards, and also what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:

  • For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straweach one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

All of us who are saved have the foundation of Jesus Christ. Period. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Salvation is 100% dependent on Jesus and 0% on our works. (John 6:63) However, in our lives, we have the opportunity to “build” on the foundation by our works. These works might be valuable like gold, silver, and precious stones, or they might be worthless like wood, hay, and straw. Serving God and others, making choices in my heart to love Him–these are worthy works. Anything I do for the sake of my own flesh is worthless. On that Day, God will judge our works by fire, which doesn’t mean punish us or burn us up, but He will evaluate our lives and test our works to reveal what was worthy of reward. Some will have more reward than others–the apostle Paul will definitely get more reward than someone who loved Jesus but mostly lived for their own comfort. That guy will still be saved, but he will suffer the loss of what could have been his reward.

Over the next two chapters following this passage, Paul continues to paint the same picture:

  • For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (1 Corinthians 4:18, 5:10; compare Romans 8:18-24)

Thinking about eternal rewards and the tangible reality of my future resurrected body really impacts me on a daily basis. It puts a real sober fear of the Lord into how I make decisions and choose to respond to circumstances. Choosing humility, trust, or forgiveness has eternal implications–real consequences that I will live with forever. I know that Jesus sees my heart and He is so moved, and those things are like “gold, silver, and precious stones” that will endure forever and have a literal impact on the kind of glory on my resurrected body forever.

Resurrection Timeline

So when exactly does all of this happen? I won’t take the time to make a case for every single detail I’m about to allude to, but I will give some broad context and some points for further study if you’re interested. As I said above and as Scripture makes abundantly clear, the resurrection happens when Jesus returns. This event coincides with what is often called the “rapture”. Jesus will return, bringing with Him the souls of the dead who have been in heaven, and restore them to their bodies, which will be resurrected and transformed. Immediately afterwards, the “rapture” will happen, when believers who are alive on earth at that time will be “caught up” and changed.

It probably won’t look exactly like this, either.

Paul most clearly lays out this picture in two passages:

  • For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17)
  • Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

This event is what Revelation calls the “first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-6). It is for believers only and happens when Jesus comes back, at the beginning of His thousand year reign on the earth, which is often known as the Millennium. There is a second resurrection after the Millennium, when all the rest of the dead are raised–all of the unbelievers from throughout history plus anyone without a resurrected body who happened to die during the Millennium. This is what is sometimes called the “Great White Throne” judgment. The unbelievers will be cast in their unglorious, immortal bodies into the lake of fire forever. (Revelation 20:11-15)

In the meanwhile, it’s important to understand that even though right now believers who have died do not yet have their resurrected bodies, they are conscious in heaven in the presence of God. This is the in-between state, between having a natural body in life as we do now and having a resurrected body as we will have forever. In between, if we die before Jesus comes back, our souls will be in heaven with God. Paul says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) Even though being without a body in heaven with the Lord isn’t our permanent future state, it’s still WAY better than being in our current body on Earth away from the Lord, and someday when Jesus returns, at the resurrection, we get an even further upgrade–a glorious, indestructible, immortal, resurrected body that shines like the stars! (I also think our future resurrected bodies will have abilities we’ve only dreamed of or can’t even imagine; I’m very much convinced that I will be able to fly like Peter Pan in my resurrected body!)

Hope Today

In studying these passages, the most frequent application we find is the exhortation to HOPE. This is our hope!!

  • having a hope in God…that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:15)
  • …We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved… (Romans 8:23-24)
  • because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:5)
  • But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleepTherefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18)
  • waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13)
  • …He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

The resurrection of Jesus is the key to our future resurrection–not that we get to exist forever in some disembodied spiritual plane, but we will be physically raised from physical death and given immortal, glorious, resurrected bodies, in the image of Jesus’ own resurrected body, as different from our current bodies as a palace is from a tent or an oak tree is from an acorn. This is the future “salvation” the Bible refers to. Our souls have already been saved by the blood of Jesus, but our bodies themselves will one day be fully saved from every effect of sin and death.

One day soon… when the trumpet sounds and the morning dawns…

I think of it when I see the effects of sin and disease ravage bodies. I even think of it often when I get a toothache or a strained muscle– this body is only temporary. I only have to put up with it for another 60 years or so max.

I think of it when I think of those I love who have died. My aunt, my grandma, my grandpa, and several of my friends who have passed away are not gone from their bodies forever. I remember standing at gravesides watching bodies being lowered into the earth, thinking, “This is not the end. That dirt will quake and split and their bodies will rise.”

This is the hope of Easter. It is so far beyond even the event of Jesus’ own resurrection 2000 years ago. That event is the promise for us of the spectacular inheritance God has reserved for us–imperishable resurrected bodies that will reflect His own glory in tangible form forever.

~~~

Key New Testament verses and passages on our future resurrection:

  • Matthew 22:23-33
  • Mark 12:18-27
  • Luke 14:14, 20:27-40
  • John 5:28-29, 6:39-54, 11:24-26
  • Acts 4:2, 17:32, 22:23, 23:6, 24:15
  • Romans 6:5, 8:11-30
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, 6:14, 15:12-58
  • 2 Corinthians 4:14-5:10
  • Philippians 3:10-11, 20-21
  • Colossians 1:18, 3:4
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • 2 Timothy 2:18
  • Hebrews 6:1-2
  • 1 Peter 1:3-7
  • 1 John 3:2
  • Revelation 1:5; 20:4-6, 11-15
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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Lynn Bell
    Apr 02, 2018 @ 05:52:41

    I moved away from Kansas City in 98. Looks like I left it in good hands 😊. Interested in your church background. Do you have a post that works on that?

    Reply

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