We’ve covered the creation accounts, the sin of Adam and Eve, the Curse, God’s covenant with Abraham, and several strands of Old Testament thought that tie the Law of Moses tightly to Christianity, at least more tightly than we normally think. Because our classes have a pretty good sense of the Gospels and the Epistles, we’re going to skip to the End. And we generally have a very poor understanding of the End.
The Greek word for “end” is eschatos, and so we call the study of the end times eschatology. The Churches of Christ have always been weak on eschatology, which is typical of many denominations. Part of this is in reaction to those denominations that center their teaching on speculative theories of the Revelation, the Rapture, and such. I mean, it just can’t be true that every story in the morning news was prophesied in Ezekiel. That’s not what prophesy is for.
Part of what it’s for, though, is to tell what the End will be like — to encourage us. And amazingly enough, we tend to get this wrong. Let’s start with the basics.
Jesus was “resurrected.” We know this. And he was resurrected in a physical body that could cook, eat, talk, touch, and be touched, but also a body that could walk through walls, mystically appear and disappear, and ascend to heaven. It was not quite like our bodies, but neither was Jesus raised as a disembodied spirit. He was no ghost.
(1 Cor 15:20-23) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Paul plainly describes our “resurrection” as being like Jesus’. We will all be resurrected, too.
(1 Cor 15:48-55) As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Plainly, Paul says at the End we’ll have the same sorts of bodies as Jesus. But these bodies won’t be mere flesh and blood, because flesh and blood are perishable — they die. We’ll have bodies, but they’ll be different.
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
I don’t pretend to fully understand this. I just know that the resurrection is described as bodily.
(1 Cor 15:35-44) But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
This passage has led to a lot of confusion. Paul speaks of our having a resurrection “body” (v 38). But it will have a different “kind of flesh” and a different “splendor.” We’ll have “heavenly bodies.” But we tend to take “spiritual body” (v 44) to mean “spirit.” That is not contextually or grammatically correct. I mean, compare this with —
(Rom 1:11) I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong —
(1 Cor 2:13) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
Here “spiritual” doesn’t mean “made of spirit,” but “from the Spirit,” and that is a very typical New Testament usage of the word.
(Phil 3:20-21) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
I don’t know that there’s much point in trying get too specific, because the scriptures aren’t all that specific. But we have to believe in a bodily resurrection, because the scriptures say we’ll have a body — just a different kind of body. And it will be a body like Jesus has, that can cook and eat fish, talk, walk, etc.
Now, how literally are we to take these images? I don’t know. There is certainly an element of metaphor, but there’s also the clear promise that we’ll be like Jesus, who was raised with an actual, non-metaphorical body, indeed, a body made by transformation of his old body. His natural body was no longer in the tomb because it had been resurrected and changed.
The resurrection of Jesus
You see, we’ve implicitly always taught this, because we’ve taught that the resurrection of Jesus proves that we’ll be resurrected, too. There’s more to it. According to N. T. Wright in Surprised by Hope, the Christian idea of resurrection was unheard of in the pagan world but very Jewish. However, it was different from Jewish expectations in 7 ways –
1. The Christian view was remarkably uniform. While the Jews debated many theories, the Christians had but one.
2. Resurrection was moved from a peripheral concern to the central concern. “Take away the stories of Jesus’s birth, and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection, and you lose the entire New Testament and most of the second-century fathers as well.” (p 43)
3. Although Jewish understanding of the resurrected body was vague, Christians taught from early on that the resurrected body will be “transformed” with new properties. 1 Cor 15 is particularly specific. Paul’s contrast is between a body animated by a human soul and a body animated by God’s spirit.
4. Christians taught a two-stage resurrection — Jesus first and then the rest.
5. Christians believed “that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.” (p 46)
6. For Jews resurrection could refer to the return from exile, metaphorically. For Christians, the metaphor for resurrection is baptism. Hence, rather than a renewal of Israel, resurrection calls for renewal of all individuals.
7. No Jew had expected the Messiah to die and be resurrected ahead of everyone else. Hence, the resurrection became a defeat of greater enemies than the Romans — the powers and the Curse.
Death is the last weapon of a tyrant, and Jesus proved himself Lord of death, and hence higher than all earthly powers.
(Isn’t it good to imagine that there will be still be cooking in heaven — but no possibility of getting fat?!)