Questions About Death and Christian Hope, Part 2
In the previous post, I began to share some reflections on what the Bible has to say about death and the hope that we have in Christ. I briefly touched on grief and what we might call "life after death" there. In this second post, the biblical material around resurrection is (very) briefly considered, and I add a little note about how what God will do for individuals relates to what God will do for the whole created world.
The Resurrection Body
The very first resurrection body, the one which has already appeared, is the risen body of Jesus. After his resurrection, this body was in many ways the same as it had been before his death: he still had the scars of his suffering (John 20:19-29), he could eat and he could be touched (Luke 24:37-43). But it was also different. Jesus could apparently show up in locked rooms (John 20:19, 26), for one thing. People didn’t always recognize him at first sight (Luke 24:16, John 20:14). Now it is possible that the reason people didn’t recognize Jesus was because they were in some sense blinded, rather than that he looked different. But the impression these passages make is clear: though the resurrection body is the body of Jesus who died, it is also not exactly the same as it used to be.
And neither will our resurrection bodies be quite the same. The most immediately obvious difference is that our bodies will no longer be “perishable” or “corruptible” (1 Cor. 15:42-44). They will last. These resurrection bodies will not decay, nor will they die. All of our pains and aches will be mere memories. Sickness and the fear of death will no longer plague us (Rev. 21:4). In addition, these bodies are said to be “spiritual” bodies as opposed to “natural” bodies (1 Cor. 15:44). Note that it does not say that we will be spiritual instead of bodily, but that our bodies will be “spiritual” not “natural.” The connection Paul wants us to make in this is to the difference between Adam, who sinned, and Christ (“the last Adam”—verse 45) who frees us from our sins (1 Cor. 15:3, 17). The “spiritual body” is one that is run according to the standards and power that God made us to run on: obedience and flourishing rather than sin and disgrace. This is why in Romans 6:1-5 Paul associates the resurrection with a new kind of life even now. Those of us who are looking forward to the body that is “spiritual”— run by the power of the Spirit—experience and have access to that Spirit’s power even now: the Spirit leads us away from sin and toward Jesus.
A Note on the Individual and the World
These questions are all related to what theologians might call “individual eschatology.” (Eschatology means the study of the “last things.”) But we would be wrong to separate what happens to the individual from what God is going to do for the whole world that he made. So before I offer some concluding thoughts on how we live in light of God’s promises, a few words about the world’s future are in order.
For us, death is more than death. It is essentially the Bible’s name for all that has gone wrong in our lives. This includes sickness, relationship problems, emotional and mental illnesses, chronic pain and, of course, the loss of loved ones. But the world has also experienced death: in the presence of famines, earthquakes and other natural disasters, unproductive land and climate change. Some of it is directly caused by people’s actions, and some of it just seems to happen.
Our resurrection to a renewed and never-dying bodily existence is analogous to what God plans for the world: there will one day be a “resurrection of the world,” in a sense. This world will be remade and all of the things that have gone wrong with it will be healed. In that world God will be visibly present everywhere, and all things will reflect God’s glory perfectly.
Remembering this bigger picture is so important. We are understandably concerned about ourselves and the people we love, but God is concerned for his whole creation, which was all designed to be his beautiful handiwork. With that reminder in place, we can move along to some implications for living out what we believe.
In the next and final post, we will look at what it means to live in light of our hope.