A Theology of Easter: Resurrection in 3 Acts
In his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy points out three aspects of regeneration (“renewal” or “rebirth”) in Scripture. I prefer to think of this in terms of resurrection. Goldsworthy’s statement is brief, but the truth is profound:
Thus we are able to speak of the regeneration in three ways: an objective regeneration in Christ, a subjective regeneration and us, and a comprehensive regeneration in the whole universe. The three are inseparably bound together, which is why a pre-occupation with one at the expense of the others can lead to distortions of biblical truth.
This is important for understanding both the Fall and redemption. When Adam as God’s vice-regent rebelled against his Maker he died spiritually and later died physically. Since he was commissioned with stewardship over all of creation, his fall meant the enslavement of the creation itself. As Paul teaches in Romans 8:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)
Since the vice-regent of God was subjected to death and decay, so was his subject, creation itself. But sin, sickness, and Satan will not have the last word. In Christ, the tides of death are definitively pushed back. Death is no longer our enemy, but our gateway into glory. By his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus the Messiah reverses Satan’s reversal of God’s design. The Bible teaches a continuity between the curse placed on Adam, the curse placed on the creation, and the curse placed on Christ on behalf of his people (Gal. 3:13) .
Just as there is a link between our curse, creation’s curse, and the curse that fell on Christ so there is also a connection between the resurrection of Christ which serves as the first fruits and guarantee of our resurrection. In fact, the resurrection of those united to Christ (which begins with our initial regeneration when God grants to his people the gift of faith and repentance) will usher in the “resurrection” of the cosmos. Just as Christ’s resurrected body was the same body buried in the tomb (though glorified) so our resurrected bodies are the same bodies we have now (though gloried). The third and final step of God’s cosmic plan is the renewal of the cosmos. Peter says in his second epistle:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 10-13)
So Heavens and the Earth will experience a type of resurrection. Now some have argued that this passage teaches that God will utterly destroy this present creation and replace it with a new one. I do not think that is the case. The fire that Peter speaks of is a purging fire, one that cleanses creation from all that the fall has touched. Christopher Wright sheds light on this:
The language of fire and destruction does not mean that the whole of creation will be obliterated. Rather, it is parallel to the same terms used to describe the way the sinful world was “destroyed” by water in the flood (2 Peter 3:6-7). What was destroyed in the flood was not the whole planet, but the world of sin and rebellion. Likewise, what will be destroyed in the final judgment is not the universe, but the send in rebellion of humanity and the devastation they have caused. It will be a conflagration that purges and purifies, so that the new creation will be a place devoid of sin but filled with the righteousness, because God himself will dwell there among his redeemed people (Rev. 21:1-4). (quotes from his The Mission of God’s People)
This is clarified as soon as we turn back to Paul’s works quoted above, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). The new Heavens and Earth are this Heaven and Earth renewed and transformed. The creation that is presently subjected to futility is the very same cosmos that will be glorified, transformed, and (re)new(ed).
God’s pattern of resurrection is one that unfolds in 3 acts: Christ–> humanity –> cosmos
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