Category Archives: Resurrection
Have you ever wondered whether, in the final state of all things, we will see the 3 persons of the godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? I’ve been asked this several times and thought to write-up a few thoughts on this question. In order to best respond to that question, an important biblical clarification is needed to be put in place.
The Bible teaches that when all is said and done—when Christ returns, the dead are raised, the unrighteous are judged, and those who trusted in Jesus alone are given glorified bodies—we will reign over the “new heavens and earth” In Rev. 21:1-3, the Apostle John recorded his vision of the future as follows:
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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
So we will inhabited a renewed earth, a place in which all sin has been removed, and the curse has been lifted. We will have glorified physical bodies, patterned after the glorified physical body of the risen Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15).
This means that we will see in a very similar way to the way we see now. So, the question to ask is this: What can we see now? The answer is simple and straightforward, we can see physical objects, objects extended in space. So, how does this apply to our question? My conviction is that we will indeed see God, but we will see God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6). Only the second person of the Trinity (the Son) took on a human nature, and therefore is physically extended in space. Jesus Christ is now forever the God-man, fully God in his divine nature, and fully and perfectly human in respect to his human nature. This will not change in the new heavens and earth.
God the Father and the Holy Spirit are spirit and therefore do not have flesh and bones (see Luke 24:39, the word translated “ghost” in the KJV is the same Greek word translated “spirit” elsewhere, pneuma). As Scripture says, in his divine nature, no one can see God (John 1:18). We will not “see” the Father or the Spirit because, in the most literal sense, there is nothing to “see.” The being of God, though very real, active, and powerful, is not something to be seen. To apply the category of sight to a spirit is a confusion similar to asking how much a thought weighs. Weight does not apply to thoughts. I take it you understand my point.
But, lest we get the wrong impression from what I’ve said above, let me reassure you of this. The presence of Jesus will overwhelm us. The presence of the Father and Spirit will be so great that there will be no feeling of lack. We will forever rejoice in his presence all around us forever, and forever, and forever.
- For another response to this question, see here.
In his book, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, John Piper asks us to reflects of the following 3 passages of Scripture:
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
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11
If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
The way he ties it all together is a wonderful Easter reflection:
“The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ’s tomb. From the outside, Christ could do many wonderful works, including raising a twelve-year-old girl and two men from the dead—only to die again (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). If any were to be raised from the dead, never to die again, Christ would have to die for them, enter the tomb, take the keys, and unlock the door of death from the inside.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s gift and proof that his death was completely successful in blotting out the sins of his people and removing the wrath of God. You can see this in the word “therefore.” Christ was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:8 -9). From the cross the Son of God cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And by means of the resurrection, God the Father cries, “It was finished indeed!” The great work of paying for our sin and providing our righteousness and satisfying God’s justice was finished in the death of Jesus.
Then, in the grave, he had the right and the power to take the keys of death and open the door for all who come to him by faith. If sin is paid for, and righteousness is provided, and justice is satisfied, nothing can keep Christ or his people in the grave. That’s why Jesus shouts, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
The Bible rings with the truth that belonging to Jesus means we will be raised from the dead with him. “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). “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Here’s the connection between Christ’s death and our resurrection: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Which means, we have all sinned, and the law sentences sinners to everlasting death. But the text continues, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57). In other words, the demand of the law is met by Jesus’ life and death. Therefore, sins are forgiven. Therefore, the sting of sin is removed. Therefore, those who believe in Christ will not be sentenced to everlasting death, but will “be raised imperishable . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54). Be astonished, and come to Christ. He invites you: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). ”
-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, 100-101
1 Corinthians 15 is a passage discussed in most works on apologetics. But often the apologist’s concern for providing evidence skews their grasp of the passage. John Frame clarifies:
I have often asked students to paraphrase Paul’s argument for the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. They often mentioned the post-Resurrection appearances, especially the five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote (v. 6). But they almost always miss the main thrust of the apostle’s argument. The main thrust perfectly clear from the structure and content of the passage: you should believe in the resurrection because it is part of the apostolic preaching! Note verses 1-2: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” And verse 11: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they came to faith through his preaching, which included the preaching of the Resurrection. He warns them not to cast doubt on the resurrection, for if Christ has not been raised, their faith will be in vain. If the Resurrection is subject to doubt, all the rest of the message will also be subject to doubt, and then “we are to be pitied more than all men” (v. 19; see also vv. 14 – 18).
The ultimate proof, the ultimate evidence, is the word of God. Eyewitnesses are important, but they die, and the memories of them fade. Only if their testimony is preserved in God’s written word will that testimony have continuing value down through the history of the world.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics, to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 58
Easter is about power. But it’s not about the kind of power this world is used to. It’s power demonstrated in weakness, vulnerability, and brokenness. Jesus revealed that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). That’s an important, but mostly misunderstood passage. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the kingdom of God is spiritual as opposed to earthly. The very goal of the kingdom of God in Christ is to transform creation so God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus was saying that the governing principles and the ultimate source of his kingdom are at odds with those of this present fallen world. Jesus didn’t simply fight the great battle against sin, suffering, and Satan for us, he lost the battle for us too.
The Problem. By and large, the Jewish people were ready for a king, a mighty, righteous king, who would overthrow the Romans, deliver the people of Israel, renew God’s covenant with his people, and usher in a period of blessing and prosperity. This is, after all, what Moses spoke of as happening after the time of exile.
The problem is that Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. He didn’t crush the Romans; they crushed him. He didn’t take up arms. In fact, he instructed his disciples to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 5:39). When the people seemed so in love with Jesus’ message (as they understood it) that they were going to make him King by force (Jn. 6:15), he avoided the crowd and slipped away to the mountain side.
This isn’t the way a king acts. And in time people were starting to get suspicious of whether Jesus was really the right horse to back against the Empire of Rome.
Finally, when Jesus was crucified and buried, that made it about as obvious as possible that he was not the Lord’s annointed, the Messiah.
- (2011) A Theology of Easter: Resurrection in 3 Acts
- (2010) Why I Believe in the Resurrection
- (2008) Easter and Christian Hope
- (2007) Resurrection and the Logic of New Creation
“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” ― N.T. Wright
“The work of the church is to implement the resurrection of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final new creation . . . We are called to be people of new creation now, in the power of the Spirit.”― N.T. Wright
“The biblical language of resurrection (‘standing up’, ‘awakening’ etc), when it emerges, is simple and direct; the belief, though infrequent, is clear. It involves, not a reconstrual of life after death, but the reversal of death itself. It is not about discovering that Sheol is not such a bad place after all. It is not a way of saying that the dust will learn to be happy as dust. The language of awakening is not a new, exciting way of talking about sleep. It is a way of saying that a time will come when sleepers will sleep no more. Creation itself, celebrated throughout the Hebrew scriptures, will be reaffirmed.”
-N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 127-128.
Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, in their joint work The Drama of Scripture, discuss the meaning of the cross in the New Testament:
The New Testament is unique in ancient literature interpreting the crucifixion in a positive way, as the greatest of God’s actions in history. Paul proclaims that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Both he and the other New Testament writers were entirely aware that their view of this event attracts scorn. To the Romans, the cross is utter foolishness: crucifixion is merely the worst of the punishments routinely meted out to Rome ‘s enemies. They are humiliated, defeated, tortured beyond human endurance, exposed in their weakness – and then they die. Beyond that, the cross is a random act of cruelty.
Yet the early church makes the bold and fantastic claims that the cross is the central act of God in all human history! This boldness is the product of a radically different perspective because the church looks at the cross through the lens of the resurrection.
It is Jesus’ return from the dead that validates his claim to be God’s anointed Messiah. When one begins to look at the cross through the lens of the resurrection, what at first appears to be foolishness is really the wisdom of God . What seemed to be weakness is really the power of God, conquering human rebellion and Satanic evil. What appears to be humiliation is a revelation of the glory of God. God’s self-giving love, mercy, faithfulness, grace, justice, and righteousness are revealed in the event by which God accomplishes the salvation of his creation. What seems to the world to be Jesus’ defeat, the early church proclaims to be his surpassing victory over all the enemies he stand opposed to God’s good creation. This apparently meaningless act of violence and cruelty in fact reveals the full purpose of God: his judgment against sin, and his power and will to renew the creation. Seen in one way, the cross is a token of foolishness, weakness, humiliation, defeat, absurdity. Seen in another way, by those who know that Jesus is alive again from the dead, the cross is full of God’s wisdom, power, glory, victory, and the purpose.
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) .
Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.
What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what the whole world’s waiting for.
Just in time for Easter:
First, I believe in the resurrection because as I read the rest of the Scriptures, the fact that this God would work to bring life out of death makes perfect sense. In other words, the internal logic of the Bible is consistent. The God who brought Israel from the death of captivity in Egypt to life in the Promised Land is the same God who can bring Jesus back from the dead.
Second, I believe in the resurrection because early Christians claimed to be eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus (Lk. 1:2, 1 Jn. 1:1-3). Contrary to popular belief, the early Christians weren’t gullible, and were able to distinguish between myth and real history (Lk. 1:1-4, 2 Pet. 1:16) Neither can we say they drew source material from the surrounding cultures, whether Jewish or pagan.
First, not all Jews believed in a physical resurrection (the Saducees), and those that did (most of all the others) held to a general resurrection at the end of history, not the resurrection of a single individual in the middle of history.
Second, Hellenistic culture generally went back and forth between two poles. One pole was materalist (ex: the Epicurians, the Atomists, and the Homeric epics) and believed that when you died, you stayed dead. The other pole was dualist (Gnosticism, Platonism, and later neo-Platonism), believing the immaterial spirit was good and pure, while the physical world (especially the human body) was impure and base. They would have been appaled by the thought of returning to body, which they thought of as the “prision house of the soul.” While some surrounding groups believed in a life after death (the continued existence of a disembodied spirit), but would never have called this type of existence “resurrection.”
Likewise, there was too much to lose socially from publically confessing belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, the early Jewish Christians continued to maintain the belief that Jesus was raised from the died. Jews were thrown out of the synogogue for their belief in Christ. Christians were presecuted by the Romans because they refused to engage in Emperor worship. The meaning of the resurrection, according to Peter, was that the risen Jesus, was “both Lord and Christ” (compare Acts 2:36), causing a direct confrontation with the claims of the Roman Emperor, whose claim was “Caesar is Lord.” Many of the apostles were in fact killed because of maintaining their Christian faith and belief in the resurrection. Now we ask, why continue to maintain the belief in the resurrection despite it’s politically incorrect status? Because it was the truth.
Now, one may ask, why should I believe that these men weren’t lying, conconcting a story to start a religion and amass power for themselves? Considering both the moral character of these individuals, and their eventual martyrdom, it is unlikely that they invented the resurrection story. The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t come out on their side.
Third, I believe in the resurection because the tomb of Jesus was empty, and the body has never been recovered. There is no serious debate over whether Jesus’ tomb was empty, both sides agree. Jesus’ disciples claimed it was empty, and it caused them much grief (Jn. 20:1-10). Jesus’ enemies admitted that it was empty but claimed that the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11-15) The Toledoth Yeshu, (an early collection of Jewish writings), claims that Christ’s body was stolen, as does the record of a second century debate between the Christian Justin Martyrs and Trypho the Jew (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter CVII), “his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”
This explanation is, of course, highly implausible. Are we really expected to believe that a group of depressed, militarily untrained fishermen (who didn’t even expect Christ to resurrect!) to outsmart and overpowered a band of Roman guards trained in the art of killing?
Let’s think of another possible scenerio. Maybe the disciples looked into the wrong tomb, found it empty and thought Christ arose. Well, first that ignores the eyewitness testimony, and it assumes that the disciples were fools. Moreover that explanation doesn’t address why no one else ever found the body. Had Jesus’ body been recovered by his enemies, Christianity as a Messianic movement would have been crushed early on. The body would have been paraded around to silence the apostles.
Lastly, in the process of retelling the resurrection story, the Gospel writers include counter-productive material if their goal was to launch an upstart religion. First, the account of “doubting Thomas.” Why present one of the pillars of the faith as a doubter? Secondly, the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb were women, who were not considered viable legal witness. Notice how evem Paul in his account of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 leaves out the detail about the women. He didn’t deny that it happened, but realized that it wasn’t an apologetically useful bit of information. The Gospel authors, on the other hand, were recording history, and had to “tell it like it is.” And finally, Matthew includes the odd fact that, even after the resurrection some doubted (Matt. 28:17).
Lately, and especially since I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s newest release, Surprised by Hope, I’ve grown increasingly distressed over how Easter services are carried out. I’m addressing this now because Easter is just a few days away, but I also refer to how the Christian hope is expressed in nearly any worship service in the western, and especially evangelical, Church.
It’s extremely commonplace to hear and read in hymns and praise songs references to “peace” and going to be where Jesus is. The hymn Jesus Keep me Near the Cross speaks of “peace beyond the river.” Now, of course, this is all well and good. As Christians, we do have a blessed assurance that when we die we don’t enter a limbo-like existence, but instead are ushered directly into the presence of God. But, as so often is the case, our hymns and spiritual songs don’t go the next, and crucially necessary, step.
The message of Easter is much bigger than my “going to heaven when I die.” It isn’t simply about life after death. It is, in fact, about what Wright calls “life after life after death.” It’s about me and my sin, and God’s forgiveness in Christ, yes. It’s no less than that, but it’s certainly more. What God the Father did for Jesus on Easter morning, He plans to do for all of us one day that are united to Jesus. Jesus is what the Bible calls the firstfruits of the resurrection. Just as Christ’s literal, physical body was placed in the tomb and raised, so too will our bodies be raised to new life. But He not only promises to do this for those for whom the Son came, but for all of creation (cf. Rom. 8).
The ultimate reason for Christ’s life and death is to take back creation from it’s subjugation to sickness, suffering, sin, and Satan. What was lost in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) will be restored through Christ. This restoration touches everything; we’re talking about a new world-God’s world- a renewed people, and a renewed heavens and earth that are united forevermore.
We need to stress these things in our services as the ultimate Christian hope, the fulfillment of God’s original design for His universe. This hope speaks of a world where shalom reigns, the earth is “set to rights,” and King Jesus is enthroned as the victorious Lion-Lamb who has crushed the power of evil. [For more on the exciting ways in which the Bible describes what happened in Christ’s passion and resurrection see my Resurrection and the Logic of New Creation]
Happy Resurrection day!
Update: I was recently asked if I thought our worship songs reflected bad theology or simply the individualism of our culture (salvation is about my peace, my “not going to hell,” etc). And as I thought of this, I would say yes and no, but more on the no side. You see, all Christian churches believe in the resurrection. All denominations believe, at least they say they believe, in life after life after death. I know that I’ve never met a Christian who denies this. Our individualism is a problem, but I think it’s the greater problem is the subtle influence within the church of Platonism and gnosticism.
You would think from hearing so many of our songs that Christians believe that the world, that physical reality is bad, and our hope is to escape it. But this is sheer gnosticism. Resurrection isn’t a fancy redescription of disembodied life in heaven. We’re coming back! The Bible teaches that the world was created good, and God called it so. What we sing often will alert people of what we really believe more than a sermon will. If we say we believe in a new heavens and a new earth where we will dwell with glorified, resurrected bodies, yet express our deepest devotion in song, and completely leave this out, what are we really saying?