The Hope of the Resurrection
Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:21-26)
[After the resurrection of Christ] Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus appeared. So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." (John 20:24-29)
Jesus’ friends didn’t get the resurrection at first. They had a very hard time believing it, even when they saw him in person. Why? Two reasons. First, and obviously, resurrection is profoundly unlikely, to say the least. These people were not less aware of death’s finality than we are. When people today read the gospels the tendency in our era is to think, well those gullible folk back then believed this sort of religious thing because they lived in a pre-modern world before we discovered all the scientific stuff we know today. Baloney. First of all it’s obvious from the documents that they didn’t believe it at first, which is why Jesus gave them “many convincing proofs, appearing over a period of forty days and talking to them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Second, recognizing death is not rocket science. People in that culture had seen more death in their first ten years than most Americans see in a lifetime (TV and movies are not real experiences by the way. Is that clear to all of us? I wonder). They knew how death worked, and it had never worked backwards. Until God got involved with it.
The second reason they had a hard time with Jesus’ resurrection was that the timing was wrong for their theology (their eschatology to be precise). It was not that they doubted that God could or would bring people back from the dead some day. He is after all the God of life and the Creator of the universe. He will not leave his cosmos dead indefinitely. He has a plan that includes renewed material life. The prophets were clear on this (Isa. 9:1-7; 11:1-11; 65:17-25). So, many Jews (not all, there were skeptics then just as now) understood that there would be a resurrection of the dead—but it was to happen at the end of the age, and to everybody (Dan. 12:1-3). It would involve God punishing all human sin and exonerating those who had walked with him, against the tide, in this life. The resurrection would be the last event of the old world and the beginning of the new, the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth (please note again what Jesus talked to his associates about in that six week period after the resurrection). That is why previously, at Lazarus’s first (!)funeral Martha responded to Jesus that, yes, she believed that her dead brother would rise again, on the last day, at the resurrection (John 11:24). Jesus then resuscitated Lazarus on the spot, after he had been dead four days, to show that something they thought should happen in the future was standing before them in person. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he told his grieving friend. “Do you trust me about this?” These good Jewish people never dreamed that God would do an individual resurrection in the middle of history, and certainly not without destroying evil (especially the Romans) first. Though Jesus’ friends had good theology and believed their Bible, they did not yet grasp the most profound thing—that God was in Christ judging evil at the cross and beginning the new age in his resurrection before he completely ended the old age. This is what stripped Saul of Tarsus’s gears on the road to Damascus, too. Jesus’ resurrection meant that God had begun his kingdom already, in the middle of history, starting the process of the end and the final resurrection with his own personal death resurrection (see Acts 26:12-18).
Messiah Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was the judgment on evil, the end of the old dead way (2 Cor. 5:17-19). He bore the divine wrath for the sins of the world, and he came physically back from the dead, in a new kind of body, as the beginning of the coming future age. That is why when we come to him we come out of judgment and into life. He thus demonstrated that he is the fulfillment of all that the Old Covenant promised (Luke 24:27). He stood there, whole, and better than ever (which is why they at first didn’t recognize him) because he was bringing the future, the judgment on sin and the resurrection of the righteous, into the present and offering it to them now. The new age was dawning in Christ Jesus, and the life of the age to come, the Spirit’s own life, was soon to be poured out on all those who would defect from the ruler of this old age and come to the true new Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 2; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 1:11-20). His ascension to the Father’s right hand would enable him to implement the new metaphysical reality that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit had inaugurated at the cross and the resurrection—bringing God’s kingdom into this age, so that the Father’s will could be done here like it is in his dimension (Matt. 6:9-10). The cosmos is on a new trajectory toward an indescribably wonderful renovation (Rev. 21-22). Earth’s history will get worse before the end of this age, but the victory is in hand and the kingdom of God, though an underground reality for now, is an absolute certainty (1 Cor. 15:20-28). A Christian is part of that kingdom immediately upon coming to the King personally.
So, what’s the catch? The catch is that this resurrection life, this future inheritance come into the present, enters our old bodies in the old world, now. That is why Paul says we have this treasure in cracked, earthenware pots (2 Cor. 4:7-18). And why he goes on to remind us not to concentrate on the old wreckage, the visible and wasting things, but on the invisible realities of God’s kingdom, which is even now underway, and which we can bring to bear upon our world today, and which will break permanently into the material world in the (hopefully not too distant) future (2 Cor. 4:16-5:10; Rom.8:18-25). So, we live for a while in these old model bodies with a new Spirit life, the resurrection life of the Son of God himself. For now we belong both to this age (in a contemporary-redemptive way) and the new age (in a forward-certain way), bridging the gap just like Jesus did, and suffering for it just like he did. We will receive very solid, healthy, indestructible human bodies when the Lord returns. And we will find that we are exactly like him, the way we always wanted and tried to be in this age (Phil.3:20-21; 1 Jn.3:2-3). Which is why our ministry purpose statement here at TCF is "helping people think like Jesus.”
The hope of the resurrection, then, is not a wish that we will avoid all suffering in this age. Far from it. The Lord said we will suffer here, like he did. It is that when we suffer it is not hopeless but certain of future tangible blessing. Hope, in the Bible, does not mean wishful thinking, like it does in our culture. In scripture it is a form of certainty about tangible future, pleasurable experience. Our material weakness becomes spirit strength; our inner person becomes increasingly glorious; and our hard life becomes solid goodness—it counts for eternity. (Matt. 5:1-16; Jas.1:1-4; Rom.8:18-39; 1 Cor.15:56-58; 2 Cor.12:8-10). When we experience our own physical resurrection, our inner person whose character has been honed and shaped by traumas in this age (2 Cor.4:16-18) will be joined by an incredibly beautiful and powerful body that matches the character God has developed in us. How is this possible? Because the resurrection has already begun in Christ the King and he has brought the future into the present and metaphysically joined us now to our certain destiny in his material, rejuvenated universe. The old has passed away; the new has begun (2 Cor.5:17).
Christian friend, are you at this moment facing some grief, some loss, some lonely trauma, some wreckage in your life that you think is either God’s punishment or a sign that he does not like and love you? Think in the kingdom for a moment, instead of in this age. Enter into KingdomThink rather than WorldThink. Do this on purpose, and listen: Christ took all the real blame for your sin at the cross, so that he could give you the credit for all the good that he has done (2 Cor.5:21; Gal.3:13). Consequently, not only are you not guilty and alone in the universe, you are an unbelievably good and very cool person in the eternal dimension, with an excellent family and lots of great friends, loved and loving in every way (Eph.1:1-6; Rom.5:1-5). That means that whatever purpose the Lord has for bringing this pain into your life temporarily, it is not punishment. Your punishment happened at the cross, before you were even born. The moment you came to Christ, your old self was removed from your true identity and the new, resurrection self came to life (2 Cor. 5:16-21). That means that the reason for this hurting in you is to develop glory in your future personal experience, to bless you with beauty and wisdom that will make the memory of this pain not just less painful, but actually sweet. That is precisely how Paul saw it, and why he insisted that we view it this way. That and nothing short of that is resurrection reality, resurrection hope.
Yet, it takes some effort, does it not, to deliberately view things from the kingdom of God instead of this age, to live in the KingdomThink worldview. Our flesh default setting is sin, death, law-guilt, despair and defeat at all points. It is counterintuitive to our flesh to put confidence in anything but the visible self and this world (what a forlorn hope). As reborn creatures, in the same way as our ancestors, the original disciples, we must press into the reality of the kingdom and the resurrected king on purpose, putting on the “new person,” as Paul says (Eph.4:24; Col.3:10). It helps to get around others who are part of the kingdom, to have a little company, some koinonia, to worship together, pray together, and meditate on the Lord’s word together. So by all means join your Christian friends regularly to share this life and be reminded of where our citizenship really is. Your perspective will return. There is reason to rejoice. The good future is under way. It’s all true. Really.
Take hope my friend, the hope of the resurrection.
Just a thought,