Christianity 201

September 25, 2015

I Believe in the Resurrection

One of the most beloved Christian websites on the internet is Internet Monk. Founded in November, 2000 by the late Michael Spencer, the blog continues to post fresh material each and every day and its following is evidenced by the engagement in its comments section.

We’ve referred to iMonk here about ten times, but with one very short excerpt exception, never posted anything by current proprietor Chaplain Mike, aka Michael Mercer. What follows below is the first of five parts of a series on eschatology which ran this week. By clicking the title below and visiting the website you can track the other parts, which I’ve also listed below.

Eschatology Week: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

~ The Apostles’ Creed

These days, it seems that the gold standard for eschatological teaching in the Christian world is N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This, however, hasn’t stopped the crazies from advocating wild theories about the end times, such as the “four blood moons” teaching offered by people such as John Hagee. And since September 28 is the fourth and final in the “tetrad” of blood moons, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and supposedly portending apocalyptic events, I thought maybe we should spend this last week on earth discussing a more sane and scripturally-grounded understanding of the Christian hope.

Despite what you and I and everyone else has been told in evangelical/fundamental circles since the advent of the Scofield Reference Bible, the heart and center of the Christian hope is the resurrection. For most of my adult Christian life, the resurrection (or resurrections — many believe there will be several) has served as little more than a dot on an end-times chart, mentioned but overshadowed by talk concerning things like the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Millennium.

One of the greatest contributions of Wright’s work has been to put the resurrection back in its proper place, back where the Apostles’ Creed puts it, as the main content of our Christian hope and that which leads to “the life everlasting.”

In chapter 3 of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright traces various understandings about resurrection and life after death in ancient paganism and Judaism. He shows how Jesus’ teaching on the subject was not substantially different from that of the standard Jewish view.

When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. (36)

Jesus’ own teaching more or less followed this narrative, with one great exception. In Judaism the resurrection was understood as something that would happen to all the righteous and unrighteous at the end of the age:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

• Daniel 12:2-3

But Jesus began teaching his disciples that he himself was going to be raised from the dead after being betrayed and killed. The disciples, having a hard enough time grasping that the one they believed to be the Messiah would die, could scarcely imagine what he was saying when he spoke of resurrection in individual terms. So Jesus was adding something utterly new and unforeseen by those who followed them to the concept.

This addition, however, did not change their basic hope, it merely added elements to it that we will discuss in future posts. The Jewish and early Christian hope was focused firmly on bodily resurrection and the age to come. It wasn’t about “going to heaven when we die,” though that was one part of the process of hope that led inevitably to new bodies in a new world in a new time.

As a hospice chaplain, you might imagine that the subject of “life after death” is one I regularly discuss with people. And you would be right. Pastorally, when I get the opportunity to share the Christian hope, I think it’s important to help people get comfort from both parts of the “two-step narrative” that Wright discusses. It is important to know that their loved ones are safe in God’s care when they die. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” Paul wrote, and I give thanks for that every time I pray over the body of one who has passed.

However, I will also include this in my prayer: “Lord, take care of this loved one until the day she is raised up again in a new body to live in a new creation where there will be no more sorrow, pain, death, or separation from those we love.”

Resurrection

The last prayer I give at a graveside is the traditional committal:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother ______, and we commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. May the Lord bless
him and keep him, may the Lord make his face to shine upon him
and be gracious to him, may the Lord lift up his countenance
upon him and give him peace. Now and forevermore. Amen.

Resurrection.

The Christian hope centers on this. New life, new bodies, a new creation. The material stuff of life, corrupted by sin and devastated by death, reawakened, reanimated, reinvigorated. All things made new and incorruptible. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven,” wrote Paul in 1Cor. 15. And in Romans 8: “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”


Continue reading:

Part 2: Eschatology starts in our past
Part 3: Jesus’ Future Presence

Part 4: Setting the World Right
Part 5: Bringing Ultimate Harmony to Creation

 

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