I've been thinking a lot about resurrection, and I wanted to jot down some of those thoughts.
The Resurrection of Christ is probably the single most important point of Christian doctrine. It's arguably true that Christianity is the belief that Christ rose bodily from the grave. This was the watershed issue when Paul spoke to the Athenians; it was when he introduced the resurrection that his listeners decided he might be crazy. 1 Corinthians 15 makes the stunning statement that without the bodily resurrection of Christ there is no Gospel.
But if there is not a resurrection of those that are dead, neither is Christ raised: but if Christ is not raised, then, indeed, vain also is our preaching, and vain also your faith. (1 Corinthians 15: 13 & 14, JND).
The Lord Jesus spoke about three different resurrections in John's gospel:
- His own, the Resurrection of Christ (John 2:19--22)
- the resurrection of life (John 5:29)
- and the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29)
There is a fourth resurrection discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13--18. There, we have "for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first;" (v. 16, JND). I suppose those who don't hold a premillenial view consider this to be a parallel account of the "first resurrection" of Revelation 20. It seems to me it can't be, because Paul sees this as an "any moment" thing, where the timing of the resurrection in Revelation 20 is fairly well detailed. But ultimately I'm not interested in eschatological argument at the moment.
My favourite expositors claim the resurrection in Daniel 12:2 isn't a literal, bodily resurrection. They interpret that as a figurative resurrection along the lines of Ezekiel 37. Certainly Ezekiel 37 is a figurative resurrection: the passage itself provides the interpretation for the vision. I'm not so sure about Daniel 12. Revelation 20 makes it clear that the millenial kingdom starts with the resurrection of the tribulation saints who've been beheaded for Christ (v. 4), while "the rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed" (v. 5, JND). I don't see a real problem in connecting this with Daniel 12.
At any rate, regardless of your eschatological views, Scripture makes it clear that the Resurrection has already begun: it started when Christ rose bodily from the grave. This is why 1 Corinthians 15:23 refers to the Resurrection of Christ as the "first-fruits". He began something totally new that He will share with us. Not "us" as merely the Church, but "us" including every saint as far back as Abel. We will all be raised to everlasting life.
Of course, 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 reveal a "mystery": some of us will participate in Resurrection without actually dying (1 Corinthians 15:51, 1 Thessalonians 4:15--18). Some of us will actually be raised without dying! This is the hope of the Christian:
for *our* commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20 & 21, JND)We are waiting for God's Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He will change our "vile bodies" to be like His, and we'll be with Him forever.
Morally, Christians are called to live out a life of resurrection, even though we haven't yet seen it happen. This isn't just a motivational technique, it's the ontological doctrine of the Epistles. Romans teaches we're free from sin because we've been crucified with Christ: we're no longer the "old man" we were, we're now to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4--11). Colossians 2 & 3 take this further: not only have we been crucified with Christ, we were raised with Him and are thus in a totally separate sphere. Having died with Him, we're not to subject ourselves to fleshly ordinances (Colossians 2:20--23). Religious rules and shibboleths aren't part of the new life we are to live in Christ: they appeal to the flesh, but have no value to us. And, having been raised with Him, we're to have our affections where He is, at God's right hand (Colossians 3:1--4). One day Christ will be manifested, and we too will be manifested with Him in glory.
Ephesians takes this even farther: we've been raised with Christ, quickened, and taken to Heaven "with Christ". God's estimation is that we're so completely "with Christ" that we're even sitting with Him "in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 2:5--9).
The Christian is one who lives between the Resurrections: he has already been raised spiritually, he awaits the bodily resurrection that will complete the deal. Really, all our problems come from the fact that we have a foot in both the old and new creations. We ourselves are risen with Christ: we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). But we're still in old creation bodies. We're new creatures, but we're in old bodies. So Romans 6 tells us we're free from sin: we've been crucified with Christ; but Romans 7 tells us we have "the flesh"--- not the "old man", but "the flesh"--- we're in old bodies, there's a "law of sin" in our members so that whenever we want to do good, evil is there with us. Romans 8 gives us the solution: our bodies will one day be redeemed and we'll be free of the sin in them. But until that day, we need our Deliverer because we are utterly powerless over the sin in our flesh.
Our hope is not that we'll die and go to heaven. Our hope is that the Son of God will come and transform our vile bodies. When He comes, He will bring those who have "fallen asleep in Jesus" with Him: they won't miss out on the transformation just because they've died. In fact, the departed saints in Heaven are waiting for the very same event. We don't long to be out of our bodies: it's not our longing to be "unclothed" (2 Corinthians 2:4). The departed saints haven't yet arrived: they are waiting for the shout much more diligently and earnestly than we. The Lord Jesus is coming to get us: He will bring them with Him, and they'll be raised in new bodies. Those of us who are still here will be changed in a moment into bodies like His, and we'll all leave together with Him. That's our hope. That's what the Apostles waited for, that's what we've been called to wait for.