Do We Emphasize the Resurrection Enough?
While Christians celebrate Easter with great joy, Christ’s resurrection means less to some of us than His death. Good Friday gets most of the good theology as well as the national holiday. It is a day when theologians are in high demand in our pulpits to explain the profound signific-ance of the Cross.
It’s a legitimate concern to want to prevent Easter from being reduced to a wrap-party at the end of a long weekend.
Perhaps one reason for our lack of resurrection emphasis is our lack of practical interest in the Second Coming – after all, life is pretty good right now for most of us. Or perhaps it is our narrow view of salvation. When we give a testimony like “I was saved when I was 36,” we imply an understanding of the Cross and its relevance as something in the past.
Let us not forget that the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation, including the Cross, is future. Salvation culminates in the restoration of all creation, and that demands a resurrection.
The “groans” mentioned in Romans 8 are cries for deliverance from a world decimated by sin. Creation groans to be restored, and our groan to reach our destiny as children of God is echoed by the Spirit who prays that the will of God will be accomplished (Romans 8:18-27).
Death is necessary to be free of sin; resurrection, to know life as it was intended by God.
Yet personal resurrection is not a dominant motif in the Old Testament. It began to grow in importance during the period of the Exile when the Israelites no longer possessed the land and their attention shifted somewhat from national concerns to more personal ones.
Later, in the midst of long centuries of Greek and then Roman occupation, hope in the resurrection became central to Jewish thinking and hope.
We know of the Pharisees’ belief in resurrection from the reference in Acts 23:8. Their passion for this doctrine would continue into the rabbinic period when their successors would state in the Mishnah (AD 200) that belief in the resurrection is a requirement for participation in the world to come (Sanhedrin 10.1). They believed in a physical, bodily resurrection.
One of the theological challenges Paul faced in preaching to Gentiles concerned the resurrection of the body. It seemed absurd to a Gentile, for whom the body was a prison for the soul, to imagine a future and eternal embodiment. Yet Paul preached that unless there is a resurrection of the person as Christ was resurrected then “we are to be pitied more than all others” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Resurrection marks the end of world history (Romans 11:15). What immediately precedes it is (1) the completion of the Gentile mission (the time of the Gentiles) and then (2) Israel responds to the gospel in a way that the nation did not when Christ came the first time (Romans 11:25-27). When Israel responds to the gospel the resurrection plays a central role in initiating the beginning of the end of God’s global restoration.
Resurrection allows us to have eternal fellowship with God. As the first man and woman were created in the image of God as a composite of dust and spirit, so we all will be reconstituted in that way. To be fully human is to be body and spirit, whether in this life or in the next. We were created to be in personal relationship with God, and the resurrection allows that personal relationship to continue.
Resurrection keeps our focus on the future aspect of God’s kingdom and prevents us from becoming too time-bound. The Book of Revelation casts a glorious vision of a future when the relationship of humanity and God is complete. What had been lost in the Garden, the intimacy of unbroken relationship, is now restored. “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them” (Revelation 21:3a).
Van Johnson is dean of Master’s Pentecostal Seminary in Toronto. Please send your questions to: FTeditor@efc-canada.com or Faith Today, Ask a Theologian, M.I.P. Box 3745, Markham, ON L3R 0Y4.
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