My church, Resurrection Church in Greer, South Carolina, is taking a month out of our normal pattern to explore the doctrine of salvation in the weeks leading up to Easter. I’m also endeavoring to write a complementary blog each week, for what that’s worth, and attempting to connect some overarching themes while allowing the elders to do the real grunt work in the pulpit on Sunday.
This week, our emphasis text is John 11.
I will also note here that all opinions are my own and that this blog has not been officially sanctioned by my church, because some of these opinions may be a tad spicy to some.
The very TL;DR version (and seriously, go read the full account) is that Jesus had a dear friend named Lazarus who was sick, and Jesus intentionally waited around a couple of days for him to die before going to his tomb in the town of Bethany. After a conversation with Martha about the resurrection, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out, and lo and behold, he did.
That said, let’s extrapolate some meat from Jesus’ conversation from Martha.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from 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. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:21-27
We won’t fly away
Unlike most evangelicals who basically take a pan-millennial approach, saying that they don’t know the details, but that everything will pan out in the end, Martha actually has her eschatology figured out. The dead will rise on the last day.
Note: She didn’t say that we’ll fly away, o glory. The chariot is not coming to take us home. The goal of the Christian life is not to slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.
To put it bluntly, heaven is not our home. The escapist mentality of just trying to get to heaven and out of our bodies has more in common with gnosticism and paganism than it does with historic Christianity. In fact, modern evangelicals treat resurrection more like 19th century liberals by spiritualizing the whole affair.
To get a feel for the resurrection, it seems that looking at the first fruits of the resurrection would benefit our discussion.
For starters, Jesus invited Thomas to actually touch his wounds from the crucifixion (John 20:27). Jesus then ate breakfast with the Apostles in John 21. It therefore follows that the resurrected Lord had flesh and blood and sinews and rods and cones in his eyeballs and neurons firing in his brain.
But his body was perfected and glorified, not subjected to decay (Ps. 16:10), and he still possesses that physical body (Phil. 3:20-21, 1 Tim. 2:5).
What’s the big deal?
What’s the big idea? Why does it matter, as long as I don’t end up in God’s deep fryer?
Well, to continue in our refutation of gnostic paganism, we’re not just androgynous souls trapped in husks who are waiting to be swept into true life in the ether. We, along with creation, await the redemption of the entirety of creation, including our bodies (Rom. 8:23). We’re creatures consisting of body and soul, and our bodies along with the whole of creation will not be destroyed but be made new (Rom. 8:21). Anything less means the serpent won the war in the garden.
What it’s not
If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to make everyone uncomfortable, because I think we’ve tilted the already/not yet scale far too much to the not yet.
We’re waiting on the resurrection, not the new heavens and new earth. We’re already there.
But, Cody, that’s in Revelation 21! There’s no way that could have happened. Well, when we take into account that the overwhelming majority of Revelation is either directly quoting or referencing the Old Testament, we should probably familiarize ourselves with a couple of passages.
God uses his creation of heaven and earth as confirmation of his covenant promises (Jer. 33:23-26). “I made all that,” God says. “Of course I’ll follow through on my promises.”
And then we have the promise of new heavens and new earth in Isaiah 65, meaning we’re promised a new covenant. Isaiah 65 can’t be the eschaton, because we have people dying at 100 and sinners living, dying, and going to hell (v 20).
Eschatology that’s cooler than Apache helicopters and microchips
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.Rev. 21:1-2
So, according to my reading and interpretation, John sees the new covenant, and then he sees the new Jerusalem with a huge literary clue for us. This city is prepared as a (checks notes) bride? And then we’re told that the city is the Lamb’s wife (v 9). I posit that this bride of Christ is the church (Eph. 5:25-27, Is. 62:5). If you disagree, that’s okay; you’ve been wrong before, but this chapter is about the bride making her way down the aisle of church history.
And the church doesn’t need a temple, and God the Spirit illuminates life for us. The nations will walk by the church’s light, and the nations will enter its gates and be cleansed (Rev. 21:22-27).
One more misconception about Revelation
I promise I’m getting to Martha’s point, and I don’t mean to have eschatological diarrhea. The resurrection – the resurrection – will be on the last day.
Here’s all I’ll say about the first resurrection in Revelation 21. Those who were raised were 1) those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and 2) those who had not worshiped the beast (Rev. 21:4). Their coming to life is regeneration, as discussed in Ephesians 2.
If I’m not right, then you have the grotesque situation of the sons of God being revealed in the resurrection while you still have the creation groaning under sin. Think about that.
But we also have clear passages. God will swallow up death forever (Is. 25:8). Once death is dead, it doesn’t come back like a Friday the 13th sequel.
And besides, the last enemy Christ will defeat is death (1 Cor. 15:26), while the predominant reading of Revelation says that death is defeated before Satan.
But no, the beauty of this position and of 1 Corinthians 15 – which is what Martha saw in her Hebrew Scriptures – is that the Christ must reign until he puts his enemies under his feet, including death at the end, and all Paul did was quote Psalm 110.
So in a time of rampant end times speculation, the traditional lens of truth, goodness, and beauty comes into play, and this series of events provides all three:
Christ lived, died, and rose.
Christ reigns, and he will continue to do so until and while he conquers all of his enemies.
The last enemy that Jesus will defeat is death, and he’ll do it in one fell swoop as he closes history and delivers the kingdom to the Father.