Creation and New Creation
'Could we but climb where Moses stood, and view the landscape o'er...'
Easter Hope: Looking Forward to Your Resurrection
- Sam Alberry is Associate Minister at St Mary's Church, Maidenhead, UK, and author of 'Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life.' View all resources by Sam Allberry
Sam Allberry's recent book Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life
shows that the Resurrection is far more than merely the 'happy ending' to the story of the cross, in fact, that it has overwhelmingly positive implications for our daily lives. Let his article below whet your appetite!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Christian hope is Easter hope. And it is different to the hope we normally encounter in the world today. It is not based on my circumstances and prospects; it comes through Jesus’ resurrection, and is therefore independent of those things. It is therefore a living hope. It has a life of its own that can endure even the worst experiences of life in this world. It is grounded in what God has done in raising Jesus from the dead. It is hope that is totally contingent on a particular event. And because that event has happened our hope is secure. Not wishful-thinking hope, but guaranteed hope.
We need to see how this is so, how Peter is able to connect the resurrection of Jesus two millennia ago with a future hope for Christians today.
What has happened in the past shows us what will happen in the future. Like Jesus, we are to be raised physically from the dead. Through faith we are united to him. His Spirit dwells within us, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit within us is the spirit of resurrection. What that Spirit did in raising Jesus he will do for us. We are guaranteed bodily resurrection.
But we do not need to dwell on this for long before a whole host of questions comes flooding to mind. We need to look at 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul has some of these questions in mind:
“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (v.35)
Try and imagine your future resurrection for a moment and you begin asking these questions. How will it all work? What age will I be when resurrected – a baby? – a teen? Will I have to go through acne and a squeaky voice all over again? Or will I be old? And what will my body be like? Will I be athletic? Will a broken nose still be broken? Will I have blue eyes this time round?
There are all sorts of details we want to know about all this. Those questions were just a taster. I don’t have a clue how this is all going to work. But given I’m not the one who has to decide how it’s all going to work, I don’t need to worry. In fact, it is plain stupid to worry about it (v.36). There is a difference between not knowing everything, and not knowing anything. And what we can know on this is more than enough to stop us worrying about what we can’t know. So: what will our bodily resurrection be like? In answer, Paul says look at nature, and look at the risen Christ.
1. Look at Nature
Paul is gloved-up, wearing green boots and heading for the garden. We need to learn some things from nature – three things as it turns out.
Lesson 1: Put death in, get life out...
The first is that there needs to be death in order to be life. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (v.36). The seed “dies” when we sow it. You shove it into the ground and leave it there, buried. It is, to all intents and purposes, dead. Yet from this death comes life, and without this death there would not be life. Leave the seed in the packet or on the table and not much is going to happen. It has to “die” first. Death is a condition of resurrection. It’s true of seeds and it’s true of us. Our bodies need to die in order to be raised up in new physical life. The transformation God wants to bring to us physically can’t happen unless our present body dies.
Lesson 2: What you get wasn't what you put in...
New life comes from death, but the second lesson is that the new life which emerges is different to what was sown. “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else (v.37). Paul is a little unrealistic about the level of interest I have in gardening, but I made a trip to the local garden centre to buy some seed and investigate for myself. I have before me some seed for sweet corn, carrots and cauliflower (sorry, Paul, they were out of wheat). There is little correspondence between what it looks like as a seed and when fully grown. The carrot seed (much to my disappointment) is not orange and carrot-shaped – a smaller version of the final product. Without the packet to tell me, I would have no idea what kind of seeds they were. I certainly couldn’t have guessed just from their appearance. But “God gives it a body as he has determined,” (v.38).
It is Agriculture 101: what you shove into the ground is different to what you dig up out of it several months later. Our new, resurrected body will be different to the old. It’s not that absurd an idea – it is all around us in nature.
Lesson 3: Like, dur...
The third lesson Paul has for us from nature is more broad: “All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (v.39). It feels a little patronising to be told this – I can tell the difference between a goldfish and an elephant, thanks – but that is precisely Paul’s point: God is pretty experienced when it comes to finding appropriate bodies for things. We may be floored by some of the questions that come to us about the resurrection of the dead, but do you really think that God, who has made the countless kinds of creature on this earth, is really going to struggle to make an appropriate body for those who are raised in Christ? Look down at the creatures; look up at the heavens (v.40-41). There are seemingly infinite bodies is this universe. There are more than 13,000 species of fern and 12,000 species of moss. This is something of an area of expertise for God: do you really think he will have trouble providing a resurrection body for you? The huge variety in creation shows we have no worries here. God is not limited to what we can imagine or understand. His creative power is boundless.
2. Look at the Risen Christ
We can look beyond nature. The next step in understanding the nature of our bodily resurrection is to look at the nature Christ’s resurrected body. Just as there was correspondence between us and Adam, the first man; Paul shows there will also be correspondence between us and the risen Jesus, the new Adam. Both are prototypes for those to follow. “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (v.49). Jesus’ resurrection body tells us about ours. He will transform our lowly bodies, Paul says elsewhere, “so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).
What was the resurrection body of Jesus like? The gospel accounts show us that there was continuity and discontinuity with his pre-resurrection body.
Christ's risen body
Let’s consider the continuity: Jesus bore the scars of his crucifixion (John 20:25, 27). He was still recognisably the man his disciples had known (Luke 24:39). He ate with them (Luke 24:42-43) and broke bread with them (Luke 24:30-31).
But there were also differences. He was recognisable, but not immediately so (John 21:4). Two of his disciples shared a long journey with him, all the while unaware that it was actually him they were walking with and talking to (Luke 24:15-16, though Luke adds that they were “kept from recognising him” indicating that there was more to their lack of recognition than just a change in how Jesus looked). It was far more than his appearance: his nature seemed different to what had gone before. The risen Jesus seemed to pass through locked doors (John 20:26), and to suddenly appear and disappear (John 21:1, Luke 24:31). He was less bound by the physical limitations of normal human life. His body had changed.
This is some indication of what we have to look forward to in our own bodily resurrection. There will be continuity and also discontinuity. I will be recognisably and authentically me. But I will be a transformed me. And I take it this transformation will be a more authentic me than I am now. I will be more fully myself then than I have ever been.
Our risen bodies
Paul compares our pre- and post-resurrection bodies.
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
The contrast relates to four areas:
- My body now is perishable. It will one day fall apart and decompose. Strong and indestructible as we feel in our prime, people will one day stand at our graveside. Our bodies will die and decay. They have a limited shelf-life. As they currently are, they are not designed to go on forever. Like modern toasters and kettles apparently have a form of obsolescence built into them. Our fallen bodies certainly do. They will only function for a limited time. Death is inevitable. The visible signs of aging are a picture of this. But this will not be so with our resurrection bodies. They will be imperishable. They will go on forever.
- My body now is dishonourable. It has been a vehicle for sin. To my shame, I have used my feet to take me to places of ungodliness; I have used my eyes to look with lust; my hands to harm others; my tongue to lie or exaggerate or humiliate. I have offered the parts of my body to sin, as instruments of wickedness (Rom. 6:13). My body has also suffered because of sin: bruised by others, misused and poorly-stewarded by myself. Paul has already reminded his Corinthian readers that sexual sin is a sin against our own body (1 Cor. 6:18): it changes us – something seemingly organic happens in the act of sexual sin that means we are not the same again. Our bodies are dishonourable. But our new bodies will be raised in glory. Rather than bearing the memories and marks of sin, they will shine; they will be like Jesus’ “glorious body”.
- My body now is weak. It is easily damaged or slowed. I have scars on my torso from two major operations. I seem to get a cold around September that never really goes until May, enjoy two weeks of robust health and then get a summer cold. I’m allergic to cat hair. All it takes to reduce me to a puffy-eyed, sniffling wreck is the presence of some kitten fur: that’s weakness! I suspect that most of us, even in relative youth, are on medication for something. I asked a congregation of about 300, mostly made up of undergraduate students, to put up their hand if they’d had any kind of medication in the previous 7 days. There was a forest of raised hands. Isaiah reminds us that even youths grow tired and weary (Isaiah 40:30). Even in our primes we’re not that impressive. It gets worse when we’re older. If, one Sunday morning, I ask a group of elderly church members to describe their physical ailments, I’ll need to cancel dinner plans. Our bodies are weak. We need to spend a third of our lives sleeping, after all. But our new bodies will be raised in power. They will not be subject to the same limitations and vulnerabilities. Our strength will be renewed and we will soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31). We will be able to do then what is impossible for us now.
- My body now is natural. That is, it belongs to this realm of nature. It is from the dust of this fallen world, and is appropriate for this kind of life. But my future body, though still physical, will be supernatural. It will be the perfect vehicle for glorifying God in the new creation. My future is supernatural – the very best of human resources and technology now could not come close to achieving for my body what will happen when it is raised. It will belong then to a new order, fitted for service in a new, everlasting realm.
This is our hope. Our future is very much physical. Contrary to the view most people have of heaven, our ultimate destiny is physical, as we shall see. We will not be floating around disembodied in the middle of some cloudy vista. We will have bodies, risen, transformed glorious bodies.
We can see why Peter described this as a “living” hope. It is not subject to the terms and conditions of so much earthly expectation. It is sure and certain. Nothing will thwart it. It is hope that looks beyond death.
When grey hair is good!
This is the major difference between Christian hope and any other kind. Our western society cannot bear to think about death. The only hope it can find is a form that hides away all forms and reminders of death. But true hope is not found in hiding from death, but in being able to come to terms with its reality. For Christians, death is not the end, but a new beginning. It is the condition for resurrection.
One Christian lady in her mid-fifties told me recently that this is why she doesn’t bother to dye her hair. She said she doesn’t mind the process of aging affecting her appearance. Her perspective has been shaped by resurrection hope. The best is not behind her; it is to come. The body I have and am – this body now – is not ultimate. Even at its peak it doesn’t come close to the body I will have. Grey hairs are therefore not a threat but a promise. The gradual slowing down of the body; the processes of physical ageing and decay that anticipate our final passing – these are not (to borrow a phrase) the beginning of the end, but just the end of the beginning. Better is to come – much better! Death is transition to resurrection. We can therefore look it in the eye: it has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:55).
Most of us hate or fear wasps and bees precisely because of their sting. But if I knew that, somehow, the sting of these creatures had been removed, would I really go into contortions every time one hovered nearby? A stingless wasp would be one we could swat away playfully. No threat at all.
Well we now have only a stingless death ahead of us. This is not to trivialise the pain that might come with death, for us and for those we leave behind. But it is to recognise that it has been robbed if its greatest sting: sin. Death is not now the prelude to judgement and condemnation, but to a new, perfected life. Christians can approach it differently. We have hope – living, breathing, growing hope.