“All who died will come to life.” That is the doctrine of resurrection in seven words.
It’s probably one of the most visible and enduring doctrines of the Christian church.
In fact, as a nation we celebrate the resurrection–Christ’s resurrection that is.
But I doubt most Americans–let alone professing Christians–could articulate a clear explanation of this doctrine.
I know I couldn’t until I cracked open the books.
Let’s change that.
How Important Is the Doctrine of the Resurrection?
Ask anybody–whether they believe in a physical resurrection, a metaphorical one or not at all–and all will agree that Jesus’ Resurrection is the center of Christianity.
Indeed, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:14
Gary Habermas, who’s written 15 books on the Resurrection said, “It’s the center of Christianity.”
Popular atheist Christopher Hitchens said:
I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Indeed, Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. But not all believe it unfolded the same way–that is as a physical, bodily resurrection.
Alternative Views of Jesus’ Resurrection
John Shelby Spong believes the Resurrection is real. But Spong asserts it’s mythological at best.
Since it’s impossible to translate a God-event like Jesus’ resurrection, the Gospel writers resorted to what they had in hand–mythological language…
That means it would be a mistake to read into the Gospel accounts a literal risen Jesus walking around and eating.
Unfortunately, Spong never sufficiently explains why communicating an event like the risen Jesus barbecuing fish and chumming around with old friends is problematic.
Seems pretty straightforward to me.
John Dominic Crossan thinks the Resurrection is best understood as a metaphor–a message that Crossan says is easy to understand.
But a metaphor misses the point. It loses the reality of God in the world.
Furthermore, former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary James Emery White said, ”There’s no sense that any of the earliest followers had the remotest sense that this event was metaphorical.”
And finally, historian and atheist philosopher Richard Carrier argues that the resurrection Paul spoke about was spiritual and not physical–a notoriously-slippery-slope notion William Lane Craig debunks.
But why should we care about the precision of Jesus’ resurrection? I mean can’t we “get the message” with out getting all technical?
One good reason why precision is so important is that Jesus’ own resurrection tells us what our future resurrection will look like.
Old Testament Hope of a General Resurrection
General resurrection is not a Christian invention.
In fact, many Greek philosophers like Plato believed that at death the soul would be released from the body to reunite with the divine spirit.
Hebrews looked at it differently. The dead entered Sheol with their bodies and expected God to ransom them from this prison:
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Psalm 49:15
Moreover, their general belief in the goodness of God led the Jewish people to assume that the righteous dead would one day see God. Job said: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Job 19:26
In a sense, God’s goodness was the foundation for this expectation.
New Testament Hope of General Resurrection
By Jesus’ time, as the Hebrew vision of general resurrection took shape, there were two competing positions on the topic.
The Sadducees and the Pharisses.
The Saducees dismissed general resurrection because they believed it was irrelevant to this life [“Look mom–a secular humanist!”] and was not included in the Law of Moses.
Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in a life after death that required a resurrection.
But why is the the Old Testament short on resurrection content while the New Testament presents a robust look?
Namely because the hope of the believer’s future resurrection rests upon the resurrection of Christ:
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18
Five Elements to the General Resurrection
What does this general resurrection look like? Glad you asked. Here are five ways.
Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:21
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling 2 Corinthians 5:2
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthians 5:4
Resurrection to Life
And come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:29
Resurrection to Judgment
Having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. Acts 24:15
Now, not all who sought identification with the early Christian church proclaimed a future resurrection of the body.
Instead, they preached a spiritual awakening that already passed. This view, adopted by Hymenaeus and Philetus, and by later Gnostics, was condemned by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:17-19.
The Over-Looked Accomplishments of a General Resurrection
Christ’s resurrection accomplishes at least three things.
One, it validates the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Two, Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates God’s triumph over death. And three, it establishes and under girds our hope of a future life beyond this world.
That last point accomplishes something very important…and often overlooked when it comes to the general resurrection: it inspires our evangelism.
If in heaven, then we want to share this good news. If in hell, then we want to warn. This means the doctrine of the general resurrection actually informs the rather remote doctrines of comfort and compassion.
Earthly suffering sucks. But eternal sucks way more.
In the end, as a Christian, it’s impossible to sever this life from the life of the next. We do our mortal brothers and sisters injustice if we think otherwise.
Let me know what you think.