The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Feb 25, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection, part 2: The resurrection of believers

In a previous post I suggested that we (pointing a finger at myself) have occasionally managed to force Jesus' Resurrection into the backseat, failing to recognize that it holds an equally valuable position with his death on the cross in our proclamation of the Gospel, Scripture is clear: not only is the Resurrection an essential part of the Gospel (you have no good news if all you offer is a dead Messiah), the response to the question "how do you know he lives" is: 1. the OT foretold it, and 2. multiple eyewitnesses reported it (the correct answer is not "he lives within my heart," pace that classic song; see Luke 24:27, 34; Acts 2:32; 1 Cor 15; etc.).

Now I wish to suggest that the concept of "heaven" as "a place up there above the clouds" has unbiblically replaced the resurrection and life on a New Earth and in a New Jerusalem as the true eschatological hope of the Gospel.

Nothing I saw here is new; all of it has been said by smarter people in a more scholarly format (the starting point should be N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, which deals with both Jesus' resurrection and ours).

Now, if your definition of "heaven" is "wherever God dwells," then I agree with you--we will spend eternity in heaven, specifically the New Earth and New Jerusalem where God will dwell with us. As an evangelist at my church and college said last semester, "It's not about us going up to heaven, It's about heaven coming down to us" (see Revelation 21-22).

Yet American culture generally speaking thinks of heaven as "that place above the clouds." As such, it is potentially unbiblical to tell people "you'll spend eternity in heaven"; at its best, this is incredibly misleading. At its worst, this is latent gnosticism, and here's why.

First off, creation. In Genesis 1 God pronounced all his creation "good" and, despite the corruption of sin, Scripture clearly indicates that God will redeem/re-create his creation (e.g., Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, etc.). Furthermore, Psalm 115:16-18 indicates a clear contrast between heaven and earth. The former is God's abode, not humanity's, while the latter was meant for humans. For God to not restore earth to her original purpose as the habitation of humanity in God's service would mean defeat, the idea that sin could permanently alter God's plan (which it cannot).

Secondly, we have various clues that the afterlife is not yet all it could be, e.g., the very morose attitude in Psalm 6:5, Isaiah 38:9-11, etc., and even the Lament of those in Revelation 6:10. Now, granted, it's not like "heaven" is a bad place, but it's not what God intends for believers, especially in a disembodied state (consider--the only reason we float around in heaven after death is because of sin in the first place; had Adam never sinned, we would not even be talking of "going to heaven").

Thirdly, as briefly touched on above, the "End Game" of Scripture is not "hanging out in above the clouds," as is pop-culture's view of heaven (and countless "gospel" songs, many with, anemic theology--with all due respect, here's looking at you, last verse of "Sweet Hour of Prayer"--"this robe of flesh I'll drop and rise/to seize the everlasting prize" is misleading at best, bad theology at worst). Rather, the End Game of Scripture is the New Jerusalem coming down to the New Earth where we will serve God with resurrected bodies, and God will forever dwell with his creation (Revelation 21-22; 1 Cor 15; Rom 16:5; etc.). Thus, to quote once again the evangelist I mentioned above, it's not "us going up to heaven" but "heaving coming down to us" (on the New Earth!).

Consider, then, the practical ramifications. Contra the libertarian proto-gnostics that the Apostle Paul was probably countering (1Cor 6:13-20), the body is not an evil entity that can thus be used for anything we wish without ramifications. Rather, the body is sacred! God will someday resurrect it (because he created it in the first place, and everything God created is good, corruption notwithstanding). Thus, how we treat our own bodies now (especially in regards to immorality) will truly reveal our attitude towards the resurrection God has planned. If we truly look forward to the Resurrection, with new physical bodies free from the taint of sin, we will consider that our current "robe of flesh" (to quote that gospel song again) is not something that is evil but is a member of Jesus Christ himself (1Cor 6:15). We will not long for some disembodied existence, floating around "up there," which is not what God ever intended for us. We will look forward not to "heaven" (if by "heaven" we mean "that place above the clouds") but rather the final resurrection.

Yet the very concept of resurrection remains a scandal for North American culture, conjuring up images of zombies or worse (in contrast, "heaven" is generally culturally acceptable). It's time to proclaim the Resurrection of our bodies, for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as the true hope that lies within us. The Apostle Paul proclaimed this and was mocked by the Greeks (Acts 17:32) and opposed by the Sadducees (Acts 23:6-8), yet he continued to proclaim this counter-cultural truth. So maybe, just maybe, instead of asking people "Do you know for sure if you'll spend eternity in heaven?" we should be asking "Do you know if you'll be resurrected someday?"

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