I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting
When we see crops growing in the fields for harvest it inspires a larger thought. What of all the goodness, truthfulness and beauty in human beings? How will that end up? Or the evil and deceitfulness? Christian faith sees human history as part of the purpose of God that will climax in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This climax is the great separation promised by Jesus of the righteous and unrighteous to populate heaven and hell.
His resurrection is the first fruits of this harvest. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, Jesus says, but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12v24). Jesus is that grain. The righteous will be his harvest. Christ has been raised from the dead, St Paul affirms, the first fruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15v20).
At the heart of Christianity is no theory or doctrine but a happening – Christ’s resurrection. This happening is moreover a first instalment for made like him like him we rise. The whole point of Christian faith is an opening of humanity to a dimension of life beyond this world that will be finally revealed in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
It is beyond our imagining but not beyond our believing. Centuries of critical scholarship by historians have brought no evidence to undermine the resurrection of Jesus. Some would say this happening is the more confirmed by this process of enquiry. If the resurrection of Christ is true it cannot be separated from the promises of Christ which include resurrection for his followers,
The faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ is something we can experience on earth through answered prayer, guidance given, healing received and so on. It is an extrapolation of that experience to hold faith with him to provide for us, as his beloved children, when our earthly bodies expire.
In Christian tradition there are two resurrections for believers. There is an individual resurrection of the soul at the moment of death and a general resurrection of the body that is part of the completion of God’s plan at the Lord’s return. Scripture witnesses two ultimate destinies, heaven and hell, populated by people in body as well as soul. Some Christian traditions believe in a sort of an antechamber to heaven where unrepented sins are dealt with called variously purgatory or paradise.
Christianity centres on the body of Christ. Believers are part of that body. They are incorporated by baptism and in an ongoing manner through holy communion. The resurrection body is a fulfilment of this incorporation. Jesus promises that those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day (John 6v54). In the same way Paul teaches that if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you (Romans 8v11). The joy the Lord gives to our spirit is destined to expand and fill the universe in the resurrection of the dead at his return.
Surely heaven is automatic when you die? Some say. No. Life is short. Death is certain and there are two destinies beyond it of joy and of misery. Christ made this clear. He also spoke of joy in heaven over every soul that opens itself to him. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8v1). If we live life apart from Christ we miss out in this world and the next. Scripture is plain that this life is preparation for the next and has eternal consequences. At the last it will be a case of my will be done or God’s will be done.
All must rise from the dead writes Thomas Merton, amplifying St. Ambrose. Resurrection is our lot. Life is our destiny whether we want it or not. But to be risen and not want it, to hate life is the resurrection of judgement. Man is not, and cannot be a merely ephemeral thing. But if he wills to be evanescent, to remain in what is not, he is a living contradiction
Is not life that goes on for ever and ever a wearisome thought? It is for those of us whose earthly bodies are becoming a burden, but those who commit themselves to Christ are promised a new body. Made like him like him we rise, which implies the vigour that is evident in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection body.
No words can adequately fill out the picture of heaven traced in outline through scripture but there are hints at work to do as before the throne of God (the saints) serve him day and night (Revelation 7v15b). Bringing good on earth is surely one task now of those caught up in the joyful goodness of God and his heart for the world who, with us, await the resurrection of the body at Christ’s return.
St Thérèse of Lisieux, a saint famous for her spiritual confidence, had no doubt that she would, in her own words, spend my heaven doing good on earth. This aspiration is true to the picture of the faithful departed in scripture where we read that all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect (Hebrews 11v39-40).
To hear a 2min audio summary of this teaching click here: https://soundcloud.com/john-twisleton/resurrection-of-the-body