The major Christian creeds state, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But I’ve found in many conversations that Christians tend to spiritualize the resurrection of the dead, effectively denying it. They don’t reject it as a doctrine, but they deny its essential meaning: a permanent return to a physical existence in a physical universe—living forever with resurrected bodies alongside the resurrected Christ and resurrected people on a resurrected earth!
When God sent Jesus to die, it was for our bodies as well as our spirits. He came to redeem not just “the breath of life” (spirit) but also “the dust of the ground” (body). When we die, it isn’t that our real self goes to the present Heaven and our fake self goes to the grave; it’s that part of us goes to the present Heaven and part goes to the grave to await our bodily resurrection. We’ll never be all that God intended until body and spirit are again joined in resurrection.
Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live—the New Earth. Anthony Hoekema is right: “Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space, or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and to work, glorifying God. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in fact, makes no sense whatever apart from the doctrine of the new earth.”
What difference does it make in our present lives? Scripture tells us that grasping the implications of the doctrine of the resurrection, and knowing that this present world will end and be resurrected into new heavens and a New Earth, should profoundly affect our daily behavior: “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God. . . . In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter3:11-14).
Christ-centered righteous living today is directly affected by knowing where we’re going and what rewards we’ll receive there for serving Christ. After all, if we really believe we’re going to live forever in a realm where Christ is the center who brings us joy, and that righteous living will mean happiness for all, why wouldn’t we choose to get a head start on Heaven through Christ-centered righteous living now?
In this ten-minute discussion filmed by The Gospel Coalition, John Piper, Scott Swain, and I discuss the topic of Heaven in the hopes of providing a more biblically-informed picture of our future home.
Photo credit: Rosan Harmens via Unsplash