Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Meaning of the Christ's Resurrection

Too often I think we overlook the main point of the resurrection. As evangelicals we can simply use it as a good apologetic for the courtroom validity of Christianity, or a litmus for orthodoxy, or even just as God's apologetic to show us that Christ's death was really a sufficient satisfaction for sin, almost as a gloss to Christ's death. But while Christ's resurrection can be all these things as well, I don't think any of these are the main point. Ultimately the resurrection is the reality of the new creation already bursting into this sin-infested world. Christ has priority and pre-eminence in the new creation even as He did in the old creation (cf Colossians 1:15-20). It is that which gives us a certain hope that the world's trajectory of death and utter destruction will be ultimately undone and overcome by God in Christ through the Spirit. Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits and guarantee that the Biblical age to come has already begun and will just as surely be consummated and perfected. And of course, this leaves us, as the church in the power of the Spirit, to be shining beacons of hope in an otherwise hopeless world, living out Christ's resurrection in newness of life, day by day.

Well, why do we miss this stuff? I don't know! Maybe it is because it's the end of the story and too many of us never finish the books we start reading :-) When I was looking again at Graeme Goldsworthy's book, According to Plan, I was pleased to read his section on 'The New Creation' near the end of his book. This is a popular book, but why do we still seem to talk so often about a 'disembodied' heaven as the opposite of hell, instead of the new creation, the new heavens and new earth? Maybe we get too tied up with some of the details along the way, and miss the point, forgetting where we're actually supposed to be going..?

I thought I would post a copy of Goldsworthy's section I was talking about, since I thought it was so good...

The New Creation
The bodily resurrection of Jesus dominates the New Testament understanding of the gospel. This emphasis in no way detracts from the death of Jesus as the perfect offering by which our sins are covered. The resurrection is central because it presupposes his death, and because it stands as the new beginning of the human race. It may be for this reason that the birth of Jesus as the new creation is not a theme developed in the New Testament. The new humanity rises in the resurrection of Jesus, and in our own bodily resurrection our participation in the Kingdom will cease to be one which is experienced by faith alone, and will become a fact of our total experience. Thus we are born again by Christ's resurrection (1 Pet 1:3), and through his resurrection we enter newness of life (Rom 6:4-11).

The consummation, then, is perceived as being the event that takes place when Christ is revealed in glory. The life in the Spirit, which is the life of faith, continues for a time. It is a life of suffering (Rom 8:18). At the same time the whole creation, which has been subjected to futility, waits with longing, for the final redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:11, 19-23). The resurrection of the children of God will signal the final redemption and renewal of the whole creation. This involvement of the physical body along with the physical creation in the regeneration is one main reason why regeneration should not be thought of exclusively as God giving new life to our spirits. The New Testament constantly repudiates the Greek Gnostic notions of salvation of the immortal soul alone. Texts dealing with the soul between death and resurrection are very scarce. But texts dealing with the resurrection of the whole person abound throughout the whole New Testament.

By now it should be absolutely obvious that the Old Testament references to the kingdom being on earth and populated by people cannot be spiritualized away. Once we accept that Jesus rose bodily, even though his resurrection body was not exactly as it had been before, the physical component of the Kingdom is clear. Those texts which support the ideas of souls going to heaven (for example, 2 Cor. 5:1-10) see it as a purely temporary situation. Peter's description of the new heaven (sky above) and new earth is drawn directly from Isaiah 65:17 (2 Pet. 3:13), which in turn is based on Genesis 1:1. So also, the marvellous description of the kingdom in Revelation 21 and 22 is based on a number of Old Testament passages. But there is no suggestion that is mere symbolism which must be interpreted in a spiritualized way.

For John, the consummation is the open fulfilment of the Old Testament hope. There is a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Rev 21:1-2). Some may think of the heavenly Jerusalem as a place in the heavens. But John describes it as from heaven and coming down onto the new earth. That which the tabernacle and temple pointed to, the dwelling of God with his people, becomes a reality (Rev. 21:3). The regeneration is now complete (Rev. 21:5), and thus there is no longer any need for 'government outposts and agencies', such as the temple which is the symbol of God's presence, for he is present and is also the source of all light (Rev. 21:22-23). The old images of Eden are there joined with those of the holy city and throne (Rev. 22:1-2, cf. Ezk. 47:1-12).

All sorts of questions no doubt spring to mind about what the new earth will be like. Most of them will have to remain unanswered in this life since scripture provides little information. One thing is for sure: the biblical view of the total regeneration of all things really beats the pagan view of an eternity spent as disembodied souls with only the odd cloud or two for support!

(Graeme Goldsworthy,
According to
(1991) IVP pages 298-300)
PS Since I didn't want to type it all out myself, I thought I'd search the web for someone who'd already done the job for me. Perhaps it is indicative that I could hardly find a copy. What was more interesting was where I did find most of it: on a Worldwide Church of God webpage! Now that is a really amazing story of a group many of us would have written off as a cult, but which has had such a turn around. You can read some of their story at their site, in their own words. Maybe it is another example of Christ's resurrection in action :-)


  1. Hi Craig.
    The story of the transformation of the WCOG is a great story of God's grace, isn't it. I enjoyed reading Joseph Tkach's book a few years back.

    Concerning what you said about Heaven, I like the thought that we don't go to heaven, but heaven comes to us in a renewed heaven and earth, a la Revelation 21-22.

  2. Thanks for the comments, David. I think too many of us as Christians tend to think of 'heaven' as the ultimate destination, something like the Elysian Fields or Valhalla, which have the perfect destination entered immediately after death as a place completely separate from the world of the living. But this is not the Biblical picture. We await the day for Jesus to return and the job to be completed :-) I think Philippians 3:20 also has this idea, with Jesus bringing the consummated kingdom with him when he comes from heaven. I once semi-provocatively preached a sermon I entitled: I can't wait to get out of heaven!