The Resurrection of the Body
By Don Walker
It has only occurred to me recently the importance that the New Testament places on the resurrection of the body. The focus of the New Testament is resurrection, not immortality. The great hope of Christians is the resurrection of the body. When we are converted, God places within us His Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Paul tells us that the Spirit who quickened (or enlivened or resurrected) Christ’s mortal body will resurrect ours also. In other words, immortality is a gift of God fully secured by our future bodily resurrection. We presently possess eternal life because of the residing presence within us of the Holy Spirit, who will one day raise us up, just as He raised up our Lord. In the Bible, immortality is not the state of the soul — it is the condition of the whole man at the resurrection. Jesus as much as says this in Luke 20:36 — deathlessness is the benefit of the resurrection, not of disembodiment. In fact, immortality is the resurrection.
Millard Erickson wrote in his Christian Theology: “The liberal who wished to maintain some sort of continuing life after death replaced the idea of the resurrection of the body with the immortality of the
soul. Although the body may die and decompose, the soul, being immortal, lives on.”
Dr. N.T. Wright in his book entitled Following Jesus makes this observation:
“Most Christians, if pressed, would express their future hope in terms of leaving this world and going to another one, called ‘heaven’. But here, at the climactic moment of one of the greatest New Testament books, the heavenly city comes down to earth. To be sure, God’s people go to heaven when they die; they pass into God’s dimension of reality, and we see them no more. But Easter unveils the truth beyond the truth of mere ‘survival’, beyond the truth even of ‘heaven’; the truth that God’s kingdom shall come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Our ultimate destiny is not a disembodied heaven, just as the ultimate destiny of this created world is not to be thrown away, abandoned as secondary or shabby. It’s the tyrants who want to blow the world to bits. God wants to re-create it.”
Oscar Cullmann’s classic, stunning contrast (“Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead: The Witness of the New Testament”) between the deaths of Socrates, the epitome of ancient Greek thinking, and Jesus Christ, our Lord. He writes:
“The death of Socrates is a beautiful death. Nothing is seen here of death’s terror. Socrates cannot fear death, since indeed it sets us free from the body. Whoever fears death proves that he loves the world of the body, that he is thoroughly entangled in the world of the senses. Death is the soul’s great friend. So he teaches; and so, in wonderful harmony with his teaching, he dies — this man who embodied the Greek world in its noblest form.”
And now let us hear how Jesus dies. In Gethsemane he knows that death stands before him, just as Socrates expected death on his last day. The synoptic gospels furnish us, by and large, with a unanimous report. Jesus begins “to tremble and be distressed,” writes Mark. “My soul is troubled, even to death,” he says to his disciples. Jesus is so thoroughly human that he shares the natural fear of death. Jesus is afraid ... He is afraid in the face of death itself. Death for him is not something divine; it is something dreadful.
Only he who apprehends with the first Christians the horror of death, who takes death seriously as death, can comprehend the Easter exultation of the primitive Christian community and understand that the whole thinking of the New Testament is governed by belief in the resurrection. Belief in the immortality of the soul is not belief in a revolutionary event. Immortality, in fact, is only a negative assertion: the soul does not die, but simply lives on. Resurrection is a positive assertion: the whole man, who has really died, is recalled to life by a new act of creation by God. Something has happened — a miracle of creation! For something has also happened previously, something fearful: life formed by God has been destroyed.
Death in itself is not beautiful, not even the death of Jesus. This is what we are confronted with in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. The only “beauty” found in Christ’s death is in its purpose as the ultimate expression of love as He bore the wrath of God. Death is referred to in the Scriptures as an enemy. Whoever has not grasped the horror of death cannot join Paul in the hymn of victory: “Death is swallowed up — in victory! O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (I Cor. 15:55). Jesus has conquered death and He is the first fruits of those who await the resurrection of the body (I Cor. 15:20). This is why Easter is such a blessed event for the believer. Our resurrection is tied to His resurrection (I Cor. 15:23).
He is Risen!