The Good and Bad News of a Bodily Resurrection
There has been much talk and attention given of late to the fact that Christianity has been unduly influenced by Greek, Platonic thought – especially in matters of the resurrection. Plato’s god was a vague intellectual/spiritual entity who was off in a world of perfection, thinking about thinking. To think purer and more sublime thoughts was seen as reaching towards divinity. Heaven was seen as one’s intellect finally breaking free from the shell of mortality to float upwards towards perfect spiritual bliss.
As I say that, many of you realize that this sort of thinking has influenced the church. Especially when you read older books, you will often hear people saying things like, « In the resurrection of the spirits… » or « when we finally shed this mortal coil, and shall be with our Lord forever… » What they are envisioning is something quite a lot like Plato’s spiritual resurrection and eternal, bodyless heaven.
However, this is not how the Jews thought and – thank God! – this is not the resurrection which the Bible teaches. Rather, just as Jesus was resurrected bodily (cf. 1 John 4:1-3, 2 John 1:7, Luke 24:39) will also, by the same power, resurrect each one of us (1 Cor. 6:14). This is tremendously good news!
If you are like me, you often wondered what in the world we will do all day long in Heaven. Won’t we get bored? Of course, the main attraction in Heaven will be Jesus Himself. And in one sense, we will all be engaged in single-minded, whole-hearted worship all the time (Rev. 4:8, 7:15, etc.). However, Heaven is the perfect creation by the same God who created this wonderful place. You must read Revelations carefully. Do our souls float upwards to some vague, glowing, distant star where they will only sing and worship all day long before the spiritual throne? No. Rather, heaven comes down to earth (Rev. 21:2). This will not be the same old earth – neither will it be the same old heaven (!), for those will be cast away, and there will be no place found for them (Rev. 20:11). God says, « Behold, I am making all things new! » (Rev. 21:5). The Bible ends with a new Heaven, descending and new earth (Rev. 21:1). What will this new, final reality of God’s children be like? We cannot begin to imagine what good God has in store for us who have repented and accepted His free gift (Eph. 3:20, Rom. 8:18). Knowing that our bodies will be resurrected, however, we can begin to think of the sorts of pleasures which we will enjoy from the God who says, « In my right hand are pleasures forever, » (Psalm 16:11), and, « Well done good and faithful servant – enter into the joy of your master » (Mat. 25:21).
To some, what I am about to say may seem exceedingly crass – but I think it is just what the Bible plainly teaches. Why will Heaven be amazing? First because Jesus will be there. Secondly, because He will delight to give us physical pleasure. How so? The food will be amazing (Mat. 22). The animals will be tame and cuddly (Isa. 65:25). The laughter of children will fill our ears and lighten our souls (Isa. 11:6). The sun (which is Jesus, Rev. 22:5) will enlighten the whole world and make all things beautiful – the grass will be greener, the trees will have healing fruit (Rev. 22:2). We will meet with departed loved ones (1 Sam. 12:23), and we will rule and reign with God forever (2 Tim. 2:12) judging angels (1 Cor. 6:3) and administering a great, eternal earthly/heavenly kingdom of which Christ is the Head (Rev. 22:5).
…but is all of this only good news? I would love to end it here, to give us Christians all a good dose of the « warm-fuzzies » to go about our day with an extra spring in our step. But how can we rejoice in in-focused rejoicing, when so many walk the broad path to destruction? (Mat. 7:14). For just as clearly as the Bible speaks of Heaven, it speaks also of Hell. And what does it say? Is Hell a vague spiritual place? Is it oblivion, forgetfullness, a place where bad souls go to wander into a dark, vague state of mental emptiness? I am afraid that the Bible – and Jesus in particular – is far more precise on this point than we would like Him to be.
Those outside of Christ, just like those in Christ, will be bodily resurrected (Rev. 20:13). Unlike Christians, who are judged according to the mercy of God in Christ Jesus (Jude 1:21), these ones will be judged according to their works and sins here in this life (Rev. 20:13). Not a single one who relies on their own righteousness will pass the test: all whose names are not written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Like Heaven, this is a place of physical reality. Rather than eternal pleasure, however, there will be (can we comprehend the horror of this?!) eternal torment (Rev. 14:11). There will be no rest from the continual burning (Rev. 14:11). There will be no satisfaction from the insatiable thirst, or abating of the agony (Luke 16:24). Like parasites in tropical regions, there will be worms which will feast continually on living tissue, causing revulsion and pain (Isa. 66:24, Mk. 9:48).
As a result of this, Jesus teaches, we are not to fear any man on this earth – even one who holds a gun to our heads. For what can humanity do to us? Only kill the body. But God can cast both body and soul into Hell (Mat. 10:28). What is the result then? Let us fear. Let us fear lest our love of sin keep us from the life-saving love of God (Mat. 5:30, Mk. 9:43). Let us fear if, while there is still a chance of salvation, while it is still called « today, » someone seems to be falling short of the rest of God in Christ Jesus (Heb. 4:1). And let us fear lest we are too busy, or too insensitive, or too hard-hearted to hear the call of God when He gives us a precious opportunity to warn a fellow sinner of the wrath to come, and the grace which is available. For if we do not warn the one whom God has called us to warn, they will certainly die in their sins, but their blood will be on our heads (Ezek. 18). Could you bear to carry the responsibility for someone’s eternal damnation? What a terrible weight! Better to be able to say, with Paul, « Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. » (Acts 20:26-27)
Therefore, I conclude – not with a warm fuzzy, but with a sober challenge. Are you ready today? Do you know how you would give an answer to someone who asked you why you are different? (1 Pet. 3:15). Do you know what you would say? How could you begin to declare the purposes of God to your friends, family, neighbors in a way that would be comprehensible, and could save them from the terrible things to come?
Make it your ambition to be, like Paul, someday « Innocent of the blood of all men » – especially those you most love, and are closest to!