|Why The Resurrection Is So Important (Part One) – Randy Alcorn
In the late 1990s, a group of scholars assembled to evaluate whether Jesus actually said the things attributed to him by the Gospel writers. Although they employed remarkably subjective criteria in their evaluation of Scripture, members of the self-appointed “Jesus Seminar” were widely quoted by the media as authorities on the Christian faith.
Marcus Borg, a Jesus Seminar leader, said this of Christ’s resurrection: “As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.”1
As a child, Borg was right. As an adult—though considered a spokesman for Christianity—he couldn’t be more wrong. What Borg calls irrelevant—the physical resurrection of Christ’s body—the apostle Paul considered absolutely essential to the Christian faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins... [and] we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption—both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection and what it means—an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth—there is no Christianity.
Resurrection Is Physical
The major Christian creeds state, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But I have 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.
Of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection.2 But this is self-contradictory. A non-physical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There’s no such thing. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn’t have bodies, we wouldn’t be resurrected!
The biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead begins with the human body but extends far beyond it. R. A. Torrey writes, “We will not be disembodied spirits in the world to come, but redeemed spirits, in redeemed bodies, in a redeemed universe.”3 If we don’t get it right on the resurrection of the body, we’ll get nothing else right. It’s therefore critical that we not merely affirm the resurrection of the dead as a point of doctrine but that we understand the meaning of the resurrection we affirm.
Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Hebrew word for “living being” is nephesh, often translated “soul.” The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.
If this idea seems wrong to us, it’s because we have been deeply influenced by Christoplatonism.†† From a christoplatonic perspective, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally—or even ideally—live in a disembodied state.
It’s no coincidence that the apostle Paul’s detailed defense of the physical resurrection of the dead was written to the church at Corinth. More than any other New Testament Christians, the Corinthian believers were immersed in the Greek philosophies of Platonism and dualism, which perceived a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. The biblical view of human nature, however, is radically different. Scripture indicates that God designed our bodies to be an integral part of our total being. Our physical bodies are an essential aspect of who we are, not just shells for our spirits to inhabit.
Death is an abnormal condition because it tears apart what God created and joined together. God intended for our bodies to last as long as our souls. Those who believe in Platonism or in preexistent spirits see a disembodied soul as natural and even desirable. The Bible sees it as unnatural and undesirable. We are unified beings. That’s why the bodily resurrection of the dead is so vital. And that’s why Job rejoiced that in his flesh he would see God (Job 19:26).
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 intermediate Heaven and our fake self goes to the grave; it’s that part of us goes to the intermediate Heaven and part goes to the grave to await our bodily resurrection. We will never be all that God intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in resurrection. (If we do have physical forms in the intermediate state, clearly they will not be our original or ultimate bodies.)
Any views of the afterlife that settle for less than a bodily resurrection—including Christoplatonism, reincarnation, and transmigration of the soul—are explicitly unchristian. The early church waged major doctrinal wars against Gnosticism and Manichaeism, dualistic worldviews that associated God with the spiritual realm of light and Satan with the physical world of darkness. These heresies contradicted the biblical account that says God was pleased with the entire physical realm, all of which he created and called “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The truth of Christ’s resurrection repudiated the philosophies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Nevertheless, two thousand years later, these persistent heresies have managed to take hostage our modern theology of Heaven.
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.”4
† For Paul’s exposition of the resurrection of the dead, see 1 Corinthians 15:12-58.
†† The basic principles of Christoplatonism are explained in chapter 6, and a more complex explanation of Christoplatonism’s false assumptions can be found in appendix A.
††† Even if Christ’s resurrection body has capabilities that ours won’t, we know we’ll still be able to stretch the capacities of our perfected human bodies to their fullest, which will probably seem supernatural to us compared to what we’ve known.
1 Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 129-31.
2 Time (March 24, 1997): 75, quoted in Paul Marshall with Lela Gilbert, Heaven Is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God’s Creation(Nashville: Word, 1998), 234.
3 R. A. Torrey, Heaven or Hell (New Kensington, Pa.: Whitaker House, 1985), 68-69.
4 Anthony A. Hoekema, “Heaven: Not Just an Eternal Day Off,” Christianity Today (June 6, 2003), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/122/54.0.html.