The resurrection of the dead

A fundamental part of the Gospel (Acts 4:1-12)

The proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah was never going to be popular with the authorities in Jerusalem, because of the political implications. But what really got up their noses was what went with it: “the apostles were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (verse 2). This doctrine was anathema to the Temple priests (who were Sadducees), and they were convinced that the apostles were dangerous heretics who needed to be silenced.

But the resurrection of Jesus was not something dreamed up by His followers; it was something that they had witnessed, that had changed their lives for ever. Christians do not just believe a set of doctrines and follow a particular moral code; rather, we believe that certain events (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) have happened – which have implications for our lives in the present.

The God of the living (Exodus 3:1-6)

On the face of it, this passage seems to say nothing about the afterlife. But – as Jesus pointed out to the Sadducees (Luke 20:37,38) – it implies a great deal.

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (verse 6) At the time when God made this great (and definitive) declaration, Moses’ famous ancestors had been dead and buried for centuries. During their lifetimes, they had obeyed God’s call and trusted His promises. They had committed everything to Him. Now, physically, nothing was left of them. And yet Yahweh was still their God!

In other words, ‘if, when Abraham is long since dead, Yahweh can still say that He “is” the God of Abraham, then there must still be an Abraham for Him to be the God of.’ A relationship with the eternal, living God cannot be broken by physical death – and so it must continue into eternity! (John 17:3)

Reaching out in faith (Job 14:13-15)

There is remarkably little in the Old Testament about the afterlife. It is mainly left to the poets and psalmists, meditating on the nature of their relationship with God (e.g. Psalm 16:9-11; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 73:24).

Job, for example, is faced with the problem of God’s apparent injustice. Why do the good suffer in this life? Human life is all too brief; surely God, who made us, made us for more than this?

A clearer promise (Daniel 12:1-3)

Daniel has been granted a vision of the history of God’s people, leading right up to the end of time – when the dead will be resurrected to hear God’s final judgement. God assures him (and us) that this life is not all that there is, and that our words and our deeds will have implications for our future destiny. Those who have been faithful to God in this life will share in His glory for eternity.

A very clear promise (John 6:39,40)

We base our hope of eternal life not on a few vague hints, but on the sure promise of Jesus. “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (verse 40)

Death is not the end (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)

For us, death is not the end; it is a temporary state, from which there will be an awakening. And so it should be no more terrifying or ‘final’ than falling asleep. It is still cause for sorrow (because there is always pain at parting), but not for despair. We mourn for ourselves and for our loss, not for those who have died in Christ. We cannot actually know what happens after death; but we can have confidence in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When He died for us, He drew death’s sting and removed its terror (Hebrews 2:14,15). And because He rose again, we know for certain that there is life and joy beyond death. He is our connection – a bridge, as it were – between death and resurrection. So Christians who die are not lost; they are with Jesus, and will return to this world when He returns at the end of time (I Corinthians 15:22,23).All Christians, living and dead, will meet in His presence, reunited with Him – and with each other – for eternity. Our new resurrection life will never end; our fellowship will never again be interrupted by death.

What will it be like? (I Corinthians 15:35-50)

It is natural to wonder what the future life will be like. One thing is certain: it will be similar to this life in some ways, but different in others. Our physical bodies decompose and disintegrate after death. After the resurrection we will be the same people, but with new bodies – adapted to the new earth in the same way that our old bodies are adapted to this earth.

Our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body (Philippians 3:20,21) – which was definitely physical (Luke 24:36-43), and capable of eating and drinking. But there will be no need for sex and reproduction in a world where there is no death (Luke 20:34-36).

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (verse 50) Physical death is a prerequisite for entry into God’s Kingdom. We must be remade, like the Earth itself, for a new and never-ending existence, in the presence of Jesus.

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