Death and resurrection are a part of the seasons of the world we live in. Every year in spring, at Easter time, we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after he had been tortured and killed on a cross. We know that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we die to ourselves and are resurrected to a new life in God’s love and grace. This resurrection has implications for our lives today and after we experience the end result of our own mortality. We are promised that this is not the end, it is actually a new beginning! There is new life for us now, and there is a new life after we die.
The main word we translate as “resurrection” from the biblical Greek is anastasis. Literally it means “stand up again”. In the New Testament it refers to the rising up again of the physical body of Jesus Christ, and the future physical resurrection of the body of those who trust in him.
At the time of the early church there was a popular framework of beliefs about the world based on Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis meaning “knowledge”). This was an esoteric belief system whose proponents held that there was hidden knowledge in the world that could be ascertained only by people who were initiated. It taught that the earthly realm was entirely corrupted and evil and the end goal was to escape from this realm into a heavenly, spiritual existence. Some who held these views in the first and second centuries after Christ even went as far as to say that the God of the Old Testament was not a good God, and entirely different from the God of Jesus. Some also claimed that Jesus was an entirely spiritual being who did not really die on the cross, but only pretended to do so for our sake.
The New Testament Gospels and writings of Paul and the other apostles repudiate these ideas emphatically. They affirm the Old Testament view that the earth and the heavens are good creations of a good and just God. Yes there is corruption and evil as the result of human free will, but the earthly realm is meant to be good. And spiritual is not equated simply with good either. There are evil, unclean spirits just as there are good and beneficial spirits. God’s good and holy Spirit is the one that we are baptized into in order to redeem this corrupted body, mind, and soul.
All of this comes to fulfillment in the book of Revelation where there is a new heaven and a new earth. The people are resurrected into new physical bodies (not exactly the same as before but similar) and God comes to dwell directly among the people on the new earth. At the final end, in Revelation, it says that all people will experience a resurrection to a new body so that we all can be judged by our actions on earth (John called this the resurrection of life and resurrection of condemnation respectively). Some who were found righteous in Christ will be resurrected first, and the rest at the second resurrection according to Revelation. Technically we will all be condemned for the evil we have done, yet the grace and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ (the lamb of God) will bring faithful people into God’s mercy and love.
Paul has an interesting take on the resurrection. He saw this new body as a heavenly body. Still a physical body in a sense, but something different however from our earthly bodies, made of a new type of substance of which he assumed that the heavenly bodies were made up with (such as stars and planets). Jesus was asked a question about the resurrection by a group of Sadducees and taught that we would not have exactly the same relationships as we have in this life. We would not be married like we do here; and like angels we will not die anymore. Paul calls this change one from perishability and mortality to imperishability and immortality. Jesus came back and visited his disciples after his resurrection with a new body, one that could walk through walls, but could also enjoy eating fish! It even still had the marks of his crucifixion, proving to his followers that it was indeed the same person. Clearly there are similarities between the resurrected body and the previous form but there are major differences as well.
Later on during the book of Acts of the Apostles, the resurrection of Jesus was a staple part of the proclamation of the early believers, a fact that many found difficult to accept even in those days, and something we often find difficult to believe today! Yet the resurrection was integral and necessary to the proclamation of the apostles; it was a necessary part of their testimony about Jesus, and one they would be willing to die for. All but one of those first apostles did end up dying because of their proclamation of Jesus the Christ. They were willing to put their lives on the line based on their experience of Jesus’ bodily resurrection!
The Gospel of John says that those who give up their souls, literally “psyches” will keep their “psyches” into eternal life! That means that our souls will continue on after we die, that who we are, our identities in a sense, will live on after we die, and all in a new type of body. We don’t know exactly what that body will be like though there are some clues throughout the New Testament. But we do know that who we are, our souls will continue on, if we are willing to give up who we are to God!
Jesus spoke of those who were dead as if they were sleeping. The young girl who he brought back from the dead, he said was merely asleep, and he simply woke her up. Perhaps that is what it feels like to die, and perhaps the dream world that we enter into at night is similar to what we experience in our death. Perhaps time will have no more meaning for us after we die, and we will wake up in the twinkling of an eye, to a new body, and new life. However it actually works out, we hold onto this promise of Easter: This life is not the only one, death for us is not the end, but only a new beginning. Like a seed planted in the ground we will all die, but we will be transformed into something new and beautiful. So we hold fast to our hope in this promise of God’s mercy and love, and stand firm in our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.