Monday, January 27, 2014

Hope beyond death

English: Resurrection of Christ
Resurrection of Christ (Wikipedia)
(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

The Old Testament teaches that there is a personal consciousness after death. The Prophet Samuel surprised the witch of Endor by actually appearing from the dead (1 Sam.28:8-19). Asaph sang of consciously longing to be with God after death (Psalm 73:23-26). Ecclesiastes is sure of a conscious judgment after death of every deed (Eccles. 12:14). 

The OT also teaches
resurrection of the body. Job looked forward to the day when he would see his Creator in his own flesh (Job 19:25-27; 33:19-28). Daniel saw graves opened with God’s people resurrected in honor and glory and God’s enemies resurrected in defeat and judgment (Dan 12:1-3). Isaiah saw a bodily resurrection (Isa. 26:19) and prophesied the death, burial, and resurrection of the Servant-Messiah (Isa. 53:11-12).

The New Testament, like the Old, teaches that death is the separation of the spirit from the body (Luke 8:55; 23:46) and that death takes spiritual and physical forms. Physical death is separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the person from God. Being spiritually dead means being “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), being alienated from God and enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior (Col. 1:21). Adam’s Fall, or original sin, constitutes us as sinners (Rom. 5:19).

Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission says that at a funeral the church is its most theological. Our crying reminds us that death is unnatural but instead a despicable enemy with a horrible curse.

The New Testament brings to our understanding of death both clarity and victory. Jesus believed, as did the Pharisees, that the Old Testament affirmed resurrection and an afterlife (Matt. 22:23, 31-32). The clearest proof of an afterlife was Jesus’ own resurrection (Isaiah 53:11-12). Resurrection is the key to hope beyond the grave for Paul (1 Cor. 15:14, 20-24). Since we are united with Christ in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5; John 11:21-27; 14:3; Gal. 2:20; Phil 1:23; Col. 3:3).

But the hope beyond death goes far beyond personal survival after death. It is about the cosmic purposes of the Creator. It is about victory! Isaiah and Ezekiel point to a day when death itself, for humans and animals, is wiped out (Isa. 25:6-9; Ezek. 37:1-14). Paul writes that resurrection from the dead is the central basis for Christian hope (1 Cor. 15:1-58). 

It is the hope of Christ’s Second Coming that keeps us from grieving “as others who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Not only that, but Paul was convinced that at his death he would be immediately in the presence of his Lord (Phil. 1:21-26), at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). 

Death is an enemy whose sting has been removed and will ultimately be defeated (1 Cor. 15:26). The defeat of death is always in view as the ultimate day in history when bodies are raised and death is overturned forever (1 Cor. 15:50-57). Hallelujah!

Jesus is the one identified as the key holder of death (Rev. 1:18) and liberates those held in bondage by their fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). For a time it still has power to hurt. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus did not just weep, he was moved with anger (John 11:33, 38: embrimaomai connotes anger) at the ravages of this invader. 

But we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13), for nothing, not even death, can separate us from Christ because he has victory over death (Rom 8:37-39). Hallelujah!