This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
In Jesus’ time there was a group of Jews called the Sadducees – this group was composed of the elite in Jewish society, such as priests and aristocrats, and theologically, they did not believe in an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead (see this description of the Sadducees). Apparently there is not much known about this group, because none of their writings have been preserved (see this article). They are mentioned in the Bible several times (usually in a negative manner), and often when they are mentioned, it is followed with the phrase “…who say there is no resurrection” (see Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Acts 23:8). This belief, that there is no resurrection of the dead, most likely stems from the fact that the Sadducees only believed in the written Law, or the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) – since it does not mention an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead, they don’t believe it occurs. I bring up the Sadducees to contrast a group of people who don’t believe in a resurrection of the dead with ourselves, Christians. For us, a belief in the resurrection of the dead is not only essential for our faith, it is also a basis for our hope. Today’s study talked about the importance of the resurrection, both of Christ’s resurrection and it’s effect on our redemption and the restoration of all of creation, and of our bodily resurrection when Christ returns.
Resurrection is Physical
When I used to the think about eternity in Heaven, I often spiritualized everything. I pictured myself as a spiritual being (honestly, I didn’t picture much of anything, since I’m not sure what a spiritual being looks like), and I visualized my activities being that of standing in a crowd singing worship songs to God 24/7. Forever. Don’t get me wrong – I like singing worship songs and spending time in worship at church, but I also tend to think of that as a little monotonous and boring if I were to do it all the time for eternity. Well, apparently I’m not alone in my thinking – Alcorn says that 2/3 of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead do not think they will have physical bodies after the resurrection. Fortunately, those 2/3 of Americans (myself included) are wrong. This belief, that we will not be physical beings after the resurrection, denies the essential meaning of resurrection – “the physical return to a physical existence in a physical universe.”
Alcorn argues that our bodies are just as much a part of who we are as our spirits. He quotes Genesis 2:7, where it 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.” This joining of physical flesh made from physical dust, and God’s spiritual breath of life, is what gave Adam life. Adam wasn’t Adam until he had both – “thus the essence of humanity is spirit joined with body.” And if our bodies were designed to be a part of who we were created to be, then death is tearing apart what God put together. Therefore, God intends to put our spirits back together with our bodies at the resurrection. This is why Job rejoiced in saying “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;” (Job 19:26, emphasis added). Of course, if we begin to understand that God intends to create a new physical Earth for us to live on for eternity, then it is not as hard to imagine a physical resurrection of our bodies after all.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We often term the process of becoming a “new creation” conversion – we continually get converted into a new person through Christ. But even though we change, we still retain our identity. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean I change my name and I suddenly look like a completely different person. When I walk down the street, people who know me still recognize me as who I am, regardless of the fact that I am a “new creation.” Hopefully there are a lot of changes in me, but my identity is not one of them. Thus, Alcorn says, “conversion does not mean eliminating the old but transforming it.” The same is true of when we will be resurrected – our bodies will different in many ways (more on this later), but we will remain who we are. Alcorn believes we will have the same “history, appearance, memory, interests, and skills.” This, he calls, redemptive continuity – after our redemption through Christ, we will continue on as we were before, but without sin and suffering. The same will be true of the earth – the New Earth will still be earth, but a changed earth.
Our Resurrected Lives
Alcorn says that he believes that our resurrected bodies will be similar to our old bodies, but with some “welcome surprises” – upgrades and new features, but still the same identity. This idea comes from Scriptures that say that our bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body:
- In Luke 24:39, when Jesus appears to his disciples after His resurrection, he says to them “It is I myself!” He affirms to them that He has retained His identity – He is the same Jesus that was with them before He went to the cross, the same Jesus who died, and now He has been resurrected
- In 1 John 3:2 it says “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Our resurrected bodies will be just like Jesus’ body after His resurrection.
- In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul says “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Emphasis added). Again, our bodies will resemble Christ’s body after His resurrection.
- One more example: 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 says “The first man [Adam] was of the dust of the earth, the second man [Jesus] from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (Emphasis added).
We can use this same pattern to see what our relationships will be like after the resurrection. Jesus interacted similarly after His resurrection with his followers as He did before He died – for example, his encounter with Mary Magdalene (John 20:18), his disciple Thomas (John 20:24-29), and his disciple Peter (John 21:15-22) were all similar to his interactions with them prior to his death. He knew them, taught them, loved them, and encouraged them. He picked up His relationships right where they left off. Alcorn believes that we will be able to experience this same kind of continuity between our current lives and our resurrected lives.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.