Many today go their whole lives without knowing the main hope of Christianity because it was lost through centuries of church tradition. But it remains the focal point of the Bible, the hope of the Gospel, and the future of all who follow Jesus.
With lost jobs, dreams, and loved ones, with torn bodies, relationships, and communities, amidst wars and divisions with hearts weighed down by bitterness and fear – we need hope. We need hope that reaches the center of our nature and the world abroad.
Life is a leaky boat in a stormy sea that inevitably swallows us in death, but resurrection hope is the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.
We need it. And Jesus offers it.
What is the hope of Christianity? Around the 5th century the church’s hope changed.
Platonism influenced Plotinus
Plotinus influenced Augustine
Augustine influenced the church
The church passed it down to this day
What is Platonism? Just know it values the immaterial over the material (think Gnosticism).
Since then, an immaterial existence called “heaven” has been the hope of Christianity.
Since then, when people see “heaven” in the Bible, many imagine disembodied spirits floating around doing whatever spirits do. Look at paintings of heaven, movies of heaven, descriptions of heaven. It’s vague.
Sound exciting? It shouldn’t.
Worse, look at paintings of the afterlife from the 5th century on. What do you see? A very real lake of fire below and plain clouds as an immaterial heaven above.
What would you prefer?
This left us with three problems:
1.) Heaven was seen as a non-physical realm
2.) Heaven was seen as the ultimate hope of Christianity
3.) Hell became the main focus of the afterlife
Heaven may not have looked fun, but it was better than burning alive forever, right? And that has been our message since: choose flames or floating on clouds, leaving “turn or burn” the motto instead of what Jesus offers.
But is this actually what the Bible says?
This may be the hope of math equations, but it’s not the hope Jesus suffered for.
Most agree with George Martin who said, “They can keep their heaven. I’d rather go to middle earth.” He wasn’t far off. What God plans for us is a lot more like the magical world of the Shire in Lord of the Rings than a gaseous state in the calculus dimension.
Heaven is Not the Point
Let me first clarify something about heaven
It is the dimension of God’s presence
It is not immaterial
It is the immediate home of saints after death
It is not the permanent home of saints, because
It will be united with earth as it was in the beginning (Revelation 21-22)
It’s surprising how easy this is to prove. Take a half hour to read the book of Acts – it’s the one book with inspired sermons of the gospel message that was spread by the apostles. You’ll quickly discover they don’t mention hell at all, nor do they speak of heaven as their hope.
Here’s what they say instead:
“They were teaching the people proclaiming that in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2)
“After The Way which they call a heresy, I worship the God of my fathers, believing…I have hope in God that there will be a resurrection from the dead” (Ac. 24:15)
“He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18)
“Of the hope and resurrection from the dead I am called into question” (Acts 23:6)
“It is with respect to the resurrection from the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 24:21)
Here’s Paul’s extraordinary opportunity to give a dying world hope, and what does he say? “There will be a resurrection from the dead”. Heaven and hell are nowhere in sight.
This should be seriously disturbing.
Why are we so far off? We’re getting our cues on how to read the Bible from church tradition, rather than the Old Testament in 1st century Judaism.
We need hope, but hope in the right thing.
When we say, “Jesus saved me so now I have eternal life”, what do people hear?
Most hear heaven (clouds, sky, space). But the Biblical audience heard something else. Something altogether different and much more interesting.
“Eternal life” is from Daniel 12:1-2 who spoke of the hope of this world as, “At that time all your people who are written in the book will be saved, and many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will arise: some to eternal life, and some to reproach and eternal shame.”
What are they “saved” from? Death.
What is the context of “eternal life”? To “arise” out of a dusty grave into a resurrected body.
“Saved” is not merely the forgiveness of sins, but surviving the death sin causes. Resurrection is the point. Hoping in “forgiveness” apart from resurrection is like hoping in a cure from cancer to have a cancer-free diagnosis, instead of a cancer-free body.
That’s why stresses so hard that the gospel hope is physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
Bodily resurrection is our hope.
What is It?
How do the gospels climax? Jesus’ resurrection body, which was:
Physical but more
The same but glorious
Human but indestructible
Him but forever healed
When we follow him to the cross, we follow him to this, because his resurrection is “the first fruits” of what we will receive “at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23).
“First fruits” was the initial sample of crops to give a taste of what the harvest would be like. So Jesus’s body is the prototype of our future. The harvest is when he returns to conquer all enemies, even death, giving us a body like his.
A body that is perfect, powerful, indestructible, invincible, but still uniquely us; a body without pain, aches, illness, decay, sin, or death; a body supernaturally equipped to live in God’s presence and live out the human vocation.
This is hope my friends. For now we wait for Jesus to return who will then “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 20-21).
He saves more than our souls; he saves our bodies!
It’s Bigger Than Just Bodies
He promises to resurrect more than his faithful followers, because it’s not just our bodies that are groaning from the corruption of death, but animals, fish, plants, even “the whole creation has been groaning” with us (Rom. 8:21).
We need healing, but so does our world.
Things aren’t right. There’s
Thorns on flowers
Weeds in meadows
Earthquakes on the planet
Murder in relationships
War among nations
Death in our bodies, “for the creation waits with eager longing…to be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:19, 21). Our world is broken.
But God plans to resurrect the universe into a “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), redeeming flowers, meadows, sunrises, planets, relationships, nations and our bodies. Life on this earth was the plan (Genesis 1-2), and it remains the plan (Rev. 21-22).
Death is the greatest denial of God’s good creation. This is why we need hope, not just for our souls, but our bodies. Yet not just for our bodies, but for the entire universe.
It’s the Hebrew concept Shalom, when all is “very good” again (Gen. 1:21).
This is what people want. Perfect health in their bodies, minds, and relationships. To live in a world free from disease and death, or violence and war
This is what the world needs.
This is what God promises if they follow Jesus.
This is the hope of Christianity.
Let This Hope Transform You
First, tell the world the exciting news of the resurrection. Dispel the myth of a bleak, boring immaterial eternity in the clouds. Tell of the resurrection of a good and never-ending “very good” and physical creation we were made for.
Second, it’s not enough to speak of the resurrection hope; we must give everyone a sample to taste it. Paul says because of the resurrection, “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:56–58). We join in the new creation project by planting seeds of healing love to give a sample of the resurrection. Nothing we do is wasted.
Third, no matter what happens, because of the resurrection we can have invincible peace, joy, and love.
No money? That’s okay, because we’ll be resurrected.
Lost job? That’s okay, because we’ll be resurrected.
Shattered dreams? We can still be happy, because we’ll be resurrected.
Troubled by lust, pride, fear, and apathy? Not for long, because of the resurrection.
Lost loved ones? We don’t have to grieve without hope, because of the resurrection.
Pandemic and riots? We can have peace because one day Jesus will resurrect this world.
From the world abroad to the center of our being, we need hope.
Jesus offers this in the resurrection.