Hope for the Deepest Darkness
When the only certainty about life is death, the Gospel message of resurrection-life offers comfort and hope. When you stand beside the open grave of a loved one, the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the resurrection and the life contrasts sharply with the hopeless comfort of an atheist. Knowing that there is life beyond death remains one of the great pastoral strengths of the Christian faith. Here is a hope that transcends the deepest despair.
While the reality of resurrection life continues to be a core component of what all Christians believe, many believers are much less certain about the form it will take. Many expect that earthly life will be transformed into heavenly life, whatever that will look like. They may not subscribe to the popular caricature of floating on clouds with wings and playing harps, but they believe that the life to come will center on Christians living in heaven in God’s presence. For many life now is all about living on earth, life then is all about living in heaven, and these two realms remain distinct and separate.
Yet, the modern perception of heaven as our final destination does not represent accurately what the Bible reveals about the future, when the dead in Christ will be resurrected to eternal life. Contrary to popular belief, resurrection life will be experienced on a renewed earth, where God will reside with those who have been saved by Christ.
Resurrection life will be experienced on a renewed earth, where God will reside with those who have been saved by Christ.
This expectation underlies all that the apostle Paul writes to followers of Jesus in Corinth when he argues against those who claim that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12). Affirming the reality of life after death, Paul gives particular attention to the nature of the resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:35-49). He contrasts our present perishable, dishonorable, weak bodies with bodies that will be raised imperishable, in glory and in power.
Paul speaks of our present bodies as “natural” and our resurrection bodies as “spiritual”, but he is not drawing a distinction between bodies that have a physical form and those that are non-material. As Stephen Wellum explains, “spiritual body” is “a body adapted for our final consummated state—dominated by the Spirit of God and living in a new creation”1
While Christians may hold to different ideas as to what will happen when Jesus Christ returns, the Scriptures encourage us to take seriously the idea that our final state will involve living on a renewed earth in the presence of God. While for the present, heaven (where God dwells) and earth (where we dwell) remain separate realms. But, there will come a time when these are united, with God coming to dwell on earth.
In the light of this amazing expectation, the apostle Paul compares the sufferings of this life with the glory to come. He writes,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:18-23).
At the very end of his Chronicles of Narnia, on the last page of the final volume, C.S. Lewis writes briefly about life’s ultimate experience, when Peter, Susan, and Lucy encounter Aslan after they die in a train wreck.
Then Aslan turned to them and said: ‘You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.’
Lucy said, ’We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.’
’No fear of that,’ said Aslan. ‘Have you not guessed?’
Their hearts leapt, and a wild hope rose within them.
’There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are —as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.2
With confidence in the resurrection life promised by Jesus Christ, we should approach death, not with a sense of defeat in the face of the inevitable, but with a sense of expectation of something much better to come. We may struggle with the many and varied frustrations of this present life on earth, but we shall enjoy abundant, unending life on a renewed earth in the glorious presence of our Creator and Savior.
- S. J. Wellum. “Heaven in Paul's Letters.” In Heaven, edited by C. W. Morgan and R. A. Peterson (Theology in Community. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), p. 106.
- C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, London, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2004, pp. 766-767.
- Talking about Heaven with a Grieving Person (Nancy Guthrie)
- A Biblical Theology of the City of God (T. Desmond Alexander)
- Work in the New Heavens and New Earth (James M. Hamilton Jr.)