What difference does it make?
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.—Romans 8:19
In the previous two posts in this series, I reviewed the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels and in the writings of the Apostle Paul. In the Gospels we find accounts of the Resurrection that appear to go back to the accounts of eyewitnesses. They tell us that Jesus died by crucifixion, but that on the third day his tomb was found empty, and that Jesus subsequently appeared to his followers on several occasions. Paul, in a letter to the Corinthian church, recites an early Christian creed in I Corinthians 15:3-5, which dates to within a few years of Jesus’ Resurrection. (Verses 6-7 may also be part of the creed or they may be original with Paul.) The creed states that Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and appeared to over 500 people. The creed shows that belief in Jesus’ Resurrection was part of Christian faith from the beginning. In summary, it seems to be well-established historically that (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) the tomb was empty on the morning of the third day, (3) Jesus’ followers recounted meeting him afterwards, (4) the apostles believed and preached the resurrection.
So what? If all this is true, what difference does it make?
Paul addresses this question in the rest of chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians. He sees Jesus’ resurrection as essential for Christian faith. Without it, Christian faith is useless:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.—I Corinthians 15:17
But Paul is having none of that:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.—verse 20
What does he mean by firstfruits? Paul explains that Jesus will return and, at that point, just has Jesus was raised from the dead, his followers will also be raised with new bodies.
In Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him.—verses 22–23
These renewed bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body: imperishable but still physical, as Paul makes clear in verses 35–44 of I Corinthians 15. (See N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope.)
Paul develops these points in his letter to the Romans, probably his most theologically profound letter. As in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us here that Christ will “give new life” to his followers. Not only that. Paul goes on to tell us that the new reality that will burst forth when Jesus returns will include all of creation.
The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.—Romans 8:21
Not only do we find that Jesus’ resurrection means new life for his followers. The creation that now groans (Rom. 8:22) under the weight of pollution, loss of habitat, global warming, war, starvation, and human evil, will be renewed into “glorious freedom.”
That is the hope that Christians have. That is the hope we live with as we see violence, war, and environmental degradation. That is why the resurrection is so important to our faith.
But what do we do in the meantime, as we wait for the renewal of all things? It might be tempting to sit back and wait for God to act, but that’s not the conclusion Paul comes to. Rather, Paul says that God wants to work now through his people:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.—I Corinthians 15:58
Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:
We know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good with those who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28 (NIV alternative wording)
Somehow, God works through the good work that we do for God’s kingdom now in ways that will carry over into God’s new creation. As we wait and groan with all creation, we are to be about the work of God’s kingdom, a kingdom that values justice, love for our neighbor, announcing the good news of Jesus, and caring for God’s good creation, with the promise that our work now is not in vain.
Acknowledgement: These thoughts are not original with me. I am indebted particularly to the work of N.T. Wright, and others as well. Here are some references:
- N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (Harper One, 2008)
- N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of Man (SPCK, 2003)
- Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006, 2017)
- Justin Bass, The Bedrock of Christianity (Lexham Press, 2020)