by Michael Fewson
The culmination of the Easter event is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which reveals the future hope of salvation. By His death we receive the “washing of rebirth” so that we “might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
It is this hope of eternal life that is revealed by the resurrection. It is the culmination of God’s plan for creation. His plan is that at the return of Christ there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1-2) indeed all things will be made new. Corruption – the current state of all creation (Rom 8:20) – and mortality will be replaced by immortality; death swallowed up in victorious life. (1Cor 15:53-54)
For the redeemed, this future hope is that “Through the Spirit’s life-giving presence God will raise us to full participation as embodied creatures in the divine relationship shared between the Father and the Son”1. God’s ultimate plan for creation has always been to bring into the divine relationship a people from every tribe and language (1Pt 2:9,10; Rev 7:9) upon the earth to share together in His divine nature (2Pt 1:4) in eternal community.
God’s purpose is divine and eternal life for humanity but man’s sin destroys this purpose bringing death into the world.
As Scripture states: “… man is destined to die once…” (Hebrews 9:27) Death is a fact of existence that all conscious beings are aware of. It is the dread of the living, an inevitability to be delayed or ignored. Death is the enemy of the living though ironically it is only in the midst of life that we become aware of death. How revealing the words of the Psalmist describing life as “the valley of the shadow of death”.
Grenz points out that, “The death of a human being is more than the cessation of the function of a biological organism. It is the end of a personal life.2” The end of a personal life is not simply about the cessation of a person but also of their part in and effect upon the community in which they lived. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Donne wrote of a bell in a monastery that would toll at the death of a person. Concerning death he wrote, “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” No person’s existence is isolated and devoid of effect. When a person dies the whole community is diminished by that loss because it is a member of the community that passes and their influence ceases. So, the community ceases to exist in the same way.
“To be a person means to have a history or an identity narrative” which is never “merely the story of an isolated individual… because our narratives are always embedded in the story of a people”3
Death then is the cessation of a personal life and that person’s story within a community. It is not just the personal story that ceases but also the story of each person’s relationship with the one who dies and so ends many narratives changing the dynamic of the whole community.
The personal God of history is the God of community who gives living fellowship as His gift of grace – fellowship with God, with others and with creation. Death is the destructive force that is against the very nature of God.
God as community
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals a God of community. Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in the community of divine love. God is love (1Jn 4:8) and that love is expressed through and has its being in the existence of the triune God. “The unity of God is nothing less than the self-dedication of the Trinitarian persons to each other… The divine essence is the love that binds together the Trinity.”4
If the divine essence is love expressed in Trinitarian community then ‘man in the image of God’ must also be reflected in community – community with God and with other people. In the creation account we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) At the Genesis (2:7) God gave man life – “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” – and placed him in fellowship with his own kind – “the Lord God said “it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”” (2:18) Life and community are God’s eternal gift and purpose, His eternal plan.
John 17:1–3 (NIV)
1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
The language of community dominates Scripture both in regard to God’s self-revelation and His purpose in relation to humanity. The nature of God’s covenant in scripture expresses God’s plan in history: “I will be their God and they shall be my people”
Ezekiel 37:27 (NIV)
27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
The final outcome of God’s eternal purpose in Jesus Christ is that people will participate in the community of God forever.
Revelation 21:3 (NIV)
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Since God’s plan is that we would exist in community, death is not only the enemy of life but also of the image of God (divine love in community) in us. Indeed the expression of the Divine love in the midst of eschatological community5 is evidence of that community’s place in God. (Jn 13:34,35)
Death is the result of man’s sin, the sum of our destruction of God’s intent. Death is not only the enemy of the living, it is the antithesis of God’s divine will and purpose. Jesus stated that His purpose was to redeem man from death and reinstate him to the place of divine will – ‘I have come that they may have life to the full”. (Jn 10:10)
The Easter event is the answer to the problem of death and the way for God’s will to be done.
The Easter Event
The premise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the tragic demise of humanity: “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom5:12)
The answer that frees us is the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf:
Isaiah 53:8 (NIV)
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
Christ Jesus was put to death in the body as a propitiation for our sins and raised for our justification. As we receive Christ Jesus, we participate in His death so that we may also participate in His resurrected life.
The experience of the death of Jesus Christ was both the cessation of personal life and the expulsion of the Son from the Father’s presence (Is 53:8; Mat 27:46). The experience of death is the antithesis of the experience of Divine life. Death is the absence of life, love and relationship all of which are the gift of God and found in God.
The experience of the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the restoration of personal life6 and reinstatement of the Divine relationship between Father and Son (Heb 1:3; Mk 16:19).
Philippians 2:5–11 (NIV)
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The hope of the redeemed is that we will share in Jesus’ resurrection life. That we will pass from death into the Divine life of the Trinity experienced as eternal life in the presence of the love and fellowship of God and the saints.
1Peter 3:18 declares Jesus was “made alive by the Spirit” and Romans tells us that the Spirit will also make alive those in whom the Spirit lives.
Romans 8:11 (NIV)
11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
This life is not simply about souls existing outside of the body as a ghost or phantom but the resurrection of our mortal bodies. Although we may not understand exactly what that will be like we know that it will be the same in kind as the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.
1 John 3:2 (NIV)
2 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.
When Jesus rose from the dead he was seen by many of his disciples. These appearances indicate that the resurrection body is both the same as and also different to Jesus’ earthly body. He was recognised by the scars he received at the crucifixion (Jn 20:27) and His disciples recognised His mannerisms. Yet at times He was unrecognisable and unrestricted by earthly limitations. He passed through walls (Jn 20:19,26), was not bound by dimensions of space (Lk 24:31) and could appear in a different form (Mk 16:12).
It would be acceptable to conclude that we also would have continuity in our resurrection body. That it would in fact be our earthly bodies that are transformed, mortality putting on immortality, the perishable becoming imperishable. It would be a body free from physical limitations, as we now know them.
The point here is not to get enamoured with nor sidetracked by supernatural ability but to recognise the freedom of Christ from the limitations imposed upon flesh through sin and death.
The resurrection body of the redeemed will be one that is the same as and also different from the present body. The greatest joy of the resurrection body will be in freedom from the corruption of lustful flesh (2Pt 1:4) and the participation of the divine community of the Trinity in love.
An Eschatological Prayer
When Jesus instructed His disciples in the righteous act of prayer (cf Mat 6:1; 9-13) could it have been more about praying in conformity to God’s eternal will and purpose – that those who were once not a people have become the people of God?
Our heavenly Father hallowed be your name
Our prayer begins in Divine relationship. We are children of the God of heaven and earth and our heavenly Father is holy. Let His name remain forever glorious, honourable and holy and we who are named by that name will live to glorify His name.
Your Kingdom Come, your will be done
This has been interpreted by some to be very immediate in nature; understanding it to be principally about the individual’s existence now. Let your Kingdom come to my life (whatever that may be or mean) let your will for my life be done. While it is right to seek for the Kingdom to be established now in our lives and for His will to be done, it is for us to enter into that Kingdom and that Will.
The actual coming of the Kingdom is the subjugation of all things in creation to the rule of God. This is the purpose of Jesus’ present rule, to put all things under His feet – with death being the final enemy to be conquered. (1Cor15:26-28) ‘Your kingdom come’ is a prayer for God’s ultimate rule to become reality in time, a prayer akin to Rev 22:20 Amen, Come Lord Jesus.
God’s will is that “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:3) To seek God’s will is to participate fully in the Divine community of faith, in which our eschatological hope is experienced. God’s will is not whether I should go here or there, or take this job or live in this house. It is to live in the community of faith in Jesus’ love. It is in the love-based fellowship of the community that Christ dwells by His Spirit. (1Cor 3:16)
Through Jesus Christ the resurrection brings us into eternal life where we will participate in the Divine community of the Godhead. Our eternal fellowship will be with God, and with one another, in a creation renewed.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
The final aspects of this prayer focus on the present reality of the resurrected life. The fact that we have needs is in God’s mind, He knows our need and gives us what is required. (cf Mat 6:25-26) So we pray give us this day – while we await the culmination of history at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ – that which we have need of.
The resurrection does not draw our attention to this present world but to the world that is to come. It speaks to us of God’s purpose, of our place in His Kingdom and in His will.
The future hope enables us to engage this world with the appropriate degree of interest. It enables us to regard this life, not as citizens embracing some ‘land of hope’, but as pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land longing for that great city of God to appear – resurrection with Christ is our eschatological hope.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
- (Grenz S. 1994 theology for the community of God Broadman & Holman Publishers: Grand Rapids 587) ↩
- (Grenz. 575) ↩
- (Grenz 581) ↩
- (Grenz 69) ↩
- The eschatological community is the contemporary community of faith living in the expectancy of the return of Christ whose indwelling presence in the community is the ‘hope of glory’ (Col 1:27; 1Tim 1:1). This community endeavours to live by faith the principles of the Divine community now believing that eternal life and the fellowship of God in the community is able to be experienced in part now and will reach its fullest expression in the age to come. ↩
- When Jesus, the eternal Word, became flesh (Jn 1:1,14) he gave up Divine life and embraced death. His resurrection life is not a reinstatement to the previous form of life but a different kind of life. It is the eternal life of the Trinity in love and fellowship. ↩