It’s that time of year again! Pumpkin spice items are taking over grocery shelving, frost is beginning to appear on our windshields, lawns no longer need to be mowed, your neighbor’s upset that your tree’s leaves are falling in their yard, your dog’s bringing those same leaves into your living room, and you’ve finally given in and turned on the furnace. Oh, and it’s also time for Halloween! When I think of Halloween, Disney’s A Nightmare Before Christmas comes to mind—spooky, fearsome, and wild characters walking around and singing catchy tunes. Too, while we often experience light-hearted representations of the holiday, there are darker manifestations as well—hauntings, murderous intentions, and people rising from the dead. I want to draw our attention to one of those themes. How are we to think about people rising from the grave? Is it a spooky myth, kooky fantasy, or holy reality?
If you haven’t guessed it, we’re going to be talking about the end times. Though, I’m not here to dive into fancy (and perhaps scary) words like amillennialism, premillennial dispensationalism, postmillennialism, or “i-do-not-care-ism.” I’ve had the privilege recently to be able to dive deeper into these topics and their rise and fall throughout American Christian history. And, honestly, I think it gives more headaches than anything. In Christian theology, the questions of “What is going to happen to me?” and “What is going to happen in the future?” have arguably been answered in the most complex and confusing ways possible; and, ironically, it seems like these are the questions we want answered most clearly.
Again, I’m not here to hash out the details of what exactly happens after we pass away and what will exactly happen in the end times. Though, I am here to remind us of a key part of the message and work of Christ that gets overlooked—the Resurrection.
So, just what is the Resurrection? Or, as some call it, the General Resurrection? The 20th Article of “The Articles of Religion” of The Wesleyan Church says,
We believe in the bodily resurrection from the dead of all people— of the just unto the resurrection of life, and of the unjust unto the resurrection of damnation. The resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of the resurrection which will occur at Christ’s Second Coming. The raised body will be a spiritual body, but the person will be whole and identifiable.[i]
In other words, because Christ was raised from the dead, all people (that is, sinners and saints) will be raised from the dead upon Christ’s return. In Adam, all die, but in Christ, all are made alive (1 Cor. 15:22). That means we are going to be resurrected from our graves and have bodies. As Christians, we will not simply be spirits floating around, nor will we be angels, we will have glorified human bodies.
When we think about passing away, what hope do we cling to more readily—the fact that we will be guaranteed entrance into heaven by the blood of the Lamb or the fact that upon Christ’s return we will be resurrected as He was? I am not asserting that one view is better than the other, but I am asserting that one view has been neglected. We hear people say, “Man, I sure am looking forward to heaven.” Though, I doubt any of us have ever heard someone say, “Man, I sure am looking forward to the Resurrection.” Paul O’Callaghan claims that early Christian figures (known as “Church Fathers”) wrote about the General Resurrection with more detail than any other doctrine in Christianity.[ii] So what happened? Why is it not a part of our typical discourse in “American Christianese?”
Let’s examine the weight of this doctrine. This is, quite literally, what the whole biblical narrative points toward. God created the earth and made man (Gen. 1:27), Adam and Eve sinned and were subjected to death—they were denied the ability to eat from the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:17, 3:1-24). At that point, what was the worst thing that could happen to humans? Death. From then on, what is the greatest thing that God could provide? Life. Was it not said God would swallow death up (Is. 25:8)? Did not Isaiah and Ezekiel both use resurrecting imagery when talking about God’s redemption (Is. 26:19; Ez. 37:1-14)? Before Christ’s death and resurrection did not Daniel prophesy about the resurrection that is to come (Dan. 12:1-2)?
Is it not grand to think of the fact that after our last dying breath we will one day experience a new breath in a renewed and glorified body? Is it not grand to think of a body free of the imperfections we experience in this life and free from the detriments of sin? There will be a day when bodies rise from the grave but it will not be a cinematographic sham aimed at making millions of dollars. Rather, it will be a day when we will, by the grace of God and the victory of Jesus Christ, breathe the first breath of eternity. Can you imagine it?
Cling to the hope of heaven, Christian. Though, more than that, cling to the hope of the Resurrection. The experience we have when we die, no matter how good it may be, will never be as good as when Christ finally returns. Nothing will be worth comparing to the day when the trumpet sounds and our enfleshed Lord descends upon His creation and rouses all of humanity from their dead, dry, and hopeless graves. As Christians, that is the day of hope we look forward to—Christ’s return and the second life—not the day when we are laid to rest and our suffering is relieved as our first life ends.
So, while we are in the midst of a holiday that brings to mind dilapidated bodies rising from the grave, remember that we have the hope that one day glorified (1 Cor. 15:42-44) bodies will rise from the grave—a holy reality that seems kooky and spooky to the world (1 Cor. 1:20-25).
Jared M. Webb, Assistant Pastor
[i] The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2016, (Indianapolis, Indiana: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2016).
[ii] Paul O’Callaghan, Christ Our Hope: An Introduction to Eschatology, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 93.