Why Look Forward to Your Resurrection and the Life to Come, Part 1: A Biblical Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed

Steve —  June 11, 2021 — Leave a comment

Do You Look Forward to Your Resurrection?

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Applied Theology series of courses, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In this session you’ll learn from Scripture how to look forward to the resurrection of your body and your life in the world to come.

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read the transcript below for Why Look Forward to Your Resurrection and the Life to Come, Part 1

TIP: Don’t miss reading the amazing footnotes!


Why Look Forward to Your Resurrection and Life in the World to Come: Part 1

By John Frame and Steve Childers

The historic Nicene Creed ends with the statement, “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come.” It’s easy to affirm these words with our mouths, but it’s often hard to experience the reality of these words in our hearts. Most Christians today don’t seem to be looking forward to their resurrection and the life to come described in Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s concern is not for his readers to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. They already believed that. His concern is that they were not looking forward to the resurrection of their bodies in the world to come. Like most adherents to pagan religions and philosophies, they were only looking forward to being liberated from their corrupt bodies after death so they could live forever in an eternal state that is free from everything physical.

Most pagan views of immortality affirm the continued existence of an immaterial soul but not the immortality of the physical body.[1] In contrast, the Scriptures teach that human immortality includes both the survival of the soul in heaven after death and the restoration of the whole person, soul and body together, on a new physical earth when Jesus returns.[2]

The Apostles’ Creed affirms the centrality of the physical realm in the Triune God’s plan of salvation by describing God the Father as creator of heaven and earth, God the Son as born of the virgin Mary and resurrected from the dead, and God the Spirit as the restorer of both the resurrection body and all physical creation in the world to come.

The Bible teaches that our souls must first be resurrected from spiritual death at our new birth, then our bodies must be resurrected from physical death at our resurrection. When Jesus returns, all the glorified souls of believers in heaven will be reunited with their glorified bodies on earth so they will all flourish in both their bodies and souls on a glorified earth forever.

God’s ultimate purpose for fallen humanity and the world is not only the rebirth of human souls but also the rebirth of all fallen creation. As is stated in the hymn Joy to the World, the fullness of God’s redemptive blessings in Christ will flow “as far as the curse is found” – and that includes all things God has created visible and invisible.

The Christian hope is not just that one day, when we die, we will go up to heaven and worship God forever. Our ultimate hope is in another day, when Jesus returns and brings heaven back down to earth. Our hope is not merely life after death in heaven, but life after heaven in a new heaven and a new earth.[3]

What lies ahead for us at our resurrection and the coming new earth is far better than what Adam and Eve experienced in the garden of Eden, and even better than what the disembodied souls of believers experience in heaven after death.

The New Testament suggests, though it’s debatable, that believers may have some kind of physical embodiment in their intermediate state in heaven.[4] However, even if we are given “intermediate bodies” in heaven, these physical forms will only be temporary and will wane in comparison to the fullness of our future resurrection bodies in the world to come.[5] Heaven is glorious, but it is not the ultimate destination of Jesus and his followers.[6]

When Jesus returns, God will finally and fully answer the prayer that he taught us to pray – that the Father’s name would be honored, that his kingdom would come, and that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:9-10) Heaven and earth will no longer be separated with God “up in heaven,” where his will is done perfectly, and man “down on earth” where God’s revealed will is not done perfectly.

Look again at the Apostle John’s description of what it will be like when God’s kingdom comes down from heaven to the new earth in the world to come.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.[7] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.[8] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:1-3)

On that day, God’s dwelling place and perfect will in the heavenly realm will come down to earth fulfilling God’s ancient covenant promise that “He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people.” (Gen. 17:7; Exod. 19:5-6; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 34:30; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). The concept of heaven in the Bible is the place where we find the presence of God.[9]

In the beginning, the garden of Eden gives us a vivid picture of “heaven on earth” before sin entered the world. In this original paradise, God’s presence is not described as “up in heaven” but “down on the earth” in a garden, where God was with Adam and Eve carrying out his perfect will for creation in and through them as his image bearers. (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15)

In Genesis 3:8 we read that Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”[10]

God’s original design for creation and humanity to flourish includes being present with his people as they rule over his creation. God’s plan of salvation is to restore our broken union with him by bringing us back into the full experience of his transforming “face-to-face presence” through our union with him in Christ.[11]

From God’s throne on that day, Jesus will announce the consummation of God’s plan of salvation[12] by proclaiming, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

Peter describes the “passing away” of the “old world” and its transformation into the “new world” (1 Pet. 3:5-13). John tells us, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” The Greek word Peter and John uses to designate the “newness” of the new earth is not neos (νέος), meaning new in time or origin, but kainos (καινὸς) meaning new in nature or in quality.

When Paul says in Romans 8:20-21 that creation waits with eager longing to be set free from its bondage, he’s referring to how the present corrupt creation will be delivered from all its corruption when Christ returns to make all things new – not become a totally different creation.[13]

Similarly, when Paul describes the resurrected Christ as the “first born from the dead” (Rom 8:29), he’s referring to our future resurrection from the dead when our bodies will be delivered from all their corruption and made new ­– not become a totally different body, but a body like the resurrected body of Jesus.[14]

After making all things new, Jesus will say to his followers, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).[15]

It’s hard to imagine what the fullness of a redeemed and restored humanity and earth will be like. Words like paradise, utopia, and bliss always fall short. The Apostle John gives us some wonderful glimpses into the new world to come when he writes, “He [Christ] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

John tells us there will be no more suffering on the new earth. Jesus will wipe away all the tears and sorrow of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the sick, and the persecuted. All the anguish over pain and injustice will belong to the former things which have passed away. And there will be no more death – no more terminal diseases, no more fatal accidents, no more funerals, and no more final goodbyes.

In the world to come, all our God-ordained relationships for human flourishing, broken by sin, will be completely restored, including first and foremost our relationship with God.

Restored Relationship with God
The highest blessing in the world to come is the restoration of our relationship with God through which we’ll experience of the fullness of God’s presence in unbroken fellowship with him. Since the inhabitants of the new earth will have direct fellowship with God, John tells us there will be no temple there, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

God’s presence in heaven now is full of beings who are glorifying him by praying and singing his praises. Angels and the souls of those who died in Christ are proclaiming, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). All believers who die before Jesus returns will join in this heavenly chorus with a multitude of believers that “no one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Rev. 5:9).[16]

The greatest blessing of our life in heaven and on the new earth will be the joy of seeing God “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 6:8). John writes, “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” ( 1 John 3:2). In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses that he could not see his face and live, so he granted Moses only a limited vision of himself. But in the world to come, when all the remnants of human sin are gone, we will indeed be able to see God’s face and live.

What does it mean for us to see God in this way? The thought of such a heightened experience of God tempts us to speculate. Some theologians have ventured far beyond the biblical data in trying to express this promise. Some have drawn on philosophical mysticism—the notion that in the consummation we shall “behold pure being”, perhaps even be absorbed into it. Others have concluded that in heaven we will no longer engage in work, but we will be totally caught up in always contemplating the vision of God—hence the phrase “beatific vision.”

However, the Bible never says that our heavenly experience will be limited to contemplation. Our whole life in heaven will be worship, but worship in the Bible is not mere contemplation. Biblical words for worship, like עָבַד (abad) in the Old Testament and λατρεύω (latreuo) in the New Testament, often designate the work of priests in the tabernacle and temple.

In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” In Romans 12:2, he describes spiritual worship as not being “conformed to this world” and being “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Then, in Romans 12:3-8, Paul illustrates what “spiritual worship” looks like as each member of the body of Christ fully uses their God-given gifts in their love for and service to God and others.[17]
In the world to come, God’s presence now in heaven will become so enmeshed with us on the new earth that his presence will become tangible in all things visible and invisible. Our experience of God’s presence in worship will far exceed our prayers and singing to include everything we think, feel, and do.

“Seeing God face to face,” therefore, is not easy to define, since it is greater than anything we have known on earth. Indeed, greater than we can imagine, far greater than anything we can conceptualize through philosophy or theology.

God’s presence with us on the new earth will be so inescapable that whatever we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell with our resurrected bodies will point us to the one who created these senses in us. Our worship will no longer be seen as a “spiritual” activity that is separated from our normal lives, but a vital part of everything we think, feel, and do, including what we see now as mundane activities.

In the new world our every thought, feeling, and action will be held captive for God’s honor and praise in and through everything we do. So Paul admonishes us to begin now. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).


Footnotes:

[1] Greek philosophers made use of a metaphysical argument to prove the indestructibility of the soul by teaching that the soul is immortal in the sense of having no beginning and no end. Pagan views of the “immortality of the soul” usually present the spiritual part of humans as not affected by death because it is indestructible and imperishable. This is not a biblical doctrine. The Scriptures teach that the human soul is created by God at conception.


[2] The “eternal life” that belongs to all believers in Christ, both now and in the world to come, includes “temporal life”, the experience of time. Only God is truly eternal, meaning supra-temporal, the only one who transcends time by existing in a realm that is above and beyond time. However, everything that God created is temporal because he created it in time. This means everything that exists in the realm of God’s invisible and visible creation is temporal, including the heavens, the earth, angelic beings, and human beings. So our life in heaven, and even more our life in the new heaven and new earth, will still include the experience of time. But our sensation of time will probably be different from our sensation of it now on earth. Sometimes people say things like “time flies when you’re having fun”. That sensation of time may be multiplied many times by all our enjoyable, and “fun”, activities in heaven after we die and on the new earth after we’re resurrected.


[3] Our hope is not going back to a garden in Eden or up to heaven where our soul has no body, but going forward to the new earth that God promises will one day come down from heaven to earth as our eternal home. The tree of life in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9) held out the promise of a far better life to Adam and Eve if they obeyed. In the world to come, the tree of life will provide believers with the ultimate blessings on earth that were never experienced by Adam and Eve because of their sin. The coming new earth will be the “better Eden,” the “greater Eden,” and the “garden-city” where believers will experience the ultimate blessings of fully redeemed and restored relationships with God, themselves, others, and creation forever – all according to God’s original design in creation. Everyone who goes to heaven is making a round trip because they’re eventually returning with Jesus to a new earth where they’ll receive a new resurrection body forever. 

  
[4] Biblical arguments can be made for believers having some type of physical form or “intermediate body” in heaven. Paul writes, For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:2-4). Some argue that Paul is only longing for the heavenly, intermediate state when our souls will be disembodied. Others believe that Paul is not longing for his soul to experience a state of invisible, Platonic, disembodied nakedness. Instead, he is longing for his soul to be immediately clothed at death by a “heavenly dwelling” which is some kind of intermediate, temporary physical form in which believers wait for their resurrection bodies.


[5] Biblical support for physical embodiment in heaven before the final resurrection includes the New Testament teaching that the resurrected Jesus now dwells in heaven in the same physical, resurrected body he had on earth. (Acts 1:11) So there is at least one physical body in heaven now – Christ’s resurrection body. Some argue that since Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven, without dying and leaving their bodies behind (Gen 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11-12, Heb. 11:5), God allowed their bodies into heaven. And when Moses and Elijah appeared physically with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), they were displaying their temporary bodies in heaven. When the Apostle John records his visit to heaven in Revelation 10:9-10, he describes himself physically holding a scroll, eating, and tasting it. Of course, many believe that these physical descriptions are purely figurative and symbolic. However, they could also be descriptions of real physical forms and activities that also have symbolic meaning.  Even if we are given “intermediate bodies” in heaven, these physical forms will only be temporary and will wane in comparison to the fullness of our future resurrection bodies in the world to come.


[6] Jesus refers to heaven as paradise when he says to the believing thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul presents life in heaven as far better than life now on earth. “ For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:21-23). But heaven is a temporary, “intermediate state,” after the believer’s death, that awaits Jesus’ return and the final resurrection when we’ll have renewed bodies on a renewed earth forever. In the New Testament, death is a temporary separation of the soul from the body. The physical body deteriorates, while the believer’s soul is in conscious fellowship and bliss in God’s presence awaiting the return of Christ and the resurrection when the soul will be reunited with the resurrected body. (Luke 23:43, Rom. 8:18-23, 2 Cor. 5:3-8, Phil. 1:23-24, 1 Thess. 4:14-17) When Paul refers to believers who’ve died as those who have “fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13), he’s using a common euphemism in his day for death, describing the the outward appearance of the dead body. Our body “sleeps” until the resurrection, while our soul relocates to a conscious existence in heaven (Dan. 12:2-3; 2 Cor. 5:8). There is no such thing as “soul sleep” or a long period of unconsciousness in heaven after our death and before our resurrection. Instead, the New Testament reveals that we will be fully conscious, engaging and enjoying God and others, and joyfully active. It will not be boring.


[7] Having no sea in the new world does not mean that we will be denied the experiences of beauty and recreation with bodies of water that the sea represents. Those experiences will be enhanced beyond what we can imagine, and will include bodies of water in the new earth. The new earth will have a river running through it with life-giving streams. In first century Jewish thought, the sea was a negative symbol in contrast with the positive symbol of  a river (Ps. 46:1-4). The sea often represented something ominous and threatening to the ancient Hebrews. The Mediterranean sea was the origin of violent storms and the place from which foreign enemies would arise to conquer them. In Revelation 13, the Beast emerges from the sea. Hoekema writes,  “Since the sea in the rest of the Bible, particularly in the book of Revelation (cf. 13:1; 17:15), often stands for that which threatens the harmony of the universe, the absence of the sea from the new earth means the absence of whatever would interfere with that harmony.” Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future (p. 284). Eerdmans


[8] The glorified church, that is made up of all believers who died in Christ, will be in the “dwelling place of God” in heaven until the return of Jesus when the “dwelling place of God” will no longer be in heaven but it will come down to earth forever.


[9] The word heaven in Scripture has several meanings. Paul reflects his Hebrew view of heaven when he describes being “caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Cor. 12:3) The Old Testament view of the “first heaven” is the earth’s atmosphere where clouds form and birds fly. (Deut. 11:11; 28:12, 1 Kings 8:35, Isa. 55:10) The “second heaven” describes the physical universe that consists of the sun, moon, and stars as far as we can see. (Gen. 15:5, Ps. 8:3: Ps. 19:4,6, Isa. 13:10) The “third heaven”, where Paul was briefly caught up, is God’s dwelling place in a realm that is above all other “heavens.” In 1 Kings 8:27, we read, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you.” In the Revelation 21:1-3 account of “heaven coming down to earth,” heaven refers to this third realm where the fullness of God’s presence and will is displayed.


[10] The picture of God “walking” in the garden is a theophany – a revelation of God in a physical, tangible form. Before Jesus, God revealed himself in physical forms in several ways, including God’s appearance as one of three heavenly beings in human bodies to Abraham in Genesis 18, God’s appearance in the form of a man who wrestles with Jacob in Genesis 32, and God’s appearance as a fourth man “walking about in the midst of the fire without harm” in Daniel 3:25.


[11] Experiencing the glory of the Lord’s presence transforms us because it reveals God’s face to us. Throughout the Bible we learn that when people experience God’s presence it’s normally transforming – positive or negative. The Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:24-26 presents the highest, transformative blessing of God: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”


[12] The essence of the Triune God’s plan of salvation is transformation: seeing the Father’s creation as formation, the fall of humanity as deformation, and the redemption of Christ and restoration of the Spirit as reformation. In the new world, the paradise of the garden of Eden will not merely be restored, but “taken to its highest pinnacle” (Bavinck) as “the holy city, the new Jerusalem” where God dwells and rules over all his new creation with his people.


[13] Most descriptions of heaven in the Bible include references to earthly things, including a city with streets and gates, trees, fruits, water, eating, music, and animals.


[14] The believer’s resurrection body will be a new creation, but not a totally new creation. We’ll still recognize each others physical bodies, like the disciples recognized Jesus’ resurrection body. Paul refers to our resurrected body as a “spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44) Although it will still be physical, it will somehow mysteriously transcend the material realm. Parallels are often drawn with Jesus’ resurrected body in which he would sometimes appear physically to his disciples in unexpected ways behind closed doors. Yet he was not a ghost. The resurrected Jesus ate fish and had nail holes in his hands and a wound in his side the disciples could actually touch. Does this mean that the body of resurrected believers will forever bear the marks of their physical sufferings on earth? Will the person who dies at age ninety appear to be nineteen on the new earth? Will the child who dies in infancy appear to be the same age? These kinds of questions provoke lots of fanciful speculation, including the belief that everyone will be a young adult, in their twenties and thirties, because that’s the peak physical period for humans (Augustine, Aquinas). Regardless of our physical form or the age we will appear, our bodies will be fully redeemed, restored, and glorified to flourish according to God’s design.


[15] The kingdom God promised Israel, the kingdom Jesus proclaimed and inaugurated on earth, the kingdom the Church advanced by proclaiming the gospel to all nations, the kingdom God prepared for his followers from the foundation of the world, this kingdom will finally come to earth in all its fullness when Jesus returns.


[16] This is a description of heaven now, not a description of the new heaven and new earth to come. But there will still be this kind of adoration and praise to God and to the Lamb on the new earth forever.


[17] See Paul’s similar admonitions: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7), and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col. 3:23).


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