Why Look Forward to Your Resurrection
On Easter we’re reminded of the good news of God’s love for us displayed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers help us better understand our resurrection from the dead and life in the new world to come in this brief excerpt from their upcoming book and course, “Theology of Faith.”
Theology of Faith: Biblical Exposition of Apostles’ Creed
By John Frame and Steve Childers
Christians believe that there is a new world coming when Jesus returns, in the power of his Holy Spirit, to restore fallen humanity and creation by establishing God’s kingdom on earth forever.
The resurrection of the dead
The concluding affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed is, “[I believe in] the resurrection of the body.” The Nicene Creed added these words to strengthen it: ”We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” On that final day, Christ, by his Spirit, will resurrect from the dead every person who has ever lived – beginning with all those who have believed in him.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:16)
All believers will be raised from the dead, except for those alive at his return, and restored to God’s original purpose by reuniting their glorified souls, that were in heaven, with their glorified bodies, that were in the earth. Paul writes,
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)
What will happen to believers who are still alive at Jesus’ return? Paul tells us, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
When Jesus returns, all believers who are dead will be raised and given glorified bodies, and all believers who are alive will also be given glorified bodies. Then all of them will be miraculously and spectacularly joined with Christ forever.
The life everlasting in the world to come
When Jesus returns, he will not only restore fallen and corrupt humanity, in body and soul, to the Father’s original design for their flourishing. He will also restore fallen and corrupt creation. Paul writes, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
Jesus describes this coming restored creation, over which he will rule, the “new world” (Matt. 19:28). The Greek term for “new world,” palingenesia (παλινγενεσίᾳ), means regeneration and rebirth. Paul uses this same Greek word to describe the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and rebirth of all believers at their conversion. (Titus 3:5) Just as all believers experience regeneration and rebirth by the power of God’s Spirit, so will all creation experience regeneration and rebirth at Christ’s return.
This regeneration of our fallen world will include a purging and cleansing of all forms of evil and corruption. On that final day, when Jesus sends his angels to separate all the righteous and the wicked, he teaches that they will gather out of his kingdom “all causes of sin” and all law-breakers. (Matt. 13:41) The Greek term for “causes of sin” is scandala (Σκάνδαλα), meaning “stumbling blocks.” Not only will God’s Spirit purge the world of “all lawbreakers,” but he will also purge the world of all the stumbling blocks to believers that the disobedient have created.
When Jesus returns, the kingdom paradise that the Father prepared for his children before his creation, the kingdom that was thwarted by Satan and sin in the garden, and the kingdom that the Son inaugurated on earth by his death and resurrection, will finally come to earth in all its fullness forever. John describes it like this:
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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. He 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. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. (Rev. 21:1-5)
Paul describes the blessedness of this eternal “world to come” as the believer’s “inheritance” that God guarantees will one day be ours by giving us his Holy Spirit when we believe. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14).
Martin Luther beautifully summarizes the meaning of our belief in God the Spirit as Restorer in these five statements:
- I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.
- In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
- In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.
- On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
- This is most certainly true.
 The Scriptures teach that there will be certain “signs of the times” preceding the return of Christ and the end of the age. Theologian Anthony Hoekema gives us a helpful description of these signs as being grouped in three categories: 1) Signs of God’s grace, e.g. the proclamation of the gospel to all nations and the salvation of the fullness of Israel (Rom. 11), 2) Signs of opposition, e.g. the tribulation, apostasy, and the Antichrist, and 3) Signs of God’s judgment, e.g. wars, earthquakes, and famines. Although some of these signs will be dramatic in nature, Jesus warns us not to see them as only spectacular and catastrophic events. (Luke 17:20-21) Jesus also warns us not to use these signs as a way of trying to determine the time of his return. (Mark 13:32; Matt. 24:36) He told his disciples that he didn’t know the time, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Since the Bible does not give us an exact sequence and order of these signs, we must not try to create a detailed, specific timetable of future events as some Christian traditions have done (Dispensationalism). But Christians should learn how to “see the signs” when they appear and think about how they could be signs of Jesus’ imminent return. Hoekema give us several practical examples of how God means for these signs to help us grow spiritually by thinking more about the return of Jesus. See Hoekema, A. A. (1994). The Bible and the Future, Eerdmans, chapters 11-12.
 Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, (have died) that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Paul does not want his readers to lose hope about their future with the Lord, simply because other believers have died. Some Thessalonians seem to have believed that Christians would not die before Jesus returned. Paul is reassuring them that those who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead and united with all believers who are living when Jesus returns.
 It’s a mistake to interpret this passage as giving us any more specific details about this event and what follows. Paul is not teaching that Jesus will miraculously scoop up all his followers to snatch (rapture) them out of this corrupt world before his final judgment on all who are “left behind.” When he writes, “and so we will always be with the Lord,” he’s not teaching that all the believers who are caught up with the Lord and each other “in the clouds” will be staying up in the clouds forever. Instead, Rev. 21:1-3 shows us the opposite, that heaven (holy city, new Jerusalem) will come down to earth in all its fullness.
 The terms that Paul uses in 1Thessalonians 4 for Jesus’ “coming” (parousia, Παρουσίαν in verse 15) and our “meeting” (ἀπάντησιν in verse 17), reflect the political rhetoric of the Roman Empire used to describe military or political dignitaries making official visits. Paul’s words imply that believers will meet the Lord “in the air,” not as an act of departing from fallen creation, but as a majestic act of welcoming their victorious, conquering Lord and King back to the world he created. Paul’s emphasis is on the majestic, final union when Christ’s purified bride is fully united to the groom forever. Apparently, when that final union first takes place, it will not be on the surface of the earth, but above it “in the clouds.”
 The Apostle Peter describes the coming day of the Lord as a time when “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Pet. 3:10) The Greek word heurethēsetai (εὑρεθήσεται), translated “exposed,” is used in the earliest Greek manuscripts and can be translated “found, revealed, and discovered,” possibly conveying the exposure and revelation of the righteous and unrighteous works that have been done on the earth. Peter is teaching that God’s final judgment of the whole earth with fire, will be like God’s earlier judgment of the whole earth with water during the times of Noah (2 Pet. 3:5-7). During the flood, the earth was not completely annihilated but purged of all its wickedness. So, when Peter writes that “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13), he’s not referring to a totally new earth that is completely different than the present one. Instead, he’s referring to a gloriously renewed and restored earth that remains in continuity with the present one – but is completely without any form of corruption. In the same way that God will make us recreated bodies from our dust, God will also make a new, recreated world after being “burned up” and “dissolved”. The world will be a new creation, but not a totally new creation. We’ll still recognize the earth and the world as we know it, but it will be fully redeemed, restored, and glorified to flourish according to God’s design – just like our new bodies.
 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. When Jesus returns, the “first heaven and the first earth will pass away.” In 1 Peter 3:5-13, the Apostle Peter describes the “passing away” of the “old world” and its transformation into the “new world.” When Jesus returns, heaven will come “back down” to earth like it was in creation before the Fall, when God’s presence was with his people (Immanuel) on earth. But it will be far better than Eden.
 The Greek word John and Peter use 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. Similarly, 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.
 Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: The Creed, The Third Article.
Reference: Applied Theology Series: A Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love: Exposition of Faith in the Apostles’ Creed, Chapter 5, “God the Spirit as Restorer” by John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
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