‘I believe in … the resurrection of the body’
Timothy Cross continues looking at the Apostles’ Creed
The last two lines of the Creed are concerned with the Christian’s future hope. ‘Hope’, in the Bible, refers to something certain and sure – a confident expectation based on the unbreakable promises of God.
Christians have true hope, because God will surely fulfil his everlasting covenant of grace. His Word assures us that every believer in Jesus will one day inhabit a redeemed body and live in a redeemed universe, for ever.
In Acts 4:2, we read that the Sadducees were annoyed with the apostles for ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead’. Full-orbed Christian hope is not so much salvation of the soul living in an ethereal heaven, as the resurrection of the body living in a renewed earth.
If we belong to Jesus now, we are for the time being saved spiritually, but not physically. Our bodies are still subject to various ills – sickness, frailty, short sight, arthritis, etc. But when the Lord Jesus comes again, he will raise his people up to immortality, and bestow on them resurrection bodies free from all that hinders and handicaps us in this present world. The promise of Jesus to his own is ‘I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:44).
If you belong to Jesus now, you have already experienced a spiritual resurrection: ‘You he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked’ (Ephesians 2:1ff). But when he comes again, we are promised a physical transformation just as miraculous.
‘We await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself’ (Philippians 3:20-21). The glorification of our redeemed bodies we still await.
Scripture teaches that the Christian’s resurrection body will be free from all weakness, deterioration and death. It will be, paradoxically, both continuous and discontinuous with the present body. We will be ‘us’; yet a different ‘us’.
In his famous chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains this using the analogy of a seed and its flower. A seed is plain to look at, yet having been sown in the ground a glorious flower springs up from it. ‘So is it with the resurrection of the dead’, says Paul. ‘What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
Perhaps the best way to understand this is to consider the resurrection body of Christ. He is the pattern for his people; our bodies will be ‘like his glorious body’. His was not merely a revived corpse, but a body raised to an altogether new plane of living.
Yes, it was the same Jesus. He bore the marks of Calvary on his hands and side, and Mary Magdalene recognised his voice. Yet it was a different Jesus too. He was able to pass through his grave clothes and the great stone rolled against his tomb. He was able to pass through walls, and enter the locked room in which his frightened disciples were gathered. Yet he could be touched and he ate in their presence.
Here then is the ultimate Christian hope – the resurrection of the body. John Calvin explains it this way: ‘By means of the same power which he used to raise his Son from the dead, it will transpire that the Lord will call out of dust and corruption and into a new life, the flesh of those who will have been touched by death before the great judgement day.
‘Those found alive at that time will pass into a new life and this will happen through a sudden transformation rather than through the ordinary form of death. Our resurrection will be such that, raised from corruption into incorruptibility and from mortality into immortality, and being glorified in our body and soul, the Lord will receive us into eternal blessedness, removed from all possibility of change and corruption’.
Christians today live in the ‘in between’ times. We rejoice in our present salvation in Christ, but also long for the promised salvation to come, for our resurrection and Christ’s are inextricably bound. ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Our present joy in Christ then is tempered by longing for this fuller, future hope. ‘We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8:23).
The author’s book I believe – The Apostles’ Creed simply explainedis published by Day One (ISBN 978-1846252013)