The biblical writer; Jude, who was commonly known as the half-brother of Jesus, wrote to his readers: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:4 ESV) Like Jude, I felt it necessary to write about the resurrection as the forgotten victory because of the many erroneous theological ideas surrounding death that are currently popular among many who are supposedly of faith.
Now, before I present my contentions, let it be known that this is not an attempt to be judgmental or condescending, but rather I write in an effort to promote the biblical concepts that were delivered to the saints of old! Sadly, too much of what is being passed off as ‘biblical’ around many Christian circles and churches today is actually current cultural concepts in biblical façade!
For instance, not long ago, I observed a funeral service in which, before the closing of the casket, a crown was placed upon the head of the deceased! The theme of the minister’s message was that, after battling sickness, disease, and the many struggles of life, the dearly-departed had now gained the victory through death! The preacher said that although the person had battled cancer, they were now victoriously healed because they had a brand new body in Heaven! Now, that’s sounds encouraging and even comforting, but is it biblical? Well. . . .not exactly! Let me show you what I’m talking about!
First of all, contrary to what is commonly preached and believed in most Christian churches, the Bible DOES NOT teach that our permanent dwelling will be in the Heaven where God dwells! Now, the Bible DOES teach that those who die in the Lord are immediately in the presence of the Lord! Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today, you shall be with me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43) The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:8, talks about being absent from the body and being present with the Lord. Therefore, biblical evidence suggest, our loved-ones who have died in the Lord are presently with the Lord. However, even though they are with the Lord, they are not complete, they are not whole! Why? Because they are in a dis-embodied spiritual state! Their spirits are with God, but their bodies (the part of them that was sick, suffering, cancer-ridden, etc.,) are in their graves!
Sure! The Apostle Paul said: “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:1 NASB) But the point that many miss is the fact that, that body is not received immediately after death! No! According to the Scriptures, we will not get our ‘new’ bodies until the Resurrection and the Resurrection will not occur until Jesus comes again! Consider another passage that is often read at funerals, but we miss the full message of it: In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Apostle Paul writes: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (KJV)
Let’s unpack this so you can see what I’m trying to say. The believers in Thessalonica were anxiously awaiting the Lord’s return. However, there were believers among them who had already died and those who remained were concerned that those who had died would miss the Lord’s coming. Paul wrote this section of the letter to assure them that those who had died would be caught up to meet the Lord just like those who are alive at his coming.
Paul said that when Christ returns, he will bring with him those ‘which sleep in Jesus.’ (v.14) But then he also says in verse 16, that the dead in Christ shall rise first! But wait a minute! I thought those who ‘sleep in Jesus’ and the ‘dead in Christ’ were the same people? So, how can Jesus bring those who sleep in him, with him when he comes, if those same people shall first rise from the grave before those who are alive are changed? If those who sleep in Jesus and those who will rise from the grave are the same people, how can they be in different places (with Jesus in Heaven and in the grave) at the same time?
Well, when Jesus comes, he will bring the disembodied spirits of the saved with him and their mortal remains will be raised immortal from the grave! The Bible calls this; the First Resurrection! It is at that point that victory over death will be achieved! No! The believer does not gain the victory over death at death; the believer will gain victory over death at the Resurrection!
Now, this raises another interesting question: If Heaven, in a disembodied state (the present state of those who have died in Christ) is indeed our ‘home’ or ultimate destination, then what is the purpose of the resurrection? I’ve always heard that the purpose of the resurrection will be so that we might be judged for the things we have done in the body. But think about it; the Bible says the angels will be judged and they don’t have mortal bodies as we have, so having a mortal body is not a necessary perquisite for judgment! So, what is the purpose of the resurrection? The purpose of the resurrection is so that body and spirit might be re-united, so that we might live as we were originally created to live!
And how were we originally created to live? Well, according to the Genesis account, humanity was made from the earth to have stewardship-dominion over the earth and to be sustained by the earth! When Adam fell, he didn’t fall from Heaven; he fell from the state that God had created him! Thus if the salvation plan of God is about restoration (by definition, restoration is a bringing back to a former position or condition), then Heaven cannot be our permanent dwelling because Heaven is not where we were originally created to live!
The only way for people go to Heaven is through death! And the only reason for the existence of death is because of sin! The Bible says; the wages of sin is death! And since sin and death were not part of God’s original intent and they are the only reasons people leave this world and go to another place, then in addition to what the Scriptures declare explicitly, implicit logic requires us to conclude that being in Heaven in a dis-embodied state was not God’s original intend for our eternal or ultimate destiny!
What sense would it make for God to go through all of the trouble of making a physical-world, making man as a spiritual-physical being to live and exercise authority in that physical world only to completely abandon that plan and opt for man to live permanently in a purely spiritual state in Heaven after man messed up? That makes absolutely no sense at all! In fact, such a notion actually implies that God was so short-sighted that man’s sin caught God completely off-guard, proving God as incapable of finishing what God had started, making it necessary for God to implement an alternative plan for man to live eternally in Heaven as a dis-embodied spirit instead on earth as a spirit-physical being as God had originally planned!
But the GOOD NEWS the Bible shares is that God had made provisions for Adam’s sin, even before Adam was created! The GOOD NEWS of the Bible is that God’s original intent will ultimately be realized! With all of our doctrines and traditions, we’ve made complicated, what is actually quite simple! The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story about a kingdom given, a kingdom lost, and a kingdom regained! It’s the story of a good creation that went bad, but is being and will be ultimately restored!
Theologians call Adam’s sin in the garden; The Fall! Man ‘fell’ from the state God had created him! The consequence of that fall was and is death! What is death? Death is, in a sense, an unnatural separation! Physical death is the separation of the spirit-soul from the physical body! I call it ‘unnatural’ because it is not God’s original intent; death perverts and subverts the way God originally intended for man to exist! We often cite in marriage ceremonies what Jesus said: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder!” Well, in a sense, that’s exactly what death does! Death separates (body and spirit) what God originally joined together! Paul said of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26: “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (KJV) The resurrection will be the destruction of death! The resurrection will be God joining back together what death had put asunder!
God is working everything out to fulfill His original intent! His original intent was not for us to be with Him in Heaven, but rather for Him to be with us on Earth! He was originally ‘with us’ when He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day! He was ‘with us’ in the person of Jesus; the Immanuel! He is ‘with us’ today in the person of the Holy Spirit! And one day, He will be with us as He originally was! For I read the Apostle John’s Revelation: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (Rev. 21:1-5 KJV) [bold italicize mine]
Yes! The victory that is most often forgotten on funeral occasions is the victory of the resurrection! In speaking of this victory, the Apostle Paul said the same things to the Corinthians that he said to the Thessalonians: “Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will 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 incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:51-55 CSB17)