We too often hold to the great truths of the resurrection of Jesus in a piecemeal fashion. We gather a bit here and a bit there, and the assemblage is generally orthodox. But this approach has resulted in some unfortunate gaps. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. But what does this mean here and now?
“But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you . . . And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8: 11, 23).
Summary of the Text
We will be dealing with the argument of Romans 8 in a few months, as we continue to work through the book. For the present, we simply want to place these comments from Paul into the broader context. First, we see that Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 11). This Spirit, the one who raised Jesus, is the same one who indwells Christians (v. 11). Being the same Spirit, He will certainly accomplish the same work. The one who raised Jesus was the Father, and He accomplished His work by means of the Spirit—the Spirit who dwells in us. The one who quickened Christ’s body is the one who will quicken our body. Not only will we be raised by the Spirit who lives in us, we long for that day of resurrection because of the Spirit who lives in us (v. 23). We are going to be raised because the principle of resurrection life has already been embedded in us, and that principle causes us to lean toward the day of resurrection. We groan, waiting for our final adoption, the redemption of the body, the final resurrection (v. 23). We do this in the same way that a pregnant woman groans, longing for the day of her delivery. Something within us is inexorably coming to fruition.
The Last Day Now
The Jews rightly expected the general resurrection of the dead to occur at the Last Day. “Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (Jn. 11:24). Martha knew, and knew rightly, that her brother was goinng to be raised at the culmination of human history. What she and the others did not know is that God intended to start that resurrection early, in the raising of Jesus. When the Bible describes Jesus as the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), or as the first born from among the dead (Col. 1:18), we are intended to see that His resurrection and ours are all part of the same event. God has intruded the events of the end of history into the middle of history. He did this because history, as it was going, was all messed up. God planted the glory of the end right in the middle. This means that, in the resurrection of the Christ, the end of the world is history.
If the history the world before Christ was a long, grim and terrible novel, God has wonderfully flipped ahead to the last chapter, while we were stuck in the middle of the book, and has written the denouement into the middle of the book, transforming the book entirely. Instead of endless ache and tragedy, we now have, in Pastor Leithart’s words, deep comedy.
One very important implication of this identification of Christ’s resurrection in the middle of history with ours at the end of it is that it banishes a very common, and very heterodox assumption among evangelical Christians. We believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and know that those who don’t are liberals. They have denied the faith. If Christ is not raised, we are still in our sins. But what happened to Jesus is the same thing that will happen to us. And yet many Christians believe that their existence in the afterlife will be as some kind of ethereal, ghostly, floaty thing. No—your body will be raised. You will have hands and feet, glorified. You will have a torso, glorified. You will havelungs, heart, face and ribs, all restored, perfected, and glorified. We do not believe in the immortality of ghosts or mental essences, but rather in the resurrection of the body.
“And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:42-43). “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21)
The Groaning of God
Now we must place all this in the context of Paul’s larger argument in Romans 8. The whole creation groans (v. 22). We, because we have the Spirit, groan also as we long for the day of resurrection (v. 23). And the Spirit helps us in our weakness—since we do not know yet what it will be like (as He does)—and He does this with groans too deep for words (v. 26). Now there are many lessons to be drawn from this, but for the time being, let us content ourselves with just one. The day of resurrection will include the world around you as much as it will include you. The created order is longing for the day of resurrection just as you are. Now note—it is not the case that you are longing for resurrection and the created order is longing for the oblivion of Nirvana. You are straining toward the same thing that the Sawtooth range, the Pacific Ocean, the Great Plains, the Crab Nebula, all the animals, and the grove of trees on that back acre of yours are longing for—the transformation and restoration of all things. This world will die, just as you will. But the world will also be raised, every bit as much as you will be. God is not saving you while writing off the world around you as a bad investment. He is in the process of saving it all.
God is not going to raise you to life again, and not giv e you somewhere to stand. He is not going to whisk you away to some alien place. Because of the blood of Jesus, in the resurrection of all things, a reconciliation between heaven and earth will be accomplished (Col. 1:20). This means that this world will be very much a part of what we now call Heaven. Nothing of value will ever be finally lost. When everything is gathered in, it will all be gathered in.
The Sky Above and Earth Below
The Lord has risen—He is risen indeed. But this is not just to be believed as an isolated datum. It is also to be preached, and the relevance of it to every living creature is to be pressed. In this glorious truth, we therefore see the salvation of history. We see the salvation of our mortal bodies, which will all be transformed in order to be conformed to the image of the First Man. And we see the restoration of the sky above and the earth below. When meditating on the future of our world, never make the mistake of thinking that our God will stint in His work.