Waiting for the redemption of our bodies

Here is the cartoon that accompanies this essay.

The spirits of those who die enter into an intermediate state, awaiting the resurrection and judgment.1

A glimpse at the intermediate state for all the dead

A few New Testament passages reveal to us the state of the dead before the resurrection. In His Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus describes the two regions of ‘Hades’ (the unseen realm of the dead) (v. 23) a “great chasm” which no one can cross (v. 26). He also reveals the state of the dead while people (e.g., the rich man’s five brothers – v. 28) remain alive on the earth. Next to Abraham, Lazarus receives great blessings, while in flames the rich man looks on, suffering from an overwhelming thirst. Because this is a parable and not an historical narrative, we must allow for the use of figurative language. Nevertheless, we should not reject this parable as a source of information about the intermediate state. Would Jesus intentionally mislead us regarding this place that is the focus of so much intense interest?

State of the redeemed dead before resurrection

Recall that in Second Corinthians 5:1–5, Paul speaks of a “state of nakedness” after we put off the “earthly tent” (our perishable bodies) and before we are “clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (our resurrection bodies). As Paul contemplates his own death, he reveals that he desires to “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” than remaining alive (Phil. 1:23). This also conforms to Jesus’ promise to the penitent thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Based on these passages, we conclude that when the redeemed die, their spirits unite with Father and Son in a fellowship that is wonderful, but falls short of the experience in eternity when they have resurrected bodies. They may be aware of what is happening on earth, but without a divine mission or enabling, they are powerless to intervene. During this waiting period, they are blessed, since they “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow after them” (Rev. 14:13).

State of the unredeemed dead before resurrection

Like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, the unredeemed after death are also disembodied spirits held captive in a place of fiery suffering. In Second Peter 2:4 and 9, the apostle warns what will happen to false prophets: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but send them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment . . . —if this is so, then the Lord knows how . . . to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment.”

False prophets receive no special treatment as if they were worse sinners than anyone else. We can safely infer that what happens to them is the fate common to the unredeemed.

By analogy, when police catch a person in the process of committing a crime, they slap on the handcuffs and haul them off to jail where they await their trial. When convicted, they go to prison or are put to death as punishment for their crime. So those who die unredeemed are not free until Judgment Day. They already suffer pain as they await the formal examination of their case in the court of heaven, inevitably resulting in their condemnation and punishment.

By the way, so that no one makes the short jump to conclude that this passage clearly supports the idea of eternal, conscious torment after Judgment Day, Peter goes on to state this about the false prophets: “They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish” (2 Peter 2:12).

In this passage we find ambiguity. Is the apostle speaking of the eternal fate of these wicked people or is he saying that they will die physical deaths? The context will allow either interpretation.

What we know for certain, however, is that the unredeemed have no hope for redemption. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:20).

All raised at one ‘hour’

In John 5:28–29, Jesus says: “. . . [A] time [literally ‘hour’] is coming in which [singular relative pronoun] all who are in their graves will hear his [i.e., the Son of Man’s] voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

Here Jesus clearly teaches a general resurrection (both the righteous and the wicked), in contrast to a resurrection of only the righteous new-covenant believers (what Dispensationalists claim will happen at the “Rapture”). Paul teaches the same thing in his declaration before Governor Felix (Acts 24:15): “I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

Paul does not write ‘resurrections of both the righteous and the wicked’ (which would allow for separate raisings), but employs the singular: ‘a resurrection.’

These two clear verses help us to understand First Corinthians 15:51–54:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Understanding this passage as referring to the simultaneous resurrection of all of the dead rather than just the righteous conforms not only to the verses just mentioned in John and Acts, but also to its own immediate context. In v. 22 the “all” in the first half of the verse, the all who die because of Adam (the one who first brought sin into the world), must be the same as the “all” in the second half, who will be made alive. This cannot refer only to the redeemed.

It is true that Paul narrows his focus in v. 23 to “those who belong to Him” (see also vv. 47–49). But unless  we  are willing to believe, despite the Final Judgment passages, that the wicked are not raised at all (and I for one certainly am not willing to believe that), then the subduing of Christ’s final enemy Death (v. 26) must mean the release of all under Death’s control.

Paul reveals that those alive at the moment of Christ’s return will not have to pass through death (‘sleep’) before receiving their glorified bodies. The miraculous transformation will happen instantaneously for them, just before all the dead experience resurrection.

In the resurrection, we are not contemplating a mere resuscitation of dead bodies to their former state of existence – the concept the first-century Pharisees and other Jews apparently had.2 In verses 42–44 and 53–54, Paul describes the transformation that will take place:

How Our Resurrected Bodies Will be Different

Body “planted” (buried)3 Body raised Probable meaning looking back Probable meaning looking forward
Perishable Imperishable No aging or decay, no dying process Stays the same age, or only gets better and better
In dishonor In glory No longer characterized by embarrassing features and flaws (no blemishes, scars, disfigurement) Radiant and beautiful
In weakness In power No longer subject to disease, fatigue, and physical inadequacies Power could be quantitatively and qualitatively much greater than physically possible now
Natural Spiritual No longer dominated by the flesh Controlled and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, producing His fruit to maturity
Mortal Immortal No longer susceptible to death Living an unlimited span with immeasurable depth and richness

A transformation takes place that involves a change in the essential nature of the human being. It is no longer subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Only the God who instituted the laws of physics in the first place can bestow such a basic change.

Paul’s focus on the resurrection of Christians in First Thessalonians 4:16 likewise does not exclude a simultaneous resurrection of the wicked. His phrase, “the dead in Christ will rise first,” does not mean that the dead in Christ will rise before the wicked dead, but that the resurrection will happen before the living believers rise to meet the Lord at His return. The entire issue Paul addresses in the context is whether Christians who have died before the parousia are left out of its glorious celebration. Paul affirms that they will not miss out but will participate, concluding, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (v. 18).

Two other passages pertain to the nature of the resurrection. In Philippians 3:20–21, Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”

At Christ’s return and by the energizing force under His control, our perishable, mortal bodies will undergo a permanent transformation, conforming them to the likeness of His resurrection body. This truth has enormous implications for helping us to define just what our resurrection bodies will be like, because now we can confidently conclude that the resurrection encounters we find in the four canonical gospel accounts form a template for what our transformed bodies will be like. For instance these descriptions of His body plausibly serve as a template for us:

Christ’s Resurrected Body – A Template for Ours
Biblical text Description of Christ’s Resurrected Body Deduction About Our Raised Bodies
Mark 16:6 (parallels: Matt. 28:6; Luke 24:6) His resurrected body took the place of the perishable, mortal body of Christ buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. When the transformation took place, the old body became the new body. Our resurrected bodies will take the place of our old bodies.
Luke 24:37–42; John 20:25–29 His resurrected body was substantial; it was not a vapor, an optical illusion, or a vision. Therefore, our resurrected bodies will be substantial as well.
John 20:19–20; Matt. 28:8–10; Luke 24:13–16; John 20:10–18 His body was recognizable. Those who knew Him before His death recognized Him in His resurrected state. That some failed to recognize Him we can attribute either to their deep shock and understandable anxiety over their own safety, to how unexpected their encounter with Him was, or to a miraculous “masking” of His appearance.4 Therefore, we also can expect that our bodies will be recognizable by people who have known us.

Other aspects of Christ’s resurrected body do not necessarily correspond to what we can reasonably expect our transformed bodies to be like. For example:

Ways Christ’s Resurrected Body is Probably Unique
Biblical text Description of Christ’s Resurrected Body What is Likely About Our Resurrected Bodies
Luke 24:29–40; John 20:24–29 His body still bore the prints of the nails and the deep gash of the spear-thrust. These marks of the crucifixion remained as proof that the Jesus the apostles saw on the cross is the One God raised from the dead. Nor is this necessarily proof that our bodies will bear the wounds or scars we suffered in this life, for Christ’s wounds may have remained for theological reasons, not as essential features of a resurrected body.
John 20:1–8, 19, 26 His body apparently had the power to pass through the grave clothes without disturbing them and to pass through closed doors.5 We cannot necessarily assume that we will have such powers in our resurrected body, because Jesus before His death and resurrection was able to pass through crowds (Luke 4:30) and walk on water (Mark 6:47–52). Our bodies will be like His, but we will not necessarily have powers like Him.

In many ways, Jesus Christ will continue to be unique.
At the time of this general resurrection, all creation will also be transformed (or destroyed and then renewed), released from its bondage to death and decay.6

In Rom. 8:19–25, Paul clearly explains that the transformation will extend beyond human beings to include a renewal of the whole creation:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In this passage Paul confirms that the entrance of human sin had a negative effect on the physical universe: it became subject to “frustration,” which a verse later the apostle defines as “bondage to decay.” When God removes once and for all the effects of sin on humanity by putting an end to death, then God will remove sin’s effect on creation as well, transforming it into “a new heaven and new earth.” This transformation, which God has already begun by converting human hearts (what Paul in Galatians 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 already calls “the new creation”), He will one day extend to all creation.

In other words, just as sin was the fundamental cause for the disruption, or “frustration,” or fallenness of creation, so redemption is the fundamental reason for its end-times transformation. As Paul notes in Ephesians 1:9–10: “He [i.e., God] made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”7

Most scholars believe that this is also the message of 2 Peter 3:10–13:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The additional detail here is that at the Lord’s coming the old heavens and earth will suffer destruction before they undergo transformation. What remains unclear, however, is whether we should take this passage literally as a description of the end of the world and its renewal, or figuratively as employing Old Testament language of cosmic catastrophe to describe the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. (If Peter wrote Second Peter, he probably wrote it from Rome after the 64 CE fire and before the Jewish war broke out in 67.)

On a practical level, however, even if Peter intended for us to take this passage literally, its contribution is negligible. The transformation of creation that Paul in Romans 8 describes necessitates the end of creation as it is now, before the transformation.

Also, our awareness that all creation will participate in the transformation of human beings prompts us to think again about the comparison between Christ’s resurrected body and ours. When we use the gospel accounts to analyze the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body, we must realize that we are examining it like a fish out of water: can you really arrive at a good sense of what a fish is when you see it flopping on a table and gasping for air? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are describing Christ’s resurrected body as He walked, talked, touched, and ate in an untransformed world. We must at least grant the possibility that our resurrected bodies will function somewhat differently in a transformed heavens and earth than His did in one that remained unchanged.

Everyone who has ever lived will face judgment before Christ: the redeemed will be acquitted because of His blood; the unredeemed will be condemned because of their own sins.8

In contrast with Dispensationalists, who separate the resurrection and the judgment of the redeemed from those of the unredeeemed, Scripture clearly teaches that the righteous and the wicked will face judgment together. Paul’s explanation in Second Corinthians 5:10 is plain: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

A simultaneous judgment of both saints and sinners is also the theme of several parables of Jesus, including the Minas (Luke 19:11–27), the Faithful Servant (Matt. 24:45–51; Luke 12:42–48), the Talents (Matt. 25:14–30), and the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31–46). Most scholars believe all of these are pictures of the final judgment.

In addition, the Scriptures clearly state that the redeemed need have no fear of the judgment, since the basis of their standing before God is the precious blood of Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice.9 For them Judgment Day will be a triumph – not because they deserve to be saved but because they belong to Christ, the infinitely capable Savior. According to 1 John 2:2, His blood has the power to cleanse the sins of the whole world—can’t you believe it has the power to cleanse your sins? Nevertheless, the many conditional statements, warnings, and examples of Scripture urge us to avoid becoming overconfident or neglectful.10

The unredeemed, however, will stand before their Maker and Judge without the benefit of Christ’s blood, condemned by their own willful disobedience. We have a few hints about the standards Christ will use in this judgment.

Some Standards for Judging the Unredeemed
Passage Standard Comments
2 Thessalonians 1:8 Do you know God? This verse is not talking about whether one retains certain facts about God, but whether he or she has experienced an ongoing relationship with God as described in the New Testament. That relationship includes a willing submission to the Father’s will in one’s life.
2 Thessalonians 1:8 Have you obeyed the gospel? The expression “obey the gospel” suggests that the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection to a new existence logically demands an ongoing response from us. Whatever He wants of us we should be willing to do. Yet this response in no way earns our salvation—Christ alone has done that! Various passages call our response to the gospel ‘trusting,’ ‘hearkening,’ ‘yielding,’ ‘submitting,’ and ‘obeying.’ Even after conversion, Paul speaks of “walking worthy of the gospel.”
Matthew 7:21 Have you done the will of God? When you stand in judgment before Christ, if you are not clothed with His righteousness (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27; 2 Cor. 5:21), then you will have to justify yourself on the basis of your own actions. No one morally accountable for their deeds will have a winning case.
Matthew 7:23 Does the Judge know you? This is the flip side of “Do you know God?” Whether Jesus knows you—in the deepest, relational sense of oneness with Him—will make all the difference on the Day of Judgment, because Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior (John 14:6). If He doesn’t know you, you will have no hope to be acceptable on that day.
Matthew 25:41–46 How have you treated God’s people? Unlike Rabbi Hillel’s so-called “Silver Rule” of rabbinic Judaism (“Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you”), Jesus promises to judge sins of omission as well as sins of commission.
Luke 19:22; Romans 2:1–3, 21–24 What value judgments have you yourself made? If God merely recorded the value-judgments we have made of the actions of others and then judged us on that basis, we would all stand condemned.
James 4:11–12; Romans 2:12–16 Have you transgressed at least one of God’s commands? Our own justice system recognizes this. You can be a fine, up-standing citizen in every other way but rob a bank only once, and you are now guilty of being a criminal. The same is true in God’s justice system. The only way out of this universal condemnation is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
James 4:17 Have you failed to do what you knew you should do? We sin, not only by thinking, saying, and doing things that are wrong, but also by failing to think, failing to say, and failing to do the right things. These failures are just as damning as our misdeeds.
2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12 Were your deeds on earth good or evil? Unfortunately, one evil deed nullifies all the rest of the good deeds that we could do. Yet many people wrongly suppose that God will weigh our good deeds against our evil deeds, and if the good outweighed the evil, He will accept us into heaven. Wrong! The only acceptable standard is perfection, something we have all failed to achieve. Christ’s perfection God offers to accept in our behalf in exchange for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2). Unless we accept this offer and continue trusting in it, we have no basis for acquittal on the Day of Judgment (Isa. 59:1–2; Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48).
Luke 12:47–48 Did you know the Master’s will and didn’t do it? This passage speaks of degrees of punishment on the basis of “from whom much is given, much is required.” The servant who disobeyed in full knowledge of his or her Master’s will is punished more severely than the servant whose actions were against the Master’s will but done in ignorance. Yet both servants are still punished.

The redeemed, now “clothed” in their eternal bodies, will enjoy the new creation in fellowship with the Godhead and with each other for ever and ever.11

In Second Corinthians 5:1–4, Paul describes in a memorable way the effect of dying and being resurrected:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

In a mixing of metaphors, Paul compares the perishable, mortal human body to a tent; it is only a temporary dwelling and certainly not well designed to endure. He calls the resurrected body a building – better than a tent in every way. At death, however, though a believer’s spirit comes into eternal fellowship with Christ, he or she enters into a temporary state – lacking both the earthly, mortal body and the heavenly, eternal body. This situation Paul describes as a state of nakedness. He says that we who are still alive groan, longing to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling.

Many modern Christians do not look to the end of the age. Unaware that they live under the strong influence of Platonic philosophy, which describes the human body as a prison for the immortal soul, they only think about the release of the spirit from the mortal body, which they describe as “dying and going to heaven.”12  This same, short-sighted focus has found its way into many of our hymns. In the hymn, “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” In the last verse it says, “Ye angels from the stars come down and bear my soul away.” The Bible calls us beyond this “naked state” and urges us to yearn for our “heavenly dwelling,” our imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal bodies. We should move beyond a focus on “Some glad morning, when this live is o’er, I’ll fly away,” or “I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown, I shall reign with Him on high.”13

God is planning for us a new existence—one that involves solid, immortal, imperishable bodies, in which we will “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Rev. 7:15). This seems to be more than floating around on clouds playing harps.

Even more significant than the eternal bodies we will receive is the internal transformation God has promised. The apostle John says: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, will shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

For every Christian who has truly been born again, God has already begun a wonderful transformation. As each one responds to the gospel with a trusting, obedient faith, God imputes to them both the innocence of Christ from any wrong and the positive righteousness of Christ, accepting them into His family as if they were Christ. Then by His Holy Spirit, who indwells each of us, He begins to germinate and cultivate the Spirit’s fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). All of these are the very character-traits of Jesus Christ Himself. The promise is ours to cherish, that as we “walk by the Spirit,” God will take us to that goal of becoming like Christ, not just having a body like His, but also having His character, His heart, and His mind (1 Cor. 2:16).

The Spirit’s presence in our lives in the “here and now,” even lays claim to our present, mortal, corruptible body. It is not a prison, but the Spirit’s naos (His sanctuary, 1 Cor. 6:19); compared to our eternal “dwelling,” our body may still be a “tent,” but it is a special tent – God’s tabernacle.

The unredeemed will be excluded from God’s presence and will suffer “everlasting destruction,” consumed by “a raging fire” with no remedy.14

Amillennialists disagree among themselves about whether the punishment of the wicked is eternal conscious torment, as most believe, or annihilation, as a growing number of scholars believe. Those who espouse this second view are also known as “conditionalists,” because they believe immortality belongs to humans only on the condition of their redemption.

This disagreement seems to arise from the ambiguity within the biblical text itself. Paul warns in Second Thessalonians 1:8–10:

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord  Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

This text is ambiguous whether Paul is referring to two groups – 1) those who do not know God and 2) those presumably, who know about Him, but who refuse to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus – or only one – those who do not know God (in the sense of knowing about Him but refusing to acknowledging His authority) and further, do not obey Christ’s gospel. Whichever is the meaning, the truth remains that these unredeemed people will be excluded from the joys God has prepared for the redeemed, excluded throughout eternity from even the presence of Christ.

An ongoing debate

The debate continues, with both sides claiming victory and neither conceding to the other’s arguments.15 The ground common to both sides, however, is that eternal punishment is the worst fate one can possibly imagine and is likely to be much worse than anyone has contemplated. We should encourage each other and everyone we know in the most urgent terms to listen to the solemn warnings of Scripture and do everything we can to avoid this fate. Judgment Day is coming, from which no escape is possible. Let all who have sinned flee at once to Jesus Christ, the only Savior!

Notes

  1. For an excellent explanation of the intermediate state, see Loraine Boettner, Immortality (Philadelphia, Penn.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1956), 91–104.
  2. See B. F. Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection: Thoughts on Its Relation to Reason and History, 8th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1913), 99–102; A. Michael Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ: An Essay in Biblical Theology (Philadelphia, Penn.: Westminster, 1946). 111. Jesus’ dialogue with Sadducees (Mark 12:18–27 and parallels) demonstrates that a diversity of views about resurrection existed in Second Temple Judaism (see also Acts 23:8). On this point, see André-Marie Dubarle, “Belief in Immortality in the Old Testament and Judaism,” 34–45 in Pierre Benoit and Roland Murphy, eds., Immortality and Resurrection, Concilium: Theology in the Age of Renewal, vol. 60: Scripture (n.p.: Herder & Herder, 1970).
  3. A contrasting understanding of “planted” in 1 Cor. 15:42–44 holds that the “planting” takes place at conception, not at burial (see 1 Cor. 15:36–37, in which the sequence might be sowing, dying, and being made alive). This avoids the claim of some that Jesus’ body perished in the tomb, replaced by a resurrection body entirely new and unrelated to the past. See Ramsey, Resurrection, 109. This claim, however, already contradicts David’s messianic prophecy that God would not allow the Messiah’s body to experience decay (see Ps. 16:10, which Peter and Paul apply to Jesus in Acts 2:31 and 13:35, respectively).
  4. See Stephen T. Davis, “‘Seeing’ the Risen Jesus,’ in Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins, eds., The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Oxford University, 1997), 132–137.
  5. An alternative way of interpreting these phenomena of the Resurrection appearances is as proofs that the Resurrection of Jesus is essentially different than a mere resuscitation of His body to its pre-death state. See the discussion in Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, 4th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1887), xiii–xxi.
  6. See J. Mark Lawson, “Romans 8:18–25 – The Hope of Creation.” Review & Expositor 91, 4 (September 1, 1994): 561–564.
  7. Unlike the first-century fanatics of apocalypticism, who believed that the coming cosmic transformation would eventually reach human beings, Paul proclaimed the opposite: what God has begun in the new birth will one day come to include all creation. To put it another way, the transformation does not begin externally, finally penetrating to the human heart, but has already begun internally, moving outward from the human heart, finally to encompass everything. See the discussion in Moyer V. Hubbard, New Creation in Paul’s Letters and Thought (New York: Cambridge University, 2002), 234–241.
  8. Redeemed – Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 7:14; unredeemed – Ezek. 18:20; John 12:47–48.
  9. See, e.g., John 5:24; 1 John 3:14; and 1 John 4:17–19.
  10. For an excellent defense of the possibility that saved believers can lose their salvation, see Robert Shank, Life in the Son, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1989). See also my e-book, The Possibility of Apostasy: Those Who Know the Risk Climb More Carefully, and the discussion under the title “Can I lose my salvation?” on my Facebook website, “I Love Deeper Bible Study.”
  11. See “Man as Creature and the New Creation,” 1033–1035 in Werner Foerster, “ktizō, ktisis, ktisma, ktistēs [create, creation, etc.],” in TDNT, 3:1000–1035; and Johannes Behm, “kainos, kainotēs, anakainixō, anakainoō, anakainōsis, egkainizō [new, newness, renew, etc., etc.],” 3:447–454 in TDNT.
  12. See Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead” 53–85 in Terrence Penelhum, ed., Immortality, (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1973), in which the famous theologian draws a stark contrast between the Platonic view of immortality (the immortal soul released from the body of flesh) and primitive Christianity’ teaching of the resurrection (uniting one’s disembodied spirit with a glorified but human body). I am convinced that in rightly reacting against the influence of Hellenism in Christian theology, Cullmann goes too far claiming more than we find in Scripture. Cullmann states, for example (on 64–65), that when Jesus died, not only did his body taste death, but his spirit passed out of existence – He completely ceased to exist and at His resurrection, received a new spirit as well as a new body, both components of the New Creation. I cannot harmonize this with Jesus’ statement to the thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
  13. Hymns quoted are: “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” words for verse 5 by unknown author, unimproved from the original words published in the Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes, Henry W. Beecher, ed. (1855) – “When Christ the Lord from Heav’n comes down/And bears my soul away”; and “Some Glad Morning,” words by Alfred E. Brumley (1929); and “He Keeps Me Singing,” words by Luther B. Bridgers (1910).
  14. In making this thesis statement for the sixth point, I have tried to retain the biblical language, which allows for either interpretation: the annihilation of the wicked following their condemnation before God’s throne, or the eternal, conscious suffering of the wicked in a hell that simultaneously tortures them and preserves their existence.
  15. See Edward W. Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, “Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000); Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs, Col.: David C. Cook, 2011); William V. Crockett, ed., Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992); and the conditionalist website, www.rethinkinghell.com.

Want to dive deeper?

For further reading:
N. T. Wright – Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resrurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

“If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” Christians for many years have been asking this question. As award-winning author N.T. Wright points out however, the answer isn’t heaven. In Surprised by Hope, Wright, one of today’s premier Bible scholars, asserts that Christianity’s most distinctive idea is bodily resurrection. He provides a magisterial defense for a literal resurrection of Jesus and shows how this became the cornerstone for the Christian community’s hope in the bodily resurrection of all people at the end of the age. Wright then explores our expectation of “new heavens and a new earth,” revealing what happens to the dead until then and what will happen with the “second coming” of Jesus. For many, including many Christians, all this will come as a great surprise.

Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. For if God intends to renew the whole creation—and if this has already begun in Jesus’s resurrection—the church cannot stop at “saving souls,” but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God’s kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.

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