Confessing Christ Bloggers
Aug 18

Written by: gfackre
8/18/2008 10:31 AM

Christian talk about things to come begins with the One who has already arrived. Assertions about the future are grounded in decisive past events in the history of Jesus Christ. On this point, secular futurology and biblical eschatology are of the same mind. Both base their projections on discernible trajectories from within history--either a "thirteen multifold trend" or the singular Easter happenings. Both the futurist and the believer know the difference between hope and fantasy, the former being rooted in anticipatory signs and the latter devoid of such credentials. "The third day he rose again from the dead....I believe in the resurrection of the body...."

As with the risen Jesus, so with us, the consummation of the divine purpose is a full-blooded end. Jesus' resurrection was no ectoplastic appearance or oblong blur. The New Testament accounts are of encounter with an embodied Christ. "Reach out your hand and put it in my side....(John 20:27) The bold physicality makes us wince. "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) For Christians, tangibility is a portent of ultimate things to come: no vaporous soul aloft forever in spiritual skies, no passage of a droplet self into an eternal sea, no everlasting memory in the mind of God, nor wistful solace based on our influence on generations to come. Rather, "God gives it a body...." (I Cor. 15:38)

But, but.... Yes, Paul had the same "buts." He tells us that there are bodies, and then there are bodies. "There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies....So it is with the resurrection of the dead." (I Cor. 15:40, 42) Indeed, the paradox takes us once again to the "first fruits" of final hope. The accounts of the risen Jesus are strange indeed. A body that dines but "vanishes."? (Luke 24:30-31) One that can be touched (John 20:27), but not "held on to" (John 20:17)? What else but a preview of the mystery of our own resurrection: "If there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body....This perishable body puts on imperishability...." (I Cor. 15:44, 54) We know how to say what it isn't: not mortal "flesh and blood" (I Cor. 15:50), not the same as the seed sown, not the perishable. "Apophatic"--negative--eschatology!

Paul's reserve, as well as his both-and dialectic, anticipates the resistance to either-or oversimplifications that will mark doctrinal disputes for millennia to come. Partisans fix upon either the human or divine, the physical or the "spiritual," from the christological controversies to the sacramental debates. And in each case, mystery must be honored and the Pauline paradox assert itself.

While it is hard to say just what the eschatological "both-and" means, we end with the apostolic finger pointing to Jesus. He rose again, fully but differently, "the first-born from the dead." (Col. 1:18) And so shall we. "Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"! (I Cor. 15:57)

Victory, yes, for "those who belong to Christ." (I Cor. 15:23) How about all the others? Classical teaching is fairly uniform here. All the dead are raised, "There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous." (Acts 24:15) But some, even a few prominent evangelicals of late, have tempered the wind to the shorn sheep with the defense of "annihilationism" They hold that destiny of the unworthy is dissolution; resurrection/immortality is conditional. The motive here may be the challenge of theories of ultimate judgment beholden to punitive cultural practices. But there are better ways of questioning retributive eschatologies then abandoning the clear biblical refrains of accountability. (We shall presently examine an alternative). The resurrection of the dead is both a final hope and a final reckoning.

So what was Niebuhr getting at when he said the "genius of the Christian faith" is expressed in the creedal affirmation of "the resurrection of the body"? It has to do with the first great non-negotiable of the final Christian Hope.
Already we have introduced linkages between the resurrection of the body and allied visions of the End--, accountability,encounter with Christ, a renewed history and cosmos. We move then to the other eschatological windows

Copyright ©2008 Gabriel Fackre


Re: Christ's Resurrection and Ours

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