What Does ‘Resurrection’ Mean in the Bible?

Resurrection. Do we believe in it? Do we understand what that word means? Over the years, I have become convinced that I did NOT know what the word means and it led to all manner of confusion on my part. Some clarification is needed.

Resurrection is not a synonym for “life after death.”
Resurrection is not a synonym for “eternal life.”
Resurrection is not a synonym for “saved” or “getting saved.”
Resurrection is not a synonym for “immortality of the soul.”
Resurrection is not a synonym for “going to heaven when I die.”

The vast majority of the pagan world DID, and DOES, believe in some kind of “life after death.” Nearly as far back as we have any recorded history; from Sumer to the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Norse … everyone believed in “life after death.”

Christianity did not invent, nor was the Christian message the first to teach, there is something beyond death. Resurrection is NOT a synonym for “life after death.”

When Paul preached in Acts 17 to the Greeks in Athens most of the Greeks already believed in Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Paul, however, did NOT believe in the immortality of the soul. Paul believed in RESURRECTION of the body. The pagans believed in immortality of the soul, but did NOT believe in resurrection of the body (Acts 17.31-32). The Corinthians that denied the resurrection were not secular humanists, they were not atheists, they did not deny “life after death.” The issue was resurrection. It seems that today many believe what the pagans did and simply have called it resurrection. But they didn’t and neither did Paul.

Resurrection has meaning. Resurrection refers to the human BODY. The BODY of a human being will be resurrected. Paul notes in Romans 8, two times, (vv. 11 & 23) that our “mortal body” will be redeemed. What God did to the body of Jesus he will do to the body of everyone. Paul notes in 8.23 that we wait in “for adoption, the redemption of our BODIES.”

Resurrection is the redemption of our human body from death and its decay. It is precisely the body the Greeks did NOT want anything to do with in Acts 17. They wanted something unseen, something immaterial, something they proclaimed was more valuable, the “soul.” But Paul said God raised Jesus from the dead. Every Greek present knew what that word meant and they mocked Paul. Again they were not saying they did not want to live after they die, they are rejecting something quite specific, resurrection of the body.

But according the Bible, the Human Body is holy. The Bible declares that human beings, AS HUMAN BEINGS, are the “image of God.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our flesh is holy. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, the most sacred moment any human can ever have, “next to the sacrament itself,” is to encounter another human being. Humans are sacred. The stuff we are made of is “very good” as is everything the Lord God has made.

Resurrection declares that “I” matter to God. My identity. God redeems all of me. Salvation is not the loss of identity in some unification with God or the universe. Resurrection preserves what God has created.

God does not redeem some of me. Jesus is the Model. That is why he is called the “second Adam,” and “the first fruits.” There is indeed a pattern in Scripture and it is what God has done to IN and THRU the Jewish Messiah named Jesus of Nazareth.

The crux of the Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 is not baptism for remission of sins. The crux of Peter’s proclamation is that Creator God has done in Jesus what Paul would later write about in Romans. God raised him from the dead. God redeemed the body of the Messiah out of death.

“But God raised him up, having freed him from death because it was impossible for him to be held in its power …

“[Quoting Psalms] my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; moreover MY FLESH WILL LIVE IN HOPE …”

“David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his FLESH experience corruption.’

“This Jesus God raised up …” (Acts 2.24, 26, 31-32)

All of this stuff about flesh, body, resurrection, Peter surely remembers just a few days before when Jesus chided the disciples, declaring that he was no ghost. Jesus’s BODY had been resurrected. He had FLESH and bones (Luke 24.36-40).

Jesus’s IDENTITY was preserved, redeemed, and set free from death and decay thru resurrection of his body. He did not cease to be a human being. He did not become an angel. He did not become androgynous. The apostle John states Jesus is in the flesh yet (resurrection is about the body after all!) in 1 John 4.1-2 and 2 Jn 7. The apostle Paul states very clearly that there is (present tense) one God and one mediator between God and humanity, “Christ Jesus, himself HUMAN” (2 Tim 2.5). The Hebrews Preacher declares that the man Jesus is God’s presence as our High Priest performing duties on our behalf NOW. Jesus is our MAN in heaven.

Jesus is still the Messiah. He is still the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and even the Son of Mary. Incarnation and Resurrection go hand in hand in the Bible’s teaching. The person raised God from the dead is the same person who was incarnate in the flesh. All that he was before he remains … glorified.

And what God did to him, he promises to do to us. Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. We need to know what it means. God is redeeming our body … he made it. The Word literally BECAME FLESH so that God could save all God has made. Incarnation is God’s greatest compliment to the universe. Resurrection is God’s denial of Death’s power over God’s creation.

I can confess that for years I had no real clue what resurrection actually meant. I did in fact simply use the term as a synonym of going to heaven when I die.

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