SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of All Things: Part 6a
Jesus is supremely an eschatological Figure. By “eschatological” I have in mind a broad definition including God’s Plan in Christ, not just a message about End Times. Eschatology is bound to teleology and should therefore be studied progressively.
The resurrection, although it occurred in our space/time, does not “belong” in this history, but in our future history. It signals the future. The glorified body of the man Christ Jesus awaits the time when the Lord returns and brings to pass the “regeneration.” This regeneration will see the 12 Apostles seated on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The need for judgment in the regenerated kingdom is seen in many OT places, like Isaiah 11 and Micah 4. The regeneration cannot be the New Heavens and Earth, because no judging is required in that perfect kingdom.
The Logic of Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not really belong in this age. In an important sense, it is an anachronism. When the atheist assures us that people do not rise from the dead we have to agree with him – at least in general. Of course, if they assert it like some scientific law we will beg to differ. Jesus is risen! But what a strange declaration. Amid the countless human beings who have come and gone upon the stage of history only One has had His physical Body resurrected. This singular event; which occurred very many years before we were born, is the anchor of our Christian hope. Without it, as Paul says it, “we are of all people the most pitiable.” Contrary to some points of view, the uniqueness of an event does not invalidate its credibility. In the strictest sense, every event, or, if that is too much to contemplate, very many events, are unique, just because they often include things which are not repeated in similar events. Just so, as there is only one Savior of the world, and all restoration hope is tied to Him, one would not expect another to be resurrected independently of his resurrection or, indeed, His timetable. The Christian Story is predicated upon such a simple logic.
But the resurrection does not merely fit nicely inside the Christian Story as a necessary article of faith; it actually fits within a necessary world and life view. I might say it is pivotal to any accurate world and life view. This is not at all to say that the resurrection is recognized for what it is in the world, any more than Christ Himself is accorded the recognition which is His due. It is just to say that the explanatory value of the Empty Tomb, at the level of the Big Questions of Life is immense.
This earth is cursed and will stay cursed. God’s curse on the material realm cannot be ameliorated. Notwithstanding, the resurrection of Christ does counter its affects. Resurrection is from death. It follows from this that the resurrection only makes sense in a cursed world. Its necessity and powerful counter-influence are only needed in this world. No resurrection is necessary in the New Creation. While it is true that the resurrected body must go into the New Creation, the New Heavens and Earth are maximally physical, as well as maximally spiritual. Thus, God doesn’t need a reason to create another pure physical realm to replace the present cursed one other than the fact that He has to do away with what He had cursed.
Could God make a new material realm by fiat and create glorified bodies for the saved souls of the saints in conjunction with that creative work without the requirement of resurrection? Conceivably yes, but then there could be no place for the resurrection. The logic of Resurrection requires a state of physical imperfection which is renovated or restored by dint of its connection to resurrection.
Some systems of eschatology treat this present material realm as a mere transportation system for the bodies of the elect. Or, more pointedly still, it is treated as a stage for the outplaying of history with no primary importance to God other than to deliver the elect into heaven. After that it is to be cast off and destroyed. Hence, in amillennialism particularly, wherein the planet serves in a reductionistic sense only as a mere carrier, the Christian worldview is impacted in the area of the purposes of this present earth.
A Glorious Anachronism
It could also be shown that any proper acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Christ brings with it a corresponding acceptance of and exalting in His bodily resurrection in heavenly glory. And it is just this fact which makes the resurrection a sort of anachronism.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners because He Himself is without sin. Moreover, to no other man could Divine attributes be spoken about. It is these attributes of full deity which qualified Jesus to bring sinful mankind to God. But bringing mankind to God must include God’s original intention for man and woman. Nothing can be left out. Human beings were created to combine spiritual and physical qualities in a unique combination, and in so doing, to reflect the spiritual and material realms of creation within the image they had been given. But the material was cursed, and death has wrought its dismal effects upon our physical frames until they can be remade.
As I write this I look out at a great many various changing shades of green – in the leaves and the grass and the surrounding hills. But for all its splendor I look at bearers of the curse with which God struck the ground for Adam’s sake. Created from that earth, his body was doomed to fall back into it, until the time the material creation was ready to be restored. That event would itself be triggered by the physical glorification of the Church when the savior came for it near the end of this “present evil age.” But the transformation of believing humanity and the repristination of our environment does not have its source in a mere decision to act from the Throne of Glory. It finds its source in the historical fact of the empty tomb and the declaration “He is not here, but is risen!” And because He is risen we shall rise and this earth shall be pervaded with peace and its languishing beauty, so rarely glimpsed as its Creator wanted it to be experienced, shall come through under the hand of the King who reigns from Jerusalem.
Is this then an Easter meditation? God forbid! It is a thought to fill every waking hour. The solitariness of the Third Day points to this future and fills the present with a strong expectation of change.
But think also of the unusualness of Christ’s resurrection. A glorious Person with no defilement and unlimited authority walked for a short time in our cruel world, and His eating and drinking and teaching and coming and going are part and parcel of our history. We all sense that this world is not what it should be. Perhaps the force of this “should” is what makes it hard sometimes to think of a benevolent Creator over it all? The tension between how the earth ought to be and what it all too often is; a tension sometimes portrayed in art (e.g. Brueghel; Watteau), and music (e.g. Mahler); where the spoiler is always lurking. In this world the Lord of the future world rose in all His essential glory. Nothing of this age enters the age to come unchanged, because nothing fits into the age to come unless it is associated with the resurrected One; the One who in His present state goes into that age unchanged, yet changes all else.