The Resurrection and the Life: Our Risen Savior and Our Certain Hope
Because Jesus lives, death doesn’t stand a chance. The Son of Man has all authority in heaven and on earth, and the tombs answer to him. When the Lord returns, death shall be no more. We have this hope because we are united to Christ by faith. In Christ we will rise to experience what the tree of life held out for us: glorified bodily life.
In the beginning there was life—and so shall the end be. The power of God and his faithfulness to every promise ensure the triumph of life over death. This is the Christian hope of resurrection, or the raising and glorifying of our bodies.
The Bible has much to teach us about this glorious hope. In the following sections, we will meditate on bodily resurrection in several ways. We will see how the Old Testament authors taught God’s death-defeating power. We will notice how the defeat of death will establish what God designed for his image-bearers: immortal physical life. And we will rejoice in the gospel news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, inaugurating bodily life without end—a life that will belong to all who are united to him.
Martha’s Words About Resurrection
Near the end of Jesus’s public ministry, his friend Lazarus died (John 11:14). Even though Jesus learned earlier that Lazarus was ill, he did not make a trip to see him. He waited, but not because of callousness or busyness or misunderstanding. As we can infer from John 11:3–4, Jesus planned to show the glory of God in what happened next. For that reason, Lazarus would spend four days in the tomb when Jesus finally showed (John 11:17).
Martha met with Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus’s reputation as a miracle-worker preceded wherever he traveled those days. Martha knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus’s illness. Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23).
Faithful Jews had a concept of bodily resurrection because of what the Old Testament authors taught. This understanding is why Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). There she referred to her brother’s future bodily resurrection. The dead would one day rise, and Lazarus would be among them. This she believed, as she had been taught.
Waking from the Dust
A conviction in the Four Gospels that the dead would rise was based on God’s revelation in the Old Testament. In the clearest expression of resurrection hope in the Old Testament, Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Pictured as waking from bodily sleep, the dead will awake from the dust and live.
The language of dust takes us back to Genesis 2–3. The Lord pronounced judgments and consequences to the serpent and to the human couple, and Adam heard these words: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
Being “taken” from the dust recalls the creation of Adam, where the very first instance of “dust” is used. The Lord “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). Because of the words in Genesis 3:19, however, the dust signifies not just Adam’s life; he “shall return” to the dust, which means death. Like Adam, going to the dust is our earthly end. But as Daniel 12:2 reminds us, life will once again come from the dust. In Genesis 2, the granting of life was creation. In Daniel 12, the granting of life will be resurrection. At death, we go to the dust, but we do not go there to stay.
Made for Embodied Life
Bodily resurrection is what will accomplish God’s design for his image-bearers: embodied life with him. When God made Adam, the man was not a disembodied spirit who was later given a body. God created Adam as an embodied creature, so the only kind of life Adam knew was embodied. Death disrupts bodily life because the body dies even as the soul lives. Resurrection is the recovery of God’s design because the body is raised and re-united to the soul.
We were made for unending bodily life. Consider, as evidence, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. God put the tree of life in the midst of the garden (Gen. 2:9). And when God exiled Adam from Eden, he was barring Adam from the tree of life, “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). The tree of life represented immortal physicality. The question for God’s image-bearers, then, is whether we will ever experience what the tree of life held out. The answer is yes: through bodily resurrection, we will, as Daniel 12 puts it, “awake” from the dust unto embodied immortality.
As we affirm the kind of life God created us for and will raise us to receive, we can discern more of what our Christian hope entails. Our ultimate hope is not to die and leave this world as mere souls. Paul says that at death, believers are absent from the body and present with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:6–8). To die is gain indeed (Phil. 1:21). But if our future was only disembodied life with God, then death would hold our bodies in its cords forever.
Paul, speaking about our earthly bodies, told the Corinthians, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). Our earthly tent—marked with moans and groans—will be surpassed by our heavenly dwelling, our risen body. God is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (4:17). And if we knew the glorious future of embodied life that will be ours, we would long for it like Paul did. The body’s “light momentary affliction” can’t compare to the body’s future glory (4:17–18).
Proving a Staggering Claim
When Martha told Jesus that Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), she was correctly understanding the Old Testament hope of God’s power delivering the bodies of his people from the cords of death. But she probably wasn’t prepared for Jesus’s response. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).