To Be Free of the Flesh, part 1- The Final Resurrection

April 20, 2009

If one has spent adequate time in Christian circles, even if they are not a believer, they may have heard something about the resurrection of believers.  Most people in American culture, I would imagine, are aware of the Christian claim that Christ was resurrected shortly following his death on the cross, but it is also true that in a complete theology of salvation, many Christians hold to a final resurrection of all believers from the dead (or, if they are not dead at the second coming, simply a reception of a “resurrection body,” i.e. a body that is renewed and will live forever).  This specific doctrine stems from passages such as Paul’s writings to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 15.51-52:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

The Apostle Paul tells us that in the end, “all” people will be “changed” from their mortal flesh and into living, physical, “imperishable” bodies, whether alive or dead, in which case the dead will also be “raised.”  This theme is further developed, clarified, and attested to in places like John 5, Romans 8, and 1 Thessalonians 4.  The theological term for all of this is ‘glorification’, which Grudem defines as,

. . . the final step in the application of redemption.  It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own. (Systematic Theology, p.829)

We know that glorification is the final step in the Pauline understanding of redemption from Romans 8.30 (“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”)  This step is also discernible in the Petrine order through passages such as 1 Peter 1.3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

It is Thom Schreiner who comments frequently on this idea of eschatalogical salvation in his commentary on 1 Peter, pointing out that the step of glorification is the “not yet” portion of the “now-not yet” tension kept throughout the New Testament in regards to salvation.

There remains much more biblically to be said supporting this claim, but I think what we have already covered is sufficient to make the point: believers are instructed to be looking forward to a final resurrection in which their current mortal body will be changed (or exchanged) for one that is immortal.  With that in mind then, there are a few questions I think are important to raise, such as why do we receive resurrection bodies, what purpose do they serve in the final plan of God, and what should our response to all this be in the meantime?  These we will try and answer over the next couple of days.