The word “resurrection” means many things in across cultures today. For example, in my finance class in university, I was taught the concept of “gambling for resurrection,” as part of the moral hazard that exists when banks start making risky bets in order to cover prior holes in their balance sheets. The media uses the phrase “resurrected from the dead,” when a political figure makes an unlikely comeback. However, this is not how God wants us to think of resurrection, neither Jesus’ or our own.
Resurrection, Not Resuscitation
In the Bible, resurrection is very different from resuscitation. Resuscitation is the process of bringing someone back from the dead, back to the same life that they had in the past. In the New Testament, we have 5 accounts of resuscitation: Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:55); the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11); Lazarus (John 11:44); Tabitha (Acts 9:40); and Eutychus (Acts 20:12). However, all these people would eventually die, again.
The resurrection is an action of divine sovereignty, forever defeating death.
Biblically speaking, when we use the word resurrection, we mean something completely different. Paul tells us, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). To put it another way, Jesus has died to death. There is, in other words, a difference of type, not merely in degrees, between the raising of other people from the dead and Jesus’ resurrection. The former ones are miracles. Only they don’t solve the problem of death. The latter is an action of divine sovereignty, forever defeating death.
This may seem like an academic exercise, but it does have real life implications for our faith. For one, the only reason why we Christians can believe that there will be a future resurrection of believers into eternal life is because we have the evidence that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.
Jesus’ Resurrection Is God’s Promise
It was this disconnection of their daily lives from the doctrine of the resurrection that Paul had to fight among the Corinthians. That’s why he chides them, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
In his response to the Corinthians, Paul makes two arguments on why the resurrection is essential to Christian hope.
His first argument uses an agricultural term, likening Jesus’ resurrection to a first fruit. The first fruit is the first part of a harvest to ripen. It was the evidence that the rest of the harvest will eventually come. The Hebrew word for first fruit is bikkurim, which literally means ‘promise to come.’ Similarly, the resurrection of Jesus is a promissory note from God to believers. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead… But each in his own order: Christ the first fruit, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 23).
Paul fights the disconnection between our daily lives and the doctrine of the resurrection.
Paul’s second argument is the metaphor. All Toyota Corollas made in a certain year are identical. Why? Because they are all made in the image of the original prototype. In the same way, all human beings will die because we are made in the image of the first man Adam. The only way to escape our mortality in Adam is to be made in a new image, in the image of Christ. This is what Paul means, when he says: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we (Christians) shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
Hope Of Our Resurrection Has Value For The Present
For the New Testament writers, hope means the confident anticipation of what the believer knows is to come (2 Corinthians 1:7). It is certainty regarding the future, which the believer looks forward to with confidence. This hope determines how they live in the now. What they do while they wait. The question then is: How should the hope of the resurrection affect our daily lives as Christians in Africa?
All that Paul did as a Christian was done because of his hope in the future resurrection.
This is the question that Paul sought to answer in Acts 26. Here, Luke recounts Paul’s legal trials before Festus the Roman governor of Judea and King Agrippa II. Notice that the word hope appears thrice in Acts 26:6-7. Paul declares, “Now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!” Essentially, Paul is saying that all he had done as a Christian was done because of his hope in the future resurrection, rooted in Jesus’.
Tomorrow’s Hope Determines Today’s Decisions
It is the same for us. All that we do is because of our hope for the future. Some of us go out daily to a job which we hope will either provide income or help us to build a career. Others go out to their own business where we hope to build a sustainable means of livelihood. We send our children to school because we hope that it will help them to have a brighter future. We invest in certain investment opportunities because we hope that they will bring some profit to us in the future. Our hope for tomorrow determines how we live today.
Coming back to Acts 26, Paul goes on to use the example of his own life, to illustrate this point. “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).
Our hope for tomorrow determines how we live today.
Paul’s life was full of labouring for Christ. He lived in tireless obedience to the purposes of God and could say that proclaiming Christ’s resurrection was his passion. We are not all pastors or missionaries. But we must all ask ourselves whether we can say we are obedient to God’s call on our lives. To serve him in whatever situation he has put us in.
From Dust To Dust (To Eternal Life)
The funeral liturgy written by Thomas Crammer, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the English Reformation, is still widely used today. Some of the lines read: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother/sister…, and we commit his/her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Is your hope in Christ sure and certain? Are you confident of the resurrection to life?
One day you and I will die, hopefully many years from now. Then our bodies will be committed to the earth in a burial ground somewhere: “dust to dust.” The only question would be whether the officiating minister would be lying when he says, “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Is your hope in Christ sure and certain? Are you confident of the resurrection to life? If you are not, then pray today to God to make you sure.