BI 3223 Worldviews, Lipscomb University
The Christian Worldview (part 1)
The Christian worldview begins with the same fundamental questions as most worldviews: Where did everything come from? (cosmology) Who am I? Why am I here? Does life have ultimate meaning and purpose? (teleology) What does it mean to be human (anthropology)? How am I to live? Are there any moral standards for me to follow? (ethics).
The distinctiveness of the Christian worldview lies in seeking answers to these questions not from personal experience or human philosophies but from the Bible. For the Christian the unique key to understanding reality is the awareness that things are not the way they should be or were meant to be; in biblical terms, we are lost, alienated from our creator, and need help to find a way back into a right relationship with God.
I. The Nature of God
The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with the assertion that “God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible assumes the existence of a God who is the source of everything that is. Theists (Jews, Christians, Muslims) in general agree with this presupposition as the starting point for all other beliefs. (The term “theist” comes from the Greek theos meaning god.)
- Theologians and philosophers sometimes use arguments from reasoning to attempt to prove the existence of a god. Two of the most popular are the cosmological and the teleological arguments.
- Cosmology comes from the Greek word cosmos meaning world, what we call the universe. The cosmological argument proposes that everything that exists comes from or is caused by something else; a spark causes a fire, a virus causes a disease. By logical reasoning, so the argument concludes, there must have been a first “cause” which began the process of everything else; we can call this first cause “god.” John 1:2 says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” The atheist responds, “Who or what created God?” but by definition God is not the same as his creation and does not need a “cause.”
- The teleological argument (from the Greek teleos, meaning end or purpose) recognizes that the natural world exhibits order and design; order implies intelligence, planning, and purpose. If design implies a designer, we can think of this being as “god.” Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies show his handiwork.” The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
- A contemporary version of this argument proposes the idea of Intelligent Design: the universe seems to be designed for the existence of human life. “The anthropic principle [named after the Greek word for man] says that all the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common—these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life” (Patrick Glenn, God: the Evidence, 1997, 22)
- Astronomers and physicists speak of at least 25 universal constants that are precisely fixed for stars to form and life to exist, as if these constants had been fine-tuned by a designer (Hugh Ross, Creation and Time 132). Some physicists call these “Goldilocks zones” in which physical conditions are “just right” for life to exist. For example:
- If the ratio of gravitational strength to that of electro-magnetism varied by only the smallest fraction (something like 1025), this universe would have never formed. If gravity were slightly weaker, matter would have never collected into stars.
- If the strong nuclear force which holds the nucleus of an atom together were slightly weaker, no elements except hydrogen would have formed. If this force were stronger, stars would burn their nuclear fuel too quickly.
- The earth orbits the sun within a narrow band suitable to support life. Venus is too hot, Mars too cold.
- The moon is just the right size to stabilize the earth’s wobbling orbit.
- Jupiter is just large enough to deflect asteroids away from the inner planets.
- Many scientists who are not theists admit that the odds of life existing are astounding. Astronomer Fred Hoyle: “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” (source).
- Physicist Freeman Dyson: “The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense knew we were coming” (Disturbing the Universe, 1979, 250).
- Stephen Hawking: “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by one part in one hundred billion, the universe would have recollapsed before it reached its present size … The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like that are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications” (quoted in Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds, 2005: 348).
- Sadly, none of these scientists were willing to take the next step into theism.
- Richard Dawkins, outspoken atheist and author of The God Delusion (2006), argues that Darwinian evolutionary theory can explain the apparent design in biology without referring to a god, but he admits that there is no corresponding theory to explain the apparent design of universal laws in physics (158).
- Most theists believe that this creator God is personal, rather than being an impersonal force or energy. We refer to this God as “he” only because there is no neutral personal pronoun in English (“it” is too impersonal for God). As described in the Bible, God is spirit, without the physical characteristics of his creatures, and is neither male nor female. Whereas the Bible often describes God as Father, this is a metaphor comparing God to human concepts; interestingly, there are passages which describe God as a mother: Deut 32:18, Isa. 42:14, 49:15, 66:13, Hosea 11:3-4.
The Bible teaches that God cares for his creation
- Belief in the existence of a god who designed and created the universe does not necessarily imply that this creator cares for or has any future plans for his creation. The Greek philosopher Aristotle in the 4th century BC imagined that there must be a divine being who began the process, which he called the First Cause, but after this god started everything going (like clicking the first domino to start a chain reaction), he no longer cares about what he created, but spends his time contemplating his own perfection.
- During the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, the philosophy of Deism became popular. Deists (such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) thought of God as someone who designed and assembled the universe together like a watch, wound it up, and afterward left it alone to run by itself according to natural laws. For a contemporary example, Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has said that the fundamental laws of the universe “may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to these laws and does not now intervene in it” (Sire, The Universe Next Door, 1997: 50).
- If such were the case, it would do no good to pray to this God or ask how we might please him, since he has chosen to remove himself from his creation. If deism is correct and God does not involve himself in the world, then he has left us no revelation in the form of scriptures; there have been no miracles or supernatural events, and most importantly, this God has not revealed himself in the man Jesus, nor raised him from the dead. Since God doesn’t care what we do, there is no such thing as sin, thus no need for divine salvation.
- In contrast to deism, theism believes that God not only created everything but that he continues to take an active interest in his creation and desires to have a personal relationship with his creatures. According to the Bible (as well as the Islamic Quran), God is a personal being capable of loving his creation and communicating with us concerning his will for our lives.
- Another worldview in contrast to theism is pantheism, which teaches that all of nature, all that is alive, is god, which is not a personal being but a life force. If everything is a part of god, then each of us is in some sense our own god.
- The God of theism is a personal being, not to be equated with nature. As creator he transcends his creation and exists apart from it, not limited by its natural laws. However, this God has freely chosen to continue to interact with his creation in acts of grace and love. This God is eternal, with no beginning or end, existing outside time and space.
- Thus, the Christian worldview (along with Judaism and Islam) asserts that:
- The natural world had an intentional beginning; it was not a cosmic accident.
- The natural world has an intentional continuation, a purpose for which everything exists; in biblical terms, this purpose is to glorify God – creation provides more than a setting for human life but serves God’s purpose in its own way.
- The natural world bears an inherent goodness, as God declared everything good in the beginning.
- The natural world as we know it will be brought to an intentional end, at which time God will fulfill all his promises for a new age and will transform everything into a new heavens and new earth (the subject of eschatology, “last things,” to be discussed below).
- Not all theists in history have agreed with the third conclusion above, that the world itself is good. In the first few centuries of the Christian church, theologians had to refute a heresy called Gnosticism which taught that the physical world, matter itself, was inherently evil, and thus could not have been created by the same God whom Jesus proclaimed. A lesser god created this world as a flawed mistake. Furthermore, God could never have appeared on earth in the form of a man in flesh and blood, for that would mean he mingled himself with evil matter. Instead, Gnostics taught that Jesus was some kind of illusion or phantom, not a true man who suffered and died on a cross.
- Fortunately, the early church recognized the error of these teachings and condemned Gnosticism as heresy, a distortion of biblical doctrine. Jesus was truly human, experiencing life on earth, dying for our sins, and being raised in a transformed but real body, affirming the inherent goodness of the created world.
- The belief that God cares for and involves himself in his creation also raises some difficult questions. If God is all powerful (omnipotent) and all loving, then why does so much suffering exist in the world? Scripture such as Job and Ecclesiastes address these troubling issues. Some skeptics over the centuries have concluded that either God is not all powerful or that he does not care for his creatures. The Christian worldview points to the existence of human sinfulness, based on our freedom to rebel against God, as one source of suffering.
II. The Human Condition
Made in the Image of God
The Christian worldview asserts that, as part of God’s creation, human beings have a place in the divine plan for creation. Gen. 1:26 states that God created men and women in his image. The Bible never specifically defines what this phrase “image of God” means, but theologians have proposed a range of qualities that might be included in this idea.
- Human beings have a spiritual as well as a material nature. We are more than evolved animals. There is more to life than just “this” life. Something we call a soul will survive death to be raised in a new body at the resurrection.
- Like God we have the capacity for self-awareness, with the ability to think and reflect upon our lives, to remember the past and contemplate the future. We can reach beyond the present moment of existence.
- We can communicate with others using highly complex systems of language for conveying abstract ideas.
- Like God we can form relationships with others and interact with our environment in meaningful ways.
- We can imagine, create and express ourselves in works of art, music, literature, in acts that reflect the image of our Creator.
- We are free moral agents capable of making decisions about how we should behave. We have, as 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant said, a “sense of ought,” a conscience concerned with right and wrong, and a free will to choose between them.
- Belief that we are created in God’s image has moral implications in our treatment of others and concern for human rights. All people, not just Christians, bear the image of God and possess inherent and undeniable value to God.
Fallen from this Image
The Christian worldview offers a positive assessment of the created world and the value of human nature. However, this worldview also acknowledges the painful realization that the life we experience today is not what God meant it to be.
- The apostle Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The Bible teaches that from the beginning human beings have abused the freedom that God gave them and have chosen to seek their own desires. As Paul explains, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:26).
- In creating humanity in his image and giving us free will, God risked his vision for creation according to his own will. Ironically, God wills that we should have the freedom to thwart his will for our lives. He gave up complete control over us which he might have had, not wanting programmable robots but people with genuinely free personalities. God knew the risk of human disobedience but in his wisdom deemed it worthy of his ultimate plans.
- In describing sin, Paul used the Greek word hamartia, an archery term meaning “to miss the mark” as in aiming for the bull’s eye and missing it. What is the mark? God says, “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16), an impossibly high standard to reach by our own efforts. Notice that it doesn’t take a lifetime of sin to miss the mark; only one sin and we have fallen short of God’s perfect holiness.
- Freedom itself is not the problem, as only by free will can human beings love, enjoy relationships with others and with God, and express ourselves in creative acts. Freedom is one of God’s great gifts to his creation. But as creatures, we recognize that we are not totally free, that we are restrained by limitations imposed on us because we are finite. Unlike God we cannot choose to do absolutely anything we might imagine. We are free to act within the constraints given us, much like a chess player who moves pieces but only according to the rules of the game.
- As free creatures we struggle against these limitations. We sense our insufficiency, our inability to control our lives completely. In attempting to relieve this anxiety by our own means, we fall into one of two types of sin:
- First, pride causes us to deny our limitations and set ourselves up as our own gods. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the promise that by eating the forbidden fruit, they would be like God. We may have too much confidence in our achievements, believing they will give our lives lasting significance. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut 8:17-18). We may believe that our finite knowledge from our limited human perspective is actually final and ultimate knowledge. Paul criticized the Corinthians for boasting in their human “wisdom” rather than understanding the divine wisdom of God.
- Second, sin also may take the form of sensuality, in which we seek to escape our limitations and responsibilities by losing ourselves in physical pleasures. In Romans 1 Paul describes the list of shameful behavior that men and women pursue when seeking their own desires and not the desire of God.
- Either by pride or sensuality, we sin and miss the mark of perfect holiness which God set for us. Herein lies the problem. A supremely righteous God cannot be in the presence of sin, no matter how small. His desire for a loving relationship with us is thwarted by our sinful behavior. Therefore, Paul in Romans 5 explains that we are all under the wrath of God.
- Some people misunderstand this term, thinking it means that God is merely angry with us. In the Bible, however, God’s wrath refers more to the idea of his perfect justice, his inability to allow sin to go unpunished. Even in our human courts of justice, we become outraged when a criminal is set free because of some technicality in the law. God’s standards of justice are much higher than our own; can a just God let sin go unpunished and still be just?
- As sinners we cannot exist in the presence of a holy God. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), not just physical death but the eternal death of separation from God.
- We are unable to help ourselves. Because of this dire situation human beings find ourselves in, Paul almost despairs of any solution: ““What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But then he concludes that our salvation comes not from ourselves but from above: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-5)
III. The Divine Solution
Now that we understand the human predicament according to the Christian worldview, we turn to the divine solution. Because we are sinners, we cannot save ourselves. We cannot by our own efforts undo the damage we have done. Thankfully God has taken it upon himself to provide the solution. Christians call this divine plan of deliverance the atonement.
- The word atonement was invented by an early translator of the English Bible, William Tyndale, to convey the meaning from the Greek text of reconciliation with God. Because of what Christ has done for us, we can once again, despite our sinfulness, be “at one” with God.
- As Paul writes, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:18-21).
- The idea of atonement includes several important aspects that must be properly understood to appreciate what God has done for us through Christ. Atonement, foremost, must be seen as an act of God’s love: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Critics of Christianity often miss this point. God’s giving his son to die was not a heinous act of cruelty but a gift of self-sacrificial love. Jesus didn’t have to die to appease an angry and unforgiving God, as a pagan deity might hunger for human sacrifice. God made the first move toward us, “while we were yet sinners,” out of his free love for his fallen creatures.
- The Bible emphasizes that love and wrath are not equivalent aspects of God’s nature, as if one balanced the other. God’s wrath against sin is outweighed by his merciful love for sinners: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime” (Ps 30:5, also Isa 54:8).
- Second, atonement should be understood as an act of propitiation, a term meaning “to remove an offence against God.” Sin cannot simply be overlooked, but as a stain it must be removed. The Greek word for propitiation in Rom. 3:25 in its original form referred to the lid on the Ark of the Covenant where blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament temple. This action by the high priest each year temporarily removed the sins of the people, but foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice which Christ would offer.
- “God presented him [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement [or propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:25-6 NIV). This passage from Paul is crucial to comprehend why Jesus had to die for our sins. The God of the Bible is both merciful and just. If God merely dismissed sin, as if it really doesn’t matter, then he would be merciful but not just. In order that God might be just and be the justifier of the faithful, someone had to be punished for sin.
- God cannot be a just deity and uphold the laws he has made if he simply says, “Your sins do not matter; there is no price to pay for breaking my commands.” That wouldn’t be justice in a human court, so how could it be justice for God, who represents ultimate justice? What if he told Adolf Hitler, “It doesn’t matter what you did, you’re free to go”? That would be an outrage, not justice. God does not treat sin lightly, as if it were a minor thing without significance, something he could simply overlook. Sin must be punished one way or another for justice to exist.
- The amazing thing is that God in his mercy decided to take the punishment on himself through the death of Christ, rather than punishing us. That’s the meaning of forgiveness, the “amazing” part of grace. Simply saying “I forgive you” wouldn’t cost God anything. That kind of forgiveness is easy, with no consequences for anyone. The gospel says that forgiveness cost God his only beloved son, making grace priceless.
- One of my students put it this way: God’s love initiated the atonement; God’s justice made it necessary.
- Third, atonement means an act of vicarious substitution. “He [God] made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21). Notice the powerful language that Paul uses in this passage. Christ became sin for us. Although he himself never sinned, when he hung on the cross, God looked upon Christ as if he were the worst sinner in the world.
- In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s servant who was to come and suffer for the sins of the people: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:4-6 NIV)
- The atonement was accomplished because Jesus accepted the path that God had set for him. Jesus’ death was his mission in life: not the tragedy of an innocent man’s death for political reasons, not a change of plans or a defeat, not a premature death preventing him from reaching his life’s goal. As Jesus describes his mission in the gospel of Mark: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles” (Mark 10:33). In his last supper with his disciples Jesus explained the significance of his coming death: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
- More than physical death, the cross also meant that for a time Jesus experienced separation from God. With the weight of our sins upon him, Jesus felt for the first time abandoned by God, as his Father had to turn away from this “sinner.” “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out [in Arabic] in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama, Sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mk 15:34) Jesus took the punishment of spiritual death on himself for a time in order to pay the price of sin and to remove this sin forever from the presence of God.
- Justification, another key term for Paul, is the result of Christ’s atonement when applied to the believer through faith. Atonement is offered universally to everyone but applies effectively only to those who choose to accept it.
- Justification means “to declare righteous.” If we have faith in Christ as our savior, God considers us as if we were In reality we are not righteous; we are still sinners, but God sees us as if we wore the righteousness of Christ. In this way he “justifies” us, purifying us in his sight so that we can come into his holy presence.
- In Greek the root word for justify is the same as the word for righteousness, or being in a right status with God. Christians can claim to be righteous without boasting because we know that this righteousness comes from Christ and not our own efforts.
IV. The Ultimate Consummation of God’s Plans
Through Christ, God has rescued his people, all those who call on him for forgiveness. He washes away our sins and brings us back into his presence. But that is not the end of the story. God has much more planned for the righteous in Christ, a biblical theme called eschatology, meaning the study of last things.
- Unlike what many will tell you today, eschatology in the Bible is not about looking for signs of the end of the world.
- In Matt. 24 Jesus warned his disciples against looking for signs: “ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for [those things] must take place, but [that] is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. (v. 4-7) … But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (36) … Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think [He will].” (42-44)
- Notice in this passage how Jesus warns his disciples of being deceived by false signs, which include war, famine, earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, false prophets, false messiahs. Do not be alarmed, he says. These are common events that will happen throughout human history. Some people today point to trouble in the Middle East as a sign that the End is near, but when in the last 2000 years has there not been trouble in the Middle East? Likewise there have been earthquakes and tsunamis for all time; these are not signs of the End.
- Jesus admits to his disciples that even he doesn’t know when he is returning, only the Father. So if he did not know when that day would occur, he certainly could not provide warning signs of the time. Instead, he encourages his followers, then and now, to always be ready. Jesus will come as a thief in the night with no warning beforehand. Let’s simply take him at his word and not be caught up in the search for false signs.
Many Christians use the term eschatology narrowly to refer to prophecies which (some think) are being fulfilled today, but in fact eschatology is a much broader topic, beginning in the Old Testament with the promise of a great and glorious age to come.
- God promised his people that, despite their sins, a time of forgiveness and cleansing would come: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you … You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek 36:25-27).
- Many OT passages promise that a king like David would return to rule over Israel; the “Branch of Jesse” would bring a reign of justice, righteousness, and peace (Isa 11).
- The prophet Isaiah foresaw a transformation of all creation, a peaceful kingdom where “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat” (Isa 11:6-90). At this future time, creation itself will be redeemed when God brings forth a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17, 66:22).
New Testament writers came to a startling conclusion: that in Jesus this promised new age had actually begun. Jesus was a king in the line of David who established a new age of forgiveness and righteousness. We call this “realized” eschatology, as many of God’s promises have already become real in Christ.
- As a Jew, Paul had read the Old Testament promises and looked forward to this new age of righteousness and peace, but now with Jesus it seemed as if the future had been brought into the present: “the ends [fulfillment] of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11), “the old has passed away, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2), now is righteousness (Rom 3:21), now is reconciliation (Rom 5:11).
- Other NT writers believed that they were already living in the last days. Peter on the day of Pentecost proclaimed the fulfillment of OT prophecy: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:16-17; see also Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20 which call these times the last days). Thus we have been experiencing the “last days” for 2000 years since the time of Christ.
- Jesus himself is called the Last, the Eschatos (Rev 1:17, 2:8, 22:13). So in NT terms, eschatology begins with the first coming of Christ, what he accomplished on the cross and his victory over death.
- For Paul the central issue of the gospel was not the life of Jesus, which he rarely mentions, but his death, which ushered in the Kingdom that Jesus had proclaimed (understood foremost as time of forgiveness, Mk 2:10), and his resurrection, seen not as an isolated miracle but as an eschatological event, the “first fruits” of the general resurrection (1 Cor 15:23).
- Furthermore, Paul sees the new work of the Spirit, given through Christ, as a sign that the age to come has begun, poured out on both Jews (Pentecost, Acts 2) and Gentiles (Cornelius, Acts 10), and offered as a guarantee (deposit, seal, pledge) of future blessings: “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor 1:22, also 5:5, Rom 8:23, Eph 1:14, 4:30).
- Biblical eschatology is much more concerned with the victory won at Christ’s first coming than with his second. Although the latter is important for the fulfillment of all God’s promises, determining its time is not.
God’s promises have begun their fulfillment in Christ but are not complete, awaiting his second coming. Christians have different expectations concerning this return (which we will discuss shortly), but all agree that Jesus’ appearance will herald in the day of resurrection.
- Christians have hope for our own resurrection because of faith that Christ himself was raised: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. … But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-23).
- Many people are confused over what the Bible teaches about what happens when we die. Contrary to the common idea, the Bible does not say that we go straight to heaven after death. Instead, Paul emphasizes that after death we await the “resurrection of the dead” (see also Matt 22:31, Luke 20:35, Acts 4:2, 23:6, Phil 3:11, Heb 6:2). This phrase “the dead” would be a strange way of describing souls alive in heaven in the presence of God, if that were the case.
- Think about this for a moment. If after we die, our souls went straight to heaven and were already enjoying our eternal reward, why would we need a resurrection? What’s the point of a new body if our souls can have a full existence without one? Instead, scripture teaches that one day we will be raised in a new body. On that day of resurrection, and not before, we will see Christ as he returns to earth.
- Also, the Bible teaches there will be a day of judgment when the dead are raised. What would be the point of judgment if people were already experiencing heaven or hell after death? This judgment will not occur until Jesus returns.
- 1 Thess 4:14-17 describes how, at Christ’s return, the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are still alive at that time will join with them to be “caught up in the air” to meet him. The text does not say that the souls of the dead are already living with Christ in heaven, but instead they will rise at his return.
- Scripture always describes the dead coming out of their graves, waking up as if from sleep: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isa. 26:19). “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
- As finite creatures, we will always have some kind of body. In scripture body and soul are a unit; the body does not “contain” the soul. Analogy: in order to drive you need both a car and gas. Either one by itself doesn’t work. Likewise a soul needs a body and a body needs a soul in order to have life.
- What kind of body will we have at the resurrection? In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul answers that even he, inspired by God, does not know. We cannot understand what our new bodies will be like, in the same way we cannot look at a seed and tell what the plant will be like. We will be transformed and given imperishable bodies, unlike what we have now. In another letter to the Philippians (3:21) Paul says that we will have bodies like Christ’s glorious body, but that’s all we can know.
- Not only will our bodies be transformed into something new and wonderful, all creation will be made new. The NT echoes the words of Isaiah in promising that God will bring forth a new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13, Rev 21:1-4).
- After Christ’s return and the resurrection, the faithful who wear his name look forward to his ultimate victory. As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15: 24-28: “Then [comes] the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. … When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” We will share in this glorious victory and live with God forever.