Easter Resurrection: Life after Life after Death
“Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world!”
I laughed out loud when I heard N.T. Wright say this in one of his audio lectures.
It’s a perfect play on words. Not only is this a great figure of speech, but it is also the biblical teaching. Sure, heaven is great. But it is not the telos, the culmination of our existence as Christians.
Modern evangelicalism has adopted the paradigm that runs rampant in our culture, inherited from the Greek philosopher Plato. This pagan belief system teaches a dualistic separation between the “sacred” (that which is spiritual/ nonmaterial/ soul) and the “secular” (that which is physical/ material/ flesh). This false worldview led to the Gnostic heresy of the early Church. A gospel message influenced more by Plato than by the Scriptures looks like this:
- This world is an evil place. Your body is an evil thing.
- What you need is to escape this depraved place and this sinful flesh that houses your soul.
- Accept Jesus and when you die, your soul will have eternal life with God in heaven.
- …. ummm …
- End of gospel presentation.
But our ultimate destiny is not heaven, some disembodied spiritual existence for all eternity.
Heaven, according to Scripture, is that place where we go when we die, the place where God dwells. This is the place that Jesus speaks of when he tells the thief on the other cross “today you will be with me in Paradise” in Luke 23:43. This is what theologians call “the intermediate state.” “Intermediate” because it is not our ultimate destiny.
When Christ redeemed us, he did not just redeem our spirits (or souls)—he redeemed us as whole persons, and this includes the redemption of our bodies.
N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope, helps us to do exactly what the subtitle says: “Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.” He reminds us that the Bible actually does not just teach “life after death,” but rather “life after life after death!”