Updated: Apr 30
With lost jobs, dreams, and loved ones; with torn bodies, relationships, and communities; amidst worldwide plagues, disasters, and wars, with hearts bashed by trauma and fear – we need hope. We need hope that reaches the world abroad to the center of our being.
Life is a leaky boat in a stormy sea that inevitably swallows us in death, but hope is the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.
We need it. And Jesus offers it.
What is the hope of Christianity? Around the 5th century, the church’s hope changed.
What happened? Greek philosophy:
Platonism influenced Plotinus
Plotinus influenced Augustine
Augustine influenced the church (particularly the Reformers)
The church passed it down to this day
What is Platonism? Just know that it values the immaterial over the material and the non-physical over the physical, like Gnosticism, a child of Platonism.
Since then, an immaterial existence called “heaven” has been the hope of Christianity. To read more details about the historical and Biblical validity of this claim, read here.
This is contrary to the Hebrew hope of the Jews in Jesus’ day and the Christians who followed.
But since Platonism’s influence on the church, people see the word “heaven” in the Bible and imagine disembodied spirits floating around doing whatever spirits do. Look at paintings of heaven, movies of heaven, descriptions of heaven. It’s vague.
Sound exciting? It shouldn’t. And this isn’t what the Bible means.
Worse, look at paintings of the afterlife from the 5th century on. What do you see? A very real lake of fire below and plain clouds as immaterial heaven above.
What would you prefer?
This left us with three problems:
1) Heaven was seen as a non-physical realm
2) Heaven was seen as the ultimate hope of Christianity
3) Hell became the main focus of the afterlife
Heaven may not have looked fun, but it was better than burning alive forever, right? And that has been our message since: choose flames or floating on clouds, leaving “turn or burn” the motto instead of what Jesus offers.
But is this actually what the Bible says?
This may be the hope of math equations, but it’s not the hope Jesus suffered for.
Many agree with George Martin who said, “They can keep their heaven. I’d rather go to Middle Earth.” He wasn’t far off. What God plans for us is a lot more like the magical world of the Shire in Lord of the Rings than a gaseous state in the calculus dimension.
Heaven is Not the Point
Let me first clarify something about heaven
It is the dimension of God’s presence
It is not immaterial
It is the immediate home of saints after death
It is not the permanent home of saints, because...
It will be united with earth as it was in the beginning (Revelation 21-22)
It’s surprising how easy this is to prove. Take a half-hour to read the book of Acts – it’s the one book with inspired sermons of the gospel message that was spread by the apostles.
You’ll quickly discover they don’t mention hell at all, nor do they speak of heaven as their destination.
Here’s what they say instead:
“They were teaching the people proclaiming that in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2)
“After The Way which they call a heresy, I worship the God of my fathers, believing…I have hope in God that there will be a resurrection from the dead” (Ac. 24:15)
“He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18)
“Of the hope and resurrection from the dead I am called into question” (Acts 23:6)
“It is with respect to the resurrection from the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 24:21)
Paul has a grand opportunity to give a dying world hope, and what does he say? “There will be a resurrection from the dead.”
Heaven and hell are nowhere in sight. This should be seriously disturbing.
Why are we so far off? Because we’re reading the Bible through Bible-reading techniques that have been handed down over the centuries -- and corrupted by Greek thought.
We need hope, but hope in the right thing.
When we say, “Jesus saved me so now I have eternal life,” what do people hear?
Most hear heaven (clouds, sky, space). But the Biblical audience heard something else. Something altogether different and much more interesting.
The term “Eternal life” is from Daniel 12:1-2 who spoke of the hope of this world as, “At that time all your people who are written in the book will be saved, and many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will arise: some to eternal life, and some to reproach and eternal shame.”
What are they “saved” from? Death.
What is the context of “eternal life”? To “arise” out of a dusty grave into a resurrected body.
“Saved” is not merely the forgiveness of sins, but surviving the death that sin causes. Resurrection is the point. Hoping in forgiveness apart from resurrection is like hoping in a cure for cancer with the goal of a cancer-free diagnosis, instead of a cancer-free body.
That’s why Paul stressed in 1 Corinthians 15 that the gospel hope is physical resurrection.
Physical, material, bodily resurrection is our hope.
What Is It?
What is the climax of the Gospels? Jesus’ resurrection body, which was:
Physical but more
The same but glorious
Human but indestructible
Him, but forever healed
When we follow him to the cross, we follow him to this, because his resurrection is “the first fruits” of what we will receive “at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23).
“Firstfruits” was the initial sample of crops to give a taste of what the harvest would be like. So Jesus’ body is the prototype of our future, and the harvest is when he returns to conquer even death, giving us a body like his.
A body that is:
A body that is supernaturally equipped to live in God’s presence (heaven) and live out the human vocation.
This is hope, my friends. Now we are waiting for Jesus to return who will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 20-21).
He saves more than our souls; he saves our bodies!
It’s Bigger Than Our Bodies
He promises to resurrect more than his faithful followers because it’s not just our bodies that are groaning from the corruption of death, but animals, fish, plants, even “the whole creation has been groaning” with us (Rom. 8:21).
We need healing, but so does our world.
Things aren’t right. There’s
Thorns on flowers
Weeds in meadows
Earthquakes in the earth
Murder between people
War between nations
“For the creation waits with eager longing…to be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:19, 21). Our world is broken.
But God plans to resurrect the universe into“a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), redeeming flowers, meadows, sunrises, planets, relationships, nations, and our bodies.
Life on this earth was the plan (Genesis 1-2), and it remains the plan (Rev. 21-22).
Death is the greatest denial of God’s good creation. This is why we need hope, not just for our souls, but our bodies and the entire universe.
This is true "Shalom" when all is “very good” again (Gen. 1:21).
This was the Jewish hope in Jesus' day, the hope Jesus spoke of, the hope the apostles proclaimed, and the hope of early Christians.
And this is what people were designed to want: perfect health in their bodies, minds, and relationships, amidst a world free from disease, death, violence, and war.
This is what God promises for all who follow Jesus.
This is the hope of Christianity.
Let This Hope Transform You
First, tell the world the exciting news of the resurrection.
Dispel the myth of a bleak, boring immaterial eternity in the clouds. Follow Paul and proclaim the resurrection of a good and never-ending “very good” and physical creation.
Second, don't just speak of this, but give everyone a sample of it.
Paul says because of the resurrection, “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:56–58, emphasis mine). We join in the new creation project by planting seeds of healing love to give a taste of the resurrection.
Nothing we do is wasted.
Third, no matter what happens, because of the resurrection, we can have invincible peace, joy, and love.
No money? Lost job? Shattered dreams? Troubled by lust, pride, fear, or apathy? Lost loved ones? Pandemic and riots?
It doesn't matter because one day Jesus will make all things right in the resurrection.
From the world abroad to the center of our being, we need hope. Jesus offers this in the resurrection.
There are questions this raises though, like, what about:
Verses that talk about heaven
Soul and the spirit
The flesh and the world that God seems to dislike
If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask. There are answers.