Should We Expect a Literal, Future Resurrection?

This website offers some interesting insights into original sin and the reason why Young Earth Creationists are so fixated on Eden as a literal, historical event.  It is puzzling that you appear to place so much importance on a literal, future resurrection of the dead.  Why replace one form of Bible literalism with another?   

BA

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Dear BA

 

Thank you for this question, which has two quite distinct components.  The first concerns whether we should expect a future resurrection of the dead, the second, whether we should understand the resurrection literally.  

 

One of the earliest statements of Christian beliefs was the Apostles’ Creed, which states ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’  The Lutheran Creed states ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’   The Anglican Book of Common Prayer states ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’  The United Methodist Church Creed states ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’  

 

A future resurrection of the dead has been a consistent element of Christian theology for at least 1,800 years.  However, for about 1,500 of those years it was not understood literally.

 

In the 5th century Augustine rejected a future, literal resurrection of the dead which is why his eschatology is known as a-millennial.  (Theologies concerning the resurrection are ‘millennial’ because the resurrection described in Revelation chapter 20 has a duration of 1,000 years). Luther and Calvin also rejected a future, literal resurrection of the dead. Their eschatology is called post-millennialism because all the literal prophecies concerning the Second Coming and Judgment were expected after (post) the allegorical 1,000 year resurrection. During the past century a new expectation of a literal 1000 year resurrection has emerged. This eschatology is called pre-millennialism, but as demonstrated elsewhere on the Believer’s Dilemma, Pentecostals and other pre-millennialists are mostly concerned with events that  pre-ceed the millennium,  such the imminent reign of the Antichrist and Armageddon. The subsequent 1,000 year resurrection is given short shrift as a puzzling footnote.

 

You are quite correct that the cornerstone of the Gospel of Love is a future resurrection of the dead.  Love requires freedom.

 

The story of Eden describes the origin of freewill and its consequences.  Our human power to do good or evil greatly exceeds our capacity to anticipate all possible consequences.  Human history is a cautionary tale of the good intentions of reformers and visionaries, and the tragic unintended consequences of their schemes.  As firearm lobbyists are fond of saying: guns don’t kill people, people do. Although debatable as a defence for unlimited access to military killing weapons, it does point to the underlying issue. Murder is a misuse of freewill and a deranged person could kill in any number of ways.  Rather than remove every possible weapon, God could have created us as preprogrammed, docile robots.  Instead, we are dangerously free until we learn how to control this multi-faceted weapon which is freewill.

 

Many religions anticipate reincarnation and life after death. The only religion which specifically provides for a future resurrection of the dead is Christianity, and the reason for this is that Christianity is the only religion in which the suffering of this world is resolved by the intervention of a Saviour.  Skeptics have always asked: What about people who lived before Jesus was incarnate? What about good people who only knew non-Christian religions?  What about people who died too young or damaged to comprehend salvation? All of these difficult questions are resolved in a future resurrection of the dead.  Without it, Christianity becomes an ugly religion or hopelessly indecisive.  The Gospel of Wrath proclaims that every single human being (and for Augustine this included unbaptized babies) who does not receive Jesus as their Saviour will be tormented in Hell for all eternity. The Gospel of Anti-Wrath proclaims that God is merciful and just, therefore no one will be unfairly excluded from salvation.  The mechanism of salvation is best left as an impenetrable mystery while we deal with problems closer to home.

 

The traditional Gospel of Wrath effectively eliminates Jesus as universal Saviour by teaching that multitudes who never knew him cannot and will not be saved. The modern Gospel of Anti-Wrath effectively eliminates Jesus as universal Saviour by teaching that multitudes who never knew him can and will be saved in ways that God alone can understand.   

 

A future, literal resurrection of the dead is a necessary transition from this short, imperfect life to the eternal path to perfection.  The Book of Revelation makes it plain that our eternal state is determined after judgement and after separation of the righteous and unrighteous.  Righteousness can be simply defined as surrender to the love of God and obedience of the Golden Rule (see Matthew 22: 37-39).  There is nothing specifically ‘Christian’ about being righteous.   Most religions and many philosophies strive to practice the Golden Rule.   The Book of Revelation places the 1000 year resurrection (chapter 20) before the new heaven and earth (chapters 21-22) of eternity.  The salvation that Jesus will offer is universal (i.e. not restricted to Christians) and visible - it will bring an end to the suffering caused by personal sin and not provide ‘imputed’ forgiveness for inherited ‘original’ sin).  It is important to note that the first story in the Bible – Eden – introduces freewill as a choice between obedience and rebellion. The final story of the Bible – the 1000 year resurrection – describes a mature, informed use of freewill and a final choice between obedience and rebellion.  

 

So, yes, a future resurrection of the dead is absolutely essential to the Gospel of Love. Otherwise it is impossible to reconcile divine justice and love with human freewill, responsibility, love of God and love of other humans.

 

Nonetheless, most Christians are opposed to the Gospel of Love to a greater or lesser degree.  The main proponents of the Gospel of Wrath (Augustine, Luther and Calvin) were adamantly opposed to the idea of a future, literal resurrection of the dead because their theology had no place for the exercise of human freewill in salvation or any ‘second chances’ for those who failed to receive Jesus as their Saviour in this life. Proponents of the Gospel of Anti-Wrath reject a literal interpretation of Eden in order to eradicate the Augustinian doctrine of original sin.    

 

This brings us to the second part of your question – should we understand this future resurrection literally?  There is certainly no need to understand it literally in the way that the Gospel of Wrath insists that Eden was a literal, historical event that caused original sin, which in turn introduced sin, suffering, evil and death to the world.  Whether or not the resurrection occurs on planet earth is incidental. Whether or not it involves the same physical bodies we now inhabit is incidental. Whether or not the resurrection lasts for 1,000 calendar years is incidental.

 

What is important is that the future resurrection provides a time and a place for personal salvation to take place.   

 

 

To fully understand the resurrection it is necessary recognize that it is the mirror image of Eden. 

 

 

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