The Conventional Teaching of the Resurrection: True but Incomplete
The first kind of discussion on the resurrection I heard as a new Christian placed a great deal of stress upon the fact that Christ was (truly, physically) raised from the dead and that the evidence supported this fact and refuted the various theories proposed in its stead (e.g., the swoon theory, the body-theft theory, etc.). There was also a strong emphasis placed upon the fact that we Christians do not worship a dead martyr but a living Savior, who is now seated at the right hand of God where He serves as our Mediator with God and as the Head of His church, which is in vital union with Him. I am grateful for having received this faithful teaching. However there was something very important omitted from it, namely, what we may call the “cosmic context” of the resurrection of Christ.
The Resurrection of the Cosmos
The first factor in this cosmic context we shall discuss is the resurrection of the entire creation into its glorified, final state: the new heavens and the new earth. Dr. John Murray, one of the best New Testament theologians of the 20th century, writes:
One of the heresies which has afflicted the Christian church and has been successful in polluting the stream of Christian thought from the first century of our era to the present day is the heresy of regarding matter, that is material substance, as the source of evil. It has appeared in various forms.…John, for example, had to combat it in the peculiarly aggravated form of denying the reality of Christ’s body as one of flesh (I Jn. 4: 1-3).…In reference to that heresy the test of orthodoxy was to confess the flesh of Jesus, that is to say that he came with a material, fleshly body.
Another form in which this heresy appeared is to regard salvation as consisting of the emancipation of the soul or spirit of man from the impediments and entanglements of the body. Salvation and sanctification progress to the extent to which the immaterial soul overcomes the degrading influence emanating from the material and the fleshly.…This heresy has appeared in a very subtle form in connection with the subject of glorification. The direction it has taken in this case is to play on the chord of the immortality of the soul.…The Biblical doctrine of “immortality,” if we may use that term, is the doctrine of glorification. And glorification is resurrection. Without resurrection of the body from the grave and the restoration of human nature to its completeness after the pattern of Christ’s resurrection…there is no glorification…. In like manner, the Christian’s hope is not indifferent to the material universe around us, the cosmos of God’s creation. It was subjected to vanity, not willingly; it was cursed for man’s sin; it was marred by human apostasy. But it is going to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; and its deliverance will be coincident with the consummation of God’s people’s redemption. The two are not only coincident events but they are correlative in hope. Glorification has cosmic proportions….1 (Emphasis in original.)
So we see that, just as Christ’s destiny was to die and be resurrected by His Father, so the destiny of the cosmos is to die and be resurrected by God. In light of the fact that the cosmos is destined for resurrection, this means that Christ’s resurrection should not be regarded as an oddity — as something that does not fit into the scheme of things. Since the Christian worldview expects the resurrection of the cosmos, it therefore regards resurrection as something normal, not something abnormal. The humanist considers the idea of the resurrection of Christ as paranormal because it does not fit into the humanist’s worldview. Therefore he regards the notion of resurrection as an oddity.
Present Day Resurrections
John Calvin illustrates in The Institutes of the ChristianReligion that just as the cosmos will be resurrected in its entirety at the end of history, so we see glimpses of its being resurrected presently in nature. Calvin argues, “…Paul by setting forth a proof from nature confutes the folly of those who deny the resurrection. ‘You foolish man,’ he says, ‘what you sow does not come to life unless it dies,’ etc. (1 Cor. 15:36). In sowing, he tells us, we discern an image of the resurrection, for out of corruption springs up grain. And this fact would not be so hard to believe if we paid proper attention to the miracles thrust before our eyes throughout all the regions of the world.”2 Unfortunately we have become so accustomed to these phenomena that we forget that the creation of new life is indeed a miracle. Just because it is not rare does not mean it isn’t a miracle. The resurrection of the dead will clearly be a miracle in spite of the fact that it will happen to all men, and thus will not be a rarity.
Clement of Rome, writing in 96 A.D., reminds us of the power of this ongoing resurrection:
My friends, look how regularly there are processes of resurrection going on at this very moment…take the fruits of the earth; how, and in what way, does a crop come into being? When the sower goes out and drops each seed into the ground, it falls to the earth shriveled and bare, and decays; but presently the power of the Lord’s providence raises it from decay, and from that single grain a host of others spring up and yield their fruit…need we find it such a great wonder that He has a resurrection in store for those of us who have served Him in holiness and in the confidence of a sound faith? For in Scripture we read, You will raise me up, and I will praise you;…Job too, says, You will raise up this flesh of mine which has had all these trials to endure.… So let us rekindle the ardour of our belief in Him, and also remind ourselves that there is nothing in the world with which He is not in close touch. With the word of His greatness has He assembled all that exists, and with a word His is able to overturn it again; for who can say to him, What have you done? or who shall withstand the power of his might? He will act at all times as, and when, He chooses; and not one of His decrees shall fail.3
Biology and theology – the natural world and the God who creates and governs it – are closely related. Humanists refuse to see this profound connection; instead they set up a dichotomy between biology and theology.
Resurrection In The Drama Of History
Christians recognize that there is a close relationship between man and nature. Nature is not just the stage on which the drama of human salvation is enacted. Rather nature is intimately involved in human history and human salvation. R. J. Rushdoony noted:
The destiny of covenant keeping man is to be God’s vicegerent in Christ, to be God’s priest, prophet, and king over creation, to rule, interpret, and dedicate the world to Christ, unto God the Father. Man is not passive in regard to nature; rather nature is passive in regard to man. Nature was passive in receiving the consequences of man’s Fall and nature is passive today as man’s sin lays nature waste. Nature will be passive again in receiving her Sabbath rest from man’s hands and it will finally share passively in man’s glorification (Rom 8:19-22).4
This is the historical perspective we need to properly understand the significance of the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection belongs in history because it is a key plot element in the drama of history, of which God is the Playwright. However, the humanist does not want to accept God’s drama, but instead wants to write his own. In this humanistic drama there is no place for resurrecting by God just as there is no place for creating by God.
Although the humanist often may appear to allow Jesus to play a role, that role is restricted to being a teacher of ethics (of the humanist) and perhaps an exemplar (of the humanist’s life style). But the humanist will not allow Christ to be the Word of God through whom the world was created, nor the Principle of Unification in whom all things consist, nor the Resurrector of the dead or the Judge of the world. Yet the humanists’ dramas are pure fiction because their dogmas are false.
Conclusion: The Resurrection and the Clash of Worldviews
It is clear that we must proclaim the resurrection of Christ in the context of the total Christian world-and-life view and we must exhort all men to repent and to straighten out their thinking. It is not enough to try to get people to accept the historical fact of the resurrection. They need to change their minds about their philosophy of life. They need to forsake their false worldview and adopt the Christian worldview. After all, repentance (metanoia) means change of mind. The resurrection is an integral feature of the Christian worldview and only makes sense in terms of that worldview. In the humanists’ worldviews it is paranormal. In God’s view it is normal because He designed, planned, and carried it out for His purposes. Amen!
1. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 179-181.
2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III: XXV: 4, Ed. by John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 993. Concerning the word “miracles,” I feel obliged, in all fairness, to point out that Beveridge’s translation uses the term “wonders” instead. Whether this is justified by the Latin or whether Beveridge is recoiling in personal distaste from the word “miracles” I do not know.
3. This letter is found in the standard reference work The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.) under the heading The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, the quoted material being found in sections 24, 26, & 27. However, what I quoted comes not from this translation but the one made by Maxwell Staniforth, which is found in Early Christian Writings: The ApostolicFathers (N.Y.: Harper, 1968) on pages 36 & 37. 4. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Biblical Philosophy of History, (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub. Co., 1969), 3, 1