Jesus’ resurrection offers hope that we will also experience resurrection and a renewal of our earthly bodies.
The choice of what will happen to one’s physical body after death has been a question for many Christians as it relates to the resurrection of the body. Christians from my country, Guatemala, are generally against cremation because of their Roman Catholic background that emphasizes bodily burial in sacred cemeteries.
Much attention is given to the physical body and the act of burial upon death: people will even prepare their loved ones’ favorite food to place on their tombs and fly kites adorned with written messages as a way to keep in contact with the spirits of the deceased.
There is often a concern expressed as to whether or not a physical body will be needed in order to be raised from the dead.
Some Christians today may think that the resurrection of the body would be difficult for someone who has been cremated because the physical body is gone. However, the Bible assures us that God can raise the bodies of all Christians who have died, no matter when or how they died. The state of our earthly bodies does not matter—we know that we will be given a new body that will not be corrupted or damaged but transformed.
As the Apostle Paul affirmed, every believer will rise when Jesus Christ comes because nothing is impossible for God.
A Body Like His Resurrected Body
In the New Testament, discussion about the resurrection of the dead was an important issue among Christians, especially in times of persecution. For example, the Corinthians were concerned about how Christians who had been dead for long periods of time could still be raised from the dead. The Apostle Paul taught that all Christians, even those whose bodies had “perished,” would be given new, resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15).
The Thessalonians were worried about whether or not their recently deceased members would join Christ when He returned, or if it would just be those who had died a long time ago. Paul affirmed that all deceased Christians, no matter when they died, would join Christ, even before believers who are currently living (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
For Paul, the Christian faith rested on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4). First, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is “empty and in vain” (vv. 14-17). Also, Christ’s resurrection was the “firstfruits” of a general resurrection (v. 20). These assurances were given to assure Corinthian believers that they would also be raised from the dead (v. 23). And like Christ, the dead in Christ will have a physical body, different from the one they had before (vv. 42, 50-51). Through resurrection, we are made complete. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Gospel message.
Another important aspect of the resurrection is hope.
Christians have hope because of Christ: hope in eternal life, hope in the triumph of life over death, hope in being with Jesus and enjoying a place in heaven with other Christians.
Christian hope is a hope that defeats fear, squelches worries about the future, and even conquers death itself.
The Gospels of Luke and John were written in a way that emphasizes the reality of the resurrection of the body of Christ, and they share many stories of Jesus and His disciples during the 40 days after His resurrection. For the disciples, the most convincing story of the bodily resurrection of Christ was the day when Jesus appeared to them in the room where they were gathered.
At the beginning, the disciples believed Jesus was only a spirit (Luke 24:37), but after having a real experience with Him, the disciples were convinced that Jesus was alive. Jesus had a physical body and even ate with them (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-29). Thomas, who said he would not believe that Jesus was actually resurrected unless he could touch Him, was later convinced when he had the opportunity to do so. What joyful experiences they would never forget!
Because Jesus Christ is risen, we believe, we are saved, we have hope, and we preach hope. Therefore, we celebrate!
Ruthie I. Cordova is a professor of theology, Bible, and pastoral care at Nazarene Theological Seminary Guatemala.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2018.