No Redemption without Resurrection


Easter has come, but it hasn’t gone. We are now several days into The Great 50 Days (or Eastertide), the period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It’s an important reminder that Easter is not just one day on the calendar, it’s a season. So, I’m continuing to reflect on the importance of resurrection. (In truth, the significance of resurrection occupies my thinking  most of the year, not just this season.) The bottom line from my Easter sermon was this: “There’s no redemption without resurrection.” Here are a couple of reasons that’s true.

God Loses

If there is no bodily resurrection, sin wins and God loses. God did not design human beings to die. All through scripture death is the consequence of sin. From Genesis 2:17, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,” to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” We are bound to decay and death because of sin. So we can infer that if God intended human beings obey the command to not sin, then God did not design human beings to die. That was not his intent. It was not the plan. Sin and death are the twin enemies of God, his people, and creation as a whole.

I wrote earlier this week on why dying and going to heaven is not enough. And this reflection reinforces that point. If the body dies and we find ourselves conscious in heaven (as scripture teaches), and if that’s the climax of salvation (which scripture does not teach), then sin wins and God loses. Why? Because going to heaven is another way of saying the body is dead. An essential part of our human existence remains in the grave. Dying and going to heaven does not mean we are more alive than ever – despite what D.L. Moody may have thought. Dying and going to heaven means we are dead. Now let me be clear: I am not denying that believers enter the presence of Jesus when they die. I affirm that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that heaven should be seen the way scripture portrays it: as a period of waiting for bodily resurrection. Only when the body is raised will any of us be more alive – and more fully human – than ever before.

That’s why there’s no redemption without resurrection. Sin is our enemy. Death is the consequence of sin. If we die and remain dead, the enemy wins and God loses. That’s why scripture spends so much time on the past resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of believers. That’s why Paul says, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). And that enemy is destroyed when Christ returns to raise the dead. Only “then will the saying that is written be fulfilled, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory'” (1 Cor 15:54). Note the future tense verb. The dead in Christ are still dead. The saying has not yet been fulfilled. We’re still waiting on that, because (like the saints in heaven) we are still waiting to be raised from the dead.

More than forgiveness

Sometimes (not always) the way we do evangelism suggests that we only need forgiveness from sin. Think about it. How often are people invited to pray and ask forgiveness so they can go to heaven? The focus there is on what the individual must do to avoid the consequence of their sin. You’ve heard the cliché about salvation as fire insurance; this sort of evangelism is what it’s talking about.

Again, let me be clear. I’m not saying that we don’t need forgiveness. Of course, we do. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do evangelism. Of course, we should. What I’m saying is that we need more than forgiveness. We need new life. The one is a means to the other. Forgiveness is a means. New life is the end. That new life looks like growth in holiness now and bodily resurrection later. That’s what God wants. Of course, God has to forgive our sins. He can’t fill a bunch of unforgiven sinners with the beauty of his holy love. But forgiveness is not the goal. Holiness leading to resurrection life is.

Think about the death and resurrection of Jesus this way. Christ died and his blood was shed to forgive our sin. He was raised from the dead to launch God’s new creation and give us new life. The death and resurrection of Jesus are two parts of one complete redemptive event. The cross is not enough. That’s why Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that if Christ hasn’t been raised, faith is a waste of time. We need the new life that comes out of the tomb on Easter morning.

And our evangelism should reflect that need. Forgiveness is not the goal of evangelism, and we shouldn’t evangelize as if it were. Our proclamation of the gospel – our Lord  Jesus Christ has died and was raised – should present forgiveness of sin as a step that enables us to experience new transformed life in the present and resurrection of the body in the future. There’s no redemption without resurrection because we need more than forgiveness of sin.

For more on holiness now and resurrection later, watch this Seven Minute Seminary.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

Heaven Is Not Enough

Views about heaven abound. Some are helpful. Some are not. When it comes to the Bible, some passages about heaven come with surprises. One of those is the vision of the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11. Now a martyr is by definition someone who has died and gone to heaven. They loved Jesus more than life, and so they were “slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given” (Rev 6:9). What’s surprising about this passage is the attitude of the martyrs. Most people think of heaven in terms of eternal joy and bliss. After all, if you’ve entered into the presence of God, what more could you want? Apparently, that isn’t how these martyrs view the situation. They have a complaint. And they’d like it resolved quickly. From their position under the heavenly altar they are said to cry out in a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). They’ve died and gone to heaven, but heaven isn’t enough. They want more.

Dissatisfied with Heaven

So what are they waiting for? To answer that question we need to look more closely at their appeal. Their complaint revolves around the wrong done to them. They did nothing wrong, yet they’ve lost their lives. They were perfectly faithful, but they suffered deep injustice. They died for their faith. And from their perspective, entrance into heaven does nothing to make things right. They want to be vindicated. So they appeal to their “Sovereign” to do something about it, and they’ll be dissatisfied with heaven until he does.

Resurrection as Vindication

But we still haven’t answered the question. If heaven isn’t enough, what is? What does vindication look like for the faithful dead? The answer comes later in Revelation. After Babylon falls to God’s judgment (in Revelation Babylon is a symbol of the forces that oppose God and oppress his people), the martyrs are raised from the dead and participate in Christ’s reign. This is what they’ve been waiting for – the resurrection of the body. After all, if the body is killed, that wrong cannot be made right as long as the body is in the grave. To say they’ve died and gone to heaven is to say their bodies are still dead. The injustice of their deaths can only be rectified by bodily resurrection. Their bodies must rise from the grave for the wrong to be made right. And this is true not only for the martyrs. It is an affront to God any time a creature made in God’s image dies. That’s why the hope for resurrection permeates the New Testament. Heaven is great, but if we’re talking about a disembodied spiritual experience, it’s not the goal. Ultimate redemption only comes with bodily resurrection.

Check out this Seven Minute Seminary for more on what the Bible says about life after death.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

New Post: Resurrection Makes Us Holy (@OfficialSeedbed)

During my recent trip to Wilmore, Kentucky, I had the opportunity to film another episode for Seedbed‘s growing Seven Minute Seminary series. This one explores the relationship between future bodily resurrection, Christian identity, and holiness. These three themes were at the heart of my PhD research, and I’m grateful to Seedbed for making some of that available more broadly. If you receive this via an email subscription, click here to watch the video. And be sure to check out my other contributions to Seven Minute Seminary over on the video page.


Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Connect on Facebook or follow @mporeilly.

The Resurrection and Christian Identity (@sowhat_podcast)

The newest episode of the SoWhat? Podcast aired earlier this week. This one is part 2 of a discussion about the resurrection of Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed. We trace out a number of questions about and implications of Christ’s resurrection. Is belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus essential for Christian faith? What role does resurrection play in the formation of Christian social identity? How does a resurrection-oriented identity enable us to overcome the sin of racism? You’ll even get to hear a little debate over some good old inaugurated eschatology and discover which of the other contributors thinks I sound a little too much like N.T. Wright. All in good fun, of course, all in good fun. Be sure to check out the website, subscribe on iTunes, and listen below. 

The Resurrection in the Creed, Part 1 @sowhat_podcast

The newest episode of the So What? Podcast went live today. This one is in two parts, and the topic is one of my favorites. That’s right: Kyle, Dave, Brad, and I are talking about the resurrection of Jesus. We dig into what it means and why it matters as an article of faith. What are the objections to Jesus’ resurrection? What’s the rationale behind those objections? Does it matter if Jesus was or was not physically raised from the dead? What does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with our salvation? With Christian identity? What is the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the resurrection of believers in the future? Click the player to listen now. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe.

Moltmann on the Immortal Soul vs. Bodily Resurrection

The immortality of the soul is an opinion – the resurrection of the dead is a hope. The first is a trust in something immortal in the human being, the second a trust in the God who calls into being the things that are not, and makes the dead live. In trust in the immortal soul we accept death, and in a sense anticipate it. In trust in the life-creating God we await the conquest of death – ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (I Cor. 15.54) – and an eternal life in which ‘death shall be no more’ (Rev. 21.4). The immortal soul may welcome death as a friend, because death releases it from the earthly body; but for the resurrection hope, death is ‘the last enemy’ (I Cor. 15.26) of the living God and the creations of his love (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, 65-66).

In short, the immortality of the soul is not a Christian doctrine. Resurrection of the body is. 

Easter Means Mission

Our celebrations of Christ’s resurrection at Easter tend to be narrowly focused. The focus, all too often, drills down onto the individualistic issue that the resurrection makes personal salvation possible. Christ has been raised so that you can go to heaven. Now don’t get me wrong. I happily affirm that the salvation of each person depends on the historical bodily resurrection of Christ: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). The problem comes when we fail to consider how the implications of the resurrection extend beyond individual salvation. And in doing so we don’t have to worry about overlooking or neglecting the personal saving power of the resurrection. To the contrary, we establish it. 
So, what is the resurrection about? If we turn to the Gospel of John, we soon discover that the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for the Church’s vocation in the world. Easter means mission. Consider the words of Jesus to his disciples on the evening of the day of his resurrection: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). The first thing Jesus does is set before his closest followers the task he intends them to fulfill. He is sending them out into the world with a mission, a mission that flows out of and is similar to the one for which Jesus himself was sent into the world. And what is this mission? John has at least two things in mind: reconciliation and new creation.
Mission as Reconciliation
Twice during this first post-resurrection meeting, Jesus tells the disciples, “Peace be with you” (20:19, 21). His mission to them is a mission of reconciliation. And rightly so, for all human beings come into the world estranged from God. To draw on John’s own language, “No one has ever seen God” (1:18). God is light. We stand in darkness. Jesus comes to make peace between God and us so that we can become the children of God, so that we can experience the pure and unqualified joy of seeing God’s glory. 
And he does this reconciling work in his own body. This is why the incarnation is so important. This is central to the significance of the Word made flesh. Because he is fully God and fully human, he brings the two disparate parties together in his body. God and humanity are reconciled in the very body of Jesus that died on the cross and was raised from the dead. Without the incarnation and bodily resurrection, there is no reconciliation between God and humanity. This is what the Father sent Jesus to do, and Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” If the Father sent the Son to work peace between God and the human race, then Christ sends his Church to be agents of that peace making mission to the rest of the world. 
Mission as New Creation

But the mission goes much deeper than any initial reconciliation between God and humanity. John also gives us a few clues to help us understand that our mission is to cultivate the new creation that God is working through Christ and the Spirit. We know John likes Genesis. No first-century Jewish writer starts out a book with the words, “In the beginning,” and does it on accident. He is intentionally drawing on the creation narrative in Genesis 1 to inform our reading of the Gospel. And if Genesis 1 is telling the story of creation out of nothing, then John 1 is telling the story of new creation out of the old. John 20 offers a couple more clues that Jesus has been sent to work new creation. Ever notice that John is telling us about the most important day in the history of the world and never says a word about anything that happens while the sun is up? The story starts in the dark of early morning only to jump forward to the dark of evening. Morning, evening; evening, morning. That John is drawing on Genesis 1 ought to be clear. If it isn’t, John repeatedly reminds his readers that this is the first day of the week. If Genesis 1 tells story of cosmic creation structured by seven days of evenings and mornings, John 20 sets up the story of the resurrection as the work of God on the first morning and evening of the new creation. And as the Spirit hovered in the darkness over the face of the primordial waters, so now the Spirit is at work in the darkness of that first Easter morn raising the dead as the first act of God’s new creation. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” If Jesus has been sent by the Father to inaugurate the new creation, the Church has been sent by Jesus to cultivate it. 
The Whole Easter Package

If our job, then, is to be agents of reconciliation between God and the world and to cultivate the new creation everywhere we go, then personal salvation is obviously included in that along with much, much more. And our vision of salvation is enlarged way beyond the old “go to heaven when you die” sort of “fire insurance” that has so often characterized American Christianity. The mission is to facilitate peace between God and the nations. That peace is part and parcel to personal salvation, but it is neither a salvation of mere forgiveness nor is it a salvation of escape. Rather, it is salvation in which we are made new creatures for life in the new creation. It is incarnational. It is transformational. It’s the whole package. Easter is mission.