Eternal Life–What are we waiting for?
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
In the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gets real with us Christians. “If our hope in Christ is for this life only,” he writes, “we are most of all to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). On the other hand, “if the dead are not raised,” Paul says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32). #yolo
Perhaps we need to be reminded today that Christians do not live the way we do for this life only. An understanding of that simple truth changes the way we read scripture, treat others, and live this Christian life. The cross doesn’t stand there to make your life a little sweeter. It stands there to point the way to a world to come. Church isn’t meant to be a pleasure cruise, but more like a life raft here for our eternal salvation. We don’t sing hymns or share communion just to lift our spirits, but to invest our lives in the Spirit of Jesus who will raise us from the dead.
In the same chapter, Paul deals with difficult questions about the life to come, like “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (15:35) Paul’s answer to that question, which probes deeply into the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, will hardly satisfy most modern readers–partially because it is loaded with Greek philosophical language that is difficult to translate into English, and partially because it leaves a lot to the imagination. Paul seems to be aware of his own limitations to understand and express the great ineffable mysteries of the life to come, but in this passage, at least he makes a few things clear: (1) It is a change and resurrection of the body (15:44), not a ghostly, or merely spiritual existence we are looking forward to. (2) It is about conforming to the humanity revealed to us in Jesus Christ (15:49). (3) This resurrection is for everyone (15:22), not just believers, though it goes hand in hand with the theme of judgment and the renewal of creation until “God is all in all” (15:28).
Many more related questions have been raised since Paul wrote these words. Notice there’s no mention in this passage of heaven or hell. Until resurrection, are souls in some kind of “sleep mode” or some other intermediate state? What, for Paul, was the difference between the “spirit” (Gk. pneuma) and the “soul” (Gk. psyche)? How does that relate to our modern view of the human person? These are all very interesting questions, which we may delve into in tonight’s bible study, but perhaps Paul himself might even say we are getting beside the point: as Christ is, so we are in part, and may hope to be evermore as we grow in his Spirit.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). We would do well to heed these words. Jesus himself is the image we have of the eternal life we are waiting and living for. If we lose sight of Jesus arguing about the description of heaven or the temperature of hell, we have lost sight of everything we know about our eternal life and our salvation. If we keep him always before us, then we have a sure hope today that is not for this life only, and we will know “in the Lord that our labor is not in vain” (15:58).