Christian hope and the resurrection

Scripture is its own best interpreter, the saying goes. An “obscure” passage may seem less obscure when interpreted in light of a more straightforward passage. Consider Paul’s words of encouragement to the believers in Corinth, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:13-14).

Paul is here restating what he has previously said (if the scholars are correct in their historical chronology of his letters) in that favorite passage of dispensationalists, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

The dispensationalist interpretation of the latter passage, that this is a reference to the so-called “rapture” of the church, is a classic exercise in missing the point. The Christian hope is not about flying away, but about being raised up.

Both 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14 have a similar structure. Paul ties the Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead to the resurrection of Jesus. God raised Jesus from the dead and he will, therefore, also raise those who put their faith in Jesus. There is both a continuity and a discontinuity between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of believers.

On the one hand, Jesus’ resurrection happened at a particular moment in history. Jesus is the prototype of the redeemed humanity, the new creation, which still awaits its full and final consummation.

On the other hand, when that final consummation happens, when the dead in Christ are raised to new life, it will be the realization of that which God already accomplished when he raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus and the general resurrection of the dead will be one and the same. As the resurrection of Jesus was the ground of all Christian hope in this world, so it will be the life-giving reality which ushers in the next world.

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