The Christian hope of Resurrection is the certainty planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that our lives will follow the pattern of Good Friday and Easter. On Good Friday Jesus died. His spirit left his body (John 19:30, Luke 23:46) and went to the place of departed spirits. In the Old Testament, this place is called Sheol. In the New Testament, it is called Hades (translated in the Apostles’ Creed as “hell”). And his body was buried in the tomb.
On the third day this process was reversed. Jesus’ spirit was reunited with his body and he rose from the dead. The resurrection body of Jesus is a real body, with flesh and bones (Luke 24:39), visible scars (John 20:20) and the ability to eat (Luke 24:43). Yet, the resurrection body of Jesus is different. It passed through locked doors (John 20:19). It is not subject to the limitations of time and space and, most importantly, it is immortal; Jesus will never die again.
In the Nicene Creed we say, “I look for the resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come.” We mean that we look for the same thing to happen to us. We will all die. Our spirits will go to the place where the departed faithful go–a place the New Testament describes as “in paradise” (Luke 23:43) “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and “asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). But this is not our final state. Jesus “shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” When Jesus comes, he will raise us from the dead and give us bodies like his own resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
The state of the departed in Christ is an intermediate state. The dead, like the living, await the final coming of Jesus to judge the world and raise the dead. St. Paul tells us that the whole creation waits for this because it will lead to the renewal of the whole created order (Romans 8:19-21). God made the world and said, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Sin brought death and corruption into the world. In the resurrection, Christ will restore the creation to the goodness God intended for it in the beginning.
Sometimes the Christian hope is reduced to the idea that we will “go to heaven” after death. Since this vague “heaven” is often described using platitudes that lack any foundation in the Bible, it feels like a consolation prize. When people lose the life on earth that they really valued, people will say they have gone to a “better place” called “heaven” to make everyone feel better. But no one is really longing for this vague heaven because it is not understood as the fulfillment of life; it is where you go when you lose life.
The Christian hope of Resurrection is not a consolation prize. It is the completion of the creation and the fulfillment of life in the body. When Christ comes and the dead are raised, we will experience union with God and each other in renewed bodies in a creation that is once again good. Thus, as St. Paul writes, “We… eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).