Easter really happened! We spend a lot of time affirming the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. But what about the theological significance? And what does Easter mean for you, for me and for our world?
This five-part series looks at some of the answers to this question. Here in part 4 we see what his resurrection means for the future of creation.
It may come as a surprise, but Jesus’ bodily resurrection actually says something about creation. This was especially important in Jesus’ day: at a time when some taught that matter was inherently evil, Jesus’ bodily resurrection spoke a different message. Instead of teaching that all things material were to be rejected in pursuit of the spiritual, the bodily resurrection affirmed the material.
What we have in Jesus’ physical resurrection is an affirmation and approval of God’s creation. Contrary to the teaching that humanity needs to be redeemed from creation, Christianity teaches the redemption of creation. The bodily resurrection shows that God has not abandoned his good creation, but rather has redeemed it in the person and work of Jesus. God is not in the business of writing off creation or humanity. This becomes even clearer when we consider God’s commitment throughout the Scriptures to rebellious humanity. So the bodily resurrection of Jesus reveals God’s commitment to what he has created: God will not do away with human physicality or creation; rather, he will transform and renew it.
One of the best places to see this truth is in Romans 8:19-23. Here, Paul describes creation as being subject to frustration—in “bondage to corruption” and “groaning”. But Paul also says that creation is waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19). That is, tied up with the revealing of the people of God and the redemption of our bodies on the last day is the renewal of the whole creation. So just as we will be changed and clothed with the imperishable upon our resurrection (1 Cor 15:51-54), so too creation, along with us, will be liberated and made new on the last day. So because Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the firstfruits of our coming resurrection (1 Cor 15:20), Jesus’ bodily resurrection is then also a guarantee of the renewal of creation to come.
At this point, though, it is important to remember that creation still groans and has not yet been redeemed. Jesus’ bodily resurrection simply affirms that it will come and that it is guaranteed to come. On this point, there are two potential errors.
One is to say that because creation will be renewed and is passing away and will be made ‘new’ (2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1), we can use and abuse creation all we want. But this misunderstands the responsibility we have to rule and subdue creation (Gen 1:28-31). It also misunderstands what it means to love our neighbour (Mark 12:31): if we abuse creation and ruin it for others, this isn’t loving towards our current neighbours or future generations.
On the flip side, however, the eternal value of creation must not be so over-emphasized that the value of works done now for eternity is misplaced. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15 is to highlight the eternal value of the work of proclamation and edification in light of the resurrection, not the eternal value of all work (1 Cor 15:58). Creation will be made new. This puts the things done now and the time spent doing them into eternal perspective. We must not get so caught up in the problems associated with creation in the present that we forget that God will set the creation free from bondage at the resurrection of our bodies. God is bigger and far more powerful than the problems we have created in creation. If God is able to give us renewed, glorious bodies (1 Cor 15:35-44), then surely he will also be able to renew creation gloriously.
Again, this is not to say that we can abuse and misuse creation. But care needs to be taken about the ethic drawn from Jesus’ bodily resurrection. What can be affirmed with all confidence is that God is committed to his creation and will not abandon it.