As we enter this Easter season, we are observing a political upheaval of global proportions. From protests to armed conflict, citizens of Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Libya seek to remove oppressive governments and replace them with political systems that provide more equity and justice.
The vast majority of people in these countries practice the Islamic faith, a faith that has a well-developed theology of a glorious and blissful afterlife. Muslims anticipate a resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, when God will judge all humans. If a person lives a good life, he enters Paradise. If his bad deeds overshadow his good deeds, he is sent to hell. In the ensuing time between death and the resurrection, the soul remains in the grave, where it begins to experience its final destiny of hell or Paradise.
Most Muslims are not without hope in their eternal destiny. Most live faithful to the rules of the Quran, expecting to enter Paradise in the resurrection. Some do suffer uncertainty and guilt due to their work-centered faith, but that is not the focus of our thoughts here. Most have hope in their afterlife.
That hope is not enough to sustain the Muslims in the countries of current unrest. They want a hope in this life. They want freedom and justice of some sort – more than they are experiencing. They want to depose cruel or heavy-handed rulers. They need to believe that life can be better now, not just in eternity.
Christ-followers also believe in a resurrection of the dead to judgment, but we offer a better strand of hope. We believe the soul immediately passes to a temporary residence to await the final judgment, either to Heaven in the presence of God or to hell, a place void of God’s presence and glory.
For many Christians, the hope of heaven fully summarizes the benefit of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Conquering death, he secured our justification before God, guaranteeing God’s forgiveness of our sins and our final salvation from God’s wrath at the judgment. For many, Jesus’ resurrection does not extend beyond the assurance of our eternal destiny.
First-century Christians knew no such limitation. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it, “Insofar as the event is interpreted, Easter has a very this-worldly, present-age meaning: Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun – and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven!” (Surprised By Hope)
The resurrection of Jesus means that life in twenty-first century America can be very different than it is. The resurrection was the initial act of God to recreate this fallen world. You experience that recreation every time you say “no” to your sinful desires and “yes” to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of your inheritance. As we live under the lordship of Jesus, God unleashes his power in and through us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:5). This recreation can extend to all the broken parts of your life as the resurrected life of Jesus empowers you to experience the kingdom life now, in a broken world.
This does not mean that you will live a life free from pain or opposition. This freedom will occur only in the final form of God’s kingdom. In the meantime, we still wrestle with spiritual powers (Ephesians 6:12). We still suffer the effects of living in a fallen world with bodies that are susceptible to sin (1 Peter 4:12). We must persevere in hope of that final phase of the kingdom, enduring hardship to the end.
Our hope is not confined to the afterlife only, but we also hope in this life. Even in suffering, we can know the joy and the power of Christ, as his resurrected life is infused into us through his Spirit in us.
Jesus is not dead! He is alive! This means that you do not have to wait for God’s salvation in the promised future, but you can live now as “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).