Ezekiel 37: New life (part four)

This is the final day of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin chapter 37 with us starting with Monday’s post.

So far in chapter 37 we’ve seen this promise of new life for God’s people, and how it was brought about by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It was both a spiritual resurrection (the indwelling Holy Spirit now) and a physical resurrection (raised to life when Jesus returns). And we’ve seen how Ezekiel looked forward to a reunification of God’s people Israel, which includes people from all nations – which is how we get to be a part of the story.

But what does that future resurrection really look like?

Our future inheritance

Now as I said earlier this week, it’s a mistake to see all of those promises about the land and mountains and abundant food and peace as being for the present-day nation of Israel. And it’s equally a mistake to see them as promising material blessings for us, as their replacement. (That tends to be where prosperity teaching hangs out. We’re now Israel, so we get all her stuff.)

Because the Apostle Peter (1 Pet 1:3-4) tells us that the inheritance promised to God’s people comes through Jesus, as a result of the new life we’ve been given. And that it’s being kept safe for us in heaven.

Sure, we get to experience a measure of it now, as God gives us our daily bread. But that superabundance still awaits us. God’s kingdom has started to come on earth, yet not to the extent that it is in heaven.

But here’s the key point I want to make: while we’re right not to expect material blessing in this life, I think we too easily see all of the promises of material blessing as purely metaphors. As referring only to spiritual blessings.

Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Sure. That’s perfectly true! But there’s still a physicality to a lot of what he’s promised, which we often downplay. The big error of prosperity theology is not so much a focus on the material nature of God’s blessing, as it is a focus on the here-and-now as when it happens.

Our problem is that we’ve not grasped what a physical resurrection looks like. Ever since Augustine, we’ve read Greek philosophy back into the Bible.

We’ve started with the assumptions of Plato, who saw our material, physical existence as inferior to a purely spiritual existence. And so we’ve bought into the idea that Jesus gets us out of this material existence and into a spiritual one.

We’ve thought of the afterlife like the Greeks and Romans did: spirits ascending into sky to join the gods. At Caesar Augustus’s funeral, when his body was being burned, someone important said they could see his spirit rising in the smoke… and so everyone else said “hey, I can sort of see it, too.” Like with those magic eye pictures. That’s what the Greeks thought resurrection was. (Apotheosis, not anastasis, if you want to go all Greek-nerd on it.)

This has meant we’ve pictured our eternal existence as a bunch of disembodied souls in heaven who have no connection with the material world.

And so we either want our material blessings now, say the televangelists. Or we want to see the nation of Israel get them—either before or even after Jesus turns up again.

But the Bible has quite a different view. Resurrection is—well, we read it back in Ezekiel 37, right? Dry bones regathered and stood up; skeletons with muscles and sinews and flesh; corpses being given the breath of life by the Spirit of God.

Resurrection is a dude called Lazarus walking out of his tomb still covered in bandages. And a dead little girl being given back to her mother.

Resurrection is Jesus—whose risen body is at once material and spiritual. He can teleport into locked rooms. He just suddenly turns up and everyone freaks out:

Luke 24:37-39 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

And he then proves he’s not just a ghost by eating a piece of fish without it falling straight onto the floor between his feet, like when I try to eat canapes.

And Jesus’ resurrected body is the prototype for ours. Which, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, is not a completely different body. There’s continuity (as well as discontinuity) with our material existence, just like a plant has continuity with the seed it grew from. He describes it as a “spiritual body”—and we too quickly hear the word “spiritual” and forget the word “body.”

What’s more, have you looked at where the Bible says we’re spending eternity? It’s not in heaven—if by heaven you mean some kind of floaty spirit-realm. No, the Bible says that we’re living in a recreated world. A new heaven and a new earth.

But unlike our present heaven and earth, there’ll be no barrier between the two. Because Jesus died and rose again to deal with sin to remove that barrier. He died so heaven could come down to earth; so God could walk with us in the cool of the evening once more.

Revelation 21:1-5 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!”

That’s what it means to be people who have the promise of new life. It’s not just having a bit of purpose for this life and a vague, ghostly existence in the next.

No, we have the promise of coming back to life again. The breath of God once again filling our lungs, breathing the air God created. Eating his food and drinking his wine in a land that produces more than we could ever need. Enjoying such spiritual and material blessings that it makes a mockery of our prayers for a new car or a promotion at work. Enjoying such abundance that even the half of the stick called “Judah” is blown away by how much milk and honey flows down from the mountains.

I’m looking forward to that resurrection.

I’m looking forward to that resurrection: where my Mum hears the voice of the Son of Man, and her scattered ashes will return—like Israel from among the nations—and the breath of God will enter her again. Her mortal, cancer-ravaged body will be changed—and raised a spiritual body.

If we belong to God’s people; if we have Jesus as our new leader; if we’ve been given that new heart; then we also have that promise of new life. Because God saw the mess we were in. He realised we couldn’t reboot ourselves. So he came down and did it himself.

That was the last of the fresh batch of Coffee with the King for a while. I’m currently on study leave, writing a book on using the minority group rhetoric of the New Testament to speak to Western Christians as a (recently re-discovered) minority in a culture that is slowly pushing us to the margins. It should be published in early 2021 by Cascade, called Attractively Different: Preaching the New Testament as Minority Group Rhetoric in a Post-Christendom World.

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