“There is no resurrection,” he scoffed. “When you’re dead, your dead.”
Who would say this sort of thing? An atheist? A Sadducee? You might be surprised that some in the Corinthian congregation were saying there is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12)! This is a major heresy and it’s hard to believe that some so-called believers held to it. Perhaps there are some in our congregations who confess the Creed with their lips but do not believe the words with their hearts. But I think there is a more widespread problem than such blatant heresy. It’s not one of false doctrine but of false affection. It’s a problem of misplaced hope and of longing for the wrong things—worldly treasures instead of Christ. If we really believe in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, our hopes should reflect that!
I don’t want to imply that it’s wrong to hope for things in this world or that it’s sinful to have earthly aspirations. For instance, I hope to have enough money saved up one day to vacation somewhere warm each winter. I asked my wife what she hopes for and she said it’s that our family would always enjoy spending time together. (Then I felt bad about my hope...but not too bad.) Many couples hope to have a more fulfilling marriage. Some singles hope to find a godly spouse. People with cancer hope to survive and endure their treatments. You can hope for these and other earthly things without sin; just don’t set your entire hope upon them. They can’t bear the weight. If you set your hope on them you’ll be devastated when they don’t fulfill your deepest longings.
Our deepest longings are there because long ago our first parents sinned. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden and separated from the presence of God. This broken fellowship with God is the source of our deepest longing. However wonderful something or someone may be, nothing on earth can satisfy this longing. Unless, of course, you mean Jesus Christ, who is God come to earth to dwell among us. Through faith in him we have a restored relationship with the God who created us. And yet, even after coming to faith in Christ, we come to realize that the longing of our hearts will not really be satisfied until our faith is turned to sight, until the Day of our resurrection when we see the Lord face to face and dwell with Him in the renewed Garden.
This longing is what Paul describes in Romans when he writes that “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:23-24). We groan now, but we wait and hope for the resurrection of the dead, the redemption of our bodies. In another place Paul describes Christians as those who are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Our greatest and most blessed hope is Christ appearing from heaven. We will not be disappointed if we spend all our lives waiting for him.
A corollary to this is that we should have tempered expectations for all the good things we hope for in this life. Of course we should hope for (and work for) a great marriage. But our spouses will still let us down. If you accrue a substantial amount of savings, you may find that having wealth and enjoying wealth are not parallel realities. If you endure cancer, something else (or something the same) will finally take your life away. If you find great fulfillment in work, you must still put up with your own vocation’s version of “thorns and thistles.” We must be careful not to try, or even daydream about, building heaven on earth. It’s a false hope. This reminds me of one of my favorite “Deep Thoughts” by comedian Jack Handey:
“Whenever I need to ‘get away,’ I just get away in my mind. I go to my imaginary spot, where the beach is perfect and the water is perfect and the weather is perfect. The only bad thing there are the flies. They’re terrible!”
Even if we should achieve our earthly hopes and dreams, there would still be something like flies. It would fall hopelessly short of the Garden and perfect communion with God.
Here’s what you should set all your hope on: the crucified and risen Christ and his promise to return from heaven to raise us up, renew our bodies, and bring us to dwell with him in the new heavens and the new earth. Everything cursed about this present world will be turned into blessing. This desert will become a Garden. We will eat from the tree of life and drink from the river of life. And best of all, God Himself will dwell with us and be with us (Rev. 21:3).
Let every earthly hope of yours be a tempered hope. A hope with a ceiling. And whatever you’re hoping for in this world, let it be but a small trinket compared with the eternal treasure that will be yours when Christ returns. Leave ample room in your hearts and in your daydreams for your most blessed hope—the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.