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John_Martin_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_Google_Art_Project

All Saints Day, Scenes from Heaven, and the Resurrection of the Dead

By Ronnie Campbell 

In the book of Revelation we find powerful images of the saints who have gone on before us. We catch a glimpse of twenty-four elders who, along with myriads of angels and other heavenly beings, fall down before the Lamb, worshiping Him in heaven because He alone is worthy to open the scroll (Revelation 5:8-14). In another place we see a portrait of the souls of our brothers and sisters who were slain because of their witness of Christ, longing for God to judge the inhabitants of the earth and to avenge their blood. They are given white robes and told to wait just a bit longer until their fellow siblings and servants join them (Revelation 6:9-11). Again, we catch another scene of a great multitude of people who have come out of the great tribulation—people from every tribe and nation—all standing before the throne of the Lamb in worship (Revelation 7:9-17).

Christians have long held differing views on the timing of when these heavenly events take place, whether in the past or in the present or in the future. Regardless of the timing, we can, nevertheless, capture deep theological truths about the afterlife and our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on before us. Namely, these heavenly scenes bring us hope, not only eschatologically, but in the here and now.

Death is the great neutralizer. It is the enemy that none of us escapes. It snatches up our loved ones, bringing heart-wrenching pain and suffering into our lives. Yet these heavenly scenes remind us that we are not to grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Biological death is not the end; it’s just the beginning.  Our hope is ultimately in the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world. For the same Lamb who was slain is also the one who rose triumphantly from the grave. He has gone before us, and we too shall receive a resurrected body in His likeness. As the Apostle Paul describes it in his first letter to the people of Corinth, “the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV). Though our bodies may die, we can be assured that that’s not the end. Our brothers and sisters are waiting in anticipation of having a resurrected body, just as we are. The Lamb has defeated death, and His victory has swallowed it up and taken away its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). We who are alive (bodily), along with our brothers and sisters in heaven, await the day when the Lamb of God brings about His sovereign judgment and puts the world to rights.

The Lamb has defeated death, and His victory has swallowed it up and taken away its sting.

These portraits of the afterlife also remind us that heaven is not a place of inactivity. Because of our limitations, it’s difficult for us to keep in our purview that heaven, and the activities of the saints therein, is just as much a part of reality as our own existence. Though we can’t know the exact goings on of heaven, these scenes provide for us a hopeful glimpse.

Each year Christians from all over the Western world take November 1, or the first Sunday in November, as a time to commemorate the saints who have died. Protestants recognize saints to include all who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. This is what it means to be a part of the church universal, which includes all saints, at all times, who have been united by a common salvation in Christ.

All Saints Day is a time to celebrate the great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us. It’s a time to reflect on and to thank God for their lives. It is also a time to await in eager anticipation when God will one day reunite His family. All who are in Christ will be raised and we will see the coming together of heaven and earth. We can rejoice that there will one day be no more death or mourning or weeping or suffering. God will dwell among us. We will be His people, and He will be our God. All things will be made new (Revelation 21:1-5). Maranatha!

 

 

Image:”John Martin – The Last Judgement – Google Art Project” by John Martin – dQEGwOc0m1PjWQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum – Tate Images (http://www.tate-images.com/results.asp?image=T01927&wwwflag=3&imagepos=6). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Martin_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:John_Martin_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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Ascension Day, St. Athanasius, and Theosis

 

By Ronnie Campbell

Ronnie Campbell lives in Gladys, VA, with his wife, Debbie, and three children. He is a PhD candidate in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary and he holds a BA in Youth Ministry from the Moody Bible Institute, an MAR in Biblical Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and an MA in Religious Studies from Liberty University’s School of Religion. Ronnie’s research interests include God and time, the problem of evil, the doctrine of God (Trinity), afterlife studies, and spiritual formation. In addition to co-authoring an article with Dr. David Baggett on moral apologetics in Philosophia Christi, Ronnie regularly writes articles for Fervr.net, an online magazine dedicated to youth ministry.

Christians celebrate throughout the year a number of holy days, each of which emphasizes the life and work of Jesus. Of notable importance are Christmas, the commemoration of the Son’s entrance into the world whereby he takes on our humanity through the incarnation, and Easter, a celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. In liturgical traditions from both the East and West, Christians also celebrate Ascension Day, which commemorates Jesus’s ascension to heaven.

Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian celebrations. Tradition states that it is apostolic in origin and dates back to as early as the first century. According to Scripture, after the events of his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers over a span of forty days (Acts 1:3) and then was taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (Mk 16:20; Lk 24:53; Acts 1:9). Christians, therefore, celebrate Ascension Day on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday.

Jesus’s ascension remains an essential teaching of the Christian church. As with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the ascension is intricately connected to our salvation. Each should be taken as part of the seamless and inseparable work of Christ, as demonstrated in the writings of the early church.

In his defense of the incarnation, Athanasius (c. 297 C.E. – 373 C.E.), the Bishop of Alexandria, remarked that “it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1.4). Death had dominion over us because of sin, and it was only through the incarnation of the Word that God could put an end to death and corruption. The Word, who is immortal and who is also the Father’s Son, is incapable of dying. “For this reason,” claimed Athanasius, “He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, . . . put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.9). Toward the latter part of his work on the incarnation, Athanasius says something startling: the Word “assumed humanity that we might become God” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 8.54). This may sound strange to our modern ears, but Athanasius’s claim would have made perfect sense among his Greek hearers. It is not that humanity becomes God in an ontological sense, as one might find in pantheism. For Athanasius and the other Greek Fathers, a clear distinction remains between God and creation. God alone is eternal, immortal, uncreated, and incorruptible. Rather, his point was that through the work of the Son of God we become a “holy race” and “partakers of the Divine Nature” (Athanasius, Letter 60, to Adalphius, 4; cf. 2 Peter 1:4). God, by his grace, shares eternal and abundant life with his creatures.

By no means was Athanasius the only church Father to emphasize this teaching that we now call “theosis” (deification). It first appeared in the work of Irenaeus, who claimed that God became incarnate through the Son in order to “win back to God that human nature (hominem) which had departed from God” (Against Heresies, 3.10.2). The doctrine of theosis places emphasis on restoration. Not only was Christ’s work for the forgiveness of sin and for our reconciliation to God; it was also for the restoration of our fallen humanity, for our healing, and to bring us into union with God. Theosis, then, refers to the full saving work of God in our lives, which ultimately culminates in our glorification and immortality.

Jesus, who is our advocate and intercessor before the Father (1 Jn 2:1), and who sympathizes with us in our suffering (Heb 2:17-18), experienced the full weight of our humanity while on earth (Heb 2:10-18; 4:15; 5:7-10). Yet, he did so without sin (1 Pet 2:22; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5). He went before us and is now present with the Father. Because of the completed work of Christ we too may share in the full restoration of our humanity and in our future glorification (Rom 8:18). Not only do we experience forgiveness and a relationship with God, our bodies also will be raised in the likeness of Jesus’s resurrected body—mortality has been clothed with immortality (1 Cor 15:54). Jesus’s resurrection and ascension gives us the ultimate hope and assurance that God has defeated death. One day, those who are in Christ will bask in the indwelling and glorious presence of God in the renewed heavens and earth (Rom 18:21; Rev 21:1-3).