Ideas have consequences. It’s easy to say, slips stealthily across the typed keys, rings exceedingly true; and in the end it’s ignored. Paul pointed this out to the Church in Corinth when they tried to make their concept of the resurrection more palatable to foreign, and likely their own, ears.
People do it today. In an effort to make one of Christianity’s key doctrines more palatable to the public religious palette, some confessing Christians have taken to modifying the future resurrection of Christians. So instead of a future people getting up from the grave, we put off this flesh and are freed from it: we become happy Ghosts, “resurrected” on a cloud in heaven.
I’m reminded of Yoda, pinching Luke in disgust while talking about “This crude matter”.
Yoda, like the Corinthians, are exceedingly wrong. Sure, the idea of a rotting corpse getting up and walking around is both disgusting and horrifying. Romero flick agrees. But, if you lose the concept of a Physical resurrection, you wind up with some serious ramifications because, like I said: Ideas have consequences.
First of all, we have the logical ramifications of losing a physical resurrection. If there is no such thing as a physical resurrection, then preaching (which is based on an actual resurrection) becomes content-less. Those preaching this message of hope are actually liars. Indeed, if this message is that Christ came to die for the sins of the world, and the resurrection part is that Christ conquered over the sins of the world, then no resurrection means that Christ is still dead. He died for the sin of the world and it was too much. Christians are done for. Any believers that have died went to the grave with a useless hope.
Secondly, the theological basis for the resurrection becomes meaningless. Adam, the first man, physically died. His death was a mark that identified all those in his family: Adamites die. Christ, as the first man of the New Creation, is no different in that respect. His physical resurrection is the first wave which heralds that new creation and therefore becomes typological for all Christians. If Christian’s future resurrection isn’t physical, why is it then so different from Christ’s resurrection? If Christ is the mold, why do we get to break the mold and go off on our own tangent and resurrect without flesh?
Thirdly, there’s plenty of practical ramifications of losing a physical resurrection. Baptism for the dead becomes an empty rite (I have some ideas on what that is); it’s safe to say if you’re baptizing for the dead saying “The dead will get up” the rite becomes meaningless. Likewise the practice of preaching the Gospel in the face of danger becomes pretty useless. If these people do it expecting their bodies, like Christ’s, to be vindicated after being martyred—and yet it won’t happen that way—then what good was it all? Indeed, the practice of worrying about the future with moral conduct becomes sheer stupidity: it would be better to live it up while we’re still alive (although, Paul warns, we know this isn’t true; so don’t go off and use this as an excuse to “eat and drink because tomorrow we die”.
In the end, Christians become the most pitiful of all people: everything they do is looking forward to a physical resurrection, but since a physical resurrection is (according to some) impossible, Christians become the most pitiful people on the planet. Their religion isn’t merely empty, it’s self-refuting and an obvious waste of time.
No, the evidence for the believer must weigh heavily on the side of an actual Physical resurrection.
Primarily, If Christ is the first fruits of a great harvest, then Christians must necessarily resurrect in the same manner as Christ. That is not as ghosts, that is not within Christ’s body, that is not as part of some spiritual pantheon; Christians must physically get up from the grave.
Secondarily, it is a Living Christ who is to reign over all—not a dead one or a typological one. Christ must physically reign and finally everything is placed under Him. Then He Himself is placed under God so that God and All is reunited eternally. The only way to have a Living Christ is to have a physically resurrected one. If the physical resurrection occurred once it is to be expected to work again to bring things under subjection to Him.
Thirdly, the believer actively knows this. There is a reason why Christians get nervous about the idea “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” The very statement denies the reality of our future history. But if “food is for the belly and the belly is for food” then it stands to reason that we should be eating it up today because tomorrow we’re ghosts. Yet practically, even though we may be influenced by that sort of thinking, Christians no that this is no excuse: the future weighs heavily on our consciences. I think this would be an inherent dimension to a physical resurrection: we realize that our bodies belong to God. He bought them at a price—so our abuse of it is taking advantage of something not ours.
In conclusion, I think people make a grave (ahem) mistake when they write off the physical resurrection of the dead and reconfigure it all to make it palatable to the Star Wars Universe, to the Matrix or to people who just think the whole concept of the Walking Dead is ridiculous. Ideas have consequences, and for Christians, these consequences are catastrophic. The question on the Christian’s mind shouldn’t be “a physical resurrection is impossible” but something along the lines of “how does a physical resurrection even look like?”