This may come as a surprise to you, but Easter isn’t about heaven. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead so that you could die and go to heaven. Does that mean that Christians who die don’t go to heaven? No. The souls of Christians who die are taken to be with Jesus in heaven, but that’s not why Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus has far bigger reasons for rising from the dead. He had His eyes set on a much bigger prize than our bodiless existence. To understand what we need to understand the heart of Old Testament theology.
In Genesis 1 and 2 God speaks His creation into existence. Repeatedly He declares it “good,” and then on the seventh day He deems it all “very good.” But through Adam’s sin the creation was cursed and was, as Paul says in the New Testament, “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20). In Noah’s flood God laid the creation waste, but ensured that it was not totally annihilated by preserving humanity and animals on Noah’s ark. And at various times throughout the Old Testament God promised to renew His creation. Isaiah writes about the elimination of death in chapter 25, about the renewal of the animal kingdom in chapters 11 and 65, and about the restoring of the earth in chapter 65. The consistent message of the Old Testament is that God cares for His creation. At no point did He ever give up on it.
The same holds true in the New Testament. St. Peter and St. John both write of the coming new earth. We need to understand, though, that the “new” earth of which they write isn’t an earth totally new in kind (as in never known before), but an earth superior in kind, an earth refreshed and renewed. The New Earth will be this earth made more real, more fresh, more alive, and more vibrant. Paul writes about the renewal of creation in Romans 8:
The creation itself waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (v. 19-21).
In other words, the entire cosmos is waiting on the edge of its seat for the day when God will raise the dead and renew all things. The message of the Bible is consistent: God has never and will never give up on His creation. God will renew, restore, and redeem it.
Jesus’ resurrection fits into this hope. It is God’s new creation breaking into this fallen creation. It is the in-breaking of the Last Day resurrection and renewal into the present day. That means Jesus’ resurrection is the future itself crashing into the present and showing us in living color what we’re looking forward to. Our great, high hope isn’t to die and go to heaven. Our great, high hope is to rise bodily and see heaven come to this earth.
That means salvation is exponentially bigger than souls going to heaven. Salvation involves the restoration of creation and the resurrection of our bodies. And that means that when our lives are joined to Christ through Baptism we are invited into God’s new creation even now. We build for the new creation now. What we do here doesn’t die when we die; it endures into the new creation. That’s how Paul can say at the end of his great resurrection chapter in 1 Corinthians 15, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” In other words, we’re not simply living until we die and go to heaven. We’re living until we live forever in our resurrected bodies on this renewed earth. Since we have been brought into God’s new creation, we live to build for that new creation now. And that means Easter is far bigger than heaven for souls. Easter is God’s new creation foothold on this fallen creation – His invitation to enter and live for the new creation, the New Earth, even now. Thanks be to our risen Savior! Alleluia! – Pastor Conner