In the book of Acts, Paul is arrested and undergoes questioning from several important political figures because of his hope for the Resurrection. In Acts 24, he is before Felix the governor. He is being accused of stirring up dissent, being a leader of the sect of Judaism called The Way, and attempting to desecrate the temple.
Paul responds to the accusations by saying that he simply believes everything that is written in the Law and the Prophets. In other words, this “sect” that he is a part of believes the same thing as his accusers believe, except that The Way believes that the things written by the Prophets have come to pass.
In v15, Paul specifies the teaching he has been sharing: “having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
Paul is teaching about the Hope of the Resurrection. When we study this teaching of Paul, we will quickly realize that Paul’s teaching that sparked debate and disbelief almost 2,000 years ago continues to do so today. In other words, when it comes to the Resurrection of the Dead, true Christians understand and have hope while everyone else disbelieves.
To understand this teaching of Paul, we need to understand his terms. When Paul speaks of hope, he is not speaking of hope the way we use the term today.
“I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.”
“I hope I win the lottery.”
“I hope the plane lands safely.”
“How we use the term implies we are not confident of the result. We desire a specific outcome but are not positive regarding the prospect of attaining what we hope for. Hence, “hope” is castles in the sky.
But this is not the same hope that the New Testament writers are expressing. Christian hope is almost antithetical to the hope expressed above. The hope Paul discusses is a fully confident waiting for something that has not yet happened but undoubtedly will happen. So, while our modern-day usage of the term “hope” is contrary to the biblical usage of the word, a better synonym would be “knowledge.”
Hence, when Paul speaks of the Hope of the Resurrection, he is actually speaking of the Knowledge of the Resurrection. Hope of the Resurrection is full confidence that the Resurrection will happen at some point in the future. No doubt.
Next, the Resurrection is not the same as our spirits living on after we die. Our spirits do live on after we die, but this is not the Resurrection of the Dead. The Resurrection is something that will happen in the future. Jesus’ Resurrection gives us a hint of what it will look like. The Resurrection is a reuniting of the spirit after death with a physical body, our own bodies.
For example, when Jesus died and was resurrected, he was back in his body. It was not a new body. It was the same body that was buried in the tomb. It still had the holes in the hands, feet, and side from the Crucifixion. It was a physical body: he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he requested Mary not to cling to him, he asked for fish to eat, he encouraged Thomas to touch him.
Now, since Jesus was resurrected, we can know that we too will resurrect. While we cannot be sure what that might look like, John writes that “it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2) John understands that the resurrection of Jesus means that we will have resurrected bodies like Jesus’ body is right now.
Peter agrees. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3-4). Peter recognizes that true Christians have a living hope (knowledge) that just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we will also have imperishable, undefiled, and never-ending bodies in heaven.
Paul, John, and Peter are all in agreement: because Jesus was resurrected, we will be as well. The question you need to answer for yourself is: Do you have hope (wishful uncertainty) of the resurrection or do you have hope (certain knowledge) of the resurrection? The difference between Paul and his accusers in Acts 24 is that his detractors had a hope (wishful uncertainty) of the resurrection and Paul had a hope (certain knowledge) of it.
If right now, you do not have a certain knowledge of the resurrection to come, I implore you to receive the gospel message, which is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). This gospel is of first importance: Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins, was buried, and rose three days later (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). By starting a relationship with Jesus, you receive this gospel and become an heir to the hope (certain knowledge) of the resurrection.
If you have that hope of the resurrection, I ask you a second question: Are you living your life as if this hope is certain? Too often, we who call ourselves Christians do not live a life that one should live if we were truly confident of the resurrection to come. We do not live with the joy that should come from this hope (confidence). We do not live with the courage and fearlessness that comes with this hope. We do not live with the peace that comes with this hope.
A Christian who lives like the world when we have this hope of the Resurrection is like someone who has been given a billion dollars but is so concerned about legal fees, taxes, and accountants, that he has forgotten the value of his riches. If we are concerned about the things of this world and have forgotten the value of the Resurrected Life that we have been promised, we are truly most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Indeed, having this hope (certain knowledge) of the Resurrection should enable us to live a life of joy, courage, fearlessness, and peace. When we live like this, the world notices. This is what a witness of Jesus looks like. Too often we look more like the world, who are without hope, than we look like Jesus’ disciples, like Paul, John, and Peter.
Know that the Resurrection of the Dead is a reality that we look forward to. Know that your faith in Jesus and the relationship you have with him gives you that resurrection life. Know that this Resurrection does not depend on you (for there is nothing you can do to bring it about) but has already been accomplished by Jesus on that Resurrection Day almost 2,000 years ago.
Then go and live that Resurrected Life.