Real Hope Beyond the Grave
Updated: Feb 27
By Ryan Corrigan
In 2009, I lost a very dear friend in a tragic accident. The night of his accident (within the hour of his death), I had a dream about the biblical hope of the resurrection of the dead. I have never experienced hope as tangible as I felt in that dream. I woke up, John 11:25 was running through my mind over and over.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. - John 11:25
Then almost immediately, the phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line gave me the first news of the tragedy. I was in total shock - both in light of this news but, also that I had this dream right before the phone rang!?!
I was able to share that dream with the grieving family and at his memorial service. For the next few years, while processing his death, I spent hours studying and going deep in the theology of the resurrection. Since then, I have taught on the topic countless times, and it has become the central anchor of hope that my family and I are building our lives upon.
John 11:25 became a central theme in our ministry. A few years later, we had our fourth son, who was miraculously born on 11-25 and 11:25 pm.
In 2022, Charles Criniere, one of my best friends, died in a tragic cycling accident leaving behind his wife and 10 children. This hit me harder than anything else I have ever experienced. I was asked to speak at Charlie's memorial service, so I sat down in the midst of the tears to write a short speech. While I was in the middle of typing a paragraph about the Christian hope of the resurrection, I received a text from another friend that said, "I had a dream last night that you were preaching at Charlie's funeral about the resurrection." Again a dream propelled me to go even deeper into the topic. The following article outlines the major themes I have researched and prayerfully studied over the past 14 years.
The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences we will ever face. The pain of grief can be overwhelming, and the sense of loss can feel insurmountable. What hope is there in the world to deal with this kind of pain? Does religion offer hope in the face of death? I mean, everyone is going to die, right? What about Christianity?
At the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead three days later. This event, known as the Resurrection, is a central component of Christian hope. It is the hope that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised from the dead at the return of Christ. The Bible tells us that the Christian hope of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life is the single most powerful source of comfort and hope for those who have lost their Christian loved ones.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians,
"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout,with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourageone another with these words." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul says,
"And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." - Phillipians 3:20-21
The Christian hope of eternal life is rooted in the dead being raised and regenerated with new bodies. The hope for all believers is that they will receive the same kind of immortal body that Christ received at his resurrection. This body is not subject to death and decay because of the eradication of sin.
The Christian hope of the resurrection also has implications for how we live our lives in the present. The knowledge that our loved ones will be raised from the dead means they are not lost forever but rather temporarily separated from us.
Furthermore, the hope of the resurrection can provide a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives. It reminds us that our ultimate destiny is not simply to exist for a brief time on earth and then disappear into nothingness, but rather that our lives matter, and we live today will determine how we spend eternity. Jesus said,
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life ...For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:24,27-29
The resurrection of the dead is unimaginably glorious for those who believe but unthinkably terrifying for those who don't. It is in light of this that we are forced to reckon with a coming day when every one of us will stand before Jesus and give an account for our lives. Jesus tells us that both the wicked and the righteous will be resurrected - one will receive life eternal, and the other - condemnation. In our modern day, we don't like the idea of a single person defining absolute truth. But that is precisely what the Bible teaches - Jesus is that man.
Although Jesus promised to raise the dead, many people are not aware of this. In our culture, the common understanding is that when someone dies, they go to a "better place" and are now in "heaven." (It's also very normal for people to believe in some sort of heaven but not believe in a hell). But what exactly is heaven? What is eternal life? Many people imagine an ethereal, spiritual realm, but is that truly a superior place to our current reality?
The Bible paints a very concrete view of eternal life. The biblical understanding of the resurrection is the conviction that God is a God of life who will ultimately bring about a restoration of the entire created order. This is the view Jesus and the Apostles held. This view sees the resurrection as the renewal of the physical world, not the escape from it¹.
This physical understanding of the resurrection is seen in the New Testament, where the resurrection of Christ is presented as a physical event. Christ was raised from the dead with a new body, but it was a tangible body that could be touched and recognized. Jesus was the firstborn of a new creation, a new humanity, not in the line of Adam but in the line of Christ, and it is truly human but without corruption (1 Cor. 15:47).
"The ultimate future hope for Christians is based on the resurrection of Jesus, and on the promise that his followers will be raised from the dead as well, to share in the renewal of all things. This means that the Christian hope is not a disembodied 'heaven' but rather the hope for a new creation, in which heaven and earth are brought together in a rich and multi-layered unity. It is not a hope for escape from the material world, but for its redemption and transformation, for the marriage of heaven and earth." N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 200.
However, in the 2nd-3rd century AD, the idea of heaven started to move towards a greek philosophical view and away from the biblical worldview that was held by 1st-century Jews². It's hard to overstate the impact this had upon the western worldview. But this is in stark contrast with the biblical worldview of the first century, which provides a framework for the overturning of death and the restoration of God's creation.
In the Bible, heaven is described as the dwelling place of God, and the ultimate Christian hope is the unification of heaven and earth. The Scriptures even suggest that heaven and earth were originally united and will be reconciled in the end⁴.
In the beginning, as recounted in the early chapters of Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a Garden of Paradise called Eden. They walked with God in close fellowship, experiencing the unity of heaven and earth with no division or separation. However, sin entered the world and caused a separation between God and humankind, as well as between heaven and earth. Thankfully, God has a plan to restore all things to their original state (and far beyond) through Jesus Christ.
"and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." - Colossians 1:20
"to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him." Ephesians 1:10
While the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead is unique, it is not the only belief in eternal life. Many other worldviews and religions have their own understanding of what happens after death. For example, many eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, believe in reincarnation, in which a person's soul is reborn into a new body after death. In these worldviews, the goal is to break the cycle of rebirth and achieve a state of enlightenment or Nirvana. Thus ultimate salvation for these eastern religions is found in the escape from the physical world and the spiritual unification within a mystical cosmic force⁵.
Even Islam's view of eternity in Paradise is more akin to its 7th-century gnostic predecessors. the Qur'an and Hadith teach that paradise was always separate from Earth and that Adam was cast out of paradise down to Earth. Islamic salvation is therefore framed as the escape from the material world back to the spiritual paradise above. This is very interesting, considering it was supposedly the continuation and restoration of the true Abrahamic faith⁶.
While these beliefs in eternal life differ from the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead, they all share a desire for some kind of continuation of existence beyond this life. However, it seems to me that within these other worldviews that death actually serves as a form of salvation for the 'righteous' since it is their escape into a superior afterlife. In contrast, the Bible teaches that death is humanity's greatest adversary since, at our core, we were created by God to be eternal beings made in His image (1 Cor. 15:26). Death is, therefore, in no way 'natural' but rather penalty for sin, a judgment that befell all of humanity.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. - Romans 6:23
Only the Christian faith provides a construct for the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things that have been corrupted in creation. Additionally, no other worldview claims to offer a personal relati