Easter is about much more than confirmation of an afterlife, although that would be a significant implication. Nevertheless, Easter, specifically here referring to the main event of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, is the firstfruits of a much larger harvest to come, the general resurrection of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15), and along with it the renewal and rebirth of the creation itself (see Romans 8). The consummation of this new creation is described in Revelation 21 and 22; the story of it’s beginning is found in the stories of Easter.
Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. That’s the first hint that his resurrection was about new creation. There are other hints as well, but the first day of the week is symbolic of the first day of creation, and in the case of Jesus’ resurrection it is the first day of the new creation. Another clue is that the body in which Jesus was resurrected was not the same as it was before he was raised from the dead. His resurrected body was no longer perishable or mortal; it was, and still is imperishable and immortal.
The body, still physical, flesh and bone, as the gospel accounts make clear (see especially Luke 24:36-43), with which Jesus was raised had been transformed from the one which was previously subject to death and decay, to one that no longer could die. His glorious resurrected body in which he appeared to his disciples on the first Easter was like the body that all believers will receive after the general resurrection when Christ comes again. This promised new body is specifically designed for the New Creation, which will also still be a physical reality. In Philippians 3:21 we find the promise of the new body when Paul there says Jesus, at his second coming, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (ESV). 1 John says something very similar.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3 ESV
In this passage from 1 John we get a strong hint about the connection between the resurrected Jesus and the life of believers before the general resurrection of all believers. The promise that we shall be like him when he appears, our ultimate hope, enables us to share in the purity that Jesus presently enjoys in his resurrected human form. According to John this purity sets us at odds with the world, the present age which John says is governed by sinful desire and pride, but is passing away (1 John 2:15-17). In the life of a true believer there is a dramatic change that takes place, and it’s not just a matter of following a different set of rules or principles that will enable us to have our best life now in the world. Instead it is a miracle that takes us out of the fallen world and takes the desires and ways of the fallen world out of us.
When someone believes a change of status and a change of being takes place. Faith moves a person from the status of being justly condemned as a sinner, to being declared righteous before God because of Christ. This also involves new birth, what John calls becoming children of God (John 1:12-13). There is a change in status, but also a change of being, from children of the devil, who live according to desires corrupted by sin, to children of God, who receive the new heart and the new spirit promised to come under the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through faith in Christ we receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, which begins the work of healing our hearts and renewing our spirits by giving us desires to please God rather than ourselves.
The Holy Spirit is just a down payment on a much greater inheritance (See Ephesians 1:13-14), but make no mistake, he is a wonderful foretaste of glory divine. The new birth brings us out of one realm and brings us into another, the kingdom of God (see John 3). The change of being that takes place puts us at odds with the world because we are no longer of the world. As children of God, we become citizens of a new world, the new heaven and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem, which Revelation describes as eventually coming down from heaven to earth. But our citizenship in it doesn’t begin then, it begins the moment we believe. Children of God are children of the Jerusalem above, which will eventually come to earth (see Galatians 4:26, and context of course).
Back in Philippians, Paul conveys this idea by contrasting those who live to satisfy sinful earthly desires with those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Our citizenship is present tense, although the fully consummated benefits of that citizenship we still await as we anticipate the return of Christ and the transformation of our bodies to be like his, the hope that we’re reminded of in the very next verse (v. 21). It is at that point that our spiritual citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem will become a physical reality as the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth in a renewed and reborn creation. But in the meantime, or the in-between-time, if you will, we live as citizens of the kingdom of God in a fallen and fading world subjected to bondage and decay because of sin, humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.
So Jesus’ resurrection could be considered the first act of new creation, but the new birth of believers is also an act of new creation. Interestingly, after his resurrection, when Jesus meets with his disciples behind closed doors in Jerusalem, after extending peace to them and showing his nail-scarred hands and spear-scarred side, John says “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22). I believe this was an intentional sign-act echoing Genesis 2:7, where God breathes life into the first man. Here Jesus breathes new life, new covenant life, yeah, new creation life into his disciples in anticipation of their receiving the fullness of the promised Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians where Paul is extolling the glory of new covenant ministry he alludes to Genesis 1:3 to explain what takes place in conversion. He says, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). This is another hint that this is about new creation which becomes all the clearer when we get to 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (compare Galatians 6:15). This new creation life in the fading-but-not-yet-gone fallen world is described in verse 15 as no longer living for self, but for the one who died for our sake and was raised from the dead. By faith we enter into what has been called the “already-but-not-yet” reality of the kingdom of God, the new creation, and the new Jerusalem, meaning it started with the first advent of Jesus, but it’s fullness is yet to be realized at the second advent of Christ. Salvation is about becoming a new creation in Christ who will be fully prepared for the New Creation wherein there is only righteousness and no more sin, wherein there are only saints and no sinners.
In the meantime in the in-between-time, however, we are called and equipped by the word of God and the Spirit of God to become channels through which the ongoing work of new creation continues. In John, before Jesus breaths on the disciples, he commissions them saying, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (20:21). He commissions them to proclaim forgiveness of sins and undoubtedly the new birth that goes along with it to bring others into the kingdom of God. The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:19-20). Dare I say, in other words, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). What else would we expect from the one who “creates in himself one new man” out of formerly separated Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22) to be restored into “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
And, of course, the new human race began with the God-man, whom Saint Paul, in the midst of his teaching on the resurrection of the body, calls the last Adam (hint, hint). The first Adam, he says, referring to Genesis 2:7, “became a living soul”; the last, Jesus, he says, became a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). But, make no mistake, the later no more means that Jesus after the resurrection was just a spirit without a physical body than the former means the first Adam was just a soul (or that you or I now for that matter) without a physical body. In resurrection the essence of human life is no longer the natural and mortal soul of corruptible man infected with the disease of sin passed on to all from the first Adam; rather resurrected bodies will be sustained and maintained forever by the eternal Spirit of the Living God, which is passed on by the last Adam, the God-man, Jesus Christ, to all who believe and thus are saved (see also Roman 5).
To be saved is to be delivered “from the present evil age” as Paul says in Galatians 1:4, to be “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” as he says in Colossians 1:13-14. Peter describes it as “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4), which John describes as having “passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14; also Jesus’ statement in John 5:24). But we are not saved and ushered into the kingdom for our own sake only, but also for the sake of others, so that God may use us to call others “out of the darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). But we can’t call others out of the darkness unless we ourselves are children of the light who are walking in the light (see Ephesians 5 :8-14; 1 John 1:7), else we are just blind and deceived leaders of the blind and deceived both headed for the eternal pit.
Nonetheless, as part of the New Creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus we are to live accordingly, no longer as citizens of the world according to the spirit of this age, but as citizens of heaven according to the Spirit of God (see Romans 8), and as ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5 again) of our heavenly home in the fallen world, which should now be foreign to us and we foreign to it.
We enter into the New Creation the same way Christ did, by dying and being raised with him.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
This sets the pattern for entrance into and life under the new covenant and the new creation, which is its ultimate goal. The call of Christ is a call to die to sin and a sinful world, so that we may truly begin to live and walk in newness of life. The pattern of Christian life in the world before Christ returns or calls us home to be with him in heaven is to continue the process of putting off the old and putting on the new until the “body of sin is brought to nothing.” We do this by the power of the Spirit (see Romans 8:13) in hope and joyful anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies when the entire creation itself will be set free and reborn. It is only within this framework that we can begin to make sense of Christian vocation, including morality and ethics.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”