When the Sadducees challenged Jesus to defend the reality of the resurrection (Luke 20:27-39), they were attempting to undermine a fundamental element of Jesus’ system of teaching. In his response, the Lord relied on Scripture and the power of God. He demonstrated that the Old Testament testifies to the fact of a future resurrection of the righteous from the dead (Luke 20:37-38), and also asserted that God is fully capable of transforming our lowly bodies and even fundamental earthly systems (Luke 20:34-36) in the age to come.
What a wondrous hope! Jesus declared that “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age” are “sons of the resurrection,” “sons of God,” and will be transformed into a glorious state similar to that of angels (Luke 20:36-37, NASB). Once resurrected, faithful ones will never die again, nor require earthly institutions like marriage.
But the resurrection will not merely transform our bodies in the future. The hope of the resurrection must transform our way of living in the present age. Here are three calls to a changed character that Jesus predicated on a conviction of one day being raised to eternal life.
(1) Serve Others
Those who have hope only in this world base their relationships on mutual benefit; they hoard their resources, only daring to share if they expect the favor will be returned in some equivalent way, either materially or in social status credits. The one who believes in the resurrection will decisively reject this “quid pro quo” system of relationships, and give generously even to those with no means, financially or socially, to pay them back in this lifetime.
Jesus conveyed this parable to a Pharisee who had invited him to an exclusive dinner with high-ranking members of his sect: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14, NASB).
(2) Confess Christ Boldly
On the subject of persecution, Jesus urged his followers, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4, NASB). What does this statement imply? If this temporal life were all there were, killing the body would be the ultimate act to fear from an enemy –yet Jesus minimizes it! This freedom from fear only makes sense with the understanding that the body will be raised in new, immortal life. The Lord can rectify an unjust execution of a Christian as easily as holding a child’s hand and softly speaking their name to wake them from sleep (Luke 8:52-55).
If we lack this perspective, the insults and threats of our persecutors might intimidate us into silence. However, with Jesus’ assurance of a resurrection guiding our behavior, we can lay hold of the promise he issues next in Luke 12: “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9, NASB). Belief in the resurrection opens our mouths to proclaim Christ without fear.
(3) Make Sacrifices
In contrast to the rich ruler that chose treasure on earth instead of treasure in heaven, Peter pointed out to Jesus, “Behold, we have left our own homes, and followed you” (Luke 18:18-28, NASB). Jesus’ answer is of great comfort to one who has made such a sacrifice, but note when the highest reward is to be reaped: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30, NASB). Jesus contrasts “at this time” and “in the age to come.” When we compare the similar phrase in Luke 20:35 (“that age”), no doubt remains that the Lord is referring to the resurrection.
Hope in the resurrection, for Peter and so many disciples, empowered the choice to lay all at the feet of Jesus. Only when our faith fails, and we insist on retaining a portion in this world, do we feel obligated to hold back. With an eye towards “the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9, NASB; cf. 12:33-34), we can part joyfully with our possessions for the sake of the kingdom.
If Peter sacrificed much for the Lord, the Lord sacrificed more. He gave his very body to be beaten and his blood to be spilled. What thought gave him the will to suffer these things? He knew the exaltation that awaited him in glorious resurrection: “He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:32-33).
As the guarantor and first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), Jesus fulfilled in the most marvelous way the prophecy spoken of him before his birth: “the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78, NASB). Because of him, Christians anticipate a transformed body in the age to come, and live a transformed life in this age!