The Hope of Life After Death (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), M. Jeff Brannon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.
Summary: A study of the hope for life after death throughout scripture and the significance of the resurrection for the believer.
M. Jeff Brannon had a professor who observed “that many Christians can articulate the importance of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross but have an impoverished understanding of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.” That observation eventually led Brannon to study this theme throughout scripture and its relevance to the Christian, one fruit of which is this contribution to the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series. He argues that this is vital because the assertion “Jesus is risen” is central to the Christian faith, it distinguishes Christianity from other religious and philosophical systems, and is vital to the fearless witness of the Christian disciple.
Our hope of life everlasting is rooted in the reality that we were created for life in relationship with God, the source of life, and we were meant to be God’s vice regents in creation. Sin and death, which followed from our rebellion against, and estrangement from the source of life ought not overshadow this awareness that we were made for life with God and that God begins his redemptive work in the garden with the promise of one who would defeat the serpent. Even in the provision of sacrificed animal skins for clothing reflects the beginning of this redemptive story.
Amid the downward spiral of humanity leading to the flood, Enoch walked with God and was not–relationship with God leads to life the overcomes death. God saves Noah and the creatures of the earth out of the flood. And God calls Abraham to become a blessing to the nations and to become a great nation enjoying life with God in the land, continuing the theme of relationship with God leading to life for a people. In the rest of the Pentateuch and the historical books we see God rescue the people out of the Passover death in Egypt and bring them into life with God at the center, first in the wilderness, and then in the land of promise. The Psalms attest to God’s deliverance from death and include references to hope of life with God beyond the grave (e.g. Psalm 22). The prophets also attest not only to judgment but the hope of restoration to life in the land and to resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; 53:10-11; Ezekiel 37, and Daniel 12:1-3).
We come to the life of Jesus, who restores relationship with God as the temple, as the mediator, as the one who raises the dead, and dies for sin and rises again himself. What was anticipated in shadowy Old Testament references has dawned in full light in Christ. The resurrection vindicates him as God’s anointed savior and king. It vindicates him as the righteous one able to take on the sins of his people. He is the second Adam bringing about new creation and resurrection life, ushering in the new age. The resurrection and ascension accomplish his enthronement as the Lord of this new creation of life.
What then does this mean for us who believe? We have restored relationship with God and enjoy life in his presence. We reign with Christ, enjoying the first fruits of new creation reality. We have been spiritually raised to life. Yet there are also the “not yets” of full vindication and freedom from the presence of sin, life in the immediate presence of God with Christ, ruling in the new heaven and earth to come, and a glorious bodily resurrection.
I write this review during Holy Week. Brannon offers a wonderful rehearsal of the implications of the day that changed everything–Easter Day–the central celebration of Christians. He reminds us that our hope of life after death means we do not grieve as those with no hope, nor do we fear death. This enables fearless witness and the endurance of suffering. When we say and sing “He is risen!” this Sunday, we utter the most momentous words of our faith and attest to a hope running throughout scripture, that God has purposed that we have life in Christ that we may enjoy relationship with him forever. That’s something to sing about!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.