“The Terrifying Resurrection”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

Every Christian should be able to affirm along with Paul the words of Acts 24:15.  There, he says, “I have a hope in God. . . that there will be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous.”  This hope is an inexpressible comfort to me in my illness, and it is the bedrock of our faith.  However, the promise that we find so hopeful and comforting may be very much the opposite to others.

This is evident even in the context of Paul’s statement.  His audience is Felix, the corrupt Roman governor of Judea.  Even after the judicial hearing of Acts 24:1-23 is over, Felix invites Paul back so he can hear more about faith in Christ. 

However, once Paul begins to speak, the tables are turned.  It is not the prisoner of Christ who comes away from the discussion intimidated and fearful.  It is the powerful government official. As Acts 24:25 reports, when Paul spoke on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became so frightened that he couldn’t bear to hear anymore and sent Paul away.

This reveals that just as Paul had a hope of resurrection, Felix had a hope of not-resurrection.  He was cruel and greedy.  He used his position to solicit bribes--Paul’s experience here was a common one.

What’s more, in this life, no one could challenge Felix on any of it.  He was the brother of the powerful imperial secretary Pallas.  When Felix returned to Rome at the end of his term of office, his brother used his influence to shield him from prosecution for his crimes.  Felix went to his grave unpunished.

How terrifying it must have been for such a man, a man who knew that he never would be called to account in this life, to learn that he would be called to account after it was over!  Judgment could not be averted after all.  Felix knew that he was neither righteous nor self-controlled, so he could have little doubt about what the outcome of the judgment would be. 

Felix had two choices.  He could become a Christian, give up his wicked ways, and invite contempt from everyone who knew him.  Alternatively, he could determine that Paul was wrong and there would be no resurrection after all. 

If there were no resurrection, Felix would be safe.  No one ever would hale him into court.  The scales of justice never would be balanced.  His wickedness would have no more consequences than another man’s righteousness.  Our fear—that our faith is vain—was Felix’s hope.

One of my favorite things about Christianity is that Christ makes life meaningful.  If I am loyal to Him, I will receive an eternal reward.  However, Christ doesn’t make life meaningful only for Christians.  He makes it meaningful for everyone. 

Because of the resurrection, eternal life is on the table for all of us, but so too is eternal torment.  Our choices in life determine which we will get.  Thus, for the righteous, the gospel is the best news imaginable.  For the unrighteous, it is the worst.