Tag Archives: afterlife

Resurrection & its Christian Shape – Part 2

In the NT, we see plainly that “an event has occurred which has changed the shape of the creator’s history with the world” – Wright.

  • The event, of course, was Jesus resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“All the major books and strands, with the single exception of Hebrews, make resurrection a central and important topic, and set it within a framework of Jewish thought about the one god as creator and judge” – N.T. Wright.

  • There can be no doubt that, “Early Christianity was a ‘resurrection’ movement through and through…” – N.T. Wright.

 

The remainder of our lessons will contend with the nature of Christian resurrection’s place within the Pharisaical Judaism from which it sprang, and within the Hellenized paganism in which it spread.

  • We can organize our approach as follows – Christian Resurrection as:
    • (1) A “Dramatic Modification” of Jewish resurrection (N.T. Wright).
    • (2) In “Direct Opposition” to the pagan worldview (N.T. Wright).

 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will focus especially on the “Dramatic Modification”.

  • We begin now, however, with the “Direct Opposition”.

 

 

1) DIRECT OPPOSITION – CHRISTIAN RESURRECTION

 

Christian resurrection maintained a shape that stood in direct opposition to pagan views of life and death.

  • For example, “The point of the resurrection, so far as Paul is concerned, is the reaffirmation of creation, not its denial” – Wright.
  • And “Resurrection is precisely concerned with the present world and its renewal, not with escaping the present world and going somewhere else” – Wright.
  • These attitudes are opposed to the pagan views of life and death that we learned about some weeks ago.

 

We saw then:

  • That the soul welcomed death; “the soul was well rid of its body” – Wright.
  • “Resurrection in the flesh appeared a startling, distasteful idea, at odds with everything that passed for wisdom among the educated” – Wright.

 

One must ask then, in light of these stark differences, wouldn’t the apostles just smartly speak the Gospel and leave talk of resurrection for another time?

  • Here is the problem.
  • It needs to be stressed and understood that when Peter and Paul spoke the Gospel, they spoke resurrection.
  • To proclaim Christ is to proclaim resurrection.

 

Resurrection and Gospel in Acts:

Acts 2:29–32 (ESV) — 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

  • Then Peter follows up with “Repent and be baptized” in verse 38.

 

Acts 3:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,

  • Then Peter follows ups this call to repentance with, “the time for restoring” in verse 21, and in verse 22, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet…”.

 

 

Acts 4:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

  • Peter and John’s detractors tell us they were proclaiming resurrection.
  • Specifically, of course, that Jesus had risen.

 

Acts 4:32–33 (ESV) — 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

  • The apostles were giving thanks for the resurrection of Jesus.

 

BTW – Notice in verse 33 of Acts 4 what the nature of the apostles’ testimony was.

  • It was a testimony about Jesus’ resurrection (His work), not about the subjective warm “fuzzies” a relationship with Jesus provided.
  • Even Paul’s testimonies in Acts were about encountering the risen Jesus.
    • The reason he was an authentic apostle.

 

Acts 5:30 (ESV) — 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.

  • Then Peter and John followed this up in verse 31 with, “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins”.

 

Acts 13:27–30 (ESV) — 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead…that fact that God raised him from the dead (vs. 34)…but he whom God raised up (vs. 37).

  • And then Paul follows this up with: Acts 13:38–39 (ESV) — 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

 

It seems rather clear that Gospel proclamation and resurrection were inseparable.

  • But, knowing the pagans’ aversion to resurrection, surely Paul would tone it down a bit?

 

Resurrection and Direct Opposition:

As with resurrection and the Gospel, Acts can shed some light on this question for us.

  • And the answer may surprise us.

 

(1) Paul at Athens

 

Notice in the following examples that Paul was proclaiming the Gospel to the scholars of the pagan world.

  • He knew they loathed the idea of resurrection and could articulate their objections to it.
  • But as we just saw, to proclaim the Gospel was to proclaim resurrection.
    • Paul didn’t come up with a “kinder, gentler” Gospel.
    • He didn’t attempt to “prettify” the Gospel for easy reception.
    • He was clever, but not compromising.

 

Acts 17:18–19 (ESV) — 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?

 

 

Acts 17:30–32 (ESV) — 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”

 

So not surprisingly, Paul was “mocked” and called a “babbler”.

  • “It is said that the Athenians applied this name to those who made their living by collecting and selling refuse they found in the market places” – WSNTDICT.
  • And it also is “pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication” – BDAG.
  • They not only thought resurrection was nuts, they thought Paul was inarticulate.

 

And what is fascinating is that Paul talked about resurrection so much that they thought he was teaching about two “foreign divinities” – “Jesus and the resurrection”.

 

“The Athenians even misheard Paul and imagined that he was preaching two new divinities, Jesus and ‘Anastasis’. The Greek word for ‘resurrection’ was so frequently on his lips that they thought she was Jesus’ consort, a kind of Isis to his Osiris” – N.T. Wright.

 

(2) Paul on Trial in Caesarea

 

Acts 25:17–20 (ESV) — 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them.

 

Acts 26:22–24 (ESV) — 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” 24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”

 

Here, Paul is on trial in a pagan court in Caesarea.

  • He knows that both the pagan authorities and his Jewish accusers have problems, though differing, with his message of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
  • Yet, he continues to proclaim resurrection.
  • So it is not surprising that Festus, like the philosophers of Athens, thought Paul was nuts – “out of your mind”.

 

 

Why was talk of resurrection such a problem for the pagan who did not “have ears to hear”?

  • As we said before, for the pagan, the body was something to be shed.
  • The spiritual world was the ideal.
  • To speak of a hope that involved bodily coming into the physical world again was foolishness.

 

BTW – We know from the writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, and other 2nd and 3rd century Christian apologists, that the proclamation of resurrection continued to bring derision.

  • Celsus, a 2nd century Roman critic of Christianity said this:

“But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body…While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. Buy who say this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination…or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars?”

 

Conclusions thus far:

  • We need to know why Peter, John and Paul were relentless in their proclamation of resurrection.
  • We need to know why resurrection moved from the periphery of Pharisaic Judaism to the center of the Christian message.
  • It will help us going forward to remember that, in both Judaism and Christianity, resurrection is so much more than bodily resurrection.

 

We will explore these things by seeing what Paul had to say about resurrection.

  • He articulates better than anyone the “Dramatic Modifications” Christian resurrection made to its Jewish roots.
  • He tells us what is so significant about resurrection.
  • He tells us what the powerful implications of resurrection are for the believer in Christ.

 

One final question: Why don’t we proclaim resurrection when we proclaim the Gospel?

 

Resurrection & its Christian Shape – Part 1

Over the past few weeks we have explored Jewish views of both “life after death” and “life after ‘life after death’” – a.k.a. resurrection.

  • We saw how exile influenced the development of resurrection, both as simply a metaphor for return and restoration and as a literal bodily resurrection.
  • We then saw how in the 2nd Temple Period, resurrection moved into the front of Jewish thought.
  • And as views of resurrection developed and took hold in Jewish thought, history was moving ever closer to Easter Sunday – not a coincidence.
  • So all the views of resurrection were in place, to both accommodate what happened to Jesus, or to be redefined and turned on their head by what happened to Jesus.

 

 

1) JEWISH RESURRECTION RECAP

 

We saw that 2nd Temple views of resurrection contained at least 10 things.

  1. The hope of an actual bodily resurrection for the individual.
  2. Judgment of the wicked – the pagan.
  3. Vindication of the righteous – the Jew.
  4. It is grounded in YHWH’s power – the same power that led the Jews out of Egypt; the same power that created the world and everything in it.
  5. It serves as a metaphor for Return and Restoration of the Nation, Land and People of Israel.
  6. It’s corporate in scope – all the righteous Jews and wicked pagan’s we be resurrected at one time for judgment or vindication.
  7. No one thought the Prophets, Moses or David were already raised or would be ahead of anyone else.
  8. Resurrection hope was separate from Messianic hope. “There are no traditions about a Messiah being raised to life: most Jews of this period hoped for resurrection, many Jews of this period hoped for a Messiah, but nobody put those two hopes together…” – N.T. Wright.
  9. There are two “ages” the “present age” and the “age to come” – resurrection was the dividing line so no resurrection means still the “present age”.
  10. Likewise, with resurrection comes the “age to come” where, importantly, everything would be “put right”.

 

As we said last week, we simply can’t think of resurrection as only referring to a bodily rising.

  • And we will find that the same is true for resurrection after Christ.
  • We cannot make the mistake of thinking only about Jesus coming out of the grave.
  • We will see over the coming weeks that to do so is to misunderstand and misapply the massive implications of what happened on Easter Sunday.

 

 

2) JESUS AND RESURRECTION

 

Jesus’ Bold Claim:

  • Mark 8:31 (ESV) — 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
  • Matthew 17:22–23 (ESV) — 22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
  • Luke 18:31–34 (ESV) — 31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

 

So, Jesus clearly taught that His life would culminate in an unjust death.

  • And then, importantly, that He and thus His Messianic “Kingdom of God Movement” would be vindicated through resurrection – Wright.
  • But, oddly, we see from Luke’s text that the disciples were a little perplexed.
  • What are some reasons the disciples did “not grasp” what Jesus was telling them?
    • Hint – look at the 10 things resurrection was for the 2nd Temple Jew.

 

Jesus’ Bold Move:

Matthew 19:28–30 (ESV) — 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

 

This text does not speak of resurrection directly.

  • And yet, knowing what we know now about the meaning of Jewish resurrection, we can see that Jesus is revealing something about the implications of resurrection.
  • How so?

 

The “…will inherit eternal life” (vs. 29) phrase is our clue.

  • The Greek here is “zoe aionios”.
  • This is mistakenly thought of by us as referring to a life lived forever in heaven.
  • To read it this way is to misunderstand the implications of Jesus’ words.
  • Wright says the literal translation should be “life pertaining to the age” or “life in the age to come”.
  • In other words, it is a life lived forever in an “age” different from the “present age”, but in an “age to come”.
  • The BDAG characterizes this “age” as “in the Reign of God”.
  • The NT and Jesus Himself characterize this “age” as the “Kingdom of God”.

 

So knowing what we do about the 2nd Temple view of “ages” – the context in which Jesus was operating – we can begin to see why this text has resurrection overtones.

  • Any talk of a “new age” means that resurrection is necessarily in play.
  • Resurrection is what occurs to usher in the “new age”.
  • Additionally, the text speaks of the “zoe aionios” as containing judgment – “judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vs. 28).
  • The talk of judgment also means resurrection is in play.
  • The righteous are vindicated and the wicked are punished at the resurrection.
  • And interestingly, vs. 30 hints that judgment will contain some surprises – “first will be last, and the last first”.

 

But here is what is remarkable about Jesus’ talk of the “age to come” and judgment…

  • He centers both on these words – “for my names sake” (vs. 29).
  • In other words, He claims that judgment and eternal life in the “age to come” center on Him.

“The main thrust of this passage is, in fact, to assure Jesus’ followers of that which was normally assured to ‘all Israel’; this is part of the extraordinary redefinition of Israel around Jesus himself…” – N.T. Wright.

  • This is an absolutely extraordinary thing to do!
  • Jesus is radically claiming that Israel’s relationship to the “age to come” hinges on its relationship to Him.
  • Is it any wonder the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching?
    • Something needed to happen to bring it all together for them.

 

Jesus’ Bold Teaching – Sadducees Get “Served”:

Mark 12:18–27 (ESV) — 18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven [immortal – will not die]. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

 

What just happened?

  • Jesus schooled the Sadducees in both the nature of the resurrection body and the fact of resurrection.

In scholarly speak, “Jesus first rebuts the Sadducees’ conclusion by [1] postulating a discontinuity between the present embodiment and the future one, and, [2] second, quotes a passage of scripture which he takes to imply resurrection” – N.T. Wright.

 

Point 1 – Marriage and Resurrection:

The conservative Sadducees bust out some Torah on this liberal, Pharisaic-like Jesus fellow.

  • Deuteronomy 25:5 (ESV) — 5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

 

Having learned what we did about the great hope of the Jew – people, nation and land.

  • What is the significance of this passage?
  • In this context, their question seems fair enough.
  • But Jesus points out something about resurrection that makes their point moot.

 

Children, for the Jew, were the way to continue in the hope of people, nation and land.

  • “Live long and have children” was, early on, their greatest hope – not life after death.
  • So, thanks to Moses, even if a husband died before impregnating his wife, no worries.
  • His brother could continue his name by taking her as his own.

 

The Sadducees come up with a comic caricature of this process playing out by killing off one brother after another as each marries the widow.

  • So they want to know when the seven brothers and the one woman are resurrected, to which of the seven brothers will she be married to.

 

Jesus reveals that their question shows they neither know Scripture or the “power of God”.

  • In response to whose wife she will be, Jesus says, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (vs. 25).
  • In other words, something is quite different about the resurrection body.
  • It, like angels, is immortal.
  • It will not, as Paul would later say, see corruption.
  • Therefore, there will be no need for marriage.

 

Why Not?

  • Marriage was the context in which children were born.
  • And, as we discussed already, children were how the people, land and nation were carried forward.
  • But since the resurrection body will not die, this is no longer a concern in the “age to come”.
  • And because of this marriage is unnecessary.

“A key point, often unnoticed, is that the Sadducees’ question is not about the mutual affection and companionship of husband and wife, but about how to fulfill the command to have a child, that is, how in the future life the family line will be kept going” – N.T. Wright.

 

Point 2 – Resurrection Itself:

Jesus then turns His attention from marriage to resurrection itself.

  • He asks the Sadducees if they have “not read in the book of Moses” (vs. 26).
  • He knew they obviously had done so, and that they would have known the text He cited.
  • Exodus 3:6 (ESV) — 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

 

Jesus logically concludes that if God is not the God of the dead, but the living, then the patriarchs are still alive.

  • “But that is not the end of the actual argument.” – N.T. Wright.

“The patriarchs are still alive, and therefore will be raised in the future. Prove the first, and (within the worldview assumed by both parties in the debate, and any listening Pharisees) you have proved the second” – N.T. Wright.

 

Why?

  • Because both the Sadducees view and the Pharisaical resurrection tradition rejected the pagan belief that life after death was the end game.
    • The Sadducees thought death, sleep, was it.
    • The Pharisees believed life after death was merely an intermediate state to be followed by resurrection.
    • So if it is true that the patriarch’s were still “alive”, then it is also true that they will be resurrected to new bodily life.

 

Jesus’ Bold Switcheroo:

Matthew 12:39–42 (ESV) — 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

 

Again, Jesus speaks of his resurrection.

  • And He, like His Pharisee audience, also associates judgment with a bodily resurrection.
  • But then he pulls a switcheroo on them.
  • “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (vs. 41)
  • The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (vs. 42).
  • Instead of a Jewish vindication and a judgment of the wicked pagans, Jesus radically teaches that the pagan Gentile “men of Nineveh” and “queen of the South” will judge “this generation” of Jews.
  • Neither Matthew nor Luke records the reaction of the Pharisees, but they must have freaked out.

 

Jesus’ Bold “Present-Future”:

John 5:24–29 (ESV) — 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

 

Jesus continues to speak of resurrection in terms of vindication and judgment.

  • But in verse 24, He makes a rather peculiar claim.
  • He says that the one who believes has, in some sense, “eternal life” now.
  • He says that those who believe have already, in some sense, “passed from death to life”.
  • N.T. Wright puts it as follows, “the note of present, albeit partial, fulfillment is heard” – N.T. Wright.

 

Summary of Jesus and Resurrection:

Jesus’ view of resurrection, then, was similar in many ways to the typical Pharisaical views of resurrection.

  • Yet it also differed significantly.
  • The typical Jew would have been confused by Jesus’ claim that He would be raised from the dead ahead of everyone else.
  • They would also have been troubled by Jesus’ claim that He will be the hinge on which the “age to come” will turn.
  • Jesus also gave us some insight into the nature of resurrection life when He spoke of no need for marriage.
  • He also introduced the radical idea that Gentiles would sit in judgment of Jews.
  • And finally, Jesus spoke of the “age to come” associated with resurrection as somehow breaking into the present.

 

Next week we will explore how Paul brought all the threads of Jewish resurrection and Jesus’ resurrection together to give the Christian view of resurrection its shape.

 

Resurrection and the History of Jewish Hope – Part 1

This is the first lesson of an 8 week series on resurrection.

 

The first three lessons will contend with the Jewish view of resurrection before Jesus.

  • Did they have developed view of resurrection?
  • What was resurrection for them?
  • Did they have a developed view of life after death?
  • How would they have made sense of Jesus’ resurrection?

 

The answers to these questions describe for us the state of mind of Jesus’ followers.

  • Why did Mary think the body was taken? (John 20)
  • Why were they perplexed? (Luke 24)
  • Why was the possibility that Jesus resurrected not on their radar? (John 11)

 

The final five lessons will focus squarely on the NT view of resurrection.

  • What did resurrection mean after Jesus?
  • How was it different from resurrection before Jesus?
  • Why was it Paul’s greatest hope?
  • Why is resurrection both not the same as, and better than heaven?

 

Before we go any further, we need to define our terms.

  • What is resurrection?

“Resurrection means bodily life after ‘life after death’, or, if you prefer, bodily life after the state of ‘death’” – Wright.

  • Resurrection is what happens only to people who are “at present dead” – Wright.

 

Resurrection is the physical restoration or recreation of the body in the physical world.

  • It is not and never a metaphor for a spiritual “life after death” such as heaven.
  • As Wright says, it is “bodily life after ‘life after death’”.
  • Resurrection, “physical life after ‘life after death'” is what happens after heaven, “spiritual life after death”.

 

 

1) INTRODUCTION

 

To get us started, I want to get our feet wet with a quick contrast and comparison between pagan views and Jewish views of the afterlife.

  • This will give us something to hold on to when we start diving deeper.

 

Greek Paganism:

Judaism was surrounded by a myriad of pagan views of the afterlife.

  • And during the 400 years before Jesus, the pagan views that were competing with Judaism were predominately Greek.
    • These were also the views that Paul was contending with in his ministry.
    • Greek culture had given a lot of thought to the afterlife.
    • They had developed fairly detailed views about it.
    • The content of their views were informed by some of the most famous people in history – Homer, Socrates, Plato – and all the characters in Greek mythology.

 

Generally speaking the pagan view of the afterlife was:

  • Dead people existed in the afterlife as “souls, shades or eidola” – Wright.
  • They resided, “Most likely in Hades; possibly in the Isles of the Blessed, or Tartarus…” – Wright.
  • There were concepts of transmigration (reincarnation), appearing to the living, or hanging around their grave.
  • And remarkably, the soul welcomed death; “the soul was well rid of its body” – Wright.

 

Was resurrection an option?

  • “Resurrection in the flesh appeared a startling, distasteful idea, at odds with everything that passed for wisdom among the educated” – Wright.
  • In fact, the flesh and body were something to be shed.
  • Nowhere in paganism is “a sustained claim advanced that resurrection has actually happened to a particular individual” – Wright.
  •  And “Lots of things could happen to the dead in the beliefs of pagan antiquity, but resurrection was not among the available options “– Wright.

 

Judaism:

Curiously, unlike paganism, OT Judaism was less concerned with the afterlife – Wright.

  • “In fact…an interest in ‘life after death’ for its own sake was characteristic of various pagan worldviews (that of Egypt, for instance), not of ancient Israel” – Wright.
    • The Jew, we will see, was much more concerned with Israel, its land, and its people.
  • And, in contrast with the pagan, “death for the Jew was not an improvement or an escape ‘from the prison-house of the body’” – Wright.
    • Indeed, we will see that for the Jew, the longer the life the better.
    • Why the difference?

 

Was resurrection an option?

  • Interestingly, like the pagan, early Judaism had no overt belief in resurrection.
  • At best, it is something that is “deeply asleep, only to be woken by echoes from later times and texts” – Wright.
  • This is why it is said that the OT itself, “is not particularly concerned with life after death at all, still less with resurrection”  – Wright

 

So having seen, quite strangely I think, that Judaism’s view of the afterlife was not nearly as robust as its competitors, we need to see how we got from the OT’s “deeply asleep” to Martha’s “resurrection on the last day” (John 11).

 

Essentially, there were two positions on death in Jewish thought.

  • (1) One-stage view of death.
  • (2) Two-stage view of death.
  • These views did not develop linearly in succession.
    • Though I might give this impression.
  • They are intimately related and often existed in tension and relationship with each other.

 

The one-stage view consisted of the following:

  • Either it was as simple as the fact that “the dead are ‘asleep with the ancestors’” – Wright.
  • The “martyrs go, immediately upon death, into the blissful immortality already enjoyed by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – Wright.
  • Or, “the dead may be ‘received’ by YHWH into some continuing life” – Wright.
  • As we just mentioned, this continuing life was not nearly as developed as the pagans.
  • On this one-stage view, “death is a one-way street, on which those behind can follow but those ahead cannot turn back” – Wright.

 

The two-stage view consisted of the following view:

  • Some at least of the dead can hope for resurrection after any such ‘life after death’” – Wright.
  • The “any such ‘life after death’” refers to the options under the one-stage view.

 

We will explore each view in more detail.

 

 

2) ONE-STAGE VIEW OF DEATH – WHERE IS THE HOPE?

 

This view is found in numerous texts of the Old Testament.

  • Psalm 6:5 (ESV) — 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
  • Genesis 3:19 (ESV) — 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
  • Psalm 88:3–7 (ESV) — 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, 5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. 6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
  • Isaiah 38:10 (ESV) — 10 I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years.
  • Ecclesiastes 9:5 (ESV) — 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.
  • Job 3:13 (ESV) — 13 For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest,
  • Isaiah 14:9–11 (ESV) — 9 Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. 10 All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ 11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.
  • Job 7:7–10 (ESV) — 7 “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; 10 he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.

 

Wright says of these texts and of the views they express:

“Sheol, Abaddon, the Pit, the grave. The dark, deep regions, the land of forgetfulness. These almost interchangeable terms denote a place of gloom and despair, a place where one can no longer enjoy life, and where the presence of YHWH himself is withdrawn. It is a wilderness: a place of dust to which creatures made of dust have returned. Those who have gone there are ‘the dead’; they are ‘shades’, and they are ‘asleep’. As in Homer, there is no suggestion that they are enjoying themselves; it is a dark and gloomy world.”

 

But, lest we despair, within some of these texts there is a suggestion that some activity is going on.

  • “They might be momentarily aroused from their comatose state by an especially distinguished newcomer, as in Isaiah 14…” – Wright.
    • “All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’” – Isaiah 14:10.
  • So, the dead were “not completely non-existent…” – Wright.
  • “But their normal condition was to be asleep” – Wright.

 

BTW – At Jesus’ death, it is likely that Jesus’ disciples and loyal family thought that He was received as a “distinguished newcomer” in Sheol.

 

All of this seems a long way from what the Jews’ believed in the first century.

  • And indeed it is.
  • But, there was a latent hope present in this one-stage view of death.
  • It is very hard for us to see, but for the Jew it was there.
  • And this seed of hope grew and expanded as history drew closer to Jesus.

 

The Root of Israel’s Hope:

What was their hope?

  • If they did not find their hope in the afterlife, where did they find it?

 

Just because they had no great hope for afterlife did not mean that, “they were without a living and vibrant hope. At the heart of that hope was the knowledge that YHWH, the God of Israel, was the creator of the world; that he was faithful to the covenant with Israel, and beyond that with the whole world; and that, as such, he would be true to his word both to Israel and to the whole creation” – Wright.

 

Their hope was a national hope.

  • “The hope of the nation was thus first and foremost that the people, the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would multiply and flourish.”
  • “Children, and then grand-children, are God’s great blessing, and to live long enough to see them is one of the finest things to hope for” – Wright.

 

Wright gets at it as follows:

“To the devout Israelite, the continuance of the family line was not simply a matter of keeping a name alive. It was part of the way in which God’s promises, for Israel and perhaps even for the whole world, would be fulfilled. Hence the importance, particularly in the post-exilic period when the nation was gathering itself together again, of those genealogies which seem so bafflingly unreligious to late modernity, and of the prophetic insistence on the ‘holy seed’” – Wright.

 

This hope is something we cannot begin to fully understand.

  • In some ways, it is just to “collective” and not “individual” enough for us.
  • For the Jew, “The nation and land of the present world were far more important than what happened to an individual beyond the grave” – Wright.
  • I can’t begin to grasp this.
  • But, joyfully, this gloomy hope began to give rise to something more optimistic.

 

Some OT examples of this:

  • 2 Samuel 14:14 (ESV) — 14 We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.
  • Psalm 49:14–15 (ESV) — 14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. 15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah
  • Psalm 73:23–26 (ESV) — 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 

Importantly, “Where we find a glimmer of hope like this, it is based not on anything in the human make-up (e.g. an ‘immortal soul’), but on YHWH and him alone” – Wright.

  • The Jew saw all power over creation (the dust), and all prerogatives for action with YHWH.
  • He was the God of history and any hope that existed was to found in His actions.
  • The developing hope was to be found in the “But God” and not in creation itself.

 

And this “But God” hope is foundational to the view of resurrection – the two-stage view – that we will explore momentarily.

  • In fact, this hope (which has never left Judaism) began to grow and manifest itself in ways we might find more comfortable.
  • As we suggested at the beginning, this hope was making its way toward Christ.

 

The Root of Hope Began to Blossom:

So as this hope in the action of God on Israel’s behalf grew, the idea of resurrection began to blossom.

“This explicit link of life with the land and death with exile, coupled with the promise of restoration the other side of exile, is one of the forgotten roots of the fully developed hope of ancient Israel. The dead might be asleep; they might be almost nothing at all; but hope lived on within the covenant and promise of YHWH” –Wright.

  • And these “roots of the fully developed hope” easily accommodated a developing view of bodily resurrection.

 

In fact, allusions to a bodily resurrection found their home in the language of “return” and “restoration”.

  • Restoration – the restoration of Israel as a nation.
  • Return – the return of the people to their promised land.
  • Ezekiel 37:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.
  • Texts like this, clearly exilic texts, “could well have been read within post-biblical Judaism” as having undertones of a bodily resurrection – Wright.
  • And, as we will see, they were begun to be read this way.
  • But never in place of their exilic content, but on top of it.

 

Wright puts it like this:

“The point of the resurrection, within the Jewish worldview, was (as we shall see) that it would be in line with, though going significantly beyond, the great liberating acts of God on behalf of Israel in the past.”

 

God brought them out of exile from Egypt and brought them into the promise land.

  • So God could also bring the Jew out of the exile of death and into a new life after “life after death”.
  • The connection is not a hard one to see.
  • And the Jewish two-stage view of death is where this connection begins to take off.