We have seen how the Jewish view of the afterlife and specifically, bodily life after ‘life after death’, had a trajectory that was historically destined to be completed on Easter Sunday.
- We saw how a hope for the people and the land was expanded with exile to include a hope for return and restoration.
- We saw how resurrection became a metaphor for this return and restoration.
- And ultimately, the hope for return and restoration came to itself contain the idea of a literal resurrection.
We saw that resurrection in the O.T. is most vividly seen in Daniel 12:2-3.
- Daniel 12:2–3 (ESV) — 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
- Now we need to see how the idea of resurrection exploded during the 2nd Temple period which includes 1st century Palestine.
We will see that, “The evidence suggests that by the time of Jesus…most Jews either believed in some form of resurrection or at least knew that it was standard teaching” – N.T. Wright.
Our survey of this period will give us the info we need to explore what Martha was talking about when she talked to Jesus about “the resurrection of the last day” (John 11).
- The importance of this will become evident when we discuss the significant changes in resurrection that occurred between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
1) RESURRECTION IN 2ND TEMPLE JUDAISM
We are going to look at just 5 of the many examples N.T. Wright gives of 2nd Temple Judaism’s developing views of resurrection.
- (1) The Book of 2 Maccabees.
- (2) The Septuagint
- (3) The Essenes at Qumran
- (4) The Sadducees
- (5) The Pharisees/Rabbis
(1) 2 Maccabees:
This was written during the 2nd century oppression of the Hellenized Syrian, Antiochus Epiphanes.
- He ruled over Jerusalem for a short time.
- Apparently, he forged an alliance with Hellenized Jews against those who still centered their lives on temple life and YHWH.
- As part of his rule he was forcing the traditional Jews to abandon their ways.
- The books main thrust is the revolt of these traditional Jews under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus.
- “This book provides far and away the clearest picture of the promise of resurrection anywhere in the period” – N.T. Wright
In one particular passage, the story is relayed of seven (7) sons who refused to abandon their ways.
- They were then tortured and killed with their mother looking on.
- The words of sons speak plainly of resurrection.
- 2 Maccabees 7:9 – “You accursed wretch, [said the second brother,] you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” – N.T. Wright.
- 2 Maccabees 7:14 – “When he was near death, [the fourth brother] said, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!’” – N.T. Wright.
(2) The Septuagint (LXX):
The Septuagint is the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.
- It was written in the 3rd century BC (earliest copies we have date to about 4th century AD).
- Our Old Testaments, by the way, are based on the Hebrew Masoretic texts (from 7th century AD or so).
- Side Note – dead sea Scrolls confirmed from 2nd century BC confirmed accuracy of MT.
Wright tells us that “as the Bible was translated into Greek the notion of resurrection became, it seems, much clearer, so that many passages which might have been at most ambiguous became clear, and some which seemed to have nothing to do with resurrection might suddenly give a hint, or more than a hint, in that direction” – N.T. Wright.
Some Examples of this:
- Generally, the ambiguous texts we looked at over the past weeks from Hosea and Isaiah, “all use what became the standard ‘resurrection’ language, namely the Greek verbs anistemi and egeiro and their cognates” – N.T. Wright.
- Hosea 13:14 provides a specific example.
- “The Hebrew text asks, ‘Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?’ and expects the answer ‘No’ [in context]. The LXX, however, has turned this into a positive statement: I shall rescue them from the hand of Hades, and I shall redeem them from Death” – N.T. Wright.
(3) Essenes at Qumran:
The Essenes spoke of the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 this way:
“I have seen many in Israel, O Lord, who love your name and walk on the paths of justice. When will these things happen? And how will they be rewarded for their loyalty? And YHWH said to me: I will make the children of Israel see and they will know that I am YHWH. And he said, Son of man, prophesy over the bones, and say, May a bone connect with its bone … [the text continues, following Ezekiel 37] … and they will live, and a large crowd of men will rise and bless YHWH of hosts who caused them to live” – N.T. Wright.
- The original says – “…I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people” – ESV.
- “Here there seems to be no question: Ezekiel 37 is being seen, not simply as a metaphor for the return from exile, but as a prophecy of actual resurrection. This is, so far as I know, the earliest post-biblical text to take Ezekiel in this way” – N.T. Wright.
(4) The Sadducees:
They were the exception to the “most Jews” that came to believe in resurrection.
- “Basically, the Sadducees denied resurrection; it seems more than likely that they followed a quite strict interpretation of the Old Testament, and denied any significant future life at all” – N.T. Wright.
- They held the 1-stage view of death that we discussed a couple of weeks ago.
- This meant that they did not believe in “an age to come” as the Pharisees – N.T. Wright.
- Their hope was in the land and the people, and Return and Restoration.
- This, by the way, made them the conservatives of their day.
Josephus also has some insight for us into the Sadducees.
- “The Sadducees, he says, will have nothing to do with ‘the persistence of the soul after death, penalties in the underworld, and rewards’” – N.T. Wright.
- “More specifically, ‘the Sadducees hold that the soul perishes along with the body’” – N.T. Wright.
(5) Pharisees and Rabbis (their “heirs and successors” post 70 AD):
As we consider the beliefs of the Pharisees, we must be aware that it is from this tradition that Paul’s initial views of resurrection were formed.
- As N.T. Wright puts it, “That is where Paul started” – JETS, 2011.
- I don’t think it a coincidence that Jesus chose a Pharisee to articulate the radical changes and implications Easter Sunday brought to bear on resurrection.
It goes without saying that the Pharisees embraced the idea of resurrection.
- “The resurrection is assumed to be the ultimate prize, the reward for a life of holiness and Torah-observance” – N.T. Wright.
- They believed that resurrection would occur “in the age to come” when all things would be put right – people, land, nation, return, restoration and resurrection.
- Some, it appears, believed the resurrection would occur only in Jerusalem or the Holy Land.
- All believed that the God of Israel who had the power to create, give Abraham and Sarah a child, and lead Israel out of Egypt also had the power to resurrect.
- Resurrection, “will be caused by YHWH’s power and spirit” – N.T. Wright.
They, like any resurrection believing Jew, had a 2-stage view of death.
- They believed in an afterlife (the intermediate state before resurrection), but it wasn’t the major concern and lacked detailed development.
- “The dead were alive in some intermediate state, place or manner”, is about as specific as we can get – N.T. Wright.
- There are allusions to souls residing in a “temporary Paradise” or, oddly enough, “being stored away in cupboards” – N.T. Wright.
In their liturgical prayer books, there are countless references to resurrection.
- This example is from Amidah’s “the liturgy for the Day of Atonement” and it reads “‘Thou art also faithful to revive the dead. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who revivest the dead’” – N.T. Wright.
The Targums also convey some very specific info about their resurrection beliefs.
- The Targums are “interpretive renderings” of the OT into Aramaic – Bruce Metzger.
- N.T. Wright highlights an example of resurrection belief found in the rendering of Hosea 6:2.
- He says, “the Masoretic text has ‘After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his presence’, the Targum has ‘He will revive us for the days of consolation which are to come; on the day of the resurrection of the dead he will raise us and we shall live in his presence’” – N.T. Wright.
And another example is found in how the Targum renders Job 14:12, which in the MT seems to rule out resurrection.
- Job 14:12 (ESV) — 12 so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.
- This text “has been altered in the Targum, as in the LXX, so that it only denies the future life of the wicked, leaving the way clear for a resurrection of the righteous” – N.T. Wright.
And it was the Pharisees who attempted to answer the questions raised by resurrection (pun intended).
- There were three main questions addressed in Pharisaic/Rabbi discourse.
- “How will YHWH accomplish it? What will the body be like (clothed or naked; the same or changed)? and, particularly, which texts in the Bible predict it?” – N.T. Wright.
With respect to the 1st question, “…some sort of continuing personal identity, however hard it may be to describe, is necessary if the person being raised at the last day is…to be identical with the person who has died” – N.T. Wright.
- There are even traditions that say that those who died with deformities will be resurrected with them so that they can be recognized.
- But then later they will be fully restored.
Another question was what of those righteous that died outside of Jerusalem?
- The apparent theory was that, “the bones of Jews buried outside the Holy Land would roll through underground tunnels in order to arrive there for the resurrection” – N.T. Wright.
- They even had theories on what happened to the person whose bones had been burned up.
- The power of God to create bones from clay was often cited.
Wright even says that, “there is every reason to suppose that belief in the importance of the bones for future resurrection played a significant part” in changes made to how the guilty were executed.
- This was because, “The body was important, and its most durable parts, the bones, were to be rescued from destruction” – N.T. Wright.
- Therefore, for example, “stoning was moderated”; the guilty were sometimes executed by “forcing burning liquid down their throat”; cremation was avoided.
And what of the question about which OT texts speak of resurrection.
- This was “the key question which the Sadducees pressed on the Pharisees (and, it appears, on Jesus)” – N.T. Wright.
- Specifically, “Can you find resurrection in the Torah itself?” – N.T. Wright.
One example of how the Pharisees would answer this question was by citing Deuteronomy 11:9.
- Deuteronomy 11:9 (ESV) — 9 and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey.
- Their logic was that “YHWH swore to the patriarchs that he would give the land to them, not merely to their descendants, the oath could only be fulfilled by their being raised from the dead” – N.T. Wright.
- This is similar to Jesus’ response to the Sadducees criticism of resurrection.
- “He is not God of the dead, but of the living” – Matt. 12:27.
NT Picture of Pharisee-Sadducee Polemic:
Acts 23:6–9 (ESV) — 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Br`others, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?”
As we have seen, Luke confirms for us that the Sadducees believed in neither:
- (1) Life after ‘life after death’ (resurrection) – “there is no resurrection” (vs. 8)
- (2) ‘Life after death’ – “nor angel, nor spirit” (vs. 8)
- The Sadducees believed in angels or spirits, by the way, but not that dead people were angels and spirits.
- “They did not deny the existence of angels or spirits, but they denied that the dead were in a state that could be so described” – N.T. Wright.
And Luke confirms that:
- “the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (vs. 8)
But note what else Luke show us.
- Even though the Pharisees believed in resurrection, ““They do not suppose for a moment that Paul has actually been a witness of the resurrection itself; that is out of the question as far as they are concerned” – N.T. Wright.
- This is because, as we have seen, resurrection, “will take place at a future date when all the righteous dead are raised to share God’s new world” – N.T. Wright.
- This is why they suggest that Jesus presented Himself to Paul during the disembodied intermediate state as “a spirit or an angel” (vs. 9).
- “He may perhaps have had a visitation from someone who, though not yet bodily raised, is presently in the intermediate state between death and resurrection” – N.T. Wright.
- For them, had Jesus been bodily resurrected, all the righteous Jews from Israel’s history would have also been resurrected and Israel’s glory would have been restored.
2) THE STATE OF JEWISH RESURRECTION ON GOOD FRIDAY
It will help us now to summarize all that we have discussed thus far.
“From several angles at once we are confronted with overwhelming evidence that the small seed of Daniel 12.2-3, and the other Old Testament passages we looked at earlier, had grown into a large shrub” – N.T. Wright.
Summary Thus Far – the “Large Shrub”:
The examples we have surveyed clearly express a belief in resurrection.
- A resurrection that, “means new bodily life, a life which comes after the ‘life after death’ that dead people currently experience” – N.T. Wright.
- And this resurrection is also “both the personal hope of the righteous individual and the national hope for faithful Israel” – N.T. Wright.
- And importantly, our examples place resurrection in “…the context of God’s judgment on the wicked and his vindication of the righteous” – N.T. Wright.
“Resurrection was not a strange belief added on to the outside of first-century Judaism…resurrection had been woven into the very fabric of first-century Jewish praying, living, hoping and acting” – N.T. Wright.
“They were telling the story of an actual people and an actual land – and an actual god, YHWH, the creator, whose covenant with Israel was so unbreakable, so powerful, that he would act in a new way to restore what had been lost in the exile, namely land, Temple and national life” – Wright.
So resurrection in 2nd temple Judaism consisted of at least 10 things:
- (1) “Personal hope” of bodily resurrection for the individual.
- For example, 2 Maccabees even spoke of resurrection as the “re-embodiment [of] hands, tongues, entire bodies” – N.T. Wright.
- (2) Judgment of the wicked.
- (3) Vindication of the righteous.
- (4) A result of the power and spirit of YHWH.
But Wait, There Is More:
(5) Resurrection and the Age to Come
- The literal resurrection carried with it the idea, “…as the great event that YHWH would accomplish at the very end of ‘the present age’, the event which would constitute the ‘age to come’” – N.T. Wright.
- We will see next week that this link between resurrection and the “age to come” was very important to Paul.
- It is what he referred to when speaking of “eternal life”.
(6) Resurrection as Metaphor
- And yet, along with a literal bodily resurrection, talk of resurrection never lost its meaning as a metaphor for national return and restoration.
- “The point of the whole story, they would say, was that they would return to their land. If that hadn’t happened, the prophecy remained unfulfilled…” – N.T. Wright.
What Resurrection Was Not (or what 2nd Temple Jews didn’t say):
(7) “Nobody imagined that any individuals had already been raised, or would be raised in advance of the great last day” – N.T. Wright.
- Resurrection was always corporate in scope.
(8) “There are no traditions about prophets being raised to new bodily life; the closest we come to that is Elijah, who had gone bodily to heaven and would return to herald the new age” – N.T. Wright.
- “However important Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets may have been, nobody claimed that they were alive again in the ‘resurrection’ sense. The martyrs were honoured, venerated even; but nobody said they had been raised from the dead” – N.T. Wright.
(9) “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.
- Easter Sunday, of course, threw a wrench into this scheme.
(10) Because resurrection has not happened, it is not yet the “age to come”.
- “It is still ‘the present age’” – N.T. Wright.
All of these give us the Jewish resurrection background in which Easter Sunday occurred.
- They give us an idea as to what Martha thought of when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24).
- And they tell us, importantly, what Saul the Pharisee believed about the resurrection up until his Damascus road experience.
Rabbit Trail – The Issue of Lazarus:
Was his a resurrection?
- Armed with this information, we can now answer this question.
- The best description would be to consider it an “extended healing” or “resuscitation, like Jairus’ daughter” not a resurrection – N.T. Wright.
- Lazarus’ new life was a “starting off again in exactly the same kind of world as at present” – N.T. Wright.
- The age to come had not dawned.
- The other righteous Jews had not resurrected.
- There was no judgment of pagan enemies and vindication of righteous Jews.
- He will die again.
And interestingly John tells us that Lazarus came out of the grave “bound”.
- John 11:44 (ESV) — 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
- Furthermore, Lazarus required assistance to be free of his grave clothes.
- “Unbind him, and let him go.”
- The resurrection body in the “age to come” will not be “bound”.
- Wright suggests that with this language John wants to differentiate this “extended healing” from Jesus’ resurrection.
- He says, “John intends the reader to see this incident as a signpost, but only a signpost, of what is to come” – N.T. Wright.
- It is worth mentioning then, that neither Saul nor Paul would have seen Lazarus’ rising as a resurrection in either the literal Jewish sense or Christian sense.
“The world of Judaism had generated, from its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead. But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden” – N.T. Wright.
And, as we have been hinted at over the last few weeks, all these developing threads of resurrection seemed to be converging at just the right time – the Sunday after Passover week within a context of 2nd Temple Judaism.
- All the categories of resurrection for Easter Sunday to fill and even explode were in place.
- We will see next time, from Paul, what exactly this “well-stocked garden” of Jesus’ resurrection contained.
- And, importantly, why Paul’s view of resurrection contains the most practical implications for the Christian life of almost any other doctrine.