Over the last two weeks we have seen how Jesus Himself, and those who proclaimed Him, began to modify their Jewish two-stage view of death.
- Jesus radically taught that He was the hinge on which resurrection turned in the history of Israel.
- Jesus radically taught that the Gentiles would play as predominant a role as the Jews in the judgment that would follow resurrection.
- Peter and Paul demonstrated by their proclamation of resurrection as the Gospel that resurrection moved from the periphery of Jewish theology to the very center of Christian theology.
- In Acts, where they proclaimed the Gospel, they proclaimed resurrection
- That this “centering” was going on was also evidenced by the fact that specific examples of their persecution were attributed to resurrection.
- We saw this clearly when we discussed the “Direct Opposition” resurrection evoked from unbelievers.
Today, we continue to explore the impact Easter Sunday had on the Jewish view of resurrection.
- As we said last week, this is where we get into the “Dramatic Modifications” Christian resurrection made to its Jewish counterpart.
- And this involves both facets of the Jewish two-stage view of death.
- I want to briefly look at Paul’s view of the first stage, the intermediate stage – heaven.
- And then, over the next couple of weeks, we will look at his profound teaching on the second-stage – resurrection.
Before we begin, I want to raise a point now, then again at the end.
- It is my belief that our brand of evangelical Christianity overemphasizes heaven at the expense of resurrection.
- This has conditioned us to escape the world instead of transform it.
- And in this respect, we have more in common with pagan thought than Jewish/Christian thought.
- We speak of our disembodied existence as if it is superior to our coming resurrected bodily existence.
- Read on to see why.
1) HEAVEN VS. SHEOL – THE FIRST STAGE
The first-stage view of death for the Jew was characterized as follows:
- It was physical death which was described as being asleep in the dust or in Sheol.
- We saw that some views elaborated on this first-stage.
- They ranged from being at rest all the way to some type of conscious existence.
For example, we saw:
- Either it was as simple as the fact that “the dead are ‘asleep with the ancestors’” – Wright.
- And “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.
- And as we saw then, this continuing life was not nearly as developed as the pagans.
We looked at a variety of texts that suggested 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.
- This means, of course, that the dead were “not completely non-existent…” – Wright.
- “But their normal condition was to be asleep” – Wright.
Christian Redefinition Intro:
Sheol, Judaism’s first-stage, is what the NT refers to as heaven, Christianity’s first-stage.
- There are some obvious and significant differences between these “first-stages”.
- But, surprisingly, there was one similarity we will talk about.
We will hang out mainly with Paul as we sort this stuff out.
- He provides us with at least two explicit texts on the Christian view of the first-stage of death – heaven.
Obvious and Significant Differences – Heaven – A Better Place:
(1) Philippians 1:18–24 (ESV) — 18b Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Paul is discussing the pros and cons of continuing to endure physical hardship for the sake of the Gospel.
- In verse 12 he concedes that, though he is imprisoned, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”.
- In verse 16 he concedes that he is has been tasked with, “the defense of the gospel”.
- But he is clearly weary of his suffering – “my desire is to depart”.
- And it is in this context that he articulates a truth about the first stage of death far more specific than Pharisaic views.
- He tells us that if he were to die, he would “be with Christ”.
- The Messiah – Israel’s King and Deliverer
- Not what the Jew had in mind at all
And knowing that Christ ascended into heaven and was exalted to the right hand of the Father…
- Mark 16:19 (ESV) — 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
- Paul is telling us the location of “life after death” – heaven.
- He even tells us that this life is “far better”.
We must remember that the circumstances Paul is describing – a vindicated, exalted Messiah in heaven – were precipitated by the resurrection of the Messiah.
- No resurrection – no vindication.
- No resurrection – no exaltation to heaven.
The second text comes after some very strange sounding teaching, which we will come back to momentarily.
(2) 2 Corinthians 5:6–10 (ESV) — 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Paul speaks of a preference for being in the presence of God instead of in the present body.
- He says, “we would rather be” (vs. 8) with reference to being at home with the Lord.
- And we of course know that the Lord’s home is currently heaven.
And interestingly, he teaches that the expectation of being “at home with the Lord” should impact our Christian living now – “make it our aim to please him” and to aware of “what he has done in the body”.
- Paul expresses this same sentiment elsewhere, for example…
- Ephesians 2:6 (ESV) — 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
- The believer is currently, in a sense, “raised” and “seated” with Jesus in heaven.
- We should therefore walk accordingly.
Summary of “A Better Place”:
So in these texts we see a first-stage, “life after death”, that is…
- A place better than our current fleshly home
- A place in the presence of Jesus Christ – the risen Lord, King, Savior and Messiah.
- A place that carries with it a motivation for Christian living because we are…
- Metaphorically “raised” to and “seated” in it while still alive here.
- All of these differ from the typical Jewish first-stage.
Obvious and Significant Differences – Heaven – Future Purposes Stored Up:
There exists within the NT a characterization of heaven as the place where the future purposes of the age to come are “stored up”.
- In other words, heaven contains the future that will break into our present – eschatology.
- One of these future purposes, the one that pertains to us, is resurrection (the promise, the power, etc. – not the actual physical body).
- Paul captures the idea of this future purpose in Romans 8.
- We will start there and then relate it to our point by looking at other texts.
- In all the following texts, pay attention to the emphasis on the future breaking in to the present!
Romans 8:11 (ESV) — 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Romans 8:16–17 (ESV) — 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- Here Paul explains the work of the Spirit both now and in the future.
- By the Spirit we are right NOW…
- Children of God
- Heirs of God
- Heirs with Christ
- Suffering with Him
And because of the NOW we are assured to participate in the glory of Christ in the FUTURE.
- Here is where it gets exciting.
- The glory that Paul is speaking of here is the incorruptible resurrection body.
- It is the resurrection that he speaks of in verse 11.
How do we know this?
- Paul goes on in Romans 8 to speak of creation being set free of corruption.
- He says creation is groaning now, but will obtain freedom – when it is recreated and put right in the age to come.
- Paul also says we are groaning.
- But the groaning will end with the “redemption of our bodies” (vs. 23).
- Again, the thing that will happen in the future age to come.
- The “redemption of our bodies” is resurrection.
This is spelled out in detail in Paul’s awesome resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15.
- 1 Corinthians 15:53–55 (ESV) — 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Our future resurrection will be our actual participation in the glory of Jesus’ resurrection.
- It will be when the groaning of God’s good, but fallen creation is put right.
- It will be when death for us is finally defeated once and for all.
So what does this have to do with heaven?
- Because these future events have to originate from somewhere.
- And Paul (and others) teaches us that this somewhere is heaven.
Heaven is the place where our future resurrection is “stored up” – N.T. Wright.
This is the second significant difference with Judaism’s first-stage of death.
- The Christian first-stage is where an awesome eschatological future is “stored up” – resurrection.
- Judgment is also “stored up” in heaven – Revelation 19:11-16.
- As are many other things.
Examples of the Stored Up Future Hope of Resurrection in the NT:
(1) 1 Peter 1:3–5 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(2) Philippians 3:20–21 (ESV) — 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
(3) 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17 (ESV) — 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord [from heaven], will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
(4) 2 Corinthians 5:1–5 (ESV) — 1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
- This strange sounding text relates entirely to, “the future promise of the resurrection body” – N.T. Wright.
“Here he says that we who are in the present body are longing to ‘put on over the top’ the new body, the new ‘dwelling’ (5.2, 4). In the analogy in 1 Corinthians 15.37, he spoke of the seed as being ‘naked’ when planted, but given a new body by God; so here (5.3) he speaks of the longing of present human beings not to be found ‘naked’, but to be more fully clothed” – N.T. Wright.
- Fully clothed in the resurrection body.
Summary of Future Purposes Stored Up:
- Heaven contains our future it
- Heaven is not the end for us.
- It is from heaven that all things will be put right.
- It is from heaven that the promises of God will break into the present.
- And this future is resurrection – the second-stage of life after death, or, “life after ‘life after death’”.
Surprising Similarity – Heaven and Sheol:
The surprising similarity can be articulated as follows…
- The Jew’s main hope and focus was people, nation and land, and later, the resurrection of the body as well.
- Their main hope was not “life after death”.
Paul’s main hope was the future resurrection (“life after ‘life after death’”) of the body when all would be put right – including creation.
- His main hope was not “life after death” – heaven.
How do we know this?
- Both his Gospel proclamations from last week and his letters are saturated with resurrection.
- He speaks of resurrection at least 63 times – probably more (often uses metaphorical language that is hard to search for).
- Raised (egeiro), Appeared (horao), Resurrection (anastasis)
- And he explicitly speaks of our future in heaven less than 5 or so (that I could find).
- He does speak of heaven some 33 times or so, but most have to do with Jesus’ location, descending from heaven, and various things coming from heaven or “stored up” in heaven.
Additionally, his very life was transformed by witnessing the raised Jesus Christ.
- And, importantly, as we saw last week in Acts with our “Direct Opposition” material, much of his suffering and persecution was due to resurrection.
And he wasn’t the only one.
- His description of Gospel as resurrection to Timothy…
- 2 Timothy 2:8–9 (NRSV) — 8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.
- And to the church at Corinth…
- 1 Corinthians 15:1 (ESV) — 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
- At which time Paul goes on to talk of resurrection for 58 verses.
- Was not lost on the early church.
“We should not forget that when Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons he was replacing the bishop who had died in a fierce persecution; and that one of the themes of that persecution was the Christians’ tenacious hold on the belief in bodily resurrection. Details of the martyrdom are found in the letter from the churches of Vienne and Lyons to those of Asia and Phrygia. The letter describes how in some cases the torturers burnt the bodies and scattered the ashes into the Rhone, so that no relic of the martyrs might still be seen on earth. This they did, says the writer, ‘as though they were capable of conquering god, and taking away their rebirth’. He quotes the torturers as saying…that the aim is to prevent the Christians from having any hope of resurrection: ‘because through trusting in this, they have introduced strange and new worship, and have despised terrors, going to death readily and joyfully. Now let us see if they will rise again, and if their god is powerful enough to help them, and to snatch them out of our hands.’” – N.T. Wright
Why would pagans persecute Christians over resurrection?
- (1) The Idea of bodily resurrection itself. They felt the body was to be shed. The physical world was to be escaped. But Christians taught that because God created the physical and the flesh, he valued it and would redeem it all.
- (2) Jesus was raised from the dead, and vindicated as King in the kingdom of God – just as Christians will be raised and vindicated. And with this resurrection will be the judgment of the unrighteous – those that persecute Christians. They will be judged and condemned and their kingdom overthrown. And Christians will be reigning with Christ forever in His actual, physical Kingdom on the new earth.
- (3) And because of their certainty of this outcome, as found in Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of resurrection, they were willing to die.
Has western Christianity mistakenly overemphasized heaven over resurrection?
- Are we more impotent as a result?
- The early church believed so strongly that things would be put right in the age to come through their resurrection that they boldly proclaimed the gospel and died for it.
- Their persecutors both in Acts and in the letter above said as much.
- Paul and his heirs died over resurrection, not over heaven.
Perhaps overemphasizing heaven at the expense of resurrection has conditioned us to escape the world instead of transform it.