Resurrection



  • "Of course the resurrection narratives are mythological. Dead bodies do not walk out of tombs three days after execution."
  • (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 281).



Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, preached Jesus as risen from the dead:

"Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses." (Acts 2:22-32).

This most fundamental Christian proclamation is denied by various parties for various reasons, including some who claim they are nonetheless Christians, that this proclamation is either not important, or does not mean what it appears on the surface to mean. The Bible passages addressing this matter however are not ambiguous.


Spirit Person The First and the Last
Elijah Dispose of the Body
Raise the Temple The Old Testament
Almost Persuaded Intermediate State
The Competition


Spirit Person

The Watchtower Society says: "The flesh of a sacrifice is always disposed of and put out of existence, so not corrupting...Accordingly, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead as a spirit person and not in the fleshly body in which he died as a human sacrifice." ("Things in Which it is Impossible for God to Lie," Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1965, pp. 354-356). Is this what the Bible says?:

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  • “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
  • (Luke 24:39)


  • “The other disciples therefore said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' So he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.' And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace to you!' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.'”
  • (John 20:25-27).





Carl Heinrich Bloch, Resurrection



The First and the Last

Who arose? The First and the Last:

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  • "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
    'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:. . .'"
  • (Revelation 2:8).




Elijah

The Jehovah's Witnesses point to post-resurrection appearances where the Lord was suddenly within a room as proof that His resurrection body was only apparent. But Elijah did similar things, and no one questions that he was a man with a man's body: "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." (James 5:17).

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  • "And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth."
  • (1 Kings 18:12).




Matthew 28:9


Dispose of the Body

When we love people, we care for their remains tenderly and respectfully. We don't discard them. Where did God the Father dispose of His beloved Son's remains? Is there a plaque at the location?

The 'free-thinker' Reimarus realizes that, if Jesus did not rise from the grave as the gospels teach, then there is some fancy foot-work going on:

"Above all things, it was necessary to get rid of the body of Jesus as speedily as possible, in order that they might say he had arisen and ascended into heaven, and would promptly return from thence with great power and glory. This design of disposing of the body of Jesus was easy to carry out. . .They betray themselves by owning that anyone might have secretly removed the body." (Reimarus, Fragments of Reimarus, The Worldly Ambition of the Apostles, Kindle location 880).

Certainly adherents of alternative theories must give some account of what happened to the body, and explain how it is psychologically possible to 'get rid of' the remains of one beloved. As murderers discover, it can be hard to dispose of a corpse; they rise to the surface. So where is it? Did it dissolve into gases?:

“Our Lord's human body was, however, supernaturally removed from the tomb; because had it remained there it would have been an insurmountable obstacle to the faith of the disciples, who were not yet instructed in spiritual things — for ‘the spirit was not yet given.’ (John 7:39) We know nothing about what became of it, except that it did not decay or corrupt. (Acts 2:27, 31) Whether it was dissolved into gasses or whether it is still preserved somewhere as the grand memorial of God’s love, of Christ's obedience, and of our redemption, no one knows; — nor is such knowledge necessary” (The Time Is at Hand, 1889, 1915 ed., p. 129). (quoted p. 24, The Jehovah's Witnesses, by David W. Cloud).

It is distressing to learn that "we know nohing about what became of it," given that Jesus is the first-fruits of those who sleep, and as goes His rising from the tomb, so goes ours.

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Raise the Temple

Jesus prophesied His resurrection in these words:

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said." (John 2:19-22).

The Lord said, the "temple" will be raised. John explains by this He meant His body. This prophecy falls to the ground if there is no bodily resurrection.

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The Old Testament

The Old Testament as well as the new prophesied a coming resurrection: "Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust;. . ." (Isaiah 26:19). Daniel and Ezekiel also prophesied the resurrection in the flesh:



  • "Again He said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, "O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.'"'
  • "So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
    Also He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, "Thus says the Lord GOD: 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.'"' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
  • "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, "Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!" Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.'"
  • (Ezekiel 37:4-14).








  • "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt."
  • (Daniel 12:2).



These prophecies found their first full fulfillment when Jesus rose from the tomb, never to die again: "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23). "Here was priority in time. Though the fact of resurrection had been plainly taught in the Old Testament, its land of joy and song was all untrodden till the pierced feet of the Son of God began their triumphal march from the tomb." (H. C. Hewlett, The Glories of Our Lord, p. 104).

Job looked forward to the day when, "in my flesh shall I see God:" "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." (Job 19:25-26).

On a more esoteric note, the Rabbis found a promise of the resurrection in most unpromising territory:

"It has been taught: R. Simai said: Whence do we learn resurrection from the Torah? — From the verse, And I also have established my covenant with them, [sc. the Patriarchs] to give them the land of Canaan: '[to give] you' is not said, but 'to give them' [personally]; thus resurrection is proved from the Torah." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 90b.)

This comes from Exodus 6:3-4: "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers;" the Rabbi's concept being, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with whom God had entered into covenant, had never in their earthly lives enjoyed the benefits of the covenant; they wandered here and there as frightened children, never coming into possession of the land. So surely that was to come.

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Almost Persuaded

Some people say that, although the resurrection is an event that could not have been photographed, in some metaphorical sense it sorta kinda happened:

"In its most common form, this preunderstanding sees the stories as historically factual reports. Reading the stories carefully discloses differences in details, but these are seen as the product of multiple witnesses. . .This way of seeing the Easter stories affirms what might be called their public factuality; that is, anybody who was there would have experienced what is reported. You or I (or Pilate) would have seen the empty tomb and the risen Jesus talking to Mary Magdalene, appearing to his disciples, inviting Thomas to touch the wounds in his body, eating breakfast with them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and so forth. Public factuality means that the events could have been photographed or videotaped, had these technologies been available then. . .But focusing on the public factuality of the Easter stories risk missing their meanings." (Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus,' pp. 275-276).

No doubt when the trumpet sounds and it comes time for these folks to rise from the grave, they will imitate their precursor in remaining there, while other people enjoy hallucinatory experiences. Is there a circle of Dante's hell like that? Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." (1 Corinthians 15:20). His bodily resurrection is the pattern and guarantee for our own. If His is understood or imagined to be temporary, partial, and unreal, then so will our promised resurrection be.




Acts 2:31


Some, like the gnostics, do after a fashion believe the Bible promise, but expect a spiritual resurrection only:

"Some ask whether one will be saved immediately, if the body is left behind. Let no one doubt. The visible parts of the body that are dead will not be saved. Only the living parts that exist inside will rise. What is the resurrection? It is the revelation of those who have risen." (The Treatise on Resurrection, The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p. 330).

They believe they find support for this in Paul:



  • “But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
  • “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
    There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
    So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
  • “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
  • “O Death, where is your sting?
    O Hades, where is your victory?”
  • “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • (1 Corinthians 15:35-57).




Paul is not denying a physical resurrection. Our resurrection bodies will not inexorably tend downward toward the grave as our present bodies. The principles of nature will be upended; entropy will not gain the victory in the end, our bodies will hold intact forever. When Paul talks about 'spirit' and 'flesh,' he is talking about the ruling principle, not the 'stuff' of which our bodies are made. Or are believers now bodiless?:

"For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death." (Romans 7:5)
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Intermediate State

The resurrection in the flesh hasn't happened yet. Where are the dead now?:




Biblically, there is an 'intermediate state,' meaning the believer's life condition between death and resurrection. In Christian thought, this state is understood to be temporary: believers who trust in the Lord's promise of eternal life do not look forward to an eternity as disembodied spirits. Throughout the Christian era, there has been continuous pressure deforming the Christian understanding away from Biblical teaching and toward the direction of the pagan philosopher Plato. This worthy believed in the immortality of the soul, but took a dim view of matter generally and human flesh in particular. Plato and Pythagoras naturalized, in the West, the default Eastern assumption of reincarnation. What goes along with this paradigm: that the body is the prison-house of the soul, that casting aside the body is liberation, is not Biblical thinking: "For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." (2 Corinthians 5:4).

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The Competition

A competing vision, the transmigration of souls, attracted a sizeable constituency in the ancient world owing to the evangelism of Pythagoras and Plato. The people called Gnostics were drawn in this direction. Owing to their devaluation of the human body, and matter generally, they were bound to perceive resurrection in the flesh as a threat rather than a promise. However, they were also committed, by the same complex of thoughts, to belief in a bare minimum of two deities: one, the good God who sent Jesus Christ, the other, the bad god, who created matter in the first place:

"Rejecting dualism, the monotheist was committed to bodily resurrection." (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity, Kindle location 759).
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There are even nominal Christians,— certainly 'Christian Science' is nominally Christian,— who hold to some competing paradigm, if not reincarnation:

"To be on communicable terms with Spirit, persons must be free from organic bodies; and their return to a material condition, after having once left it, would be as impossible as would be the restoration to its original condition of the acorn, already absorbed into a sprout which has risen above the soil. . .When here or hereafter the belief of life in matter is extinct, the error which has held the belief dissolves with the belief, and never returns to the old condition. . .In Christian Science there is never a retrograde step, never a return to positions outgrown." (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, with Keys to the Scripture, Chapter IV, Kindle location 984-994).

This 'Christian Science' alternative seems to have made many converts even outside that little fold; many 'liberal' Christians today, if they believe in an after-life at all, believe in Mrs. Eddy's promised purely spiritual condition. Mrs. Eddy believed matter to be illusory, and somehow she persuaded herself that the historical fact that a man walked out of an empty tomb, in the flesh, proved it:

"In his resurrection and ascension, Jesus showed that a mortal man is not the real essence of manhood, and that this unreal material mortality disappears in presence of the reality." (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, with Keys to the Scripture, Chapter X, Kindle location 3717).
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