The Western world having discounted any life beyond the existential "now" is forced by its own empirical standard to perceive death as the ultimate cul-de-sac, the inglorious finality that has so rudely interrupted our ever-inventive modernity. This state of complete immersion in secularism has made the calendar, and all we can expunge from its days, the essence of life. "For secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity, must be understood in light of this present time. The secularist either flatly denies or remains utterly skeptical about the eternal. He either says there is no eternal or if there is, we can know nothing about it. What matters is now and only now. All access to the above and the beyond is blocked. There is no exit from the confines of this present world. The secular is all that we have. We must make our decisions, live our lives, make our plans, all within the closed arena of this time-the here and now." (R. C. Sproul, Lifeviews, Understanding the Ideas that Shape Society Today, p. 35)
Encased within a world in which man principally places value upon life that can be observed and experienced, he stands upon a mole hill and looks up to the heavens and shouts, "There can be no afterlife, resurrection or eternity, for I cannot prove it." In his arrogant ignorance man believes that such hope must be a figment of the imagination engendered by a religious conscience infused by superstition. Yet, the fact remains that this standard of measurement, otherwise known as modern Empirical man, can conceive of eternity, of a realm of existence that transcends the temporality of his sequestered life. The conception of eternity gnaws at his conscience with a succession of aspirations, "There might be, there could be, there must be, a life beyond the swift passing of time." The aspiration-conceptional ability to conceive of life beyond the temporal is implanted within the heart of everyone by God, "He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end." (Eccles. 3:11) God has put an indefatigable provocation in the heart of man; the conceptual ability to reflect and visualize that there is eternal life transcending this limited, circumscribed, enclosed domain. "Man: made for eternity," is inscribed on every heart. "God has placed in the inborn constitution of man the capability of conceiving of eternity, the struggle to apprehend the everlasting, the longing after an eternal life." (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, VI, sect. 2, p. 475) Man can think beyond his day, probe beyond the calendar years, and conceive of a life that never ends. This capacity, though repressed by man's rootage to a passing age, never fully allows him to be completely absorbed in the fleeting "now", without an inner troubling that provokes questions regarding ultimacy in the midst of the transitory. "...we have a capacity for eternal things, are concerned about the future, want to understand 'from the beginning to the end,' and have a sense of something which transcends our immediate situation." (Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 81) The Divine intention in creating man for eternity incessantly counters the downward drag of our sinful nature, inclining our eyes out from this dying world to pierce upward into heaven. "God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity." (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23) God has put the capacity to conceptualize eternity in the mind and heart. "God puts eternity into human minds, i.e., gives humans a sense that divine activity determines events beyond what they can see and understand, and so defines for them the limits of their reason." (Peter Machinist, The Jewish Study Bible, p. 1610)
The immortality of the soul and the reality of eternity is denigrated by man as untenable because his finite microscope cannot examine the unseen. Thus man is perpetually trapped within the circularity of reasoning which futilely disavows any qualities or reality which it cannot physically verify. From this perspective, man cannot accurately judge anything outside his micro-domain, for he has no evidence at all in which to render a verdict. But in his hubris, for even his stupidity doesn't stop him, assertions are made that reject any possibility of life beyond the degenerating present. Man is trapped within the tissue-thin layer of his own circular, unverifiable assertions, "When you're dead, you're dead, dead men can't live again, so obviously life beyond the grave, the resurrection of the dead and especially the resurrection of Jesus are manufactured legends from a religious imagination because when you're dead you're dead, dead men can't..." thus the futile circle of imbecility continues. When death is deemed the end of life with no prospect of immortality, then life is extracted of its only enduring value and worth, it is meaningless at its core. To live with the secularistic mantra "when you're dead you're dead," is to exist by tenaciously surviving another day. Life is thus emptied of all ultimate meaning. It is a cruel and mocking joke to the prisoners of time who demand everything from the next moment for they have repudiated all reality beyond the next nanosecond.
"When He rose from the dead did they believe?
When He rose from the dead did they believe?
He said, 'All power is given to Me on heaven and on earth.'
Did they know right then and there what that power was worth?
When He rose from the dead did they believe?
When He rose from the dead did they believe?"--Bob Dylan
The captive of time enwraps himself in a cocoon of cacophonous voices that postulate fanciful theories of the resurrection of Jesus (the Unknown Tomb theory, Wrong Tomb theory, Legend theory, Spiritual Resurrection theory, and the Hallucination theory), to justify unbelief in eternity and categorize Jesus Christ as a liar of megamyth proportions. The hackneyed defamations of Christ reveal a circumscribed philosophic silhouette that cannot contain the transcendent declarations of Jesus. Jesus declared that the sovereign nature of His character (see Daniel 7:13-14, the Son of Man in exalted glory, Matt. 12:39-40, Mk. 10:33, Luke 18:31ff, John 5:25-29) and virtue of his sacrifice (Matt. 20:28, Mk. 10:45, John 1:29, 36) would triumph over death. He spoke in absolutes without a centilla of equivocation. He left no room for vagary and based his messianic claims on his own personal resurrection. Jesus was without precedent in declaring his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection to follow (Matt. 12:40, 16:21, 17:9, 22-23, 20:18-19, 27:63, Mk. 9:31, Lk. 9:22, 18:32-33, 24:5-7, 45-46, Jn. 2:19). No classical definition of a liar can accommodate the accolade of a "good moral teacher" or "a good man who was deceived." Liars cannot be paradigms of virtue. The virus of falsehood would permeate all that is taught and promised. Either the Prophets, the early Rabbis, Jesus, and the Evangelists were lying frauds or their declarations affirming bodily resurrection were true. "To blame the rabbis and evangelists for deception or to accuse them of lying would have been as foreign to the Jews and Jewish Christians of that time (First Century) as an accusation of 'embellishment' against Van Gogh or, of the corruption of history against Shakespeare's Macbeth would be to us." (Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus from a Jewish Perspective, p. 109).
Throughout history the faithful Jew maintains belief in the resurrection of the dead as the eschatological hope of the ages. "No aspect of the subject of the hereafter is so important a place in the religious teaching of the rabbis as the doctrine of the resurrection. It became with them an article of faith the denial of which was condemned as sinful; and they declared: 'Since a person repudiated belief in resurrection of the dead, he will have no share in the resurrection (Talmud of Bab. Sanh. 90a).'" (Everyman's Talmud, A. Cohen, p. 357). The Jew and Gentile who embrace Jesus as Messiah perceive the death and resurrection of Christ as the signal act in conquering death and securing their eternal redemption (Job 19:25-27, Isa. 25:7-8, 26:19, Ezek. 37:1-14, Dan. 12:2, Hos. 6:1-2, Acts 23:6, 24:15, Rom. 1:4, 6:5, Phil. 3:10, I Pet. 1:3, 3:21). "In the publicly recieved tradition of Israel (what a later generation would dub "canonical") no one had hitherto been raised from the dead to eternal life, and so this claim of faith about Jesus had an enormous import. Besides heralding a victory over death, God's raising of Jesus to glory vindicated both the origin and the truth of the authority/power that he had claimed and manifested. His followers who saw the risen Jesus realized that he was even more than they had understood during his public ministry. The resurrection, therefore, makes it very difficult to explain away as romanticized creation the more explicit Christology attested after the resurrection." (Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, p. 105).
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and souls' delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison,war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou, then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.--John Donne, Death be not Proud
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain (Gk. kenos, "empty, hollow, absence of reality"), your faith also is vain (Gk. kenos).--I Cor. 15:13-14
For what remains if Christ has been swallowed up by death—if he has become extinct—if he has been overwhelmed by the curse of sin—if, in fine, has been overcome by Satan? In short, if that fundamental article is subverted, all that remains will be of no moment. For the same reason he [Paul] adds, that their faith will be vain, for what solidity of faith will there be, where no hope of life is to be seen? But in the death of Christ, considered in itself, there is seen nothing but ground of despair, for he cannot be the author of salvation to others, who has been altogether vanquished by death. Let us therefore bear in mind, that the entire gospel consists mainly in the death and resurrection of Christ, so that we must direct our chief attention to this..." (John Calvin, notes on I Cor. 15:14)
It is principally assumed by Christians that the resurrection of Jesus is an event that transpired in history without any historical preparation, an event ex-nihilo, within a nation astonished by the very idea of individual resurrection. This assumption is based on the faulty presumption that resurrection was an idea alien to the Jewish community, and played no role in their hope for the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. A significant proportion of the Jewish community perceive the resurrection of Jesus as so fanciful to invalidate all that He said or did. The resurrection of Jesus is defined as a "Christian spin", a manufactured legend by the early Church to authenticate His identity and obfuscate the grand disappointment. This assumption is based on the faulty presumption; that the power of death is greater than a believing life filled with the power of God, in blatant rejection of God's promise of bodily resurrection to the believing Jew. Such unbelief ascribes a supremacy to the power of death that cannot be overcome by the almighty power of God. Both the unbelieving gentile and jewish communities discount, due to ignorance of the Old Testament witness, intertestamental literature, Mishnaic and Talmudic attestation of bodily resurrection of the dead. "The components of the idea of the resurrection were present in Biblical thought from early times. That God can revive the dead is one of His praises." (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 14, p. 97)
"The hope of the Resurrection-World appears in almost every religious utterance of Israel. It is the spring-bud on the tree, stripped by the long winter of disappointment and persecution." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 5, Ch. 4, p. 399)
"The resurrection of the dead forms a principle component of the Judaic theology of death and the afterlife. It comes to critical expression, moreover, in the liturgy of the synagogue." (Jacob Nuesner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 167)
The resurrection of Jesus occurred within the historical and religious framework of Judaism where the belief in the resurrection of the dead was held as a basic tenet of the faith of Israel. "All Israelites have a share in the world to come, as it is said, 'Your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified (Isa. 60:21).' And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come: he who says the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from the Torah, and the Torah does not come from Heaven; and an Epicurean." (Mishnah, Sanh. 10:1, J. Nuesner, The Mishnah, a New Translation, pg. 604). "They that are born are destined to die; and the dead to be brought to life again; ..." (Aboth 4:29). "Lord who art mighty for all eternity, Thou revivest the dead. Thou art great in saving power, making the wind to blow and the rain to fall, sustaining the living in love. With great love Thou revivest the dead, Thou upholdest the falling, Thou healest the sick, Thou freest the bound, keeping faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like Thee, Lord of power! Who can be compared with Thee, King who sends death and gives life, and causes His saving power to flourish! (The Shemoneh Esreh, The Eighteen Benedictions, The Traditional Prayer Book, David De Sola Pool, pg. 8). There is none of Your value, Lord, our God, in this world, and none beside You in the world to come. Nothing but You, our Redeemer in the days of the Messiah, and none like You for the resurrection of the dead. (An early Sabbath prayer, J. Hertz, Prayer Book, pg. 28). "O my God, the soul which Thou hast given me is pure. Thou didst create it within me, and Thou wilt take it from me, but wilt restore it unto me hereafter. So long as the soul is within me, I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, Sovereign of all worlds, Lord of all souls. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Who restorest souls unto dead bodies." (Ber. 60b, the first prayer one was to pray on waking every morning). "We are to remember, always, that our life here below is bounded by death, but that death, too, is only a transient phase leading to a new and different form of existence. Not only the soul is untouched by death but the body, too, is destined to live again." (Samson Raphael Hirsch, Chapters of the Fathers, pg. 74). "R. Meir ask, 'Whence is the resurrection derived from the Torah?' As it is said, 'Then will [future tense in Hebrew] Moses and the children of Israel sing this song unto the Lord' (Exodus 15:1). It is not said "sang" but "will sing"; hence the resurrection is deducible from the Torah." (Talmud of Babylon, Sanh. 91b). "R. Joshua B. Levi ask, 'Whence is the resurrection derived from the Torah?' As it is said, 'Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, they will be still praising Thee.' (Ps. 84:4). It is not stated, 'They have praised Thee' but 'Will be still praising Thee' (in the hereafter); hence the Resurrection is deducible from the Torah." (Talmud of B. Sanh. 91b). "If one keeps but one Sabbath properly, it is regarded as if he had observed all the Sabbaths from the day on which God created his world to the time of the resurrection of the dead." (Mechilta to Ex. 31:16). "All our nation agree in holding the belief in the resurrection of the dead. Since the Jew accepts the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, he can find no difficulty in holding belief in the resurrection." (Gaon Saadia, Beliefs and Opinions 7:2). "These are they who have no share in the world to come, who are cut off and destroyed and are judged on account of great wickedness and sins forever and ever. Heretics, atheists, and those who reject the Torah and deny the resurrection and the coming of a Messiah and the apostate." (Moses Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, Mishnah Torah of Maimonides, Treatise 5, Ch. 3). "And I will state that the resurrection of the dead, which is widely known by all groups among us, which is mentioned on numerous occasions, in the Tefillot, Aggadat and supplications that were composed by the Prophets and the great Sages, who fill the pages of the Talmud and the Midrashim-refers to the return of the soul to the body after it had departed." (Moses Maimonides, Treaties on the Resurrection of the Dead). "Your might, O Lord, is boundless. Your lovingkindness sustains the living, your great mercies give life to the dead. You support the falling, heal the ailing, free the fettered. You keep your faith with those that sleep in the dust. Whose power can compare with Yours? You are the Master of life and death and deliverance. Faithful are You in giving life to the dead. Praised are You, Lord, Master of life and death." (From the Liturgy of the Synagogue, The Prayers of Petition recited three times a day, translated James Harlow from Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Among the cardinal beliefs of Judaism is the resurrection of the dead; it is proclaimed as a foundational tenet of the Orthodox Jew. Bodily resurrection was essential to the believer, for life beyond the grave in fellowship with the Living God necessitated the conquest of death. "The most profound question facing Israelite thinkers concerns the fate of the Israelites at the hands of the perfectly just and merciful God. Since essential to their thought is the conviction that all creatures are answerable to their creator, and absolutely critical to their system is the fact that at the end of days the dead are raised for eternal life..." (Jacob Neusner, Recovering Judaism, p. 43). Hope for the future centered on the triumph of spirit, soul and body over the degenerating power of death. Emphasized in the above cited references, this belief within Jewish theology-eschatology runs through the Mishnaic and Talmudic literature and is reaffirmed throughout the generations by a succession of leading Rabbis and scholars. "In Rabbinic Judaism death does not mark the end of the individual human life, nor exile the last stop in the journey of Holy Israel. Israelites will live in the age or the world to come; Israel will be restored to the land of Israel; and in the end along with Israel all of humanity will know the One true God. So far as the individual is concerned, beyond the grave, at a determinate moment, a person rises from the grave in resurrection, is judged, and enjoys the world to come." (Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 165).
The belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead is as old as Judaism itself. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac at the command of God, he did it because, "He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead;..." (Heb. 11:19) Abraham, on departing with Isaac for Mount Moriah where the sacrifice of his beloved son was to take place, tells his servants that, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you." (Gen. 22:5) Abraham expresses an unshakeable confidence, that though Isaac would be sacrificed, he believed that he would return with him as he had went. Abraham's faith was founded on the Word of God, that all the promises made to him were to pass through Isaac in their further execution, "...for through Isaac your descendents shall be named." (Gen. 21:12) "This promise (Gen. 21:12) could not fail; that it was his duty to obey the command of his Maker; and that it was as easy for God to restore him to life after he had been a burnt offering, as it was for him to give him life in the beginning. Therefore he went fully purposed to offer his son, and yet confidently expecting to have him restored to life again." (Adam Clarke, 1762-1832, Methodist Theologian, Clarke's Commentary on Genesis 22:5) The Rabbis declare that at the moment of the departure for Mount Moriah, the Spirit of Prophecy entered into Abraham and he spoke more clearly than he knew. "He prophesied unconsciously that they would both return." (Rashi, 1040-1105, Master of Rabbinic literature and commentator on the Old Testament)
In Deuteronomy 32:39, God condemns Israel for trusting in the myriad illusions of the Baal cult that permeated the land of Canaan (Judges 2:11ff, 6:25, Jer. 19:5ff, Hos. 13:2). An insidious religious system that promised resurrection by the yearly battle of Baal in the underworld of winter's death. The Canaanite god Baal, was worshipped as the storm and fertility deity. As head of the territorial and climactic conditions of Canaan, he was believed to have died each year which resulted in famine, hunger and death throughout the land. Upon his resurrection, Baal resumed his position as the storm-god. Fertility and prosperity returned to the earth. Hoping to ensure earth's bounty the Canaanites would recite the death and resurrection of Baal at the autumn new year's festival (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pp. 7-12). God declares emphatically that He and He alone, controls the domain of life and death, healing and resurrection. All life and death is in His sovereign domain exclusively. "See now that I, I am He, and there is no god beside Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand." (Deut. 32:39, see also I Sam. 2:6, II Kgs. 5:7, Wisdom of Solomon 16:13, Tobit 13:2). Every god of the nations are worthless nonentities. "It is written, 'I kill and I make alive,' (Deut. 32:39). It is possible to think that death is caused by one Power and life by another, as is the usual way of the world; therefore the text continues, 'I have wounded and I heal.' As both wounding and healing are in the hands of the same Power, so are killing and reviving in the hands of the same Power. This is a refutation of those who declare that the resurrection is not taught in the Torah." (Talmud of B. Sanh. 91b, see also Pesachim 68a).
Job expresses the earliest belief in a personal resurrection, "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another. My heart faints within me." (Job 19:25-27) The Hebrew of verse 26 reads, "...and after my flesh will have been pierced (by worms, consumed by leprosy) and I shall see the Lord from within my flesh." Whatever the decomposition of Job's body in the grave, when the ultimate day of Redemption arrives he will stand upon the earth in a new body and see God, through physical eyes no less. "...the passage indicates Job's conviction that even after his body has moldered away in the grave, there will come a time in the Last Day-when his divine Redeemer stands on the soil of this earth-that from the vantage point of a post-resurrection body he will behold God." (Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pg. 241) Both the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate support the view that Job is referring to his future resurrection. "...it is Job in person who will be present at the ultimate drama." (E. Dhorme, 1880-, Commentary on the Book of Job, pg. 285) "A heretic said to Gamaliel, 'You declare that the dead will live again; but they have become dust and can dust come to life?' The Rabbi's daughter said to her father, 'Leave him to me and I will answer him. In our city are two potters, one who forms pots out of water, and the other out of clay; who of them is the more praiseworthy?' The heretic replied, 'The one who formed them from water.' She retorted, 'He who formed the human being from a liquid drop, shall He not the more easily be able to form him from clay?'" (Talmud of Babylon Sanh. 90b)
"And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time. And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken." (Isa. 25:7-8) Death, pictured as an enveloping covering and a death shroud, rests over all the nations. As the dead are wrapped in a covering and the veil of mourning is worn by the grieving loved ones, the symbol of the power of death and its sorrow is graphically portrayed. But God will ultimately remove such garments of death by "swallowing up death forever." An alternative translation is adopted in recent additions of the authorized Jewish Prayer Book, page 324, it reads, "He maketh death to vanish (in life) eternal." Death, whose appetite is insatiable, has consumed the mighty and the weak, the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, but will at last be devoured by God Almighty. "Death is here personified and represented as a devouring being, swallowing up all the generations of men; and by the resurrection of the body and the destruction of the empire of death, God is represented as swallowing him up; or that eternity gulps him down, so that he is endlessly lost and absorbed in its illimitable waste." (Adam Clarke, notes on I Cor. 15:54) Jewish writers acknowledge that this prophecy (Isa. 25:7-8), belongs to the times of the Messiah, they say that, "The Messiah shall descend from Pharez, and in his day the holy blessed God will cause death to be swallowed up, as it is said (Isa. 25:8)." (Shemot R. sect. 20. folio 121.4) "...when the King Messiah comes the holy blessed God will raise up those that sleep in the dust as it is written, 'He shall swallow up death in victory.'" (Zohar in Gen. folio 73.1) See I Cor. 15:54-57 for Messiah's triumph over the power of death. "In this world by reason of sin life is cut short. But in the world to come God will destroy death forever and wipe away tears from every face." (Tanh., Witro, sect. 17, F.127) God himself shall wipe away all tears from the redeemed. The illusion is of a "tender parent that takes a handkerchief, and wipes the face of its child, when it has been crying, and quietly comforts it." (John Gill, notes on Isa. 25:8) What infinite tenderness lies in the heart of such a loving God, Rev. 7:17, 21:4. No sorrowful memory, hurt, pain, or anything associated with the condition of the former state of life, the domain of death, will remain. For all things will be made new by the hand of God, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind." (Isa. 65:17, Rev. 21:4)
"Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits." (Isa. 26:19) This is one of the many Old Testament Scriptures from which the Rabbis prove the resurrection of the dead (T. Bab. Sanh. 90.2) "Minim (heretic) asked Rabban Gamaliel, 'How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, will resurrect the dead?' He said to them, 'It is proved from the Torah (Deut. 31:10), from the Prophets (Isa. 26:19) and from the Writings (Song of Sol. 7:9).'" (T. of Bab. Sanh. 11.1, J. Nuesner translation, Scriptures of the Oral Torah, pg. 235) The Targum renders verse 19, "Thou art He who dost quicken the dead." David Kimchi refers these words to the days of the Messiah and says, "Then many of the saints shall rise from the dead." "The song mentioned at the beginning of Isaiah 26 (vss. 1-6) terminates here (vs. 19). The prophet tells us that at the time of the ultimate redemption, the dead will sing this song, and then they will be resurrected." (David Kimchi, quoted from Isaiah, Soncino Books of the Bible, pg. 121). The rabbis believed that the 'dew of life' was a supernatural dew that would descend on the earth and bring the dead to life, as natural dew revives vegetation (Abarbanel). "For winds will go out in front of me every morning to bring the fragrance of aromatic fruits and clouds at the end of the day to distill the dew of health." (2 Baruch 29:7-8).
Since time immemorial the words of Ezekiel 37:1-14, of the resurrection of dry bones, have been read in the Synagogue on the Sabbath of Passover. There is a three-fold reference to the opening of the graves and four times there is repeated a bringing to life of the dead. Ezekiel sees in a prophetic vision the national, spiritual, and physical resurrection of all Israel. Several years ago, the Israeli archeologist Yagael Yadin discovered the only well-preserved fragment of Scripture, Ezekiel 37, carefully rolled up under the floor of the destroyed house of prayer at Masada; the mountain fortress where 900 Jewish men, women, and children committed suicide rather than submit to the Tenth Roman Legion. The suicides took place on the eve of the Passover Festival in 73 C.E. and Ezekiel 37 would have been read at that time. Such a monumental statement of resurrection was Ezekiel's prophecy to the remnant at Masada. They placed their hope in the future upon Ezekiel's vision of promise. The Talmud of Jerusalem, Tractate Sheqalim 3:3 and Ketubot 12:3, adduce Ezekiel 37:5 and 14 as proof of the resurrection. Joseph Carlebach, the Chief Rabbi of Altona, on the eve of Hitler's genocide, preached at Passover the message of redemptive hope rooted in Ezekiel's vision, "Ezekiel's vision of the resurrection belongs to the most powerful and grandiose utterances ever proclaimed by human tongue. From this vision which we read on the Sabbath of Passover in the Synagogue went out the blessed word which still today makes unnumbered hearts throb in hope and confidence. The Prophet sees a valley full of dead bones. Can they revive, these dead bones? And as the Word of God rushingly goes among them and the bones rise up and sinews grow over them and flesh comes upon them and skin is covering them, and as the Spirit of God goes into these dead bodies reviving them and every last one of them becomes alive-that, says the prophet, is a picture of the Jewish people, of these dead bones, a picture of the whole house of Israel..." (quoted from The Resurrection of Jesus, A Jewish Perspective, Pinchas Lapide, pg. 83)
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt." (Dan. 12:2) The Talmud of Babylon 90b and Sanh. 11a present Daniel 12:2 as one of many proofs from the Prophets of the resurrection of the dead and of the after life. "Raba asked, 'Whence is the Resurrection derived from the Torah? Rabina declared that it may deduced from, 'Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.' (Dan. 12:2)." These are words (Dan. 12:2) that apply to the days of the Messiah in Shemot Rabbah, sect. 15. fol. 102.4. Rabbi Ishmael (120-140 C.E.) said: "All the bodies crumble into the dust of the earth until nothing remains of the body except a spoonful of earthy matter. In the future life when the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which had become mixed with the dust of the earth, like the yeast which is mixed with dough, improves and increases and it raises up all the body. When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which has become mixed with the dust of the earth improves and increases and raises up all the body without water." (Pirke de Rabbi Elizer, XXXIV, pg. 258)
"Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him." (Hos. 6:1-2) This Scripture has been a bedrock for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. This event could not have been more plainly foretold. Paul was alluding to Hosea 6:2 when he said, "...that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." (I Cor. 15:4) Jesus specifically declares, without any element of imagery or symbolism, that he would rise from the dead on the third day (Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, Mk. 9:31, 10:34, Luke 9:22, 18:33, John 2:19). Hosea 6:2 found it's preeminent focal point in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Believers throughout the ages have stood upon the firm foundation; the finished work of Christ, the acceptance of his sacrificial sin offering and the believer's day of resurrection is thus assured. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." (I Cor. 15:20) The hope of this prophecy (Hosea 6:2) regarding the day of resurrection, was expressed by the Targum, "...He will quicken us in the days of consolation which are to come, and in the day of the resurrection of the dead he will raise us up." The "days of consolation" are understood by the Rabbis as the days of Messiah. The Rabbis often called the Messiah by the name "the Consolation" (Talmud of Babylon, tractate Chagiga, fol. 16.2, Talmud of Babylon Sanh. fol. 37.2) Within the days of the Messiah was the expected time of resurrection. The time of Messiah's Salvation is called the consolation of God (Targum on Isa. 4:3, 33:20), "...since the consolation of Israel, i.e., the resurrection, will then be a reality." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 5, pg. 792)
To the Rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic period, the whole Old Testament attested to the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead. "There is no section of the (written) Torah which does not imply the doctrine of Resurrection but we have not the capacity to expound it in this sense." (Sife Deut. sect. 306:132a) The following Scriptures were presented as proofs of this grand theme by the Rabbis: Ex. 6:4, 15:1, Num. 15:31, 18:28, Deut. 11:9, 11:21, 31:16, 32:39, 33:6, I Sam. 2:6, 28:14, II Kings 5:7, Job 10:10, Ps. 72:16, 84:5, 116:9, Isa. 4:3, 35:6, 42:5, 49:10, 52:8, 57:8, 60:21, Prov. 30:15, Eccles. 1:4, Jer. 31:8, Lam. 3:23, Dan. 12:13. Literal, physical resurrection was a fundamental tenet of Judaic theology.
"Women received back their dead by resurrection;..."--Hebrews 11:35
In the Old Testament there are three recorded resurrections from the dead. Two of them through the ministry of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The first (I Kings 17:17-24) concerns the widow at Zerephath whose son had died, "And he (Elijah) said to her, 'Give me your son.' Then he took her from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. And he called to the Lord and said, 'O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?' Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord, and said, 'O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him.' And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, 'See, your son is alive.' Then the woman said to Elijah, 'Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.'" (I Kings 17:19-24) Ecclesiasticus summarizes this astounding event, "You [Elijah] raised a corpse from death and from the grave by the word of the Most High." (Ecclus. 48:5) Josephus recounts the event as to its ongoing validity in the history of Israel, "Now this woman, of whom we spake before, that sustained the prophet, when her son was fallen into a distemper till he gave up the ghost, and appeared to be dead, came to the prophet weeping, and beating her breast with her hands, and sending out such expressions as her passions dictated to her,...he (Elijah) bid her be of good cheer, and deliver her son to him, for that he would deliver him again to her alive...and he prayed that He (God) would send again the soul of the child into him, and bring him to life again. Accordingly, God took pity on the mother and was willing to gratify the prophet, that he might not seem to have come to do her a mischief; and the child, beyond all expectation, came to life again." (Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian of the First Century, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 8, Ch. 13, para. 3) Elijah's act was seen as a precursor of a grand accomplishment to come, the conquering of death for all the redeemed. God has shown that He can raise the dead through a prophet. "You find that everything that the Holy One, blessed be He, is destined to do in the age to come He has already gone ahead and done through the righteous in this world. The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise the dead, and Elijah raised the dead." (Genesis Rabbah, LXXVII:1.1).
In the second instance of bodily resurrection recorded in the Old Testament, the woman of Shunem received her child back from the dead. "When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the Lord. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes." (II Kings 4:32-35) "...even as Elijah and Elisha, the prophets walked, through whose righteousness the dead, which are like to a man asleep, were raised;..." (Targum on Songs of Solomon 7:9).
The third Old Testament occurrence of resurrection happened to an anonymous man whose corpse came into contact with the bones of Elisha in the prophet's tomb, "And Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. And as they were burying a man behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet." (II Kings 13:20-21) The buried bones of Elisha are seen as having more life in them than in one living. A decomposing corpse that touched the bones of the prophet Elisha brought resurrection to a dead man. God dramatically demonstrates that He doesn't need a living witness to His power, for He is not limited in any respect, even to the living, to accomplish His will. Josephus records of this event, "It also happened, that at that time certain robbers cast a man, whom they had slain, into Elisha's grave, and upon his dead body coming close to Elisha's body, it revived again. And thus far have we enlarged about the actions of Elisha the prophet, both such as he did while he was alive, and how he had divine power after his death also." (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 9, Ch. 8, para. 6) The miraculous activity of Elisha is briefly sketched by Jesus ben Sirach, "Nothing was too difficult for him; even in the grave his body kept its prophetic power. In life he worked miracles, and in death his deeds were marvelous." (Ecclus. 48:13-14)
"All three resuscitations describe physical resurrection which are reported with significant sobriety. Not a single case seems to have met with unbelief in Israel..." (Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus from a Jewish Perspective, pg. 49)
The three resurrections cited above (I Kings 17:19-24, II Kings 4:32-37, 13:20-21) took place within a world steeped in the demonic illusion of Baal's death and resurrection. Their occurrences confute dramatically such a perverted, polytheistic view of reality. In two cases, a mortal man under divine authority brings God's life to a dead body and by a transmission of power, God's eternal life fills a corpse and resurrection occurs. Thus establishing afresh the truth that life and death rest in the hands of God alone. In the third instance, the bones of the prophet Elisha are seen as having more life in them than in all the pantheon of the Canaanite gods. Again this action, scathingly mocks and demeans any idea that a god, i.e., a non-entity, a system of belief energized by demonic influence, can control any aspect of life, death, or resurrection. "...Israel's miracles by Elijah and Elisha served as a polemic for God against the very powers attributed to this pagan natured deity, namely, fire (I Kings 18:17ff; II Kings 1:9-16), rain (I Kings 17:1; 18:41-46), food (I Kings 17:1-6, 8-16; II Kings 4:1ff); children (II Kings 4:14-17); revivification (I Kings 17:17-23; II Kings 4:18-37; 13:20-22),..." (Leah Bronner, The Stories of Elijah and Elisha as Polemics Against Baal Worship) God's supremacy over Baal was constantly affirmed in the miracles of the two prophets. Resurrection to life through the lives of Elijah and Elisha, "...had in part prefiguratively wrought by His prophets whatever He would fully restore in the future." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 5, Ch. 4, pg. 398) The restorations to life were a foreshadowing of the day of resurrection to come. In the words of the Shemoneh Esreh, God alone is the "Lord, who revives the dead."
"...the end of virtuous and holy men is not death but a translation and migration, and an approach to some other place of abode." (Judaeus Philo, 20 B.C.-40 C.E., renown Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Questions and Answers on Genesis I (89)
For two stellar personalities of the Old Testament period, death had no ultimate power. They were redeemed from this world, the realm of death, and translated into the eternal and heaven itself. A complete transformation had to occur in their physical constitution to fit them for the holy presence of the eternal God. "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." (Gen. 5:24) To "walk with God" (Mal. 2:6, Zech. 3:7) is a phrase that describes an intimate communion, complete openness of relationship between God and Enoch. Enoch placed his heart in God's hands and refused to allow any earthly allurement to draw it away. His whole determination of life was to live unto God, his Maker and Lord. The Targum of Jerusalem says, "Enoch worshipped in truth before the Lord." His life wholly pleased the Lord, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God." (Heb. 11:5) "These words [Gen. 5:24] may mean..., as a reward for his piety, Enoch did not meet with the ordinary fate of mortals, but, like Elijah, was taken to Heaven without the agony of death;..." (J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 18). "There was once such a man who pleased God, and God accepted him and took him while still living from among sinful men." (The Wisdom of Solomon 4:10) "Enoch pleased the Lord and was carried off to heaven,..." (Ecclus. 44:16) "No one on earth has been created to equal Enoch, for he was taken up from the earth." (Ecclus. 49:14) Enoch was translated to heaven by a change of his body and soul from mortal to immortal. The transformation of Enoch's body is described in the conversation that he has with Rabbi Ishmael in the Haggadah. "The Eternal, blessed be His name, removed me from earth, that I should stand before the Throne of Glory and the seat of His majesty, and before the wheels of His chariot, there to accomplish the requirements of the Most High. Thereupon my flesh became flame, and my arteries fire; my eyeballs became torches of fire, and the light of my eyes the flashing of lightening. My body became burning fire, my limbs fiery, burning wings, and the hair of my head was a flame." (Jellinek, Beth-Hamidrash, Vol. V, pg. 172-175) His ascension to heaven dramatically changed his being and fitted him for God's presence. If God can take a mortal and make him immortal in an instant without death transpiring, the resurrection of a dead body on the basis of this antecedent act is assumed, for God's power to effectuate an ascension is mighty to consummate a resurrection. "Enoch's bodily translation into 'heaven' was a sign during the long pre-diluvian sway of the curse that reconciliation with God ultimately includes victory over death." (Hywel R. Jones, The New Bible Commentary: Revised, pg. 87) From the greater (translation) to the lesser act (resurrection) Enoch's translation into the heavenly paradise is a pledge of our resurrection to come. "Enoch and Elijah were translated into eternal life with God without passing through disease, death and corruption, for the consolation of believers, and to awaken the hope of a life after death." (Kiel & Delitzsch, Commentary Notes on Gen. 5:24).
"Then it came about as they were going along and talking that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses afire which separated the two of them and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha saw it and cried out, 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!' And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces." (II Kings 2:1, 11-12) As Enoch was translated to heaven so was the prophet of Israel, Elijah. As his reward for his devotion to the Law, he was translated to heaven, "Elijah never flagged in is zeal for the Law, and he was taken up to heaven." (I Macc. 2:58) In dramatic fashion, accompanied by a chariot of fire and horses, Elijah is surrounded by shooting flames and is lifted away into heaven in a whirlwind. "You were taken up to heaven in a fiery whirlwind, in a chariot drawn by horses of fire." (Eccles. 48:9) There was an instantaneous alteration in the prophet's body and soul, "... such a change passing on him, as he went through the region of the air, which divested him of his mortality and corruption, and fitted him for the invisible world." (John Gill, 1697-1771, Talmudic and Biblical scholar, Baptist minister, pastored at Horsleydown, Southwark from 1719-1756, II Kings 2:11, The Gill Commentary) The Zohar 1:29a, 2:197a, describe his present body as coming from the "Tree of Life" which enable him to carry out God's commands and miracles. "Elijah, who ascended from the things of earth into heaven, according to the divine appearance which was then presented to him, and who thus followed higher things, or, to speak with more exact propriety, was raised up to heaven." (Judaeus Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis I, 86)
If a man's body, as in the cases of Enoch and Elijah, can be so radically changed to fit them for that eternal realm where flesh and blood cannot inherit (I Cor. 15:50-54), is God less capable to resurrect a decayed body out of the earth from whence it came? From the greater act of translation we are to see a pledge of the resurrection of the dead. "Should anyone tell you that the dead will not live again, cite to him the instance of Elijah." (Num. R. XIV.1) The argument from the greater to the lesser was utilized by Gebiha ben Pesisa, "If those who have never been, arrive in the world, should not those who have been, also appear among us?" (Talmud of Babylon Sanh. 91)
"Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection;..." (Heb. 11:35)
In the Inter-testamental literature, the Old Testament promise of the resurrection and the three bodily resurrections recorded, engendered hope for a coming day of the bodily resurrection of the righteous. When Antiochus IV, the Seleucide monarch, attempted to force Hellenization in 167-168 B.C. within Palestine, Jews were compelled under penalty of death, "to abandon their ancestral customs and no longer regulate their lives according to the laws of God." (II Macc. 6:1, 2) To circumcise one's child, to be found in possession of a roll of the Torah, to refuse to eat pork or the meat of animals offered on pagan altars, were capital offenses. Antiochus instituted a policy directed toward the abolishing of the religion of the Jews. The total destruction of the faith of Israel was his maniacal intent. An enduring consequence of this campaign of persecution was the dying hope of the martyrs for a day of resurrection when God would raise them up from the earth and give them a place in His kingdom, as a reward for their loyalty to the Torah after enduring torture and mutilation. The small band of the Maccabees, who resisted the edicts of Antiochus, believed imperturbably in the resurrection of the dead, and thus their faith that God would vindicate them through all the sufferings they might endure, empowered them to overcome the overwhelming might of their enemies and establish again an independent Israel after 400 years of foreign dominance. The knowledge that loyalty to God would not result in the finality of death, energized them against all numerical odds.
The story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers encapsulates this transcendent hope. Each brother would rather die, regardless of the agonies involved, than apostatize and forfeit their resurrection to newness of life. "After the first brother had died in this way, the second was subjected to the same brutality. The skin and hair of his head were torn off, and he was asked: 'Will you eat (to eat pork, in violation of Lev. 11:7, Isa. 65:3-4) before we tear you limb from limb?' He replied in his native tongue, 'Never!' and so he in turn underwent the torture. With his last breath, he said: 'Fiend though you are, you are setting us free from this present life, and, since we die for his laws, the King of the universe will raise us up to a life everlastingly made new.' After him the third was tortured. When the question was put to him, he at once showed his tongue, boldly held out his hands, and said courageously: 'The God of heaven gave me these. His laws mean far more to me than they do, and it is from him that I trust to receive them back.' When they heard this, the king and his followers were amazed at the young man's spirit and his utter disregard for suffering. When he too was dead they tortured the fourth in the same cruel way. At the point of death, he said to the king: 'Better to be killed by men and cherish God's promise to raise us again. There will be no resurrection to life for you!'" (II Macc. 7:7-14)
The mother of the sons, witnessing their cruel tortures, expresses the grand truth that the God who made the universe and man out of nothing, is certainly able to restore her sons back to life. "You appeared in my womb, I know not how; it was not I who gave you life and breath and set in order your bodily frames. It is the Creator of the universe who moulds man at his birth and plans the origin of all things. Therefore He, in his mercy, will give you back life and breath again since now you put his laws above all thought of self." (II Macc. 7:23, see also 12:43-45) God would vindicate his servants, He would restore to them the lives and limbs that they lost in His service. "The martyrs had faith to realize that their loyalty to God could not have death and the gloom of Sheol as its final issue. The hope of resurrection blazed up and burned brightly before their eyes, giving them added courage to endure their torments. Those confessors whose sufferings are related in II Maccabees died in the confident expectation that they will rise again in the identical bodies that are at present being maltreated, and that their mutilated limbs will then be restored to them in wholeness." (F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations, pg. 147)
In the Psalms of Solomon, a collection of prayers and hymns, from the First Century B.C.E., the righteous receive resurrection as God's final and full reward, "But those who fear the Lord will rise to eternal life; and their life will be in the light of the Lord and will never fail." (3:13) The Testament of Benjamin, which is part of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a repository of Jewish exhortation, the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous is described, "Then also all men shall rise, some unto glory and some unto shame." (10.8) In the Testament of Judah, Chapter 25, after the appearing of the Messiah, then will occur the resurrection, "They who have died in grief shall rise in joy, and they who were poor for the Lord's sake shall be made rich, and those who were put to death for the Lord's sake shall awake to life." (25:1-4) On the Day of the Lord, the righteous dead will rise to newness of life, "And at that time the Lord will heal his servants, and they will rise up and see great peace..." (Jubilees 23:30, written in the Second Century B.C.E.) The resurrection of all humanity on the Day of Judgment is set forth in I Enoch and IV Ezra, "And in those days shall the earth also give back that which has been entrusted to it, and Sheol also shall give back that which it has received, and Hell shall give back that which it owes." (51:1) "And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who dwell silently in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them. And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn; but only judgment shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong." "Then the Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, 'Look now, and understand whom you have denied, whom you have not served, whose commandments you have despised! Look on this side and on that; here our delight and rest, and there are fire and torments!" (7:32-34, 37-38) In II Baruch, the destiny of the righteous and wicked is compared, "Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of him shall rise again; but the souls of the wicked, when they behold all these things, shall then waste away the more, for they shall know that their torment has come and their perdition has arrived." (30:1-5).
"...primitive Christian hope of resurrection and the eschatalogical sphere encompassed by their expectation do reveal that it is a thoroughly Jewish heritage."--Ulrich Wilckens, Resurrection, pg. 100
As we approach the world of Judaism in the time of Jesus, the early First Century, the idea of resurrection was not only considered a possibility, but was firmly embedded in the hearts of the people. The desire for a future life incorporated the longing for the bodily resurrection of the dead. Unlike our current empirical, rationalistic mindset that perceives the tangible as ultimate reality and death as the final cul-de-sac, the world in which Jesus was born and ministered lived life as if this present age was only preparatory for eternity, that death would be swallowed up in the victory of resurrection. "The opinion must be rejected that the idea of the resurrection was unknown to the majority of Jews in the time of Jesus. I believe on the contrary that the great mass of the Jewish population already adhered strongly to it,..." (Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus, pg. 120)
The most influential party among the masses, the Pharisees, had systematically inculcated this belief for over 150 years into the mainstream of Jewish thought. Resurrection was at the heart of their theological doctrines, "By the time of the Hasmonean Revolt, it had become evident that the Pharisaic doctrines were giving utterance to the hopes of the oppressed masses and affecting the entire life of the Jews. This hope was especially seen in doctrines which included belief in the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, reward and retribution in the life after death, the coming of the Messiah, and the existence of angels,..." (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 13, pg. 364) "...having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15) Josephus, in summarizing the beliefs of the Pharisees says of their eschatology, "They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrines, they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people;..." (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Ch. 1, Para. 3) The pervasive teaching of the Pharisees regarding the resurrection, had instilled within the nation an indefatigable hope of the ultimate triumph of eternal life over death. "Thanks to the influence of the Pharisees and those who followed their line, this was now the general belief among Jews, inspite of Sadduccean resistance to it; and it has remained an article of Jewish Orthodoxy to this day." (F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, p. 244)
The Apostle Paul elicited the support of the Pharisees by asserting that he believed adamantly in their major doctrines, thus exposing the division that existed between them and the Sadducees, "But perceiving one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Counsel, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!' And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all." (Acts 23:6-8) No greater issue divided the Pharisees from the Sadducees, i.e., the politico-religious, aristocratic, priestly party, as belief in the after-life. "But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: that souls die with the bodies;..." (Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, Ch. 1, para. 3) "They [Sadducees] also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades." (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Ch. 8, para. 14) "The Sadducees cavil and say, the cloud faileth and passeth away; so he who goeth down to the grave doeth not return." (Tanchum, fol. 3.1.) "The Minim [heretics] say that there is only one world." (Talmud of Jerusalem, Shag., 77b, 4) The Sadducees believed the resurrection could not be proved from the Pentateuch, which they valued as having higher authority than the Prophets, "Says R. Eliezar, with R. Jose, 'I have found the books of the Sadducees to be corrupt; for they say that the resurrection of the dead is not to be proved out of the law: I said unto them, you have corrupted your law,..." (Talmud of Babylon, Sanh. 90.2) The Rabbis then proceed to give a series of Scriptures from the Torah to prove the resurrection of the dead is attested in the Law of Moses.
Jesus and the Pharisees were in perfect agreement as to the reality of the afterlife; immortality of the soul, resurrection of the dead, rewards and punishments, and the existence of angels (Matt. 22:29-32, Mk. 12:24-27, Luke 20:35-39). Jesus unmasked the myopia of the Sadducees regarding their misunderstanding of Scripture, the nullifying of the power of God, and most ignominious, the sect's distorted view of the nature of God. "During Jesus' day the belief in bodily resurrection had become a widespread hope, being championed by the Pharisees, with whom Jesus sided on this score against the Sadduccees (Matt. 22:23-33; Acts 23:8)." (William L. Craig, The Resurrection of Jesus and the Origin of the Christian Way, paper read at international conference of New Testament Scholars, Nov. 1986.) "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?' He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." (Mk. 12:26-27) Jesus appeals to Exodus 3:6, not so much as a Scripture among many to refute the Sadducee's unbelief, but as revealing God's eternal nature that has an everlasting fellowship with those he dearly loves (Ps. 116:15). "In Genesis 26:24 and 28:13, after the death of Abraham, God calls Himself 'the God of Abraham.' In Exodus 3:6, 15, 16, and 4:5, after the death of all three, God calls Himself 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' If God is still their God, they are still alive; for 'He is not a God of dead men, but of living.' Lifeless things can have a Creator, but not a God." (Alfred Plummer, 1841-1926, The Gospel According to St. Mark, on 12:26) God is a God of eternal fellowship with his own people, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever more." (16:11) "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake." (17:15) "But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for He will receive me." (49:15) "Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (73:23-26) "...on that day when I shall awaken to the life of the world to come, compared to whose clarity and light all earthly perception seems like an empty dream, the happiness I expect will be to share in the true recognition of God and His presence. I could never attain this final, great bliss while I am still tied by the bonds of physical existence." (Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Hirsch Psalms, pg. 115-116) God eternally loves and blesses His people with His presence; therefore it is inconceivable that His abiding presence terminates when His people die. Death is not looked upon as a finality, as the Sadducees taught but as a joyful transition into the immediate presence of God, which is the consummation of our ordained existence. "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-for we walk by faith, not by sight-we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." (II Cor. 5:6-8) "For the wicked are considered as if dead while still alive, and the righteous even in death are called living." (Ber. 18a, b) This world with all its vicissitudes is but preparatory for the consummatory bliss awaiting the redeemed, "Rabbi Yakov said; this world is like the vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may [be able to] enter the banquet hall." (Aboth 4:21)
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." (Ex. 3:6) The ancient prayer, the Amidah, gives expression to Exodus 3:6. It's first blessing is called Aboth or Patriarchs, since it invokes the "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob." "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob, the God who is great, mighty and awesome, God sublime who lavishes tender goodness. Master of all, He is mindful of the loving piety of our fathers, and for His own sake He will lovingly bring a redeemer to their children's children." (David De Sola Pool, The Sabbath Amidah, from The Traditional Prayer Book, pg. 64) The Lord is God, present-tense, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The constancy of God's fellowship with His own is clearly affirmed. Death does not terminate this communion but ushers the believer into a more intimate relation with their Creator and Lord.
A Rabbi of the First Century presented the same Scripture, Exodus 3:6, that Christ cites, to prove the immortality of the soul in refuting the Sadducean belief. "...for God is not the God of the dead for the dead are not; but of the living, for the living exist; therefore also the Patriarchs in respect of the soul, may rightly be inferred from hence to live." (Menasseh ben Israel, De Resurrect. Mort. 1.1.C.10. sect. 6.) God is, not was, the God of the Patriarchs. God adamantly affirms His ongoing fellowship that is never severed. "He who, not only historically but in the fullest sense, calls Himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, cannot leave them dead. Revelation implies, not merely a fact of the past-as is the notion which traditionalism attaches to it-a dead letter; it means a living relationship. 'He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him.'" (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, Ch. IV, pg. 402)
"Who knoweth if to die be but to live, and that called life by mortals be but death?"--Euripides
"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." "Truly, truly, I say to you an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live." "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:21, 25, 28-29) Jesus not only propounds the certainty of the afterlife, but makes the astonishing claim that he is the agent of resurrection, the giver of eternal life. Jewish belief states categorically that God alone is the "raiser of the dead". "See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand." (Deut. 32:39) "The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up." (I Sam. 2:6, II Kgs. 5:7) The doxology to be pronounced in a graveyard is, "He will cause you to arise. Blessed be He who keeps His word and raises the dead!" (T. Ber., 7.5) In Jewish literature, power over the realm of death, in raising the dead, belongs exclusively to God (Targum of Jerusalem on Gen. 30:22, Talmud of Babylon Sanh. 113a). "...God possesses the power, and that power is peculiar to Divinity, of raising up and giving life to the dead. It is one of the peculiar characteristics of the living and true God, that He is 'the God that quickeneth the dead.'" (John Brown, 1722-1787, Sayings and Discourses of Christ, Vol. 1, pg. 77) It is against this background that Jesus' claim is to be understood. At Capernaum, Jesus in his discourse on the bread of life, asserts that it is those who have eternal life through Him who will be raised by him at the last day. "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:39-40, 44, 54) At the future consummation of the age, the voice of the Son will usher in the resurrection. Jesus does not claim simply to be an instrument in the hand of God in raising the dead to life, as were the prophets Elijah and Elisha. He asserts that this authority, a divine prerogative, is his as the Son to resurrect the dead both bodily and spiritually in his day, and in the life of the age to come. "Here [John 5:21] our Lord points out His sovereign power and independence; He gives life according to His own will-not being obliged to supplicate for the power by which it was done, as the prophets did, His own will being absolute and sufficient in every case." (Adam Clarke, on John 5:21) "This statement (John 5:21-23) is of immense importance in relation to the miracles of Christ distinguishing them from similar miracles of prophets and apostles, who as human instruments were employed to perform supernatural actions, while Christ did all as the Father's commissioned Servant indeed, but in the exercise of His own absolute right of action." (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown)
Approximately 60 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciple John is a prisoner at the Roman penal colony at Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea. The exalted Lord in His sovereign glory, appears to the disciple and describes His sovereign Lordship over all time, history, the nations and death itself. "And when I saw Him I fell at his feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.'" (Rev. 1:17-18) Not only has Christ vanquished the condemnatory domain of spiritual and physical death, but he holds all the "keys" of death and the domain of the dead. The imagery of keys to the First Century Jewish world represented God's complete control over all the power of death and hell. In the death and resurrection of Jesus a consummate victory has taken place and He now holds supreme authority over all realms. "Christ has the power to send men to death and hell or to take men away from them." (Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, Revelation, p. 55). Christ alone as the atoning sacrifice has conquered death. He alone determines who will enter death and the realm of the dead and who will come out. He is the conquering victor of death and resurrection. The keys are in His hands. Death is a servant to Him. The key of the grave and of the resurrection of the dead, is frequently stated by the rabbis as one of the keys which are in the hands of the Holy, Blessed God, and He alone. (Bereshith Rabba, Sect. 73. folio 64.3, Targum Jer. in Gen. 30:21 and Targum of Jon. in Deut. 28:12, Talmud Bal. Taanith, fol. 2.1, Tal. Bab. Sanh. 113.1). The key of the quickening of the dead is one of the three keys which are in the hand of God. God Himself bears, "The key of the quickening of the dead." (Tal. Bab. Taanith 2.1). "… to describe the risen Christ as Lord of the sphere of the dead is to ascribe to Him a divine predicate." (T. D. N. T., vol. 3, p. 747).
In Jewish literature from the Fourth Century onwards there are numerous references to the resurrection of the dead in the Day of Messiah and even of Messiah raising the dead. Psalm 116:9 in Ber. R. 96 is cited as referring to the dead in Palestine who will live first in the "days of Messiah". Psalm 142:5 is applied in Ber. R. 74 to the resurrection of Israel in Palestine in the days of the Messiah. The Rabbis say of the life-giving nature of the Torah, "When thou liest down it shall watch over thee (Prov. 6:22), i.e., at the time of death; 'when thou awakest,' i.e., in the days of the Messiah; 'It shall talk with thee,' i.e., in the World to Come." (Sifre Deut. sect. 34; 74b) "It was like what someone says, 'Until the dead will live!'...until David's son will come." (Talmud of Jerusalem, Qid. 4:I) "The resurrection of the dead when the Messiah comes." (Talmud of Jerusalem, Ket. 12:3) R. Jeremiah gave instructions on how he was to be buried, "Shroud me in white shrouds. Dress me in my slippers, and put my sandals on my feet, and place my staff in my hand, and bury me by the side of the road. If the Messiah comes, I shall be ready." (Talmud of Jerusalem, Ket. 12:3). "And it will happen after these things when the time of the appearance of the Anointed One has been fulfilled and he returns with glory, that then all who sleep in hope of him will rise." (2 Baruch 30:1-2). In the Fourth Century, "...everyone knew that the Messiah in particular would raise the dead." "Everyone knew for one thing that the Messiah would come at the end of time and raise the dead." (Jacob Nuesner, Messiah in Context, pg. 88) "...the belief grew that the coming of the Messiah would be distinguished by the Resurrection of the dead,..." (Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, pg. 355-356).
Reverberating through the generations of circular unbelief is the declaration, "He is not here, but He has risen…" (Luke 24:6). That assertion alone would fade into the abyss of antiquity if not for the event that gave birth to it, the signal act of history that has held sway over the world, the resurrection of Jesus. The decisive salvific act has removed the finality of death's power and secured a future life beyond the grave, for death has ultimately been conquered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming..." (I Cor. 15:2-3, 15:20-23). "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" (I Cor. 15:54, Isa. 25:8). Man is made for eternity and to live in the countenance of God forever. That consummate day is the destiny of the Redeemed. They shall live by God's redemptive power forever. "For it was necessary and fitting that as her [the redeemed church] shepherd and Lord had once tasted death for her, and after his suffering had changed that vile body which he assumed in her behalf into a splendid and glorious body, leading the very flesh which had been delivered from corruption to incorruption, she too should enjoy the dispensations of the Savior. For having received from him the promise of much greater things than these, she desires to share uninterruptedly throughout eternity with the choir of the angels of light, in the far greater glory of regeneration, in the resurrection of an incorruptible body, in the palace of God beyond the heavens, with Christ Jesus himself the universal Benefactor and Savior." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 10, Ch. 4.46)
"For if there were this life only, which belongeth to all men nothing could be more bitter than this. For of what profit is strength that turneth to weakness, or fullness of food that turneth to famine, or beauty that turneth to ugliness? For if a consummation had not been prepared for all, in vain would have been their beginning." (The Apocalypse of Baruch 21:13-17)
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