Friday, June 19, 2015

Life After Death: Part 3


Life After Death: Part 3

The resurrection of the dead seems to be, at best, a peripheral doctrine within mainstream Christianity. Evangelical Christian pastors talk passionately about where one "is going to spend eternity" after one dies without so much as even mentioning the resurrection. The remarkable fact that we will even have a future existence after this life is over is simply taken for granted by many well-intended Christians (hence the emphasis is on where or how one's future existence will be spent after this life is over, and not on the fact that we even have a future existence).

Even for those Christians who do look forward to a bodily resurrection, it is, for the most part, seen not as an absolutely necessary event in our ultimate salvation, but as more of an added blessing to an already-secured heavenly reward - a mere "icing on the cake" of our redemption, so to speak. For most Christians, even if there was never going to be a resurrection of the dead, one could not, with consistency, say that believers who have died have "perished" (1 Cor. 15:18).[1]How could they if, according to the commonly-held view, they have simply "gone home to be with the Lord," and are actually alive and conscious in a "disembodied state?" 

Contrary to this popular understanding, Scripture teaches that, apart from a bodily resurrection, any sort of life after death for mankind would be strictly impossible. The idea that human beings are entirely mortal and completely dependent upon God for any sort of living, conscious existence beyond the grave is a sobering - perhaps even fearful - thought. Yet it is my firm conviction that Scripture presents us with no other alternative. To speak of where or how one will "spend eternity" without any reference to the resurrection of the dead is to put the cart before the horse. If there is to be no resurrection of the dead, then to speak of anyone spending a conscious "eternity" anywhere after death is a purely fantastical idea with absolutely no basis in reality.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul writes, "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" In this verse he's quoting the prophet Isaiah:

And in that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and for mourning, for baldness and for girding with sackcloth. But instead, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating meat and drinking wine: 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!' (Isaiah 22:12-13)

Paul's argument is that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then, just like the doomed inhabitants of Jerusalem before the Assyrian siege, we should focus all of our remaining time and energy on enjoying the things of life now as much as possible, for at death it will all come to an end. It was because of his expectation concerning the resurrection of the dead that Paul was willing to put his life in jeopardy on a regular basis for the sake of Christ and the evangel (vv. 30-32). But if we go to heaven to enjoy God's presence when we die without a resurrection being necessary, then Paul's argument in these verses loses its force entirely.

Why not put oneself in "danger every hour" if, at death, one goes to heaven, as many Christians believe? Paul's argument is that, if "the dead do not rise at all," it would be utter foolishness to hazard life for the sake of Christ and the evangel, as he and the other apostles did "every hour." For Paul, it was the fact of the resurrection of the dead that made such an otherwise foolish way of life not really foolish at all, since the resurrection means that this life is not all that we have. When Paul asks rhetorically, "What do I gain if, as a man, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?" it's clear that he expected no "gain" or "benefit" if the dead are not going to be roused. Paul's rhetorical questions presuppose that human beings do not enjoy any sort of afterlife apart from resurrection. 

If this were not the case, consider how a resurrection-denying Corinthian "believer" could've responded to Paul's rhetorical questions: "But Paul, isn't it your belief that people continue to live in a conscious, disembodied state after their body dies? Don't you believe that those who die in Christ are, right now, enjoying the Lord's presence in heaven? How then can you say that there is no benefit - that there is nothing to be gained - if you die? How can you say that the dead in Christ have perished?" Even if Paul himself didn't believe this but his view merely allowed for it, his argument would've been completely undermined

If Christ has not been roused, then he's still just as dead as he was after he breathed his last on the cross. If Christ has not been roused, he would, today, be nothing more than the skeletal remains of a corpse. And if Christ himself was not delivered from death and restored to a living existence, then we have no reason to expect anything better. But - thank God! - "Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing" (1 Cor. 15:20). Our resurrection depends on Christ's, and Paul's statements in verses 29-32 imply that if the dead are not roused then not only would Christ not be roused but Paul would be left without any reason to live the way he did. After this life ended he would simply remain dead for all time.

God of the Living 

Many Christians will point to the phrase "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Mark 12:18-27) as "proof" that people never really die, but rather that they continues to live on after death as "immortal souls" in a disembodied state. Consider the following video clip from Christian pastor and author, Greg Laurie:

www.facebook.com/harvest.greglaurie/videos/vb.45515101697/10153229362806698/?type=1&theater

In this clip, Laurie asserts that "A believer - that is, a follower of Jesus Christ - never dies." Most Christians, I think, actually believe this. When they think about their (Christian) loved ones who've died, they don't imagine them as lying lifeless in a grave, or as reduced to ashes in an urn. No; most likely, they imagine them as enjoying the bliss of heaven in the presence of Christ and God. I think that most Christians - if they were honest - would agree with Laurie. They just don't articulate what they really believe as boldly and as clearly as Laurie has done. Laurie goes on to support his bold assertion with the words of Christ in Mark 12:18-27. Laurie claims that, because God said "he IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (rather than he was their God), these three patriarchs "live in eternity." And he goes on to say that "your loved ones who died in the Lord - they still live. So a Christian never dies." Death, then, is not really an enemy (as Paul says). According to Laurie and most Christians (if they were honest), death - and being dead - is merely an illusion

According to Laurie, it is the body alone which truly dies (i.e., becomes lifeless). The real "you" is said by Laurie to "live on forever." Thus, according to Laurie, human beings never really die. "Death," according to Laurie, is simply a "transition" to life somewhere else. According to this view, the resurrection has nothing to do with restoring dead (lifeless) people to a living existence. It simply involves the re-embodiment of living people - people who were never actually dead, and never actually became lifeless.

But to conclude from Jesus' words that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were "alive" at the time God spoke to Moses apart from a resurrection would not support Jesus' argument for the resurrection. It would completely undermine it. For if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were actually alive after they "died," a resurrection would be unnecessary. To be "resurrected" is to be restored to a living, bodily existence after having died.

How, then, should we understand Christ's argument for the resurrection? Well, when God referred to himself as the "God of" these patriarchs, the idea of covenant relationship is being expressed. When Yahweh proclaimed himself to be the God of Abraham, the idea being expressed was that he stood (and remains) in covenant relationship to that patriarch (see Gen. 17:7-8). The same goes for Isaac and Jacob (and seeing as these words express covenant relationship, it's significant that Yahweh never speaks of himself as being the God of Ishmael, or of Esau). And by the Sinai covenant with the Hebrew nation, Yahweh became the "God of Israel" (Deut. 29:10-13).

The force of Christ's argument lies in the matter of the covenant that God made with Abraham. This covenant promised Abraham a personal allotment in Canaan (Gen. 17:7-8), which, during Abraham's mortal existence, he never enjoyed (Acts 7:5). But God still abides by his covenant, as is evident from his words to Moses at the bush (where we read of God reaffirming his covenant relationship with the patriarchs). So God's words to Moses raise the following vital question: How can God's covenant promise be fulfilled? The only way God could fulfill his promise to Abraham is by restoring him to a living, bodily existence - which, of course, is precisely what resurrection is.

It is evidently in this sense that the patriarchs themselves interpreted the promise. They knew they would die without inheriting the promised land (Gen. 15:13-16). How could they understand the land to be personally inherited by them as "an eonian possession," unless it was to be in the future (Heb. 11:9-19)? And how could they inherit it in the future, apart from being resurrected?

Christ, then, declares that God is not God of the dead but of the living. In other words, God cannot be the God of - that is, he cannot fulfill his covenant promises to - those who are dead. Since Yahweh considered himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after they had died (and while they were still dead), it follows that God's intention is to restore them to a living existence so that he can keep his covenant promise to them (which included their inheriting the promised land as an eonian possession).

Luke's account adds the words, "For all live to God." It is in anticipation and in view of the resurrection of the dead that all people can be said to "live to God." That is, because the resurrection is so certain to take place, God views those who have died and all who are going to die as if they have already been restored to a living existence. God sometimes speaks of things which are not yet present realities as if they were because it is so certain that they are going to take place by his sovereign power. For example, in Romans 4:16-18 (NKJV) we read,

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be."

Even before the birth of the promised child Isaac, God told Abraham, "No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:5). Was Abraham "the father of a multitude of nations" at the time God spoke to Abraham? No; God was speaking in view of the fact that he was going to fulfill this promise made to Abraham, and that Abraham would, in fact, become the father of a multitude of nations.

Similarly, when God spoke of himself as the God of three men who were dead rather than alive, he was speaking in view of the fact that he was ultimately going to restore them to a living existence at a future time. Just as it was certain that Abraham would become "the father of a multitude of nations" (even though he was not yet the father of a multitude of nations), so it is certain that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and indeed all who have died - will live again. Because God knew that he was going to restore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to a living existence and that they would not remain dead forever, God was able to refer to himself as their God in the present tense without contradicting the fact that "He is not God of the dead but of the living."

Jesus' argument, then, is simply that God would not have called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if these three patriarchs were going to remain dead forever, since his being their God entailed that he intended to be faithful to his covenant promise to them. And the only way to be faithful to his covenant promise to Abraham is to resurrect him and put him in the land of Canaan as an inheritance.





[1] The word here translated "perished" (apollumi) is always used negatively in Scripture, and denotes the loss or destruction of something. Here, it is used in contrast to being vivified in Christ; thus, in this context, "have perished" means, "will remain dead." 

6 comments:

  1. Thanking God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ for you Aaron.PERSEVERE! PERSEVERE !

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    2. Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Lu! I look forward to the day when all will understand and appreciate the truth that I'm trying to convey in this article.

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  3. Thanks for your reply my brother.it's good to be thought of and concidered.thanks for all you do.I hope to meet you one day. I'm here in Camden.

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    1. Really sorry for the delayed response(s), Lu. I'm easily distracted and scatter-brained (my wife can testify to that, haha). Camden is in my neck of the woods, so it shouldn't be too hard for us to meet up sometime in the near future. There's also some believers in Columbia that my wife and I spend some time with when we can. Maybe we could organize a hang-out/Bible study sometime soon. If you're on Facebook, you can send me a private message: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.welch.140 If not, my email address is areynoldsw@aol.com. Would love to hear from you, brother.

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