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The heart of the gospel, Paul says, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For this reason, He appeared to more than five hundred people after His resurrection in the forty days prior to His ascension in Acts 1:9. In fact, this was the primary reason Jesus did not immediately ascend to heaven after He was raised from the dead.
Well, actually, He did ascend that same morning (John 20:17, KJV) in order to present Himself as the first fruits of barley while the High Priest was waving the physical sheaves in the temple. But after a brief heavenly encounter, He returned to show Himself to others in order to prove His resurrection to many witnesses.
The importance of His resurrection—and the truth of resurrection in general—was important enough to the apostle for him to spend a great deal of time discussing the subject. He listed many people who saw Christ after His resurrection and then showed its practical connection to all other resurrections that were to follow.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14 begins,
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
Which believers “among you” in the church had been saying “that there is no resurrection of the dead”? How could they feasibly believe such a thing and still believe in Christ? Paul’s wording implies that these people did indeed believe that Jesus Himself was raised from the dead, but yet they still denied that anyone else would be raised.
Paul argues that if there is no resurrection (for the rest of us), then neither could Christ be raised from the dead. Paul links the two together, and he then proceeds to instruct the Corinthians that Christ’s resurrection proves that we ourselves will be raised as well.
A related dispute is mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:16-18,
16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.
These men did not deny the resurrection as a principle, but in claiming that it had already taken place in the past, the effect of their teaching was the same. I believe that they interpreted Matt. 27:52, 53 to mean that the resurrection took place when Jesus was raised from the dead. The language of that passage is somewhat obscure as to timing, but it appears that “many bodies of the saints” were raised, not when Jesus died, but when He was raised from the dead.
We are not told if they were raised to immortal life or if they were raised in the manner of Lazarus, who died at a later time. Paul’s comment about Hymenaeus and Philetus tells us that this was NOT a true resurrection from the dead—at least not a resurrection to immortal life. Certainly, it was not the “first resurrection” in Rev. 20:4-6.
Many in those days denied the possibility of resurrection. Among them was the sect of the Sadducees, which actually controlled the temple in Jerusalem in the first century until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. In Matt. 22:23 we read,
23 On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him…
Years later, when Paul was questioned by the Council in Jerusalem, he used this issue to sow dissension among the Council members, for some were Sadducees and others Pharisees. So we read in Acts 23:6-8,
6 But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” 7 And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
Hence, Paul could claim to be a Pharisee insofar as his belief in a bodily resurrection was concerned. Josephus tells us that both the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in the resurrection of the body (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii, 1, 5). There were countless variations of belief, of course, which we cannot list here. Some believed that only Israelites would be raised, others believed that only those who died in the Holy Land would be raised. Still others believed that the resurrection would be universal, with the wicked being judged, and the righteous being rewarded.
These views are all discussed more thoroughly in The Jewish Encyclopedia under the topic of “Resurrection.”
The Sadducees were not atheists. They believed in God, but they denied the resurrection. What, then, was their alternate belief? Did they really believe (as atheists do) that when their life was finished, they had no hope of a future life? Was death the end? Unfortunately, though history says much about their denial of the (bodily) resurrection, it says little or nothing about their actual belief about eternal destiny.
It is most probable that their alternate belief was that when a person died, their immortal soul went to heaven. In that heavenly condition, they saw no further need for a person to return to a body—except, perhaps, for those who were not yet worthy of eternal bliss. Such people, the Greeks believed, would have to be reincarnated into another physical body in order to pay for their sins committed in the previous body. Whether the Sadducees believed in reincarnation or not, I do not know. They must have had some such view of judgment for sin.
We do know that the Sadducees were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, and that the Greeks were dualists. The Greeks believed that matter was evil and spirit was good. They believed that the soul was spiritual and immortal. They believed that their destiny was to separate the spiritual soul from the body. Going to heaven at death would have been a plausible explanation for their belief system, while a bodily resurrection was clearly a regression back into the original problem.
So it is likely that the Sadducees held some form of Greek philosophical interpretation of the Scriptures and that their solution (“salvation”) was to get rid of this evil body. Their error was in believing the Greek view that the devil created matter and that matter was therefore evil. The biblical story of creation tells us that matter was created “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Hence, the Sadducees had a Greek view of creation, which then determined its destiny as well—how the story of history would end. The Pharisees believed the biblical story of creation. Since matter was infused with death at a later point in time (i.e., when Adam sinned), the solution was to restore matter to its original pristine condition. To them, the bodily resurrection accomplished this.
The point is that in his early years Paul himself had been thoroughly schooled in the various opinions about resurrection. This was not a new issue for him, and when he learned that some in the Corinthian assembly were denying the resurrection, he saw the Greek influence and addressed it accordingly. We are not told if the resurrection deniers were Greek converts who had brought their cultural philosophy with them into the church, or if these were former Sadducees who had brought their earlier beliefs into the church.
Not once does Paul hint that he had deviated from his Pharisee roots in dealing with this particular issue. In fact, as we will see throughout his discussion, not once does he attempt to correct the view of the Pharisees concerning a bodily resurrection. It is only in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection that he differs with the opinion of the Pharisees, who would have denied that fact, at least in public. And in view of the many views about who is eligible for resurrection, Paul chooses sides, telling us that the resurrection is universal and not limited to Israelites or to those buried in the Holy Land.
The historical context of the first-century dispute shows that resurrection was defined in terms of a bodily resurrection. If the Sadducees used the term resurrection at all, it would have been to spiritualize it and redefine it in terms of an immortal soul going to heaven. But the dispute itself had defined the term to mean a bodily resurrection; thus, we see that the Sadducees denied the resurrection. There was no need to add the qualifier, bodily resurrection, for everyone understood the meaning of the words as they were being used at that time.
Jesus’ own resurrection added weight to this definition, for though His post-resurrection body was certainly of a different quality, it was nonetheless a physical body. Luke thought this definition was important enough to include in his gospel—which is essentially Paul’s gospel, since Luke shared Paul’s perspective.
When Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem, they thought at first that they were seeing a spirit, or ghost (Luke 24:37). By telling this story, Luke raises the question of how we are to define resurrection. Was Jesus’ resurrection a bodily resurrection or just a spiritual resurrection? Luke answers this in Luke 24:39, where Jesus says,
39 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Though He says nothing of blood, there is no question that Jesus had a physical body when He appeared to them. Luke 24:41-43 tells us that Jesus offered a further proof of this, writing,
41 And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything to eat?” 42 And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them.
Once Jesus proved to the disciples that resurrection meant a bodily resurrection, He then said in Luke 24:44,
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
In other words, having proved the principle of the bodily resurrection, Jesus explained that this is what He had been talking about during His ministry, and this was how to interpret the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The definition of resurrection was very important, and for this reason Luke emphasized it in his gospel.
Jesus appeared to the disciples in a physical body that still bore the marks of crucifixion. He ate with them to drive home this very point, because, as Luke says, they thought they were seeing a spirit. Jesus then says, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you” (Luke 24:44). In other words, this is what I was talking about during My earthly ministry.
When had Jesus taught them about the resurrection of the body? There were many types and shadows which taught the resurrection obscurely, such as when He fed the 5,000 and the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of fragments (or left-overs). John 6:12, 13 says,
12 And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.” 13 And so they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.
In the explanation of this prophetic story later in the chapter, Jesus made it clear that He Himself was this bread that was to be broken to feed the multitude. Then in John 6:39 He says,
39 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.
The fragments of the bread, then, represent the body of Christ, which is raised up on the last day, so that nothing is lost. This resurrection principle extends beyond Jesus’ own physical body, because in John 6:40 He continues, saying,
40 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.
This terminology is repeated two more times in John 6:44 and again in John 6:54. However, the text does not specify the manner of resurrection. It only gives the timing as being “on the last day.”
Verse 40 also says that these believers will receive “eternal life,” which in Greek reads “aionian life.” The Emphatic Diaglott renders this “life age-lasting.” Better, it refers to immortal life in The Age, that is, in the Messianic Age to come. There are two main truths presented to us in this passage: the quality of life and the timing of resurrection.
However, in all of this, we are not told specifically the manner of resurrection. Some would argue that this does not prove a bodily resurrection yet to come. But Jesus’ post-resurrection statement in Luke 24:44 about His bodily resurrection gives us the key to understanding all such resurrection revelations during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
When the Sadducees posed their hypothetical situation about a woman being married to seven brothers, all of whom die in succession, they asked Him, “In the resurrection therefore, whose wife of the seven shall she be?” This was their argument against a bodily resurrection. Jesus refuted them and then went on to say in Matt. 22:31, 32,
31 But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 “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.
Some have interpreted this in a way that essentially agreed with the Sadducees’ position that believers go to heaven when they die, and that therefore there is no need for a bodily resurrection. But that is not the case. First, we must understand that mankind is not merely a physical body and spiritual soul (as the Greeks thought), but rather, he has a body, a soul, and a spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). The soul is distinct from the spirit. The law tells us in Lev. 17:11 (literally) that “the fleshly soul is in the blood.” Hence, the soul is not spiritual, but fleshly, or carnal.
We have three seats of consciousness, or three minds. The brain is the mind of the body. That which we normally refer to as the “mind” is the carnal soulish mind. The spirit has its own spiritual mind that knows the mind of God perfectly (1 Cor. 2:14, 15). When a person dies, he becomes “brain dead,” and the soul dies with it. Hence, Ezekiel 18:20 says literally, “The soul that sins shall die.”
However, the mind of the spirit does not die, nor does it lose consciousness. Instead, it “returns to God” (Eccl. 12:7).
So we see in the example of Jesus Himself, His body died and was placed in the tomb. His soul went to hades (Acts 2:31), or “the grave,” as the word is translated in 1 Cor. 15:55 (KJV). His spirit went to God (Luke 23:46). Death is a return, so each of Jesus’ three parts went to a different place, according to their origins. Not only does this show that we are spirit, soul, and body, but it also shows that the spirit does not lose its consciousness when the body and soul die.
In that sense, we can say that “we” go to heaven when we die, as long as we understand that it is not the soul, but the spirit that returns to God. The soul is mortal; the spirit is immortal. With this in mind, Jesus told the Sadducees that God was not the God of the dead but of the living. He did not mean that Abraham’s soul was alive in heaven. He meant that Abraham’s spirit was alive and that it was who Abraham was (his identity). But this did not negate the need for resurrection.
As I explained more fully in Book 7 of Dr. Luke: Healing the Breaches, chapter 14, p. 82,
“Hence, just because Abraham, though dead in body and soul, continued to live through his spirit and its consciousness does not negate a future bodily resurrection. It is the purpose of God to make us all in the likeness of Christ’s post-resurrection body. This is the glorified (or spiritual) body, a body that is fully subservient to the spiritual mind, rather than to the fleshly soul.”
The purpose of resurrection is to fulfill the original purpose of creation. Matter was created to manifest the glory of God in a new way, using physical things. The glory of God originally rested upon Adam—that is, his body—and it was removed only after he sinned. The biblical (Hebrew) view of creation sets forth that God created all things good, and that He is not scandalized by coming into contact with physical matter.
The Greek view says that matter was created evil by the devil (“demiurge”) and that a good God could never taint Himself by taking on human flesh or by touching anything physical. The Greek view sees the goal of history to be a great divorce between heaven and earth; whereas the Hebrew view sees the goal of history to be a great marriage between heaven and earth.
In this marriage, the word becomes flesh, not only in the Person of Jesus, but in all of us as well. The great hope of Christians is scandalous to the Greeks. For this reason, Paul endured much ridicule from the Greeks when he spoke about the resurrection of the dead. Acts 17:18 says,
18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him [Paul]. And some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
Again, in Acts 17:32 we read their reaction:
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”
Whenever Paul evangelized the Greeks, he ran into this wall of opposition regarding the resurrection of the dead, which ran contrary to the very basic assumption of Greek religious culture and philosophy. Paul ran into the same opposition among the Sadducees, who had been heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The Pharisees had no problem with the general concept of a bodily resurrection but opposed only the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead.
As we have already seen from Jesus’ statements in John 6:39, 40, 44, and 54, the resurrection was to take place “on the last day.” Verse 40 uses the term aionian life, which is about enjoying immortality in (during) the Messianic Age. In other words, those believers who eat His flesh and drink His blood (spiritually, of course) will inherit the first resurrection so that they might enjoy immortality during the thousand-year reign of Christ, the Great Sabbath Day (Millennium).
Meanwhile, here and now, we are to live according to the resurrection life that is within us as believers in Christ. We were baptized into Christ’s death in order that we might also enter into His resurrection life. Rom. 6:3-5 says,
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
This is the present reward of faith, available to all. We do not have to wait for a future time to begin living the life of Christ. Christ’s resurrection has a practical application to us today. The problem comes only when we believe that this baptism into resurrection life is the only resurrection that we will experience. When we use the valid teaching of Paul about the present reality of life in Christ to negate a future bodily resurrection, we become too narrow in our view and do not see the big picture as Paul saw it.
The present application of Christ’s resurrection to our Christian walk does not give us a bodily resurrection. The body and the soul remain mortal, and this mortality conflicts with the New Creation Man that has been begotten by God (Rom. 7:21-23). We walk by the leading of the Holy Spirit who operates in us through our own human spirit, but the soul (carnal mind) is yet rebellious and must be brought into subjection to the spirit.
The resurrection at the last day is the point where such discipline will no longer be necessary, because the divine order that was lost in Adam will be re-established. The body and soul will then glorify God along with the spirit. Then and only then will the purpose of creation be accomplished.
The three main feast days are prophetic of the path that we all must take to achieve the ultimate purpose of God for creation. Passover speaks of justification, or the salvation of our spirit. Pentecost speaks of sanctification in our soul. Tabernacles is the glorification of our body.
The transfiguration of Moses (Exodus 34:29) and of Jesus (Matt. 17:2) show us the purpose of Tabernacles insofar as the body is concerned. I believe that both events took place on the eighth day of Tabernacles, though in different years. The same glory that was seen in them is what will be seen in all of us as well.
While such glorified bodies were an absurdity to the Greeks, they are the hope of all who believe in Christ and who understand the purpose of resurrection.