Resurrection is a “state of being” that describes, generically, the conclusion of a process. Like other words that believers use as a means through which to define the end result of salvation-history, resurrection as a term, stands along side other terms such as, “redemption,” “justification,” “forgiveness,” and “regeneration.” None of the words stand alone as complete in and of itself. Each word requires clarification.
Redemption is the act of reclaiming something of value but the single word alone does not describe what is reclaimed or how the process takes place. Included in the word is both freedom and the cost involved to achieve that end. Justification is the act of being declared righteous or innocent the but word itself does not describe what specific crimes were involved or upon what basis the person is clear from his guilt. Forgivenessis the act of “letting go” of a debt that was owed. Repentance takes place in the mind and heart of a person, forgiveness takes place in the heart and mind of God–a dual transaction. Regeneration is the achievement of a “new birth” or to be “generated again.” However, the word itself never describes how this happens. The words used in the Scriptures by God relative to the redemptive-process are complex, rich and full in meaning. A lifetime of study could be devoted to each of these words and the power inherent in each of them. This also is true of the meaning of resurrection.
A blog is not the ideal place to embark on a detailed discussion of the resurrection. However, since preterists are often asked complex questions related to the state of the dead and what happens to a person at the end of their life, especially if–as preterists would contend–the resurrection of the dead was an event associated with the A.D. 70 consummation of the Jewish age. Futurists believe the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead to be the “Achilles Heel” of preterism–the battleground of orthodoxy. It is in the doctrine of the resurrection that Truth is divided from error, fact from fiction, Reality from illusion.
Resurrection describes a “state of being” without question. However, the word itself requires modification and further explanation. What kind of resurrection? Is the resurrection spiritual or is it physical in nature? Does the resurrection include both the righteous and the unrighteous, or simply the one and not the other? What is the difference between the resurrection of life and the resurrection of condemnation and when does this separation take place, according to the Scriptures? Does the resurrection of Jesus Christ differ in nature from that of His followers? Important questions indeed!
Those who are opposed to preterism find any deviation from their own misconceptions and preconceptions to be distasteful, heretical and worthy of condemnation. Anything otherthan the raising of the actual, physical human body of believers and unbelievers alike from the graveyard–the dust of the ground–is rejected. The logic used as proof stems from the resurrection episode of Jesus Christ and His victorious overcoming of death, Hades and the grave. Preterists certainly do not deny the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, futurists do not question why it was necessary that Jesus should be raised in such a manner and whether or not that has any real significance to the issue of what happens in the case of others who would follow in due course.
It is the conviction of this writer that when one comes to understand the why of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus only then can we proceed forward in finding answers to other, related questions pertaining to believers and unbelievers alike. The Bible affirms resurrection for both those classified as “the righteous” and those classified as “the unrighteous” (Acts 24:15). The Bible affirms resurrection “of life” and “of judgment” (John 5:29). The Old Testament picture of resurrection affirms the coming forth to “everlasting life” or “everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Resurrection is the generic expression given to a “state of being” that is modified by other words used to describe that “state of being”–the end result of the process.
It would certainly behoove scholars to ponder the meaning of “death” before drawing conclusions about the nature of resurrection. The common area of agreement lies in the fact that deathmeans “separation”–another “state of being.” In Jewish thought man is seen as a unified Whole (spirit, soul, body) is it pertained to stance or standing before God. The Bible affirms the Triune nature of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and also the triune nature of man (spirit, soul, body) and yet there is only One God–not three gods. In the case of a human being there are three parts and yet there is only One person. Without conducting a complete study of the nature of humans we assert that man is a spirit (inner man), he has a soul(mind, will, emotions), and he lives in a physical body (outer man). Redemptively man is seen standing before God as a united Whole being and not according to the sum of his parts (I Thess. 5:23). The Greeks and later the Gnostics sought to create a kind of theological dualism that defined spirit as good and fleshas evil–something the Bible never implies. Those who take this view misunderstand the use of flesh and spirit in the writings of Paul and others, terms used often to describe two covenantal systems, Old and New Covenants in contradistinction one from the other (Rom. 8:4-6, 9, 13, Gal. 3:3; 4:29; I Pet. 3:18).
Death, as defined by the events recorded in the book of Genesis describes the “state of being” separated from the presence of God on account of sin–or what some theologians refer to as sin-death. Adam and Eve died “in the day” they ate of the forbidden fruit–experienced spiritual death and separationfrom the presence of God (Gen. 2:17; 3:3). The physical pageantry of the meaning of death and separation from God was acted out in the removal of Adam and Eve from their Garden environment–something that certainly had represented life in the presence of God (Gen. 3:23, 24). The physical demise of Adam did not occur until hundreds of years later (Gen. 5:5). It is a mistake to assume that the physical death of Adam was the penalty for his sin contrary to what God had stated would certainly occur “in the day” the offense was committed (Gen. 2:17). The theologians defend the words of Satan rather than the words of God (Gen. 3:4). Satan predicted that nothing would happen that day and nothing did happen that day as it pertained to physical death. The “wages of sin” is separation from the presence of God and not merely biological demise (Rom. 6:23). If physical death is the penalty for sins committed then each person pays the price for his own sins since each person dies physically. According to this view a person should be released from guilt at the point of physical death and automatically granted a second chance. No scholar would take this view–ever!
Without developing this point fully perhaps a few observations should be made about the reasons for the physical death and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born into a two-fold context. He was “born of a woman” (into the realm of life “in Adam”), and He was “born under the Law” (into the realm of the Old Covenant world) (Gal. 4:4). This duality came with certain conditions attached relative to stance with God. As one “born of a woman” the penalty for sin would be spiritual death and separation from the presence of God. As one “born under the Law” the penalty for sin would be covenantdeath–described throughout the Old Testament as being “cut-off” from among the people (Gen. 17:14; 12:15, 19; 30:33, 38; 31:14: Lev. 7:20, 21, 25, 27; 17:4, 9, 10, 14; 18:19; 19:8; 20:3, 5, 6, 17, 18; 22:3; 23:29; Num. 9:13; 15:30, 31; 19:13 et al). The implication of this act of being “cut off” from Israel, from the presence of the Lord, from the congregation etc was a sentence of covenant death–separation from the covenant community. In many instances to be “cut off” meant far more than withdrawal of fellowship from the person, it involved the imposition of physical death. To be “cut off” in death represented covenantal separation–separation from the sacrificial system that offered up the blood of animals to provide atonement for sins. Covenant death left the person outside the camp with no access to God’s provision for the forgiveness of sins and thus represented the greater separation incurred through the imposition of spiritual death. The one represented the other.
Jesus took on the characteristics of humanity–”born of a woman” and therefore had to dealwith the problem of spiritual separation. Likewise, Jesus took on the characteristics of Israel’s Messiah and from a covenantalstandpoint had to deal with the problem of covenant separation and in providing actual atonement for sins committed by the covenant community since the “blood of bulls and goats” could never resolve or remit the sins of the people (Heb. 10:3, 4). According to the prophecy of Daniel, the Messiah (anointed one) would be “cut off” (Dan. 9:26)–a clear reference to the concept of covenant death, something every Jew would understand in the context of relationship to the covenant community. The physical sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the shedding of his blood demonstrated the redemptive action of dealing with the consequences of covenant death.
Those who had died went to Hades, the place where covenant death and separation from God continued even beyond the physical realm. Hades represented the place where even the rightous dead were forced to stay because of the inability of the blood of bulls and goats to save them from their sins. The unrighteous dead were sent to the place of covenant death (Hades) to remain until the time of judgment. Jesus died on the Cross, shed His precious blood and descended into Hades–not as one who deserved the penalty for His own sins, but to pay the price for the sins of others–”the whole world” (I John 2:2). He was the Lamb of God who would “take away” the sins of the world (John 1:29). His descending into the place of covenant death was also the time when He experienced the spiritual separation from the presence of God on account of the sins of all humanity–the meaning of death “in Adam.” Jesus died physically to pay the debt of sin, and He died spiritualy to absorb the penalty for sin and came away victorious over both! He became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21
The physical resurrection of Jesus was demanded covenantally on the basis that He had done nothing in violation of the Law into which He was born that would have warranted any form of covenant death because of His own actions. The empty tomb was a testimony to the Jews that Jesus had escaped the “corruption” associated with being “cut off” from the covenant community in death. Jesus died according to the terms of the covenant into which He was born and was resurrected likewise. His physical death demanded a physical resurrection according to the terms of the meaning of covenant death. The Old Covenant community was tied to the physical elements of that system, sacrifices, offerings, the temple, the land promises etc. The Messiah had to experience both physical death and physical resurrection in order to be justified according to the terms demanded by that system.
However, the physical resurrection of Jesus was not the totality of the story. He was “put to death in the flesh and made alive in the spirit” (I Pet. 3:18). He died in accordance with the Old Covenant and was resurrected in accordance with the New Covenant. In this He became the “firstborn” from among the dead ones (under the Old Covenant existing in the separation of Hades awaiting their release from bondage). Jesus ascended with the “keys of death (spiritual death), and Hades (covenant death) (Rev. 1:18). Jesus was the first to experience the “new birth” out of the Old Covenant realm and into the New Covenant realm. His transition and transformation was complete!
The next installment in this series will build on the foundation presented above. Please take the time to consider the concepts carefully and to see the greater scope of the meaning of redemption and resurrection. It was never meant to be the simple raising of the physical body from the dust of the ground, so much more is involved. Believers whose eyes are open will soon begin to appreciate the deeper significance of what took place on the Cross and during the next forty years as Jesus sets in motion the “resurrection of the dead” described by the apostle Paul to the Corinthians.
It will soon become apparent that the resurreciton of the dead as an event had to do with the eschaton of a covenant and not merely with individuals who have died physically since the beginning of time. This, however, in no way implies that resurrection was limited in the expression of benefits to that community alone. The sacrifice of Jesus accomplished far more than most of us realize and certainly more than we can appreciate!