Tag Archives: Resurrection

An Easter Musing: Why I Consider the Church as “Them” and not “Me”

Something to ponder. If Jesus died on Passover and rose again a few days later (depending on your timetable), then why are most people celebrating his resurrection a whole month before Passover this year (and various other years as well)? Respectful responses are welcome. No witch hunting.

-Query from Facebook

No, this wasn’t directed at me. It was a general question tossed out into social media by a Facebook “friend” (I put that in quotes because we’ve never met face-to-face).

It’s an interesting question, but I must admit, it wasn’t the catalyst for today’s “morning meditation.” Easter was.

More specifically, my massive and total disconnect from Easter was the catalyst. For Easter, or perhaps more accurately expressed, for “Resurrection Day” three years ago, I crafted this little missive about my emotional disconnect from the event, even as I was attending Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services in a little, local Baptist church.

There were certain things I liked about the service. There were certain things I learned. But I wasn’t just gushing with joy like everyone else around me because “he is risen”.

Add to that, the memory of how my wife looked at me when I was walking out the door to go to Resurrection Day services, how crushed and betrayed she seemed, as if she found out I was cheating on her. I know I’ll never attend another Easter service in my life.

My regular readers are aware that my wife is Jewish and not a believer. More specifically, her viewpoint of Jesus, Paul, and Easter is what she learned from the local Chabad Rabbi. She would never stop me from expressing my faith in whatever way I choose, but I know it bothers her, at least on certain occasions…

…like Easter.

he-is-risenShe sometimes surprises me, though. She said that although she wouldn’t take me to Israel with a Jewish group, she does want me to go with a more appropriate (for me) Messianic group. I once had a passion to do that, but a lot of things dried up for me, including my sense of community.

I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s essay “The Jewish People are Us — not them” which you can find published here and which I reviewed a few years back.

Rabbi Dauermann was emphasizing that a Jewish faith in Yeshua shouldn’t result in Jewish “messianists” considering the wider Jewish community as “them” or as “the other,” the way most Christians consider “unbelieving” Jews. From his perspective (as I understand it), Jewish devotion to Rav Yeshua is very Jewish and should, if anything, result in Jewish Yeshua-disciples being drawn closer to larger Jewish community because, after all, Moshiach is the first-born of Israel’s dead, living proof that the New Covenant promise of the resurrection to Israel will indeed come to pass.

What’s more Jewish than that (and I know I’ll take “heck” from one or two Jewish critics of my blog for that question)?

But what about those of us, we non-Jewish “Christians” who stand on the Jewish foundation of the Bible, who feel a greater connection to Passover and Sukkot (Festival of Booths) than Christmas and Easter? What about those non-Jewish believers who feel more comfortable calling ourselves “Messianic Gentiles” or Talmidei Yeshua than Christians?

While Rabbi Dauermann may feel a lot closer to Jewish community than the Christian Church (and I agree, he should), does a “Messianic” perspective for a Gentile believer draw us closer to the Church or push us further away?

I admit, after this particular church experience and the consequences that resulted from my public disagreement with that church’s head Pastor, I realized I have no place in the Church. The ekklesia, yes. The Church, no.

Simply put, because Rabbi Dauermann is Jewish, he identifies with larger Jewish community, even those who are not disciples of Rav Yeshua (which just baffles the daylights out of most Christians I’ve spoken to about it). I have a Jewish wife, so I’ve seen that dynamic in action first hand, and any thought of my denying her or forbidding her to associate with Jews (not that I would, of course), is totally revolting to me, absolute anathema.

quitting churchBut to reverse the equation somewhat, being a Gentile disciple of Jesus does not automatically make me think of the Church as “us” or even “me”. In fact, on Easter, I feel more apart from “Church” than ever.

Going back to the previously mentioned Facebook commentary on Easter, there have been some interesting responses. There are others like me out there who also experience the disconnect from this Christian holiday, even those who remain in the Church. Some recognize Easter as a deliberate attempt by the early “Church Fathers” to co-opt the Passover/Resurrection event for Gentiles, divorcing it from its Jewish origins and context.

Others launched into “paganoia,” often a consequence of some Hebrew Roots teachings, saying that Easter was a deliberate attempt to introduce paganism, particularly worship of “Ishtar.”

I don’t think I’d take it that far.

But I am disturbed by one thing. The resurrection of Rav Yeshua is living proof that the New Covenant promises of God to Israel (Ezekiel 37:11-14) will indeed occur, and Yeshua is the “first fruits from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Why don’t I feel connected to that?

Well I do, sort of, but it happens more on Passover and during the week of Unleavened Bread than it does at Easter, whether I’m in a church or not.

I know there are Hebrew Roots and Messianic Gentiles out there, those in their churches and elsewhere, who still have an emotional connection to Easter. These people were probably raised in a Christian setting by their Christian families or otherwise, spent enough time in a church to forge that visceral linkage.

I didn’t, not when my parents took me to church as a child, nor when I returned to Christian community as an adult.

Today being Easter punctuates for me that I consider normative Christianity as “them, not me.” I can’t say “us” because I don’t have an alternative “us” to relate to, at least not in an actual, physical form of community.

But that’s OK. Worshiping alone is OK, even though, in an absolute sense, we are never alone.

One of these things is not like the othersI’ve said before that I’ve given up the identity crisis that has seized so many non-Jews who are either in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots community. As Popeye famously quipped, “I yam what I yam,” even if it doesn’t have a widely recognized name or label.

For those of you who are indeed emotionally and theologically attached and even thrilled by Easter or Resurrection Day, may you use your worship to strengthen your devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and all he brings to us.

For those of you who are like me, any day is a good day to bring honor to our Rav and glory to the God of Israel. May the day come when we all merit the resurrection from the dead, and the life in the world to come.

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The Resurrection of the Ekklesia

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles

1 Corinthians 15:1-7 (NASB)

Scholars commonly see in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 material of an early “pre-Pauline” confession that focuses on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances to select witnesses. But there are continuing disagreements over what kind of event is referred to in vv. 3-5 where Jesus is described as “raised on the third day,” specifically whether this refers to a resurrection/transformation of Jesus’ mortal body or some other kind of event, e.g., a “spiritual” one that left his mortal body in the grave. I’ve just read a new study of the matter that seems to me pretty effective in guiding exegetes to the correct answer: James Ware, “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3-5.” New Testament Studies 60 (2014): 475-98.

Larry Hurtado
“Paul on Jesus’ Resurrection: A New Study”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

Being just a regular guy and not a Bible scholar or academician, it never really occurs to me that people drill down into such a level of detail regarding certain Biblical events such as the resurrection. I’ve always been taught that Jesus was physically resurrected on the third day and that for the next forty days, he was seen and touched by many, many people, the witnesses of his resurrection, which serves as evidence of the promise of the resurrection of the “saints” in the Messianic Age.

But here we see Dr. Hurtado explaining how James Ware (probably this author) has investigated the various scholarly positions on what “raised on the third day” actually means. Incredibly (from my point of view), there are those who must not believe in a literal resurrection but somehow imagine that Jesus left his body behind and spiritually rose and ascended, something like “Caspar the Friendly Ghost”.

But why is a bodily resurrection important?

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces…

Isaiah 25:8

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O Death, where are your thorns?
O Sheol, where is your sting?

Hosea 13:14

But perceiving that one group 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!” As he said this, there occurred 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

There are any number of prophesies that speak of a general resurrection from the dead at the end of days and it was upon those prophesies that the Pharisees based their faith. This was the same faith that the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) had since their Messianic beliefs were largely Pharisaic with only a few minor differences that had to do with Gentile admission and status.

new heartIf there was no physical, bodily resurrection for Jesus, then what hope do we have in a resurrection for us?

While I’m stunned that there are still those who, like the Sadducees of old, deny the resurrection today, fortunately…

Ware reviews a wide range of previous scholarly views, carefully assessing their merits, noting the limited force of some and the dubious force of others. His own particular contribution is a more in-depth analysis of the use of the Greek verb translated here “raised”: εγειρω. Essentially, Ware contends that all other uses of the verb describe one or another kind of action involving the raising up, rising up, or setting up of something or someone from a prone or seated position to an upright, standing position.

This, he argues, means that proposals that the verb here refers to an ascension of Jesus, a transportation of him in some “spiritual” mode to heavenly glory, is ruled out. Instead, Paul refers to a raising up or restoration to life of the executed body of Jesus.

To be sure, as Ware notes, later in 1 Cor 15, Paul engages the question of “in what kind of body” are the dead to be raised (vv. 35-49), and Paul here posits a dramatic and profound transformation, those raised being “changed” powerfully. In vv. 42-44, in particular, Paul makes a series of contrasts between the mortal body and the resurrection body: corruption/incorruption, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, “soulish”/spiritual. And Paul also makes the claim that the resurrection of believers will be modelled on Jesus’ resurrection.

-Hurtado, ibid

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:20

Messiah is the “first fruits” of the dead, the first to rise, the first to experience the bodily resurrection from death through “a dramatic and profound transformation” unlike anything that had ever occurred before. As “first fruits,” he illustrates that the promises of God about a general resurrection are true, for the Master powerfully demonstrated the reality of the resurrection with his own body.

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1-3

MessiahI won’t go into an inventory of all the different witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that are recorded in the Gospels, but we have every indication that perhaps five-hundred people or more were witnesses that he physically came alive from the dead, that his wounds were still present, that he ate and drank, and that he wasn’t just some sort of vision or “floaty ghost,” but was a real, live human being who once had been dead. He appeared to witnesses so we would have living accounts of the resurrection, so that we could believe, not mindlessly or blindly, but based on what actual human beings saw and experienced in his presence.

Of course, we have to believe that the Biblical record is accurate regarding these witnesses, and some two-thousand years later, it’s possible to introduce some doubt, but these things can only be discerned through the Spirit:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16

What people saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, we must accept as true by faith and through the Spirit. Without the Spirit, they sound like ridiculous nonsense.

When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.

Acts 25:18-19

And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?

Acts 26:6-8

During the various legal hearings to which Paul was subjected after his arrest in Jerusalem, one of the things the Romans could not comprehend was the matter of a “dead man” coming back to life and the fact that different groups of Jews would argue violently over such a thing. To the pagan Romans, it seems like incomprehensible nonsense.

That’s what it seems like to much of the world today without the ability to read the Bible through “spiritual” eyes, so to speak. But once we have our eyes opened and we can see, then we can believe by faith that not only was the bodily resurrection of Jesus real, but that it is evidence for the faithful that we too will be resurrected when the Master returns for us.

However, there’s one last paragraph from Dr. Hurtado’s blog I want to toss into the mix for your consideration:

So, Paul posits a profound change involved in the resurrection. But, as Ware so deftly points out, all through the passage Paul refers to the body of believers as changed. That is, Paul insists that the resurrection is an event that changes the nature of the embodied existence of those raised. The “spiritual” body, Ware persuasively argues, has to be in context a description of the animating force of the resurrection body, for the contrast is not with a “fleshly” body but with a “soulish” (ψυχικος) one, i.e., the mortal body animated by “soul” (ψυχη), which here appears to be Paul’s reference to what we might call mortal, “biological” life.

The Jewish PaulWhen I first read the phrase “Paul refers to the body of believers as changed,” I thought he was referring to the “ekklesia of believers,” the “body” as the corporate entity of Jesus’ disciples. Re-reading that part of the blog, I know now he was talking about the biological, physical bodies of the believers, but consider something for a second. It’s not just that we will be resurrected and redeemed as individuals, but the collective “personality” of the ekklesia or the assembly of Messiah will also be changed, that is, the nature of the body of Christ won’t be as it is today.

Today, we have many arguments and disputes between different churches or different theologies that all acknowledge Christ as Lord and King, but who otherwise have widely (and sometimes wildly) different perspectives on many matters of the faith. I previously mentioned those Christians today who seemingly don’t believe in a bodily resurrection but rather believe that only our souls or spirits will ascend and live with Jesus in Heaven while our dead bodies remain in the grave forever.

But with the bodily resurrection I believe will also come a resurrection of the combined ekklesia such that the “body of Christ,” the unified humanity of disciples will also be transformed radically and demonstratively into something new, alive, and spiritually perfected:

“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:25-28

Yes, I know the New Covenant was made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and yet I’m liberally sprinkling this covenant language also upon the Gentiles. Many times before, I’ve written about the New Covenant and how I believe it can and must be applied to anyone who comes to faith in the righteous promises of God enacted through the Messiah, including the Gentiles:

Jewish teachers believed that God’s righteousness (his promise-keeping by which he would include the Gentiles) would come through education and conversion. But Paul says “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” and he calls it “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Messiah for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). What Paul means by “the law” here is not a person striving to impress God by their morality, but rather the idea that education in the law and keeping it will make a Gentile acceptable to God in spite of the fact that they were not born into the chosen people. God’s promise-keeping is not dependent on Jewish teachers or Gentile students. It is not by education in or adhering to aspects of the law. God is including Gentiles through his own initiative, through the faithfulness of Messiah who lived (was resurrected) as a result of faithfulness. Messiah lived the commandments and returned to life by his worthiness. Through his merit, Jews and Gentiles are accepted by God.

-Derek Leman
“What’s Wrong with the Jews (in Romans 9-10)? Part 2”
Messianic Jewish Musings

spiritWe know from Joel 2:28-29, 32 that the Spirit will be poured out fully on all flesh, all human beings will benefit and be redeemed and reconciled to God through faith, not just the Children of Israel, but all Children of God among the nations, as long as we endure and run the race faithfully.

Someday each of us will be resurrected, renewed, and perfected, but more than that, as a body of believers, and assembly of disciples, we will collectively be perfected. We will think with one mind and love with one heart, and we will all know God.

The Alter Rebbe interpreted the statement, “Whoever saves a single person of (the people) Israel is as though he saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a): One must perceive a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. There, each soul stands with all the generations destined to descend from it until the coming of Mashiach, the righteous Redeemer. When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.

-Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

According to Hebrews 6:1-2, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Messianic faith. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at the apostolic hope in the resurrection, distinguishing between the resurrection of the righteous and the general resurrection.

This is teaching number 25 in the Hebrews series and number 10 in special series on the elementary teachings of the Messiah. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, teaching 26 and the conclusion to the special series on the elementary teachings, titled “The Eternal Judgment,” was not recorded.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-five: The Resurrection of the Dead
Originally presented on August 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This sermon is closely tied to the previous one which I reviewed last week and continues to discuss a literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

It all starts with that empty tomb of Yeshua’s (Jesus). Why was it empty? Had Jesus risen into Heaven? No. He was physically, bodily resurrected. The same body that died, rose. He even had the same wounds.

Lancaster talked about resuscitation vs. resurrection. We have modern examples of resuscitation when a person is declared dead but then, through modern technology, resuscitated and is again alive, but that person was dead temporarily and the resuscitation is temporary. Eventually, that person will die again.

We see examples of resuscitation in the Bible such as Jesus raising Lazarus (see John 11:38-46). Jesus resuscitated Lazarus but didn’t resurrect him, otherwise Lazarus would have been immortal. At some point, he died again and, like the rest who are dead in Messiah, awaits the resurrection.

…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Romans 6:9

That’s what it means to be resurrected. That’s why Jesus is the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected to prove a point. The point is that all of God’s promises to Israel are real and literal. When God speaks of the resurrection of Israel, He’s being literal and Jesus is the proof. If we believe God proved He will fulfill the resurrection, then we can believe in all of His promises.

In the day of Jesus, the Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection but the Sadducees did not. To settle the point in Judaism once and for all (ideally), Jesus died and was resurrected. For all those who were witnesses and all those who believe through faith in the literal resurrection, that is our hope that death isn’t the end and that a just God will punish evil and reward good.

Rambam (Moses Maimonides) established believing in the resurrection as one of the thirteen principles of faith. In order to be a religious Jew, you have to believe in the resurrection, according to Maimonides.

According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, belief in the resurrection is one of the six principles of the Messianic faith.

Lancaster said that a belief in a literal, earthly resurrection has largely been rejected by the mainstream Protestant church. That’s kind of a surprise to me, but I guess if it’s common for Christians to believe they go to Heaven (and stay in Heaven forever) when they die as some sort of spirits, then a physical resurrection and a life with Jesus on Earth kind of kills the deal (no pun intended).

Lancaster goes so far as to say a Christianity that doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection is no longer Christianity, it no longer follows the Biblical faith of the Apostles.

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, your faith also is vain.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14

If we don’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead in the same body he originally had, and we don’t believe that we too will be raised in the same manner as Jesus, then, according to the Apostle Paul, he, and all of the apostles and disciples who had been preaching Jesus, were preaching in vain. Not only that, but our Christian faith is also in vain if we don’t believe in the resurrection.

aliveThat’s pretty strong stuff. If you believe you’re going to Heaven as a “floaty ghost” (Lancaster’s words), then your body is dead and stays dead. You have some sort of spiritual existence in Heaven but you will never have a physical existence again. If this is what you believe, then you deny the resurrection, making Paul’s preaching and your Christian faith vain and worthless.

That’s pretty horrible. There goes your hope. Poof. Up in a (spiritual) puff of smoke.

Jesus is the definitive proof of a resurrection, if you’re willing to believe. If you believe, you have hope. If not…poof.

Not only will there be a resurrection, there will be two of them. The first is what is called the resurrection of the righteous which includes the exiles from Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) and all those in Messiah (that is, the Gentiles who are in the faith). We will be gathered to the Messiah and taken to the Kingdom. That happens at the beginning of the Messianic age.

The second resurrection, also called the general resurrection, happens at the end of the Messianic age and at that time everyone will be resurrected from the dead…to be judged.

Jesus even taught about it.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

John 5:25-32

Those of us who hear the voice of the Master will be among the first resurrection because we are in him. However, not all of humanity is or will be in Messiah and those who are not in him won’t hear his voice. However, even those who are not in Messiah will hear him at the second resurrection and they will be judged by the will of God.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RestorationA word about going up into the air. We don’t stay there, according to Lancaster. This isn’t the ride to Heaven most Christians believe in. We won’t be raptured to Heaven but rather to where the presence of the King of Israel will be…to Jerusalem.

That may be disappointing or even startling to some of you reading my words. Actually, after spending so much time hearing about the rapture, it’s still a little jarring to me. What? No Heaven with Jesus? Christians I know believe that “the Church” will be raptured to Heaven for the remainder of the tribulation, and then return to Earth with Jesus to conquer the enemies of the Church and take over the world.

But that’s not what Jesus taught or Paul wrote about.

… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 4:14

The King will be in his Kingdom. His presence will be in Israel.

But how will we be raised. What will it be like?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

1 Corinthians 15:35-41

Orthodox Jews don’t cremate their dead, they always bury them. In fact, how one prepares the dead for burial and the rituals around treating the body of the dead all are built on the belief in the resurrection. A dead body is treated with great respect because it is a body that will come alive again.

jewish burialBut what about people who were cremated or suffered some fatal accident which destroyed the body? According to Paul, the body doesn’t absolutely have to be whole and intact. By using the “seed” metaphor, he suggests that all that’s required is some small, perhaps very tiny fragment of the original body. God will not be stopped in accomplishing the promise of the resurrection.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Corinthians 15:42-49

According to Lancaster’s understanding of scripture, we will be resurrected in our original bodies, warts, wounds, disabilities and all, God will heal our infirmities, and through a process we don’t understand, a process Jesus went through after his resurrection, our bodies will be transformed into immortal and indestructible bodies. In fact, all of Creation will be transformed, resurrected, so to speak, and death will be no more.

So although we mourn our loved ones who have died, it is not as if they died without hope, for in Messiah, we shall all be raised again.

My God, the soul that you placed in me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it within me, and you will ultimately lift it away from me, only to return it to me in the future to come. For the entire time that my soul is within me, I give thanks to you, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, Great One over all works, Master of all souls. Blessed are you, O LORD, who returns souls to dead bodies.

-Siddur

What Did I Learn?

As I said last week, the idea of a physical, bodily, earthly resurrection is not new to me, so no curve balls there. I did have a question of whether or not Lancaster believes that all Jewish people will be in the first resurrection or only those in Messiah, but from what I could tell on the recording, that was left somewhat ambiguous.

I’ve mentioned before in these reviews and in my reviews of Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant that it seems as if God intends to forgive the sins of all of Israel, so one way to interpret that is all Jewish people will be forgiven, redeemed, and be made righteous, and thus they will all be part of the first resurrection.

WaitingThat has problems when compared with much of Paul’s commentary about being resurrected in Messiah so I’ll reserve judgment on that issue. I don’t want to create the impression of a dual path to salvation.

Lancaster did say something interesting about how we should treat our bodies in the present age. He said we should treat them with respect and honor, doing only healthy things to our bodies. Of course, we will age or even possibly die in accidents that will be very damaging to our bodies, but the idea is that we don’t get new ones. We get the same old ones, even though they will be transformed, healed, and made immortal and indestructible.

God made our bodies as well as our spirits and even though at death, they are temporarily separated, one day they will be brought together again.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

When you go to sleep in the dust, you will also rise, just as you are, only better. You will be gathered with your King in the air and travel with him in triumph and glory to Jerusalem, City of David, as he is enthroned bodily in Israel as her King, as our King.

That last part, as I mentioned above, may throw some of you. I’ve heard this before. I’ll probably get some angry comments about it. But think about it. Would it be so bad to stay here with Jesus on Earth? Do we really have to go to Heaven first?

Oh, don’t worry about the next lecture, “The Eternal Judgment” not having been recorded. It’s covered in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles, so I’ll just review that chapter for next week.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.

FFOZ TV Review: Resurrection

FFOZ TV Episode 25Episode 25: In Jewish thought the ultimate expression of God’s power is the resurrection of the dead, and the ultimate resurrection was that of Jesus himself. In episode twenty-five viewers will discover that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a foreshadow of the final resurrection of the dead that was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Messiah rising from the dead was a promise, a guarantee that one day the great redemption will come, the great resurrection of the dead will take place, and the Messianic kingdom will arrive.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 25: Resurrection (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Resurrection

One of the biggest mysteries of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there are no explicit prophesies in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible or Old Testament) that say the Messiah must personally die and then be resurrected three days later. In Christianity, we just take it for granted because it is a central if not the central tenet of our beliefs. But looking at the resurrection from a Jewish point of view, particularly a late Second Temple Era perspective, what did the resurrection of Messiah mean?

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki started answering that question by reading the following:

And he began to teach that the son of man needs to suffer greatly, and the elders, the leading priests, and the scholars would reject him, and he would be killed, but at the end of three days he would surely rise. He spoke this word in the ears of all of them, and Petros took him and began to reprimand him.

Mark 8:31-32 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus himself taught that he had to die and be resurrected three days later, but the fact that at hearing this Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, shows us that even Peter didn’t understand the meaning of Messiah’s death and resurrection. It must not have been an obvious belief common among Jewish people of that day (and it’s also not a belief in Judaism in our age). Peter certainly knew Jesus was the Messiah (see Matthew 16:16) so it wasn’t a matter of lack of faith or lack of knowledge. Even in the days of Jesus on earth, the death and resurrection of the Messiah was a great mystery.

A mystery we are trying to solve from a Jewish perspective today in this episode.

Jesus explained the meaning, at least partially, after he was resurrected:

These are the things that I spoke to you about while I was still with you. For every scripture about me will surely be fulfilled in the Torah of Mosheh, in the Prophets, and in the Tehillim. Then he opened their hearts to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, thus it is written and decreed that the Mashiach will be afflicted and will arise from the dead on the third day…

Luke 24:44-46 (DHE Gospels)

Toby points out that Jesus says his death and resurrection are prophesied in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms (Tehillim). But where? There’s nothing in these ancient writings that point-blank says the Messiah must die for the sins of humanity and be raised again three days later. What does Jesus explain to them that the Bible doesn’t explain to us? Won’t the Holy Spirit open our hearts to understand the scriptures?

Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

Acts 2:27 (NASB)

Here, Toby tells us that Peter is quoting Psalm 16:10 as proof that the Messiah would not die permanently and that God would resurrect him. This is only one of a few cryptic “proofs” in the New Testament that the Old Testament prophesies spoke, or at least hinted at, the Messiah’s resurrection.

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.

Isaiah 25:8 (NASB)

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.

Isaiah 26:19 (NASB)

ffoz_tv25_tobyToby quotes Isaiah as well as Ezekiel 37:3-6 to show that in the future Messianic Era, there will be a great resurrection of the dead, but this doesn’t specifically speak to the resurrection of the Messiah during his first advent.

There was no question among these ancient Jewish prophets that there would be a future resurrection of all the dead once the Messiah had come, and that brings us to our first clue:

1st Clue: The resurrection from the dead is a component of the Messianic Kingdom.

Toby makes a key point by saying that Jesus felt these prophesies also explained his own resurrection. But how? Is Toby employing more than a little theological sleight of hand in making such a statement?

To learn more, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel for a short language lesson about the Hebrew word for “Life.”

Life, or “Chaim” is a gift from God. Aaron references the following to illustrate:

The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.

1 Samuel 2:6 (NASB)

This is part of Hannah’s prayer to God and shows us beautifully that life and death are from God and as He brings down into death, He also raises up back to life.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in the resurrection of the dead once the Messiah comes, even as the Pharisees did in the day of Jesus. Many Jewish dead are buried at the Mount of Olives where it is prophesied the feet of the Messiah will first touch the earth.

Three times a day, observant Jews pray for the resurrection, and the Mishnah states that if anyone does not believe the Torah speaks of the resurrection, that person forfeits their place in the world to come.

Aaron EbyAaron points out that in Acts 23:6, when Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and brought before the Sanhedrim, he throws the whole court, which is made up of Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and Sadducees who didn’t, into an uproar by claiming that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Apparently, not all Jews two-thousand years ago believed in the resurrection of the dead, but it was obviously a “hot button” topic.

The last of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith established by the Rambam, the great sage Moses Maimonides in the twelfth century is a declaration of faith in the future resurrection of the dead.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls all this together to form the second clue:

Clue 2: The future resurrection of the dead is a principle of Jewish faith.

But while all this certainly establishes that religious Jews, like Christians, believe in a future resurrection, what does it have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

According to Toby, it goes back to the debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees about whether or not there would be a future resurrection. By God resurrecting Jesus three days after he died, it was supposed to settle the argument. Jesus, the Messiah, by being resurrected, establishes a future resurrection.

But there still one more connection to make, and it comes from the apostle Paul:

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?

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.

1 Corinthians 15:12, 20-21 (NASB)

In verse 12, Paul directly links the resurrection of Jesus with the future resurrection of all the dead, stating that if you don’t believe in the former, you are also denying the latter. Then in verses 20 and 21, Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus was a “first fruits of those who are asleep” (dead).

The Torah commands that all Israelite farmers are required to offer the first ripe fruit of their harvest to God. This presupposes that the larger harvest of the crops is not yet ripe. The metaphor illustrates that the resurrection of the Messiah was a first fruits or a foretaste of the resurrection and when the rest of the harvest of humanity is “ripe,” the great resurrection of the dead will come. This happens in the Messianic Era.

We have arrived at the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of the final resurrection.

In other words, by the Messiah dying and then being resurrected, he was proving that all of the older prophesies about a great resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Age were valid, accurate, and will indeed occur.

What Did I Learn?

The major point I learned was how the purpose of the resurrection of Messiah was framed by Toby and Aaron. Basically, it was a theological and probably a legal proof to all of the Jewish people of that day that indeed there would be a great resurrection in the future age.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in that resurrection, but I’m not sure that all religious Jews everywhere do. All Christians believe not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but in the resurrection of all the dead, who will then be judged.

I don’t struggle with these concepts, but the great struggle today for non-believing Jews, just as it probably was among many of the Jewish people in the day of the apostles, was whether or not the Messiah had to die and then rise. While the focus of this episode was on the resurrection, to get a Jewish person to this point, you first have to get them past the death of Jesus, which wasn’t touched upon in this show.

I’ve tried to write to this issue using Jewish and Christian sources in blog posts such as The Death of the Tzaddik and The Sacrifice at Golgotha.

Jews, like Christians (and just about everyone else), find the idea of making a human sacrifice to God abhorrent, and from a traditional Jewish perspective, the death of Jesus to pay for our sins looks like a human sacrifice. Christians don’t consider this an issue in our faith, but from an outsider’s point of view, it’s a huge stumbling block.

tallit_templeThere are some aspects of Jewish faith that support the idea of the death of a great tzaddik or righteous one atoning for the sins of others, up to and including the sins of an entire generation of Jews. When we people of Yeshua faith attempt to cite those sources, we are sometimes accused of misreading the ancient Jewish sages for our own ends. I can see how some Jewish people would get that impression but this also illustrates that it is Jewish to believe a human death can atone for others, therefore, it’s not completely outrageous to believe that the Messiah’s death, the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, could atone, not just for the sins of a single generation, but for the sins of all generations across time.

But I’m going off topic. Toby and Aaron were focusing on the resurrection, not the death of Messiah, and they’re addressing primarily an audience of traditional Christians, not traditional Jews. To that end, it’s almost as if Toby and Aaron were “preaching to the choir,” since the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all the dead are a “given” in the Christian faith. However, they did establish that the resurrection is not an uniquely Christian concept, but is founded strongly in Judaism and the Old Testament. They also showed, as I said above, that the resurrection proved to the Jewish people in the apostolic era, that the prophesies of a great, future resurrection would be fulfilled.

At the end of the episode, as usual, Boaz Michael, FFOZ’s President and Founder, came to announce the next and last show of this television series, which teaches the literal, physical restoration of Israel that is yet to come. This will be my last opportunity to review this television series and I will certainly miss it.

I’m not unmindful that this blog post is being published on Christmas Day. For all of my readers who celebrate Christmas, I give you warm greetings and may the Spirit of Messiah be with you on this day, inspiring love and generosity.

May the light of Messiah continue to illuminate our paths and to open our eyes to who he is and who we are in him.