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.
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.
That’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.
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
A 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.
But 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.
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.
That 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.”
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.