Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Awakened Together: The Hope of Resurrection

"We should learn to view our death [as] . . . a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us release from . . . all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment, as on a sofa, until the time when He shall call and awaken us together with all his dear children to His eternal glory and joy." (A Compendia of Luther's Theology, p. 242).

I lead a men's discipleship group on Tuesday mornings. The only ground rules are there are no ground rules. Come when you can. Leave when you must. Ask questions, make comments, or simply stay quiet. The discussion is free flowing. We've been meeting for twenty-two years at 7:00 am and everyone's welcome, guests invited. Currently we are reading and discussing John's Gospel.

It has long been my belief that churches should create safe zones for people to question long-held church beliefs, particularly if those beliefs, often presented dogmatically by church leaders, seem to contradict the God-breathed and infallible Scriptures. Our canon--that means our standard and guide--is the Word of God alone. Our interpretations of God's word are sometimes faulty; but the fault of our faultiness (pardon the pun) is in us, not God. Therefore, it is incumbent upon church leaders, in my opinion, to create safe zones where people are free to question other's long held, sometimes cherished beliefs. We have that freedom on Tuesdays, and the discussions are often very interesting. Let me give you an example.

In our study of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, several questions were about Jesus saying, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep; I will go and awaken him" (John 11:11). Was Lazarus really dead? If Lazarus was really dead, why did Jesus call being dead being 'asleep'? How is death like sleep? Was Lazarus in 'heaven' when he was dead, and did Jesus call him back from heaven when He raised Lazarus to life? Would Lazarus want to have come back from heaven? Is the 'spirit' of man something that exists independently and separate from the body?

One of our church members, a marvelously deep thinker with a passion for Scripture, gave us his belief that the miracle of Lazarus was a 'type' of the resurrection -- the day to which Jesus referred when He said,
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear My voice, and will come forth; (some) to a resurrection of life, and (some) to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29)
Our church member, who came from a Lutheran background before coming to Emmanuel,  went on to explain that the Scriptures nowhere speak of  man's 'spirit' existing apart from the 'body.' The soul of man, he argued, is the totality of man. A human being is not an angelic being; never was, and never will be. Men are mortal by nature, for God alone is immortal (I Timothy 6:16).  Therefore, for eternal life to occur in a human being, this eternal life must be a gift from the only eternal One by nature, who alone has the power to resurrect mortal life and sustain it eternally. 

Jesus Christ was sent by God to this world "to give eternal life to those who believe " (John 3:15).  The last enemy destroyed in the life of a believer is death (I Corinthians 15:26). Eternal life is not experienced until the resurrection! The Apostles and early Christians all placed their hope in the resurrection, not their death. According to this gentleman's view, every person who dies will sleep until the resurrection. From the dead person's perspective,  physical resurrection is instantaneous to the closing of one's eyes at the moment of death, similar to way a person falls asleep under anesthesia, only to awaken immediately--though many hours may have passed.

 At 'the hour' of resurrection,  that means, in 'the fullness of time," Jesus Christ will raise everyone who has died , some to a resurrection of life (eternal), and others to a resurrection of judgment. Believers in Christ escape the 'wrath to come' (I Thessalonians 1:10). Unbelievers will be judged after the resurrection for each and every sin committed in this life. Every act will be examined and morally weighed, every 'idle word and thought' measured against the standard of God's purpose for life, and then the righteous Judge will give out varying sentences of punishment to the wicked. No lost person will be punished the same. God is dispenses His judicial wrath in accordance to the severity of earthly sins. The isolation of hell, the blackness and loneliness of separation from mankind and God, not to mention the gnawing worm of conscience, memories, and regrets, will last longer for some than others. However, once the judgment commences, it is 'unquenchable' -- it can't be stopped (Luke 3:17). The divine sentence of punishment that the resurrected unbeliever experiences called the 'second death' (Revelation 21:8). After the righteous sentence has been fulfilled in time, the mortal person will cease to exist, for Jesus said,
"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
When the gentleman in our small group finished, a few of the men looked shell-shocked. Some turned to me and asked what I thought. I replied, "One of the advantages of knowing history is the ability to recall debates like this one from times past."
I then proceeded to explain how Martin Luther, John Milton, John Locke, Isaac Watts, Robert Hall, the Anabaptists, and a host of other evangelical Christians believed very similarly to what they had just heard from our friend. I then mentioned that evangelical Christians have never been in full agreement on these issues. The skillful and influential John Calvin wrote a book 'refuting' Luther's beliefs on death as sleep and the mortality of man. Calvin's book title is rather long: Psychopannycia: Or a Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskilful Persons Who Ignorantly Imagine That in the Interval Between Death and the Judgment the Soul Sleeps, Together with an Explanation of the Condition and Life of the Soul after This Present Life."  After its publication in the 16th century, very few evangelicals publicly opposed the eloquent John Calvin. 
However, one of those orthodox believers in Christ who did challenge Calvin was the even more eloquent Isaac Watts. This follower of Christ who authored many wonderful hymns including "Joy to the World," "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "O God Our Help In Ages Past," and others, once wrote:
"There is not one Place of Scripture that occurs to me, where the word Death, as it was first threatened in the Law of Innocency, necessarily signfies a certain miserable Immortality of the Soul, either to Adam, the actual Sinner, or to his Posterity.... (The Ruine and Recovery of Mankind - p. 228).
Ultimately, our standard for belief is not the writings of men, but the Word of God. I think it quite fascinating that a group of men in Enid, Oklahoma in 2014 can discuss the resurrection of Lazarus from John 11, and through simple discussion jump immediately to the heart of a major disagreement that occurred 500 years ago between Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Who's right? It's definitely worth discussing. There are strong points on both sides.

One of these days, we'll all see the truth clearly.


Aussie John said...

I trust I'm not throwing a red herring into the conversation, but, archeology throws up some interesting questions regarding the subject raised by your friend of Lutheran background.

Depending on the chemical composition of the soil where burials occur bodies can remain for centuries, or, completely disappear, leaving little trace, if any, Christian or otherwise.

Wade Burleson said...

No red herring. Excellent point. The resurrection is indeed mysterious.

Bob Cleveland said...

Perhaps the passage in Ezekiel 37 ... the valley of the dry bones ... is a clue as to God's ability to handle the bodily resurrection thing with no problems.

It is, indeed, comforting to know that God will accomplish what He's said, whether I understand it or not. Kind of like He does all around me every day.

Joe said...

Thanks for the excellent post. I have always felt that the judgment was a singular event. Therefore, tradition presents the notion of a free pass to heaven (or somewhere) until that day.

Anonymous said...

My view is that when a born again saint dies physically his spirit is immediately alive in the presence of God until the rapture. I believe various references support this. In particular, the story of the rich man and Lazarus which provides many lessons related to the "after-life".

I also believe that the resurrected, eternal, physical body we believers will have will be "created" by God and that no remnant of our old, pre-death physical body is essential to the existence of our "resurrected" body although the new body will reflect the image of our person existing prior to our death.

Is this consistent with what the member of the Tuesday session was proposing?

Unknown said...

Wade,I read your blog regularly and appreciate it beyond words. But when I read the last sentence of this blog I find that I must differ. I frequently hear persons say something to the effect: "We will understand it all then." Such matters as human suffering, pain and various tragedies, as well as such facts related to the resurrection as are contained in this blog will not really matter after the resurrection. We will be altogether too fully occupied with praising, adoring and worshiping our wonderful God and Savior, that the injection of such earthly and human matters would serve only to lessen the enjoyment of the perfection of heaven and the glory of God's presence. "IT WILL NOT REALLY MATTER."

Wade Burleson said...

RRR, what you propose is the opposite of what our member was proposing.

Wade Burleson said...


Probably the case. :)

Curious Thinker said...

Interesting post. I agree we as Christians will interpret scriptures sometimes in different ways. Which is way I'm more invested in learning the biblical truths in context and meanings beyond the church which is the point of my blog.

Philip Miller said...

I do think there are numerous and sufficient biblical indications to believe that there is a conscious awareness of the person during the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. Someone has already mentioned Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There is also the account of Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus. We know that Enoch and Elijah were taken somewhere. Stronger still is Jesus assuring the the repentant thief on the cross that "today" you will be with me in paradise. Stronger of all, perhaps, is the Apostle Paul saying that absence "from the body" is "presence with the Lord". So I do believe that there is conscious existence of the soul apart from the body after death. But still it does bother me that there is such a dearth of evangelical teaching on the biblical reality that the resurrection is the hope of the church and not "Going to Heaven when you die". Death ushers in the intermediate state. Resurrection inaugurates the eternal state.

Unknown said...

This is an interesting issue, one which I've struggled with myself across the years. As has been pointed out, there are numerous passages of Scripture which seem to suggest that after death there is nothing until the resurrection; but there are also passages which suggest a continuation of existence & awareness after the body has died.

But now let me throw my own clod into the churn (as one of our dear church ladies is fond of saying). I can't help but wonder that somehow the very nature of eternity, as opposed to the nature of time, has a place in this conversation. C.S. Lewis described eternity, not as an endless progression of time, but as the ABSENCE of time--the realm of existence where time does not exist. In God's experience of life (if we might phrase it in that way), there is no past, present, or future; there is only the eternal NOW. All of which is to say...what if, in that eternal NOW of God's existence, the resurrection is perceived and experienced as having already taken place? Such a view is admittedly the wildest of speculation on my part--but it does allow for a sort of joining of the two major ideas that are being put into play.

In any case, I agree that the HOW of the matter isn't nearly as import as the THAT: I believe THAT the resurrection will take place at the end of time, but it's not necessarily my job to know HOW it will take place.

Louis J.

Christiane said...

My husband has the service privilege of being buried at sea by the US Navy.

I have thought about this and I understand it that it is HIS wish; and that it is also known in sacred Scripture, this prophecy from St. John:

"And the sea gave up the dead which were in it . . . " (from Rev.20:13)

so I am at peace with my husband's wishes, as they are not outside of the realm of the Kingdom that he also will also be called forth by Christ out of the sea on the Day of the Lord . . .

we cannot know exactly how time and eternity intersect, and we cannot understand the ways of Our God, but this is a comforting word, WADE:
"One of these days, we'll all see the truth clearly."

Christiane said...


from Baylor University's Men's Choir,
the haunting hymn 'Idumea'

'And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought
The dreary regions of the dead,
Where all things are forgot.
Soon as from earth I go
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe,
Must then my portion be!
Waked by the trumpet sound,
I from my grave shall rise;
And see the Judge with glory crowned,
And see the flaming skies!'

Unknown said...

My view, Paul taught that the resurrection was the hope of Israel not the church.

Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 28:20

Acts 26:6-8 (NKJV) "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?

In the last verse Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as that which fulfills "the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers."

The word "resurrection" does not appear in the Old Testament, but the concept does.

Daniel 12:2 ,Daniel 12:13

Here we see a resurrection at the end of the age.


Since the resurrection is past, what happens to believers when they die? Their physical body goes back to dust from which it came:

Ecclesiastes 3:20,1 Corinthians 15:35-38

We get the same kind of body Christ has, but we do not get it the same way He got His, nor do we get our same physical body back like Christ did. We get a new spiritual body which arises out of the inner man. God gives us a spiritual body!

1 Corinthians 15:44-46

This affirms two different kinds of bodies. Our natural body dies, and we receive a spiritual body. Paul says, "IT IS RAISED A SPIRITUAL BODY."

Those of us who have trusted Christ in the New Covenant age, have life and do not need to be resurrected.

John 11:25-26

Jesus is saying, "He who believes in me shall live (spiritually), even if he dies (physically), and everyone who lives (physically), and believes in Me, shall never die (spiritually)."

Two categories of believers are discussed: those who would die before the resurrection and those who would not. For those who died under the Old Covenant, He was the Resurrection, but for those who lived into the days of the New Covenant, He is the Life.

Under the New Covenant, there is no death, spiritually speaking:

1 Corinthians 15:54-57,Revelation 21:4

Where there is no death, there is no need of a resurrection. We have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, we don't need a resurrection. At death, we go immediately to heaven in our spiritual body.

The resurrection was a one time event in which the Old Testament saints were brought out of Hades and finally overcame death to be with the Lord. We have put on immortality and will put on our immortal body when we die physically. As believers, we live in the presence of God, and in physical death, we simply drop the flesh and dwell only in the spiritual realm.

Wade Burleson said...

Interesting thoughts, Adam!

I'm very familiar with your view, and see merits in it. My main stumbling block with it is this:

I see Scripture declaring God has a purpose for THIS world (i.e. "world without end") and the earth is 'groaning, waiting for that day of redemption' (Paul's words). So, instead of a 'spiritual resurrection' and eternal life in another, parallel 'spiritual' universe, I'm of the old fashioned, flesh and bones viewpoint that Christ taught the resurrection of the body is real, tangible, and going to occur - in this world - on that day, and at 'that hour' when those who are in the grave hear Christ's voice (see John 5:28, 29). So, instead of viewing the resurrection as only for Israel, I see it as the hope of all mankind.

Unknown said...

Thanks Wade for the reply, below is my stumbling block to yours stumbling block 

Paul's discussion of the "groaning of creation" in Romans 8:18f and Isaiah 26, where the prophet described Israel as in the birth pangs, longing for redemption and resurrection
I see as the relationship between Romans 8 and Isaiah 26.

1.) Paul affirms repeatedly that his one eschatological hope was nothing but the hope of Israel.
2.) Paul speaks of the Groaning of Creation-- which I would equate with the Birth pangs of Messiah. This concept permeates Messianic prophecy. The Birth pangs of Messiah (what is commonly called the Great Tribulation), would lead directly to the Kingdom / Judgment / the Resurrection.
3.) This motif is right there in Isaiah 26-- Birth Pangs- resurrection- coming of the Lord (v. 20-21)-- destruction of Leviathan (27:1).
4.) The groaning of creation is therefore, the groaning of Israel in her inability to bring forth deliverance (salvation), her laboring under sin. I equate "creation" in Paul's discussion to sentient man-- not bugs, slugs and mosquitoes.
5.) Paul posits that deliverance-- the redemption / adoption-- as already initiated (Romans 8:14f) awaiting consummation (v. 23).
6.) Paul undeniably posits that redemption in a context of imminence, incorporating three powerful words of imminence: mello (with the infinitive); apokaradokeo; and apekedekomai.
7.) Isaiah posited the salvation of Israel that was coming in the context of the judgment of Israel, when the altar would be turned to chalk stone, the fortified city desolated, and the people whom He had created would be forgotten (27:10f-- salvation through Tribulation!).
All of this agrees with the narrative found in the Olivet Discourse--- Abomination of Desolation---> Tribulation (Birth Pangs of Messiah)-- parousia / kingdom / resurrection. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus cites Isaiah 27:13, a prophecy of the salvation of the remnant (resurrection) at the sounding of the Great Trumpet. All of this was to occur in Jesus' generation.

What is the source of Jesus’ teaching on John 5:28-29? Is it not Daniel 12 and Ezekiel 37? Isn’t that the resurrection of the just and the unjust? Isn’t it the resurrection of those who sleep in the dust of the earth, i.e. who are dead? Wasn’t their resurrection to take place in the end of the age and the establishment of the kingdom, Matt. 13:39-40?

Is Daniel 12:2-3 = Ezekiel 37 = John 5:28-29 = Romans 13:11-12 = Acts 24:14-15 and 2 Timothy 4:1?

Paul uses the “last hour” in that very sense per Romans 13:11-12. He says that now it is the “hour” to awake out of sleep. That’s the last hour before one gets out of bed. Why, because the night was far spent. That was the night of the last day! There was only one hour, i.e. the last hour left to go before time to rise (resurrection).

Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life

Wade Burleson said...


Really good stuff.

Love the way you are thinking through these issues.

I see your points.

Christiane said...

People of my Church regard Romans 8:10-11 as a contrast to the more gnostic-leaning viewpoints about the resurrection of our earthly mortal body:

"10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

In the Anglican faith, these triumphant words from the Book of Job (chapter 19) have been a part of the burial service for centuries:

"25For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

27Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another .. "

whether our interpretations are influenced by Greek philosophy as found expressed in the gnostic teachings or not;
when Christian people endure the crisis of mortal death, they may fully trust the Good Shepherd whose loving arms receive us safely so that we may take our place in the world He has prepared for us. Even now, in this life, He has given us His Peace and has nourished us from His own substance to strengthen us to endure the journey in safety without fear of evil. For this, we give endless thanks.

Rex Ray said...

This is a very interesting topic. Probably everyone that’s lived has thought about it.

My 3 year old grandson saw a cow scull and asked his mother what it was.

“That’s a cow that died.”
“Are we going to die?”
“We’ll all die someday, but we’ll go to heaven and be very happy.”
He started crying and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven; I like this planet.”

Philip Miller quoted Paul: “…to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord.”

In a nutshell, I believe Jesus explained this subject.

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.” (Mark 12:26-27 NLT)

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the testimony of those who have died, or those close to death.

Seconds before my 5-year-old cousin died, she said: “Mama, which one is our house?”

My grandmother rose up from her bed with a smile saying, “It’s so beautiful; I see Papa.” Then she was gone.

Nonnie said...

I've been reading NT Wright on this subject. He writes, on page 163: "Today you will be with me in Paradise. There will still, of course, be a future completion involving ultimate resurrection:Luke's overall theological understanding leaves no doubt on that score. Jesus, after all, didn't rise again, 'today,' i.e. he rose on Good Friday. Luke must have understood him to be referring to a state of being in paradise which would be true for him and for the man dying beside him, at once, that very day...in other words, prior to the resurrection. With Jesus the future hope has come forwards into the present. For those who die in faith, before the final awakening, the central promise is of being 'with Jesus' at once.' Paul said, "My desire is to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better."

Christiane said...

I like to think we are a part of the Incarnation in the sense that 'humanity' was once again seen upon the Earth unblemished in the Person of Our Lord who was conceived in Mary's womb and born at Nazareth ...

St. Anselm of Canterbury said this:
""From the moment of her fiat,
Mary began to carry all of us in her womb."

I think that the mystery of what happens to us after our mortal death is absolutely that we have become connected to Christ Himself in a way that we cannot fully comprehend.

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