Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Resurrection, part 2

Not all Jews in Jesus’ day believed in the resurrection. The Sadducees rejected the resurrection on the basis that it could not be demonstrated from the Torah. It’s interesting to see how Jesus debates with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32. When he makes his argument, he doesn’t appeal to explicit references to the resurrection like Daniel 12:2. Instead, he argues from a passage that is far more ambiguous. The reason is because Jesus wanted to make an argument from a passage the Sadducees would accept as authoritative. They didn't accept Daniel, but they did accept the Torah. Jesus quoted from the Torah to make his argument for resurrection.

Most ordinary Jews shared the Pharisaic understanding of resurrection. The popular Jewish understanding can be discovered by looking at both canonical and non-canonical Jewish literature because their views were shaped by and reflect in those writings. First, let’s look at canonical references, and then tomorrow we’ll look at non-canonical references.

There are only three explicit Old Testament passages about resurrection. From these three references, five things can be inferred. Resurrection was (1) a general resurrection of all the dead, (2) on the last day, (3) ushered in by the Messiah, (4) for the purpose of eschatological restoration, (5) that involved their bodies exiting their graves.

In Daniel 12, Daniel is told to “go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Daniel 12:13). His resurrection, then, would be at the end of the age. Earlier in the chapter, he was told that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). We can see from these passages that the resurrection is general. That means it’s a resurrection of all the dead. We can also see that it happens at the end of the age. I want to draw attention also to the fact that the object of the resurrection is “those who sleep in the dust of the ground.” It is those who are in the ground who awake to everlasting life or contempt. It’s clear, then, that it refers to a bodily resurrection. Contrary to the Jehovah’s Witness view, it does involved people exiting their graves.

In Isaiah 26, we are told about God’s final vindication of Israel and punishment of God’s enemies. In verse 19, it says, “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.” The references to corpses rises makes it pretty unmistakable that the author means a bodily resurrection of the same bodies that died. The earth giving birth reinforces the same point since the dead return to the earth through burial and/or decay. Not as obvious, though, is that the resurrection here appears to be general. The people of God are being addressed and told to “awake and shout for joy.” They will be raised together in one general resurrection.

The next passage is Ezekiel 37. I’m going to say a little more about this one, so I’ll save it till tomorrow.

to be continued... Part 3

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