Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

But Some Doubted

There is a way in which doubt can establish faith rather than undermine it.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Some people believe that and the way they explain the Biblical accounts is to say that years later they were written by manipulators in order to turn a good teacher into a god to galvanize a movement that was beginning to fray.

There are historical, theological, and textual problems with this answer, but let’s leave them aside for the moment and ask what kind of writings such manipulators might manufacture. How would they tweak history to convince people 100 to 200 years later (according to skeptical timelines) that Jesus came back to life?

You might put words in Pauls mouth to the tune of:

“He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:4-8)

Years after Paul’s death there would be no way to actually verify any of this. These writings would be taken as inspired scripture which you’re not allowed to question so there you go. Jesus rose even when he didn’t.

I’m giving the skeptic a lot of leeway here. There are problems with the idea of anyone accepting modified writing or with their sudden appearance 200 years later if they were made up. But let’s let them have those for now.

A more sophisticated approach might be the story of Thomas’ doubt in John 20:26-29:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

You see? Thomas came around! A story like, were it fake, would serve to strengthen the deception. “See? Thomas didn’t believe it either! But Jesus said you’d be blessed it you believe without seeing.”

What you would not expect to see if people are trying to establish the lie that Jesus rose from the dead and everyone back then knew it and believe it is this:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matt. 28:16-17)

These supposedly fabricated stories would seek to establish the supposedly ancient truth that Jesus rose and people saw him. Why would they include this? The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and they worshipped him. “But some doubted.” What more proof did they need? He’s standing right in front of them!

But Matthew’s account could serve to undermine the entire covert attempt to fool people. You can’t let that kind of doubt slip through or the whole thing could unravel on you.

So why did Matthew include it? Probably because it really happened. People are not so simple as to believe just because they have evidence. We all doubt sometimes and the disciples were no different. After all, people don’t usually rise from the dead. Even in the pre-scientific mindset of the first century, Lazarus rose from the dead because Jesus told him to. But Jesus just rose.

That leads to another problem with fabricating this story. Even by the third century, women were not given equal status in society. So when the gospels say that women reported that Jesus rose, it again kind of undermines the attempt at deception.

So is it satisfying to believe that these masterminds who attempted to turn Jesus into something more than a rabbi were genius enough to fudge the scriptures and at the same time dopy enough to do it so poorly? It isn’t to me. So even when I question and wonder and, yes, doubt I still look at the scriptures and believe. But some doubt.

Better Than Harps and Clouds and Halos

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

I don’t want to be naked, not naked like Paul is describing it above, at least I don’t want to be that kind of naked for very long. Though Paul is mixing the metaphor a bit, what he is getting at is that we’re not souls in a physical body which we’ll be released from when we die. A disembodied soul is what he means by being “naked.”

littlest+angel

This is from the TV movie “The Littlest Angel” which is about a shepherd boy who goes to heaven and becomes and angel. I remember it from my childhood but now I see how wrong it was.


When I was a kid, the idea you got from movies and TV was that when we die we go to heaven to become angels. Sometimes we have to earn our wings by doing something to help the living so what we really become is guardian angels. That sounds nice and makes for okay TV movie plots, but in reality it is a far cry less than what really awaits us.

According to Paul’s terminology here, we have a “tent” that is our earthly home. But it isn’t a flesh spacesuit we take off when we die. It is imperfect and, whether we know it or now, we long for the heavenly version of it. But that heavenly version isn’t clouds, halos, harps, white robes and earning wings and becoming angels. No, we will judge the angels (1 Cor 6:3) and what we have is what the angels long to examine (1 Pet 1:12).

We get something much better than what the angels get. When some of the angels rebelled, God created hell for them (Matt 25:41) and appointed a day when they’d get sent there (Matt 8:29) to be punished for their rebellion. He didn’t make a way for their sin to be forgiven. Angels won’t be redeemed.

But God decided to redeem a portion of humanity even though we’re a little below the angels (Heb 2:7). The cost to accomplish this, the eternal Son to set aside his glory, took on a real human body and human soul so that he could die a real human death. And what did Jesus gain for us? Clouds and halos for eternity? No, that would be boring. Jesus no only got us an escape from hell, which would be very good, but he also gained us new life. That new life consists of a new heart in this life and a resurrected body for eternity. The taste we get new pales in comparison to what it will be like for us in the resurrection. That’s what Paul is getting at in the quote above. What is mortal will be swallowed up in life, not in long white robes and not disembodied spirits floating around either.

So what happens after death and before the resurrection? We are with Jesus (2 Cor 5:8) which is better (Phil 1:21). According to the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 we will be comforted with the saints, not tormented with the sinners. But according to Paul above, we still long for our resurrected bodies. We’re not complete if we’re just a spirit and we’ll long for the completion.

I shall sleep sound in Jesus, filled with His likeness rise,
To love and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes:
’Tween me and resurrection but Paradise doth stand;
Then—then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land. – The Sands of Time are Sinking, Anne R. Cousin

The Good Kind of Inconsistent

How’s this for an odd chain of thoughts. Carl Trueman asked why The Gospel Coalition takes a stance on complementarianism. I commented on that. Doug Wilson commented not so much on Carl’s question but on an illustration Carl used to make his point. Now I’m about to comment on a throwaway statement Doug made in his post. Confused? Don’t worry about it, here’s what Doug said,

I preached from a psalm of David this morning (68), called it the word of God, but freely acknowledge that it was penned by a man who couldn’t be an elder in our church, adultery and murder being the initial reasons that might be given. How’s that for weird? Life is funny that way.

Doug said that King David, the man after God’s own heart “couldn’t be an elder in our church” primarily because he slept with Bathsheba and killed Uriah to cover that up. He did do that and Doug hints that there might be other reasons.

So why is this worth commenting on? To get to the reason and then on to my point, I need to do some Venn VU meters, if such a thing existed. Here goes.

Doug and Carl and I are all of the Protestant, Reformed tradition. That does not mean we agree on every point of doctrine. I’m baptistic whereas Doug and Carl are Presbyterian. Where we agree is on some principles of the unity of scripture and redemptive history. Where I differ from them is that I don’t believe that circumcision is replaced by baptism and so I don’t think that the children of believers should be baptized. Carl and Doug differ in how far they go with that. Doug believes that since baptized babies are part of the New Covenant they should be given communion. And there are people who are even farther and say that “covenant children” are regenerate and saved but may grow to reject those gifts of the covenant and become apostate.

The reason all this can be represented by Venn VU meters instead of a 0 to 10 scale is because there are boundaries between these different clumps of theology but within each there are varying degrees. If we were to put them on a 0 to 10 scale, the scale would be the degree of continuity between the old covenant and the new covenant. None of us would be zero but you get the idea. If I’m a 5 and the last group I mentioned are 10, then Carl would be a 7 and Doug would be an 8.

Before I proceed, I hope I’m being fair here. I don’t want to misrepresent anyone and I don’t mean to be insulting to Carl or Doug, I’m simply trying to paint a picture of where the various folks are. If anyone is offended by this illustration or thinks it is unfair, I totally apologize.

All of that to say that Doug believes in a good degree of continuity between the old and new covenants. And that’s where I have a problem with him saying that David could not be an elder in his church, especially for the reasons he cited. What I’m going to try to do now is explain my problem with his statement from within his perspective. Wish me luck.

Israel’s kings and priests are referred to as Israel’s shepherds, see Jeremiah 2:8 and Ezekiel 34:23 for example. David was a shepherd when he was called to be the king and as a king he was to be a shepherd of Israel. Same thing with Moses. Of course the fulfillment of David and Moses was Jesus and elders are not kings and prophets the way they were. However, they are charged to shepherd the flock of God under the authority of the Great Shepherd Jesus (1 Pet 5:1-4) so in that way, elders are shepherds.

So in the old covenant, David was qualified to be an elder/shepherd and God didn’t remove him from that office even after the Bathsheba/Uriah failure. If in the old economy David was fit to lead, why is he not in the new? David did commit adultery and murder but he also showed the fruits of repentance in 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51. Apparently God forgave him for it too. His child died but that is the last mention of it. As a matter of fact, when David sinned and counted a census in 2 Samuel 24 the punishment was worse.

So if God did not remove David from the office of elder/shepherd in the church/state of Israel, why should we deny him that role? Well, Doug did indicate that there might be other issues that would bar David from being an elder. The one that comes to mind is that an elder must be “the husband of one wife” and David had many (1 Chron 3:1-9). In my book that would disqualify him right away but there is more to be considered. Since we’re seeking to make David an elder in Doug’s church and David is dead, we might assume that David is resurrected. If that’s the case, he is no longer married (Matt 22:30) so perhaps he’s still eligible.

Alright, I’ve picked enough nits here. My point is that Doug sees a strong connection between old and new and so excluding David from church leadership in the new when he was the head of the church in the old seems inconsistent. It is a good kind of inconsistent since we’re letting the New Testament have the final word on church leadership.

Three Things

It was an interesting morning doing Bible study. I’m using a chronological outline to read through the Bible in a year and right now I’m reading through Jeremiah. Today was two chapters of Jeremiah and a few Psalms. Three things struck me.

I. Ethiopian Eunuchs are Great Guys! In Jeremiah 38 Jeremiah’s enemies toss him in a muddy cistern because he keeps telling people that God has given Jerusalem into the hands of Babylon. Jeremiah’s enemies don’t believe him and they think he is convincing the troops to give up. So sure, a cistern seems a logical place to put him. I guess they were too chicken to kill him themselves. Now for some reason Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, is living in besieged and surrounded Jerusalem. What is a foreigner doing in Judah while the country is under attack? He’s rescuing Jeremiah, that’s what he’s doing (Jeremiah 38:7-13). And here’s God’s response to Ebed-melech:

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the LORD, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 39:15-18)

The next Ethiopian eunuch we meet in scripture is unnamed but likewise puts his trust in the Lord. In Acts 8 he’s riding along reading Isaiah 53 and wondering about the meaning. God sends Philip to him to explain and the eunuch gets baptized.

God blessed and worked through Israel and says that he’ll bless Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 19:23) but Ethiopia is never mentioned specifically as a country God would favor. And eunuchs are the wrong sort of people. They cannot be circumcised and they cannot enter the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1) and yet here are two of them putting their trust in God and being blessed. I’m so glad that God chooses the least likely, that his favor is not a matter of ethnicity or physical properties. That means a person like me can find God’s favor. A person like you can too.

II. Incorruptible Governors. This one is a bit more circumspect of a thought. In Jeremiah 40, Jerusalem has fallen, Zedekaih has been blinded and hauled to Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar has set up rules to watch over Israel. In other words, the whole nation is now in exile. The poor are left to take care of the land and many who fled during the invasion have now returned to Israel. Word comes to Gedaliah, the Jewish governor, that one of the returnees has been sent to assassinate him but he doesn’t believe it.

For some reason this got me thinking of Jesus future reign on earth. He will return and the saints will be raised with him and rule with him (Revelation 3:21, 20:4) on this earth. This is fitting because how can you corrupt or intimidate a resurrected saint? What kind of bribe are you going to offer him or her? Can a threat of death be made that will sway them? What kind of material thing would they want to hoard for themselves? There could be no better vice-regents on earth than resurrected saints!

III. Heads. Psalm 74 was one of the Psalms I read this morning with Jeremiah 39-40. In it Asaph is lamenting that God has cast off his people and that God’s foes are scoffing. But Asaph has hope and he remembers God’s might. In verses 13-14 Asaph remembers that God “broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters” and also that he “crushed the heads of Leviathan” and “gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” So multiple sea monsters have multiple heads, that makes sense. But what I didn’t know is that Leviathan, who is a single beast, had multiple heads and God crushed them. If you look up “Leviathan” throughout the scriptures, you’ll see that it is described as a large, dangerous sea creature and one that God is always powerful over it. But in Job 41 Leviathan has one tongue and in Isaiah 27 Leviathan is yet to be crushed. So perhaps “Leviathan” describes a sort of creature rather than a single living animal. And one of them had multiple heads. That just struck me as cool.

Problems with Amillennialism

I kind of hate to post this but a list was posted of Sam Storms’ problems with Premillennialism so I thought I should say something. I read Storms’ list of “problems” and am fine with all of them from the context of my understanding of the Millennium. I might respond to his list at some point.

In another setting, I’d said, “Eschatology is a tough nut to crack. It is like an ill-fitting jacket. Okay overall, pinches in a spot or two. You just have to decide which places you’re okay being pinched.” I believe this is essentially true. From my perspective Dispensational Premillennialism pinched in far too many places. Amillennialism seemed to fit pretty well till I’d worn the jacket for a while then I noticed the pinches and they became uncomfortable. Postmillennialism always seemed like a jacket with three arms or something. I could never get that one to fit though I do appreciate its optimism. What I’ve found is that Historic Premillennialism embraces all the strengths of these other perspectives and pinches in a few spots that I’m currently OK with.

Anyway, here goes with my list of some of the problems. If you are Amillennialist there are some important things you must reckon with:

You must necessarily must read New Testament prophecies of Jesus’ Second Coming the same way Jews read Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ First Coming. This thought came from George Eldon Ladd:

From the Old Testament perspective, the church age is not seen…There are indeed prophecies which describe the coming of a Messianic personage in suffering and humility such as Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9:9-10, other prophecies which describe the victorious King of the Davidic Line (Isaiah 9, 10), as well as a prophecy of the coming of a heavenly Son of Man in Daniel 7. But the Old Testament does not relate these several prophecies to one another, either theologically or chronologically. God will finally act to redeem his people, and different prophets describe this eschatological redemption in different terms. The Old Testament makes no effort to synthesize the prophecies; and the effort to decide which prophecies apply to the church age, which apply to the millennial era, and which belong to The Age to Come ignores this basic fact of the prophetic perspective. – George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 37

What Ladd is saying is that in the Old Testament, the prophets and the prophetic message didn’t clearly articulate a space between the events of Jesus First Coming (the Suffering Servant) and those of his Second Coming (reigning Davidic King). The perspective of the Old Testament prophets was that those events appeared to happen at once. That is why the Apostles expected Jesus to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6) before his ascension. They did not yet understand that there would be a time period between Christ’s two comings.

Non-millennialists do the same thing with the New Testament explanations of the events of Jesus Second Coming and the ushering in of the New Heavens and New Earth. Ladd again:

One would never discover this fact [of the Millennial reign of Christ] from most of the New Testament because it sees the future like a two-dimension canvas in terms of length and breadth without depth. The transition between the two ages is viewed as though it were one simple event, even as the Old Testament prophets looked forward to a single Day of the Lord. – George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 38

And

From the New Testament perspective, the eschatological act of God is usually viewed as a single day which will introduce The Age to Come. However, the Revelation of John, as well as I Corinthians 15: 20-28, indicates that there are yet to be two eschatological stages in the accomplishment of the divine purpose and the establishment of God’s Kingdom. – George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 37

You must conflate what are clearly two separate resurrections into one. In Revelation 20:4 John says that he saw that “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus…came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” In verse 13 the sea and Death and Hades give up the dead and they are judged. The Amillennialist must deal these two resurrections, separated by “a thousand” years, in such a way that there is only one resurrection at Christ’s return. Some Amillennialists have said that the first resurrection is speaking of regeneration, the new birth. Regeneration is passing from spiritual death to spiritual life. (Eph 2:5) But consider how those who were raised in Revelation 20 are described. It is those “who had been beheaded” who “had not worshiped the beast” or “received its mark”. They were not brought to life before they did these things in order that they might be able to do them, it was after they had done these things that they were brought to life. In other words, as John describes it they did regenerate things, were killed and then were brought to life.

If instead the Amillennialist says that this resurrection actually happens at the same time as the one in verse 13, then what does their reigning with Christ mean? They were raised and then reigned with Jesus. If they are raised at the time of the final judgment how do the reign with him? And why would John mention a specific interval of their reign if they are raised, judged and brought in to the New Heavens and New Earth in one event?

You must reconcile the present binding of Satan in order that he may not deceive the nations with verses in the New Testament that indicate that he is still actively deceiving people. One of the verses that bothered me enough to move me out of the Amillennialism was 2 Cor 4:4 “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” If Satan is currently bound as he is described to be in Revelation 20:1-3, then he should not be able to “blind the minds of unbelievers.”

That is not to say that at the cross Jesus didn’t in some sense bind Satan. Matthew 12:28-29 indicates that Jesus’ ministry and that of his followers of casting out demons was in essence binding the strong man and plundering his house. But that appears to be different than Satan’s binding where he is removed and bound more fully not so that demons can be cast out of people, but that his deceptive powers over humanity are removed. The non-millennialist usually equates the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 with the binding of the strong man in Matthew 12 and exegetically that appears to require some justification.

You must believe that the present earth will never be set free from its bondage under sin but will be destroyed and recreated. Under a non-millennial view, Jesus returns to earth, judges the living and in the dead and ushers in the final state in one cataclysmic event. According to 2 Pet 3:10-12 on the Day of the Lord the creation will be dissolved and judgment will come. There is no deliverance of creation, only a day when it is replaced. But Romans 8 indicts that creation is waiting a day when it will be delivered from the futility it was subjected to at the fall. If there is not a time when peace reigns on the earth but there is only recreation, creation is not waiting for deliverance but destruction. It would be like a hostage waiting for friendly forces to come and shoot him rather than liberate him.

We experience rebirth before resurrection. There is a period for us when we are born again but are not glorified. We have redeemed hearts but unredeemed bodies. The non-millennialist must believe that this “now and not yet” does not apply to the rest of creation even though verses like those in Isaiah 11 describe a time when the earth is at peace with itself, not yet burned up and replaced.

You must see the reign of the promised Davidic King as only ever partial on this earth. The non-millennialist sees Jesus currently reigning from heaven, as he truly is, and must accept that as sufficient. Though he is promised to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Isa 11:4, Psa 2, Rev 2:25-27), he actually will only rule his church on this earth. We do not see Jesus rule this way yet (Heb 2:6-9) but there is a day coming when he will (1Co 15:24-28).

We do not see Jesus rule the nations in this manner now and for the non-millennial view, he never will. The nations rage under God’s sovereign control as they have all along (Dan 7). But what seems to be pictured in many verses is the significant, earthly reign of the Davidic King over the nations of the earth. As I mentioned above, the Apostles still had this hope when Jesus ascended to heaven. His answer to them did not sound particularly amillennial; “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 2:7) An amillennial answer might have been more along the lines of “Yes I shall as you receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Instead Jesus tells them to not worry about when that will happen but that they will first be his witnesses to the nations under the hope of that coming day when Jesus will rule in that fashion.