Christianity 201

October 30, 2017

How Was Jesus Involved in His Own Resurrection?

It’s just been six months, but we’re back with pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This one is certainly interesting; click the title below to read it at their site.  (Note: Underlined sections in scripture quotes are passage links.)

Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead?

Q. Paul writes in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” Can this statement be used in support the idea that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead?

For this particular statement to be used that way, it would have to refer to “the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” rather than “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” However, there’s another interesting statement in Romans that suggests that the Holy Spirit might indeed have had a role in raising Jesus from the dead. Paul says something a little earlier in the letter that’s parallel to this later statement: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Here Jesus’ resurrection is not attributed directly to the Father, but to something (or someone?) associated with the Father.

We may observe more generally that all of the activities of the Trinity involve all of its persons, so it would have been uncharacteristic for the Father alone to have raised the Son, without the involvement of the Spirit. As Christian thinkers in the first few centuries after Jesus tried to wrap their minds around the Trinity, one thing they agreed on was that it would be inaccurate to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity by appealing to their roles or responsibilities. That is, we shouldn’t say, “The Father does this while the Son does that and the Spirit does this other thing,” or, “The Father is responsible for this, and the Son for something else, and the Spirit for yet another area.”

We have some vivid pictures in the Bible of the persons of the Trinity all working together to accomplish important things. For example, in the Genesis creation account, God the Father creates through the Word while the Spirit hovers over the waters. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens open and the Father speaks while the Spirit descends like a dove. While he was on earth, Jesus himself said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also.” I think we can legitimately expand this to say, “Whatever the Father and the Son do, the Spirit does also.”

So in some way the Spirit must have been involved in the resurrection of Jesus. I picture it as being something like the way the “two witnesses” in the book of Revelation are raised from the dead: “The Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” (Many English translations say “breath of life” or “spirit of life” instead, but I think the text could well be referring to the Holy Spirit.)

This raises another very interesting question: If all three persons of the Trinity work together in every one of their activities, was Jesus involved in his own resurrection? The book of Hebrews makes this interesting statement: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Jesus actually did die an earthly death, on the cross, and so this statement that his prayers to be saved from death were heard seems to be describing his resurrection. In that case, Jesus was involved in his own resurrection through his prayers and submission, that is, his trust in God.

Hebrews goes on to say, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” This, too, would suggest that the Second Person of the Trinity was involved in his own resurrection through his trusting obedience, and in that way he contributed to the achievement of salvation for humanity that the whole Trinity was working for together.

 

May 4, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Evidence and Explanations

by Clarke Dixon

What explanation best fits the evidence? We are continuing the journey we began last week of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the resurrection of Jesus. We are looking today at how to infer to the most reasonable explanation from the evidence.

Let us return to the example of a crime we considered last week when you were called out to investigate the circumstances of my death. Let us review the evidence:

  • My love for chocolate is well known.
  • I was found slumped over a table covered with empty Easter chocolate wrappers.
  • The coroner’s report indicated elevated levels of chocolate in my blood.

Based on the evidence thus far you figure your hunch was correct. This is not a murder scene and I died from chocolate poisoning. However, you discover a new piece of evidence:

  • I have a gunshot wound which the coroner confirmed was the cause of death.

You quickly drop your first explanation knowing that it can not adequately explain the new evidence. Perhaps the best explanation now, is that my wife murdered me for eating her chocolate. However, more new evidence is found:

  • Witnesses confirm that my wife was at a quilting show the day of my death.
  • A gun was found nearby the house with the finger prints of a man known to be a very angry and unstable man who had recently refused treatment for a sever case of chocoholism.
  • Witnesses reported seeing that same man leave my house shortly after shots were heard.

Now let us review the possible explanations that you have come up with at various points along the investigation:

  1. I died from chocolate poisoning.
  2. My wife was mad at me for eating her chocolate and shot me.
  3. I was murdered by my neighbor who wanted my chocolate.

Now which is the best explanation?  Unlike the first two explanations, your third explanation, fits with all the evidence. It has the best explanatory power, and therefore my neighbour is now the prime suspect. What you have just done is infer the most reasonable explanation from the evidence, or what is technically known as “abductive reasoning.”

We do this quite naturally, in fact the disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” likely did this:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

When the disciples tell Thomas that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, he likely considered the evidence standing in front of him, the disciples saying they saw Jesus alive, and considered the best explanation was that they had all lost their marbles. But given some new evidence, being able to see and touch Jesus for himself, a different explanation came to be the best one:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:26-28

Based on all the evidence, Thomas comes to believe a different explanation of the facts; Jesus is risen!

So how does this apply to us today as we investigate the evidence for Jesus two millennia later? Let us begin by looking at the evidence, then we will go on to think about the explanations.

As we consider the evidence, let us narrow it down to those pieces of evidence that both the prosecution and the defence can agree upon. In other words, let us consider the facts about the Easter story which both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree upon so that we can begin without bias. J. Warner Wallace makes mention in Cold-Case Christianity of the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. Remembering that Wallace began his journey as an atheist, consider:

“As I skeptic myself, I formed a list of New Testament claims as I first investigated the resurrection. When I was an unbeliever, I found four of Habermas and Licona’s minimal facts to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity” J.Warner Wallace Cold-Case Christianity

So what are these pieces of evidence that must be explained? Wallace lists four:

  1. Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty and no one ever produced His body.
  3. Jesus’ disciples said they saw and interacted with Jesus – alive (resurrected, not just resuscitated).
  4. Jesus’ disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it. They never changed their story.

Now let us turn to the possible explanations that have been proposed. Again, please refer to Wallace himself in Cold-Case Christianity for deeper discussions, I cannot do them justice here:

Perhaps Jesus did not really die. But:

  • Jesus’ body would have been handled quite a bit, being taken down from the cross, wrapped for burial, and placed in the tomb. The people of antiquity were not stupid and knew a dead body when they saw one.
  • The Romans soldiers in charge of executions were very good at their jobs. In fact their own lives depended on it.
  • The water and blood that flowed from Jesus with the spear thrust is consistent with medical knowledge today about dead bodies.
  • If Jesus had recovered, he would have been very weak, and also would have died again at some point, earning the name “fraud” from the very people that put their lives in danger by calling him “Lord.”

Perhaps the disciples stole the body and lied about the resurrection. But:

  • This explanation does not account for the fourth piece of evidence, that the disciples, were changed people willing to die for their claim. To quote Wallace:

This theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

  • Why would the disciples, being Jews of deep conviction, deny their faith by saying that a dead man was the messiah rather than stick to waiting for the true messiah?
  • Paul speaks of over 500 people seeing Jesus alive, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote. Are we to believe all these were in on a lie?
  • The tomb was guarded, and the disciples had already proven their cowardice.

Perhaps the disciples were delusional, being so upset about the death of Jesus that they imagined seeing Jesus alive. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The disciples did not just claim to see Jesus, but interact with him. This level of interaction by so many people on different occasions cannot be explained by hallucinations.
  • The disciples clearly understood Jesus to have risen bodily to a new kind of “resurrection life” than that they had seen visions or a ghost.

Perhaps the disciples were fooled by an imposter. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • What imposter could convince so many people, especially sceptics like Thomas, not to mention James and Paul?
  • What would have been the motivation for someone to pull off such a hoax?

Perhaps the disciples were influenced by one or two of the group who has some sort of “vision.” But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • This explanation would only work if the writings of the New Testament were written a long time after the events as such an explanation contradicts the New Testament accounts.

Perhaps the story of the resurrection was added many years following the death of Jesus and so is a legendary fable. But:

  • Even if there were a lengthy passage of time, this explanation still fails to account for the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The documents that make up the New Testament were written too close to the events for legend to develop.
  • the Christian creed from the beginning was “Jesus is Lord, and we know this because he is risen.” There is no evidence of development from “Jesus was a great teacher” to “Jesus was really great teacher and miracle worker” to “Jesus is Lord.” There appears in history, quickly following Jesus’ crucifixion (and claimed resurrection), a sudden new way of thinking about God, rather than a period of developing thought.

Perhaps Jesus rose from the dead. 

This last explanation, far more than any other fits all the evidence the best. If we are open to the possibility of the supernatural, and last week we looked at reasons why we should be, then this explanation is the best inference from the evidence. This explanation has the greatest explanatory power for all the “minimal facts” about the resurrection, but so much more evidence also. It explains why the theology developed the way it did and why Jews who were so solid in their Jewish expectations would see all their expectations as fulfilled in Jesus rather than shying away from him as a failed messiah wannabe. It explains, also, why sceptics like James, and especially Paul, did a 180. It explains why the writers of the documents of the New Testament said the kinds of things they did. As I’ve heard Frank Turek say via podcast “the New Testament writers did not create the resurrection, the resurrection created the New Testament writers.”

The disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” should rather be known as “Trusting Thomas.” He trusted the explanation “Jesus is risen” as the best explanation of the  evidence standing in front of him. Many sermons have been preached on how we ought to trust in Jesus without any evidence based on this verse:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29 (emphases mine)

However, to stop reading there is to stop reading in the wrong place! Consider the next two verses:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (emphases mine)

The Gospel of John, along with all the documents that make up the New Testament, are, like all documents from ancient times, evidence upon which we can determine the events of history. The best explanation of the facts deduced from those documents is that Jesus rose from the dead. Don’t wait until you stand before Jesus to make a decision. You have enough evidence now to trust in the truth of the best explanation; Jesus is risen. John points out the significance of following where the evidence leads: “ . . . and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The explanation of the evidence is not just true, it is very good news!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Link for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 6, 2016

Giving Your Testimony Isn’t Sharing Your Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This blog post was recommended and comes from ThinkApologetics.com: Responding to Critics, Seekers and Doubters. The author is Eric Chabot. There’s much to see at this site, so click the title, read the article there and then take some time to look around.

“But Can’t I Just Share My Testimony?”

Over the years I have had plenty of Christians ask me about how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

In sharing the gospel Christians often resort to sharing a personal testimony. God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me ask a relevant question: Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone and heard a response such as, “I do not see my need to believe in Jesus. I am happy the way I am.” These type of responses are becoming more common in our culture. Let us look into the Scriptures to see how both Peter and Paul shared the gospel:

“Peter said, Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your holy one to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: the Lord said to my Lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore let all the houses of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah-this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see in this text that the primary apologetic methodology that Peter discusses is Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Acts Ch 2: 22-38).

Paul said, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

Just as Peter, Paul also appealed to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the foundation of the gospel.

As we observe how the gospel was presented by Peter and Paul, do they ever suggest that Jesus is just one of the many options that changes lives? After all, if people simply want to believe in something that makes them happy, a lie can work, but its effectiveness does not make it true; it is still false, even if the result is beneficial.

What we can learn from Peter’s sermon in Acts Ch 2: 22-38 and Paul’s creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-17 is an issue of objective truth. We should explain to our friends and acquaintances that the reason we believe the gospel transforms lives is because the gospel is true. In other words, just because our faith “works” for us and has changed our life is not what makes the gospel true. Rather, the gospel is first and foremost true; this is the reason why Jesus brings radical transformation in our character and actions. Just as Peter and Paul, we should try to appeal to an objective case for the gospel and then rely on our testimony to strengthen our case.

In sharing our testimony, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of pragmatism. Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland adds some valuable insight into this issue:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (1)

Finally, as James Warner Wallace says:

If evidential verifiability is truly a Christian distinctive, shouldn’t it cause us to live differently than the adherents of other religious systems? Shouldn’t we, as Christians, be the one group who knows why their beliefs are true and the one group who is most willing to defend what they we believe? Shouldn’t we be the one group most interested in making the case for our metaphysical beliefs? Why then, are we often uninterested in the evidence? It’s time for us to allow the distinctly evidential nature of Christianity result in distinctly evidential believers. The nature of Christianity, rooted in the Resurrection, allows us the chance to investigate and defend its claims. As Christians, we ought to be uniquely thoughtful, reasonable and evidential in our beliefs, because verifiability is a Christian distinctive.

To read his article called Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive- see here. 

March 31, 2013

It’s a New Day

I thought we’d begin today with a comment that George Hartwell left here a few days ago:

It is still the evening before it all – the evening when God revealed the secret that had been hidden for 1,200 years. All those Passover meals, all those animal sacrifices over all those years would soon be cancelled from the Roman cross with the declaration that “It is finished!”

The whole system of remembering the Passover is about to be fulfilled in one who revealed at a Passover meal with his disciples that he is The Lamb. The secret was revealed by the Spokesman for the Three, to a small group of 12 or so.

The Temple, the priests, the sacrificial system, the religious way of appeasing and appealing to God was all fulfilled and finished. Fulfilled in the one who is The Lamb and finished by the one who is The Lamb.

Enough of law, ritual and feast, They – the Three – want to meet with you and me, face to face, like Jesus that night having a special meal with his men, and sharing the secret. “I am the Lamb. Don’t you know me,__________?”

It’s a new day.

The sun rises on the age of a new covenant.

Yesterday, Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk posted a song which, strictly speaking is not an Easter song, but then again, it is insofar as it describes the next climactic scene in the panorama of scripture, when God and man sit down together, which is made possible by Calvary. He introduced it:

This week I thought I would share my favorite hymn with you, a hymn very appropriate for this weekend. Truly, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God and man at table are sat down. Enjoy, and Happy Resurrection Day.

Yes, fellowship with God starts now; eternal life starts now.  He has a different version posted, this one is an earlier one that is audio-only for my readers in remote places. You know who you are!

This is Hebrews 10: 11-12 from The Voice Bible, which is similar in some respects to The Amplified Bible:

11 In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. 12 But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.

Click here to read the whole chapter in The Voice.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

February 15, 2013

A Challening Post-Resurrection Passage

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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In the wake of a recent controversy over Matthew 27:51-53, I spent a full hour today composing a study on this often challenging passage, only to find out at the end that absolutely nothing was saving to the file. Each time I write, I try to outdo the work I’ve done previously, so that the most recent thing I’ve done is also the best thing I’ve done. I felt that way about this one, and it had more than a dozen links to other resources.

Those of you do writing know that re-creating is not always an option. So instead, I want to look at just one of the online resources I found for this passage. This is a difficult section — especially verse 52 — and you need to be extremely discerning when looking up commentary on blogs and websites for this as people from a variety of viewpoints tend to weigh in on this one.

This is from Christian Think Tank.  You’re encouraged to read a variety of writers on this passage; but this was the one that stood out to me the most.


Someone wrote in…

In spite of my view that skeptical objections to miracles are largely without foundation, I have struggled lately with Matthew 27:52-53. I can understand and sympathize with non-believers … who consider this passage to be blatantly unbelievable. Unlike Jesus’ miracles, which are organically related to his ministry, this story seems “stuck on” and apparently is so bizarre that Harper’s Bible Commentary actually advises us to ignore it. If a passage such as this appeared in another claimed revelation I doubt that Christians would take it as anything but a very tall tale. I’d appreciate any ideas on how to deal with this passage when I’m trying to get a doubter to accept the reasonableness of the Christian position on New Testament miracles.
………………………………………………………………………..
Thanks for your question and your interest in sharing the message of our Wondrous One…

Matthew is written to the Jew (generally) so we should look there first for some clue as to what is going on…

Once we start looking around for clues in the Jewish background, a strange situation develops-the passage creates the opposite problem for us! In other words, the passage will seem to be so tightly-woven into Matthew’s portrayal of the Messiah that we might have to ask why Mark and Luke didn’t mention it!

Let’s first make some notes about the passage…

51 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

A few quick notes about what we DO know:

  1. Jesus dies with a loud cry.
  2. The veil of the Temple of torn in two from top to bottom.
  3. There was an earthquake of some sort (common for that area).
  4. The rocks split (a more severe earthquake)
  5. Bodies of many (but not all) Jewish saints came back to life (of some type-natural or supernatural)
  6. They come out of the tombs in which they had been buried.
  7. They went into the “holy city” (undoubtedly Jerusalem)
  8. They became visible to many people (but not all).
  9. The events above concerning the raising/appearing of the saints occurred AFTER the resurrection (most probable punctuation/division of the verse-see standard commentaries).

And a few notes about what we DO NOT know:

  1. How many were raised.
  2. Whether they were in natural-but-mortal bodies (e.g. Lazarus), natural-but-immortal bodies (e.g. post-resurrection, pre-ascension Jesus), or supernatural/glorified bodies (e.g. post-ascension Jesus in Revelation).
  3. How long they remained on earth (till Jesus ascended? Until they died?).
  4. Whether they only appeared to believing Jews (cf. Acts 10.40-41) or anyone.
  5. Why ALL the saints were not raised?

(Matthew is not particularly interested in satisfying our curiosity-instead, as we shall see, he is trying to confront us with the awesomeness of Christ’s work!)

 

So, let’s look at this passage from a few different data-points:

  1. First of all, in a major section of Jewish thought of the day (i.e. the rabbinical strains that later became Mishnaic Judiasm) the bodily resurrection of OT Jewish saints would occur when messiah came. They literally expected a bodily resurrection (like that in the passage under discussion) to occur at the revealing of the messiah…
    Indeed, one rabbi was recorded as saying this:

    “R. Jeremiah commanded, ‘When you bury me, put shoes on my feet, and give me a staff in my hand, and lay me on one side; that when Messias comes I may be ready.” (cited in Lightfoot, _Commentary of the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, in.loc.)

    Much of such rabbinical lore had an element of truth in it; and this was no exception…the Messiah DID produce SOME resurrections of SOME the saints–but only as a first-fruits of His work…
    So, in keeping with Matthew’s Jewish-oriented message, it makes sense for him to record this action of the Messiah.

     

  2. This event actually DOES mesh ‘organically’ with the general topics in NT teachings: Jesus teaching about resurrection to Mary in John; the Christ as firstfruits in Paul; and Christ leading ‘captivity captive’ (OT saints in Sheol released at the TRUE atonement)…
     
  3. These types of resurrection people (probably in normal form, like Lazarus was raised) form the basis for one argument of the first apologists of the faith, Quadratus. He was an very early 2nd century apologist (writing sometime during the reign of Hadrian, 117-138ad), and we have only one fragment of his (cited from GASC:36):

    “But our Savior’s works were permanent, for they were real. Those who had been cured or rose from the dead not only appeared to be cured or raised but were permanent, not only during our Savior’s stay on earth, but also after his departure. They remained for a considerable period, so that some of them even reached our times.”

    Now it would be highly unusual for someone raised in 33 ad to live naturally another 90-100 years (to the times of Quadratus’ writings) but this is not necessarily the scope of his reference to ‘our times’…this latter phrase could often mean plus-or-minus 50-75 years, allowing SOME of these saints to die naturally again (as would have the resurrected Lazarus, the widow’s son, etc.) after a few decades.
    The point is that resurrections are not isolated phenomena–they were a bit more widespread than the few individual cases mentioned in the gospels would lead us to believe…Eutychus by Paul, the group at the Crucifixion–indeed, even Ireneaus–a half century later–could write of resurrections in Christian Churches (A.H. 2.32.4)…

    Indeed, stories and legends of these risen saints circulated and were embellished over time. They show up in several of the NT apocryphal works (e.g. The Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 7.1-2, Gospel of Nicodemus 17ff). For example, in this later work (Gospel of Nicodemus/Acts of Pilate), there is the story of Simeon and his sons (living in Arimathea), who were raised at that time, whose tombs were still open (for inspection!), and who wrote sworn testimony to their resurrection. While many of these stories are no doubt fanciful embellishments of the passage in Matthew (apocryphal writings generally “filled in the gaps” left by the biblical writers), there may be some historical core behind such related stories as this one about Simeon.

     

  4. Paul’s argument in Col 2.15:” And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” MIGHT find a reference to this ‘public’ display of the resurrection power of Jesus.
     
  5. Its tight coupling in the narrative with the torn veil, suggests that it too is part of the dramatic display of God’s ‘change of program’ for His people…no longer is access to God ‘covered with a veil’ and no longer are His saints covered with ‘the veil of death’…
     
  6. It is this last point that tips us off to what Matthew is likely demonstrating/pointing out in this passage: that the rising/appearing of the saints is INTIMATELY CONNECTED with both the literary texture of the passage AND with the ministry of the Jewish Messiah…

    • The connection with the preceding image (i.e. the earthquake and rocks) shows up in the Jewish connection between the two in the thought of the day. So Raymond Brown, in his 1,600 page magisterial work on the Death of the Messiah, gives us the archeological background in DM:1123-1124:

      The connection of the tomb openings with the preceding rending of the rocks is splendidly visible in the Dura Europos synagogue wall-paintings that portray the raising of the dead as part of the enlivening of the dry bones in Ezek 37–a 3d-cent. AD tableau that is very helpful in understanding how Matt and/or his readers might imagine the scene he is narrating. There in the splitting of a mountain covered by trees (almost surely the Mount of Olives rent by an earthquake), rocks are rent, thus opening up tombs burrowed into the sides of the mountain and exposing bodies of the dead and their parts. A figure is depicted who may be the Davidic Messiah (see Ezek 37:24-25) bringing about this raising of the dead. Earlier and contemporary with the writing of Matt there is testimony to the importance that Ezek 37 had for the just who died for their convictions about God. At Masada, where Jewish Zealots made their last stand against the Roman armies in AD 73, in the floor of the synagogue were found fragments of a scroll on which was written Ezekiel’s account of his vision of the raising of the dead bones. Consequently, even apart from the Dura Europos picturization, Ezek 37:12-13 may be the key passage behind Matt’s description both in this line and in what follows, for it offers the only opening of tombs (as distinct from the simple raising of the dead) described in the OT. The people of God are assured that they will come to know the Lord because: “I will open your tombs [mnema], and I will bring you up out of your tombs, and I will lead you into the land of Israel.”

    • Its connection with the messianic ministry of Jesus (of primary concern to Matthew) is also seen:

      The coming of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus was understood not as the final manifestation of the kingdom (i.e., the culmination when the Son of Man would gather before him all the nations, assigning those who are to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, as in 25:31-34) but as an inbreaking inaugurating and anticipating it. Similarly, this raising of “many bodies” as Jesus dies is not the universal final resurrection but an inbreaking of God’s power signifying that the last times have begun and the judgment has been inaugurated. [DM:1126]

    • And finally, its connection with the presentation motif of Matthew (i.e. relating the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus to its OT background) is seen through the explicit Ezekiel imagery:

      Matt’s second motive in adding v. 53 was the fulfillment of Scripture. Above I pointed out how much Ezek 37 with its creative description of the enlivening of the dry bones influenced Jewish imagination in picturing the resurrection of the dead. The first part of Ezek 37:12-13, “I will open your tombs,” probably shaped the third line of the quatrain of Matt 27:51b-52b, “And the tombs were opened.” But the Ezek passage continues: “And I will bring you up out of your tombs, and I will lead you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” Even as elsewhere Matt enhances the scriptural background and flavoring of material taken from Mark, so here scripturally he goes beyond the quatrain by offering in 27:53 the fulfillment of the rest of the Ezek passage: “And having come out from the tombs, . . . they entered into the holy city [of Jerusalem].” Another biblical passage may have shaped Matt’s addition, especially the last clause “and they were made visible to many,” i.e., Isa 26:19 (LXX): “Those in the tombs shall be raised, and those in the land [or on the earth] shall rejoice.” Thus in what he has added to Mark (both the quatrain taken over from popular tradition and his own commentary on it), Matt has developed the theological insight. In apocalyptic language and imagery borrowed from Scripture he teaches that the death of Jesus and his resurrection (“raising”) marked the beginning of the last times and of God’s judgment…[DM:1140]

    Thus the passage finds connection with (1) the Jewish milieu, (2) the messianic mission of Jesus, and (3) the OT prophetic writings about the Messiah. Far from being simply ‘stuck on’, it is very much a part of the Jewish context in which Jesus ministered and in which Matthew wrote.

Overall the passage makes the theological connections clear for the reader. Brown summarizes this well, noting that this small passage…

…offered a dramatic way in which ordinary people familiar with OT thought could understand that the death of Jesus on the cross had introduced the day of the Lord with all its aspects, negative (divine wrath, judgment) and positive (conquest of death, resurrection to eternal life).’ [DM:1137]

[Also, from this analysis, it should be quite clear as to why it did not show up in Luke-writing to the Gentiles, and in Mark-an abbreviated version of Peter’s core preaching (written down by a Hellenistic Jew). It would not have been relevant to their literary purposes.]
In this small section, we see also a microcosm of the future: judgment will come (and we will be held accountable-each of us) and yet God has graciously made a ‘way of escape,’ created by the awesome death of the Messiah Jesus (for you, for me, and for your friend…)

May 19, 2012

Following Jesus Into: The World, Love, Death

Today I spent some time studying the blog of Jeremy Myers.  Jeremy was a pastor in a conservative church until he had an epiphany that caused him to take a second look at the traditional church structure.  While not everyone will agree with all his conclusions, I think we can be challenged by his writing to think a little (or a lot) outside the box.  The following are teasers from three recent blog posts he wrote, you’ll need to click the TITLE of each to read the full article…  (If you’ve only got time for one, choose the middle one!)

Following Jesus into the World

In my book, Skeleton Church, I suggest that church is best defined as “The people of God who follow Jesus into the world.” Jesus wants to take the church out of our buildings and into the streets and parks of our towns to love and serve the people who are there.

What will this look like in your town and your community?

…Nobody really knows what church will look like ten, twenty, or a hundred years from now. Even the path to get wherever we are going is full of questions and uncertainty…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Love

There are several characteristics which define and identify those people and churches who are following Jesus into the world.

First, they will be known for their love.

Christians should be the most loving people on earth, not just by what we say, but by what we do. People should not have to be told that Christians are loving, but should tangibly see our love in what we do for others daily.

One of the best ways to reveal this is not just in loving one another, but also in loving those whom others hate.

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus tells His disciples that they must be characterized by love for their enemies. They must love them, bless them, and pray for them. In a world that wants the death and destruction of our enemies, those who love, bless, and serve their enemies are viewed as traitors…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Death

Followers of Jesus will be characterized by death and resurrection.

We all want to experience the resurrected life of Jesus, but before we can rise to new life in the future, we must die to ourselves and die to our past. The church that does not die chooses instead to live in a vegetative state on artificial life support.

We cling to the past, to the traditions and to the forms of church handed down to us from the eras of Constantine, the Reformation, and Industrialism. Churches that cling to these past forms are still living, but without any real life. This fight to keep from dying allows us to survive, but only as the living dead.

It is when we embrace death that we rise again to new life…

[click the title to continue reading]

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

 

April 8, 2012

Zombies in the Bible?

The “post time” for this blog is usually later in the afternoon EST, and it’s already Easter Monday when other people are reading this. So in a post-resurrection environment, I can’t think of a more unusual focus for today than this piece from the blog Cindy By The Sea. I just wish I had my own computer today so I could add some pictures to this piece!!

Zombies. 

You’ve seen them, their glassy-eyed stare a dead give away, as to who they really are; advancing at you across the theatre screen with slow determination, as if, they really are – coming for you.  Giggling nervously, you reach in to your popcorn bag, hoping, in the silliness of it all, that when the theatre lights go back on, you’ll find, it really isn’t true; Zombies are not for real and they certainly are not – coming for you.

Zombies.

I have to confess I have not spent much time thinking about these “not dead- yet, not alive” animated corpses, which, for some reason or another have made their way into pop-movie culture since the early days of cinema.  That was until this past week, when, I heard that a co-worker had asked my son-in-law, if, Zombies were mentioned in the Bible. Apparently, he had read Matthew 27:51-52 and thought that it might be a reference to Zombies.

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of their graves after His resurrection, they went in to the holy city and appeared to many.”

And, while that may seem laughable to those of us more studied in scripture, it is actually a good question, for this verse (mentioned, only in the gospel of Matthew), is a mystery that even commentators cannot agree upon.

So, what is it talking about?

First of all, it is not talking about Zombies. But, is related, rather, to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  A Zombie, according to Wikipedia is an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means, such as witchcraft, but, this is not the case in the gospel of Matthew; for these people are not simply re-animated corpses; they are fully alive, resurrected, flesh and blood human beings, who went into the city and interacted with the residents living there.

And, while, we are not given many details as to the reason why, we can safely assert that their appearance is somehow, tied to the sacrificial death of Jesus, by, virtue of the other very important detail mentioned in the verse, the tearing of the veil in two.

Up until this time, one man and one man only, could enter the presence of God in the Holy place of the temple, as a thick, heavy curtain separated this place from all but, the high priest, who was allowed to enter it, once per year on the day of Atonement, and only then, with a sacrifice of blood.  The tearing of the veil, when, Jesus was crucified, indicated that God had accepted the sacrifice of his son as an atonement for sin and was satisfied that it was sufficient to permanently pay for sin. Therefore, access to the presence of God, once limited to the High Priest alone, was now open, to all who would accept that payment as their own.

The resurrection of Old Testament saints, further demonstrated, the power over life and death that Jesus held, confirming, by their appearance the reality of the transaction, which, had taken place – the power of the resurrection over all who believe; past, present and future – to those, who by faith looked forward to the cross, as well, as to those of us who by faith are looking back.

Zombies, if you look closer into the subject, is a mixture of voodoo and sorcery, the mixing and administration of powerful central nervous suppressing and mind altering drugs.  Witch doctors, or those trained in the use of these drugs administer them to their victims causing them to fall into a trance like state with respirations and blood pressures, so low, the victim actually appears  to be dead.  The victim is then buried and revived hours or even days later, fully under the control of the perpetrator in their mind altered state.  Witch doctors and those who, practice the magic arts use these things to create fear and hysteria among those who are vulnerable, which gives them an enormous amount of power and control.   http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2004/12/09/1260445.htm

This is not what happened to Jesus, nor is it, what had happened to the Saints, who were resurrected at the time of the crucifixion.  Jesus, was undeniably dead, when, the spear that pierced his heart caused a sudden rush of blood and water from the wound,  undeniable proof that the pericardial sac, which encloses the heart had been punctured.  And, the OT Saints, they had been dead for centuries, their flesh and bones long decayed in to the sands of time.

There is a lot that can be gleaned from this brief passage of scripture. I see the hint of a rapture event, as these Saints obviously did not return to the graves from which they had come, but, most likely ascended in to heaven, some days later, just as Jesus did.

It also, makes me think about the supposed restoration to life the Anti-Christ will have after suffering a deadly head wound. Satan can do alot of things, but, he has no power over life and death, therefore, what appears to be a resurrection, will most assuredly be a deception.  A body double, a clone or powerful drugs used to simulate a death; I’m not sure.

But, Zombies, in the Bible? No, no, Zombies in the Bible. In the White House, maybe, but, not in the Bible!

Thank you, God for the sacrifice of your Son and the assurance your word gives us that we too, by faith in him, will one day be resurrected or raptured in to the presence of your glory.

 

~Cindy

June 29, 2010

I Cor. 1 (sort of)

This morning I began the day reading the first half of I Corinthians.   In the first chapter, I paused at verses 22-23:

22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (NIV)

I noticed again the recurring conflict in scripture between grace and knowledge or between word and spirit; only in this case it’s between signs and wisdom.  The Jews expect to see signs and miracles, while the Greek mindset is to look for a philosophy that satisfies the rational mind.

I couldn’t resist a potential contemporary paraphrase:

People with a Charismatic leaning look for signs and wonders, and those with a Calvinist leaning look for great preaching and teaching; but we’re just sticking to the simple story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Okay, it was stereotypes.   I’ll try to do better tomorrow.   Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates those two verses (plus a couple extra):

22-25While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”