Friday, September 17, 2010

Objections to Jesus Being the First Fruits in a Literal Sense

I have received a couple of questions which have bearing on whether or not the resurrection of Jesus in a glorified resurrection body was a unique event or not. I would summarize the questions as:

1.       If Elijah had a glorified resurrection body when he appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus, then doesn’t it stand to reason that Moses also had a glorified resurrection body at the transfiguration?
2.       If the people mentioned in Matthew 27:52-53 were resurrected in glorified bodies, then how can you say that Jesus was the first to have a glorified resurrection body?

I want to deal with those questions here, but let me first say that I had two purposes in bringing up Moses in Part VI of State of the Dead Bible Study (the segment that occasioned the questions):

1.       Someone asked me about that particular story
2.       I want to make the point that some things that we who were raised SDA have always assumed to be true aren’t necessarily so, or at least can’t be found in the Bible. I am not trying to say that we can use Moses to prove or disprove “absent from the body, present with the Lord”. I’m only saying that there is no good biblical reason to insist that Moses has already been bodily resurrected. You can find that teaching in Ellen White’s writings, but not in the Bible.

Okay, so with that preamble, let me attempt to make two suppositions that I hope are points of agreement for all involved:

1.       The Bible tells us God is spirit. The Bible also tells us that angels are spirits. There are many places in the Bible where God reveals himself in visual ways. There are many places in the Bible where angels reveal themselves in visual ways and even appear to take on various forms. So it appears it is possible for spirits to be revealed in visual ways.
2.       There are several people in the OT and NT who are raised from the dead not long after death, but were not given glorified resurrection bodies. They presumably became sick or grew old and died at some point thereafter.

So hopefully we can all agree with the two suppositions above. Now I’ll state a few things that I’m sure we won’t all agree on, but I hope they are worth thinking about anyway.

1.       The Bible never says that Moses was resurrected. It just says he was dead and tells us that God buried him. To insist that Moses was resurrected with a glorified resurrection body is to read something into the Bible that isn’t there. More specifically it’s to read a teaching from Ellen White into the Bible where it does not exist.
2.       The Bible never says that Elijah was given a glorified resurrection body. It simply says that he “went up by a whirlwind to heaven”. Elijah was swept off the face of the earth into the very presence of God who is spirit. That does not require a physical body. Someday heaven will be very physical when we dwell in the earth made new in our glorified bodies. However, right now Heaven is the very presence of God and it need not be a “place” within the created physical universe as we know it. Most scholars believe Heaven, as it is today, is in the spiritual realm, not the physical realm.
3.       The fact that the disciples “saw” visual representations of Moses and Elijah in no way necessitates either one having a glorified resurrection body. God was doing something very special and intentional in the transfiguration. God allowed the disciples to see Jesus glorified, see visual manifestations of Moses and Elijah, and hear the Father’s voice for a specific reason. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the Prophets, but God said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” God gave an awe inspiring visual and auditory demonstration of a theme that rings throughout the New Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and supersedes both the Law and the Prophets.
4.       The Bible never says that the people in Mathew 27 were resurrected with glorified bodies. We just don’t know that. Many commentators believe that these were like many others who were raised from the dead during Jesus’ ministry. They were miraculously brought back to life, but not glorified (sometimes referred to as resuscitation as opposed to resurrection). They would later grow old or sick and die. The folks in Matthew 27 were apparently coming out of the Jerusalem cemetery and may have been people who had recently died (similar to Lazarus). Finally, the Greek (and the more literal English translations) seem to suggest that the tombs were opened by the earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death, but that the dead did not come out of those opened tombs and go into the city until after Jesus resurrection. So even if we were to assume they had been resurrected (as opposed to resuscitated) it still appears it was likely after Jesus’ resurrection. I personally think it more likely that these folks were more like Lazarus, but the bottom line is we just don’t know.
5.       I personally believe that the resurrection of Jesus in a glorified resurrection body is a singular unique event in history. I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christian belief and without peer in human experience. It is the event we can point to as proof that Jesus is who He said He was and can do what He said. By this we know that He is God in the flesh. By this we know that we one day will rise from the dead in imperishable glorified bodies as well. The Bible seems to support the notion that there is a distinct order. Christ first, then those who believe in the Messiah, then comes the end.

    22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 1 Corinthians 15:22-24 (NASB)

So for those who believe that Christ’s resurrection is less than unique in human history and that others have gone before, I believe it is incumbent upon them to show clearly and distinctly where the Bible teaches this. By saying this, I do not mean taking the teachings of Ellen White and reading them back into passages where they do not exist. I mean clearly showing where the Bible says that any other human before Jesus was ever resurrected with a glorified resurrection body. I have never found such a teaching in the Bible without having to read something into it that isn’t there. If I’m missing it, please let me know.

1 comment:

  1. This from Ane, but it didn't publish correctly due to an error on my end:

    Ane has left a new comment on your post "Objections to Jesus Being the First Fruits in a Li...":

    1 Cor. 15:22-24 could not be more conclusive in its evidence that it is absolutely impossible for Moses to ever have been resurrected, given an imperishable body and taken to heaven. I just don't see how anyone can get around it without dismissing this clear teaching of Scripture and thereby placing EGW at a higher level than Scripture.