Intro: Easter is the ancient celebration of an empty tomb in Jerusalem. The two angels standing outside the tomb declared to the women “why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.” Luke 24:5
Today the true meaning and impact of a risen Jesus is almost lost on modern thinking Americans. Stores are filled with Easter adornments that tell us more about the miracle of rabbits that lay colored eggs than it does about the miracle of an empty tomb.
Yet the tomb was empty, the body of Jesus is nowhere to be found. It was not stolen, destroyed or moved-it was resurrected from the dead. Not before or since has such a thing happened in human history. What are we to make of such a thing?
Death is mankind’s most dreaded enemy
Men have pondered its meaning and its mystery throughout the ages. Questions always arise- is death final? Is there existence after we die?
In Jesus day, the Jewish thinkers were divided on this question. The more liberal Sadducees said there was no resurrection from the dead, not now not ever. (See Luke 20:27)
Note: the Sadducees were influenced by Hellenistic Greek ideas about immortality. The Greek philosopher Plato carried the day by teaching that there are two worlds-this physical world and the perfect, ideal world. This world says Plato is only a poor copy of the ideal world. This world is corrupt, decaying, dying, but the ideal or spirit world is immortal. From this came the idea of the immortality of the human “soul.” Our physical bodies are only a poor copy of an ideal eternal soul in the next world. In fact, the body “traps’ the soul. Therefore the Sadducees believed in the immortality of the soul but not a resurrection of our physical bodies which are corrupt, belonging to this life, not the life to come.
The Pharisees rejected this Hellenistic thought completely, standing rather with the traditional Jewish scriptures which teach that all of history is moving towards God’s day of wrath in which the wicked will be judged and the righteous will be resurrected in a general resurrection of the sons of God.
Furthermore, in Jewish biblical thought there is no idea of the immorality of our “souls”. In fact, they teach that only God is immortal. We humans are in God’s likeness, but we are created, finite beings, not immortal souls, or a chip off the same block as deity. Many Christians are confused about this, falsely assuming that the Bible teaches the immorality of our soul.
Illustration: The Sadducees came to Jesus with a trick question about a wife whose husband dies, she then remarries each of her husband’s brothers. The question from the Sadducees reveals their contempt for any idea of resurrection at the end of this present age. (See Luke 20:27-36) Jesus splendidly answers their question declaring that in the age to come there will be no marrying. He then affirms his own belief in the coming general resurrection of the righteous, “”for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
Apply: Jesus identifies his theology with the Pharisees. He tells us that out there in God’s future plans for his children there is a resurrection of our earthly bodies into a resurrection body. Which raises two questions:
Resurrection, our bodies, and God’s good creation
Question #1 how can there be a resurrection of Jesus and any others if this mortal body of ours is not good, but corrupt and sinful?
Scripture tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth, that he looked upon his creation and said, “This is good.” So, the question is, “when did he change his mind and decide it is not good”? If the Greeks and Gnostics are right, God despises his own creation. Our bodies are a trap that is holding our souls captive say the Gnostics. Even so, according to them, Jesus did not have a real fleshly body (because flesh is evil) but was rather only a ghost living among us. This Gnostic heresy plagued the early church for two centuries, and was soundly rejected by the Apostles and church fathers later on. The apostle John calls such teaching, “the spirit of antichrist.”(1st John 4:1-3)
Our bodies are not a capsule holding captive our immortal soul. Plato is wrong. Our bodies are as much of who we are as our spirits are. Paul says in 1st Thess. 5:23 “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul, and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice: We humans are tri-part beings-spirit, soul, and body, not a dualistic body and soul as the Greeks taught. This helps us re-define the true meaning of our “souls” from a biblical worldview. Your soul is your personhood, your personality. Our English word “psyche” comes from the Greek word here translated “soul.”
The Soul = is where we get our Self-Consciousness.
There are three parts to the soul of man: Intellect, Emotions, & Will. They make up one’s personality.
Your personality is not immortal. It is made up of flesh and blood and can be damaged, destroyed and die.
Note: The animal kingdom has “soul.” Animals can think, feel, & choose, they have personality. This is “soul” but it is not immortal any more than our human souls are immortal.
The Spirit= this is where we have God-Consciousness.
Scripture uses two words for “spirit.” The Greek for spirit is pheuma, while in Hebrew it is nephesh.
Genesis 2:7 tells us God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life “and man became a living nephesh.” When God’s Spirit came to dwell in Adam’s body, he became a living spirit. Without God’s spirit, there was no life in Adam. It is the Spirit of God that brings life. This life is described as God consciousness, the ability to know God and fellowship with Him. The Hebrew nephesh is variously translated, soul or spirit. It is never viewed as separate from our person, or separate from our bodies; but rather represents the whole man created in God’s likeness. David says our spirit (nephesh) can go to Sheol when we die, but it is alive and aware of God’s presence, “if I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there.”
The Body= this is where we get our World-Consciousness.
Body in Greek is “soma” a reference to our physical bodies and their appetites. We humans have five physical appetites or senses- we can see, smell, feel, hear, and taste.
Notice: our body does not contain a soul or spirit but is part and parcel to who we are as beings created in God’s image. We are a whole, complete being. Our bodies are important to God and he desires that we glorify him in our bodies. We are to use our appetites honorably to glorify him in all we do in our physical life.
Conclusion: You were designed by your creator to live a whole and full live, by living “sanctified” in all three dimensions. This concept totally rejects the Platonian idea that salvation is when we escape this body and get our souls to the real world out in space somewhere (which we often call heaven.) It affirms the teaching of Jesus that are bodies are destined for resurrection to live a new and glorious existence here on a new earth he will create for us.
Question #2 what does the resurrection of Jesus tell us about God’s future plans for our resurrection and the new creation?ellenisHellenistic Greek philosopy.nnnnn?
Resurrection and the restoration
This brings us to another resurrection truth. Heaven is not our final home. The apostle Paul states in Romans eight that even as Christ is the 1st fruits of resurrection, so too are we to be raised with him and amazingly, all creation is to be renewed and restored. Creation itself is anxiously awaiting that day when the sons of God are glorified in their resurrection bodies. Revelation 20 and 21 tell us that God is going to restore earth to its Garden of Eden pre-existent state and that the Sons of God will reign and rule here on earth with him.
Implications to ponder
Explain: this should cause us to re-think and re-examine our commonly held beliefs about life after death. Is heaven the destination of those who have died in Christ? Are they floating around in the heavens playing a harp singing to God forever and ever?
What is most remarkable, when you reject the idea that our soul is immoral, then you can give up the idea that salvation is about getting our souls out of our body and getting it into heaven. This idea is a Greek platonic worldview and is not biblical. The scriptures teach that when a believer dies, he is immediately “with the Lord.” However, this is not heaven as often imagined or supposed. Our departed spirit is separated from our body, and with God in a holding pattern, a waiting place, a “room” as it were. However, this is not the heaven we so often think of. Jesus was seeking to comfort us with his words, recorded in John 14:1, 2 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places (NASV) if it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. The place he is preparing in not the heaven many think it is.
Note: the KJV says that where Jesus has gone has “many mansions.” The implication is that he is busy preparing a mansion for each of us who know him as savior. To millions this means a palace in Heaven. However, this is very misleading. The Greek word there is not mansion, nor is it anything like a mansion. It is literally “abode” or plural “abodes”. It means a way station, or a waiting room, a place of temporary dwelling. That’s why the NASV translates it, “dwelling places.” The ESV says “many rooms.” Scripture calls this place “paradise.” The dead in Christ stay there “asleep in the Lord” until Christ returns. He is with them, they are resting in “Abraham’s bosom” as Jesus described it; a place where the poor beggar Lazarus was with God, and the rich man was tormented in hell. So, the dead in Christ are with God, they have no physical body and they are “asleep’ in the Lord. They are not immortals, but are in the presence of God until Kingdom come. At the great judgment day, they will be given a resurrected body that we can recognize and be known by.
At his return he promises, “I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am you will be also.” He is coming to raise the dead in Christ and take them to the New Jerusalem, the new creation, the new earth. There, he will be King and we his subjects. We then are given resurrected bodies when spirit & body are re-joined in a new and incorruptible new existence. We return to earth to reign with Jesus as citizens of “heaven” which is a renewed earth. (See 1st Cor. 15) So, heaven (our final destination) is not out there, but is back here.
Resurrection as first fruits
Paul the great apostle uses two very striking phrases in describing the importance of Christ’s bodily resurrection.
- Paul says Jesus, being raised, makes him the” first born of many brethren.” Romans 8:29
Explain: Jesus resurrection is the first in human history. No man before or since has been dead (three days) and then bodily raised back to glorious resurrection life. Given a new body that transcends space and time, Jesus had a real body, but it could walk through walls, appear from nowhere, but still be seen and known.
Apply: Jesus resurrection is the first among “many brethren.” Jesus is the 1st fruits of a much, much larger and greater resurrection. Those whom he has predestined as sons will be raised in like kind as he is. Jesus said, “as I am, so shall you be.” That first Easter morning is the promise of a greater gettin’ up morning. His being raised foretells where all of history is heading. Jesus is the first of a new tribe, a new people, and new kind of mankind. Because of Easter, many sons are destined for glory.
So, just how important is the Easter event? Some would say the greatest day ever! Greater than Christmas, greater than Good Friday, Easter is the inauguration of God’s plan to restore all things. So true is this statement that Paul can declare, “if Christ is not raised, then your faith is empty.”(1st Cor 15:14)
Therefore, we who are in Christ should live like who we already are. We are a new creation, destined for glory. That being said, we are not left here to merely wait for our ticket to get out of here, but we are here on earth to partner with the Father in preserving, restoring and saving planet earth. The earth is still good in God’s eyes, and we are to be stewards of it.
Illust: Sadly millions of so-called evangelical Christians are so busy saving souls (getting them out of here) that they care little for restoring the earth. Their focus is heavily invested in the next life with little concern for the present life. This worldview is more Gnostic than Christian. Jesus described his new kingdom citizens as “salt and light.” Salt penetrates the culture; it adds flavor and preservative value.
Light dispels the darkness and guides the way to a better day. There is much more to being Christ’s disciple than saving souls, that’s for sure. We are the off-spring of him who is the first born from the dead. He is on a mission to make all things new and right. When we are following him we will be busy doing what he is doing-getting ready for the kingdom that is here now and coming big time very soon.