(This was preached at Hamilton Church of Christ in New Zealand 24th April 2011 )
(Daniel 12:1-4 & 1 Corinthians 15:12-26, 50-58 )
In all that we have covered over the last 3 weeks on the subject “what happens when we die” listen again to these words spoken by the angel on that first resurrection morning (Matthew 28:5-7) “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He is risen from the dead…!’”
That message should have dropped into its original Jewish setting with the power of an atomic bomb! In Isaiah 26:19, penned some 700 years before the angel made this announcement, we read of an anticipated resurrection hope for the nation of Israel – “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
This is incredible! After all that we had established in our first session in that the Jews understood that nothing consciously survives the issue of death, God reveals through the prophet Isaiah that one day the Jews could anticipate an astonishing re-creation from the grave.
Also, King David in Psalm 16:9-10, written 1000 years before the angel made this announcement, penned this phenomenal prediction that the anticipated future Messiah’s would not decay in the grave - “Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, not will you let your holy one see decay.”
And again in Daniel 12:1-2, centuries before the angel made this announcment, a general resurrection of all people from their graves is anticipated in the future – “But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
See also Dan 12:13; Psalm 17:15; Ezekiel 37:12-14; Job 19:25-27.
The Diffusion of the Hope of Resurrection in the Face of Death
This is amazing! Even though the Hebrew understanding of what it is to be human, throughout the OT, did not in any way suggest that anything of the person consciously survives death there was, woven between these pages, an anticipated hope of being resurrected out of the grave at the end of time.
Therefore, when the angel announced on that first Sunday “He has risen from the dead” why didn’t the message drop with the power of an atomic bomb into the hearts and minds of the original Jewish audience whose Scriptures anticipated this event? The reason why they were blinded to the significance of this historic event was because the pay load of dynamite, which this announcement was charged with, had already been diffused by the subtle introduction of foreign ideas about what it is to be a human being and what happens when we die. Some Jews were already entertaining ideas about a disembodied afterlife that were no longer dependent upon the OT notion of a future resurrection from the dead.
Christ is risen from the dead-so what?
Therefore, “Christ has risen from the dead – so what!” “So what” when death had been re-interpreted to assume that the “real identity” of a person never really died anyway? Why would we require a resurrection from the grave if death has been reinterpreted as nothing more than a release of the “real person” from the body? Even in Athens, the heart of the Greek culture of that time – “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (Acts 17:32). The pay-load of the announcement had also been diffused for many throughout the Greek speaking world into which the Apostle Paul took this message.
Tracing the Origins of the Lie
When God originally said to Adam in Gen 2:17 “the day you eat of it you will surely die” the serpent responded to Eve’s defence against the temptation with these famous words - “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4). How accurate are the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – “He was a murdered and a liar from the beginning.”
Even though God substituted the animals to cloth Adam and Eve nakedness of sin, so that they were spared the death penalty that day, their mortality was sealed and they eventually returned to the dust from which they were formed as God had said.
Perhaps Adam and Eve continued to believe the serpent’s lie that they wouldn’t die; but they must have smelt a rat when the gray hairs started coming along with all those achy joints and wrinkles. Despite the 100 % strike rate of death we still pedal the original lie that was fed to the original parents of humanity – “you will not surely die”. We hear it at funerals, we see it on TV, we tell it in our Saint Peter at the pearly gates jokes and somehow we would really like to believe it.
Perpetuating the Lie will keep the World in Ignorance of the Truth
However, as long as the world continues in the belief of some sort of natural survival of the “real person” from death, and as long as we believe we’re off to new spiritual worlds unseen when we die, then the announcement of the angel that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead will continue to be of little, if any, significance to humanity. This is a humanity who desperately needs to know that death is real and therefore Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the logical antidote to the grave.
Christ Resurrection and Ours are Inseparable
So inseparable is the NT hope of participating in a resurrection from the grave, with Christ’s resurrection from the tomb, that the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:12- 14 – “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith!”
To put it another way; if we believe that when we die we go consciously straight to heaven or hell as a spirit our preaching is useless and so too is our faith! And worse still we may even be affirming, in ignorance, the Devil’s original lie that diffused the dynamite of the angel’s announcement on that first resurrection morning!
Paul tells us in 1 Cor 15:18 that if Jesus Christ wasn’t literally resurrected out of the grave then – “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ [died] are lost!” How could they be lost if the tradition is correct that says they are safely in the arms of Jesus in a conscious interim state. Wouldn’t such a belief render the future resurrection unnecessary?
Christ is the Firstfruits of those who sleep in Death
Christ is the ‘firstfruits’ of those who have fallen asleep Paul tells us in 1 Cor 15:20. In other words he is the model upon which the end time resurrection harvest of the dead will follow. We are told in verse 23-24 that there is an order for this – “Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
When does the resurrection of the dead take place; at the point of an individual’s death? No; when he [Jesus Christ] comes.
It is amazing to me that although this resurrection hope is so conspicuous throughout the NT there are many Christians for whom such a notion seems completely foreign; even after having been a Christian for many years! And so it is no surprise to hear a Christian, who has had their attention brought to this NT hope, to ask “how are the dead raised?” Indeed Paul anticipates just such a question in verse 35.
How are the Dead Raised?
Paul likens the details of the future resurrection to planting a seed in the ground. This kind of analogy for such a truly miraculous event is one which his audience might better grasp. He says in verse 36 that a seed doesn’t come out of the ground, as the plant that it will be, unless it first gets put into the ground to die. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead Paul tells us in verse 42; “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.”
Nowhere are we told with more specificity that death is truly a state of unconsciousness in the grave in anticipation of a future resurrection from the grave. 1 Cor 15:51-55“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and will be changed. For the perishable must cloth itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written [in Hosea 13:14] will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”
Yes the announcement of the angel on that first resurrection morning was packed with dynamite for those who have ears to hear – “He has risen from the dead.” However, what one believes about death and afterlife is critical for how one understands the true significance of the empty tomb and the angel’s announcement that he has risen.