Wonders Among the Dead

 
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Will God work wonders among the dead?[1]

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
[2]

Imagine the scene: Jesus is talking in the bustling temple of Jerusalem. A crowd closely presses in, eager to hear the young rabbi’s words. However, this same rabbi is also encircled by powerful groups—by the chief priests, by the Pharisees, and by the Sadducees—all looking to trap Him in his teaching. First, the priests questioned the source of Jesus’ authority,[3] then the Pharisees tried to ensnare Him with political pigeonholing.[4] All of their attempts failed rather spectacularly, as Jesus deftly deflected their attempts to discredit Him. Not to be put off by the failure of their predecessors,  the Sadducees stepped forward and offered their question to Jesus in the form of a ridiculous premise, all meant to mock the very concept of resurrection: “If a woman is married seven times and doesn't bear any children, who will be her husband in the resurrection of the dead?”

While Jesus had responded to Him other challengers with pointed, intelligent questions that revealed their hypocritical motivations in confronting him, he quickly and directly rebuked the Sadducees: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” Then Jesus—knowing that the Sadducees only accepted Torah as scripture and rejected the prophets[5] as authoritative—offered this argument: “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.“[6]

Why, Jesus argues, would God name Himself as presently the God of three forever-dead patriarchs? And even if you were to overlook questions of grammar and verb tenses, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were clear demonstrations and foreshadows of resurrection power. Jesus ended the interaction with the Sadducees by flatly adding, “You are quite wrong.”[7]

KNOWING NEITHER THE SCRIPTURES: BARRENNESS AND LIFE TO THE DEAD

The exasperation of Jesus in the face of Sadducaic unbelief in the resurrection is completely justified when just considering the life and line of Abraham. Abraham, who, hoping against hope, deemed his good-as-dead body and the barrenness[8] of his wife Sarah’s womb no obstacle to the promises of a God who calls into existence things that do not exist and gives life to the dead.[9] Abraham’s strong confidence that God would make him a father of many nations through his son Isaac was tested and ultimately proved true when Abraham offered up his son as a sacrifice, believing that God could and would raise Isaac from the dead. [10] And, like a refrain in a song, Isaac in turn married a barren woman who had no power in and of herself to bear and bring into being the promises of God. But her brother’s blessing of, "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands,”[11] and the faithful intercession of her husband that God would intervene,[12] were ultimately justified when the Lord opened her womb, and Rebekah received twice what she had asked for: twins.[13]

The younger son, Jacob, like his father and his father’s father, married a woman who, after years of disgraceful childlessness, begged him, “Give me children, or I will die!”[14] The Lord, who is more than powerful enough to keep his promises from generation to generation, again miraculously brought life to what was lifeless and birthed multitudes through divine intervention. And time would fail me in the recounting of Noah, of Joseph, and of Israel’s great exodus, all testified to in the Torah, and all clearly demonstrating the power of God over death and life. 

NOR THE POWER OF GOD: THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

The same power of God that was testified to in the Torah saturated the earthly ministry of Jesus, of which the Sadducees must have heard reports. Before he would be a living testimony of the resurrection of the dead,[15] Jesus Himself raised people from the dead to demonstrate God’s endorsement of His ministry. Perhaps the most detailed and prominent account is that of Lazarus. Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, had been dead and buried four days by the time that Jesus reached his house in Bethany. Martha, one of the sisters of the deceased, ran out to meet Jesus, and lamented that He had not reached Bethany sooner. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus took this opportunity to comfort her with the resurrection: “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha, who had been discipled by Jesus and had placed her hope in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, answered in a theologically correct way: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus doesn’t contradict her, but answered her in a stunning statement about His identity, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Martha agrees with this declaration, and says, “I believe you are the Messiah.” When Jesus went out to weep at Lazarus’ tomb, He prayed that God would confirm Jesus sending into the world with the sign that Jesus was about to perform. Then Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come out!” 

Then the man who had died came out.[16]

YOU ARE QUITE WRONG

What is surprising about the miraculous resurrections recounted during and after Jesus’ ministry—Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter,[17] various saints in Jerusalem,[18] Tabitha,[19] and Eutychus[20]—is that they are temporary signs pointing to a future fullness. Everyone who experienced these miraculous resurrections all died again after being raised up. What is unique in the resurrection of Jesus is that He was the firstfruits[21] of the ultimate, permanent, and final resurrection of which the prophets constantly spoke. The apostles also taught clearly and unanimously about the unbreakable link between the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and the final resurrection of all humans.

This resurrection of the dead is so central to human existence, that Paul argues in his letter to the church in Corinth that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus’ resurrection is pointless. In turn, if Jesus did not resurrect literally from the dead, then all the apostles should be counted as liars and their teachings summarily dismissed,[22] as they bore witness constantly to the truth of Jesus’ physical appearance after his public and brutal death.[23]  The only fair-minded response to either an anemic, eternal ethereal existence or a permanent death is pure, hopeless nihilism: “Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die.”[24]

With the testimony of scripture—the Torah, the prophets, the psalmists, the apostles—called into question, with the promises and power of God doubted, with the literal heart of our hope on the line, we must never yield to a cynical, airy, philosophical, Sadducaic treatment of the resurrection. The stakes could not be higher. Either Jesus is fully and physically alive, and so will we be, or he is dead, and nothing matters. There is no in-between. Any attempt to compromise a meaningful life with a resurrectionless reality has already been addressed by Jesus—He who lives, and was dead, and behold is alive forevermore[25]—and His answer is terrifyingly and wonderfully simple: 

“You are quite wrong.”

 
 
 

Devon Phillips is just a pilgrim longing for the Day of the revealing of the sons of God and the redemption of our bodies. Meanwhile, she is privileged to serve in the Middle East with Frontier Alliance International. She can be reached at devon@faimission.org


 

[1] Psalm 88:10-12
[2] Updike, John. ""Seven Stanzas at Easter"." The Gospel Coalition. October 29, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/seven-stanzas-at-easter-john-updike/.
[3] Mark 11:27-33
[4] Mark 12:13-17
[5] The prophets taught extensively on the resurrection. Samuel records his mother’s testimony of this in 1 Samuel 2:6, Job clings to resurrection hope in Job 19:25-27. Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 26:19, Hosea 13:14 are just some examples of the foretelling of the resurrection of the dead. 
[6] This statement might be confusing in light of what Paul wrote in Romans 14:9: “To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” But Jesus was emphasizing that no human is truly and finally dead, and Paul is emphasizing Jesus’ triumph over death. 
[7] Mark 12:18-27
[8] Literally rendered as, “deadness” in the Greek
[9] Romans 4:17-21
[10] Hebrews 11:17-19
[11] Genesis 24:60
[12] Genesis 25:21
[13] Genesis 25:24
[14] Genesis 30:1
[15] Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:36-49, John 20:26-28
[16] John 11:17-26, 38-44
[17] Luke 8:52–56
[18] Matthew 27:50–53
[19] Acts 9:36–43
[20] Acts 20:7–12
[21] 1 Corinthians 15:20
[22] 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
[23] Luke 14:13,14; Luke 20:35, 36; John 5:29; John 6:39; Acts 4:33; Acts 17:18; Acts 26:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Hebrews 6:1-2; Revelation 20:4-6
[24] 1 Corinthians 15:32
[25] Revelation 1:18

 
DISCIPLESHIP, PROCLAMATIONFAI