by Al Maxey

Issue #538 ------- July 6, 2012
After the game, the king and
pawn go into the same box.

Italian Saying

Judaism's Three Dead Patriarchs
The Great I AM of the Living and the Dead

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith has always been the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, the resurrection of the body of Jesus from His borrowed tomb on the third day not only declared in a powerful way that He was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4), but it also assures His disciples of their own resurrection on that last day when He comes to claim His bride. Paul tells the Corinthian brethren that if Christ Jesus has not been raised, then "your faith is futile ... and those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:17-18). "But, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end" (1 Cor. 15:20-24a). Paul is clearly speaking of the death and resurrection of the physical body, a resurrection assured by the glorious resurrection of the body of Jesus following His own death and burial. To the brethren in Thessalonica, some of whom were becoming concerned about their loved ones who had died, Paul offered comfort by saying that their firm belief in the fact "that Jesus died and rose again" (1 Thess. 4:14) was their assurance that on the day when the Lord returns, "the dead in Christ will rise first" (vs. 16). Throughout his years of ministry, Paul devoted himself to "preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18); not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also the promised resurrection of the deceased redeemed. Denying the resurrection of the body denies our hope of immortality. The resurrection of our mortal bodies is a vital tenet of the Christian faith.

"At the sound of the last trumpet the dead will be raised. We will all be changed, so that we will never die again. Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won't die or decay. The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal" (1 Cor. 15:52-54, Contemporary English Version). The more familiar wording is: "This perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." That which is "mortal" and "perishable" is the human body, which at the sound of the trumpet on the last day will be resurrected and transformed into a body imperishable and immortal. Thus, again, our hope of immortality (everlasting life) is directly tied to the resurrection of our bodies from the dust of the ground. Paul refers to this as the "redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23), a reality for which we eagerly wait, as does the rest of the physical creation, which anticipates a renewal to perfection along with the resurrected redeemed (Rom. 8:19f). By the same power of the Spirit that raised the body of Jesus, so shall we be raised and given immortality. "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies" (Rom. 8:11).

There were a good many people during the time of Christ, however, who scoffed at the notion of a bodily resurrection. Many had been deeply influenced by Platonic philosophy and Hellenistic thinking with respect to the nature of man and his destiny. Resurrection had been replaced by the theology of "Immortal Soulism," the view that man was inherently immortal (i.e., he possessed an undying spirit trapped within his physical body). Such a theology rendered a resurrection of the body as neither necessary nor even desired. In the first century this pagan thinking had so influenced the Jews for such a long time that many had lost sight of God's promise of life at the resurrection. Thus, for many, resurrection theology was an absurdity. As Paul spoke to the people of Athens, "when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered" (Acts 17:32). On one occasion, as Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, he shouted, "I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6). This led to a huge dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as "the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection" (vs. 8). This dispute "became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them" (vs. 10). Clearly, the Sadducees were not amused by this doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; they wanted nothing to do with it, and were quite aggressive against any who taught it.

According to tradition, the Sadducees derived their name from Zadok, who was High Priest during the time of King David and King Solomon of Israel. The family of Zadok held on to the high priesthood, and officiated in the Temple, until the time of the exile (a period of several hundred years). This family even formed the chief element of the post-exilic priesthood until the time of the Maccabean revolt. The Sadducees were a much smaller group than the Pharisees, but they had far more political power. They were the politicians, the social elite, and the aristocrats of their day. Although the Pharisees came to view themselves as spiritually superior to other Jews, the Sadducees regarded themselves as socially superior. While anyone could become a Pharisee, no matter his status in life (as long as he submitted to the "party line"), membership in the sect of the Sadducees was by birth only (by virtue of being born into one of the high-priestly or aristocratic families). The Sadducees were "high society."

During the "intertestamental" period of Jewish history this group embraced the Greek culture and way of life. The Sadducean high priests became the chief negotiators with the various foreign governments in power over the people of Israel, and thus they began to acquire (through their pagan alliances) a considerable amount of political clout. As a result of this compromising position, they found themselves in increasing conflict with the Pharisees (who were separatists). In 1 Maccabees 1:11-15 the Sadducees are described as traitors to the Jewish people and to the Laws of God. They were not well-liked by the common people, nor did they have an abundance of vocal supporters. Religiously, the Sadducees were the "liberals," whereas the Pharisees would be considered the "conservatives," of the day. They accepted the Torah, but rejected the prophetic writings of the OT as being in any way authoritative. They also rejected the existence of angels and spirits, the Platonic concept of "immortal soulism," and even denied the hope of a resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6-10). The Sadducees are not often discussed in the NT writings (they are only mentioned by name 13 times: 6 in Matthew, 1 in Mark, 1 in Luke, and 5 in Acts). During the early part of Jesus' ministry, the Sadducees largely ignored Him. He was a promoter of new religious ideas, but not a political threat; thus, He was not worthy of their attention. With His triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His death, however, this perspective began to change. They now regarded Him as a threat to their own security, and they began to formulate plans to destroy Him (see Mark 11-12).

During His last days in the city of Jerusalem, "the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question" (Matt. 22:23). Actually, they posed to Jesus a scenario where a woman survived seven husbands (all of whom were brothers), and then she herself died. "At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?" (vs. 28). The account of this exchange may be found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40). In this current issue of my Reflections I will only be dealing with one comment made by Jesus to the Sadducees. However, for those who would like to examine the "Law of Levirate Marriage," to which the Sadducees were referring, and the nature of our Lord's response to that challenge posed to Him that day, I would suggest a careful reading of Reflections #441 -- "Whose Wife Will She Be? The Eternal Marital State of the Woman who Outlived Seven Husbands." It is a fascinating exchange, and one well worth studying in some depth.

In the course of His reply to the Sadducees that day, Jesus made the following statement: "But about the resurrection of the dead -- have you not read what God said to you: 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32). As always, it is extremely important to note the context in which such a statement is made. The context of this entire exchange is the resurrection of the dead. That must be kept in mind as we seek to understand our Lord's remark to the Sadducees, "who say there is no resurrection" (vs. 23). Too many interpreters of this passage seek to make Jesus say something completely unrelated to the topic of man's resurrection from the dead; they suggest, instead, that He is promoting the Platonic philosophy of the inherent immortality of "the soul." Such was not even remotely the intent of Jesus. "Our problem is that we force on the text a Neo-Platonic dualism and demand a choice between immortality and resurrection. The point is simply that God will raise the dead ... this must be read against the background of biblical anthropology and eschatology" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 462]. "Greek thought sharply divided between the soul and the body, the soul's temporary prison, and saw immortality as a quality of the soul" [ibid, p. 1016]. This was not the biblical teaching, however, which regards man as being a "living soul," and not having a "living soul." Thus, immortality is tied to man himself, rather than to some "immortal spirit-being" imprisoned within his body. Jesus is not supporting the Hellenistic perspective on the nature of man, but is rather speaking of the certainty of a bodily resurrection of the whole man from the grave.

The quotation Jesus uses is from Exodus 3:6 (cf. vs. 16), where Moses, as he stands before the burning bush, hears the voice from the midst of the bush declare, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At the time Moses heard this statement, these three patriarchs had been dead and buried for hundreds of years. So, what was the voice declaring? Was it suggesting that these three great patriarchs of Judaism were still alive; that they were immortal? Some think so. John Wesley (1703-1791), in his Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, says this statement proves "the soul does not die with the body." Albert Barnes (1798-1870) states, "It proves that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had an existence then; that their souls were alive. They must, therefore, be still somewhere living" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Thus, these patriarchs are not dead, but rather "they are truly alive" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, the NT, vol. 1, p. 125]. Some even go so far as to say this is the "resurrection" of which Jesus speaks -- "The Savior teaches that the soul is resurrected when it leaves the body" [B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 123]. Thus, according to this view, "the resurrection" of which the Scriptures teach is the "resurrection of the soul" from its "prison house" (the physical body). Thus, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are more alive now than they were when they walked the earth, having already been resurrected when the physical body died. Thus, a bodily resurrection is made an absurdity, as what need is there of a body if "the soul" is presently rejoicing in the presence of God?

Martin Luther (1483-1546), in his famous work "Table Talk," wrote, "Now if one should say that Abraham's soul lives with God but his body is dead, this distinction is rubbish. I will attack it. That would be a silly soul if it were in heaven and desired its body." William Tyndale (1484-1536), an English Bible translator and martyr, wrote, "And ye, in putting them (the departed souls) in heaven, hell and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection." Tyndale argued that if souls were already in either bliss or misery, "then what cause is there of the resurrection?" And what cause is there even of judgment? In another part of this same writing, Tyndale said -- "The true faith putteth forth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the soul did ever live. And the Pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot agree. And because the fleshly-minded Pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it. If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?"

"Such an interpretation makes Jesus' refutation of the Sadducees a farce. They denied the resurrection of the dead bodies, and the substitution of a statement regarding only their souls, would be a deception. ... It is an evasion of the real issue to say that the patriarchs were 'not absolutely dead men,' but 'living' because they were enjoying eternal life in heaven. Then the Sadducees (ancient and modern) would be right in asserting that no resurrection of the dead bodies will take place" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 876]. Again, remember the context here. The context of the whole passage is the resurrection of the dead from the grave, something the Sadducees utterly denied. "Jesus defends the fact of the resurrection, which is the issue really at stake with the Sadducees" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 528]. "For Jesus, the problem with the Sadducees comes down to their inadequate faith in Scripture and in God's power to accomplish the resurrection" [ibid, p. 529]. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, although heirs of the promise of life, nevertheless, when they died, "they did not receive the things promised" (Heb. 11:13). If, as some contend, their "souls" flew off to heaven at the moment of death, then the Hebrew writer was wrong -- they DID receive that promised life in the "heavenly realm." The reality is: they will receive it ... but at the resurrection!! The parallel account in Luke's gospel makes this fact even more abundantly clear than Matthew's account. Luke writes, "But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Luke 20:37). Jesus says nothing about "immortal souls," but rather speaks to the truth of a bodily resurrection.

Although these three patriarchs of Judaism are dead and in the ground, yet from the perspective of the God of this universe, who is not bound by the constraints of time and space, they live. Luke also makes this clear, saying, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive" (Luke 20:38). From the view of men, who are still bound along this time-space continuum, the dead are just that -- dead and buried. That which was formed from the dust of the ground has returned to the dust of the ground. From the perspective of the One who stands at both ends of the continuum, however, and thus outside of the continuum, "all are alive." I don't think it is any mistake or coincidence that the voice from the bush declares, "I AM." He is the Eternal One. Thus, TO HIM the three patriarchs are perceived as being, even though in relation to our own temporal world they are but dust in the ground. Some are thrown off by the fact that Jesus says, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." They assume that this suggests no one is truly dead (thus, an endorsement of the Platonic theory). However, consider what Paul wrote in Rom. 14:9 -- "Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living." Yes, the dead are truly dead; they have returned to the dust of the ground. BUT, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave secured the victory over death, and assures the dead of LIFE ... a life that will be given at the resurrection of the dead. Thus, whether we live or die physically, we have a divine promise; a promise that will be realized when the trumpet sounds and Jesus returns to call us forth from the ground to be forever with Him. "His triumph included victory over death, so that even though His people may be given over to death's power temporarily, they have not ceased to be His, as the future bodily resurrection of Christians will demonstrate. He is in fact the Lord of both the dead and the living" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 146].

"'The dead' are the dead bodies in the graves. ... The whole question at issue is concerned about the dead bodies in the graves -- shall they be raised up and live again or not?" [Lenski, p. 874]. I like the way Albert Barnes characterizes this truth: "Though the body dies and returns to its native dust, yet the Lord Jesus is still its Sovereign, and shall raise it up again. ... The tomb is under the watchful care of the Redeemer. Safe in His hands, the body may sink to its native dust with the assurance that in His own time He will again call it forth, with renovated and immortal powers. With this view, we can leave our friends with confidence in His hands when they die, and yield our own bodies cheerfully to the dust" [Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Paul spoke of a crown "which the Lord will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8). Paul did not expect to receive his reward until "that day" ... the day of "His appearing." Until that time, even though he would return to the dust of the ground, he had a blessed assurance: "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to guard/keep what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Paul was going to die; he knew that. But, he died with the understanding that Jesus had conquered death. Thus, just as Jesus arose from the grave, so would he. Resurrection.

God our Redeemer lives,
And often from the skies
Looks down and watches all our dust
'Till He shall bid it rise.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
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Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Connecticut:

"Did Jesus Really Say That?!" was a great lesson in how the fog of time, distance, language and culture can forever alter our present day perception of a writer's original intent. When I am overseas in the Middle East, in connection with my work, it is not uncommon to see two close male friends, or even relatives, walking along holding hands or with their arms around each other's shoulders. This is common in that culture. However, when you see that on the streets of America today, it is usually a "display of affection" of an entirely different sort. The Greeks, Romans and other Orthodox Christians still "greet each other with a holy kiss." Just try that the next time you visit the "Weright Church of Christ" that meets at Dirt Road & 3rd Street in Bible Belt, USA and see what happens!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Your latest offering ("Did Jesus Really Say That?!") was excellent; a very interesting article. I had never caught some of this before! As always, very enlightening!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

One of your readers from Texas wrote: "It is interesting to me that when I have asked my fellow members of the Church of Christ if they are saved, the reply I almost always get is, 'I hope so!' If 'we' are so sure that 'we' are the 'one true church,' why can't we answer 'Yes!'?" I believe the answer to this reader's question is: (1) Those who believe they are justified by law-keeping can never be sure of their salvation because they are never sure they have lived up to the demands of that law. In fact, they live daily in fear that they have not. (2) They also fear that the congregation they assemble with may not have crossed some "t" or dotted some "i," and that this may send them all to hell. SAD, isn't it?!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Those who want to make something perverse of the phrase "two men in one bed" obviously did not grow up in a large family where brothers were forced to share bedrooms (and beds) with one another, or never attended a big Southern family reunion where kinfolk came by the dozens, and uncles and male cousins shared beds, and aunts and female cousins did the same. I wonder if some folk have abandoned all common sense in an effort to find Jesus guilty of something perverse in order to justify a perverse lifestyle for themselves! To quote the old apostle (as I often do), "I marvel."

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Thank you for continuing to be a "voice of reason" in times of complicity by some folk.

From a Reader in California:

I read your most recent article with a little bit of amusement. The suggestion that two men being in one bed is somehow an endorsement of homosexuality is so extreme as to be humorous. Something that many modern readers forget, or never knew, is that even as recently as our own history in America (less than 200 years), men sharing a room and a bed was quite common. In fact, Abraham Lincoln shared a room and a bed with another man to save on expenses. Congressmen in the House of Representatives often would share quarters in Washington, D.C. while Congress was in session, and these quarters at times in the past would only have one bed. There was considered absolutely nothing untoward or immoral about the arrangement. In fact, it was kind of expected, as the only ones who rented private rooms were those of considerable means (which were not many).

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Thank you so much for your service to the Kingdom of God, and for sharing your wisdom from God. I know that your labors often come under attack, and that you are ridiculed by some, but you have done so much to encourage us to be faithful to our Savior rather than faithful to rules. So, I pray that you never give up the battle. God bless you and your ministry!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Thanks for making your biblical articles available. I am a Bible teacher and would like to subscribe to your weekly publication Reflections. Most people in your religious group would never even dare to entertain the idea that a foundational verse they hold dear (Mark 16:16) may be a later addition and not part of the original text, as you did in Reflections #530 -- Mark's Mysterious Ending: Did Mark Write Mark 16:9-20? Thanks for having the courage to follow the Truth wherever it may lead. I am praying for you as you promote Truth over tradition. It is the duty of every Bible teacher to do the same!

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