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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Original Sin? ( Re-thinking the doctrine of 'Limited Atonement' )

Would it be correct to use the word 'limited' in pertaining to any characteristic of God? I think that most of us, when it comes right down to it, would answer that question with a resounding 'No'! Why then, do some of us ( I was one ) choose to limit God's power of atonement, the extent to which His Son's blood covers sin? I believe Jesus shed His blood to cover the sins of His people, but that begs the question, 'who are His people?' We can say, for Scripture says that we will know them by their 'fruits' ( Matthew 7:16 ), that since certain people do, while others do not, exhibit that 'fruit' in a life of loving, trusting obedience, and communion with God and His people, that the former group is His family, and the latter group is not. Most Christians, I believe, feel fairly comfortable in, if not precisely saying this, at least living this way.

In the sense then, that Jesus died for the sins of His people; you could say ( almost ) that this atonement was limited, but can we really, with our finite knowledge and understanding, limit Jesus' atoning power by applying it only to a certain group, and even defining that group?

A good friend called me late last night with a question that apparently had been bothering him for quite some time. That question was, in other words, maybe, 'why does God choose some for faith ( to believe ), and not others?' That is a good question, as I told him, but is it really that simple? Man has the ability to choose for himself, whether to obey God or to disobey God, to serve his own selfish lusts ( wants, desires ), or to serve God and His Kingdom; as Jesus put it in Matthew 6:33, to 'seek first the Kingdom of God'. The language of Scripture, especially as we read it in our own language, and with our particular Western understanding, seems to say that God has appointed certain individuals to believe, and certain others not to believe, and, as Paul put it, in Romans 9:22, to be 'vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction'. We have been taught for years, especially as Calvinists ( which I used to be ) just that, that God has chosen some for 'heaven' and others for 'hell'. Without going into a long explanation here of the realities, or should I say, the truths, about each of these; I will suffice to say that, for many Christians, these words have a different meaning than I believe they do!

I hold the position, as I told my friend, that God is Sovereign, over all, but that man is also responsible, and not only responsible; he is able to respond to God's Covenant. He is entirely responsible for the choice that he makes, and bears the consequences, for there are consequences, either way, of the choice he makes. If, through the wisdom and understanding given him by God ( Genesis 2:7 ), he chooses to obey God, and keep His Covenant, His Word; he will reap the blessings of that Covenant ( Deuteronomy 28:1-14 ), but if he chooses, through his own wisdom and understanding, to disobey God, and to disregard His Covenant, he will reap the curses involved ( Deuteronomy 28:15-68 ). Many believe that this covenant is not confining unless one verbally agrees to, and enters into it, but I believe that Scripture teaches, and this may be a subject for a different article, that all created beings, into whom God 'breathed.........the breath of life' ( it is not recorded that God did this to any other animal ) are in Covenant with their Creator, whether they want to admit it or not, whether they realize it or not!

Of the many doctrines that have been called 'orthodox' for the past few millenia, or maybe just centuries, the doctrine of 'Original Sin' has been possibly one of the most basic, most taken for granted, and largely misunderstood. For this reason alone; it is also one of the most needful doctrines for re-examination, especially in light of the ( re ) emerging truths of Fulfilled Eschatology and Covenant Creation. Covenant Creation is based, quite simply, upon the idea that Adam and Eve were not the first humans ever to inhabit planet earth, but were merely the first human beings with whom God chose to establish His Covenant. If this is true; it should be to us a worthy cause for re-examination of this troublesome, and much questioned, doctrine. Admittedly, Scripture does seem to say, in more than one place that Adam's progeny did inherit the penalty of his sin, which Paul, again, says is 'death' ( Romans 6:23 ), but, besides the fact that it ( 'Original Sin' ) is a man-made doctrine, and should be therefore considered questionable, this is also where Fulfilled Eschatology comes in. Since Jesus returned how and when He promised His disciples He would, and referring again to Paul's statements, such as, 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive' ( I Corinthians 15:22 ), it is clear that, as the progeny of God in Christ, rather than the children of Adam; we are not born under the curse that Adam incurred upon himself and his spiritual descendants, but are born into the spiritual blessing of relationship with God. It is now, as always, up to us how we respond to those blessings and cursings!

When Adam sinned, in the Garden, according to orthodoxy, he unwittingly unleashed a curse upon his entire progeny, a curse, which according to most, has not yet been lifted because, according to many Christians, Jesus did not return when He said He would. Much of the fault here lies in physicality, the idea that the primary focus of the curse was a physical one. 'Yes', they will say, 'the spiritual effects of the curse have been reversed, but that physically speaking, the creation itself has not yet been redeemed. This is gnostic to the core, and is itself, a reversal of how it should be understood! Ephesians 1:3, 'Blessed [ be ] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [ places ] in Christ', cannot be refuted, and to my knowledge, has never been tried. This is the reversal of the curse; when Christ paid the penalty for the sin of His people ( Matthew 1:21 ) through His death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection; He reversed the spiritual effects of the curse upon Adam and his progeny, redeeming them from the death of Adam, which most will, however grudgingly admit, was not of a physical nature. Sadly, many of these will still tell you, or at least act as if physical death was a part of the curse. Again; it is gnostic to purport this, as any biology major, even common sense, will tell you that biological death is merely a part of biological life. Man was not made to live ( biologically ) forever; man was born to die!

( I am not a biology major, nor even really a student! )

Was the sinful, rebellious nature an effect of the curse, that everyone is now born with, until such time as one accepts Christ? Having already, in essence, partially answered this question; suffice to say that our sinful, rebellious nature was not an effect of the curse! 'But', you might argue, 'Paul wrote that 'through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned'! Yes, he did, but he also wrote that 'death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam'. Paul made a parenthetical statement between these two statements, reminding them, and us, that 'until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law'. If their sin was not imputed to them, why were they still consigned to death? Obviously, the penalty for Adam's sin had nothing to do with physical death! The sin of Adam, which God promised would bring death 'in the day that you eat', unarguably did not bring physical death in that day, but in that very day, Adam, who was used to 'walking in the garden' with His Creator, was ousted from the Garden, and cut off from access to the Tree of Life, or the Presence of God. This was a symbolic separation from the blessings of the covenant, and so was, in essence, covenant death.

Does this whole idea of 'Original Sin', that has been passed down from father to son ever since Adam passed it on to Cain ( how did Abel escape? ), have any merit, then? I believe if we look at it honestly; we must answer that question with a resounding 'NO'! When Cain's sacrifice was refused, back in Genesis 4, and he became angry; God's response ( note well, that God, even though they had sinned, was still with them ) was, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire [ is ] for you, but you should rule over it'. Several things to note here; God expected Cain to do right, because He knew that Cain could make the right choice if he wanted to. God knew very well why Cain was angry, and it was not because he had inherited his father's sin nature! ( Okay, in a sense he had, but it was more like he had inherited his father's fiery temper, if anything ) He did not offer the wrong sacrifice, or offer a right sacrifice wrongly ( with a wrong attitude ) because of some sin nature that he had inherited from Adam. His sacrifice was not accepted because he chose not to offer the acceptable sacrifice, as did his brother. Abel was obviously able to make the right choice, so why him and not Cain?

The whole idea that Adam was created perfect, and that he was perfect until the day he sinned is ridiculous! If Adam was created perfect; how could he sin? Why did he make the wrong choice, if he was perfect? 'Well' you might say, 'Satan tempted him, and he fell'? That's what the Bible says, right? Well, sorta, but James told his readers that 'each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed'. Eve did not eat the fruit because Satan told her to; Eve bit into the fruit because she chose to, because 'she saw that the tree [ was ] good for food, that it [ was ] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make [ one ] wise'. It is true that we can be influenced ( tempted? ) by outside influence ( 'here, try this' ), but if we do not actively make the choice to do whatever we are tempted to do, we will not do it; it's that simple!

 Going back into the history of Israel ( I AM speaking primarily of Israel according to the flesh, although as typical of, and related to the Israel of God, this may affect us as well ), it can easily be seen how the choice of Adam, and the subsequent bad choices of his progeny, steered their course, going through many trials and tribulations, and eventually ending with their total and complete destruction. There are numerous different passages, Romans 9:22 among them, that seem to point plainly to the fact that those who disobeyed God, under the old covenant were 'fated' to do so, even predestined by God. ( don't get me wrong, here: I am not denying the fact of predestination ) I do believe that the wicked were and are predestined by God to suffer the eternal consequences of their thoughts and actions, and that the righteous are predestined to enjoy the fruits of theirs, but is it right, or fair, to say that God has individually chosen certain people to be disobedient to the heavenly vision, while others have been chosen to receive the Gift of eternal Life? Taking into account what we've studied so far, would it not be more correct to say that God has chosen to eternally bless those who have chosen to live in covenant with Him, while those who continually refuse to do so are damned to a lifetime of suffering and pain ( again; please don't get me wrong, I'm not speaking of physical pain and suffering here ), after which, if they continue in their hard-hearted rebelliousness, they are finally and forever separated from God?

Adam had a choice, Cain had a choice, Ishmael had a choice, Esau had a choice, etc., etc., and we can go on and on! Aside from Cain, who I'm sure was obedient at some point in his life; all those listed above were blessed by God at some point in their lives: when they were obedient! Is it not the same for us today? Although maybe not to the same extent, for there is no doubt that Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law written in stone ( the letter ):  if we are obedient to the Covenant, and remain in fellowship with Him; we reap what we sow, the blessings He has ordained for those who love Him, but those who continually blaspheme, and refuse the sacrifice He made, will reap what they sow as well, the curses that He has stored up for  those who hate Him! Even as followers of Jesus, we often fail in our high calling, and we usually suffer the consequences when we do ( physically speaking ), but like Paul told Timothy, 'If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.' ( II Timothy 2:13 ) If we do not continue in our unfaithfulness, and repent of our misdeeds, our transgression, we know that He has been 'faithful and just to forgive us [ our ] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'.

Obviously, a certain group of people were predestined for either the blessing or cursings of God's Covenant, but I believe that it is as clear ( obvious ) that individuals were not predestined in this way. Yes, God knew from the beginning, for He IS omniscient, that certain individuals would choose their separate ways, but was it because of this foreknowledge that He predestined them? Did God not rather predestine the corporate Body of believers, those who kept His Covenant, to receive the blessings of that Covenant, and the corporate Body of Adam, or Moses, those who did not keep His Covenant, who in fact refused it, and sentenced themselves to death ( 'Let His blood be upon ourselves and our children' ), to inherit the curses of that Covenant?!

The atonement that Christ made almost 2,000 years ago, is, in the corporate sense then, limited to those who do make the choice to follow Christ, but in the individualistic sense in which the adherents of the doctrine of 'Limited Atonement' look at it; we cannot say, I believe, that God's atoning work through Jesus our Savior was limited.

With the admonishment to be a Berean, and to prayerfully study these things for yourself, I am;

Your's in the love of God,
and in the Kingdom of Christ,
Charles Haddon Shank

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Everlasting Kingdom

And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. ( Daniel 2:44 )

David wrote, in Psalm 104 ( 5 ), of our great God and Creator who 'laid the foundations of the earth, so [ that ] it should not be moved forever'. Whether you believe. as some, that he was writing of the physical globe, or along with Daniel, of God's Covenant Creation; it is clearly stated that it will stand, or be lively forever. David also wrote earlier, in his 78th Psalm ( verse 69 ), 'He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has established forever.' David's son, Solomon, wrote that 'the earth abides forever' ( Ecclesiastes 1:4b ). Why then do we hear, from these fear-mongering end-times prognosticators, that the world is going to end tomorrow? Well, the Scriptures do speak, most famously in Isaiah 65:17, of a 'new heavens and a new earth'. Actually, probably better known is Peter's reference to it, in II Peter 3:13!

In both these references, but probably more clearly in Isaiah 65:17, we can see, or at least we should be able to, that the referent here is not the physical globe, nor even the inhabitants of that globe, but rather to the covenant people of God! The writer of Hebrews says as much when he old his readers ( Hebrews 12:24-28 ) 'you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels', and then, in a form of literary parallelism ( which they would have been very familiar with ), that this was 'to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [ who are ] registered in heaven'. The writer here made the direct connection that this 'new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells', was the Church, the Body of Christ, or God's covenant people!

Will the physical globe, that we know as 'terra firma', actually, literally abide forever'? That is a question that may be up for discussion, although the verses that I've quoted above certainly seem to indicate that it will! The Scriptures are very clear though, that, as in Daniel 2:44, His Kingdom will stand forever.

When men like Harold Camping continually make predictions about things that never happen, and that  we are told over and over in Scripture will not happen; you have to wonder at the reasoning behind these false 'men of God'. A look at Camping's bank records would likely shout the loudest! I'm not saying that this man's intentions are entirely material; in his own way, I'm sure he does want to see people come to Christ, and for the name of Christ and God to be exalted, but you can bet that Camping is not in it solely for the glory of God! I'm quite sure that he is, along with others like him, 'sure' that what he has prophesied will, at some point, come true, but you can be sure that the almighty dollar looms largest on his horizon. I do not know the man, and so cannot personally attest to his delusional truthfulness ( although I did hear that he had a stroke back in June ), but enough is enough! If you'll remember; back in May, he made his original prediction that 'the rapture' would occur on May 21st, followed by 5 months of 'fire, brimstone and plagues', followed by the actual end of the globe, probably the physical universe too, on October 21st. Although much chagrined that, on May 2nd, like his followers, he was still here, he tried to cover himself by saying that a spiritual judgment and rapture had taken place, and that the actual physical 'rapture' would take place, right before the earth is consumed, on October 21st, which is tomorrow. You can be sure that, not only will this not happen, but it will be even more cause for ridicule of the name Christian, and more blasphemy in the Face of God!

Maybe once America's Christians see this charlatan for the blackguard he is, and that people like him are only after their money, they will cease funding fear-mongers like this and turn toward a right and true relationship with their almighty Creator, who made this earth, His earth to endure!

In the love and fear of the true God,
Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dismemberment or spiritual purity? ( the circumcision of the heart )

'If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched'. ( Mark 9:43 )

I believe that it is rather clear that Jesus is not advocating bodily disfigurement here ( indeed; I believe that He forbids it, in another place ). The covenantal context, which I've spoken of previously, tells us, as in the case of circumcision, that it was for an external sign of what had been done internally. We have seen that, even though God commanded His son, Israel, to circumcise the foreskins of his progeny, this was only an outward sign of obedience to the spirit of His command, which, as we see in Deuteronomy 10:16, was 'circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer', while, a bit later, in Deuteronomy 30:6, Moses also told them, 'the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live'.

Many Christians have gotten the Gnostic notion that God's commands to His people were based in physicality, that human flesh had become so corrupt that God must needs destroy this humanity and form a whole new body, one more in conformity to His glorious Body, and in His image. Circumcision, to this manner of reasoning, was a sign that God had stripped away, or would strip away this dead humanity, separating the old man from the new.................wait.........................

The verse above, Mark 9:43 ( and I'm sure someone will notice right away that I didn't quote verse 44, as well ) seems to state that we should cut off a hand or gouge out an eye if they cause us to sin. First of all; I believe that we all, if we're honest with ourselves and Scripture, know that our disobedience, or sin, does not come from our biological members, but rather from our perverted 'heart', our inmost desires, from our own naturally rebellious will! Secondly, even if one were to argue that our wrongful desires do come from a certain part ( such as the 'hand', or 'eye' ), which is clearly not what Jesus is saying, then even if we do gouge out an eye or cut off a hand; what about the other hand? What about the other eye? ( what about the penis? ) We would end up killing ourselves because of all the body parts that we were cutting off, and we would most likely still have those wrong desires: we may not be able to actually carry out those desires, but is that what Jesus taught?

Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth that, 'the weapons of our warfare [ are ] not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.' ( II Corinthians 10:4-6 ). They were not to, just as we are not to, wage war against our foe, whether it be inside or outside influence, using the same weapons that created the problem in the first place. We read, in Romans 8:3, that 'what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [ did ] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh'. First, mote that God did not condemn 'flesh'; He 'condemned sin in the flesh': He did not even condemn the weakness of the flesh that He had made good, just the sin, or disobedience that comes through the wrongful desires made possible by selfishly seeking our own wants and desires, rather than His Kingdom!

Now; to be fair; I have heard that separating oneself from a certain body part ( and I think we all know what body part that is! ) will remove the physical desire to use that body part wrongfully. I am not a scientist, and I will not claim to know the 'ins and outs' of the biological make-up of the human body, to say nothing of it's natural chemistry. I can say with certainty though, that our physical chemistry is not the problem; it is our will, our free choice to obey or disobey God's commands!

Are we really to think, though, that by cutting of a hand or gouging out an eye ( or removing some other perturbing body part ), that we will thus enter the Kingdom of Heaven, or rather, that they would? We know, in the covenantal and historical context of Scripture, that things like circumcision were merely foreshadowing the reality that came to Light in the Christ. 'Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God [ is what matters ]'. Paul wrote these words, also to the Corinthian Church ( I Corinthians 7:19 ) to combat this very idea. It was not whether one had removed his foreskin or not, whether he was a Jew or a Gentile, but whether or not he had 'circumcised' his rebellious 'heart', deciding to live according to God's Law, rather than his own!


You may note, that in the passage from which the earlier quote comes, Mark 9:43-48, that Jesus uses a form of 'biblical parallelism', in which He relays the same idea three different times, in three different ways: now, without going into a lengthy exegesis of this passage, and why he mentions first the hand, then the foot ( or feet ), and finally the eye, suffice it to say that He was not advocating dismemberment, but rather making a point. As we progress in this short study; we may note what that point was!

'It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched-where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.[d]'

It is interesting to note here, several things about this whole passage. In the more ancient manuscripts, upon which the NU-text ( Nestle'/Aland/United Bible Society ) is largely based, verses 44, the latter part of verse 45, and all of verse 46 do not appear. In verse 48, we can see that Jesus is quoting, as He so often did, from the Hebrew Scriptures, in this case, the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 66, verse 24. As this passage is descriptive of the New Heavens and New Earth, or the New Jerusalem, it should be plain to see, that Isaiah was prophesying that those outside the city, and perishing in the hellish fires of the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna would be an unpleasant reminder to the daily worshipers of God, of what had happened to those who refused to give God His due!

It should be fairly clear, I believe, that when Jesus referenced Isaiah's prophecy; he was referring, not to the place of fire and brimstone that we have traditionally known as 'hell', but was speaking of the grave, 'where their worm does not die'( because the worms feed on the dead flesh ), and combining that with a reference to the ever-burning fires of Jerusalem's garbage-dump, the Valley of Hinnom. probably better known to us as 'Gehenna'. His was a warning to those present that if they continued in the old traditional ways, circumcising their flesh, but not their 'hearts', they would safer the same fate as those bodies that were placed in the grave, or consigned to the fires of Gehenna!

I was reminded this weekend, that the Old English word 'hell' means basically 'to cover' Jesus was not referring to the Greek vision that we have come to know and fear as 'Hell'; He was simply using very familiar and hyperbolic language to warn them of their fate, if they continued on the course they were presently on, not just the grave, but, using Gehenna as a metaphor, of the torment they would receive in the coming conflagration!

Another place we should look for clues to the meaning of this enigmatic ( though traditionally plain ) passage, besides, of course, the historical context of Jesus' words, is the immediate context. Remembering that the chapter divisions were not there in the beginning, let's take a look at several of the event that happened immediately before and after. After the vision of the Transfiguration that Mark recorded, the first thing that Jesus did was to heal a young boy of epilepsy. This physical malady was seen to be an outward representation of what was really wrong with the boy: he had a demon, which Jesus immediately cast out! Just prior to the passage in question; Jesus, when He perceived that His disciples were arguing among themselves about who would be greatest, or first, uttered these famous words, 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all', and then, 'Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me'. His point, I think we can all agree, especially in the latter statement, is not that we must necessarily shelter little children ( though this includes little children ) in order to receive Him, but that we must be willing to be a servant to all, if we would enter His Kingdom: it is not your status before men that God honors, but rather your status in His Son!

Again, remembering the chapter divisions; Mark next records the episode where the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce. They were hoping, somehow, to trap the Son of God, but Jesus, perceiving their wicked intent, reminded them that it was because of the hardness of their 'hearts' that Moses had made this concession for them. They were concerned only with the outward appearance, as with circumcision; if their wives did not do exactly what they required, they were allowed to divorce them. Jesus reminded them, 'from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’[a] ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’;[b] so then they are no longer two, but one flesh'. As Matthew recorded it, 'He said to them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.' ( Matthew 19:8 ).

'What do marriage and divorce have to do with circumcision or 'hell'?', you might ask. Well, since the Pharisees were so focused on the physical aspects of life; I believe that Jesus was giving them another example, showing them that the physical aspects, as the 'letter of the law', were not as important as the spiritual truth behind it, like Jesus told them, 'because of the hardness of your hearts' they were permitted to divorce their wives, and not just for any reason, but only for sexual impurity ( an outward sign of an inward problem ) or for adultery ( also an outward manifestation of an inner desire ). 'Hell' and marriage? I'm just not gonna go there, except to say that, like Jesus said above, it is instituted by God, and when entered into with 'both eyes open', can be a most blissful and glorious state!

Confident in Him,
Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Resurrection of the Body; Corporate Versus Individual, Spiritual Versus Natural

The first thing that many Christians think of when someone brings up the topic of the resurrection, is biological bodies being re-animated and rising out of the dust of the earth. Some will even go so far as to say that, even if one is cremated ( which is frowned upon in most circles ) God is still able to take every particle of ash, from as far as it may have been scattered, and reassemble, re-animate that biological body that once was!

I have written on this subject before, so I might just refer you there, but the subject of the resurrection has become very prevalent of late, so we'll just give it another go-round!:) The gist of the subject at hand, as we saw above, is whether or not individual, biological bodies will be raised ( 'anastasis' ), or whether the biblical resurrection was a metaphor for the corporate redemption of the Body of Israel, which occurred in the first century, with the advent of Jesus, who was the Christ. Even though this event did occur in the first century ( Jesus said 'the hour is coming, and now is' ( John 5:25 ), it is an on-going reality, in a sense, because, as the people of God ( 'The Israel of God' ( Galatians 6:16 ) are awakened to His eternal Presence, a resurrection takes place. I remarked previously that, 'as the corporate Body of Israel, or Christ, is made up of individual human beings, a resurrection of the body ( individual ) was expected'. We are individuals, and as such, our individual bodies have been, in a sense, resurrected. 'How', you say? Well, as we have also explored previously, our physical bodies have been metaphorically awakened; we have had our eyes opened, which has stirred us, in many cases, to take action, action which may be contrary to previous actions, or even inaction!

In my latest article on the resurrection, we saw that the resurrection prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures and looked forward to by faithful Israel, was not that of individual bodies, and not even of biologically dead bodies, for that matter, but was, as Simeon exulted, at the advent of the Son of God, 'Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to [ bring ] revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel' ( Luke 2:29-32 ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:6 ). Zacharias, the father of the fore-runner of Jesus, 'Elijah who is to come' ( Matthew 11:14 ), prophesied in these words, concerning the Christ, 'Blessed [ is ] the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David' ( Luke 1:68 & 69 ) No wonder Nicodemus was confused when Jesus told him 'You must be born again' ( John 3:7 )! He must have thought, as was the tendency by then, with the physically-minded Pharisees, mixing with the Greek thinking of the day, that Jesus was speaking of biological bodies being birthed again after they were already mature. His question said as much! As Jesus assured him, though, He was not speaking of physical bodies being born ( again ) of water ( amniotic fluid ), or naturally, but of the corporate Body of Israel being re-birthed, or resurrected, to the standing of the communion with God which they had previously, of the birth, or anastasis, from above!

We are individuals, there can be no denying that fact, and as such, we have been raised with Christ; we have, in that sense, individually taken part in His death, burial and resurrection. As Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, who were obviously having somewhat the same problem as Nicodemus, even though they were 'individually members', they were all part of 'one body in Christ'. It is not just 'me and Jesus', or even between 'me and God'! Whether you like to use the term 'metaphorical' or not; we are all one Body! Though we are individuals, each with our own different gifts and talents ( indeed; thank God for diversity in the Body of Christ! ); we are not alone: we are to be concerned with the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to raise them up before the throne of God, in loving prayer, to raise them up from the dung-heap if they have fallen, and to hold them accountable when they stray from communion, the communion of the saints!

Getting back to the subject; it is is recorded in Matthew 1:21 that 'He will save His people from their sins', speaking, of course, of Jesus. Note well that Joseph was not told that 'He will save you from your sins', or even that He will save Mary from her sins'. Nope, not John the Baptist or Nicodemus either. No mention even, of the apostles there, not even His own family! Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would save His people, all of them, from their sins; as a whole, not just as individuals. All of the above mentioned individuals, or at least, most of them can be included in 'His people', but as His people, as His Body; it is not just us; we are all part of One Body!

So; resurrection, anastasis. We have explored, though not fully, the fact that Israel after the flesh, those who had apostatized from the covenant, had become a dead body. We saw, in Ezekiel 37, that the prophet was given a vision of the future, where God showed him that the dead, or useless, body of Israel would be raised up, and given new life; reborn, you might say. In this vision, we see that it was not body by body that was re-covered ( with sinew, flesh ); it was not individual bodies that received 'the breath of life', but that the prophet was instructed to call 'to the breath', and to say 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live'; not each individual body, not some, and not others, but 'these slain'; all of them, together!

One last note to consider; we saw that, besides referring to 'a raising up'; anastasis also indicates 'removal' ( Hebrews 12:27 ). This removal was, as we have seen, the taking away of our sins, the sins of the people of God, and of the curtain, or veil that separated them from His holy and enduring Presence. This removal was begun in the first century, with, among other things, the ripping of the veil of the Temple, upon the words of Jesus, 'It is finished', and was decisively accomplished in AD70, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, removing the last vestiges of that Old Covenant economy, or system of worship; now the people of God were free, free to worship 'in spirit and truth'!

In the Spirit of anastasis,
Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Anastasis-The Resurrection of the Dead ( Ones )

Let me first say that, to the 1st century Jewish mind, the resurrection of the dead was not a new concept. The first place, probably, that one would have thought of, when referencing the resurrection of the dead ( and this is the Jewish mindset ), is Ezekiel's prophecy of 'the dry bones' in Ezekiel 37. In verse 11 of this passage; it is recorded that the house of Israel complained that 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' This was not a situation speaking of physical death, as is the notion of many when thinking of the term 'resurrection', but, as the house of Israel complained; 'we............are cut off', in essence, looking back at the historical context of Ezekiel's vision, they felt that they had been cut off from the Presence of God, and the blessings of His Covenant. By being sent out of the land, and away from His Temple, much as Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden, they had symbolically been cut off, as had been promised before, for covenant unfaithfulness ( Genesis 17:14, Exodus 12:15, 31:14, Leviticus 7:27, 20:5, 22:3, Numbers 9:13, 15:31, etc. )

The Greek word transliterated 'anastasis' simply means, 'a raising up, removal.', or, 'to stand up', from my understanding. In the passage above; we read that, after God had covered these bones with flesh and sinew again, in essence, recreating, or re-forming them, and symbolically breathed into them 'the breath of life' ( Genesis 2:7 ); 'they lived, and stood upon their feet'.

Many Christians, and this, I believe, is the accepted orthodox position, believe that because Christ's biological Body was physically brought back to life, this necessarily means that ours, as individual believers, will too. Besides the fact that this 'individualism' is one of the problems that plagues the modern Church, this idea of  physical, individual bodies being raised from the dead was almost unknown to the Jewish mind. Sure; as the corporate Body of Israel, or Christ, is made up of individual human beings, a resurrection of the body ( individual ) was expected, hoped for, but the main hope of Israel in the first century was a hope of, a looking forward to, the corporate resurrection of Israel, from the dead body of Moses ( old covenant ), into the living Body of Christ ( the New Covenant ).

I believe that Christ's physical, bodily resurrection was, first of all, a sign for those who sought after a sign, the unbelieving Jews, that He had actually defeated death, that the grave itself could not hold, or keep Him. Secondly, but even more importantly, His was a physical, bodily rising again, to show that we, as His Body, have been raised to New Life. As I have been saying; while this includes individual Christians, even in the 21st century, and beyond; it is primarily the corporate Body of Christ that has experienced a resurrection 'from dead works to serve the living God' ( Hebrews 9:14 ), and, as Ezekiel saw, the whole house of Israel, the covenant people of God, who were given a new hope, and symbolically brought back into the Land of covenant blessing, and the Presence of God!

Ezekiel's is not the only passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where the promise of a resurrection of the dead is given. There are several pictures given of this 'anastasis', rising again. There is the example of the widow's son, in I Kings 17, where this child was brought back to life, through the ministrations of Elijah. An example in the Greek Scriptures, of course, and one which is probably most familiar to us, is the resurrection of Lazarus, as recorded in John 11. These examples all came about before the bodily resurrection of Jesus, yet Jesus is referred to by Paul as 'the firstborn from the dead' ( Colossians 1:18 ( Revelation 1:5 ): why do you suppose this could be? Could it be that the resurrection of Jesus was not merely a physical return from biological death, as most have viewed it? That Jesus' resurrection was truly the first, a restoring of covenant Life ( John 11:26 ), of enjoying the Presence of God ( John 14:23 )? Remember that, as the Body of Christ; we do enjoy the blessings of the Presence of God, because of the renewed Covenant!

The prophet Amos, lamenting over the coming desolation of the Northern Kingdom, spoke these words, 'The virgin of Israel has fallen; she will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; [ there is ] no one to raise her up'. Note that this is prior to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, indeed, at the height of their physical prowess, and financial prosperity, but, as Homer Hailey once wrote, their 'religious decay and apostasy', as well. This was how they had fallen, to rise no more. There would be no resurrection for them! This was served as as a picture, as well, of the continuing apostasy and subsequent destruction of the typical old covenant people of God, in AD70!

Although it can be easily argued, and has been proven; that much of the language, and even the events that we have witnessed in Scripture do indeed seem to point to the physicality of the resurrection of biologically dead bodies; an honest and in-depth study ( which this is not; in-depth, I tried to be as honest as I could:) will show that this resurrection of the dead was not a rising of individual bodies, merely to biological life, but a return of the corporate body of Israel, God's people, to the blessings of Covenant Life, to communion with our Creator!

In Scriptural usage, as we have seen, the Greek 'anastasis' means resurrection, or rising again ( from the dead ). As we have also seen; it need not ( necessarily ) refer to biological bodies returning to physical life, but most often  referred, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, but in the Greek as well, to a return to covenant faithfulness, and a return to the blessings of the Covenant, including the Presence of God!

As those who now benefit from the resurrection of the dead, and indeed we do partake of it in a limited sense; we have the advantage, through covenant faithfulness, of having been born into that Life, never having experienced the death of Adam, never having lived under the old covenant ( 'ministration of death' ), so in that sense, the resurrection that Scripture prophesied of is in the past, though, in a limited sense, it continues today, as God's people are freed from bondage ( I'll let my readers ruminate on what form that bondage might take, or by whom it may be administered )!

Short, though it may be; I pray that this study will be a blessing to those who read it, and may it cause its readers to be Bereans, to see for themselves if these things are so!

Charles Haddon Shank