In this article, we will be dealing primarily with the line in the Apostle's Creed, 'I believe in the resurrection of the dead'; I say primarily, because there are other issues that I or others might have with the recitation of this ancient & venerable creed, particularly as understood & accepted by the majority of orthodoxy!
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
As Followers, Brothers, in fact, of Jesus the Christ, this the most important of our beliefs! To be a Christian, one must believe, first of all, that God exists, that He IS, and that He created, out of His own Essence ( for that's all there was 'in the beginning' ), 'the worlds and all that in them is'! If He made all things by His mighty power, we may trust fully in His Sovereignty & Majesty!
And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord:
Though He is our Brother, Jesus is/was the only BEGOTTEN Son of our Heavenly Father! We, through the Marriage of Heaven & Earth ( Ephesians 5:22, Revelation 19, 7 & 9 ) are the Offspring of that Holy Union, but we, as Paul wrote, were 'grafted in' ( Romans 11 ) that we might become 'sons of God' ( Matthew 5:9, Luke 20:36, Romans 8:14 & 19, Romans 9:26, Galatians 3:26, Galatians 4:6 ). He is our Lord because, being of the One Essence, He is our Creator & Sustainer!
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Matthew & Luke plainly tell us ( as well as Isaiah ( 7:14 ) that Jesus was born of a physical virgin, one who had not 'known a man' ( Luke 1:34, Matthew 1:18 )!
( He ) Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
What is meant by 'He descended into hell' is a matter of some controversy! The definition of 'hell', itself is a much discussed topic, and can be somewhat ambiguous. The apostle Peter stated that, 'He went and preached to the spirits in prison' ( I Peter 3:19 ). Although there are several different ways in which this could be understood, it has been clearly understood by the Church that Jesus, after His physical death, descended into the 'realm of the dead' and led His People into the Presence of His Father!
The apostle Paul quoted Psalm 68:18 in his letter to the Ephesians ( 4:8 ), and wrote that 'He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?' Scripture makes much use of metaphor, in many places & in different ways, but the important thing here is not whether He DID actually descend to a literal ( as we have traditionally understood it ) 'hell'; what IS important that He freed His People from the Bondage of Sin & Death, through the death that He died!
The third day he rose again from the dead:
The Gospel accounts are just as clear that, on the third ( significantly ) day, Jesus did rise, in His biological Body, from the grave! The fact that He rose biologically is Scripturally indisputable. Because He showed His resuscitated, biological Body to the faithless after He rose again ( was Resurrected ), their feeble minds were able to grasp the fact that He had in fact defeated Death!
David, king of Israel, wrote ( Psalm 16:10 ( Acts 2:27, Acts 13:35 ), 'For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.' It had been prophesied that the Christ would not be affected by biological death in the way that human beings normally are. Jesus suffered inscrutable pain in His crucifixion & death, but because He was the only begotten Son of God, He did not suffer His Body to see corruption.
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
Here is where we enter into the area of maybe our greatest disagreement, or conflict with the traditional & accepted orthodoxy of the majority of church leaders. This disagreement is at the very root, I believe, of the controversy! While we do acknowledge & agree that He did ascend into heaven ( Acts 1:11 ) and that He does rule & reign at the right hand of the Father, our disagreement here rests in the nature & location of heaven!
The Psalms are full of references to the fact that heaven ( Heaven ) is the dwelling Place of God; no disagreement there! That Heaven is a Place is where our realms seem to clash. Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God, or Heaven was within them, in their midst ( Luke 17:20 ). While it may not be widely accepted that the Kingdom of Heaven is equal to Heaven itself, we may clearly see in the Scriptures that the Gospel-writers used the interchangeably, and often in the same passage ( Matthew 19:23 & 24 ).
Jesus again told His followers that, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' ( John 14:23 ). If it is true that we are now 'the dwelling-place of God in the Spirit' ( Ephesians 2:22 ) and are indeed 'the temple of the Holy Spirit' ( I Corinthians 6:19 ), then, as Jesus told the Pharisees, The Kingdom of God, or Heaven, IS within us, in the form of the Holy Spirit!
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
The Gospels ( in particular Matthew 23 & 24, Mark 13 & Luke 17 & 21 ) & the Epistles ( in particular II Peter 3, James 5:9, Hebrews 10:30 ( 13:4 ), II Timothy 4:1 & 8, Acts 24:15 & 25 ). Daniel prophesied of this Judgment as well ( Daniel 9 & 12 ). Eshatologically speaking, though, this Judgment was fully passed in the 3 1/2 year judgment of Israel, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem & the Temple in 70AD.
If there is a future judgment, yet to come on those ungodly ones, those outside the City ( Revelation 22:15 ), Scripture really gives us no easily decipherable clue! The Judgment of the Quick & the Dead had reference to the Resurrection/Judgment that Daniel prophesied of toward the end ( Daniel 12 ) of his prophecy.
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
In John's Gospel account, we read, 'God [ ] Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth'( John 4:24 ). Beginning with the second verse of Genesis one, we are whelmed with references to 'the Spirit of God' ( Genesis 1:2: 41:38, Exodus 35:31, Numbers 24:2, I Samuel 10:10, 11:6, 19:20, II Chronicles 15:1, 24:20, Job 33:4, Ezekiel 11:24, Matthew 3:16, 12:28, Romans 8: 9 & 14, 15:19, I Corinthians 2:11 & 14, 3:16, 7:40, 12:3, II Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:30 ), 'the Spirit of the Lord' ( Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 14:6 & 19, 15:14, I Samuel 10:6, 16:13, II Samuel 23:2, I Kings 18:12, II Kings 2:16, II Chronicles 20:14, Isaiah 11:2, 29:10, 40:13, 59:19, 61:1, 63:14, Ezekiel 11:5, 37:1, Micah 2:7, 3:8, Luke 4:18, Acts 5:9, 8:39, II Corinthians 3:17 & 18 ), along with references to 'the Spirit', 'the Holy Spirit', 'the Spirit of the Holy God' & 'the Spirit of Grace' ( Zechariah 12:10, Hebrews 12:29 ), among others!
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The Holy Catholic Church, of course, refers not to what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church, but to the Universal Body of Christ. Communion with this Body is necessary to sustain Life, for its Life IS the Life of Christ!
The forgiveness of sins:
This is somewhat of a sore subject as well, almost ambiguously so! Like many other passages in the Greek & Hebrew Scriptures, I John 1:5-10 in particular have much to say about the forgiveness of sins, and the absolute necessity for it! Jesus said that 'if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses' ( Matthew 6:15 ) If then we forgive those who sin against us, casting first the beam out of our own eye, then we can have confidence that our Heavenly Father has also forgiven us!
The resurrection of the body:
We come now to the finality of our disagreement, and possibly the greatest, The Resurrection of the Body! This statement, though clear to some, is not so unambiguous to others. Resurrection could be taken in a strict literal sense, or it could be taken metaphorically. In the strictest literal sense, it would mean, to most Christians today, the resuscitation of a biologically dead body. There can be no doubt that this is what happened in the case of our Lord Jesus, who was the Christ!
Somewhat ambiguous as well, then, is the Body which is talked about here.Was the apostle Paul referring to individual, biological bodies in I Corinthians 15:39, 'All flesh [ ] not the same flesh, but [ ] one [ ] flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, [ ] another of birds' or was he using a corporate analogy to make his point, that its purpose was not to resuscitate the dead body, but to raise it up in another form, different, yet the same?!
Metaphorically speaking, resurrection, which simply means 'to stand again', can refer to a revival, even of an idea. Ezekiel 37 is probably the clearest passage in the Hebrew Scriptures in reference to The Nature of the Resurrection. In it, we see God's Purpose in Resurrection; it was to raise His People up from the deadness of their sins and from the chains of their captivity to New Life in Him.
And the life everlasting. Amen.
It almost goes without saying that, believing all of the above leads naturally to a belief in everlasting, or eternal life! Everlasting, of course, literally translated from the Greek, simply means 'age-during'. An eschatological reference must be noted here as well, the 'age' in question, in fact the current age, Scripturally speaking, being that first 'age', the age of man, or the first Adam. The Age of the Second Adam, or Jesus Christ, is the Age we are in now, and will never end!
Although not written by the apostles, this ancient creed encapsulates the doctrines they taught! Even though their hope was fulfilled, we may, in all good conscience, recite it today, knowing that the resurrection which they taught ( John 11:26 ) is fulfilled in Christ, the Body which they longed for ( Romans 7:24 ) was The Corporate Body of Christ & the Judgment they looked forward to was made in their day! Theat Judgment adversely affected those who rejected their Messiah, but brought those who trusted in Him into His Eternal Presence!
Amen & amen,
Charles Haddon Shank