Monday, April 07, 2014
The afterlife -- Old Testament versus New
The hope for a life after death among the ancient Hebrews was very down to earth. There were many religions in the ancient Near East which were much more fancy -- religions that said we live on as spirit beings after the death of our bodies. The ancient Hebrews rejected that. Their hope was for a resurrection of themselves in their original bodies at the time of the coming of the Messiah -- when the earth would be returned to its original Edenic condition. They envisaged living in a new Eden.
Their scorn for belief in an immediate life after death is eloquently expressed in Ecclesiastes 9: 5-7, 10.
5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest
That's pretty final. Only a miracle can offer something after that.
Isaiah 45: 18
For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited
Isaiah 65 17
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.
So, a pretty terrestrial hope for the future.
And, surprisingly, the New Testament recorded that hope too:
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
And have you ever thought what you are saying when you pray as Jesus taught:
Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done ON EARTH, as it is in Heaven
Again the hope is for a future Edenic Kingdom on earth, not some airy-fairy life in heaven.
St Paul, however, rather upsets the applecart by preaching a version of the old Eastern beliefs that he knew well from his pre-conversion life.
1 Corinthians 15: 6
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15: 42-44
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15: 50-53
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
But Paul was still not preaching an immediate spiritual life. As a good Jew, he looked forward to the day of judgment as the day on which resurrection takes place. Note in verse 6 he speaks of Christ's followers who have died as "asleep". They are not enjoying a new life in Heaven.
What Paul appears to have added is the idea that the Christians of his day were special. They only would undergo a spiritual transformation on the last day. And he expected that day imminently. Some early Christians would need to be resurrected and some would still be alive. So those alive would be transformed rather than resurrected.
But you still believe that you have got a soul inside you which is immortal and flits straight off into the spirit realm when your body dies? That's a pagan doctrine, I am afraid. I could quote text after text but in both the OT and the NT the soul is quite mortal:
27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Psalms 146: 3, 4
3 Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
As John 3:16 says, eternal life has to be earned (by believing). It is not automatic. The alternative is death pure and simple.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
See you at the Resurrection?
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).