IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Luke 12.42-48 is an important passage with regard to the fate of the unbeliever. Here Jesus tells a parable (it was a favourite theme of His, told often, with slight adjustments) of a steward given authority while his lord is away. If that steward is unfaithful and misuses his lord’s goods, beating the servants and making merry on what is not his, the lord will suddenly come and will “cut him off, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, will be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes”.
Of course, this parable does not strictly have the resurrection in mind. The idea was of those expecting to be alive when the Son of Man comes (see v.40). But it makes clear that there will be grades of punishment, at least for some. Whether this applies to the after-life is open to question, although the phrase ‘appoint him his portion with the unbelievers’ might be seen as suggesting so. If so it does away with the idea of the one awful punishment for everyone. “Beaten with few stripes” can hardly mean the awfulness of eternal conscious suffering in the flames of Hell. If, however, it is restricted to those alive at the Lord’s coming, we have only one passage in the Gospels that can be used to teach conscious punishment in the after-life and that is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which we will consider shortly.
In Luke 14.14 we have specific mention of ‘the resurrection of the just’. Those whose goodness reaches out to the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind - in other words to those who are helpless and cannot help themselves - will be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. This statement is quite important as it demonstrates that Jesus does not just have in mind judgment for the living at the end of the age. It confirms that all the past references can be read as including the resurrection.
This is re-emphasised in Luke 16.1-12 where the cunning steward finds ways to make up for his bad management by clever negotiation. Jesus comments, “And I say to you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, so that when you fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (v.9). This again suggests that Jesus sees the Heavenly future as the place of reward.
Luke 16.19-31 is a unique passage. If it is taken literally it teaches conscious punishment beyond the grave of a most awful kind, although not necessarily eternal, for it refers to a period before the resurrection (this punishment is far more than the few, or even the many, stripes mentioned earlier by Jesus). It would also teach an immediate transference of the dead at death, both righteous and unrighteous, and the existence in the after-life both of the good and the wicked before the resurrection, in human bodies which are capable of human suffering. These are concepts found nowhere else up to this point, and in fact contradict the idea of a future resurrection. Always the resurrection of the body, both for the just and the unjust, has been in the future. Here, if interpreted literally, it would be presented as having happened. This suggests we must approach the passage carefully. It is either a vivid picture of an after-life in the present not given to us anywhere else, and contradicting the other passages, or it is a vivid picture which is intended to present a truth but whose details must not be pressed.
In view of the fact that it draws heavily on Jewish imagery the latter would seem the most likely solution. In order to bring conversation into the parable it was necessary to depict the parties as alive, and ‘Abraham’s bosom’ was a favourite picture of future blessing in the after-life. The conscious torment in eternal flames, never spoken of in Scripture, was a Greek (and Persian) concept, adopted by apocryphal writings as a picture of what awaited faithless Jews, and Gentiles. What Jesus is really saying, in vivid terms that his listeners would recognise, is that men have their chance now. If they will not listen to Him and believe Him when He preaches here on earth, no miracle or sign will be sufficient to convince them otherwise. If they will not believe His words then they are fixing their own destinies. Afterwards it will be too late. Jesus never had any confidence in those who required signs and wonders in order to believe.
However, we cannot avoid the implication that for those who die under judgment the consequences are not pleasant. The account is not to be taken as detailed teaching on the after-life. It must be considered extremely doubtful whether there will be any communication between those in Heaven and those in Hades (Hebrew - sheol). But it does carry the firm suggestion of some kind of misery for ‘the lost’, a terrible thirst and longing, before the final judgment.
In Matthew 27.52-53 we are told that “after His resurrection the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves, and went into the holy city and appeared to many”. This would suggest that a preliminary resurrection took place at this time of the righteous dead (it could be that the dead are thought of as going back to their graves, but it seems unlikely). If this be true there are, in a sense, two resurrections. The one ‘the firstfruits’ at the time of Jesus resurrection, the other the resurrection at the end of the age.
John does not give us any information about the above passages. He writes long after the other writers when he is an old man in Ephesus. He wishes to make known what they have omitted, (possibly because, at least in part, it was only known to the few). In his day the Temple had been destroyed and the other Apostles had died. He is doubtful whether he himself will be alive when the Lord comes (John 21.23). He therefore takes up words of Jesus, which, like Luke 14.14, look specifically to the resurrection.
In John 5.28-29 the words of Jesus clearly have in mind Daniel 12.2-3 (compare Matthew 13.43), and it comes at the end of a passage where Jesus has spoken of receiving eternal life, and thus avoiding condemnation. He says, “Do not marvel at this. For the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves will hear his voice, and shall come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation”. Compare John 3.36 where those who refuse to believe ‘the Son’ will endure the wrath of God. This confirms that the promises of receiving life throughout the Gospels have resurrection in mind. The concept of eternal life, which appears often in John, assumes the resurrection.
A first reading of John 5.28-29 does seem to imply that both resurrections will occur at the same time. This cannot, however, be dogmatically assumed as each might have its different hour.
In John 6.39-58 Jesus stresses the future hope. Of all that the Father has given to Him He will lose nothing, but will raise them up at the last day (v.39). Everyone who sees the Son and believes on Him will receive everlasting life and be raised up by Him at the last day (v.40). Those whom the Father draws will come to Him and He will raise them up at the last day (v.44). If any man eat of Jesus as the living bread he will live for ever (v.51) and will be raised up at the last day (v.54). It will be noted that there is a constant stress on ‘the last day’. This would suggest the end of all things physical.
As in Daniel, in all these examples the future hope of the Christian lies at ‘the last day’. There is no mention of what happens on death. How the thought that ‘Abraham rejoiced to see’ Jesus’ day and ‘saw it and was glad’ is therefore to be interpreted (8.56) is open to question. It may simply refer to the promises that Abraham had from God which he revelled in, so that he looked ahead and, as it were, saw the future fulfillment. Alternatively, it may imply consciousness on the point of Abraham at the time of Jesus, as might also Jesus’ words to the Sadducees mentioned earlier (see on Matthew 22). But the question, like the taking of Elijah, is never explored.
In John 11.25, after Martha has confirmed her belief that her dead brother would arise at the last day (v.24), Jesus declares “I am the resurrection and the life”. This glorious fact has the result that those who believe in Him will never ‘die’, for even though they may die, they will live, because He is ‘the resurrection’, i.e. the source of and power behind the resurrection. They will rise because they will share in the benefits of His resurrection.
In John 12.47-48 those who refuse to hear His words will be judged by those words at the last day. They will be raised to be condemned, but we are not told the nature of their condemnation. Again the stress on ‘the last day’ would suggest the end of temporal things.
In John 14.1-3 Jesus informs His disciples that they should not worry at the thought of His coming death. Although He must die, He is then going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and He will come again and receive them to Himself, so that they may be with Him where He is. Because He lives, they will live as well (v.19). Whether this refers to His Second Coming or not may be debated. But it fits in with what has gone before to suggest that it does, for His coming will be ‘the last day’ as far as they are concerned, whether they are alive at the time or have to be raised for it. What is important is that they are promised a future hope of life with Him in the place where He is going, not a place in a new kingdom on earth.
When Jesus is brought before Pilate, He informs him, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews” (John 18.36). This is not necessarily conclusive as it may simply be Jesus’ way of pointing out that He had not come to lead an insurrection. But if He had only meant that, we might have expected a clearer explanation. Jesus seems to be saying that as far as His kingdom is concerned, this world has nothing to do with it, either now or in the future.
We can probably summarise the teaching of the Gospels as follows:
1) At the coming of Jesus there will be a division between the righteous and the unrighteous, the righteous going to enjoy the Father’s presence, the unrighteous being judged and suffering an ignominious fate. It must be questioned whether the latter fate will be conscious, or, if it is for a time, how long the consciousness will last. The story of the rich man and Lazarus may only be a parable but it does suggest the experience of unpleasant consequences, at least for a period, before the resurrection).
2) There will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust, the righteous and the unrighteous, when the righteous will receive their reward, and the unrighteous will suffer due penalty for their unwillingness to obey God. We are only told that this is at ‘the last day’, but many would see this as being at Jesus’ coming. This is especially so as both have the same destiny as the living nations at that time (‘eternal life’). This is confirmed by Paul (1 Thessalonians 4. 13-17) where the resurrection occurs at the same time as ‘the rapture’, the taking up of the people of God.
3) There are hints that some enjoy life with God before the resurrection. It is only said of the righteous, and the idea is never expanded, although a blissful ‘soul sleep’ may perhaps account for it. Possibly Enoch, and certainly Elijah, were ‘taken’ somewhere. Abraham was somewhere when he saw Jesus’day, unless he ‘saw’ it as a prophet. Yet the majority of the dead were still in their graves (Matthew 27.52-53). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus there is the thought that the unrighteous dead are in a state of discomfort. We must recognise that we tread on difficult ground. The overall emphasis is certainly on future resurrection.
4) There is the probable suggestion that there is a preliminary resurrection at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.
IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
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