JESUS AND THE PROMISE OF LIFE
Life began with God and it ends with God. It is spirit or breath that cannot die. “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25). “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
My mother did not allow a surgeon to touch her body because of the resurrection. When I was scared in a fire and lost the use of my hands, she was deeply troubled as to how I would look in heaven. Well, flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (I Cor. 15:50). Of course the body is important. It is the only vehicle we have to prove ourselves before God and man. It is our earthly home and it is up to us how we care for it. It is also a temporary home, what Paul called, “a temple of the Holy Spirit;” for the eternal spirit that is part of the breath of God. It is also called the soul or the spirit that is eternal. It does not die when the body dies and returns to dust or ashes. Jesus illustrated this point by depicting the poor man Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man without compassion in a torture chamber with a wide gulf between them. Both of their souls and their memories were alive (Lk. 16:19-31). The rich man remembered Lazarus, his brothers and the Law that he should have kept.
Jesus taught that the dead are not dead but asleep. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, begged Jesus to heal his little daughter. While they were on the way, the girl died. Jesus insisted, “The child is not dead but asleep.” He asked that every one of the skeptics leave except for the parents and three of his disciples. Then He commanded the girl to get up as if she was alive and she did (Mk. 5:21-24, 35-43). The Beloved John caught this enlightening statement of Jesus, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25). In the town of Nain, a widow’s son had died and was being carried to the cemetery. Jesus halted the procession, touched the coffin and commanded, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” Again, the dead got up as if he had never died (Lk. 7:11-15). The big event was the return of Lazarus from the dead. After a lengthy exchange regarding life after death Jesus ordered that the stone be removed from the entrance and commanded, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man obeyed and the people were told to untie him and let him go (Jn. 11:1-44). In every one of these cases the dead heard the voice of the Son of God. How could they hear when they were dead? It was because their souls and the minds had not died neither had their consciences. On judgment day, all souls or spirits, good or bad shall hear (Rev. 14:13).
The marvel and mystery was the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is true that Jesus was sent to be a ransom for many and he did die at the hands of men. He promise that He would come back from the dead and He did. John remembered that Jesus had said, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.” “You have heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’” “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe”(Jn. 14:19, 28-29). The first disciples needed physical evidence and Jesus was prepared to provide it. In his second appearance Jesus asked Thomas to touch him and the doubter was convinced that Jesus had come back from the dead. More than that, he called Jesus, “My Lord and My God!” Then, for those that can no longer see, Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(Jn. 20:24-29). Jesus did come back and revealed himself in different ways for forty days to his disciples (Ac. 1:3-5). It was a promise to see them soon and not in some distant future. Peter made this valuable distinction between the flesh (body) and the spirit (soul) regarding Christ’s death he was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit” (I Pe. 3:18). The importance of Peter is that the flesh dies and not the spirit; but the spirit can be sapped of energy and requires an infusion. Jesus had reached a point when his spirit needed quickening or vivifying. The Greek term is “zoopoietheis” and it means renewing and not resurrecting a life.
Regarding the death of Jesus, who was responsible? John Zebedee put every mind to rest. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my father” (Jn. 10:17-18). When Pilate told Jesus that he had the power to let him go, Jesus told him that he too was obeying orders from heaven (Jn. 19:10-11). Heaven, and not man were in charge of the crucifixion, and it was set in motion before the foundation of the world was laid (Mt. 13:35; Jn. 17:24; I Pe. 1:20). That is why Jesus forgave them because they did not know what they were doing (Lk. 23:34). Death itself was a mystery. The early Christians debated for centuries as to what part of Jesus had died. Physically, He had died. All the witnesses agreed. The question was whether His Spirit died? Paul may have been one of the first to unleash the idea that Jesus also descended into the lower world (Eph. 4:9-10). Peter was more specific and believed that Christ went to share salvation with the spirits imprisoned during Noah’s time (I Pe. 3:19). Hence, only Jesus physical body died and remained so for three days.
In what kind of a body did He come back? It starts with touching the Risen Jesus. Matthew has Mary and her companions clasp Jesus feet and worship Him and Jesus did not object (Mt. 28:8-10). Mark reports no physical contact. Luke has no contact with the women but has Jesus simply appear to two men on their way to Emmaus and he reveals himself in the breaking of bread. Then, He simply vanishes as he had appeared. That evening, Jesus appeared to twelve disciples and offered to be touched. He ate with them, explained the Scriptures and told them to wait for further instructions (LK. 24). The Evangelist John has Mary of Magdala find an empty tomb. She tells Peter and John about the missing body. The three returned to the tomb, and then Jesus reveals himself to Mary only; but she is not allowed to touch him because he had not yet ascended to the Father (Jn. 20:1-18). Later on, Jesus simply appears out of nowhere to the disciples and a week later again with Thomas present (Jn. 20:19-29). Between the grave and Mary and his first ascension, Jesus adopted a form or body that could pass physical obstacles and be visible to his disciples. All the other believers had to trust their faith.
Paul made the bold assertion that Christ appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, then to James and last of all to Paul (I Cor. 15:3-8). Paul, while on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him as a blinding light and in an audible voice demanding, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” After several more visions, Saul became Paul the missionary to the Gentiles and the first Christian theologian (Ac. 9:1-31; Gal. 1:11-12). Paul envisioned God giving the souls or spirits some imperishable heavenly identifiable forms (I Cor. 15:35-55). Aside from much guessing, Jesus told those that speculated about the resurrected life: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels of heaven. 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’” (Mt. 22:23-35). “It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forever more” (Ps. 115:17).
Jesus’ advice to us is, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven” (Jn. 3:3). That statement threw Nicodemus for a loop and it should us as well. None of us can enter our prenatal state and emerge as a baby and learn from scratch; but everyone can change and be remade or recreated. The Greek word is “gennethe” (gennaw), and it does not mean to go back into a womb; but to beget, produce, remake or manufacture. We do not start in a womb, but in our reformation of our minds and hearts. We reform from within and not from without. It is a task that requires assistance from others and above all from the Spirit of God that can put a holy fear into our hearts and awaken our conscience of the seriousness of being lost for eternity. At least that is how I felt and still do when I think of my soul or spirit that yearns for being back with God and not with his counterpart. I am convinced that without my inner renewal or transformation, my body could not have carried me for eighty-three plus years.
Jesus answered the baffled Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is remade and washed clean with water by the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives new life to the spirit. You should not be surprise by me telling you, ‘You must be recreated!’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone recreated by and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5-8). The old parts within us must be replaced with a will to serve God by doing what is right on earth. To guide us we must take on Christ’s words. “The words I have spoken to are spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Lk. 21:33). Jesus’ promise to his followers was, “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn. 14:19). “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shone into the darkness and the darkness refuse to let it in” (Jn. 1:4-5).