Monday, September 16, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 13: Resurrection and "Spiritual" Bodies

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts, meant to be read in order.  In the first post, I introduced the concept of Universalism, and introduced the concept that I would be defending my position through a series of "chess moves".  I mentioned that I believe I have checkmate in 2 moves, but because a lot of questions would be left, I would use a series of further moves to keep the king in checkmate while I systematically removed the rest of the pieces from the board.  I would highly suggest you read the previous parts of this series before reading this one:
Part 1: Moves 1-3
Part 2: Moves 4-5
Part 3: Moves 6-7
Part 4: Move 8
Part 5: Moves 9-10
Part 6: Move 11
Part 7: Move 12
Part 8: The Six Line Narrative
Part 9: Two False Gospels, and a Man in a Pit
Part 10: Creation/Fall and Spirit/Soul/Body
Part 11: The True Gospel
Part 12: Deconstructing Our Ideas of Heaven

The Role of the Resurrection
One of the logical problems with “heaven escapism” is that it cannot explain why Jesus’ resurrection was necessary.  If the whole point of being a “Christian” is to “go to heaven”, why wouldn’t Jesus simply go to heaven after his death?  One might say “to prove he had conquered death” – but if the whole point of Christianity is to leave this evil mortal plane of existence, why didn’t he simply appear to some people in a dream and say “hey guys, I made it to heaven!  See?”  Resurrection has no role except “ta da!” in the realm of “heaven escapism.”

But Biblically, Jesus’ resurrection does have a role.  Remember earlier how I pointed out in Romans 8:18-27 in verse 23 the phrase “firstfruits of the Spirit”?  There is another passage we’ll need to consider before we can understand what this phrase means – in I Corinthians chapter 15, Paul is addressing a problem within the Corinthian church where, apparently, some have been denying that there will be a resurrection of the dead.  You see, Jews did not believe in “heaven escapism” – Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead, and in I Corinthians 15:12-18, Paul argues that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ did not raise from the dead, “and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (verse 14)  Then Paul moves on:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

The First Fruits was a practice of offering up a grain sacrifice after the…well…first fruits of different types of grains sprouted up.  The practice was coordinated with various festivals and celebrations, and what is interesting is that the first crop of barley was presented in a First Fruits offering during the Passover festival – Jesus’ resurrection coincided with this offering!  Then, another church holiday happened to coincide with the next First Fruits offering – the first crop of wheat was presented in a First Fruits offering at the same time as Pentacost!

As a side note, this makes Jesus’ illustration of separating the wheat from the chaff a little more interesting, if we start to think of it as listening to the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and separating out the chaff of our lives.

Jesus’ resurrection is not just a story – it has a purpose!  It is the firstfruits of God’s plan to raise the dead, as is spoken of in Revelation! (See Revelation 20)  But the meaning goes even deeper.  In John’s gospel, he carefully lays out seven signs that Jesus is the messiah (note that not every scholar agrees about what parts of John's gospel are actually signs - John stops counting after the first few):

  1. Changing water into wine in John 2:1-11
  2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
  3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-18
  4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
  5. Jesus' walking on water in John 6:16-24
  6. Healing the blind at birth in John 9:1-7
  7. Raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-44

Seven signs, just like the seven days in a week.  Then, Jesus dies and is resurrected on…the first day of the week.  Seven signs for seven days, and then…the beginning of a new week.  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a new period of Creation!

2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

In the Six Line Narrative, there isn’t much of a purpose for this time in between Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Judgment.  Oh, we’re supposed to “save souls”, but other than that you just kind of sit on your butt until the end.  But if you view this period of time in between as a period of New Creation, then it completely changes how you look at things.  And what’s more, the true gospel I told you about – the good news that God is establishing His kingdom on earth through Jesus – doesn’t make any sense within the story that God plans to eventually destroy the world and take everyone to heaven.  But within the story of New Creation through Resurrection, the theme of “the kingdom of God” makes a lot more sense.  In his book “Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church”, N.T. Wright wrote:

Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.

Along with the idea of “New Creation”, starting at the symbolic “new week” – the first day of the week after the seven signs John provides – is the idea of the purpose of the Temple.  We have sort of built into our idea of modern theology that the Sabbath is only for rest – it’s for doing nothing.  But Jesus changes our ideas when he refers to his body as a temple in John 2:19.  And Paul picked up on the connection of Jesus abiding in us (John 15:4) through the Holy Spirit, and refers to us as temples as well:

I Corinthians 16:9
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

You see, the purpose of the Temple is not merely to sit.  The purpose isn’t merely static.  The temple is where God’s presence rests as He continues His rule.  Creation continues from and through the Temple, and God’s presence is made known through the Temple.  Through the Temple, heaven comes to earth.  As Jesus says in Luke 17:20-21, “the kingdom of God is within you.”  Once again, I go to N.T. Wright for a well worded quote, this time from “Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense”:

Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.

Now before we move on, there is a pressing question which may be on some of your minds if you have been living within the Six Line Narrative for your whole life, and have been diligently trained in its ways of thinking:

But what about Spiritual Bodies?
One passage which has caused much confusion, and been used to support the Platonian ideas of “heaven escapism”, is I Corinthians 15:35-49, where Paul draws a contrast between our “natural body” (some translation say “earthly bodies”) and the “spiritual body” we will be raised with.  This conjures up – in the minds of those stuck in the Six Line Narrative – a “Casper the Friendly Ghost” like image of our disembodied spirit leaving this earthly plane and flying up into Heaven.  But in I Corinthians 15:35-49, when Paul talks about this physical body, he uses the word “psychikos”, which does not mean anything like our word "physical" - actually, the word "psyche" comes from this word, and so you may correctly guess it has more to do with the mind or the personality.  But also, we need to understand that "ikos" does not describe the material out of which this body is made, but rather the power or energy that animates it.  When those of us who have been stuck within the Six Line Narrative read Paul drawing a contrast between the “natural body” and the “spiritual body”, our Platonian thinking has been trained to think that it is like asking "is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?"  But rather, it is more like asking "is this a steamship or a sailing ship?"  The word Paul uses that has been translated into "spiritual body" in many versions, comes from the root word “pneuma”, and it means God's breath of new life; the energizing power of God's new creation.  This word is often translated as “spirit”, but it is literally “breath” and is meant to be taken in the sense that God breathed life into Adam in Genesis.  Our "psyche bodies" will be traded in for our "Holy Spirit bodies".

When Paul says that "flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom", he doesn't mean physicality will be abandoned - "flesh and blood" is a technical term for that which is corruptible, but Paul is saying we're going to trade these bodies in for one that is incorruptible.  It's not a difference between physicality and non-physicality, but corruptible physicality and incorruptible physicality.  In the concluding verse of I Cor. 15, Paul is saying to be strong in what you do in the present, because if it is influenced by the power of the Spirit, it will be reaffirmed and made to last within the story of the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

In our definitions, we grope after the spiritual by describing it as invisible. The true meaning of spiritual is real; that law which executes itself, which works without means, and which cannot be conceived as not existing.

Adding to this idea of "Heaven as a metaphor for a present reality", let's go to "Naming the Powers" by Walter Wink:

Contrary to much modern prejudice, "heaven" as used in Ephesians was already metaphorical, not spatio-literal. The physical image of heaven as "up" was a symbol, even for those times, of transcendence. But the literal pole of the metaphor had an effect on them quite different from the effect it has on us. We think of "the heavens" as vast intergalactic reaches of empty space, peppered with solar systems infinite light-years apart. As an image of transcendence it fails for us, because we take it too literally/scientifically and because it serves only to make God more remote. Their heaven, by contrast, was a local affair. The sun and the moon were very close and far smaller than we have now calculated them to be. The "air" was not emptiness, but "stuff," one of four elements out of which all things are fabricated. The firmament was a relatively narrow channel separating heaven and earth, and the contemplative or mystic could hope to bridge it. Philo describes this "flight" of the spirit: "while their bodies are firmly planted on the land they provide their souls with wings, so that they may traverse the upper air and gain full contemplation of the powers (dynameis) which dwell there" (De spec. leg. 11.45). Paul himself had traveled in ecstasy to the third heaven, although he himself is not at all clear how (2 Cor. 12:2-3). The author of the Apocalypse made a similar trip (Rev. 4:1ff.).

Once again, we're going to take a break.  But when we continue, we are going to dismantle the rest of The Six Line Narrative.  Here's what you have to look forward to:

Dismantling The Six Line Narrative: A New Diagram
Conclusion: Testing the fruits.

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