The Living and the Dead
Suddenly, the rush is over. The screaming siren, CPR, the hurried transfer to the gurney and on into the ER, applying the EKG leads, one last attempt with the AED (defibrillator), one final check for vital signs, BP, PR and RR -- blood pressure, pulse rate and respiration -- and now the final sign, a flat line on the monitor. There is but one last acronym to apply: DOA. This person is dead!
Or -- although the patient came in unconscious -- now, after a flurry of furious lifesaving activity, there is a restoration of vital signs. The monitor displays activity, there is a pulse, there is breathing -- and hurrah! The patient is conscious! This person is alive!
The living and the dead, from the human perspective, are easily distinguished. But what about the perspective of God? Is there a difference?
Yes. Jesus of Nazareth speaks for God, and by reference to his utterances we can readily discern that God sees thing differently from men when it comes to matters of life and death. Our purpose here is to detect and examine the relevant utterances so as to define this difference and attain a better conception of these things. We hope also to learn the means whereby one who is dead to God can become alive to Him. Now let us define the primary terms.
I. The Dead
A disciple once asked Jesus for permission to follow him:Matthew 8:21, 22 Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."How can the dead bury the dead? Leave two corpses lying in the cemetery and neither will be buried, for the one cannot bury the other. It is obvious that Jesus was redefining the dead, and that he applied this description to those who customarily attend to the burial of the dead: the undertakers, the grave diggers, the friends and family of the deceased, the mourners, the pall bearers, the ministers, members of the congregation and whoever else may involve themselves.
It also follows from the above that Jesus considered that this disciple was not one of the dead, otherwise he would have given him leave, as one of the dead, to attend to their burial. This disciple was alive. Nevertheless the words should be seen as a rebuke, but a redemptive rebuke.
This calls to mind one of Jesus' stern rebukes of the Pharisees:Matthew 23:27, 28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.What a vivid metaphor! Consider its damning implications. Men tend to make their tombs attractive. Apparently one of the means to this end in the culture of First Century Israel was to apply whitewash so that, when men looked upon them, they would consider them beautiful.
But what does the tomb contain? Open a tomb, and what will you find? Bones -- dead men's bones and "all uncleanness"! Likewise, the Pharisees were doing everything they could to make themselves outwardly righteous (beautiful) to men, but within they were full of "hypocrisy and iniquity" (all uncleanness), and "dead men's bones".
This metaphor could only apply if the Pharisees were dead so that the bones inside them were dead men's bones. It could only apply if Jesus' (and God's) standard for distinguishing the living from the dead was radically different from that of men. The Pharisees and their associates surely considered that they were alive and well, but God -- and Jesus -- considered them, in general, to be dead.
We know the criteria by which men define the living and the dead; by what criteria do God and Jesus define the living and the dead? The Parable of the Prodigal Son reveals the criteria of God. In that parable, the father of the prodigal represents God, the Father who is in heaven. The prodigal was surely alive to his father when, at home in his father's house, he first approached his father to request his inheritance. But then he left his father and went out from his father's house into a far country where he spend all his substance on sinful activities, such as visiting prostitutes. Was he yet alive to his father?
No. We learn this only after reading the end of the story. There, after repenting of his dissolute foray into the far country, he returned to his father's house in repentance and plead for a place there as a hired servant. The rejoicing father, who (I remind you again) represents God, commanded a great celebration. Then he explained,Luke 15:24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.'While the son was pursuing his life in the far country, he was dead to his father. It was only after he returned to his father in repentance and submission that he was considered alive again. In the far country he was cut off and estranged from his father -- and dead; but in repentance and submission he was reconciled to his father -- and was alive.
Now we can define "the dead." The "dead" is the vast collection of human beings, men and women who, like the prodigal son, are pursuing their worldly interests in this "far country". That they may see themselves to be alive is irrelevant. What dictates the reality is their love of life in the world, and the reality is that they are dead. The "dead", in the terminology of Jesus, are all who estrange themselves from God through attachment to the world. In the bonds of their estrangement the Father chooses not to know them. The dead are all those who are unknown to God. This judgment does not finally come to publication until that day when all shall be gathered before the Lord. Then he will say to those on the left hand:Matthew 7:22, 23 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'
Matthew 25:12 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Matthew 25:23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'
II. The Living
There are only two options, living or dead. Therefore "the living" consists of all who are not dead. But what is the difference?
The Sadducees came to Jesus with a trick question concerning the resurrection. He concluded his response to them with the following words:Luke 20:37, 38 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him."All live to him" is a definitive statement. All who relate "to him" live. All else are dead, being unrelated to God. It is therefore impossible that he should be the God of the dead, since the dead, by definition, have no relationship with him, neither any recognition by him. They are dead. God would not have acknowledged Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had they been dead to him; therefore, even though men count them dead, they are alive, being alive to God.
"The living" are, by definition, all who relate to God and are therefore known by him. They rejoice at this incomparable blessing: He knows them!
III. The Stages of Life
We have examined the two basic terms and derived definitions. Now what are the mechanisms that operate in the realms of life and of death, and perhaps between them? What, for example, is the status of any particular individual? What is my status -- am I living or dead?
We first acknowledge that every little child is alive. That means that we all are, or have been, alive at an early time in our period on the earth. God knows, relates to, acknowledges and accepts little children. We know this because Jesus said it:Matthew 18:1-10 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"Therefore we conclude that little children are alive. They have the same status before the Father in heaven as that of the young prodigal before he asserted himself and left his father's house. They have a relationship with the Father; the Father knows them, therefore they are alive. This is one of the stages of life.
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 19:14 but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive, though they have been dead to this world for literally thousands of years. Their being alive, according to Jesus, establishes the fact of the resurrection of the dead. We must now recognize that these men, and all others (the prophets) who similarly served God, have been granted a special mercy from the Father because the scriptures testify that they were and are only servants of God, not sons or daughters. They may, at an early point in adulthood, have been dead. But at some point they were able to hear God, who spoke to them, thereby acknowledging them and making them alive even though they were but servants.
Their messages were only partial and incomplete expressions of the will of the Father, directed to human beings who were unable to receive the fullness of Truth. This fullness of Truth awaited the existence of humans who were able to hear it, and the presence in the world of a Son who alone, of all prophets and men of God, was able to express the Word of God fully and perfectly to all who are able to receive it. As Jesus stated,John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets, as servants, did not know what God was doing through them because they were only servants. But Jesus, being a son, calls God his Father and makes known all things for he knows what his Father is doing. We have Jesus' word for this, who said,John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel.Therefore now God speaks to us through a son who utters the perfect Word. He speaks now to human beings through no other channel, and it is true as Jesus stated:John 14:6 Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.The special mercy granted to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets is no longer granted to men because the Father now calls his sons and daughters to himself through the word of Jesus, and only through the word of Jesus does his mercy become available.. The servants could only call servants. It takes a son to call sons and daughters to the Father, and that son is Jesus.
The servants of God were not born from above. Had they been so born, they would have been God's children, and not servants. Nevertheless they live. This is the second stage of life.
It is necessary to establish these things to clear the mind of strange and false ideas such as are common among men. Before Jesus came into the world and spoke to men, there was a "stage of life" that included those special servants of God who heard his words and who lived thereby. That stage no more exists in the world. Jesus said it this way:Matthew 18:2, 3 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Our conclusion is inescapable. There is only one stage of life in this world. It is that of little children, whether little in age and immature, or mature adults who have "turned" and become like children. There are no living grown-ups in the world today. Little children are the only living beings in this world. All others are dead, the living servants having departed long ago. Consequently, Jesus was prone to designating his disciples "little children" as in the following verse:John 13:33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you.In the beginning, the prodigal son was alive in his father's house; then, in the far country he was cut off from the father and was dead to him. Only through reconciliation did he return to the status of "alive" in the view of his father, and this required repentance and a desire to leave the life of the far country and return to the father's house. While he continued to love his life in the far country, he was dead. Only after he returned to the father's house did he live.
It is the same with men in general. While we are pursuing our lives in this far country, the world, we are dead to God and have no Father who is in heaven. There is no relationship with him, and no recognition by him. Only through being reconciled to God can men, like the prodigal son, live to God.
So, in this world and at this time in history, there is only one stage of life consisting of those who are "little children." It comprises both those who are babes in years, and born from above adults. There was an earlier stage of life according to which the Father recognized certain men as servants and gave them life as they heard him and received his words. That stage no longer exists as, since Jesus of Nazareth, the Father is busy calling children to himself rather than servants.
IV. Raising the Dead to Life
How is it that the dead are raised to life?
When John the Baptist sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus as to his identity, he sent them back:Luke 7:20, 21 And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'" In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.Do you see what took place? Jesus took an hour off to demonstrate to the disciples of John that he was indeed the one spoken of by the Prophet, Isaiah, by doing the things that Isaiah attributed to him. These consisted of:The evangelist, in v. 21 above, related what Jesus actually did "in that hour." He:
- 1. The blind receive their sight.
- 2. The lame walk.
- 3. Lepers are cleansed.
- 4. The deaf hear.
- 5. The dead are raised up.
- 6. The poor have good news preached to them.
We can legitimately expect to find some correspondence between these two lists, otherwise the point Jesus makes is not logically relevant. We can surmise the following:
- 1. Cured many diseases.
- 2. Cured many plagues.
- 3. Cured many evil spirits.
- 4. Bestowed sight on the blind.a. No. 1 of the first list corresponds to No. 4 of the second.There is no evident direct correspondence with this item. We read later, in the gospels, of Jesus raising a little girl, and also his disciple, Lazarus, but there was no similar event at this scene. Had there been, the evangelist would surely have reported so great a miracle.
b. No. 3 of the first list corresponds to No. 3 of the second. They understood
that leprosy was caused by an evil spirit.
c. No. 2 and No. 4 in the first list may correspond with No. 2 of the second, if we
can conclude that lameness and deafness are categorized as plagues.
d. No. 6 of the first list has no direct correspondence. However, can you
realistically suppose that Jesus did all these things without some
preaching of the good news? Besides, John's disciples had doubtless been
observing the scene for some time before they approached Jesus, and
would surely have heard him preaching the good news.
e. This leaves only No. 5 of the first list: The dead are raised up.
Most curiously, when one refers to the Isaiah verses to which Jesus must have been alluding (Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5- 6, 61:1), one discovers that this item is missing entirely from the prophecies. Indeed, it is missing completely from the one incident in which Jesus quoted directly from Isaiah 61:1-2, as related by Luke 4:18. I have searched through the entire Old Testament prophets and have not been able to find a single prophecy of one who would raise the dead, with the possible exception of Ezekiel 37:12- 14, a prophecy of the resurrection of the children of Israel from their graves to possess the Promised Land.
Ezekiel 37 is clearly a messianic prophecy, prophesying not only that all the tribes of Israel are to be raised from their graves and restored to the "their own land" to dwell "in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob." They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever as one people, and "my servant David shall be their prince forever."
But this could not have been what Jesus meant in his response to John, for there is no evidence that such a things as the dead being raised from their graves was transpiring while John's disciples were present, and there is no evidence in history that such a thing has ever taken place. The Israeli's are valiantly attempting this day to give life to these dry bones of Ezekiel but have never succeeded, nor will they.
I conceive that had the Jews responded positively to Jesus and his overtures to them, things would have been much different and we would have, in Palestine this day, a reality that conforms to this prophecy of Ezekiel. When they rejected him, all this went out and was replaced by fulfillment through the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God.
What could Jesus have meant then, when he instructed John's disciples to return to him and report that "the dead are raised"?
We can answer this question only if we are willing to apply, to this expression, Jesus' own peculiar definitions of the living and the dead, or of life and death. What Jesus meant to convey is indicated by this utterance from John 5:24, 25 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.Note carefully: he stated in v. 25 not only that the "hour is coming" but also that it "now is". This we understand from the previous verse, where he explains that everyone who hears his words and believes the one who sent him (the Father, for they are the words of the Father who sent him) "has passed from death to life." There was then, in the presence of Jesus, a resurrection from the dead realized by the hearing and believing of his words. That is the resurrection to which he referred in his message to John. It was an event that John's disciples witnessed "in that hour" as Jesus preached to the multitudes who come to see him, for all who heard and believed him were brought to life so that "the dead are raised" in that hour that, as he said, "now is." Then he carefully distinguished this from resurrection from the grave by the verses following:John 5:28, 29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.This final resurrection is of a mixed nature, for it will involve both the living and the dead. Some will be raised to life, while others will be raised to condemnation (judgment). These latter are the dead. Of this he says only "the hour is coming", but not "now is". In the second and final resurrection, all who are in the tombs will hear his voice; but now, in the first resurrection that "now is", only those who "hear my word and believe" are raised to life. And so, the dead are raised. Not only so, but we have his enduring promise:John 8:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.This is the first resurrection, by which Jesus raises the dead to life by the power of his word. He used numerous metaphors to enforce this. He said:John 6:48 I am the bread of life.The people had recalled the "manna from heaven" that God supplied the Israelites in the wilderness. But Jesus insisted that he was himself the true bread from heaven:John 6:50, 51 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.Here he switches to a new metaphor, his own flesh and blood. In what follows we see that he deliberately offends his Jewish antagonists by making outlandish, cannibalistic statements:John 6:52 - 58 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."The dead can rise to life by eating his flesh? Gross! Not only the Jews, but his own disciples were horribly offended by this. It certainly got everyone's attention! But then he proceeded immediately to explain to his disciples:John 6:63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.Bingo! We are back to his words. It was his words that he indicated by all these strange metaphors. It is the words of Jesus that raise the dead to life. By the simple process of hearing, receiving, and believing, we who are his disciples are, even now, in this hour "that now is" being raised from the death to life. His flesh was the medium by which the Word of Truth was made known in the world (the word became flesh), and therefore formed a proper metaphor for the words he spoke. By eating this bread -- by eating this flesh -- and by drinking this blood, dead people were then and are now being raised from the dead.
To the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well he applied the metaphor of water to his words, saying to her,John 4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."Then he assured her:John 4:13, 14 Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."It is only by hearing his voice that his sheep are raised to life, even eternal life:John 10:27, 28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.We began this section with the question, How is it that the dead are raised to life? Now, by listening carefully to Jesus, we have discerned the answer. Even now, in this time, the dead are being raised to life by hearing the words of Jesus, the words enunciated in the world by his very voice. Therefore, his sheep, those who hear his voice, have eternal life. They have been raised from death to life, because death is the normal condition of any adult in this world. It is only little children who live, whether it be little children who are such because they are not very old, or because they have been born of the spirit to eternal life. All the living are "little children" and all little children are living. This Jesus repeatedly affirmed and stated it in so many different ways, by direct word and by inference and metaphor, that it is impossible that anyone should misunderstand him.John 8:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.
V. Conclusion: The Living Word
One receives eternal life only by attending to, or abiding in, the utterances of Jesus of Nazareth. The churchmen have concocted false doctrines that have led many, many poor souls astray from this simple Way. One of these is the almost universal doctrine that the entire Bible is the living word of God, and that one must sort out the Truth from all those books, from Genesis to Revelation. This obscures the simple Truth that we have in Jesus and throws up complicated and arcane salvation doctrines that have nothing to do with Jesus and that provide salvation -- that is, eternal life -- to no one. The fact that they then attribute these perversions of Truth to Jesus and maintain that he is the savior who saves by means of their doctrines then obscures the True Way of Life. Darkness prevails. They, together with all who accompany them, follow the way of those Jews who were the enemies of Jesus and to whom Jesus said,John 5:39, 40 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.Perhaps the most wide spread such doctrine is that of the atoning death of Christ as concocted by Paul and his associates. Its twin is the interpretation of "saving faith" as faith in the atoning death of Christ. Therefore, "believe Christ died for our sins and one is saved." This is the interpretation that is then applied to all the "faith formulas" of Jesus, such as John 3:16 or 8:24,John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.Jesus did not mean by this that one must believe in some interpretation of the significance of his life and death, but he meant only that one must hear what he said and believe what one hears. That, alone, is saving faith. That only produces salvation.
John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.
Closely associated with this doctrine of the atoning death of Christ is the doctrine of participating in salvation through church membership and the administration of the Eucharist. One reads in the Catholic Catechism,1407. "The EUCHARIST is the heart and the summit of the Church'sIt is not true. Jesus confirms not a word of it. This and its associated doctrines of church, sacrifice, sacraments and salvation serve only to enslave and not to save.
life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with
his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the
cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of
SALVATION on his Body which is the Church. "
Would you be raised from the dead to life? Listen to Jesus! Continue in his words and believe them; only then do you believe in Jesus with a belief that is unto salvation -- and life!
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