“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).

 

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Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Raising the Dead

In the Old Testament, there were three occasions when people died and were brought back to life. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, Elijah raised a widow’s son. In 2 Kings 4:18-37, Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son. And in 2 Kings 13:21, a dead man revived when his body was thrown into a grave with Elisha’s bones.

In the New Testament, Jesus raised a ruler’s daughter (Matt 9:23-25), a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:38-44).

So far, if you’re keeping score, physical resurrections in the Old and New Testaments pan out like this:

  • Elijah, 1 person
  • Elisha, 2 people
  • Jesus, 3 people

The power of Jesus’ ministry surpasses the greatness of Elijah and Elisha. Like Elijah, Jesus raised a widow’s son (1 Kings 17; Luke 7), but the number of people raised by Jesus was greater than the number by Elijah. Jesus also raised more people than Elisha did. Furthermore, like Elisha, resurrection was associated with Jesus’ death, but in a greater scope. When a dead man was thrown into a grave and touched Elisha’s bones, that one body revived (2 Kings 13). But when Jesus died, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52).

JETS Article: “The Genesis of Resurrection Hope”

I contributed an article to the latest edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, JETS 57.3 (2014): 467-480. The article is called “The Genesis of Resurrection Hope: Exploring its Early Presence and Deep Roots.” Originally it was a paper presentation at the November 2013 meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), and I’m grateful JETS accepted a revised version for publication. Here’s the outline of the article:

I. Introduction

II. New Testament Validation of Resurrection Hope in the Torah
1. The Words of Paul in Acts 24
2. The Words of Jesus in Matthew 22

III. Seeds of Resurrection Hope in Genesis
1. The Life-Giving God who Makes the World (Gen 1:9-13; 2:7)
2. The Tree of Life and Immortal Physicality (Gen 2:9; 3:22)
3. The Defeat of the Serpent (Gen 3:15)
4. The Death of Abel and the Birth of Seth (Gen 4:1, 8, 25)
5. The Unusual Departure of Enoch (Gen 5:24)
6. Lamech’s Hope for His Son Noah (Gen 5:29)
7. The Death and Resurrection of the World (Gen 7-8)
8. Life Granted to a Dead Womb (Gen 21:1-2)
9. Abraham’s Trust in God to Preserve the Seed (Gen 22:5)
10. The Burial of Bones in Canaan (Gen 25:9)

From the second paragraph of the Introduction: “By looking at certain passages in Genesis, we will be putting our ear to the ground to hear the faint but discernible rumblings of what will arrive later and louder in the words of the prophets. Even though some scholars insist that ‘there can be no suggestion that belief in resurrection was implicit in the Old Testament before Daniel,’ I will contend otherwise. The roots of resurrection hope go deep, and the seeds were sown early.”

“Every Graveyard a Garden”

The Gospel Coalition was kind to post an article I wrote on the believer’s resurrection hope. An excerpt from “Every Graveyard a Garden”:

The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the same bodily hope for believers. His was “the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). There will be a harvest of sleepers because resurrection broke into human history with the third-day miracle. The image of sleep captures the temporary captivity of death (cf. 15:51). We sleep to wake and die to rise.

Sowing and reaping, then, is true for death and resurrection: what goes down must come up. Every graveyard is a garden. 

The full article is here.

What We Can Learn About Typology from Jonah and Jesus

In Matthew 12:38, the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, but he refused.

They’d seen and been aware of his previous miracles, so their demand wasn’t from a lack of supply. Their demand stemmed from their opposition against him.

Jesus put the right label on what he was dealing with: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” he said (Matt 12:39a). Their particular seeking was wrong because they were evil. They were adulterous because when they opposed Jesus, they opposed the One who sent him, the Father they claimed to worship and honor.

But Jesus gave them a sign anyway–or at least he announced one ahead of time. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt 12:39).

The Pharisees knew the story of the disobedient prophet who would rather die in the crushing waves of the sea than preach to the Ninevites and risk their repentance. The part of the story in Jesus’ mind was Jonah’s temporary residence in the fish: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).

Then comes the rebuke: “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41).

The shorthand: if the Ninevites repented, then you have no excuse, for the Son of Man who is preaching to you is greater than Jonah who preached to them.

This little passage from Matthew (12:38-41) reminds us of several truths about typology:

  1. Historical correspondences are present. Jesus refers to Jonah and his preservation inside a huge fish as historical events. Jonah descended, and Jesus will descend as well. The number “three” is common in Jonah’s experience and Jesus’ upcoming resurrection. Jonah preached to people heading for judgment, and so did Jesus. 
  2. Not every detail must match. Jonah didn’t die, though Jesus would. Jonah descended into a fish, Jesus into the grave. Jesus wasn’t dead for the same length of time Jonah was in the fish. The men of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message, but the Pharisees continue rejecting Jesus.
  3. Escalation is evident. Comparing himself to the 8th century prophet, Jesus said, “behold, something greater than Jonah is here,” and clearly he meant himself. Interestingly some of the differences in the story highlight the escalation. Jonah went into a fish, Jesus went into a tomb. Jonah was spat out, Jesus was raised up. Jesus was greater.

In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus himself helps us understand typology by showing us historical correspondences, relieving us of the need to match every detail, and highlighting escalation between type and antitype.

7 Sentences Summarizing the Bible’s Teaching about the “Image of God”

The Bible’s teaching about the “image of God” is important to trace and understand.  Here’s a 7-step summary of it:

(1) God made man in His image to fill the earth with image-bearers who represent Him and rule over creation with wisdom and royal dominion (Gen 1:26-28).

(2) After the Fall, mankind still bears the image of God (Gen 5:3; 9:6; Jam 3:9).

(3) Because of sin, though, unregenerate image-bearers cannot function as faithful representatives of God’s rule because of the corruption of sin and subsequent idolatry (Rom 1:18, 21-23, 25; 3:23).

(4) But God never recanted His creation mandate about multiplying the earth with image-bearers and exercising dominion (e.g. Gen 15:5 17:6, 20; 22:17; 26:22; 28:3; 35:11; 41:52; 47:27; 48:4).

(5) At the appointed time, God sent into the world His Son, an unmade Person who is the very image of God (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4), who–by virtue of his death and resurrection–has all authority over heaven and earth and has been given the name above every name, over any opposing power, over every conceivable dominion (Eph 1:21; Phil 2:9; Col 1:16; 2:15).

(6) Now, when sinners are united to Christ by the Spirit through saving faith, the image of God is being restored in believers as we are being inwardly renewed (2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23) and transformed into Christ’s image (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), so that we can rightly represent Him as the Church of God mediating the knowledge of Him to the world (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Pet 2:9; Col 2:10; Eph 3:8-9; Phil 2:15).

(7) God will complete the restoration of His image in us when Christ returns to raise the dead, for only then will we–who for now return to dust at death–exercise dominion over God’s renewed world in incorruptible bodies in the likeness of the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49).

Death By Exile

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Jim Gordon, Gotham City’s police commissioner, is being sentenced before a judge who happens to be a recently-freed felon.  The ultimatum is presented to Gordon: would he rather choose death or exile?

The question is made complex because winter has descended upon Gotham, freezing the bodies of water surrounding the city.  The exiled are forced to venture onto thin ice, and they will inevitably fall through.  Gordon knows this, so he tells the judge, “Death.”  He wants no part of an icy grave, no false hope.

The gavel smacks the desk, and the judge pronounces the sentence: “Death” but then adds “by exile.”  The viewer knows what this means: Gordon will be forced out onto the ice, and his exile means his death.

The phrase “death by exile” was applied to Jim Gordon in that movie, but sometimes cinematic phrases can ring true to the way the world works. “Death by exile” is the story of mankind after the events of Genesis 3.

In the true story of the world, God told Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would mean death (Gen 2:17).  Haven’t you noticed, though, that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they didn’t die?  Instead, they had a very awkward conversation with God.  Adam blamed his wife, she blamed the serpent, and nothing seemed to resolve the problem.  Everything had been good and blessed, but now things went wrong and curses were pronounced.

How does the story in the garden end?  With exile. “[T]herefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:23-24).

If we understand the important biblical motif of “death by exile,” we’re able to see that Adam and Eve did die, though not physically that day.  They experienced death by exile.  Physical death was part of the curse God pronounced–from dust man came and to dust he would return (Gen 3:19)–but for now they had to leave the garden sanctuary.

Their spiritual exile/death became a major motif that winds throughout the subsequent stories of Scripture.  No one is born in the garden.  Everyone after Genesis 3 comes into the world already exiled from Eden.  We all open our eyes for the first time in a state of spiritual death.

“Death by exile” is the story of Israel.  After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, Israelites were exiled to a land not their own.  But prophets like Ezekiel intimated that this exile, this national death, would be reversed.  God would speak to Israel as if looking into a valley of dry bones, and he would cause those bones to live again (Ezek 37:5-10).

We learn that the bones were “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 37:11), which means that the restoration of the nation would be a resurrection from the dead. “Death by exile” preceded a “resurrection by return.”  And, sure enough, when Israelites returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Persian, it was like life from the dead.

The story continues unfolding as Jesus steps onto the scene.  He came to bear the whole gamut of our exile.  The Word Made Flesh would be rejected by his people, die bearing our reproach outside the camp, and be forsaken by his Father as holy wrath came down on an old rugged cross.

In short, Jesus’ mission was death by exile, spiritually and physically, that the way to the Tree of Life might be opened again for those who trust in him.  Jesus conquered death by his resurrection, and death will be the last enemy defeated at his return (1 Cor 15:26).

Death will not even hold our bodies in its grasp forever.  Because of Christ’s death by exile and return by resurrection, we have the hope that dust will not be the final resting place of our bodies.  The curse of death was reversed by Christ and one day will be reversed for all believers.

When our bodies die it is but a sowing.  The reaping will come at the sound of a trumpet, and once-perishable-bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 52).  There will be no more death, no more exile, only resurrection glory in the likeness of the Son of Man.