Monday, March 26, 2012

Unhelpful Answers: Resurrected People Cannot Coexist With Others

I was surprised recently when a brother in Christ mentioned to me that he thought that premillennialism didn’t make sense. My surprise was not that he objected to the doctrine but rather the reason why. He insisted that the defining argument, in his mind, against premillennialism was that it was totally irrational for people with resurrected bodies to coexist with other people who were not in a final state. I objected, and tried to explain to my friend that even though I am a premillennialist I think there are much better arguments against it than this one. This is an unhelpful answer as to why someone should reject premillennialism. He was not persuaded, and surprisingly this remains a common objection even among more well known scholars. For example, Kim Riddlebarger makes the following statement in his book The Case for Amillennialism:

“According to premillenarians, the millennium is a period in which people who have been raised from the dead and who now live on the earth in resurrected bodies coexist with people who have not been raised from the dead and who remain in the flesh. How can this be? Where does Scripture teach about such a mixture of resurrected and un-resurrected individuals?”

Statements like this are unfortunately common among the opponents of premillennialism and I suppose that the “weirdness” factor of resurrected and un-ressurected people living together is assumed to be sufficient to prove that it cannot happen. There is of course nothing that would make this a logical impossibility. Since it isn’t something we normally experience and it isn’t something that appeals to our linear thought processes one might say it is at least improbable. The most important question, however, is the one that Riddlebarger asks but doesn’t answer. Namely, “where does Scripture teach about such a mixture of resurrected and un-resurrected individuals?”

The answer is that it does so many times. The easy answer to arguments of impossibility or improbability is simply to show that it has happened multiple times before. Once something has actually occurred it suddenly becomes much more probable. The best known example of a person in a resurrected body interacting with others still in regular bodies is, of course, Jesus Christ Himself. One only has to read John chapter 21 and Luke 24 to see that Christ had a number of interactions with other people while in His resurrected body. He interacted with the women at the tomb and with the disciples on multiple occasions even eating with them and walking with them on the road to Emmaus. Paul even tells us that He appeared to five hundred brothers, most of whom were still alive at the time he was writing. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

My friend then objected that Jesus was a unique case but that objection fails because the Bible records other examples as well. For example, we know that Lazarus lived for some time and was interacting with others after he was resurrected (John 12). Even more remarkably, however, are the events recorded in Matthew 27 after the death of Christ.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53 ESV)

This amazing but rarely talked about event clearly demonstrates that there has already been a time in history when dead believers were raised up and walked among mortal men. Although the concept seems strange to us it has already happened multiple times. There is therefore no reason to rule it out as a future impossibility, especially if there is sound exegetical support for such an event being prophesied in the Bible.

The key issue is not the impossibility or improbability of such an event but rather the correct interpretation of a number of key passages in the Bible about the future. Strong arguments can be made both grammatically and contextually for a natural premillennial interpretation of a number of passages that teach two separate resurrections which is essential to the premillennial understanding. There are many such passages but especially clear (though hotly debated) are the following:

 “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
(John 5:28-29 ESV)  

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
(1 Corinthians 15:22-26 ESV)

“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
(Revelation 20:4-6 ESV)

One may take issue with the premillennial interpretation of these verses or with the many others that are used to support the doctrine but the question is one of exegesis. One cannot simply rule out the possibility of a premillennial understanding because the logic of the resurrections seems strange. As I told my friend, there are much better arguments against the position and this alone is certainly no reason to reject it. Whether you support or reject premillennial doctrine I pray that your conclusions would be the result of prayerful study of the Scripture, rigorous thought, and an honest and fair evaluation of the Biblical arguments for and against it.

God Bless

No comments:

Post a Comment