The Future Now

The resurrection of King Jesus is about the church. So claims Matt Levering in his book Jesus and the Demise of Death. I am sometimes surprised how rarely theologians, pastors, and lay folks talk about the principal enemy in the Bible: death (a tool and design of the Satan) is the enemy and life is the act of God that overcomes death. What Genesis 3 threatened Adam and Eve with was death and what Paul saw as the problem was death (read 1 Corinthians 15 or Romans 6–8).

Sheol, so says Jewish scholar Jon Levenson, is the place of “untimely death” and not simply the place of all the dead. The place of life is Eden and the Temple (Psalm 133). And raising the Shunnamite woman’s son in 2 Kings 4 shows that resurrection and restoration of the people go hand in hand. One more point made by Levenson: exile is a form of death (Ezekiel 37). Resurrection  here means the restoration of God’s people, not just immortality after death. So though Daniel 12:1-3 is probably the first clear affirmation of resurrection in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), the theme of God rescuing his people from death and re-creating life in the land is found in numerous places. God will vindicate himself and his people through resurrection. Levenson, in fact, argues that resurrection is not borrowed from other religions or regions but is inherent to Israel’s faith itself.

Leaning on Tom Wright, Levering sees NT resurrection themes as new exodus and end of exile and restoration of Israel. So many themes then coalesce around Jesus and the Story of Israel finding its new center in him as God becomes King through Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection transcends expectations: an embodied existence of life beyond death (life after life after death). Dale Allison is more convinced by hallucinatory visions as the core of resurrection faith. Jimmy Dunn disagrees: the word “resurrection” does not fit visionary experiences; it transcends them. Something happened to Jesus, in his body, and not something to the disciples.

Levering now brings in Aquinas, who has been criticized for not giving sufficient attention to the Jewish story and context of resurrection, the very points made by Wright and Dunn. But Levering argues Aquinas connects resurrection to the People of God.

Here’s an issue: when Paul says Jesus was raised “according to Scripture” in 1 Cor 15:3-5 there is no clear text to which he is pointing, leading some to think there is a pattern — and that pattern is what Aquinas grabs. Thus, Luke 24:44-47 connects all of Jesus to all of the Story. So Aquinas finds five reasons for the necessity of resurrection:

1. Vindication of God’s justice.
2. To confirm our faith that Jesus is Son of God.
3. To inspire our hope in resurrection alongside Jesus.
4. To give us the capacity to love and holiness.
5. Vindication of God’s people.

Aquinas connects each theme to Scripture — Old and New Testament, beginning with the Magnificat for #1, etc. “In sum… [he] provides a biblical theology rooted in the vindication of Israel’s God, which inspires faith, hope, and love” (37). Aquinas reads “on the third day” mystically — or iconically — seeing through it to a theology of history and redemption. In other words, Levering says it amounts to much the same thing as Wright’s view of history.

Christ’s Body, then, is a community of faith, hope and love. One does not perceive the resurrected Christ apart from faith, and with faith one enters into the resurrected Body of Christ. The strongest case for Aquinas is the Scripture, but alongside that comes angels and signs.

Levenson and Wright, then, see a pattern of God as the God of life (not death) in the Scriptures and its Story. Aquinas, too, sees the accomplishment of eschatological purposes in Christ. He proposes a theology of glory rooted in the history of God’s people and manifested in God’s Messiah.

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  • donsands

    The awesome miracle of Jesus rising from the dead on the 3rd day is also something atheists just will not believe, even with all the evidence. I have shared this wonderful truth with Darwinist and they simply will not believe.
    Darwin is a sort of anti-christ in that he shuns the risen Christ.

    And I love the “vindication of God’s people” truth you have given us here. So true that our Risen Savior and Lord has vindicated us for all eternity, those who trust Him and love Him.

  • CGC

    Thanks Scot,
    Some excellent remarks by Levering. Aquinas is absolutely brilliant. If anyone ever reads his biggraphy, here is a guy who had a passion for God and went through alot of persecution from his own family just because he had a vision of becoming a priest. There is a holism in Aquinas that is often absent among the soterion gospel of much of Protestantism.

    I like the heading, “Future now” which has some strong eschatological implications of the future impacting the present. In regards to Wright’s eschatology, I asked the Wright-list if anyone had ever talked to Wright about his millenial views. One gentleman said he asked Wright if he was a post-millenialist and Wright said, “No.” I suspect that Wright is “Post” most millenial frameworks 🙂

    And Scot, aren’t you speaking at the conference in Ohio “The Demise of Jesus” conference in regards to historical criticism? If so, I would love to hear a conversation between you and Dale Allison on Jesus resurrection.

    Levering also speaks of death as physical death and not just spiritual death. If death is the last enemy, and we are to love our enemies, can it be that Christians when they die have a peace and strength more often than not because they turn the enemy into a friend. If death is a tool and design of Satan, then maybe followers of Jesus have to get past Satan to get to God? Followers of Jesus must walk through the valley of death to see the mountain of resurrection?

  • “The resurrection of King Jesus is about the church.”

    It’s thinking like this that makes it difficult to appreciate the significance of Jesus’ victory over death.

    The resurrection of King Jesus is about the kingdom of God. The New Testament church was intent on seeking and receiving that kingdom in their generation. Today’s organized church claims to be heir to that first-century church, but if they were they would eschew the building of institutional church in favor of seeking to apprehend the kingdom of God which is now in our midst.

    Further, today’s church perverts the liberating message of Jesus regarding death. The biblical message is that God turned the curse into a blessing, and “to depart and be with Christ” is better. The perversion is that death has been turned into a blessing only for some while for others it has become a curse infinitely worse than death.

    Everyone is going to heaven but the church is too interested in self-preservation to find this truth in the Scriptures. Meanwhile, it keeps inviting the wrath of God by not pursuing holiness and not warning others about the judgments of God.