Continuity Continued

I wanted to add some additional thoughts regarding the subject of my last article where I talked about the continuity of identity, entitled: The “New” Body and the Continuity of Identity. There I had pointed out that from a Biblical perspective, the Christian can be assured that their identity is maintained as they go from life to death, and then back to life again at the resurrection, not because they will be made new by God in the sense of neos at the resurrection, but because they will be made new in the sense of kainos. This concept is important to grasp (being made new in the sense of kainos), because it means that the person who is brought back to life at the resurrection is in fact the same person that they were previous to their death, and not just a mere re-creation or copy of themselves. If they were just a mere copy (only being made new in the sense of neos), then the person standing before God to be judged at the resurrection is not the same person that had died. THAT would be a problem.

However, being made new in the sense neos is also very important. At the end of that first article, I had also made this last point:

“…we must be completely different and unconnected to our old self in how we conduct our lives, because we will one day be made kainos for the age to come. It is worth repeating 1 Corinthians 5:7 (HCSB)… Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new (neos, g3501) batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.”

It is no wonder why James (just like Paul) had made a similar point regarding what our current walk should look like, because the believer’s newness (neos) now, is just as important as our newness (kainos) later in the age to come as a result of the resurrection…

James 2:26 (NLT)Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Continuity Continued

In this article, I wanted to offer some further assurance that one’s identity would not be lost prior to the resurrection, even if their physicality might appear to have been completely destroyed or it seems as though it might have disappeared altogether during the time that they were dead due to them becoming dust by things like decay or fire. This is a great concern to many believers, because some of us assume that death by default necessitates the extinction of being. Such assumption leads some believers who think this way to then redefine death itself and/or posit some sort of a philosophical explanation regarding the constitution of man/nature of being with dualism. The thing is, we must remember that death in the Bible does not necessitate the extinction of being as many brethren might assume. As Henri Blocher, a French Christian scholar who wrote in his work “In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis,” pg. 171 (as cited by Tony Wright in his paper “Death, the Dead and the Underworld in Biblical Theology, Part 1,” pg. 13)…

“…death disintegrates the power to live [but] this condition is not [to be] confused with the extinction of being.”

Death, according to Scripture, certainly brings about the extinction of life (aliveness/vitality/animation), but not necessarily the extinction of being. Take this reference in the Old Testament…

Numbers 6:6 (HCSB)He must not go near a dead body during the time he consecrates himself to the LORD.

(This is one of several stipulations for taking a Nazarite vow. In order to keep from becoming defiled, the person who took the vow may never go near a corpse, or else the vow is broken.)

It is unfortunate that most English translations suggest that what is in view in the Hebrew here is a dead “body,” rather than a dead “being/creature” or “person.” Why? Because, what is translated here as being dead (“mut” in Hebrew, h4191) is not just a body. It is more than that. If it was just a body, then we would find here the Hebrew word “basar” (h1320). But, we do not. Instead, we find the Hebrew word for the whole being or person… “nephesh” (h5315), which encompasses every aspect of a human being (both the inner and outer). The Young’s Literal Translation gets it right…

Numbers 6:6 (YLT)All days of his keeping separate to Jehovah, near a dead (mut, h4191) person (nephesh, h5315) he doth not go…

This is important because it is an example of how the Bible does not assume that death brings about the extinction of being. In other words, according to Scripture, a person/being (nephesh) does not disappear at death. Though the physicality of a person eventually becomes dust after they become lifeless, that same person is still recoverable by God from that dusty condition because becoming dust does not mean that they then cease to exist. If they did, then it would not be possible for them to be made kainos at the resurrection as the Bible describes. They would then have to be made neos by God. But, then it would not be the same person. Again, as we said before, “THAT would be a problem.”

Numbers 6:6 is not the only place where mut (h4191) and nephesh (h5315) appear in the Hebrew text together, bringing out the concept that a person can be dead yet still exist. These references are some examples as well… Gen 19:19, Exo 4:19, Lev 21:11, Num 23:10, 35:31, Jos 20:9, Judg 16:30, 1Sa 28:9, 2Sa 14:7, 1Kg 19:4, Job 36:14, and Ezk 13:19.

What is a Person?

It might be helpful at this point to see what the Bible says about how a person comes to be and what is different about them when they die.

First: How a person comes to be…

Genesis 2:7 (HCSB)Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living (hay, h2416) being (nephesh, h5315).

dust of the ground formed by God + breath of life = a being/person (nephesh) that is alive (hay)

It is interesting to note that what was formed by God (the man) did not become a nephesh until after He had made the formed dust from the ground come to life. Once the breath of life came into the man’s nostrils from God, that was the moment that the man then became not just a being/person, but a living being/person.

Second: As we saw earlier a nephesh (person) is still considered to be a person (nephesh) even if they die…

Numbers 6:6 (YLT) All days of his keeping separate to Jehovah, near a dead (mut, h4191) person (nephesh, h5315) he doth not go…

a being/person (nephesh) – aliveness/vitality/animation (hay) = a dead (mut) being/person (nephesh)

Scripture always considers a person to have being regardless of whether or not that nephesh is hay (alive) or mut (dead). I believe this is why Stephen could say with confidence as he was being stoned…

Acts 7:59-60 (HCSB)They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (or breath, pneuma in the Greek, g4151)!” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell asleep.

Stephen knew that not even the “sleep of death” (Psa 13:3) could effect his being, only his breath. Therefore, he could bravely face his martyrdom. It is why Jesus had previously encouraged the disciples when the subject of dying came up…

Luke 12:4-7 (HCSB)“And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!”

Believers are never forgotten by God because they never cease to exist, even in death.

The Power of God

Yahweh is not only the Creator…

Psalms 33:6-9 (HCSB)The heavens were made by the word of the LORD, and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into a heap; He puts the depths into storehouses. Let the whole earth tremble before the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it came into being; He commanded, and it came into existence.

But, God also has complete control over everything that He has created, and everything that He has created is completely dependent upon Him to live and thrive…

Psalms 104:29-30 (HCSB)When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your breath, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth.

Acts 17:25 & 28 (HCSB)He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things… For in Him we live and move and exist…

The disciples observed this power firsthand, when they saw what God has command over…

Luke 8:24-25 (HCSB)They came and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who can this be? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey Him!”

Resurrection

This leads me to pose some rhetorical questions to consider…

Is it really that nutty to suggest that God might also possess the wherewithal to not only be able to cause the creation to cease (as in the previous reference from Luke 8), but that God could also go a step further and put things into reverse? How about Him being able to not only put things into reverse, but could He even turn back the process of decay? Could God (without ever compromising their continuity of identity) actually cause a person to live again after they had been dead, dried up, scattered and unidentifiable?

The Bible actually gives us a picture of just that…

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (HCSB)The hand of the LORD was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord GOD, only You know.” He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Lord GOD says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord GOD says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of Yahweh.

For the record, not only do we have other examples in the Bible of God pausing the natural progression of the created order (like we did in Luke 8), as we have here in Joshua…

Joshua 10:12-14 (HCSB)On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on its enemies. Isn’t this written in the Book of Jashar? So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed its setting almost a full day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man, because the LORD fought for Israel.

…but we also have examples of God actually REVERSING the natural progression of the created order as well…

Isaiah 38:8 (HCSB)“I am going to make the sun’s shadow that goes down on Ahaz’s stairway go back by 10 steps.” So the sun’s shadow went back the 10 steps it had descended.

Resurrection is just another example of reversing the natural progression of the created order, and it has been part of the Biblical story all along… 1Ki 17:17-24, 2Ki 4:18-37, 13:20-21, Mar 5:35-43, Luk 7:11-17, Act 9:36-43, and 20:7-12.

Even with these references of God being able to reverse the natural progression of the created order either directly by Him or indirectly by Him through others, a question might still arise…

Those examples of resurrection involved people who had not yet begun to decay, so what about those who had begun to decay or even more incredibly what about those who have decayed into dust, making a continuity of identity unfeasible?

Well, we do have an example of someone being resurrected from the dead after the process of decay had already begun…

John 11:1-44 (HCSB)Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord, the one You love is sick.” When Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.” “ Rabbi,” the disciples told Him, “just now the Jews tried to stone You, and You’re going there again?” “Aren’t there 12 hours in a day?” Jesus answered. “If anyone walks during the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world. If anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.” Then the disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought He was speaking about natural sleep. So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.” Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him.” When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem (about two miles away). Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. But Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her. Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die — ever. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.” Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. So they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!” When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved. “Where have you put him?” He asked. “Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. “Remove the stone,” Jesus said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.” After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.”

And also here…

Matthew 27:50-53 (HCSB)Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.

*On a side note, though we do not know how long the resurrected persons in view here in Matthew were dead, I think it is safe to assume that most of them (if not all) had already gone through at least some level of decay. (I would bet that they were all already dust, but that’s just my opinion.) Also, for those who might fixate on the fact that “bodies” (soma, g4983) were described as being raised and not whole persons (psuche, g5590, which is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “nephesh”), this reference is at least consistent in saying that the same physical beings that were placed in the tombs when they had died were the same ones that had come out when they were made to live again. As we have seen, this is in line with the rest of scripture… that the continuity of identity is shown not to be interrupted due to death, because death does not bring about the extinction of being. The only thing that the saints here in Matthew lost during death was their aliveness/vitality/animation, but not their existence. They were still in their tombs, just as David was described by Peter at Pentecost as still being in his tomb “this day”:

Acts 2:29 (HCSB)“Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.”

And, Paul described David here as having already been decayed before the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia…

Acts 13:36 (HCSB)For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed.

David was already dust at this point and still is today as well. Yet, God has not forgotten him as he sleeps in the dust (Dan 12:2). So, we should be confident that David will still be David at the resurrection (Ezk 37:12-14).

Some Final Thoughts, Review, and Encouragement

These numerous examples of resurrection that we referenced from both the Old and New Testaments tell us two things…

  1. The same person that dies is the exact same person who resurrects.
  2. Regardless of the degree of decay that might happen, a dead person’s identity still remains, because they do not cease to exist when they die. If death necessitated the end of existence, then being made new in the sense of kainos would not be possible, thus rendering resurrection as being unattainable.

The topic of resurrection is incredibly controversial and it always has been. It is why Paul said these things after he was accused of too much study of the Scriptures…

Acts 26:22-25 (HCSB)“To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.” As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!” But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment.”

(I think that it is a good thing to be like Paul in this scenario, and not like Festus.)

Whether this brief presentation resonates with you or not, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we must understand that (like it or not) we are all appointed by God to die once and then we are all resurrected to be judged by Him on how we conducted our lives and what that says about our loyalty or disloyalty to Him (Hebrews 9:27).

Some folks reading this might still be asking questions such as this one…

How exactly can the same person who had died and then fully decomposed or was maybe burned up to then become dust (and also possibly scattered in that state), then made to live again without losing their unique identity in the process?

Positing philosophical explanations such as dualism to explain how this reality works might satisfy someone’s philosophical discomfort when challenged with this topic. But, when such comfort comes at the expense of what Scripture says, maybe it is time to then jettison that philosophical theory. The bottom line is whether or not we believe as Job does, even if we cannot wrap our heads around it…

Job 19:25-27 (HCSB) But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. I will see Him myself; my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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