One of the great misfortunes of society today, and more so in the West, is to have been more influenced by Greek thought and culture than Hebrew thought. This can be demonstrated in many aspects of life, including politics, architecture, leisure, sport – you name it. One of the things that the Greeks believed was that the body and the soul were two separate entities. The flesh was synonymous with evil, and thus, the body could be indulged, idolised or ignored. According to Greek thought, human beings are basically immortal souls imprisoned with mortal bodies. This restricts our development and we cannot realise our full potential until we’re liberated from our physical mortality. This can be partly achieved by treating the body with contempt, either in a disciplined or dissolute manner. However, it’s death that brings total and final release. Death is therefore considered a friend to be welcomed.
It was the famous Greek, Philosopher Socrates, who talked about it with eager anticipation as he drank poison in the presence of his students and committed suicide. To the Greeks, the idea of re-embodiment after death is ridiculous; which is why they mocked Paul when he preached on it at Mars Hill (Acts 17:32). To the Greeks, the sooner we get rid of the body, the better. But to the Jew, life is a supernatural act of creation.
When God created Adam, He first made a body and then He breathed into it the very life or breath of God. And Adam became a living soul. When God made our human bodies, He said it’s very good. Our bodies are therefore inherently good and not evil. But flesh was not inherently immortal. The source of eternal life has always been external to human nature, and that’s why the Tree of Life was in the Garden. Could it be that each time Adam ate of the fruit of the Tree of Life; his flesh was rejuvenated and restored to brand new? So to the Jew, life is a blessing and by the same token, death is a curse. It need not have ever happened. Death is looked upon as judgment, a punishment for rebellion against God’s rule. Having partaken of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve and all their descendants were cut off from the Tree of Life, their source of continued existence. From that time onwards, death reigned over the human race.
Paul calls death the last enemy. To the Jew, long life is seen as a blessing and a premature death is considered a tragedy. When someone in the Bible got healed from a sickness, it was a cause for thanksgiving to God because the person is delivered from prematurely going to Sheol. Read Psalm 103:4. So to the Jew, to escape death is the ultimate blessing and they’ve as stories both Enoch and Elijah; it happened to Enoch who was translated into heaven, as well as Elijah who was caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. The concept of resurrection with a new body grew out of Israel’s experience of death and resurrection as a nation. As a nation, they were as good as dead and buried in Babylon, yet God brought them back to life and this is expressed by the words of the prophet Hosea that after three days, He’d once again restore us. Then, we have the Valley of Dry Bones and the prophet Ezekiel saw them coming together as a nation as though a body was coming back to life again.
The prophet Daniel also saw multitudes awake from the dead, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame (Dan 12:2). The prophet Isaiah also echoed this same thought in Isaiah 26:19. By the time Jesus was born, the lines have been drawn between the liberal Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection and the conservative Pharisees, whom Paul agreed with on this point.
The only problem was: they had no proof of this except what they read from the Old Testament. And God had not yet done this for a single soul. No one had ever been resurrected before, ever. Some actually did come back to life for a brief period but all had died again. None had defeated death. But they believed that a day would come when God would defeat all His enemies, establish His rule on the earth and at that time, death would be no more. Only one Person in history ever came back to life, defeated death and He lives forevermore. He’s the One whom we call “Saviour”. We’ve hope today because One has been raised from the dead, and the promise of resurrection has been extended to all who believe. May you find the only One who can give you life, a life that’s stronger than death.