Chapter 1 – The Biblical Concept of the Resurrection
Biblical resurrection can only be understood on its own terms as something that is unique to Jewish and Christian belief. What has happened in modern theologies is the secular concept of resurrection has invaded the Christian church. Resurrection in the Old Testament has no correlation with any religion anywhere in human history. It is not a renewing process of nature that we see in the change of seasons, as often symbolised by the Christmas tree and the Easter egg. These concepts were outrightly rejected in some of the early church epistles (highlighted in the footnotes on page 27 of this book). We have to be so wary of non-Jewish/Christian ideas creeping into the gospel story. The resurrection story is birthed in the heart of God and is a God-initiated event that stands on its own. Too often the church has allowed animistic, romanticised ideas of rebirth to explain and reshape this God event.
Torrance believes the Old Testament should act as a corrective for all the corrupt ideas we have on the resurrection. He believes that Old Testament scholars who struggle to find the relationship of the resurrection in the New Testament with the Old Testament are often operating with synthesised ideas of the Old Testament with non-Biblical ideas. If we assume that we have the ability to exhaustively grasp all the ways and works of God then we fail to give Him rightful place as the Creator of heaven and earth who is transcendent over everything. Yet at the same time the One who is over all, acts in a physical and historical way in real time and space. This presents to us a unique God who is vitally interested in involving Himself in human affairs. There is the tendency to define God in a non-Biblical way as aloof and distant to us. This is so far from the truth of the Old and New Testaments’ covenant theme of God who binds Himself to His creatures in love, even though they resist Him.
Therefore, to understand the Old Testament view of the resurrection, we need to stand at the vantage point of Jesus Christ and look back. This way, we start to see a proper order in which the whole of human history has been ordered. The Old Testament is defined by the most defining moment in all human history — the incarnate and resurrected Jesus Christ.
Covenant is the theme that runs through the entire Old Testament and this covenant embraces the whole of creation. Covenant is a bond of loving relationship between two parties. God has bound Himself to the nation of Israel where His bond to them enables them to share in His life. He supports them and grounds their existence upon Himself where He makes it possible for their relationship to continue. God takes the initiative to restore the relationship between Himself and Israel time and time again through all manner of triumphs and disasters, revealing a merciful God in His purpose and judgement.
The purpose for Israel is not based on an individual-by-individual basis. God’s actions are always corporate when He judges, vindicates and restores His people. The overriding theme throughout is restoring His people through what He decides in the best interests of His people according to His plan and purpose for them.
“In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master’.”
“I myself said,
‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.”
“This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”
In addition to the above passages, reading the entire chapters of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37 presents a consistent, seamless thread of God’s restoration. God’s restoration includes the promise of a Saviour who will rise from within this corporate community. This Saviour closely resembles Moses and David, and is the true Servant of the Lord. The continuity of Israel is closely tied with the promise of the Saviour who is to be the Seed of David and Abraham, sprouting from her dry, barren ground.
The Old Testament also shows the type of Saviour who was to come. This is what is known as the Goel. There is the notion of God as Redeemer who undertakes His acts out of the community bond He has formed with Israel. He stands inside His community as the Holy One of Israel and makes all her troubles His very own, and makes Israel’s cause His own. Thus from the resurrected Christ we can look through the various passages regarding the resurrection where they are corrected and understood through Him. Resurrection from, must be defined according to the Hebrew understanding of Sheol rather than the widely used term of Hell or hades, where people exist after death awaiting the final judgement of God. Even in death, God is still Redeemer making death His very own and defeating it on behalf and with the community of Israel (Psalms 16:10f; 49:16; 73:26 and 17:15).
Without the spectacles of the resurrected Jesus Christ to help navigate our way through the Old Testament, the places that show this theme will be overlooked. If we look through the eyes of a Jew, we will not see it. If we look through the eyes of an atheist, we will not see it. However, if the Scriptures do point to Jesus Christ and we place our trust in His hands, then through the context of Him, everything will be made clear.