Knowing more than Socrates
While researching the resurrection of the dead, I ran into a related quote from Socrates, a very wise and famous Greek philosopher from the fifth century B.C.–perhaps most known for his method of death (forced to drink hemlock). But before I started typing my notes for this sermon I ran into something else of his I just couldn’t help but share:
“By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” [http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Socrates]
However, that’s not the quote that is pertinent to this discussion. Instead the Gospel Herald notes that when asked “‘Shall we live again?” [by his friends] The dying philosopher could only reply, ‘I hope so, but no man can know.’” [ Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications. ]
“I hope so, but no man can know”…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Time for us to see if we can no more than even the great Socrates…
Socrates wasn’t alone…
But before we see what the Bible teaches about the resurrection, we should note that even the Bible reflects Socrates’ type of doubt. Let’s look at some words of a 10th century B.C. Solomon:
Ecclesiastes 3:16-20 (ESV)
16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
Who can bring [us] to see what will be after [us]? Solomon couldn’t even confidently say our fate was different than an animal.
Resurrection in the Old Testament
In fairness to Solomon…and ignoring how his myriad foreign wives clouded the wisdom God gave him…our Lord really didn’t reveal much about the resurrection during the Old Testamental period. I know of only one Scripture in the first 39 books of the Bible that actually speaks directly to it. Do you know in which book it is?
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
So from the recorded beginning of time until a couple hundred years before Jesus’ arrival…there really was no strong doctrine about the resurrection of the dead…although one more quote does seem to indicate that God’s faithful were aware of it at least as far back as Abraham:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Now…that could just mean that Abraham knew God could bring Isaac back to life right after he was sacrificed, but I can’t help but connect this reference to something mentioned in John when Jesus was speaking to Martha about the death of her brother Lazarus:
20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Do you get the same sense that Abraham had equivalent faith in God’s ability to raise Isaac in the resurrection as Martha did?
Resurrection in Jesus’ Time
Have you noticed how suddenly we’ve left the Old Testament and entered the New? And how our entry shows a confidence that would be the envy of Socrates or Solomon?
There wasn’t agreement, however…
Now Martha may have had confidence, but the resurrection wasn’t a settled deal in Jesus’ time. Can you think of an incident in Jesus’ life that proves there wasn’t 100% Jewish consensus in the resurrection?
Remember when the Sadducees tried to trap him with a question about 7 wives?
29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees did not…with their differences being so great Paul was able to cause a complete riot when, in addressing a council composed of both, he said, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10).
Based on Jesus’ response to the Sadducees, what was his take on the resurrection?
Jesus actually had some more to say about the subject:
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Jesus not only confirms that the righteous will be resurrected…but He also notes something that Daniel also brought out–that there will be a resurrection of the wicked too–one of judgment.
Why is it so important?
Especially with Jesus’ corroboration, the resurrection of the dead seems so basic…and it is…it is even called an “elementary doctrine” in Hebrews 6:1-2.
So why are we talking about it?
First, Paul makes it extremely clear how important belief in the resurrection of the dead is in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
If there is no resurrection…our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and we should be pitied.
The second reason we are talking about it is because there is no greater hope than that which can be found in the good news that we will all be raised again:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Can any of us wait for the cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God? I will admit I’m looking forward to flying through some clouds…going to be even better than first class on United Airlines! ☺
The third and most obvious reason we are discussing it is because we all miss our preacher–Larry, and the resurrection reminds us that our separation from him…and from every other saint that has gone before him…is only temporary. That we will not precede our brother who has fallen asleep, instead joining him in the clouds.
Can you see why Paul said we should encourage each other with these words?
And perhaps that’s the best reason for us to be discussing the resurrection–because Paul, inspired by God, told us to! And I will admit as I saw the tears of those who loved Larry it’s a reminder that I can use over-and-over again.
Sir Walter Raleigh clearly found the resurrection encouraging. The night before he was beheaded he write these words in his Bible:
Even such is time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust! [ Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications. ]
Our God will raise us up…let’s trust!
Was Jesus confident of the resurrection?
Was Paul confident of the resurrection?
Are you confident of the resurrection?
Please remember–Jesus Himself confirmed everyone…saved and unsaved…would be resurrected. And Paul reminds us:
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:1-5).
Further words that should instill confidence in a church that also believes baptism is important…
We started off this talk with some wishy-washy words from Socrates. Let’s wrap it up with a totally different take by the Puritan, Thomas Watson:
“We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds.” [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]