By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M
Ed Stevens view is based upon his assumption (shared largely with the audience he is addressing here in his Lecture from which I am taking this material) that the “resurrection of the dead” happened, and is fulfilled, when the Romans and Jews went to war in the years of 66-70 A.D. Stevens also believes, quite explicitly, that all, if not the majority of those who professed Jesus as Lord at that time, those who were living, disappeared in Corinth, Jerusalem, Rome, Thessalonica, Egypt, Ephesus, and everywhere else professing Christians were to be found. For outsiders of this view, called ‘Full Preterism’ (FP), this may (and has) strike you as quite bizarre. It will not be the focus of this critique to argue against such historical implausibility. Rather, at this point, it is necessary that Stevens does believe that the text in question, 1 Corinthians 15 (1C15), demonstrates a literal change of the “living” at the time of the resurrection of the dead.
It is, of course, the view of Orthodox Christianity, that Jesus ‘will come again to judge the living and the dead’ (Nicene Creed), as confessed in virtually every Christian gathering worldwide on Sundays. This will be the end of history as we know it, to be ushered in by a ‘new heavens and a new earth’ – or, in answer to the Lord’s Prayer, ‘thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ The ultimate coming of the Kingdom of God on earth (as it is in heaven) is the great, professing Christian hope from its foundation to the present day. Stevens’ view, however, believes that this hope was fulfilled in 70 A.D. – that, Jesus invisibly came again then, brought about an invisible Kingdom, with an invisible resurrection of the dead, yet a visible disappearance of the living Christians. The great Christian hope, thus, is defeated; never to be realized in a new heavens and earth.
In order to sustain this argument, Stevens has to make several ‘exceptions’ to the rule. Obviously. I tend to shy away from arguments that have to make exceptions to the very rule they are trying to hold up. One could say the more exceptions that are made in order for the overall rule to apply, the weaker the argument becomes. The reason why exceptions have to be made in these kinds of treatments is in order to avoid contradictions to other material that is necessarily brought in to hold up the general rule. In short, if one cannot present a clear, consistent argument from all of the relevant material, then one begins to make a series of exceptions in order to excuse away the apparent inconsistencies. Such a way of argument is the stuff of politicians.
It is my contention, and the contention of Orthodoxy, that the resurrection of the dead is first displayed in the resurrection of Jesus himself. In fact, Paul notes this in 1C15 as he begins his discussion on this matter in that chapter. There he called Jesus, ‘the firstfruit from the dead’ (15.20). In another place, Jesus is called, ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (Colossians 1.18). In still another place, Jesus is ‘the first to rise from the dead’ (Acts 26.23). What this means is that Jesus, the man, the human being, ‘died’ and ‘was buried’ (1C15.3). Upon his resurrection ‘in power’ (Romans 1.4), the man, Christ Jesus, was risen so that, ‘we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him’ (Romans 6.9). For Jesus, death is ‘destroyed’ (2 Timothy 1.10), that is, it has no more dominion over him. Hebrews describes him as now having an ‘indestructible life’ (Hebrews 7.16). This is, then, quite distinct from all of the previous miracles in the Scriptures that attest to resurrections, including the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus died again, eventually, as did all the others. We know this by deducing from the texts that Jesus is called, ‘the first.’ Jesus is the first man to be raised from the dead and remain raised from the dead for all eternity (this is actually the force of the verb, ‘he has been risen’ – which is a Perfect form in the Greek language of Paul, emphasizing the past act with present continuance).
Paul connects the resurrection the dead, which Stevens rightly notes is future from the day Paul wrote to the Corinthians, directly with the resurrection of Jesus. He makes no switch of language. ‘If the dead are not raised, then not even has Jesus been raised’, he said (1C15.13). There not a hint, nor a suggestion, that the coming ‘resurrection of the dead’ is not to be of the same nature as the ‘resurrection of Jesus from the dead’ who is called, the ‘firstfruit of the dead’. Yet, it is here that the ‘exceptions’ of Stevens begin to pile up. Stevens understands that he cannot have an exact one-to-one resurrection of Jesus with the coming resurrection of the dead. If he did have such one-to-one connection, his placing the fulfillment of the resurrection of the dead in 70 A.D. would simply collapse. As we have noted, Stevens has to have an invisible resurrection in 70 A.D. for the very reason that we can still see all those bones from excavations of those who died previous to 70 A.D. However, when asked to view the bones of Jesus, there are none because Stevens believes that Jesus, the man, was literally ‘raised from the dead’, visibly, and was seen afterwards. Stevens, to his credit, maintains the ‘empty tomb’ of Jesus. But, as I will demonstrate, this fact unravels his entire paradigm.
Exegetical Considerations 1.
First off, Stevens defines the phrase, ‘flesh and blood’ (1C15.50) as it normally means. Indeed, it is hard pressed to have an argument against this meaning when Paul just mentioned, ‘the flesh of men’ (1C15.39). To suppose that he changes the meaning from verse 39 is highly improbable. And, Stevens notes that Jesus uses the phrase, ‘flesh and bone’ in his post-resurrection appearance (Luke 24.39). Some have tried to note a difference between ‘flesh and bone’ and ‘flesh and blood’, but this has been widely discounted as straining a gnat. From this, Stevens writes that in order for the flesh and blood body to inherit the kingdom of God it has “to be changed first” (p.2). This is all correct.
The problem for Stevens is that the flesh and blood body, which, again Stevens defines as the ‘corruptible body’, is not changed, but rather exchanged. It is entirely replaced and not reorganized or transformed. Allow me to illustrate. If subject X is replaced, it is not longer X, but Y. If subject X is transformed it becomes x. The upper case X is transformed to a lower case x, but it is not replaced. It is reformed. But, with Ed’s view, the subject matter X (standing for the body) is entirely replaced with another body. Thus, it is misleading to suggest that this is a change of bodies. It is, rather, an exchange of bodies.
Stevens continues, “In order to be a part of the heavenly kingdom, they would have to get new bodies, or have a bodily change” (p.2). This is all good, but the meaning is not a change of the same body, but an exchange of bodies, and this is precisely where Stevens’ view can become quite confusing. For example, “They were not going to have their old decayed corrupted bodies raised out of the ground. They would instead get new immortal bodies like Christ’s body” (p.2). This is entirely misleading, for Christ’s body was not replaced. Remember, Stevens affirms the empty tomb. If Jesus’ body were exchanged, or replaced upon his resurrection, there would have been two bodies: one in the tomb, and another he was given. Rather, Jesus’ body was changed as the Apostle says he was raised ‘in power’ (Romans 1.4), using the same phrase in 1C15.43. The dead are raised ‘in power’ by a transformation of the previous body.
Now, previously, Stevens attempts to enter into the mind of the deniers of the resurrection of the dead. There he notes that in some Greek circles, the idea of an actual earthy body entering heaven was anathema to them. However, what does not appear to dawn on Stevens is that Paul begins his argument with this very sentiment: Jesus died, was buried and was risen and seen, and now ‘must reign’ at the right hand of God. Jesus did not exchange his body at any point, and entered heaven in the very same raised body that left the tomb empty. Thus, if Stevens’ idea of the Greeks being appalled at such a notion, then they equally would have been appalled at the idea of even Jesus having this status in heaven!
In fact, we find this very testimony in Acts 17 where Paul visits one of the greater centers of Greek Philosophy, Athens. They hear him out, but when he comes to the resurrection of Jesus, they immediately scoff at him. Jesus is not an exception. Now, Stevens is aware of this point. Arguing against the Orthodox view, he writes, “They think that because Jesus got his self-same (sinless) body back, that we also have to get our self-same (sinful) bodies back. But do you spot the fallacy here? Jesus is the only one who could get his self-same SINLESS body back. Since we sinned, our bodies return to dust, and we have to get new immortal bodies that are just like Christ’s immortal body” (p.4). In other words, Jesus is the exception. Red flag.
Stevens is under the impression that bodies, in and of themselves, are either sinless or sinful. Bodies do not sin, however. What is done ‘through the body’ (dia – 2 Corinthians 5.10) is sin. Sin comes from the heart. In an admixture with ‘bodily appetites’, lust forms and commits sin. However, one can speak of the body being effected by sin, which is exactly what Paul has in mind. The body, being effected by sin and death, has become ‘corrupt’, ‘weak’, and ‘without glory.’ It ‘dies’. And this is the force of the death of Jesus. The wages of sin is death. And Jesus took upon himself ‘our sins’ (1C15.3). Paul is quite plain: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3.13). The body of Jesus, the body of his flesh, the body of the man who was the word made flesh, died – not of natural causes, but because God laid upon him our sins. There was no sin in him, but rather our sins were laid on him, and for that count, he died. Not only did his take upon himself our sins, but by the fact of death, took upon himself our corruptible body. Jesus, the son of man, was laid in a tomb, dead. The horror.
However, because he was in himself, without sin (he did not sin, but ‘became sin’), Paul explains his obedience to death on the cross as a willing offering for sin. Jesus knew that he would die, and he knew that if he who was without sin would die, then he knew that he was to accept the wage of sin: death. For three days and nights his body was in the tomb, corrupted by death itself.
But it was promised to him that he would not remain in corruption, that he would not be allowed to “see corruption” in terms of its ongoing effects. Rather, Peter and Paul both quote Psalm 16.10. Jesus was not “abandoned in the grave” (Acts 2.31), and his body, unlike David’s body, was raised. Paul makes the same point in Acts 13.36. David fell asleep and was buried, and so was Jesus. However, David is still in his tomb, in the state of decay, whereas Jesus is not. Jesus was raised from corruption, which is what resurrection means. In fact, alluding to the passage in Galatians 3.13, Paul remarks that Jesus was taken down from the tree and buried (Acts 13.29). Jesus knew the full effect of sin and death, yet because he accepted this being placed upon him in obedience, God raised him from the dead, transformed his dead body, and made him ‘the firstborn of the dead.’
There is a rather glorious picture of the son of man (Revelation 1.13) standing before John. He proclaims: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1.18). The death that took the life of Jesus, having dominion over his earthly body is now in his hands! He overcame death, and dominion ‘has no more dominion over him.’
I say all of this to say that Stevens wants to make Jesus the exception of the very subject matter that is under discussion. And, he has to do this because his definition of resurrection is not the same as Jesus’ resurrection. If it was, then obviously, the resurrection of the dead did not take place in 70 A.D.
Exegetical Considerations 2
Stevens has also brought into consideration that all of the saints prior to 70 A.D. did not go to heaven, but rather went to a netherworldly place the Greeks called, ‘hades.’ This is a flat out contradiction of Paul who stated quite plainly that ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5.1-10). No more plainer speech can be given, and Paul wrote this before 70 A.D. In other words, there is what is called an ‘intermediate state’ of the believer between his/her death and the resurrection of the dead; the resurrection of their dead body – when their corruptible bodies are raised, transformed, reformed, reorganized, or what have you. Stevens, for example, makes a blunder when he writes, “Paul is not talking about disembodied dead people in Hades who had no bodies to be transformed” (p.6). This is misleading. To say that the dead “had no bodies” is not true. Their bodies are dead, to be sure. Jesus’ body was dead. He died. But, would it be correct to say that Jesus “had no body” for three days? This would contradict the Scriptures, “and they laid his body in the tomb.” It wasn’t Frank’s body, and it wasn’t Joe’s. Thus, Scriptures teach us that even though a body is dead, it is still the body of the person who died. “David’s body” or “and they took Saul’s body” and laid it to rest applies. There is identity of the body regardless of what effects corruption has done to it. The promise of Psalm 16.10 is not just for Jesus. David wrote it, and David said of himself, “my body you will not abandon”. Jesus is the first to be raised and remain risen. David will follow later when his corrupted and decayed body will put on incorruption. Resurrection is not a New Testament doctrine, but an Old Testament proclamation. Jesus defines it. He is the model of it. He is the firstfruit of it, and the harvest that follows will be just like his. If you pick an apple as a firstfruit of a harvest, the harvest will simply be more apples.
There is much more that can be said of Stevens’ view, but only one other consideration will be given. He spends some time on the quote from Murray Harris and that author’s book, From Grave to Glory. There, from the quote (page 5), Harris commits a logical blunder in that he equates the term ‘die’ with the phrase, ‘fall asleep.’ These terms are not the same. To die means that the heart stops. When the heart stops, the body is said to ‘fall asleep.’ Paul stated a universal proposition: “all in Adam die” (1C15.22). And, a little further says, “we shall not all sleep” (15.51). If “die” and “sleep” mean the same thing, then Paul has contradicted himself.
Harris wrote, “But if death is a prerequisite for resurrection, how will they fare who never die? Paul recognized this important exception to his “rule…” (p.5). And here we have yet another “exception”, this one committed by Harris, and followed by Stevens. Paul does not say, “we shall not all die”. Rather, “we shall not all sleep”. And sleep refers to the state of repose concerning the body. As many have noticed, the metaphor ‘sleep’ refers to the body (not the soul) since the word itself can apply to the living. The recline of the body, still, calm, at rest is the meaning of the term. It is used numerous times in the Scriptures in reference to the body at death in recline. Paul is not saying that the living who are changed bypass death. They bypass the state of the body in recline which follows death (sleep).
In fact, this must be the case, as Augustine so long ago pointed out, that if the bodies of those who are alive at the descent of the Lord are changed, then the heart must stop, even if for a mere “flash or twinkling of an eye”! If that were not the case, then Stevens and Murray would have to postulate that the living, beating heart of the pre-changed ‘flesh and blood’ body continues uninterrupted as it is changed into a new, spiritual body! If the heart stops, the body dies. Period. If the old flesh and blood heart stops, or is “changed” (which it must be), then a heart stopped, with a new, transformed heart beginning its beat.
Secondly, those fallen asleep means that their bodies have been buried (or whatever). Their souls are in heaven and thus, their bodies are separated from their souls. For the living ones, their souls, already regenerated, remain in their bodies as it is transformed “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” from death to life, from corruption to incorruption. Stevens, however, wants to make a difference between the “living” and the dead by saying that the living are not raised at all, but, rather are “changed.” The dead are raised and changed, but the living are only changed. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.40). “Everyone” that believes is “raised up” at the last day. The resurrection applies to all precisely because, “in Adam all die.” “”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.44). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.54). It matters not, then, whether one is alive during the Descent of Jesus; they, too, “will be raised in the last day” – in a flash. The dead will also be raised from their bodies having “fallen asleep”. Not all shall sleep, but all will die and, therefore, all shall be raised from death to life.
When it is properly understood that Jesus, the man, demonstrates and defines the resurrection of the dead, and is the model, not the exception, then the impossibility of this event occurring in 70 A.D. is seen for the error that it is. What Stevens has to do, then, is make several “exceptions” for his 70 A.D. doctrine to work, in spite of the fact that Paul makes no exceptions. Jesus “died”. We die. Jesus was raised in power, glorified and exalted not forty days later, but as Paul clearly states, “when the corruptible puts on incorruption”. Jesus’ dead body laid in a tomb and was raised “in power” (Romans 1.4). Believers are to be conformed to his likeness and death, and shall be raised in like manner as well. Whatever objections that can be raised against such a view can be simply combated by pointing to the very example of resurrection: Jesus.