This article is part 1 in a 4-part series on the doctrine of the resurrection. In these 4 articles, we will investigate 4 hermeneutical keys which hold the power to unlock and understand the doctrine of the resurrection. These 4 keys are:
- Understanding the “death” that man died in the beginning.
- The prophetic sources of the resurrection & their New Testament applications.
- Honoring the “timing” of the resurrection (when it was prophesied and expected to occur).
- Recognizing that the resurrection was a promise made to Old Covenant Israel according to the flesh.
We will conclude this series by demonstrating that resurrection was a first century “process” through which Israel was being covenantally restored, and through Israel, mankind was being recreated in Christ and restored to the image of God. Let us begin.
KEY #1 THE DEATH IN THE GARDEN
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)
And man did die the “day he ate”, but it was not physical death. They did not “drop dead”, they became “naked”. The physical death Adam died some 900 or so years later, was not the death he was threatened with upon eating the fruit.
“In the day that you eat from it you will surely die” does not mean “you will die nine hundred years after the day you eat from it”. Nor does it mean “you will begin a nine hundred year “death process” the day you eat from it”. Nor does it mean “you will die spiritually the day you eat, and again physically/biologically nine hundred years later”.
The day they ate, they died, period. The death they died was spiritual/covenantal death which resulted in separation from the presence and fellowship of their Creator.
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die. For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. (Genesis 3:4-5)
Now, consider this:
Satan told the woman that she would “not surely die” the day she ate the fruit.
And, according to traditional Christian doctrine, man did not die the day he ate, at least not physically.
Therefore, since man did not “fully” die the day he ate, Satan told a “partial truth”.
But, consider this:
God had said, “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die”.
But, according to traditional Christian doctrine, man did not die the day he ate, at least not physically.
Therefore, since man did not “fully” die the day he ate, God also told a “partial truth”.
The fact is this, if “the death” under consideration in Genesis 2-3 includes physical death, then we have a serious problem. Both God and Satan were equally honest and dishonest, they both told a “partial truth”. However, this conundrum is solved when we rightly interpret the “nature of the death” that was under consideration. If we interpret the death in Genesis 2-3 to be “spiritual/covenantal death”, then we have the picture that we would expect.
Satan – the father of lies – was lying, for he said they would “not surely die” the day they ate. Yet they did die, spiritually/covenantally.
And God – in whom is no lie – was being honest, for he said they would “surely die” the day they ate. And they did die, spiritually/covenantally.
If we have eyes to see, we can discern a tactic that Satan employed on man through the history of redemption. Satan constantly tried to keep men focused on the physical/earthly, rather than the spiritual/heavenly. Satan was able to convince the woman that she would not physically die in the day she ate. And of course she did not, since physical death was not the punishment promised – she was deceived. Let’s go on…
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened…. “. (Genesis 3:6-7)
Ask yourself the question. Was this “eye opening” in the physical or in the spiritual? In other words, were they born with no vision and through their sin they were able to see physically? Or, was the opening of their eyes the opening of their understanding to know both good and evil.
The answer is obvious. That being so, think about this.
If their eyes were opened in the day they ate in a “spiritual nature” and had nothing to do with the physical opening of eye lids, then it’s both logical and contextual to insist that the death they died in the day they ate was also of a “spiritual nature”, and had nothing to do with their biological body.
It seems to me that we must honor this contrast. By doing so, it is evident that the death they died was spiritual/covenantal death, not biological death. Their spiritual sight which they received the day they ate, enabled them to understand and perceive the spiritual death which they incurred, the day they ate.
Another point that should be made is that biological death existed before the sin and fall of man. In other words, the “cycle of life” (which necessitates death) existed prior to sin. For example, God had said….
“I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you”. (Genesis 1:29)
As yourself the following questions.
When a plant or the fruit of a tree was eaten by man (or animals), do you suppose that there was death involved, the death of that plant/fruit? If not, where is the proof? And, why did man need food if he was to never die? Why would God give man food if they did not need it? And what about the “discharge” of that food? Is their death involved in that process? What would happen to man if he did not eat? What would happen to man if he did not excrete?
Also, consider the shedding of leaves, and the dropping of fruit when it is ripe or rotten, due to the changing of seasons. Did the leaf or the fruit that became disconnected from the “vine” die from lack of nutrients? If not, where is the proof? What about sex? The death of many sperm occurs during the process of creating life. I am told that only one sperm out of millions survives to fulfills its purpose, the rest perish.
The only way that biological death could not have existed prior to man’s sin, was if the laws of nature which govern the world were totally different before the sin of man then they were after. If this was so, once again, where is the proof? And what about man himself. Was not man and woman themselves created with the capacity to error prior their sin? The fact that they chose to sin is proof that they had the capacity to error, yet that error (the desire to sin) was not sin itself.
Listen to the words of James….
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Lust (desire) is what temps one to sin, the desire itself is not the sin. So, in the beginning, man’s desire (lust) tempted him to sin before he committed sin. Man was created with the desire and ability to disobey. Therefore, man was created sinless, not flawless. Here is what I mean.
Besides making “moral mistakes” (being tempted), man could also make “physical mistakes”, such as slip and fall on a wet stone. Accidents happen right, and after all, they were human. So, if man could slip and fall, then logically he could cut himself when he fell. And if man could be cut, man could bleed. And if man could bleed, then man could die from loss of blood. Therefore, the possibility of biological death existed prior to the sin of man. If this was true for man, then it was true for beast.
The traditional doctrine of the “pre-sin-world” paints the picture that our first parents lived in a “bubble” where they could never be hurt, and could never hurt or disrupt nature? Are we to believe that Adam and Eve could spend hours running through forests, climbing trees, and gathering food yet never step on an ant, a beetle, or crush a blade of grass? Were they incapable of causing death in nature? If so, once again, where is the biblical proof? Let’s keep going….
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. Therefore, the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
Man was given the choice of “life and death” (blessing and cursing), and man chose death by choosing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life. To eat from the tree of life after they had sinned would not have given them eternal biological life, but eternal spiritual/covenantal life, which would once again have covered their “nakedness”.
The fact is this, since biological death was not the result of sin, and was in the world prior to sin; biological death was not man’s enemy to be overcome through the redemption in Jesus Christ.
What this means is that biological life was not the focus of biblical eschatology in Christ. Jesus did not promise physical immortality, He promised that those who would keep his word (obey his gospel) would never suffer the death of Adam in its consummated state. That is, they would never experience eternal spiritual separation from the presence of Jehovah through the second death.
Listen to his words….
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’
The Jews of course misunderstood the words of Jesus, as they had done on several occasions. They understood him to be referring to physical death, and could not comprehend the spiritual nature of his words (recall Satan’s deception in the garden regarding spiritual death).
Obviously, since all disciples of Jesus have died and have therefore “seen death”, Jesus obviously did not promise eternal biological life. For Jesus, the death that he came to conquer was spiritual death, the death which makes man “naked” and afraid.
The apostle Paul understood what manner of death entered the world through sin. Romans 5 is Paul’s inspired commentary on the spiritual death of Genesis 3.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
The above text contains a parallelism, and gives us valuable insight into how Paul defined “the death” that entered the world through sin.
Through one man’s sin………………….death entered (v.12)
Through one man’s transgression …… condemnation resulted (v.18)
Through one man’s disobedience …… men became sinners (v.19)
Clearly, the death which entered through sin was spiritual/covenantal death resulting in condemnation, and that condemnation made them sinners. The death due to sin had nothing to do with biology, it was clearly spiritual and made them sinful which condemned them before God.
Also, notice what Paul said in Romans 5:12; “Death entered through sin”. This is the death of Genesis 3 which Paul interprets to be the imputation of sin resulting in condemnation. Paul also says that “death spread to all men, because all sinned”. In other words, “all men” died/die because they sin. Was Paul saying that we (like Adam) will physically die because we sin (or have sinned? If Paul’s “death” in Romans 5 includes physical death, then we and the gospel we preach are on shaky ground. Here is why….
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul teaches in Romans 6 that the “wages” (payment for) sin is death. So, think about this. If Paul’s “death” in Romans 6:23 includes biological death, then everyone in Christ (and everyone except Christ) suffers the penalty of biological death as the “wages” (payment) for their sins.
Look at it like this:
According to traditional Christian doctrine, biological death was included in the death that Adam died due to sin.
So, the wages (penalty) of sin includes biological death. (Romans 6:23)
Therefore, your and my biological death will be the result (the wages) of our sin, it will be the payment due to us for our sins.
But if that’s true, what about Romans 8….
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
If the “law of the Spirit” (New Covenant) in Jesus Christ sets men free from the “law of sin and death” (the Old Covenant) by the forgiveness of sins, how can those under the New Covenant still suffer the “wages” (penalty) of sin through biological death? Once again, if we interpret the “death” in Romans 6:23 to include biological death then we end up with a theological nightmare – the sacrifice of Jesus and his new covenant have not remedied man’s situation. Apparently, the sinless sacrifice of Christ was not “perfect enough” to fully deal with the “death problem”.
But, if we interpret the “death” in Romans 6:23 to be spiritual/covenantal death having nothing to do with biological death, then we have no problems whatsoever. Since sin has been forgiven and spiritual death abolished through the new covenant, the man in Christ no longer suffers spiritual death (separation from God) as the “wages” of his sin. The sacrifice of Christ has finished the work of redemption.
Paul goes on to say that he experienced this sin-death process (the law of sin and death) in his own life.
I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me…. Therefore, did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
Paul, like Adam, died the “day he ate” (sinned), yet he did not perish physically. Paul suffered the same spiritual/covenantal death which all men suffer in “the day that they sin”. Lets’ look at one more texts before we wrap up.
1 Corinthians 15:21-23
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.
Notice, the chart below demonstrates that the “death” of 1 Corinthians 15 is the same “death” of Romans 5.
|1 CORINTHIANS 15||ROMANS 5|
|By a man came death
(1 Corinthians 15:21)
|Death reigned through the one (Romans 5:17)|
|For as in Adam all die
(1 Corinthians 15:22)
|Through one man’s disobedience…. made sinners (Romans 5:19)|
|In Christ will all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22)||Through the obedience of the One…. many made righteous
As we have demonstrated, Romans 5 and 6 are not focused on biological life or death, but on the spiritual/covenantal. Therefore, since 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 are parallel in theme and context, this means that Pauls’ great resurrection chapter is likewise not focused on biological resurrection as the remedy to man’s biological death. (more on this later)
There is much more we could say but I believe we have made our point concerning the nature of the death in the garden. The traditional doctrine which teaches that the death which entered into the world by sin included physical death, simply can’t be harmonized with scripture. Physical/biological death was not the result of man’s sin and is therefore not the focus of man’s resurrection.
As we have seen, the first key to understanding the doctrine of the resurrection is to understand the nature of the “death” that man died in the garden. As we will demonstrate next, the prophetic source of the doctrine of the resurrection profoundly impacts our understanding of the resurrection in the New Testament, and will be our second key to understanding this great doctrine.
(See Part 2 to continue)