God's Creation 8: Resurrection of the Dead
Part 3--The Ascension of the Fallen Spirits: Christ Victorious
During the first century A.D., Jews and Gentiles who were either followers of Jesus during his earthly mission or who came to Him later through Paul's efforts, were bewildered over the meaning of "the resurrection of the dead." The Apostles were puzzled and wondered what it could mean: "And they kept saying to themselves, questioning one another what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mark 9:10). They were even afraid to ask what Jesus meant by it (Mark 9:31-32). Such confusion could not stem from experiences of physical revivication that the Apostles had been privy to on several occassions during Jesus' ministry. The Jews were equally bewildered by Jesus' statements about death (John 8:51-53). From Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we see that they too were confused on the matter: "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?'" (1 Cor 15:35). The question "with what kind of body" is clear evidence that the resurrection of the dead was not merely a simple matter dealing with the revival of the physical body lying in the grave such as Matthew 27:52-53 might have us to believe.
The Fall of the Spirits from Heaven in the New Testament
The fall of spirit beings from heaven to the Earth and lower spiritual dimensions (often times simply summarized in the word "earth") is found in the book of Revelation. Spirit beings are sometimes called "stars" just as stars are "angelic" in a general sense (see Job 38:7; Judges 5:20). In Revelation 9:1 John has a vision of "a star fallen from heaven to the earth." This star was given "the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit" (same as in the Septuagint, abusson, "abyss," as a translation for Hebrew Sheol). This is a reference to a particular spirit being, as we see in Revelation 12:4,9: the red dragon "swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." This fall is briefly summarized in Luke 10:18, "And he said to them, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." The concept-cluster "fallen from heaven . . . to the earth . . . the bottomless pit" recalls exact Old Testament language seen thus far in Part 2 for the fall of the kings of Tyre, Babylon, and Egypt from the heavens to Sheol and the earth, the abode of the dead. Furthermore, recall that in Isaiah 14:12 the king of Babylon is said to have once been a "Shining One," a phrase that the Septuagint translates with the Greek term heosphoros which means "a morning star" who was cast down to the earth (14:15), not unlike what we see here in the New Testament. Also, in Daniel 12:3 the resurrected saints will be "like the stars, forever and ever." 2 Baruch 51:10 says that the righteous will be "equal to the stars." The phrase "a third of the stars of heaven" who were "swept down" refers to those spirit beings who would come to make up the populace of Sheol and, eventually, of the Earth, such as the kings of Babylon, Tyre, Egypt and the rest of humanity. Jude 13 also alludes to the fall of the spirits by calling them "wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for an extended period of time." In 2 Peter 2:4 we see evidence for the fall of spirits from heaven, "For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus [or 'pits of Tartarus'] and handed them over to be kept for a time, . . ."; and likewise in Jude 6, "The angels, too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in chains for an indefinitely long duration, in gloom, until the judgment of the great day."
The Fall of the Spirits from Heaven in the Early Church Fathers
Scattered throughout the early Church Fathers, a body of literature sometimes known as the Ante-Nicene literature, the writings of the Church Fathers down to A.D. 325, one finds evidence for a Christian belief in a fall from the heavens of a host of spiritual beings, the result of which was the creation of a "school," i.e., the Earth, that was meant to teach the fallen spirits the error of their ways with the express purpose of their eventual return to heaven, their true home and origin. In tandem with the belief that humans are the spirits who fell from heaven is the belief in their transmigration from one physical body to another, or what is known today as reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation was based on the premise that a person's origin is not at conception between a man and a woman on Earth; rather, its origin is in heaven as pure spirit beings, the "image of God" in which humans are said to have been created. The church father Tatian notes that "the prophets, who, being fully persuaded that the spirit together with the soul will receive immortality, . . . it is possible for everyone who is naked ['naked' here = not in a physical body, see 2 Corinthians 5:3] to obtain this [heavenly] apparel, and to return to its ancient kindred" (Address to the Greeks 20). Clement of Alexandria writes of humankind in this way: "Be sentiments erroneous, and deviating from what is right, . . . have turned man, a creature of heavenly origin, away from the heavenly life, and stretched him on the earth" (Exhortation to the Heathen 2). Note how this closely resembles the kings of Tyre, Babylon, and Egypt as one-time heavenly creatures who have been cast out of heaven down to the Earth (Ezekiel 28, 31, and Isaiah 14), as well as the doctrine of the fall espoused by Empedocles seen in Part 2.
Origen, a third century early Church Father, espoused ideas that parallel the celestial fall narratives found in the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as the idea that all of the fallen spirits will one day return to heaven through transmigrations in various physical bodies, i.e., reincarnation. In his First Principles (De Principiis) Origen writes of a fall of beings from heaven who are called "the devil and his angels, and the other orders of evil, which the apostle classed among the opposing powers (Princip. 1.6.3). These fallen, evil spirit beings are granted by God an opportunity to be "converted to righteousness because of their possessing the faculty of freedom of will," the very freedom that moved the kings of Tyre, Babylon, and Egypt to err in their hubris as one-time dwellers in heaven. Origen implies that not only the devil and his angels, but also humans are a part of this conversion process because this process is taking place in both "those temporal worlds which are seen, as well as in those eternal worlds which are invisible, all those beings are arranged, according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits." Origen's conception of both the physical world and lower spiritual world is that of a place of purification for spirits who have acquired imperfections because of their fall. Like the lower spiritual dimensions, the physical world is a place where spirits, or "souls," reside in order to be cleansed of the vices acquired because of the fall from heaven. For unlike discarnate spirits who are not housed in physical bodies, humans are "a soul using a body" (Against Celsus 7.38) while living on Earth. Some spirits were more guilty than others in the fall from heaven. Origen states that all of the fallen ones are arranged "in order and degree of their merits," i.e., the severity of each one's guilt is reflected in the number of merits necessary for their conversion. The conversion of the fallen spirits takes place according to each spirit's necessary punishment and chastisement; some require less, while others require more:
So that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels . . . advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. . . . . every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will (Princip. 1.6.3).
Origen explains the condition of the soul having to take human form as due to "its fall by the exercise of free-will, was assumed contrary to the nature of its original condition of purity" (Princip. 2.10.7). He tells of the consequences of the fall of the spirits and the lives that many of them have to lead incarnated as human beings before they are allowed to return to heaven. The purification process of the fallen is described with the metaphor of burning away impurities: "it [the soul] must be deemed to bear the chastisement and torture of its own dissension, and to feel the punishments of its own disordered condition. And when this dissolution and rending asunder of soul shall have been tested by the application of fire, a solidification undoubtedly into a firmer structure will take place, and a restoration be effected" (Princip. 2.10.5). As fire is used to strengthen steel, so too is the application of "fire," i.e., the incarnation of souls into physical bodies on the Earth, meant to strengthen and eventually restore the fallen spirits to their former glory in heaven. Old Testament imagery is evident in Origen's text here as is seen in Isaiah 48:8-10: "Though I know you are treacherous, that you are called a rebel from birth, . . . I am patient with you, and I will not destroy you. See, I refine you, but not as silver; I test you in the furnace of affliction." The phrase "a rebel from birth" recalls similar language for guilt and transgression that is present in a human even at birth in Psalm 51:6-7, "I was born with iniquity; with sin my mother conceived me." Like the God of the Old Testament, Origen describes God as "our Physician, desiring to remove the defects of our souls, which they had contracted from their different sins . . . and (God) should apply, in addition, the punishment of fire to those who have lost their soundness of mind" (Prinicip. 2.10.6). Origen cites Isaiah 4:4, 10:17; 47:14,15, and Malachi 3:3 as those Old Testament texts that support his position that "the punishment which is said to be applied by fire, is understood to be applied with the object of healing" (Princip. 2.10.6). Origen asserts that everyone will progress through the "spheres" of progression once a pure mind and clean heart are achieved: "If anyone is of truly pure heart and of clean mind and well-trained understanding he will make swifter progress and quickly ascend to the region of the air, until he reaches the kingdom of heaven, passing through the series of those 'mansions' (allusion to John 14:2), if I may so call them, which the Greeks have termed 'spheres', but which the divine Scripture calls heavens" (Princip. 2.11.6). The spheres are both physical and spiritual and simply refer to the level at which a spirit is ascending back to its former abode, whether on Earth as an incarnate spirit or in the spiritual levels as a spirit.
The transmigration of spirits can also be found among other early Christians as summarized by Hippolytus: "(The followers of Carpocrates) allege that the souls are transferred from body to body, so far as that they may fill up (the measure of) all their sins. When, however, not one (of these sins) is left, (the Carpocratians affirm that the soul) is then emancipated, and departs unto that God above of the world-making angels, and that in this way all souls will be saved. If, however, some (souls), during the presence of the soul in the body for one life, may by anticipation become involved in the full measure of transgressions, they, no longer undergo metempsychosis. (Souls of this sort) however, on paying off at once all trespasses will be emancipated from dwelling any more in a [physical] body (Refutation of all Heresies 7.20).
This doctrine was considered heresy by many of the orthodox and by 553, Origen and his teachings were condemned by the Catholic Church as anathema. Reincarnation was killed at the Second Council of Constantinople of 553. Curiously, Paul is very close to Origen in his writing on the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. There, the resurrection takes place according to each person's pace, free will, and allegiance to Christ: ". . . so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits (i.e., 'first born from the dead' [Colossians 1:18]), then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor 15:22-23). Paul also alludes to the notion of the resurrection taking place through a series of different bodies: "not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind of flesh for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish; there are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies . . . So it is with the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor 15:39-40, 42). Note how close this is to Empedocles seen in Part 2. The same spirit who once resided in the heavens is now fallen and climbing its way back through different bodies. Revelation 3:12 reflects an idea that both Irenaeus and Hippolytus cite as a heresy from Satan, but, otherwise, fits Paul's and Origen's own thought: "He that overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more [i.e., go out from heaven to the earth]." The phrase "go out no more" cryptically suggests that the spirit who has passed through the necessary tests and afflictions of incarnate life on Earth, i.e., "he that overcomes," will not have to return to Earth again but rather remain in heaven.
Humans are born as "rebels" (Isaiah 48:8-10; Psalm 51:6-7). This indicates an action on the part of humans previous to their human birth. Against whom did these incarnate spirits rebel? The fall of the spirits from heaven is sometimes explained as the result of "free will" and "hubris." The "hubris" is really that of one particular spirit, Lucifer, who, before his fall, was second to Christ, his elder brother. This high-ranking spirit, second only to Christ, was the first in the spiritual creation to have deserted the precept of God long, long, long ago by envying Christ and wanting to rule the entire spirit creation just like Christ. This is explained by the Church Father Lactantius: "God produces a Spirit like to Himself who might be endowed with the perfections of God the Father [this refers to Christ, the 'first born of all creation'] . . . . . Then He made another being in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain. Therefore he was infected with his own envy as with poison, and passed from good to evil; and at his own will, which had been given to him by God unfettered, he acquired for himself a contrary name. From which it appears that the source of all evils is envy. For he envied his predecessor [Christ], who through his steadfastness is acceptable and dear to God the Father. This being, who from good became evil by his own act, is called by the Greek diabolus [devil]: we call him accuser" (Divine Institutes 2.9, brackets mine). Note here the likeness this passage has with all that we have seen up to this point from Part 2 with regard to the fall of spirit beings from heaven: 1) a spirit being (Ezekiel 28, "a cherub"; 31, "a tree in the garden of God"; Isaiah 14, "a shining one" or "a morning star" [Septuagint]; Empedocles, "a divinity"; Revelation 12, "a star") 2) became envious and arrogant (Ezekiel 28:17; 31:10; and Isaiah 14:13,14,15) and 3) was unfit to remain in heaven and cast out (Ezekiel 28, 31, Isaiah 14, Empedocles, Revelation 12).
From this data, we can summarize the following: a large number of spiritual beings in heaven became disenchanted with the status quo, i.e., Christ's rule of the entire spirit world, by Lucifer's spell and influence. Lucifer was the first spirit who envied Christ's position and decided to usurp Him by spreading the word that he should rule under God, not Christ. Legions of spirits supported Lucifer's efforts and by doing so they were rebelling against God's wish that His only-begotten be King. Lucifer was the ringleader of this rebellion along with his lieutenants to whom he promised positions of power if they followed him in his plan. The rest of the throngs of spirits who went along with Lucifer did so in the same manner that all masses and crowds do who cheer and follow a charismatic leader such as Hitler or Mussolini. Once Lucifer made known his wish to God along with his throngs of supporters who simply looked on, the dye had been cast. These spirits were then asked to leave and "fell" to a lower spiritual dimension that suited their attitude and disposition toward their Creator, God. The material creation is an "outpost" of the spiritual nether world to which these spirits fell. They became cut off from God and because of this are called "the dead." The dead eventually began to incarnate on the Earth once the material creation was ready for this purpose. The dead were the "rebels" who, under the sway of Lucifer, rebelled against Christ's Kingship, and for this reason humans are called in the Old Testament "a rebel from birth" who are "born in iniquity" and "conceived in sin" (Isaiah 48:8-10 and Psalms 51:6-7). Humans are those spirits who indeed rebelled against Christ's Kingship long ago. The spirits who were enticed by Lucifer were probably at a teenaged level, still in the process of maturing and growing into perfection as mature, intelligent, and wise spirits of Christ. This may be have been why they were so easily led astray in their thoughts. The incarnation of spirits serves to regenerate them through "fire" (metaphorically speaking) by transmigration from physical body to physical body (= Empedocles, Job 33:28-30; Ecclessiastes 12:7; 1 Cor 15:39-40, 42). The Earth is meant to (re)educate the fallen spirits and prepare them once again to reenter their heavenly home from which they were cast due to their following Lucifer and their rebellious ways and attitude. The one main qualification, above all others, for entry into heaven is Love, for God is Love, and the beginning of wisdom is to love God.
The Dead and Their Redemption through Christ's Victory over Lucifer and by Their Resurrection in the New Testament
The "dead" in the resurrection of the dead does not refer to the renewing of physical life or the resurrection of the flesh as the phrase later came to be understood during the second century. The apostles were bewildered and confused about what resurrection of the dead could mean, and this confusion could not have been about the revival of the physical body. This is reinforced by the fact that the apostles and others had witnessed the bringing back to physical life of several people at Jesus' command (Lazarus and Jairus' daughter). Dead and living in these contexts have to do with physical life which is simply the state in which the spirit is housed in the physical body as Luke 8:53-55 make clear: "they laughed, knowing she was dead. . . . 'Child, arise.' And her spirit (pneuma) returned, and she got up at once." The little girl's spirit never ceased to exist, but was simply no longer in the physical body (see James 2:26) until it returned, and then she resumed physical consciousness. The phrase "resurrection of the dead" came to mean "resurrection of the flesh" during the second century. The phrase "resurrection of the flesh" first appears in a spurious text known as 3 Corinthians. For an excellent study of how and when the phrase "resurrection of the dead" came to mean the resurrection of the flesh in Catholic Christianity, see Lynn Boliek, The Resurrection of the Flesh: A Study of a Confessional Formula (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962). During the second century, "The Church moved gradually toward a doctrine of the fleshly postmortem body of Christ, away from the 'spiritual' conception. Yet throughout the early centuries of the Empire Christians continued to believe the earlier idea ['spiritual conception'] against the arguments to the contrary. No study has addressed how 'immortality of the soul' could account for the original resurrection and appearances, and continue to stand for many Christians in place of and against the idea of 'physical resurrection' maintained by others. This point needs emphasis: 'immortality of the soul' explained the resurrection of Christ for many Christians for centuries, and did so based on the same traditions and texts as those used by the 'orthodox' who advocated resurrection of the flesh" (Gregory J. Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995] 9). The original conception was that the "spirit" was resurrected for humans are, indeed, "spirits." It is the spirits who are redeemed; the fallen spirits who are made fit again for heaven through incarnation as "human beings" who are called "spirits of flesh" in the Old Testament and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This matches the notion that humans are called by the Hebrew word elohim, "gods." Samuel's spirit is called elohim in 1 Samuel 28. Cicero expresses this belief as well in his Republic 6.24: "For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself; the spirit is the true self, not the physical figure which can be pointed out by the finger. Know then, that you are a god." Compare this with Jesus' response against the Pharisees' charge of blasphemy that Jesus makes Himself God by calling Himself "son of God": "'You, a man, are making yourself God.' Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"'?" (John 10:34). This is a reference to Psalm 82:6. The judges of Israel were called "gods" in Exodus 21:6 as was Moses in Exodus 4:16. Calling a person elohim does not equate that person with the Almighty God (who is also called elohim), the very point Jesus was making to the Pharisees in John 10:34-36. Rather, the term reveals the belief that humans have something of the divine in them, i.e., they are spirits, as indicated by "there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8). The flesh is not the real person. The physical body is not what is saved or raised up, for humans are not their physical bodies; they are spirit beings housed in a physical body. Paul said that to be present with the Lord in heaven, he would have to "be absent from the physical body" (2 Cor 5:8; Greek soma = the physical body). He expresses this elsewhere in Philemon 1:23-24, "For I am in a strait betwixt you, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." In 2 Peter 1:14, Peter (or the author) writes of his impending death when he must "put off this tabernacle of mine," i.e., the physical body. Paul uses similar language, "we that are in this tabernacle do groan" (2 Cor 5:4). Even early Christians after Paul believed this was the case as we see in the Christian Gnostic text Treatise on Resurrection (or Letter to Rheginos): "the visible members which are dead shall not be saved [but] the living members which exist within them shall arise" (47.30-48.6). This is not a mere heresy that is unique to Gnosticism, a "Gnostic" heresy, as some scholars like to argue, for we see the very same idea in Cicero (above) who wrote in Latin during the first century B.C. The "visible members" refer to the members of the physical body; the "living members which exist within" the physical members refers to the members of the spirit body. This is the very body that Paul refers to in 1 Cor 15:44 as a "spiritual body," i.e., a body of form and substance, but whose nature is spirit that exists in a spiritual dimension.
If Jesus' resurrection was a resurrection of the flesh then Colossians 1:18 totally contradicts it, for there he is called the "firstborn from the dead" in the light of those who had been physically raised from the dead before him and in the light of the appearance of the otherwise physically deceased Moses and Elijah to Jesus, Peter, James, and John on a mountain top during the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-7; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). In order not to contradict this title for Jesus, scribal editors of Matthew who wanted to maintain resurrection of the flesh inserted that the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised out of their tombs "after (meta) his resurrection" (Matthew 27:52-53), that is, on a Sunday, even though these bodies were rent from their tombs on Friday. What were the bodies doing during the interim period from Friday morning to Sunday morning? What did they do in the city? How did they get to heaven? Did they die a second time? Why hasn't this ever happened since? Or has it? What about people who have had near-death experiences and who have claimed to visit the heavens (or the hells) and meet its inhabitants, and return to their physical body to tell the story?
In the New Testament, there are several Greek expressions for the resurrection of the dead: anastasis ek nekron, "resurrection from the dead ones," egeiro apo ton nekron, egeiro ek nekron, and egeiro nekrous, "to be raised from the dead ones," and "to be raised from among the dead." In the great resurrection passage of 1 Corinthians 15 the terms for "resurrection" are anastasis, a word made up of the Greek preposition ana, "up," and the verb histemi, "to stand," so literally, "to stand up," and egeiro, "to raise." Pre-Christian Jewish writings that speak of resurrection reflect a belief in the resurrection of the body, but it is usually not clear what kind of body this was (see 1 Corinthians 15:35). Other pre-Christian Jewish texts refer to the resurrection of spirits as we see in Jubilees 23 and 1 Enoch 102-104. This is in keeping with the position of Paul who, in 1 Corinthians 15, distinguishes between spirit bodies and physical bodies; the former "rises," the latter does not. The most common theme in the New Testament as to the purpose of Jesus' life and death on Earth was that of the Salvation and Redemption of human kind. This refers to the Salvation and Redemption of the fallen spirits, the dead ones, whom Christ came to "save" by his teaching and by his resurrection. The fallen had already been forgiven by God eons before Christ's descent to Earth in human form. The many years it took to create and form the physical universe was a part of God's Plan of Salvation for the redemption of his fallen children. In the New Testament, "dead" carries the same sense of "dead" as in the Sheol passages in the Old Testament, that of being cut off or separated, dimensionally, from God. Several terms for "dead" and "death" occur in the New Testament: nekros, thanatos, and thnesko. Whereas each term is indeed used in the context of physical death and dying, each term is also used in the context of "spiritually deficient as to be in effect dead," "transcendently in contrast to a living relationship with God," and "to lose one's relationship with God." Thus, since God is a spirit (Isaiah 31:3 and John 4:24) and His children are spirits (angels), spiritual death refers to a broken relationship between spirit personalities, in this case, between God and the fallen spirits, the dead ones. A person who is physically alive can, simultaneously, be dead according to the kind of relationship had (or not) with God as expressed in 1 Timothy 5:5,6: "She who is a widow . . . has set her hope on God and continues in prayers and supplications night and day; whereas she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives." Separation from God as "death" is paraphrased by Paul in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord"; hence, the benefits of being "cut off from" (dead to) sin, "you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11); and "yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought through death to life" (Romans 6:13).
The notion that Jesus was raised from the dead is tied to the notion that he descended there as well. This has its fullest expression in Ephesians 4:9, "In saying, 'He ascended,' what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?" The expression "lower parts of the earth" finds its antecedent in Old Testament Sheol passages. In the Old Testament the "lower parts of Sheol" and the "lower parts of the earth" are parallel expressions meaning the same thing: the nether world or the abode of the dead. Paul's Greek expression katotera mera tes ges, "lower parts of the earth," in Ephesians 4:9 = the Hebrew expression tahatit aretz, "lower parts of the earth," that is used for Sheol in Psalm 139:15, "My frame was not concealed from you (Yhwh), when I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the lower parts of the earth." The Greek translation of this in the Septuagint approximates Paul's expression, katotato tes ges (Psalm 138:15 LXX). We find a similar text in Romans 10:7, "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' that is, to bring Christ up from the dead." Here, the term abusson, "abyss," is used in parallel contexts with Sheol in the Old Testament. Paul makes a direct identification of the abyss with the dead: the dead are those spirits who fell to the abyss, to Sheol, to the netherworld from heaven.
Elsewhere Paul implies Christ's descent unto and resurrection from the dead, but here he gives us something of the consequence and ultimate purpose of Christ's descent unto and resurrection from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15:55 resurrection from the dead and Sheol are brought together. Paul's discussion of the resurrection from the dead comes to its climax here by way of approximation quotation of Hosea 13:14, "O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"; the Hebrew of which is "Where are your plagues, O death! Where is your pestilence, O Sheol!"; of which the Septuagint translates, "Where is your judgment, O death! Where is your sting, O Hades!" Thus, Paul's resurrection doctrine includes the idea that resurrection of the dead actually refers to being brought up from out of Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (LXX), that is, from out of the abode of the dead that Paul calls "Death." Death is no longer victorious and has lost its sting. This refers to Christ's victory over Lucifer or the Devil who is the king of the dead (see Hebrews 2:14). The descent of Christ to the dead was made after His death on the cross as we see in 1 Peter 3:18-20, "For Christ also suffered ['died'] for sins once, . . . Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient . . ." And what did Christ preach to the spirits in prison?: "the gospel was preached even to the dead" (1 Peter 4:6). The gospel was the "good news" of the dead's deliverance from the bondage of Satan. The dead now could make a choice to leave Lucifer and not be held by him through force. Isaiah 24:21-22 records the fall of the spirits from heaven, their imprisonment in the lower dimensions as punishment, and their being visited one day by a Deliverer: "On that day the Lord will punish the host of the heavens in the heaven . . . they will be gathered together like prisoners in a pit; They will be shut up in a dungeon, and after many days they will be visited." That Visitor turned out to be Christ Himself. The imprisoned spirits were set free from Satan's bondage. This was the yoke that Christ's death and descent broke once and for all: "And even when you were dead in transgressions . . . he brought you to life along with him, . . . obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it" (Colossians 2:13-15). Before Christ's death and resurrection, Lucifer did, indeed, have a "legal claim" on us since he was within his God-given right to claim us as his own, for we were once his followers in the Great Rebellion that led to the Great Fall. But Christ "obliterated the bond against us," that is, Lucifer's bond on all of us, and did so by "nailing it to the cross." This was a part of God's grand Plan of Salvation of allowing his fallen children an opportunity to return to heaven. That opportunity was made possible by Christ's death and resurrection as Paul says, "And yet, what we say as true wisdom, although it is such only in the eyes of those who are ripe to receive it; not the wisdom of this world or its rulers, . . . We proclaim the mysterious plan conceived by God in His wisdom, a plan which was hitherto lain hidden, but which was perfect by God, before time began in order that WE might be led BACK to glory" (1 Cor 2:6,7). The phrase "before time began" refers to the time before the creation of the physical universe whose sole purpose is for the resurrection of the fallen spirits. We, indeed, are led back to heaven by Christ's Victory over Lucifer who may no longer hold us back from returning to God by force, as he had once been able to before Christ's descent to the dead. Paul expressed this very idea in Galatians 4:3-7, "we also were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . so that we may receive adoption . . . So you are no longer a slave but a child." So Christ rose from the dead AS A SPIRIT and for this reason Christ WAS NEVER IN THE TOMB, only His physical remains (Acts 2:24,31). The fact that the tomb was empty upon its discovery by Mary Magdalene and Peter three days after the crucifixion has suggested to many Christians that the body that was hanging on the cross was the same body that walked out of the tomb, and this is what the resurrection of the dead means. But the physical body does not resurrect: "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 15:50); and the resurrection body is the body of a spirit (1 Cor 15:45) and not the body of a human being (1 Cor 15:44). So what happened to Christ's physical remains? His remains were "dissolved" at a much faster-than-normal rate by the holy spirit world in order to be used as substance to aid in the manifestation of His Spirit body during His initial appearances to the Apostles. This sounds so unusual because it is not mentioned in the New Testament. But this was not so unusual among first-century Jews who held to a two-body doctrine, a physical body and a spirit body that inhabited the physical body. Philo says that salvation requires abandoning the body, "because the body took its substance from the earth, and is again dissolved into the earth" (On the Migration of Abraham 2-3). The body, according to Philo, will dissolve into the four elements of which it was made, "but the mental and celestial species of the soul will depart into the purest ether" which Philo says is a fifth substance superior to the other four of which the body is made, and this 'ether' is the stuff of which "the stars and the whole heaven" are made, as well as the human soul (Who is the Heir of Divine Things?) [we might say 'spirit' today]. Whereas all physical bodies gradually dissolve through the process known as "decay," Christ's physical body was not meant to see "corruption" (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31). His body dissolved, but not through decay. It was dissolved and disintegrated in a few moments with the use of cold and hot currents by the holy spirits.
The risen Christ is called the "firstborn from the dead," and this means the first spirit to be able to traverse from the abode of the dead and return to the highest heavens, as it is stated in Ephesians 4:10, "He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens." The idea that the firstborn from the dead entails the first spirit to be raised from the nether world into heaven is further reinforced if we see in the statement, "David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:34) as a more general reference to humankind, a suggestion that is even more explicit in John 3:13, "no man has ascended up to heaven, except he that came down from heaven, the Son of man."
We find a similar idea of the soul being saved from "death" in James 5:20 where the soul is "saved from death." This passage recalls texts in the Psalter, seen above and in Part 2, that speak of the nephesh (= Hebrew for "soul") as being delivered from Sheol or "death." Clearly, this is no physical death, for none can be saved from physical death as both Peter and Paul knew all too well; even Christ Himself suffered physical death. For Paul, the physical body is "a body of death" (Romans 7:24) because it keeps us separated from God; it is "an earthen vessel," that will one day be destroyed (2 Cor 4:7). Yet while we live in this physical body of death, the life of Jesus must be manifested "in our bodies" (2 Cor 4:10) and "in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:11), akin to the widow in 1 Timothy 5:5. Human beings, as the fallen spirits, bear the scar of the original sin that caused the Great Fall from heaven. This is stated by Paul in 1 Cor 15:22, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Human beings bear the scar of original sin "from Adam," but not by inheritance, but in the sense of having followed Adam's example: that of disobedience. This happened before the Earth was created for we are all born already in disobedience (Psalm 51:7). In Hebrew 9:27 the author says that "man dies once and then the judgment." Indeed, humanity did die once; that death is a reference to the Fall from God, the severance from God that was the "death" of a host of spirit beings. We are those spirit beings of whom it is said "man dies once."
Among the earliest Christians, separation from God was the real "death" and the death that humans should fear more so than physical death, as Augustine once said: "The death which men fear is the separation of the soul from the body. The true death, which men do not fear, is the separation of the soul from God" (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 6. 440, footnote 3). We also see this separation of spirit and physical body in James 2:26, "the body without the spirit is [physically] dead." In Part 2, we saw that the Fall from heaven resulted in "the dead," i.e., those spirits (souls, angels, etc.) cut off from God. For Christians, the author of death was the Devil, not unlike the personification of Death that we find in 2 Samuel 22:5-6, "For the breakers of Death encompassed me, The torrents of Belial terrified me; The snares of Sheol encircled me, The toils of Death engulfed me." In early, pre-Christian Judaism, Belial came to be a proper name for the leader of the spirits of wickedness, deceit, and destruction. In the New Testament, Belial is the sentient being that Paul contrasts with Christ in 2 Corinthians 6:15, "What accord has Christ with Belial?" Hebrews 2:14 summarizes (as so many pithy verses do in the New Testament!) the consequence of Christ's draining to the dregs death on the cross in order to paralyze the Devil's sovereignty over the fallen spirits, both in the lower spiritual dimensions and on the Earth: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, so that through death [on the cross] he might destroy him who has the power of death [separation from God], that is, the devil." Notice the two uses of "death" here. Christ, indeed, "died" physically on the cross, as the gospels record, "he gave up the ghost." The "power of death," however, is not the power to render physical death. Recall that death really means "separation," whether the "separation" is that of the spirit from the physical body (= "deceased") or the "separation" is that of the spirit from God (= "dead") (see Augustine quote above). The risen Christ is described elsewhere as having destroyed death and brought life: "Now he has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life" (2 Timothy 1:10); this in spite of the fact that Paul and the other apostles were later deceased. "Death" and "life" here have nothing to do with the life and death of the physical body. By dying on the cross, then, Christ, as a Mighty, Victorious Spirit was in the position to face Lucifer ("the Devil") on his own turf in order to curtail his sovereignty over the fallen spirits: "that he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil." Christ's death and resurrection initiates the resurrection of the dead beyond the point to which the dead had hitherto been unable to cross. Remember that "David did not ascend to the heavens" (Acts 2:34) because at that time the "great chasm" that spanned between heaven (Abraham's bosom) and the dead (Hades) had not yet been bridged by Christ's death and resurrection (see Luke 16:22-31). David, indeed, often spoke of having been "delivered from Sheol" or "raised up" from Sheol (if he was the author of the Psalms), but he was saying this as a human being on the Earth. That no fallen spirit could reenter the heavenly dimensions from which they fell is implied in the verse "no man has ascended up to heaven, except he that came down from heaven, the Son of man" (John 3:13). Not until Christ's death and resurrection were the fallen spirits able to begin their ascent beyond the earth dimension and through the portals of heaven.
Christ's resurrection appearances took place in the same way that other appearances of spirits took place on earth: through the materialization of their spirit bodies as we see in the narrative of the high spirit Raphael and young Tobit who walked together on the earth, and the three "men" who were entertained by Abraham. Paul describes the risen Christ as "a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45). But there is a curious passage in Luke 24:39 that has been a proof-text for the resurrection of the flesh. It reads: "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Compare the following texts: Luke 24:39, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have"; and 1 Cor 15:45,50, ". . . the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit. . . . I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." In the Luke text it seems that the resurrected Jesus is not "a spirit" for he describes himself as "flesh and bone," things that he says a spirit "does not have." In the Paul text, the resurrected Jesus is "a spirit" and furthermore, "flesh and blood do not go to the kingdom of God"; indeed, since God is "spirit" (John 4:24), then only "spirit" can reside in such a kingdom (1 John 4:2, "every spirit . . . that comes from God").