Thursday, August 16, 2012

Witherington on Going to Heaven and Improving Life on Earth

In my latest reading of Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World, Ben Witherington III says that many modern Christians focus on Christians going to heaven after they die, when the focus of Paul and Jesus was on the resurrection.  Unlike Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Armstrongites, however, Witherington does not maintain that Paul believed in soul sleep or denied that the body has a soul that lives on after death, for Witherington contends that I Corinthians 15 is about the clothing of the soul with a new resurrection body.  According to Witherington, Paul treats heaven merely as an intermediate state, whereas he regards the resurrection and God's renewal of creation as much more significant.

I think that many Christians focus on people going to heaven after death because they'd like assurance that their loved ones are alive right now, plus they'd feel more comfortable were their lives to be uninterrupted than they would being in a tomb until the resurrection.  As far as what the "biblical" position is, a body/soul (or spirit) dichotomy does appear to exist in the New Testament (Matthew 10:28; II Corinthians 5).  At the same time, death is called a sleep in the New Testament (I Corinthians 15:51).  Can the two positions be reconciled?  I'm curious as to whether there are other ancient writings that call death a sleep, yet manifest a belief that the dead are conscious in some sort of afterlife.  See also my post here, which talks about how, in the Hebrew Bible, the dead were ordinarily asleep, yet they could be woken up from their rest in Sheol.

Onto another topic, I liked what Witherington said on page 240, in response to the tendency of some to think that Christians should make little effort to improve the world, since Christ will come back and fix everything anyway: "...if one knows that it is God's plan ultimately to renew and redeem the material world, then blessed are they who participate in and foreshadow that by working to clean up the environment, feed the hungry, care for and heal the sick and so bear witness to God's perfect and final will for the world (see Mt 25:31ff.)."


  1. There is no doubt that funerals are for the living.

    The resurrection hope is a real hope or those that have died. Though most that have died in ignorance to God's righteous standards and requirements, they too, without knowing it or having done nothing to deserve it, have the hope of a resurrection. It is a gift from God.

    They are not being allowed to live again just because. They will be given an opportunity without any demonic influence to learn about this God and be taught how to please him be living their like in harmony with his righteousness.

  2. Hi Steve. For your last paragraph, do you know of any resources that present a Scriptural case for that position----of being given an opportunity to learn about God?

  3. Certainly. I am responding now just to let you know that I am still in the conversation. I am in the middle of packing for travel. So, give me a little time and I will provide, what I believe, would support the last paragraph.

  4. I have taken the time to couch my answer to your request in a more logical sense and order instead of just reciting scriptures.  Often times, when people quote scriptures, they do not take the time to explain, illustrate and show application.  Hopefully, I have provided enough context for the points to be made with the scriptures.

    1.  The Bible explains: "There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous." (Acts 24:15)   Why bring the "unrighteous" back to life?  There is a situation that happen with Jesus that can help with the understanding of Act 24:15.  This situation occurred while Jesus was hanging on the torture stake.  

    3. There were two other men hanging on their individual stakes.  They were convicted criminals.   One of them had just finished insulting Jesus, saying: "You are the Christ, are you not? Save yourself and us." However, the other criminal believes Jesus.  He turns to him and says: "Remember me when you get into your kingdom."  At that, Jesus promises: "Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise."—Luke 23:39-43. 

    4. Jesus uses a term "paradise".  Where is this paradise that Jesus was referring?  The obvious answer would be the one that God created the first time, where Adam and Eve lived.   It was on earth.   God put the first human pair in the beautiful paradise called the garden of Eden. So when we read that this former criminal will be in paradise,  it would help to picture in our minds this earth made into a beautiful place in which to live, for the word "paradise" means "garden" or "park" (Genesis 2:8, 9).  No place is paradise ever connected with the spirit realm or heaven.

    5.  Jesus Christ, of course, will not be right here on earth with the former criminal.  Jesus will be in heaven ruling as king over the earthly paradise. So he will be with that man in the sense that He will raise him from the dead and care for his needs, both physical and spiritual.  The following scriptures lend support to God's unchanged purpose for the earth and mankind on the earth.

    -Isaiah 45:18 tells us that the earth was formed to be inhabited.
    -Psalms 115:16 tells us that the earth was made for mankind.
    -Ecclesiastes 1:4 tells us that people live and die but the earth last forever. 
    -Psalms 37 contrasts the wicked with those that are meek and lovers of God.  The lovers of God and the meek will inherit the earth.
    The next logical question is, why would Jesus permit a man who was a criminal to live in paradise?

  5. As a criminal, this man did bad things.  He was unrighteous.  Also, he was ignorant of God's will.  But would he have been a criminal if he had known about God's purposes?  No way to determine.  But to find out, Jesus will resurrect this unrighteous man, as well as thousands of millions of others who died in ignorance.  For instance, in past centuries many people died who did not know how to read and who had never seen a Bible.  But they will be raised from Sheol, or Hades or hell or the graves ( they are all one in the same).   Then, in the paradise earth, they will be taught God's will, and they will have the opportunity to prove that they really do love God by doing his will. (Isaiah 26:9; 11:9)

    This does not mean that everyone will receive a resurrection.   Persons who willfully do what is bad after knowing God's will may be sinning against the holy spirit.  And God will not resurrect those who sin against his holy spirit. (Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27)  However, since God is the Judge, there is no reason for us to try to figure out whether certain wicked people in the past or in modern times will be resurrected or not.  God is an examiner of hearts (1 Samuel 16:7-7; Genesis 8:21).  He will resurrect people based on thier heart condition.  

  6. Had to send two messages. Character limits. Got some of my paragraph numbers got out sync. I hope I was clear.

  7. Thanks Steve! I'll have to look up the passages to see if I agree with your interpretation of them. Your case is different from the cases of others I have read who defend that position.


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