Can you give us the approximate lineage of Christ's Death and Resurrection. Also, how and where do the Levitical Holydays fit in? Do they typify the passion and some of these events? What happened to the Thief on the Cross? Finally, where do we go - as believers - when we die? Answer it in your own way. Thank you. I am very grateful to you, you get nowhere asking our minister such questions.
UK Apologetics Reply:
Okay, I'll do my best.
Jesus expired upon the cross, almost certainly, at 3PM on Friday, April 3rd, AD33 (there is, however, some conjecture over the precise date, His crucifixion could have occurred from AD29-34, but AD33 seems the strongest candidate for several reasons which we won't go into here and now). For a little more on likely crucifixion dates, go here.
He entered hades where He preached to the souls of those who had perished during the Great Flood. 1 Peter 3:18-20. Also look carefully at Ephesians 4:7-10 and Psalm 16:10. Certainly this view, which has now somewhat lost out in popularity among modern evangelicals, was supported by such as Eusebius, Athanasius, Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus and Clement of Alexandria, who wrote, "the sole cause of the Lord's descent to the underworld was to preach the gospel." (Strom. VI). For those more modern evangelicals who tend to be uncomfortable with this view, I have written a deeper study of the matter. But this view is the most obvious interpretation of Scripture and well supported by those who lived closer to the time of Jesus and the Apostles than you and I.
'Three Days and Three Nights'
Jesus arose after "three days and three nights," but this is the Jewish manner of accounting days - not the modern western one. From Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is three days according to the Jewish system - less than two days according to the way we count in the West today. The New Testament remains clear about a First Day of the week resurrection. In fact, all 6 appearances of Jesus happen on two Sundays, none on the Sabbath. Mark 16:9; Matthew 28:1-9; Luke 24:10-15,33-36; John 20:19, 26.
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, a near contemporary of Jesus (circa A.D. 100), said, "A day and a night make an 'onah' [a twenty-four hour period], and the portion of an 'onah' is reckoned as a complete 'onah.'" [As quoted by H. L. Ellison in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 375. Ellison credits the quote to j Shabbath 9.12].
In Hebrew, then, a portion of a day could be counted as a complete day. As R. T. France writes, "Three days and three nights was a Jewish idiom appropriate to a period covering only two nights." [R. T. France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), p. 213]. Numerous commentators support this position.
Noted Hebrew scholars C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch wrote concerning Jonah 1:17 in their Commentary on the Old Testament: "The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty-four hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed." [C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. X (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 398].
Moreover, George L. Robinson writes, 'The statement that Jonah was in the belly of the fish "three days and three nights," is an oriental way of expressing the fact that he was in the fish so long that apart from God's sustaining power, he was dead and beyond the possibility of human resuscitation.' [George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 79].
In similar manner, when Scripture writes of Jesus being in the tomb for "three days and three nights," the meaning is that He was well and truly deceased - not a reference to the precise time between His death and resurrection! (I am partly indebted to Peter Ditzel for his references for some further information here).
But - some will ask - since the Jews counted time differently to us (days are from sunset to sunset), is it not possible that Jesus arose right at the end of Sabbath time and actually within Sabbath time? The answer is yes, but the day which the Scriptures draw full attention to is not the Sabbath but the First Day of the week (Sunday), which is also the day of His appearances to His disciples. Surely, enough said!
Christ Being Accepted Back in Heaven
After His resurrection, Christ did not immediately go to Heaven to be accepted by the Father because He wanted to appear to certain people, but certainly He appears to have done so within a short space of time. He went to Heaven between John 20:17 and John 20:27. (before His ascent He requested that none touch Him, but afterwards Thomas was allowed to touch Him).
The Wave Sheaf offering which was offered on the First Day of the week during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9-12), pictured the risen Christ being accepted in Heaven on that very day. So just as the Passover obviously pictured the sacrifice of Christ (the blood of an unblemished lamb offering life despite the visit of the 'death angel,' symbolozing Satan), the Days of Unleavened Bread pictured the need to change one's life direction, eradicating sinful practices.
The 'Thief on the Cross'
What about the 'thief on the cross,'? I am sometimes asked. Did not Jesus promise him entry to Heaven that very day? Or is that an error due to the original Greek having no commas? Seventh Day people like to say that it is an error due to the 'commas question.' They say that the thief would enter heaven much, much later. In fact, they insist that he is still waiting! No, the thief on the cross was apparently in Heaven that very day, just as Jesus was (when He went to be accepted by the Father), but Jesus returned to earth for a while, making several appearances until that momentous first Christian Pentecost. Then Christ returned to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. By the way, Pentecost ('50 count') had to be counted from that very first day of the week - Sunday - when Christ was accepted by the Father (Leviticus 23:15). According to Scripture, Pentecost must fall on a Sunday, the first day of the week. Even rabid hater of Sunday worship Herbert W. Armstrong finally admitted towards the end of his life that - biblically - Pentecost must fall on a Sunday (prior to that he had insisted it should be observed on a Monday).
Believers Now Enter Heaven at Death
Since Christ's sacrifice, the souls of believers enter heaven upon death. Before that, possibly only the Patriarchs, Enoch, Elijah and Elishah did (although we cannot, of course, be certain). Of course, this must not be confused with the resurrection of body and soul which happens when Christ returns.
There are ten points to back this up:
- Elijah had gone straight to heaven at death (2 Kings 2:11-13).
- The beggar Lazarus had gone straight to heaven at death (Luke 16:19-23).
- Paul obviously expected to immediately enter heaven at death in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. Some have claimed that Paul was talking about the resurrection here, but it appears that he was not since he clearly refers to a state in which he would be '....absent from the body and to be present with the Lord' (verse 8). Souls in heaven are 'absent from the body' whereas the resurrection will be a resurrection of body and soul!
- Then we must consider Paul's comments in Philippians 1:20-24; in view of the strong similarity of his comments here to those in 2 Corinthians 5, there seems little doubt that he is also talking here about entering heaven at death, indeed, once again he actually makes this quite clear because, in verse 24, he tells the Philippians that it is more needful for them that he, '...remain in the flesh... - only in heaven are we ever 'absent from the flesh'. When Paul discusses the resurrection at length in 1 Corinthians 15, he employs totally different terminology.
- At his death of martyrdom, Stephen prayed to the Lord, asking Him to 'receive my spirit' (Acts 7:59). That sounds very much like Stephen expected to immediately enter heaven upon death.
- In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus said, 'But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.' Now, certainly, the point which our Lord was making (to the Saducees) concerned the resurrection of the dead (which they did not believe in), nevertheless Jesus obviously did not consider Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be dead even as He spoke about them in the first century AD, obviously many years prior to the resurrection of the dead which is yet to occur.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:14, in reference to the Second Coming, speaks of Jesus bringing the saints with him. And where is Jesus coming from? Heaven, of course.
- The Book of Revelation appears to depict the saved in heaven awaiting the resurrection and the restoration of all things (Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 20:4). While we cannot assume literalism in Revelation, it is hard to see that John would have been inspired to write this if martyrs of previous generations were not actually in heaven at this moment.
- Jesus stated, "Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death." (John 8:51). Now, "never see death" appears to go beyond the resurrection at the Second Coming. We submit that this refers not only to that eventual resurrection of body and soul, but to the souls of true believers never having to spend time in hades since those souls (or, 'spirits') are now simply transferred to Heaven at the time of death.
- The final point is in Hebrews 12: 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.' (Hebrews 12:1). The writer of Hebrews here uses an interesting approach; he uses the example of the 'faith' examples of Hebrews 11 as if they were spectators in an arena, but - in this case - they are pictured as above us and in a 'cloud.' Most Bible commentators see these 'witnesses' as the martyrs pictured in the preceding chapter. The NIV Study Bible says, "The imagery suggests an athletic contest in a great amphitheatre...they are not spectators but inspiring examples..." The Greek word for 'witness' suggests martyrs and martyrdom and is the origin of the English word, "martyr." Whilst the text does not quite go as far as to say that these witnesses are in Heaven watching our every move right now, the sense is that they are currently aware of happenings upon the earth. It is hard to see that Hebrews would have used this wonderful illustration if deceased believers were simply 'at sleep' in hades, prior to Christ's return. In our previous point we saw these souls in Heaven, here they are colourfully pictured as being above us and in a 'cloud.'
It is true that the Bible sometimes pictures the deceased as at 'sleep' but that is simply how it appears to human observation upon the earth. Christ has now destroyed the power of death for believers, that not only means we may have an assurance of rising in the resurrection but that our souls are welcomed into Heaven upon our earthly demise. Paul and Stephen plainly had no doubt about this!
The Levitical Holydays
I have already touched upon the Levitical Holydays, but for a summation:
- The Passover - clearly typified the blood of Christ (an unblemished lamb) offering protection from the death angel (typical of Satan). See 1 Corinthians 5:7.
- The Days of Unleavened Bread - During this period, leaven (such as yeast in bread), became typical of the sin that 'puffs up,' and the Israelites were to eradicate it from their lives for these seven days.
- Pentecost - the coming of the Holy Spirit. The old covenant had also been delivered from Mount Sinai near or actually upon Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit underlined the extinction of the old covenant; the New Covenant was now the only standard whereby men and women may be accepted by God.
- Feast of Trumpets - Typical of God's ongoing right and determination to intervene in affairs upon this earth, most notably of all in the seventh trumpet: The Second Coming of our Lord!
- Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement - another reminder of the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, this time upon a more serious-type day on which Jews had to fast. The day also pinpoints the need to permanently banish Satan from heaven and earth.
- The Feast of Tabernacles - Representative of The New Heavens and New Earth. The Eternal State of salvation, continual joy and blessings in the very presence of God. Millenialists restrict this to only typifying a physical 'millenium' upon this earth of limited duration which is, I think, a pity. Those supporting millenialism also like to separate the 'Last Great Day' of this feast as representing the Great Judgment which (they see) as occurring at the conclusion of a millenium.
Robin A. Brace. March 26th, 2012. Further information added April 16th, 2012.