Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Who gets resurrected? - according to the Fourth Gospel, 'only' those who believe and follow Jesus

A couple of days ago I read through the Fourth Gospel (again) - this time all-through in a couple of hours, to try and get an overview. Several things stood-out and were clarified; but probably the most important was an answer to the question of who gets resurrected.

And the clear answer is - those who believe on, who follow, Jesus.

Or, to put it another way, only those who believe on, who follow Jesus, will be resurrected to that Eternal/ Everlasting Life which Jesus brings us.

This is in contrast to mainstream Christian belief that all are resurrected (but not-all are saved); and it also contradicts a single but explicit sentence in the Fourth Gospel+; however, the overall structure of the Fourth Gospel and multiple, repeated, references support the answer that it is 'only' those who regard Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah, that will be resurrected.

(This opens a further question of what happens to those who are choose Not to follow Jesus and who are Not therefore resurrected - but I will deal with that below.)

Assuming this interpretation is correct, how could this simple teaching have been missed? The answer is quite simple: Biblical understanding has operated on the basis that the whole Bible is equally true - therefore a specific teaching in 'just' one Gospel (especially the Fourth Gospel) is ignored/ explained-away when it contradicts other parts of the Bible - and especially when it contradicts the three Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline Epistles.

Whereas I believe that if we believe the truth of the Bible (truth in at least a general sense, recognising that this must mean interpretation of specific verses), then we believe the Fourth Gospel is true - including its claims about itself; and these Fourth Gospel claims mean that it is the single most authoritative Book in the Bible, which ought to be given the highest authority, above any other Book in the Bible.

(By contrast the other Gospels are, and claim to be no more than, secondhand and post hoc compilations of accounts about Jesus; and Paul's knowledge is from intuitive revelation that is, for Christians, intrinsically unlikely to be detailed and specific.)

Therefore, to check this claim for yourself - I would simply urge you to read the Fourth Gospel as an autonomous text in light of this interpretation, and looking for evidence of this teaching. (Assuming that you do already have a personal revelation of the truth of this Gospel; and if not then you would need to seek one.)

If we take the original Fourth Gospel to run from Chapters 1-20, with Chapter 21 added later (but presumably by the real author) - then the Gospel begins and ends with two core teachings - which are repeated throughout:

1. That Jesus is who he claimed to be - the Son of God, the Messiah sent by God; and that he died, resurrected and ascended to Heaven to become fully divine.

2. That Jesus came to bring resurrection and Life Eternal/ Life Everlasting to those who 'believed on' him (including believing his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God), who followed him as a sheep follows a shepherd, who loved him and believed in his love for each of us, who trusted and had faith in him.

In fact, we see that these two teachings are linked, and are - in a sense - a single teaching.

Most of the Fourth Gospel is taken up with providing 'proof' that Jesus was who he claimed - and this proof is of the type that would be effective for those living just after the death of Jesus and in the same region - evidence suitable for that time and place.

So, the evidence is the witness of John the Baptist (who was very well known and would have been regarded as the best possible witness); the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies (which, again, would have been well known); and the evidence of the miracles including the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus, at a time when many witnesses of these events were still around.

None of this evidence is very convincing to people 2000 years later and in different places and cultures; but the further teaching of the Fourth Gospel is that after his ascension Jesus sent the Holy Ghost, the 'Comforter', to provide a direct witness and knowledge to the disciples - and implicitly (although probably not explicitly) to everyone else who sought it. 

The rest of the Fourth Gospel is, via stories (parables), miracles, reported conversations and direct teachings - to explain the enhanced, divine nature of Life after resurrection - this being termed Life Eternal or Life Everlasting; and to promise this to all who would follow Jesus.

That is, pretty much, everything that the Fourth Gospel says (aside from some specific remarks to the disciples - and a single hint that they ought to teach about Jesus following his ascension). There is little or nothing specific about how to live or about a 'church' of any kind - which is probably another reason that the Fourth Gospel has been historically down-graded from its proper supremacy over the rest of the Bible.

If it is true that only the followers of Jesus are resurrected, then this removes certain problems that arise from the alternative view. It means that resurrection is chosen, it is voluntary; and therefore resurrection is not compelled nor is it enforced. I was always troubled by the idea that Jesus brought resurrection to all, whether they wanted it or not - especially since the prospects for someone resurrected but not saved seemed so grim. It seemed that Jesus was giving with one hand, but taking with the other - which would not be very loving, and seemed sub-optimal (for a creator God) - surely something better could be managed for the children of God?

But apparently that was a misunderstanding. Those who do not believe Jesus, or who do not love him and do not wish to follow him, or who do not want Life Everlasting in a (Heavenly) world of love and creation - these are Not resurrected - but shall instead return to spirit life (as we began; before we were incarnated into earthly mortality).

This fits with the beliefs of many non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and some other paganisms) - who see post-mortal life in terms of a return to the spirit world.

It also opens the possibility of reincarnation, which has probably been the usual belief of most humans through most of human history. The Fourth Gospel teaches that reincarnation is a possibility, when it discusses whether John the Baptist was one of the Old Testament prophets reincarnated... the conclusion is that he was not one of a series of possible named prophets, but the possibility of reincarnation is assumed.

We could even speculate (and it would be a speculation unless confirmed by revelation) that the world contains some mixture of newly incarnated mortals, and a proportion of reincarnates who did not accept Jesus in previous lives but have returned (presumably by choice) to enable further chances.

But again, it seems intrinsic to Christianity that all higher theosis is by choice; and post-mortal spirits would not be compelled to resurrect, nor to reincarnate - but might remain in spirit form as long as they wished.

Mortal life is best seen as an opportunity. As Jesus explained in his conversation with Nicodemus, Heavenly Life Everlasting is available only via death and being resurrected or 'born again'; and this was the path that Jesus himself needed to take in order to attain to full Godhood at the ascension. Jesus brought us this possibility - but it must be chosen, and the reason for choice must be love.

+This is John 5:28-9: ...'all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and come forth; they that have done good, until the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.' I regard this, from its interruption of the structure and its contradiction of the rest of the gospel, as a later, non-canonical insertion. 

Note added:

I want any seriously interested reader to do what I suggest above; which is to check this claim for yourself - I would simply urge you to read the Fourth Gospel as an autonomous text in light of this interpretation, and looking for evidence of this teaching.

However, below I have made a selection of relevant passages from just the first six books of the Fourth Gospel (you will need to search the rest of the Gospel for yourself) - and the last verse of the (original final) Chaper 20. These are consistent with the understanding that resurrection is to life eternal/ life everlasting by means of 'receiving' Jesus; and that those who do not accept Jesus, shall not be resurrected to this new kind of Life as Sons of God: Life eternal/ everlasting is for the resurrected, both together - there is no sense of there being a distinction or sequence between resurrection and the New Life.

1: [11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not. [12] But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

2: [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: [15] That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. [16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [17] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. [18] He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

[36] He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

5: [24] Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. [25] Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

[39] Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. [40] And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. [41] I receive not honour from men. [42] But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. [43] I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

6: [26] Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. [27] Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. [28] Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? [29] Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. [30] They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? [31] Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. [32] Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. [34] Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. [35] And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. [36] But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. [37] All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. [38] For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. [39] And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. [40] And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. [41] The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. [42] And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? [43] Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. [44] No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. [45] It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. [46] Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. [47] Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. [48] I am that bread of life. [49] Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. [50] This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. [52] The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? [53] Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. [54] Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. [58] This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. [64] But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. [65] And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
20: [31] But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.