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.


Hrothgar said...

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.

Well, this is approximately what I believe, though I'm not sure whether it is as a result of receiving actual revelation on the topic. (What would you count as valid revelation, by the way?)

I don't think that candidature for reincarnation is purely about having accepted Jesus though, which implies that it would be mainly or solely for those who had followed other belief systems. We also need to bear in mind that there are a large proportion of Christians, perhaps especially in modern times, who essentially hold the belief that Spirit is superior to Body - so, while substantially accepting Christ and what they understand of his teachings, they do not believe in a literal bodily resurrection, imagining Heaven as a state of pure timeless spirit-existence and actually preferring to seek this. This is likely to prove unsatisfactory for them once actually experienced though - a dissatisfaction which I would say is likely to make them prime candidates for later reincarnation.

An additional thought: I really have nothing very sound besides personal intuition on which to base this idea, but I strongly suspect that a form of resurrection may also be available to those non-Christians who nevertheless had devout faith that they would undergo a form of bodily resurrection in an afterlife. Obviously this ressurection, based on something other than Love and lacking explicit faith in Christ, may seem very sub-optimal to Christians, but it may also serve as a basis for further progression in its own right, assuming true post-mortal progress and growth in the ressurected state still occurs (as would not happen in a pure spirit state).

I think I agree on Heaven having to be an opt-in state. One question that remains very open to me is what proportion even of believing Christians actually would choose to opt in once they understand what this entails, especially in our times, where a form of eternal peace or bliss seems to be more frequently sought.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hrothgar - "I don't think that candidature for reincarnation is purely about having accepted Jesus though, which implies that it would be mainly or solely for those who had followed other belief systems."

I don't understand this; unless maybe I expressed myself badly. I meant reincarnation would need to be chosen; and one reason may be that spirits who failed to take best advantage of mortality - enabling them to move onto the next step of theosis - may wish to 'try again'.

There may be other reason, indeed surely there would be since every individual is different from eternity. Some spiritually advanced individuals (who chose to be saved and are advanced in theosis) - such as John the Baptist - may defer resurrection and volunatrily return to help others; presumably if John was a reincarnate he came back to baptise Jesus, primarily. I have a hunch that this is why some spiritually wise people (e.g. Barfield, Arkle) believe in reincarnation as progression - since this was/ is in fact the case for themselves, and they know it to be. But they need not be correct about others.

"(What would you count as valid revelation, by the way?) " - It doesn't matter what *I* count; it is the inner knowledge of each person that is significant. A characteristic of 'primary thinking'/ Final Participation is that it is self-validating.

Tobias said...

If people don't choose Christ, and don't want to resurrect, and they can stay in the spirit world for as long as they wish, what happens to the traditional punishment in hell idea in your (developing?) theology?

I'd also like to add that I've always thought the idea of an everlasting hell, or a burning up of the soul as punishment was the appropriate theology for people at a certain level - for those who feel the need to punish, or that someone should be punishing those who deserve it. It is how such people would 'hear' Christ's message. A person who is further on in theosis would not need a theology with a permanent hell, and somehow they would know and understand Christ's word in a higher sense. In other words, the punishing aspect of God would be seen to be illusory, and just an aspect of the lower understanding of those not ready to hear a truer message. A return to a spirit existence, with a chance to reincarnate and learn again, sounds like a higher understanding to me.

Your thoughts would be appreciated very much.


Andrew said...

I think you underestimate the sureness of Paul's understanding of revelation. I don't believe he verified by intuition but rather had direct experiences of the divine in his spirit. That is, he developed that part of him capable of directly experiencing God prior to death and received God's revelation directly (direct knowledge, not via communication as you might say) and then taught it to the early Church as best he could.

-Andrew E.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Tobias - I think pretty much the same. It is to do with teh development of consciousness - the world is a different place as consciousness develops, becasue consciousness participates in the making of the world. It seems pretty clear that people in the modern era have come to find the idea of Hell as incomprehensible or incredible.

@Andrew - It was just an aside; but my point is that we need to decide how to establish primacy where there is diagreement - even the choice to regard all parts equally is a decision about primacy. The decision is unavoidable - even if the decision is to kick the can down the road and decide that God inspired the Bible compilers to include only that which is of equal authority.

@Bradley - The Fourth Gospel is equally clear and the references are more numerous and consistent. So - which source is correct (and why?).

Wade McKenzie said...

Prof. Charlton: You characterize John 5:28-9 as a "contradiction" vis a vis the remainder of the fourth gospel or some portion thereof. In order for it to be a "contradiction", it seems to me, it would be necessary for there to exist another passage in the gospel where it is more or less explicitly stated that "those that have done evil" (or some similar phraseology) will not be resurrected.

Bradley Matthews cites the teaching from Revelation concerning the idea clearly stated there that believers and unbelievers alike will be resurrected. You reply, "The Fourth Gospel is equally clear...", by which you presumably mean that there is a passage in the fourth gospel that explicitly states that not all--i.e. believers and unbelievers alike--will be resurrected.

Can you cite such a passage?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wade - The point is made repeatedly through the Gospel, and I have told anyone interested what to do as confirmation: simply read though the Gospel with this point in mind, and see for yourself. You need to understand that I am not trying to persuade other people, simply reporting my own discoveries.

Wade McKenzie said...

If "the point is made repeatedly through the Gospel" then it oughtn't be a problem to cite an example thereof.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wade - It isn't a problem (except for being extra work for me) - see note added above.

But if this matters to someone, I would hope and assume they would be prepared to invest a few hours in reading the Gospel for themselves.

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Eternal life is the kind of life God has. This is predicted on voluntary belief in the gift of Jesus.

The resurrection is not the same thing as eternal life, and will be available to everyone whether they are a believer or non-believer, as the revelations of living prophets in the present day have said.
- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter - For reasons Ive explained elsewhere, I think we have some catching up to do wrt to the Fourth Gospel.

Chiu ChunLing said...


Bradly is correct.

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."

Jesus naturally focuses on those who awake to everlasting life. Using "resurrection" to refer to this is mere inclusive usage. When you say "I ran" you only mean that you yourself ran, not that nobody else ran. When Jesus says that the just will be raised to everlasting life, why that is just what He is saying. It doesn't imply denial that the unjust shall also be resurrected.

It is implicitly a statement that the resurrection of the just is more the just, at least. But the state of the unjust in the resurrection is a matter of no small concern to them. Indeed, the just should care more about what happens to the unjust after resurrection than the unjust care about what happens to the just. That's kinda included in being "just".

But to say that, because Jesus cares even more about the fate of the just after the resurrection than even He, as the most just, cares about the fate of the unjust, therefore the unjust are implied to not be resurrected does violence to logic and scripture.

Hell is real. There are those who are minimally worthy to not be cast out of Creation entirely who still cannot abide there by any motive than fear of punishment. It is better that such punishment be administered in a strict and definite manner that they may be later free to enjoy their limited view of eternity without constant reminders of their overall unworthiness to be there. No really just person has any serious reservations on this subject. Those who aver themselves more merciful than just may be in trouble, not least because in practice justice is the prerequisite of mercy, so those who try to be more merciful than just will always cause far more (and worse) cruelty than they avoid.

Hell is also a relative triviality to the just. The merciful among them are mainly concerned that the suffering of the unjust for their sins should allow them to enjoy the outskirts of Creation even if they can never enter Heaven. But purely in justice there is no real excuse not to cast them out into the abyssal darkness.

Of course, I don't object to the abyssal darkness anyway.