The Hope of Resurrection and the Despair of Atheism


There are two principles that are put forth concerning the state of human beings after death. One, a resurrection–into eternal life, and two, the end of all life–an eternal non existence. According to the Atheist philosophy, after death the body ceases to function and there is no life or spirit which continues to exist. The hope of the Christian Gospel, promises a resurrection of the physical body after death–in an eternal dwelling with God. The promise of resurrection has been described repeatedly throughout the 4,500 year old portions of the Hebrew scriptures, and confirmed by the writers of the New Testament–over 2,000 years ago. The promise of resurrection is closely linked to the prophetic portions of scripture which describe the Messiah as the one who has the power to raise the dead to life–eternally.

The fact of the Messiah’s resurrection is well documented throughout the Old Testament. David, in writing his prophecy from Psalm 49:15, describes a risen Savior—who has power over the grave. “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me.

Peter later confirms David’s prophetic depiction of a risen Messiah, in Acts chapter 2.

Acts 2:25,27 “For David says concerning Him (Messiah): ‘…For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’ ”

Incredibly, Peter quotes the precise words which David penned in Psalm 16, nearly one thousand years before Jesus would fulfill this prophecy.

Psalms 16:10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

Since David uses similar language to describe power over the grave in both Psalm 49:15 and Psalm 16:10, it is certain that he is speaking of the same person.

According to a well know Midrashic exegetical rule, called the Middot, originated by Rabbi Hillel: when one principle appear in two separate scriptures, they may both be applied to the same subject.[1] This is the exegesis used by Peter in interpreting the events that occurred in Acts chapter 2, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel chapter 2.

A resurrection from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is the founding principle of Jesus’ ministry and the quantifying truth of everything that Jesus affirmed.

  • Jesus claimed that He had power over death.
  • He claimed the ability to raise Himself from the dead.
  • He said that He will raise from the dead, those who believe in Him.
  • Jesus promised to destroy death forever.

As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, they had a plethora of problems within the church.

Chapters 1-4-Members fighting over who was the best teacher.
Chapter 5-Struggles with sexual immorality.
Chapter 6-Christians suing other Christians, instead of working out their differences together in love.
Chapter 8-Christians using their freedom in a destructive way, causing other weaker Christians to stumble in their faith.
Chapters 10-11-During their love feasts, some were gorging themselves during their love feasts, leaving little or nothing for the poor who often went away hungry. Others in the church were getting drunk before partaking of communion.
Chapters 12 and 14-An incorrect usage of spiritual gifts caused disruptions during the teaching of the word of God.
Chapter 15-False teachers had apparently come into the church and began to tell the people that there was no resurrection from the dead.

As a result of their incorrect understanding of the resurrection, many Christians at the church of Corinth began to lose hope. The source of this incorrect doctrine originated from secular philosophies of Roman culture. There were three main ideologies that crept into the church of Corinth which countermanded the truth of the resurrection:

  • Stoicism: (New Age philosophy) At death, the soul merges into God. The personality is destroyed; the body is not raised again, only the spirit.[2]
  • Epicurean philosophy: (Atheism) There is no existence beyond death. Death is the end of all existence.[3]
  • Platonism: (Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age) Only the soul is immortal. At the death of the body, the soul “migrates” into a new body. There is no physical resurrection. Many of the doctrines of Platonism were adopted into the Christian church by St. Augustine, the “Doctor of the Catholic Church.” His early writings were greatly influenced by Plotinus’ Enneads, and became the foundation for Christian thought.[4]

The purpose of Paul’s two letters to the church at Corinth was to correct these false doctrines that had been brought into the church and remind the member of the truth. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul emphasizes that without the surety of a resurrection, our preaching is empty and our faith is empty (15:4).

The word Resurrection originated from three Greek words:

  • Anastasis: “to stand up”[5]
  • Nekro: a corpse.[6]
  • Histemi: “to cause to stand up”[7]

If we put these three words together, we arrive at the following definition: “The Lord causes a dead corpse to stand up.” It is evident that the Bible teaches a physical resurrection from the dead that includes the spirit, soul, and body. The body will die, but the sprit is eternal. The moment that a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit departs his body and rises to meet the Lord in heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

“…to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord”

We can be thankful that the church at Corinth was such a mess. As a result of their misunderstanding in many of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, we become great beneficiaries. As Paul writes to clear up the issue of “what takes place after death,” we gain a clear understanding for precisely what happens to us at the moment our body ceases to function.

Jesus promised those who place their trust in Him, that although our body will die, He has the power to raise it to life. If we should perish before the Lord returns for us at the Rapture, when He arrives, He will resurrect our body and make it eternal as it rises to meet Him in the air.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

The church at Thessalonica has a similar misunderstanding in the doctrine of the resurrection and the event described as “the Rapture.” Paul writes specifically to this church, in order to clarify the important points of these two important doctrines:

  • Those who have fallen asleep, a polite way of describing the death of a believer in Jesus Christ, who have been with the Lord since the moment of their death—will be brought with Jesus upon His return at the Rapture.
  • Those who are alive at His return, during the Rapture, will be changed instantaneously from mortal to immortal.

1 Thessalonians 4:15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

  • At the moment of the Rapture, Christians who are alive will not rise first to meet Jesus in the air; the dead will have first priority.
  • Those who have died, believing in Jesus and the hope of the Rapture, will be raised first; their dead bodies will be transformed into eternal bodies, then united with their spirit which has been with the Lord in heaven since their death.
  • The believers on earth who are alive will then rise to meet the Lord, with their bodies also being transformed into a new eternal body.

We should notice that the spirit of the person who dies believing in Jesus, goes immediately to be with the Lord upon, their death. There is no intermediate place called “Purgatory,” and no dwelling of the spirit on the earth for a period of time before it rises to meet the Lord after death. The process of death immediately sets the spirit free to ascend to heaven. We see this illustrated in the New Testament.

Paul speaks of an event that took place fourteen years previously, in which he was stoned to death by some of the men from Lystra. In Paul’s description, at the moment of his death, he was immediately in the presence of the Lord, without delay.

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.

The term, I know a man, is a common usage of the third person that is often made use of, to avoid the appearance of boasting. Some of the Greeks during this time suggested that when speaking of your own experiences, the writer should use the third person so as to appear humble.[8] Paul frequently stated that he would boast only in Christ and his own weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:5). It is certain that this experience of death by stoning was Paul’s description of an event that took place in his own life.

The precise timing of the event when Paul was stoned to death, and was immediately in the presence of the Lord, is not known. It is likely that the “fourteen years ago” that Paul speaks of was only an estimation. During this period of history, years were not counted in the same manner as today. Part of a year was still counted as a full year. The recounting of fourteen years could have been as little as a month or two from the first year, plus twelve whole years, and then a portion of months of the fourteenth year.[9] With this in mind, Paul could be referring to a period when he would have been in Tarsus, his home town, just prior to his first missionary journey.[10]

There is a reference in Acts 14:19, where Paul speaks of being stoned to death by the men of Lystra, after some who heard him speak, believed that he was “a god.” Certain leaders, believing that Paul was not a god but instead a fraud, convinced the men of Lystra to stone Paul to death.

Acts 14:19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

Whether or not this event in Acts 14:19 is the true account of Paul’s death and ascension into heaven that he spoke of in 2 Corinthians 12:2, no one is certain. Based on this description by Paul and what we know in regards to the timing of these events, this verse from Acts 14 is certainly a reasonable estimation of the time and place that this incident occurred.

Paul describes his death by stoning and the fact that he was immediately taken to the third heaven. This is not a mystical description of heaven as the Later Day Saints imply; it is simply a simplistic description of the true location of heaven.[11]

  • First Heaven: The atmosphere of the earth where the birds fly.
  • Second Heaven: The location of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars.
  • Third Heaven: The unseen location where God dwells.

From this example in the New Testament, we can validate the fact that a person who has placed himself under the protection of Jesus’ sacrifice will be taken immediately to heaven upon his death.

More importantly, at the precise moment of death, the hope of a resurrected body is assured to us by Jesus.

When our body does die, our spirit will immediately depart this temporary dwelling and be present with the Lord in heaven. There is no delay, whereby our spirit will remain here on earth. There will be no “soul sleep,” as our soul lies in a state of suspension. The spirit that lives inside our body is eternal. At the moment of death, the spirit departs the body. If we have placed our life in the hands of Jesus Christ and we die trusting in Him for our salvation, then our spirit will immediately depart, to be present with the Lord in heaven. If we rejected the salvation that Jesus has offered us throughout our earthly life, then our spirit will depart our body to descend into hell, where it will remain until the final judgement of all things (Luke 16:22-23).

Hebrews 9:27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment... (NLT)

Armed with these truths, Paul writes to the church at Corinth, beginning with the basics:

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

First: Paul reminds the church that he has formerly taught these principles to them.

Second: They had, in the past, received these facts as truth.

Third: These facts about the resurrection are the certainty in which we stand.

Finally, because of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection, we know that He has the power to raise our dead bodies to life. These are the truths, whereby we are saved if we continue to believe them all throughout our life.

1 Corinthians 15:12-14 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

The truth of the resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament, and the certainty of this eternal life is made possible only by the coming of the Messiah. The Savior would offer up His life in exchange for all human lives. His death would pay the price owed for all sins and make eternal life with God a reality. Only those who personally accept what the Messiah has done for them, by His death on the cross, have the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life appropriated to their account.

If we die without receiving Jesus, we have no hope after death. The Bible gives no indication that there is a possibility of salvation after the body ceases to function and the spirit departs the body.

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment

The prophecy of Psalm 49:15 is the subject of this 109th Messianic prediction:

Psalms 49:15 “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me.”

The is Messiah promised the resurrection of His body after He makes His life an offering for the sins of the world. As a result, He has also promised all those who place their complete trust in Him, their own resurrection from the dead—to a life eternal.

John 11:26 “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

John 14:19 … “Because I live, you will live also.”

Paul closes chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians by emphatically stating that should we reject the principle that Jesus was raised from the dead, in fulfillment of this 109th prophecy, that our faith is futile (empty), and we are still in our sins.

1 Corinthians 15:17-20 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

[1] As described by the Expositional Bible Commentary on Acts 2:25. Both quotations have “at my right hand” and thus are deliberately treated together (cf. v. 33). In addition, both quotations are used in pesher fashion (cf. comments on v. 16), for it is a pesher understanding that evokes the introductory statement “David said about him” and that applies the quotations wholly to Jesus.
[2] 1. Stoicism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
2. John Sellars. Stoicism, p. 32.
[3] Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy, pp. 239-240
[4] 1. O’Connell SJ, RJ, The Enneads and St Augustine’s Vision of Happiness. Vigiliae Christianae 17 (1963) 129-164.
2. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600; Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol 3, The Growth of Mediaeval Theology 600-1300, section, “The Augustinian Synthesis”.
[5] Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Anastasis”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
[6] Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for “Nekro”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
[7] Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for ”Histemi”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
[8] Levinson, Stephen C. “Deixis” in Pragmatics. pp. 54–96.
[9] ESV Study Bible Acts 11:27-30 commentary
[10] Ibid.
[11] The doctrine of the Mormon Church which describes certain levels of heaven for certain believers.

Categories: Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics, Jesus conquered death and Hell, One Way to Heaven, Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus, Salvation through Jesus, The Resurrection of Jesus, What happens after death?, Why Jesus had to die

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