Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Revelation About Revelation

(The first part of this series is Life After Death, Part 1. Think of this article as an interlude in the discussion where we bring up a different but closely related subject.)

Revelation is progressive
Before starting Part 2 of our Life After Death series, there is one small thing I'd like to point out first. It's a simple point and will be blatantly obvious once I type it, but you'd be surprised how many people down through the ages have gotten tripped up by it. So many bad Bible interpretations and misunderstandings have stemmed from not getting this that it's really rather embarrassing.

The Big Reveal

Ready? Here it is: Revelation is progressive.

This has nothing to do, incidentally, with whether your theological views are "progressive" (i.e., liberal) or "traditionalist" (conservative). Instead it just means that Adam didn't understand as much of God's program for humanity as Noah did, Abraham didn't know as much as Moses, Isaiah could grasp more than Moses, and Jesus of Nazareth, well... he himself was the final, complete, and sufficient revealing of that program.

"Spoken through his Son"
So God did not reveal all the truth he had to reveal at the beginning in a blinding flash of light. He revealed it by dribs and drabs within the stream of history as it flowed along. "In the past God spoke to our people through the prophets. He spoke to them many times and in many different ways. And now in these last days, God has spoken to us again through his Son," (Letter to the Hebrews 1.1-2, ERV ). Previously obscure or unknowable, God has made his truth known in events of finite history (Letters to the Colossians 1.26-27 and the Ephesians 3.3-6).

Why bring this up now? Because what God reveals about death and what comes after was revealed gradually over time. You can see it grow as we trace it throughout the Bible until in the New Testament Jesus gives it definitive form.

Two Difficuties

But there are two things that happen with alarming frequency with the subject of life after death (and many other subjects for that matter):

1.)  Sometimes people will reach right into the middle of the process of God revealing this teaching and cherry-pick a bit that they like. A variation of this is, in effect, ranking the earlier bits over the later, more complete bits of God's revelation.

So someone who, for instance, believes the dead are all unconscious until the resurrection (sometimes called "soul sleeping") will support that by quoting Book of Ecclesiastes 9.5 - "the dead don’t know anything." But when "the Teacher" wrote that, God wasn't done revealing things yet; that whole process was still going on. In fact, it still had a long way to go.

With anything we try to understand from God's revelation, like the afterlife, it is crucial that we take everything he has taught, as a whole, leaving nothing out. We need to try and hold the entire revelation God gave on that topic in our minds at once, and grasp the "story flow," not just cherry-pick our favorite proof-texts. And it is equally crucial that we look back at the whole long flow of what God revealed through the lens of the supreme revelation of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

2.) The other thing that happens with alarming frequency is that people chuck the revelation on any particular subject and substitute some other idea instead -- often because they weren't even aware that their substitute isn't what Jesus and his Apostles taught.
Greek philosophers

With the afterlife for example many people believe that when you die, if you've lived a virtuous life, you shuffle off your old body and live forever as an immortal disembodied soul in Heaven. And this despite the fact that the Christian Movement has recited innumerable times over the centuries, "I believe in... the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

That first belief is actually a hodge-podge of old Greek ideas (like this one as an example), not at all what Jesus or his Movement or the Hebrew scriptures teach.


So, forewarned of these two muddy ditches on either side of our path, let's begin tracing out the trail of what God reveals about life after death.

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