Tag Archives: Norman Geisler

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret Revelation 20?

Norm Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, asserts that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 must refer to a literal, future period of time that lasts a thousand years.  “A historical-grammatical reading of this passage informs us that there will be a literal Millennium, during which Satan is bound, beginning with the raising of the saved and ending with the raising of the lost.”

Geisler offers several reasons why the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, future period of time.  First, the word thousand is mentioned several times in Revelation 20.  “Facts mentioned only once in the Bible are true; the future messianic kingdom is said to be a thousand years long six times in Revelation 20:1-7.”  Surely, the repetition of this time period undermines the non-literal position.  Second, Geisler admits that the word thousand is sometimes used symbolically in the Bible.  “However, of its hundred-plus occurrences in the biblical text, only a handful are non-literal, and even these are mostly hyperbole (not allegorical).”

Third, Geisler reasons that “other numbers in Revelation are used literally; for example, 1,260 days (12:6) is a literal three and one-half years (Dan. 12:7, 11).”  Given that other numbers are used literally in the book, the argument for symbolism is weakened.  Fourth, even “symbols refer to something literal, as indicated by John’s literal interpretation of symbolic usage (e.g., 1:20).”  One must always be careful in taking symbolism too far, because ultimately every symbol stands for something real and literal.  There is the sign (the symbol) and there is the thing signified (the literal object).  The less clearly the sign points to the thing signified, the greater chance for interpretational error.  In our human experience, most signs relate very directly and obviously to the things they signify.  The term “thousand years” is more likely to refer to a literal thousand-year period of time than to refer to perfection or completeness.  The onus must be on the symbolic interpreter to provide strong evidence for his view.

Fifth, a literal interpretation accords with Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 that “Christ’s earthly reign would be a long period of time with an end.”  Sixth and finally, “Literal numbers can have symbolic significance – Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4), and while there is a symbolic meaning to this time of wandering, it is also true that they literally wandered for about forty years.  Relatedly, thousand can symbolize a long period and still be literally true.”

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , add that the sequence of events surrounding the “thousand years” also indicate a literal, future time period.  “The fact that it is mentioned six times and is clearly described as a period of time before which and after which events take place lead to the conclusion that it means a literal thousand-year period.”  Specifically they contend that the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years is an important clue.  According to Walvoord and Zuck, “Throughout the Scriptures Satan is said to exert great power not only against the world but also against Christians (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20).”  It seems difficult to argue that Satan’s influence today is somehow curtailed or restrained.  The clinching verse which demonstrates that Satan was certainly attacking believers in the first century, after Christ’s death and resurrection, is 1 Peter 5:8.  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  If Satan is indeed not bound, then it seems difficult to understand the “thousand years” as occurring today.

With both amillennialists and premillennialists claiming to use the historical-grammatical hermeneutical method, and with both groups arriving at widely divergent conclusions, there is another group of people that we should consult about Revelation 20.  In general, the closer in time Person A is to Person B, the more accurately will Person A interpret the writings of Person B, all other things being equal.  Augustine wrote about the book of Revelation about three centuries after it was written by the apostle John.  As mentioned before, Augustine’s position on the Apocalypse has dominated the church since he wrote about it in The City of God.  There are church fathers, however, who lived closer to the time of John and who wrote about Revelation.

The earliest known interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation came from a bishop named Papias, who was a contemporary of the apostles in the first century.  Eusebius, the great church historian of the fourth century, wrote about Papias in his seminal work, The Church History.  Eusebius quotes Papias from his Sayings of the Lord Interpreted, which is no longer extant.  Papias claims to have heard directly from those who sat under the teaching of several of the apostles.  “And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the elders, I asked about their words: what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples . . . .  For I did not think that information from books would help me as much as the word of a living, surviving voice.”

Papias’ views on the book of Revelation would indeed be important because of his close proximity to the source of the book, John (who is mentioned above).  According to Eusebius, Papias believed that “after the resurrection of the dead there will be a thousand-year period when the kingdom of Christ will be established on this earth in material form.”  Eusebius also maintained that Papias’ views on the thousand years were highly regarded by some subsequent church fathers because of his proximity to the disciples.  Lest anyone think that Eusebius was biased in favor of Papias’ interpretation, Eusebius had this to say about Papias: “I suppose that he got these notions by misunderstanding the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had used mystic and symbolic language.  For he was a man of very limited intelligence, as is clear from his books.”  We can be confident that Eusebius’ “respect” for Papias did not color his interpretation of Papias’ writings, for Eusebius was an amillennialist even before Augustine.  With all due respect to Eusebius’ estimation of Papias’ intelligence, Papias is one of the earliest, if not earliest, sources we have interpreting Revelation 20, and he was a premillennialist.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr, one of the most renowned early apologists of the Christian faith, wrote about the book of Revelation.  He is the first to explicitly mention the Revelation in his Dialogue with Trypho.[14]  “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.”[15]  Justin Martyr was certainly a premillennialist and believed that the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 was to be taken literally as the future, messianic kingdom on earth.

Later in the second century the church father, Irenaeus, made “frequent and substantive use of the Revelation, especially in book 5 of Against Heresies, where he extensively discourses upon the thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth.”  Speaking of the predicted, messianic, thousand-year kingdom, Irenaeus related the following:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times.

Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Papias, the earliest commentators on the book of Revelation, all believed that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, thousand-year, earthly kingdom of Christ.  It cannot be argued, based upon this evidence, that the premillennial view is proven, but it does lend significant credibility to the view.  If the earliest hearers and interpreters of the text understood it to be literal, surely the later amillennialists have a more difficult position to argue.  How is it that these, the earliest commentators in the church, were all wrong?

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

For premillennialist Norman Geisler, the future, literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants must occur in a millennial, messianic kingdom for several reasons.  First, the land promise to Israel has yet to be fulfilled.  The land promise made to Abraham was unconditional, meaning that God placed no conditions on Abraham for this land grant to be made.  Citing Genesis 15:7-18, Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, notes that “Abraham was not even conscious when [the covenant] was made, and God alone passed through the split sacrifice.” This procedure followed “the legal form of a grant covenant,” which was a one-way land grant.  Hebrews 6:13 indicates that God swore by himself, again proving that the land promise was certain to occur.  Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, have never occupied the promised land between the Euphrates and River of Egypt for “any prolonged period of time.”  Even if it could be argued that Solomon ruled over the lands promised to Abraham (cf. 1 Kings 4:21), “He reigned over it for a very short time, not forever, as promised to Abraham.”

Second, the Davidic throne promise has not been fulfilled.  Again, this covenant was unconditional, as evidenced by Psalm 89.  Speaking of David, God said, “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun” (Ps. 89:35-36).  God promised that even if David’s descendants violated his decrees, he would not violate David’s covenant.  Clearly, today, no descendant of David is ruling over Jerusalem and Israel, so, according to Geisler, there must be a day when David’s descendant will fulfill a “future, political, earthly messianic reign [as] found in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.”

Third, the Old Testament prophets continued to predict a messianic kingdom all the way up to 400 B.C.  Isaiah wrote about the messianic kingdom in Isaiah 9:7: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  In the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi speaks of the coming kingdom and fulfillment of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.

Fourth, Jesus offered the political, messianic kingdom to the Jews of first century Palestine, which is a clear indication that the messianic kingdom, the kingdom that would fulfill the covenants made with Abraham and David, was yet to be fulfilled.

Fifth, subsequent to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus promised that in the future the kingdom would still be restored.  Jesus made the following promise to his disciples with regard to the messianic kingdom: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The question the disciples asked Jesus in Acts 1 is illuminating.  After spending forty days with him, discussing the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the disciples then asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).  Instead of Jesus rebuking them for asking a meaningless question about the literal fulfillment of the covenants, he tells them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).  According to theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck in , “If the followers of the Lord Jesus had an incorrect view, this would have been the time for Him to correct it. The fact is, Christ taught the coming of an earthly, literal kingdom.”  The clear implication is that there will be a literal restored kingdom of Israel some time in the future.

Sixth and finally, Paul affirmed the national restoration of Israel in Romans 11.  Speaking of the promises made to Israel, Paul proclaimed that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).  Israel clearly has a national role in the future when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).  Walvoord and Zuck explain: “Because God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . ., He loves the nation and will carry through on His promises.”  According to Geisler, “When God’s complete plan of salvation is accomplished, He will restore national Israel and fulfill His unconditional promises to them, including the messianic kingdom.”

In response to Hanegraaff’s use of typology to show the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, Geisler recognizes instances of typology in the Bible, but denies that the covenants are typological.  For example, “Hebrews speaks of the entire Levitical sacrificial system as being fulfilled by our great High Priest.” Geisler affirms that “Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament types that prefigured Him and that passed away when He fulfilled them.”  However, “Not all Old Testament predictions were types.”  Geisler argues that a covenant is not a type at all and should not be interpreted that way.  Therefore, to understand the literal promises made to Abraham and David as types to be overshadowed by Christ is a category mistake.

Additionally, Hanegraaff and other amillennialists believe that the New Testament should be used to reinterpret the objective meanings of Old Testament passages, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants included.  In their view, when God promised Abraham the literal land of Canaan forever, he did not really intend that Abraham would receive the land of Canaan forever.  The New Testament reveals the real meaning of the text: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise, not the land.  In the words of theologian Kim Riddlebarger in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, “The New Testament should explain the Old.  This is one of the most basic principles of Bible study.  The New Testament must be seen as the final authority and interpreter of the Old Testament.”

Geisler answers this claim in emphatic terms: “The Old Testament should not be interpreted in light of the New, because later writings, inspired or not, do not change the meaning of earlier writings.  Meaning is objective and absolute; a text means what the author meant by it, nothing more and nothing less.  Later authors can add more information on the same topic, but they cannot change the meaning.”  If God promised the land, then Abraham’s descendants will get the land.  If God promised the throne, then David’s descendants will get the throne.  Any attempt to deny these straightforward interpretations of the Old Testament leads down the slippery slope of allegorism.

What Are the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants?

The fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants is pivotal to the question of the millennium.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that God made promises to Abraham throughout the book of Genesis.  “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’” (Gen. 12:1-3 NIV).  With regard to the land, the Lord said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (Gen. 15:19).  Further, this land was to be given as an “everlasting possession to [Abraham] and [his] descendants” (Gen. 17:8).

The components of the covenant are as follows: (1) God promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation, (2) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would inherit and possess the land between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates, (3) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would bless the peoples of the world, and (4) God promised that these blessings would be perpetual.  What separates amillennialists from premillennialists is the question of fulfillment.  If the covenant has already been fulfilled, then a major pillar of the premillennial argument crumbles.  However, if the covenant has not been fulfilled, then God must still follow through on his promises.

Likewise, the Davidic covenant contained clear promises from God to David and his descendants.  Norman Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, writes, “As the Abrahamic covenant centers around the land, the Davidic covenant centers around the throne.  The former provides the land and the nation; the latter provides a king to rule over the kingdom.”  The primary passage which explicates the Davidic promises is found in 2 Samuel 7.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:11-16)

The throne of Israel is promised to David and his offspring and it is promised to them forever.  Again, amillennialists and premillennialists differ as to whether this covenant has been fulfilled.

Is Luke’s Account of the Journey to Malta in Acts 27 Historically Accurate?

One way we can have confidence that the documents of the New Testament are historically accurate is to check any factual claims against the historical and archaeological evidence we have from the same period of time. This is exactly what classical scholar and historian Colin Hemer did in his The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer was able to confirm 84 facts in the last sixteen chapters of the Book of Acts.

Below I will only document the sixteen facts he confirmed from Acts 27. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in , remind us that “Luke did not have access to modern-day maps or nautical charts,” which makes his accuracy all the more impressive. The sixteen facts below are taken from Geisler and Turek’s book, where they cite Colin Hemer. Luke knew about and accurately recorded:

Fact 1: the best shipping lanes at the time (27:5).

Fact 2: the common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia (27:5).

Fact 3: the principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy (27:5-6).

Fact 4: the slow passage to Cnidus, in the face of the typical northwest wind (27:7).

Fact 5:  the right route to sail, in view of the winds (27:7)

Fact 6: the locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasea (27:8).

Fact 7: Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead (27:12).

Fact 8: a noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale (27:13-14).

Fact 9: the nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale (27:15).

Fact 10: the precise place and name of this island (27:16).

Fact 11: the appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight (27:16-18).

Fact 12: the fourteenth night—a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgment of experienced Mediterranean navigators (27:27).

Fact 13: the proper term of the time for the Adriatic (27:27).

Fact 14: the precise term (Bolisantes) for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta (27:28).

Fact 15: a position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to run before an easterly wind (27:39).

Fact 16: the severe liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape (27:42).

These facts seem to strongly indicate that the author of Acts is an eyewitness to the events of chapter 27. If we have an eyewitness, we have much greater confidence in the reliability of the events recorded in chapter 27 and also the rest of the book.

Do You Need a Holy Book to Know a Creator God Exists?

Not according to the Bible, which is telling since the Bible is a holy book. There are at least a handful of passages in the Bible which teach that a person comes to know that a Creator God exists by just observing the natural world. Theologian Norm Geisler expounds on these passages in his Systematic Theology, Volume One: Introduction, Bible.

’The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,’ the psalmist writes (Ps. 19:1). ‘The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory’ (Ps. 97:6). Job adds,

‘Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?’ (Job 12:7–9)

Paul told men to

‘Turn … to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ (Acts 14:15–17)

He reminded the Greek philosophers,

‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.’ (Acts 17:24–25)

Paul declares that even the heathen stand guilty before God:

‘What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ (Rom. 1:19–20)

In view of this the psalmist concludes, ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’ (Ps. 14:1).

Geisler continues:

God is revealed in nature in two basic ways: as Creator and as Sustainer (see volume 2). He is the cause of the origin as well as the operation of the universe. The first speaks of God as the originator of all things: ‘By him all things were created’ and ‘in him all things hold together’ (Col. 1:16–17); God ‘made the universe’ and He also ‘sustains all things by his powerful word’ (Heb. 1:2–3); He ‘created all things’ and by Him all things ‘have their being’ (Rev. 4:11).

In addition to being their originator, God is also the sustainer of all things. He was active not only in the universe’s coming to be but is also active in its continuing to be. The psalmist refers to this latter function when he says of God: ‘He makes springs pour water into ravines.… He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth’ (104:10, 14).

None of this is to say that God’s revelation about Himself through Jesus Christ and the Bible are unnecessary for a full understanding of who the Creator God is and what He is like. The point here is that God has provided enough evidence of Himself through the natural world so that all mankind can know He exists. Those who respond to this knowledge will be given more.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 2

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He continues his case from the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

 

Jesus’ Body Was Recognized. The usual words for ‘seeing’ (horao, theoreo) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginosko) physical objects were used over and over again of Christ in his resurrection state (see Matt. 28:7, 17; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:24; John 20:14; 1 Cor. 9:1). Occasionally Jesus was not initially recognized by some of the disciples, some perhaps supernatural. Luke says of one occasion that ‘their eyes were prevented from recognizing him’ (24:16) and later ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (vs. 31). However, often there were purely natural factors, such as their perplexity (Luke 24:17–21), sorrow (John 20:11–15), the dimness of the light (John 20:14–15), the visual distance (John 21:4), the suddenness of Jesus’ appearance (Luke 24:36–37), the different clothes he had on (John 19:23–24; 20:6–8), or their spiritual dullness (Luke 24:25–26) and disbelief (John 20:24–25). In every case the difficulty was temporary. Before the appearances were over there remained absolutely no doubts in their minds that Christ had arisen in a literal, material body.

Jesus’ Body Could Be Seen and Heard. Jesus’ resurrection body could not only be touched and handled, it could also be seen and heard. Matthew says that ‘when they saw him, they worshiped him’ (Matt. 28:17). The Emmaus disciples recognized him while eating together (Luke 24:31), perhaps from his bodily movements (cf. vs. 35). The Greek term for recognize (epiginosko) means ‘to know, to understand, or to recognize.’ It is a normal term for recognizing a physical object (Mark 6:33, 54; Acts 3:10). Mary may have recognized Jesus from the tone of his voice (John 20:15–16). Thomas recognized him, probably even before he touched the crucifixion scars (John 20:27–28). During the forty-day period, all the disciples saw and heard him, and experienced the ‘convincing proofs’ that he was alive (Acts 1:3; cf. 4:2, 20).

Resurrection Is Out from among Dead. Resurrection in the New Testament is often described as ‘from (ek) the dead’ (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; 1 Cor. 15:12). Literally, this Greek word ek means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29–30). These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard. As Gundry correctly noted, ‘for one who had been a Pharisee, such phraseology could carry only one meaning—physical resurrection’ (Gundry, 177).

Sōma Always Means a Physical Body. When used of an individual human being, the word body (sōma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses sōma of the resurrection body of Christ (1 Cor. 15:42–44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body. The definitive exegetical work on sōma was done by Gundry (ibid.). As evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body, he points to ‘Paul’s exceptionless use of sōma for a physical body’ (Gundry, 168). Thus he concludes that ‘the consistent and exclusive use of sōma for the physical body in anthropological contexts resists dematerialization of the resurrection, whether by idealism or by existentialism’ (ibid.).

For those who think Paul should have used another word to express physical resurrection, Robert Gundry responds: ‘Paul uses sōma precisely because the physicality of the resurrection is central to his soteriology’ (Gundry, 169). This consistent use of the word sōma for a physical body is one more confirmation that the resurrection body of Christ was a literal, material body.

The Tomb Was Vacated. Joined with the appearances of the same crucified Jesus, the empty tomb provides strong support of the physical nature of the resurrection body of Christ. The angels declared, ‘he is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’ (Matt. 28:6). Since it was a literal, material body that was placed there, and since that same physical body had come alive, it follows that the resurrection body was that same material body that died.

The Grave Clothes Were Unwrapped. When Peter entered the tomb he ‘saw strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen’ (John 20:6–7). Certainly, if thieves had stolen it, they would not have taken time to take off and fold the head cloth. Nor if Jesus had vaporized through the grave clothes would the head cloth have been in a separate place all folded up by itself. These details reveal the truth that the material body of Jesus that had once laid there had been restored to life (Acts 13:29–30). John was so convinced by this evidence of a physical resurrection that when he saw it he believed Jesus had risen, though he had not yet seen him (John 20:8).

More can be said, but it seems abundantly clear that the New Testament writers definitely had a physical resurrection in mind. Making the opposite case requires a person to ignore or distort numerous New Testament passages beyond recognition.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 1

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He presents his case in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

Jesus Was Touched by Human Hands. Jesus challenged Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Thomas responded, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (vs. 28). Likewise, when Mary clung to Jesus after his resurrection he commanded, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father’ (John 20:17). Matthew adds that the women clasped Jesus’ feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9). Later, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples he said, ‘look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see’ (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical body that could be touched, including the nail and spear prints.

Jesus’ Body Had Flesh and Bones. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body is that Jesus said emphatically ‘Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’ (Luke 24:39). Then to prove his point he asked for something to eat and ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence’ (vss. 41–42).

Paul correctly noted that corruptible ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 15:50), but Jesus did not have corruptible flesh; he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). He was fleshy but not fleshly. He did not have sinful human flesh (Heb. 4:15); nevertheless, he died and rose from the dead in actual human flesh (sarx, Acts 2:31). John stressed Jesus’ continuing incarnation in flesh, when he warned: ‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming [and remaining] in the flesh, have gone out into the world’ (2 John 7). The use of the present participle in Greek means Christ remained in the flesh even while this was written. The claim that it was physical flesh before the resurrection but non-physical flesh after is a form of Gnosticism or docetism.

Jesus Ate Physical Food. Another evidence Jesus offered of the physical, tangible nature of his resurrection body was the ability to eat, which he did on at least four occasions (Luke 24:30, 41–43; John 21:12–13; Acts 1:4). Acts 10:40 indicates that Jesus ate often with the disciples after his resurrection, speaking of the apostles who ‘ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead.’

Unlike angels, Jesus’ resurrection body was material by nature (Luke 24:39). Given this context, it would have been sheer deception by Jesus to have shown his flesh and bones and offered his ability to eat physical food as proof of his physical body, if he had not been resurrected in a physical body.

Jesus’ Body Has His Wounds. Another unmistakable evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body was that it possessed the physical wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion. No so-called ‘spiritual’ or immaterial body would have physical scars (John 20:27). Indeed, in this same physical body Jesus ascended into heaven where he is still seen as ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’ (Rev. 5:6). And when Christ returns, it will be ‘this same Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). These same physical scars of his crucifixion will be visible at his second coming, for John declared: ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (Rev. 1:7).

Geisler continues his analysis in part 2.

 

How Did Roman Crucifixion Kill Jesus?

James A. Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary, writes:

Crucifixion seems to have been invented by the Persians, who transmitted it to the Carthaginians, from whom the Romans learned it. It was the ultimate Roman punishment for slaves and provincials, but it was not used for Roman citizens. It was one of the most horrifying forms of execution ever devised. After having been stripped and flogged, the victim was lashed and/or nailed to a pole. John 20:25 certainly implies that Jesus’ hands at least were nailed (cf. Acts 2:23; Col 2:14). Evidently there were different styles of crosses including a single upright pole and two crossed poles in the form of an X, but the most common seems to have been a vertical pole and a horizontal one in the form of a T with the crossbar either at the top or near the top of the vertical piece. The usual practice was for the condemned to carry the crossbar to the place of execution where he was affixed to it and where it was hoisted upon the vertical stake that was permanently fixed. Death usually came slowly as a result of exposure and exhaustion. Inasmuch as no vital organ was damaged, it often took two or three days for the subject to die, although death could be hastened by breaking the legs (cf. John 19:31–33).

Norman Geisler writes in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

The nature of the crucifixion assures death. . . . Jesus hung on the cross from 9 in the morning until just before sunset (Mark 15:25, 33). He bled from gashes in his hands and feet and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. These wounds would have drained away much blood over more than six hours. Plus, crucifixion demands that one constantly pull up by the hands and push on the injured feet in order to breathe. This caused excruciating pain from the nails. . . .

Beyond these injuries, Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear. From this wound flowed a mixture of blood and water (John 19:34), a proof that physical death had occurred. This detail alone, and its confirmation by modern medical experts, strongly validates the claim that this narrative is an eyewitness account. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (21 March 1986) concluded:

‘Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.’

Jesus said he was dying when he declared on the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). And when ‘he had said this, he breathed his last’ (vs. 46). John renders this, ‘he gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30). His death cry was heard by those who stood nearby (Luke 23:47–49).

The Roman soldiers, accustomed to crucifixion and death, pronounced Jesus dead. Although it was a common practice to break the legs of the victim to speed death (so that the person could no longer breathe), they did not believe it necessary to break Jesus’ legs (John 19:33).

Pilate double-checked to make sure Jesus was dead before he gave the corpse to Joseph to be buried. ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph’ (Mark 15:44–45).

Jesus was wrapped in about 100 pounds of cloth and spices and placed in a sealed tomb for three days (Matt. 27:60; John 19:39–40). If he was not dead by then, the lack of food, water, and medical treatment would have finished him.

There is simply no way that Jesus did not die on the cross. But let’s pretend that somehow he was only near death when he was put in the tomb. What would have happened next? Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus, describes the scene:

D. F. Strauss’s critique is every bit as pertinent today as it was on the day he offered it. He asked us to suppose that a man was removed from his cross half dead, buried in a tomb and somehow reenergized after a few days. Having awakened from his stupor and wanting out of the dark tomb, he places his nail-pierced hands on the very heavy stone blocking his entrance and pushes it out of the way. He then walks blocks on pierced and wounded feet in search of his disciples. Finally, he arrives at the place they are staying and knocks on the door, which Peter opens only to see a severely wounded and dehydrated Jesus who is hunched over and looks up at Peter and through his extreme pain grimaces and says, ‘I’m the firstfruits of the general resurrection!’ Such a Jesus would never have convinced his disciples that he was the risen prince of life. Alive? Barely. Resurrected? Never. Allison comments, ‘How a flagellated, half-dead victim of the hideous torture of crucifixion could impress others as triumphant over death is hard to envisage.’

What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Verses like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” have led to confusion in the church. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine. They all possess the same attributes of deity. Then how can Jesus say the Father is greater than him?

The early church developed the doctrine of functional subordination to clarify the roles of the three members of the Trinity. Theologian Norman Geisler explains this doctrine in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation:

All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. It is a heresy (called subordinationism) to affirm that there is an ontological subordination of one member of the Trinity to another, since they are identical in essence . . . ; nonetheless, it is clear that there is a functional subordination; that is, not only does each member have a different function or role, but some functions are also subordinate to others.

The Function of the Father

By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.

The Function of the Son

The Son, on the other hand, is the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation. The Father sent, and the Son came to save us; the Father planned it, but the Son accomplished it on the cross. This is why it is a heresy (called patripassianism) to claim that the Father suffered on the cross—only the Son suffered and died.

Further, the Son is eternally ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from the Father, but the Father is never said to be ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from anyone.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

According to orthodox theology, both East and West, the Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father, but the Father never proceeds from the Holy Spirit—that is, the Father sends the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father. . . . Many Eastern Orthodox theologians are willing to say that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father indirectly through the Son, but they deny that the Son has authority to send the Holy Spirit on His own. Be that as it may, all agree that there is a functional subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Father.

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity. Paul wrote:

‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24, 28)’

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan)

Jesus is teaching and, within the crowd, an expert in the Old Testament stands up to challenge him. He asks Jesus a common question among Jews of the day: What do I do to guarantee I will be accepted into the kingdom of God when the end of the age arrives?

This question most likely references the description of the end times in Daniel 12:2. Daniel wrote, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The lawyer wants to see how Jesus will answer this question, probably hoping to catch Jesus in an error.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks the lawyer what his reading of the Law is on this important subject. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which effectively command a person to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, provides some interesting background:

The expert’s answer consisted of two OT passages. The first (Deut 6:5) was called the Shema because it begins ‘Hear, O Israel.’ A devout Jew would repeat it twice each day (Ber. 1:1–4). In the Shema three prepositional phrases describe the total response of love toward God. These involve the heart (emotions), the soul (consciousness), and strength (motivation). The Synoptic Gospels all have ‘heart’ and ‘soul,’ Matthew omits strength, and all add ‘mind’ (intelligence). The second OT passage in the lawyer’s answer is Lev 19:18. It is found also in Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8. In Luke the two OT passages are combined into a single command, whereas in Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39 they are left separate. Whether these two OT passages were linked before Jesus’ time is uncertain. They appear together in the early Christian literature. That this twofold summary was basic to Jesus’ teaching is evident by its appearance in his parables (Luke 15:18, 21; 18:2; cf. also 11:42, where ‘justice’ equals ‘love your neighbor’).

Some Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus is advocating a salvation by works in this passage, but the commands to love God and love your neighbor are completely compatible and consistent with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Stein expands on this topic:

To love God means to accept what God in his grace has done and to trust in him. Faith involves more than mental assent to theological doctrines. Similarly, love is not just an emotion. Both entail an obedient trust in the God of grace and mercy. The response of love to God and of faith in God are very much the same. This intimate association between love and faith is seen most clearly in Luke 7:47, 50. For Luke, as for Paul, salvation was by grace (Acts 13:38–39) through faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), but this faith works through love (see Gal 5:6). At times the aspect of faith may need to be emphasized and at other times love.

Theologian Norman Geisler reminds us, in Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, that

True faith involves love, which is the greatest commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). Unbelievers ‘perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10). Paul speaks of ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).

The lawyer, however, demands clarification from Jesus on who exactly counts as a neighbor. Instead of giving the lawyer a direct answer, Jesus delivers a parable. In brief, a Jew traveling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. An Aaronic priest and a Levite both pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan stops to help him. The Samaritan also transports him to an inn and pays for him to stay several weeks until he heals.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was remote and dangerous. It was a 3,000 feet descent along a 17- mile road. There were plenty of places for robbers to hide.

Once the man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, a temple priest (a descendant of Aaron) happens by. Why did the priest fail to help the man? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, speculates:

Since the man was ‘half dead’ the priest would probably not have been able to be certain whether he was dead or not without touching him. But if he touched him and the man was in fact dead, then he would have incurred the ceremonial defilement that the Law forbade (Lev. 21:1ff.). He could be sure of retaining his ceremonial purity only by leaving the man alone. He could be sure he was not omitting to help a man in need only by going to him. In this conflict it was ceremonial purity that won the day. Not only did he not help, he went to the other side of the road. He deliberately avoided any possibility of contact.

A man from the tribe of Levi then comes upon the man, but he also continues without helping him. Robert Stein explains:

The Levite was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests in various sacrificial duties and policing the temple but could not perform the sacrificial acts. Luke was not suggesting that since the Levite’s duties were inferior to those of a priest he might have been more open to help because the problem of becoming defiled was less acute. Rather he was emphasizing that neither the wise and understanding (10:21) nor the proud and ruling (1:51–52) practice being loving neighbors.

Finally, a Samaritan man arrives and has compassion on the injured Jew. He binds his wounds and treats them with wine and oil. Wine was used for cleaning wounds, due to the alcohol in it, and the oil was used to provide pain relief.

The Samaritan goes even further, though. He places the man on his donkey and carries him to an inn where he can rest and heal. He offers enough money to the innkeeper for the man to be able to stay for several weeks.

The fact that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero in the parable is shocking to his audience. It is worthwhile to remind the reader of the history between the Jews and Samaritans. Stein writes:

The united kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death due to the foolishness of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12). The ten northern tribes formed a nation known variously as Israel, Ephraim, or (after the capital city built by Omri) Samaria. In 722 b.c. Samaria fell to the Assyrians, and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish peoples were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted, and the ‘rebels’ became ‘half-breeds’ in the eyes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. (Jews comes from the term Judea.) After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. When their offer of assistance was rejected, they sought to impede its building (Ezra 4–6; Neh 2–4). The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, but led by John Hyrcanus the Jews destroyed it in 128 b.c. (cf. John 4:20–21). So great was Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ (John 8:48; cf. also 4:9).

When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer who was the true neighbor to the Jew who had been robbed. The lawyer, without being able to say the word “Samaritan,” nevertheless identifies the Samaritan as the true neighbor.

The message is clear. The command to love our neighbor crosses ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Stein comments:

For most Jews a neighbor was another Jew, not a Samaritan or a Gentile. The Pharisees (John 7:49) and the Essenes did not even include all Jews (1QS 1:9–10). The teaching of the latter stands in sharp contrast with that of Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love everyone as we love ourselves, including those whom we consider our enemies.