Day 156: Matthew 17:22-23

The Son of Man is about to be handed over to those who will kill him; but three days later he will be raised to life.

I’m part of a small group that meets twice a month.  One of the people in our group is a life-long Methodist who believes in reincarnation.  Wikipedia defines reincarnation as “Reincarnation is the religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body.”   Reincarnation is an important belief of Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and is dismissed by mainline Christianity as “new age” and, well, evil.  At first we had a lot of discussions about this with our friend.  We explained to her that this was not a Methodist view of things. She didn’t care in the least.  She said that she knows what she knows and

ResurrectionAs for resurrection, that is defined by Wikipedia as “the concept of a living being coming back to life after death,” either in a restored physical body or a “spiritual body”.  Growing up I thought that Jesus’ resurrection after death was a sure sign that he was super-human, the Son of God.  I was also familiar with the scriptures that say that good people will be resurrected from the dead in the end times after the second coming of Christ.  And of course I was taught that people go to heaven when they die and continue to live there in their spiritual bodies.  This belief doesn’t have a lot of scriptural justification, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.   The problem is that these different beliefs seem to be in conflict.  If I’m enjoying myself in heaven, why would I want to be physically resurrected later on earth after the second coming?  Seems like it might be kind of a downgrade.  It all seems a little muddled.

A close reading of the Gospel indicates that both Jesus and the Pharisees believed that the resurrection of the dead and reincarnation are possibilities for all people.  It seems to have been a pretty common belief.  For example, they debated whether John the Baptist or Jesus were either reincarnated or resurrected from past lives.  These are some examples in Matthew:

  • At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Matthew 14:1-2).
  • When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14).
  • For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. (Matthew 11:13-14).
  • But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:12).
  • Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29-32).

And don’t forget the Transfiguration where Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-3).

So on the basis of this one might say that my friend’s beliefs are more closely aligned with the teachings of Jesus than those of the Christian church.  Today’s Jews still believe in both resurrection and reincarnation.  This is from http://www.jewfaq.org:

Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected.

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees (intellectual ancestors of Rabbinical Judaism) from the Sadducees. The Sadducees rejected the concept, because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The Pharisees found the concept implied in certain verses.

There are some mystical schools of thought that believe resurrection is not a one-time event, but is an ongoing process. The souls of the righteous are reborn in to continue the ongoing process of tikkun olam, mending of the world. Some sources indicate that reincarnation is a routine process, while others indicate that it only occurs in unusual circumstances, where the soul left unfinished business behind. Belief in reincarnation is commonly held by many Chasidic sects, as well as some other mystically-inclined Jews.

Interestingly enough, the resurrection of the dead in some form or another is one of the things that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree on.  And reincarnation is something that Jews have in common with Hindus and Buddhists.  It seems to be a rather universal concept.  Something to think about.  Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

One thing for sure is that I need to tell all of this to my Methodist friend who believes in reincarnation.  She should be affirmed for standing firm in her beliefs, because her beliefs are those of Jesus.  There are many things we don’t understand, and none of it is as cut and dried as traditional Christian teachings would lead us to believe.  There are still a few mysteries out there.  Just a few.  We haven’t figured it all out.

After this scripture, it says, “The disciples became very sad.”   I hope that Jesus wasn’t too sad.  I hope that he was a little bit excited about being raised from the dead.  I hope this assurance made what was about to come a little bit easier, this knowledge that even though evil people were going to kill his body, they would not succeed in destroying his soul. I hope this assurance of the victory of life over death was a comfort to him in this most ominous and difficult time.

What does this scripture say to you?

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