The Hebrew Bible offered no rewards in the afterlife and very little
hope of life after death. Psalm 115:17 for example says, "The dead do
not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence." So deafening was the Bible's silence regarding an
afterlife that Israel's Saducees (priests by their lineage) managed to argue
about it for centuries with the Pharisees (leaders by education).
When the Sadducees claimed there was no life after death, other Jews
could not laugh them off because the Bible said almost nothing about
the topic. They believed the soul died when the body died, and
scripture showed little sign of disagreement.
Since their scriptures did not teach about rewards after death, believers sought their happiness strictly in this life, praying for example:
Without hope of justice being done in an
afterlife, the Hebrew Scriptures are full of hateful prayers for the immediate
punishment of their enemies:
"Raze it, raze it to its very foundation." 8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how
blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us.
9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.
Likewise, the saints of that age exhibited
hatred for their enemies in exactly the opposite manner of what Jesus
would later teach about loving our enemies.
22 I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.
BAD BECAME GOOD
When the new King arrived, He blessed the bad. He blessed in Matthew 5:3-12 poverty, mourning, weakness, hunger, forgiveness, surrender, persecution, and insults. He told His listeners to rejoice when they encountered such problems because: "your reward in heaven is great." No longer was the afterlife shrouded in mystery. The great Rabbi made it authoritatively clear for the first time that life existed beyond the grave.
The afterlife had been so hidden from scripture that when the Sadducees challenged Jesus about life after death, He had to prove it by quoting the passage which calls the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He then said, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living." In the entire Hebrew Bible, no clearer statement of life-after-death could be found.
At the new teaching of the Rabbi, bad could be punished after death and good could be rewarded after death because life after death had been affirmed. Moreover, bad could be good and good could be bad because temporary suffering (apparently bad) could be rewarded with eternal joy which made bad suffering become good. Likewise, temporary pleasures (apparently good) could be eternally punished if sinful, thereby making the good become bad.
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
Curious minds have to ask why God would hide the promise of eternity from us for those thousands of years. To solve that mystery, we must ask where Jesus went when He died.
On Good Friday, King Jesus proved bad had become good when He willingly hung on the vilest torture device of that day. A criminal hanging next to Him called Jesus the King (Lk23:42) to which He replied "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise." Two days later however, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." So from Friday to Sunday, Jesus had been somewhere He called paradise, but He had not been with God the Father.
Next, we consider Luke sixteen, in which Jesus said a poor man named Lazarus had gone to Abraham's bosom where "he is being comforted"(Lk16:25). Remarkably, God was not described as being there, and Abraham appeared to be the highest authority there. Next, 1Peter 3:18-19 says of Jesus, "Because the King also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison." Paradise then was somehow also a "prison", the place King Jesus went as a spirit when He died. And in that paradise prison, Jesus "preached to spirits."
Matthew tells us when the King died, "The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many." Then finally Ephesians four says of King Jesus, "When He ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." On Good Friday, Jesus went to a sort of prison which He could call "paradise" and a place of comfort, yet a place without God the Father. When He arrived at this paradise/prison, He preached to the spirits, then led captivity captive, and enabled many saints to rise from their tombs and appear "to many."
Apparently the Hebrew Bible did not speak of life after death because the saints of that era were not immediately able to go into the presence of the Lord. Prior to sin's ransom being paid by King Jesus, those counted righteous by their faith went to a "paradise" which would come to be known as Abraham's bosom, but which was also separated from God. Life-after-death therefore would required centuries of being comforted away from the presence of God. Such an afterlife could hardly seem like an appetizing offer of reward. Those who loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength could not be excited to hear they would have to spend centuries apart from the One whom they loved the most.
The afterlife appears to have been shrouded prior to Jesus because the afterlife did not contain the reward of being with God until "the King also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison,"(1Pet3:18-19) then when He "ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men"(Eph 4:8).
"Heavenless Bible" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on June 10th, 2013. All rights are reserved.