Word for Today - Anastasis
Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
anaspao (to draw up)
anastatoo (to stir up, excite, unsettle)
Who would have thought that in a very short space of time, practically the entire world would be in a state of lock-down, simply because of a small, but deadly virus? Life, for most people, has now changed dramatically, and will probably never be the same again. Even for believers, corporate gatherings are no longer possible, and social distancing has become a way of life. Man’s seeming invincibility has suddenly been replaced by abject fear as he views this pandemic posing an existential threat to the whole of humanity. The harbingers of doom are all around us, and even the so-called religious leaders of our day seem incapable of providing any spiritual guidance in this crisis. Yet the very silence of men reveals their almost complete ignorance of the fact that God has spoken and provided a remedy over death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This doctrine of resurrection underpins every other Christian doctrine, and without it Christianity would be meaningless. In Paul’s words, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’, 1 Cor. 15. 17 ESV. 1
The Old Testament records individuals who die and are then subsequently restored to life again as, for example, the son of the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kgs. 17. 17-23. Similarly, in 2 Kings chapter 8 verse 1, reference is made to the woman whose son Elisha had revived. In both these instances, the Hebrew word hayah is used, and later in 2 Kings chapter 13 verse 21, the same Hebrew word is used to describe the man who came alive again after being in contact with the bones of Elisha. This idea of coming alive again, or of resurrection, is highlighted elsewhere in the Old Testament, especially where the Septuagint (LXX) directly uses the Greek noun anastasis as in the extended superscription of Psalm 65(66), ‘For the end, a Song of a Psalm of resurrection’. The word can also be translated as ‘rising up’, or ‘standing up’. 2
Perhaps the one picture in the Old Testament that captures the essence of a general resurrection is Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, and the revival of Israel in a future day. 3 This is further developed with the idea of a specific resurrection, as in Isaiah chapter 26 verse 19 and Daniel chapter 12 verse 2. Interestingly, this hope of resurrection was maintained in Judaism, as the Inter-testament book 2 Maccabees records the story of the martyrdom of seven brothers and their mother at the hands of the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes IV. As each son is brutally murdered by Antiochus, they express their trust in God, and the fourth son, as he is near to death, says to the king, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!’ 2 Macc. 7. 14.
In the Greco-Roman world, which was highly influenced by Greek philosophy, resurrection of the body was considered impossible, apart from the transmigration of souls. The Greeks were dualists, believing that the spirit was everything and the body was essentially evil. They rejected the biblical idea of resurrection, and held the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul. 4 Their hope was that at death, the soul would be released from the bondage of the body to soar above and become part of the divine being. 5 The idea, then, of bodily resurrection was anathema to them because it would simply mean the continued incarceration of the soul. How could decomposed matter be brought together again? 6 These Greek notions later became subsumed together with Judaism into a heresy known as Gnosticism that soon threatened the life of the early church. Although Gnosticism did not come to full fruition until the second century AD, an incipient form of it was already surfacing in a number of New Testament churches, including Colossae. Paul’s letter to that church is essentially a refutation of this insidious and syncretistic error. His letter not only affirms the doctrine of bodily resurrection, Col. 2. 12, but also emphasizes the spiritual resurrection that believers enjoy through faith union with Christ, Col. 3. 1. As Eadie writes, ‘The nature and results of this spiritual resurrection are detailed under Eph. 2. 6’. 7
The single noun anastasis occurs over forty times in the Greek New Testament, and, apart from Luke chapter 2 verse 34, where the word is simply translated ‘rising’ as an antonym to the word ‘fall’, it usually refers to either the resurrection of Christ or to bodily resurrection in general.
Throughout the New Testament, there is a widespread distribution of the word anastasis, reflecting the importance that the doctrine holds within the Christian faith. The subject of the resurrection is rooted in the Gospel narratives, and provide powerful evidence of the historicity of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. 8 The Book of Acts and the New Testament letters develop the doctrine further, and show the transformational effect it has on the lives of those who exercise faith in Christ. 9 Notice how the knowledge of the risen Christ changed the apostles into a powerful and courageous group of witnesses, Acts 2. 14-36; 4. 1-12, and later the change in Paul’s life as he encountered the risen Christ, Acts 9.
In our Lord’s day, there was an ongoing controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees regarding the question of resurrection. The Sadducees took the view that there was no resurrection, because it was not supported by the written Law of Moses, and, therefore, that the soul was not immortal with no afterlife. When they confronted the Lord with a specious question regarding resurrection, He soon exposed the weakness in their argument, and silenced them. They were ultimately ignorant of the scriptures and the power of God, Matt. 22. 23-33. Even after losing this exchange, the Sadducees continued to maintain the same view regarding resurrection, Acts 4. 1-3.
When our Lord came to the grave of Lazarus and raised him from the dead, He referred to Himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’, John 11. 25. During His ministry, He often referred to a resurrection on the last day, John 5. 21; 6. 39, 40, but now He confirms that ‘he not only raises the dead on the last day (5. 21, 25ff.) but is himself the resurrection and the life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him’. 10 It also means certain judgement for the world in righteousness, Acts 17. 31.
There are many other instances relating to resurrection in the New Testament, but as we reflect again on the current world situation let us rejoice in the fact that death has been defeated by Christ at Calvary, and the vindication of this act is seen in His resurrection from the dead, Rom. 1. 4; 4. 24, 25. Christianity is not just about future hope, it is about present experience in the knowledge of that hope. Hope, therefore, shapes our experience as believers, so that our lives should be different from those around us. It is that difference today, because Christ has defeated death and been raised from the dead, that enables us to face this pandemic with certain hope of eternal life. Surely this confidence ought to attract others to Christ?
- ‘The Resurrection’, H. K. Moulton The Challenge of the Concordance, Attic Press, 1977, pp. 87-90.
- ‘anastasis’, W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, pp. 59, 60.
1 Paul’s use of the Greek perfect tense throughout 1 Corinthians chapter 15 means, for Paul, that not only did Christ rise historically from the dead some two thousand years ago, but He remains the risen Christ.
2 Lam. 3. 63 (LXX); Zeph. 3. 8 (LXX); Dan. 11. 20 (LXX).
3 Ezek. 37, cp. Job 19. 25; Isa. 53. 10.
4 This is why there was such a hostile reaction from the Epicureans and Stoics in Athens when they heard Paul preach ‘Jesus and the resurrection’, Acts 17. 18.
5 This is clearly part of the error that Peter addresses in his second letter, 2 Pet. 1. 4. Peter uses a very loaded vocabulary in this context, and emphasizes that we are made partakers of the divine nature after escaping the world that is in rebellion against God. We do not, as Christians, take on God’s essence but His holiness and, ultimately, the likeness of Christ, cp. Heb. 3. 14; 1 John 3. 2.
6 The question is further subdivided by Paul in his response to the Corinthians, ‘How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?’, 1 Cor. 15. 35. As Fee observes about the Corinthians, ‘the real concern behind their denial of the resurrection of the dead was an implicit understanding that that meant the reanimation of dead bodies the resuscitation of corpses’, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pg. 776. There were others who also misunderstood this doctrine, as, for example, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who argued that the resurrection was already past, 2 Tim. 2. 17-19. Paul regarded their teaching as not only erroneous, but damaging to the faith of others.
7 J. Eadie, Colossians, Greek Text Commentaries, Baker Books, pg. 208.
8 Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20.
9 Rom. 6. 5; 1 Cor. 15. 4; 2 Cor. 5. 15; Eph. 1. 20; Col. 2. 12.
10 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, IVP, pg. 412.
AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.