A two-year old toddler darts out in front of an onrushing car…
A Jewish philanthropist, who has aided thousands, dies of a stroke …
A carefree high school student with a promising future is cut down in a drive-by shooting…
A non-religious soldier dies on the field of battle in defense of his country…
A Hindu mother dies in the pains of childbirth…
All five of these have three things in common. They were all good people. None of them were Christians … and…they are all dead! What is to become of them? This is a question Christianity has struggled with for centuries. Kind hearts want to see them live again. Christian dogma says that "there is none other name under heaven " by which to be saved than that of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Therein lies the dilemma. Yet Scripture is clear. The Bible promises …
They Shall All Live Again!
The Bible clearly states that "all that are in the graves" shall hear the voice of the son of man and come forth" (John 5:28,25,29) and that Jesus Christ "gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim. 2:6)
All includes not only the good unbelievers, as in the cases above, but even the evil. Consider the case of the residents of ancient Sodom. Their wickedness was so great that even today the name of their city is preserved in the sexual perversion of sodomy. Yet, despite their wickedness, their resurrection is assured.
"When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate.” (Ezek. 16:55) Not only will they return to their "former estate" of life, but in their return they will find even more congenial conditions of judgment than the less wicked, but more enlightened, residents of the Israeli city of Capernaum.
"But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. " (Matt. 11:22, 23, NIV)
Life and Death
In order to understand the biblical concept of resurrection we must examine the biblical concept of death. In order to understand that concept we need to look at the biblical concept of life.
According to the Bible, human life originated in the middle-eastern Garden of Eden with the creation of the first man, Adam. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Gen. 2:7) The statement is clear. Man was not given a "living soul" but became a living soul. The soul was not a possession of the creature, but man was, himself, "a living soul." The formula was equally simple: “God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [body + breath = living soul]."
If life is as simple as the union of body and breath, then death is equally simple. It is the dissolution of body and breath. The living soul simply ceases to exist. There is nothing immortal about it. The words “immortal” and “immortality” and the related word “incorruptible” only occur ten times in the Bible. Always they are either given as an attribute of God and of Christ, or one to be striven for by the footstep followers of Jesus. They are never given as an inherent quality of man. In fact, at the time the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, he states that Christ alone possessed immortality (1 Tim.6: 16).
The mistaken notion that man possesses an immortal soul has been the source of much confusion concerning death and resurrection. If man is immortal he cannot die. If he cannot die, provision must be made for him after he ceases to breathe. Since many are not considered good enough for heaven, an alternative place must be sought. Only too often the horrors of eternal punishment in an ever-burning hell of fire is put forth as that alternative place. The Bible says that such a concept of the burning of man never came into God’s mind (Jer. 19:5; 32:35).
The Bible Hell
It is true that the Bible does use the word "Hell." A careful study of this word’s usage in the Bible provides an interesting insight into the condition of death. The Hebrew word translated "hell" in the Old Testament is sheol. It simply means the condition of the dead and is frequently left untranslated in most modern versions of the Bible. The word is used 65 times and is translated "hell" 31 times, "grave" 31 times, and "pit" three times. The word describes the death condition of both the good and the bad. However the translators of the King James version have obscured this fact by translating it "grave" when used of a good person and "hell" when used of a bad person.
For instance, the faithful patriarch Jacob thought his son Joseph was there and expected to go to him in that abode (Gen. 37:35). Afflicted Job prayed to go there (Job 14:13). It is prophesied of Jesus that he would go there for a short while (Psa. 16:10). No man is said to escape it (Psa. 89:48). Those in the Bible hell have no consciousness (Eccl. 9:10; Isa. 38:18). Good king Hezekiah anticipated going to this biblical hell (Isa. 38:9,10). Men will be redeemed from hell and hell itself will be destroyed (Hosea 13:14).
Quotations from the Old Testament sheol use this word hades. The ultimate destiny of this Bible “hell” is graphically described in Revelation 20:14, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” If hell is to be cast into the lake of fire, it is obvious that hell itself is not the burning fire, but merely a symbol of complete and total destruction.
There is, however, another Greek word frequently translated “hell.” It is the Greek Gehenna. Jerusalem is a mountainous city and is topographically marked by three great valleys - the Kidron, the Hinnom, and the Tyropean. The Hinnom valley lies just to the south of the city walls and in ancient times was the site for the pagan rituals of human sacrifices. In later time it became the garbage dump for the city where fires were constantly kept burning and where the bodies of dead criminals were cast to be disposed of by the elements. These naturally bred maggots which fed on the decaying flesh. Thus it was considered as a place where the “worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”(Mark 9:43,44; Isa. 66:24) The fires of Gehenna were destructive fires. Nothing lived in them. They utterly consumed all the refuse thrown therein. Thus they describe a place of utter annihilation, and not a place of torment.
Even the noted Professor W. E .Vine, himself a believer in hell as a conscious place of torment, admits that this is not the significance of the word: “Often incorrectly translated “hell” in the KJV, sheol was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind.”
The concept, therefore, of the Bible teaching of place of eternal conscious torment in hell is purely an interpretation and is not based on the meaning of the words involved. Even the scholars of such respected church denominations as the Church of Canada (in 1950) and the Church of England (in 1996) have endorsed the conclusion that the Bible does not teach a literal hell of fire and torment. Other denominations, such as the Presbyterians, have taken a similar stand, though not as publicly.
The Origin of Death
Not only was the Garden of Eden the location for the creation of life, it was there that the death process began. After creating man, God gave him a simple rule to live by. Placing man in a fertile garden setting, God gave him permission to eat of the trees in the garden and live. There was but one exception. The Bible calls it "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Of this tree, God said, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen, 2:17)
The story is well known, Satan, through a serpent, tempted Adam's wife, Eve. She ate. She gave of the fruit to Adam and Adam ate. Disobedience entered the world. The consequences were severe and they were carried out. "The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) The first couple was expelled from their garden home and began a long slide into the grave. The process that began in the 24-hour day back in Eden saw its full fruition when Adam expired at the age of 930 years - within a biblical 1,000-year day (2 Peter 3:8).
Being the universal father, the genes of death were inherited by his offspring and death became equally universal. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12)
Hopes for Life
Over the next forty centuries hopes began to evolve for a new life after death. These hopes were vague at first, but became more sharply defined as God revealed His plans through writers of the Old Testament. The first glimmer of a reversal of the death sentence was immediate. While God was pronouncing the curses upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their respective roles in introducing sin and death, He implied a removal of the evil, saying to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Gen. 3:15) The fact that Eve believed this promise is indicated in the naming of her son, Seth, when she said that God "hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel.” (Gen. 4:25)
Both the provision of coats of skins, requiring the death of an animal, and the "more acceptable sacrifice” by Abel of an animal implied that this reversal would come through "blood" atonement. It was not until the time of Abraham, however, that the hopes began to take more definite shape. On numerous indications God reiterated a covenant promise to this faithful patriarch: "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 12:3; 28:14)
On the basis of this promise the children of Abraham began to develop a solid belief in life after death. Thus Job could answer his own question, "If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands." (Job 14:14,15) It was thus that Moses could write: "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” (Psa. 90:3)
The Turning Point
The hopes of the Old Testament reached their fulfillment in the New. The cross of Christ became the crossroads of history. The object of his ministry was not only to be the Messiah of Israel, but the redeemer of all mankind. As the angels spoke on the day of His birth, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11)
This was the very cause for which he came to earth. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) In line with this Paul writes: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Rom. 5:18) This redemption for all became the theme of the Apostle’s writings. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:21, 22)
More Than Life
In fact, the death of Jesus assures more than life. The Apostle Peter described its effects as "times of restitution of all things." Even the earth will return to Edenic conditions. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” (Isa. 35:1, 2)
For man raised from the dead to these perfect conditions, life will be different from now. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Isa. 35:5,6)
Then there will be freedom from war for "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isa. 2:4) Then there will be freedom from poverty for "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it." (Micah 4:4) Then there will be freedom from sorrow because then God will "swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces." (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4)
Sleepers in Death Awake
Today all mankind goes into the grave. Death is now the end of all life. It is in the tomb that we now end life's journey – the innocent toddler, the Jewish philanthropist, the promising youth, the fallen soldier, the Hindu mother - all!
But the Bible describes death as merely "a sleep." It was thus that the Bible describes such men as David and Solomon as having "slept with their fathers." (1 Kings 2:10; 11:43) It was thus that Jesus described Lazarus when he was deceased. (John 11:11-14) Just as sleepers compose themselves for the peaceful rest of the night with full expectation of awakening refreshed in the morning, so all the sleepers in the tomb will awaken in the resurrection morning, refreshed and ready to learn from their great deliverer the laws which they must keep to enjoy life forevermore.
When men are raised from the tomb there will be a need for a great educational program. The majority of earth's population have never even heard of Christ, nor even of the God of Israel. This will be the work of the Kingdom of God, to educate the billions of humanity in the laws of righteousness which, if kept, will permit them to live forever in the paradise conditions that will fill this planet earth.
Then shall be fulfilled the prophetic words, "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) And again, "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34)
This work is described as a highway that leads to holiness in Isaiah 35:8-10, upon which "the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Then death will be "swallowed up in victory" and the triumphant call will sound throughout the world, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55)
OPENING OF THE WEEK OF BROTHERHOOD IN BERLIN
The Israel highly regarded Society for Christian-Jewish co-operation has bestowed on me a special honor by inviting me to the Opening of the Week of Brotherhood in Berlin- a feeling that has now been further strengthened by the large number of participants present here.
Your kind invitation though, to come here, I accepted only after much hesitation and precisely therefore I am grateful to you for this invitation: As a native-born Berliner, who built - had to build his life somewhere else - you have thus given me a unique opportunity to talk with you about something that is very close to my heart, as it is undoubtedly close to yours.
The theme of our gathering here today is the roaring call of the prophet: "Remove the stones" (Isa. 62:10) -remove the stones on the road to a better future I am standing here in front of you as a son of the Jewish people - a community-of-fate that was able to survive - in spite of frequent internal differences of opinion because this community was based on BROTHERHOOD, and will forever continue to be based on BROTHERHOOD - and this on the strength of our principle "Kol Israel Chaverim," i.e., all sons and daughters of Israel are bound together by the same fate.
At the same time, however, I am a person who has been raised here in Berlin, on German soil, whose mother-tongue is German - that in my mouth now probably sounds somewhat dusty and rusty - and who absorbed during the first fifteen and a half years of his life here the cultural and social environment of the then Berlin and who probably goes on keeping elements of this within himself till this day. Your invitation, however, if I understand it accurately, was directed to the focal Jewish component in me and to my being an Israeli citizen, and as such I may be permitted to speak about brotherhood.
At the beginning of the story of man stands a murder, a fracticide; the tragedy of Cain and Abel. In the Scriptures it is mentioned only briefly - the motive, seemingly envy, is merely hinted at.
Cain slew his brother and God asked him: "Where is Abel, thy brother?" (As if God did not know exactly what had happened!) And Cain answered with the bad conscience that he had "I know not, am I the keeper of my brother?" And God said to him: "What hast thou done, the voice of thy brother's blood cries unto me from the ground. " (Gen. 4:8-10) It is a particularity· of the Hebrew language of the original that the word "blood" here stands in the plural, which can not be rendered in the German or English languages. The traditional understanding of this particularity is, that God accuses Cain not merely of the murder of Abel, but also of the destruction of the entire future biological potential of his brother - therefore the word "blood" in the original is put there in the plural.
Henceforth Cain was marked as a murderer and he was refused the fruit of the land. This was the first murder - the murder of his own brother - murder of the Godly Creation itself, out of envy, hate - because there was no love between the brothers.
What, exactly, love means we learn from a chassidic legend (‘The Passover’) as narrated by Martin Buber:
"How to love people, I learned from a peasant. He sat with other peasants in a pub and drank. A long time he kept silent, like all the others. When, however, the wine had warmed his heart, he turned to his neighbor: 'Tell me, do you, or don't you love me?' His neighbor responded: 'I love you very much!' But the first peasant spoke again: 'You say you love me, but nevertheless you don't know what pains me. Had you loved me in earnest, you would have known! ‘The neighbor was at a loss to respond, and the peasant, who had asked the question, again fell silent. However, myself, now I understood: This then is the sincere love for our fellow human beings: To sense their needs and to bear together with them their pains."
In the Jewish tradition we have one central principle which is the guide-line for our life: "Israel arevirn zeh lazeh," i.e., "The sons and daughters of Israel vouch one... for all and all for one." This mutual vouching means above all: Mutual responsibility and a helping hand where and whenever needed.
During the first difficult years of our small State, many thousands of Jewish refugees came to us in order to find a new start for their life. Within a few years the number of our citizens tripled! They were our sisters and brothers, but how desperate were they, how sad; how badly neglected were they, how crying out.for help and sympathy. To care for all these unhappy human beings, to absorb them into the young, poor, then relatively underdeveloped community, called for patience of angels and often meant foregoing many things in daily life. Here is just one example: The children of the newcomers entered school without knowledge of the Hebrew language, let alone command of it, and this in most cases after years without any kind of regular, or even remotely normal schooling. The result: Sinking standards, slowing-down of the teaching-process, enormous educational problems. Similar problems existed in the fields of the economy, production, culture, and on top of all this came the frequent attacks from without.
As one of those who was there himself and who experienced all this with his then young family, I may be permitted to say: to a large extent we made it! What was the secret of this success? The secret was the little things, the often hardly visible small kindnesses in daily life - the kindness and recognition - not the general, all-including one, but rather the recognition of the individual, the different one, the fellow - though strange human - the BROTHER.
There is in our tradition an idea which expresses such an approach in a beautiful way: "Kol ha’rnekayern nefesch achat - ke'ilu kiyem olarn rnaleh," i.e., Whosoever succors one person, by this deed alone he ensures the survival of all man.
To "remove the stones" surely means to recognize ·the difference, the otherness of fellow-humans, to learn about the fate of the brother - to take part, to be part of his life. It means to get to know the face of the other and to recognize in him the fellow human brother and thereby to learn to love him.
Hate towards someone, always is hate of the brother, the fellow-man, and this is the worst sin. In another chassidic tale - this one, too, re-told by Martin Buber - we hear thus ("The Arnshinover"):
"Sinning against a fellow-man is worse than sinning against the Creator. The fellow man whom you have hurt, may now be at a place unknown to you, therefore you may not have any more an opportunity to ask him to forgive you. The LORD, however, is everywhere and you can always find Him if you just care to seek Hirn. "
The Bible, as well as the later, rich Jewish tradition and, likewise, the just quoted chassidic folk-tales, constitute the basic pillars of our culture. In addition, there is the New Testament, an outstanding component of our common civilization, in which the central figure is Jesus of Nazareth.
When the well-known Jerusalem author Shalom Ben-Chorin speaks of Jesus, he says (in his Book "My brother Jesus"): "For me Jesus is the eternal brother, not merely the human brother, but, specifically, my Jewish brother. I sense his brotherly hand that grasps mine, so that I may go with him. It is not the hand of the Messiah, the hand that is marked by the wounds of suffering. It surely is not a godly, but rather a human hand, whose lines testify to deepest travail."
And thus we read in the New Testament (Rom. 12:10): "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." And further (Heb. 13:1) "Keep on loving each other as brothers" thus are we admonished.
It goes without saying that we all know the basic commandments of our Scriptures - Buber calls them the "Books of Teaching": Thou shalt love thy neighbor like yourself. In our cultural heritage - according to Rabbi Akiva - this is the most important commandment of the entire Bible.
Of Hillel, the "Elder, " one of the Jewish sages of antiquity, it is said: "A simple man once came to Rabbi Hillel and challenged him to teach him the whole Torah - the complete body of Jewish teaching - while he can stand on just one leg. And Hillel responded: "What is hateful to you, don’t do to your fellow-man; all the rest is commentary and that you can study by yourself !"
The most important festival in the Jewish year is "Yom Kipur," the Day of Atonement. In the special Prayer of this day we find: "Quarrel between you and the Lord will be forgiven, but quarrel between you and your fellow-man will not be forgiven until the two of you are reconciled yourselves. "
At this point of time we approach the end of the 20th Century, which testifies to the greatest technological and scientific development of all time. However, facing these colossal achievements in the material spheres are, above all, the steadily increasing inroads made on the natural environment along with the visible growing mutual human estrangement - the deepening insensibility towards our fellow man.
We are gathered here today in order to ponder the meaning of Brotherhood, and our motto for this day directs us to "remove the stones." But what, exactly are those stones that obstruct our road - the road from confronting one another to supporting one another? Let me suggest that those stones are being "the other," the "different one," the stranger with his unusual accent and, perhaps, different skin-color, unaccustomed creeds and habits. What is strange and different in someone else, we perceive right away - mostly without being conscious of our own shortcomings.
In His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1-4) Jesus says: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother' s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"
Should we not stop looking the other way, since we stand in debt in front of our fellow man. What we owe him is not just Goodwill, but, and above all, responsibility - active responsibility - for his life in our midst and for his welfare. Such readiness to assume responsibility is assuredly not merely a matter for reason - it must be also a matter of our heart. In Goethe's words: "If you don 't feel it, you'll never hunt it down, and never will you join heart to heart, if it does not flow out of your own heart."
In the large treasure-chest of Jewish tradition and folklore is found a "Midrash," a legend, which tells us exactly of this, of brotherly love that flows out of the heart:
"On the spot where long ago the Holy Temple stood, years before two brothers lived. One had wife and children, but the other was childless and lived alone. Together the two brothers tilled the field they jointly owned. Together they ploughed, together they sowed and at harvest-time they together mowed the wheat and then divided it into two equal parts - one half for the firstborn, single brother, the other half for the younger brother and his family.
"That night the older brother could find no sleep. He mused: My brother has a wife and three children to provide for - he must feed and clothe them, and for them all he must provide a roof over their heads; I, however, live by myself and don't have to care but for myself. What I do here is just not right. He thus rose after midnight from his bunk, when out to their field and there he took some wheat from his pile and took it over to the pile of his younger brother.
"The younger brother, too, could find no sleep that night. He pondered: I have a wife and children, when I get old and my strength wanes I won't be able any more to do heavy work, but then, assuredly, my sons will support me. But what will become of my brother when he in turn gets old and weak? It just is not right that I and my brother get an equal share of the harvest.
"So the younger brother rose and went out to their field. Having arrived there, he took wheat from his pile and carried it over to his brother' s heap.
"At dawn, both brothers rose and went out to work their field. Once there they immediately saw that both their heaps of wheat were equal. Both were puzzled but said nothing.
"The next night both brothers again went out to their field, but at different times. And once again each took wheat from his heap and took it over to the pile of his brother. And so it came about the next morning both piles of wheat were equal. The same took place the third night.
"At the fourth night they again went out to their field and, like before, each brother took a load of wheat from his pile in order to add it to his brother' s. This time, however, they encountered each other midway between the two piles and thus, at long last, they understood the riddle! They embraced one another and blessed the Lord. And the Lord saw the good deed of the brothers and thereupon blessed that very spot where they had met that night. Many years later, right there King Solomon built the Holy Temple."
The Book of Proverbs - the Sayings of Solomon - date back even earlier than that legend. Proverbs have a warning to us all, through to our day and time (29:18): "Be'eyn Chason - yipara am," i.e., when there is no noble idea, the people become restless and violent.
In our era of spurting High-Tech in an ever more narrowing and more crowded world this noble idea is the will for a peaceful life side by side with our fellow man and reaching out for one another. In short: The readiness to assume responsibility towards our brothers.
Specifically we, the sons and daughters of the Jewish people, are keenly aware of the everlasting value of this idea.
At the conclusion of my book on the unique Christian support of the realization of the Jewish Return to the Promised Land, I wrote: "The people of Israel are like Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, who was sent out one evening after his brothers. Darkness fell when Joseph found himself alone in the field. An old man found him, and asked him; "What seekest thou?" And Joseph answered: "I seek my brethren. " (Gen. 37:15-16)
An old interpretation of this passage informs us that the old man, whom Joseph asked about his brothers and who thereupon guided him on the way to his brothers, was none other than the Messiah.
May it be given to us, that we, too, while walking together on the road towards our brothers, meet the Messiah.
(Speech by Michael J. Pragai, March 2, 1991)
DISCOVERY: An international team of researchers exploring the bottom of the Dead Sea in a submarine has discovered what it believes are the ruins of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah - described in the Book of Genesis as evil cities which were destroyed with fire and brimstone as Divine punishment.
The dives - for which the submarine had to be weighted with lead to counteract the buoyancy of the extremely salty water - nearly sparked an international incident, since the Dead Sea is a military zone along the shared border of Israel and Jordan, and military authorities at one point ordered the ship out of Jordanian waters.
(World Jewry, April 2000)