“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:13-14
In Acts 17:16-34, the apostle Paul, while in Athens, was brought to the Areopagus because he was preaching “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” Athens was the center of Greek philosophy. The popular view of resurrection among the Greeks was… well, there wasn’t one. That is of course if you have in mind a physical resurrection from the dead. If a person actually believes that the dead can rise, then no, according to the Greeks, there can be no such thing as “resurrection.”
The Platonic view taught that heavenly bliss was an escape from our physical bodies for a purely spiritual existence where the “shadows” become reality, but only in a disembodied state. No wonder their response to Paul was, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean” (Acts 17:20).
The Greeks, the wisest of the wise, did not accept a literal and physical rising of the dead. Resurrection, or anastasis (lit. to stand again), can only mean a spiritual rebirth or gnosis of the eternal things, not an actual dead body coming to life again. For the Greeks, it goes beyond the belief that a dead person could live again. Rejection of the resurrection was founded in the philosophical idea that the physical world was evil and only a shadow of that pure spiritual realm.
Greek philosophy largely embraced the idea that the soul needed to be freed from the material world of imperfections into the eternal realm of ideas. Some believed this meant there was, therefore, no moral code because material things were of no consequence.
The Corinthian church saw these ideas threatening its community. Immorality was being accepted among the saints, and they were gathering around one or two individuals like unto the way of Greek philosophical practice. This is still popular today.
“Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom…” Paul, 1 Cor. 1:20, 27; 2:6-7
Whether it was of the Stoic or Epicurean flavor, there was no room for Paul’s message of resurrection. According to the Greeks, dead men can’t rise, nor should we want them to. Therefore, many of the leaders rejected the idea, but others would hear Paul again and become followers of Christ (Acts 17:32-34).
Plato’s teaching on life after death was the prevailing view among the Greeks. As the good news of Christ was being preached in the first century, these philosophical ideas slowly merged with Christian doctrine and sort of a Christian Gnosticism was born.
Paul was constantly combating these foreign ideas and the threat of “another” good news. It was a century later that we have the Gnostic “apocryphal” books written to promote this merging of Greek ideas with Christian teaching (e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Mary, Judas, etc.).
You can see the continued popularity of these teachings in movies today (e.g. The Matrix, V for Vendetta, The Truman Show, etc.). Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the latest to promote the Gnostic view of Christ.
The goal is to strip Christ of his divinity and his sinless human nature. The same teachings that promote this disembodied spiritual future also accept the idea that the Creator (Yahweh) is evil and the serpent of the Garden of Eden is the agent of good come to cut man lose from his puppet strings.
According to Gnosticism, the serpent, the devil, brings knowledge of what is really going on. What man needs is to be freed or “awakened” by the “secret” knowledge or gnosis. Man needs to throw off rules and regulations of the flesh in order to embrace “spiritual” living. He needs to recognize his own divinity apart from God. Taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would do just that.
If man will only take the “red pill” and choose enlightenment, he shall indeed see “how far the rabbit hole goes.” We should find a sobering reminder from the movie, The Matrix.
“Zion” in Gnosticism leads us on a ship, named after the God-defying Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, to a dark city below the earth (i.e. hell). It will not be an orgy or a party portrayed in The Matrix, but an eternity separated from Christ where man ceases to bear the divine image. Hardly a future any of us would hope for.
If you can prove Jesus of Nazareth was like the ordinary man on the street, having that corruptible nature called “flesh,” and that there was no physical resurrection of the dead, that Jesus was merely revived after his crucifixion, and that he spent the rest of his days in Spain having kids with Mary Magdalene, then you can undermine the entire Christian hope. It is a distortion of the first century synoptic Gospel’s account that is satanic propaganda disguised as “knowledge.”
Gnosticism is an absurd attempt to falsify the Gospel message and its presentation of Jesus as the promised Messiah who was both God and man. I am confident that, at least for now, the idea is only embraced by a few who live with their heads in the clouds. However, these ideas have indeed wiggled their way into Christian eschatology and our teachings on heaven and the resurrection. (I’ll address this in Part II.)
This fabricated “secret” message may be able to make money at the Box Office, but the Gnostic Jesus holds no weight when it comes to reliable testimony and the historicity of the New Testament. We have plenty of evidence that suggests that the account of Christ we have in the New Testament Gospels is the real deal.
“Jesus is either the flesh-and-blood individual who walked and talked, and lived and died, in first-century Palastine, or he is merely a creature of our own imagination, able to be manipulated this way and that.”
N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? p.18
We, therefore, must decide what we do with Jesus and his recorded resurrection from the dead. Everything hinges on the resurrection—everything. We will choose to align ourselves with orthodox Christian belief or be swept away with the rising tide of heretical doctrines of demons.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:3-5
Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III