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    PloughCast 79: According to the Scriptures – Resurrection in the Old Testament

    By Alastair Roberts and Susannah Black Roberts

    March 20, 2024
    • Edward Solecki

      I believe the term "soulish body" (soma psyhikos) need more explanation as it is not in common use and understanding in English. Gives us also the opportunity to have wider perspective on the "body" issue, and confronts with all the implications. "God created Adam as a living soul" (Gen.2;7) living in soulish body (1Cor.15;44) That explains why Adam was able to travel between Heavens and Earth, as well as confirms location of the Eden in 3rd heaven 2Cor.12;1-4 (not on Earth) After fall, because all matter was cursed (Gen.3;17) Adam's body became "fleshly body" (soma sarkikos) and that is what we all inherited after him; "When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth." Gen.5;3 Consequently we are all created in the image of fallen Adam not in the image of God as Scripture applies this term to Adam only Gen.5;1. Jesus died in "fleshly body" (1John.4;2, Rom.8;3) and was resurrected in "spiritual body" (soma pneumatikos) (1Cor.15;44) and consequently; "just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man." 1Cor.15;49.

    About This Episode

    Alastair Roberts revisits the resurrection stories of the Old Testament.

    Jesus expected his followers to know that he was going to have to die and would then be resurrected – but, famously, they didn’t figure it out until it happened. What were Jewish expectations of resurrection, and where is the idea found in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible?

    Alastair discusses the hints and implications found throughout the text, from metaphors which point to Israel’s return from exile as a kind of political resurrection, to more literal expectations of life beyond death.

    He then discusses how we are to understand Christ’s resurrected body itself, and therefore ours: Saint Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” and yet Jesus tells his disciples to notice that he has “flesh and bone.” What is a spiritual body? How did first century Jews think of flesh and spirit? And what can we expect?

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome back to The PloughCast! I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough. I’m speaking today with my husband, Alastair Roberts. He’s a biblical theologian, with a doctorate from Durham University in England, and teaches for the Davenant and Theopolis institutes; he also does his own independent scholarship, and if this podcast whets your appetite for his Bible teaching you can find a lot more of it at, and for his nearly complete audio commentary on nearly every chapter of nearly every book of the Bible. That, and dating me, were his Covid projects.

    Well, welcome to the podcast, Alastair. It’s lovely to have you here. I’m recording this from my office, which is right below your office. And we’re only able to record this because you successfully set up our new internet earlier today. So thank you for that. All right, so we are today going to be talking about, I think the topic you had proposed was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” So this is basically the resurrection in the Old Testament. Is that right?

    Alastair Roberts: That’s correct.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Alright, so this is Easter content. Obviously, one normally thinks of the resurrection as something that happens in the New Testament. And that’s quite a surprise. You know, obviously, Jesus’ disciples kept not getting that that’s what was going to happen. And even after he told them, they didn’t get it. And then they still didn’t get it. And then they were surprised. What should they have noticed from their own scriptures?

    Alastair Roberts: When Jesus talks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he speaks about his mission as the Messiah from the Old Testament. And he shows them a number of different parts of the Old Testament that spoke about what he was going to suffer and how he would rise again. And we don’t know exactly what parts those were, but we can speculate, and I think it’s worth reflecting upon some of the ways in which without having direct prophecies, the Old Testament can still speak about the event of Christ’s resurrection. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t more direct prophetic statements. But for the most part, I think what we have are hints and allusions that this is where the story was going. And so I thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time thinking about some of those ways in which after reflecting upon the scriptures in the light of Easter, the disciples would have had light bulb moments and thought, OK, it’s obvious this is the way that it was going to go from the start. This makes so much sense of the scriptures, of the stories that we’ve read within them. And although it’s a surprising twist, once you look back, it makes sense.

    Now, we all have the experience of reading stories that surprise us. And yet a really satisfying twist to a story is one that you could not have seen coming. But once it happens, you look back and it makes perfect sense of a lot of things that were puzzling previously or things that you maybe did not register. But once you’ve seen them, you can’t unsee them. And it seems to me that the resurrection is that sort of event. It’s a sort of event that could not have been foreseen in the way that it played out. And yet once it’s happened and you read the Old Testament in the light of it, all sorts of things fall into place. And it’s an “Aha!” moment. And suddenly, a lot of things that seem strange seem clearly to be pointing towards this event that has occurred.

    Susannah Black Roberts: What are some of those instances?

    Alastair Roberts: Well, one thing we have in the New Testament is specific instances from the Old Testament that are pointed out to us as foreshadowing resurrection in various ways. A great example of this is in Hebrews, chapter 11, the famous chapter that is called the sort of great Roll Call of Faith or the Hall of Faith. It’s a list of people throughout the story of the Old Testament in sequence, who showed faith, what faith is, and the object of faith. And one of the things that the author of Hebrews does within that, that list of names is connect the faith of a number of key figures with resurrection in various forms that may not be the event of the rising of Christ, but resurrection more generally.

    So for instance, at the end, “women receive back their dead by resurrection.” That’s part of the summary statement at the end – all these different events that could be listed that haven’t been listed, because there are just so many of them. And then there are specific names who were mentioned earlier, for instance, the faith of Abraham. “By faith, Sarah herself received power to conceive even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised, therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven, and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the sea shore.” And then later on, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, through Isaac, shall your offspring be named. He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

    Now, we have another example of this in Romans, chapter four, where, again, talking about the faith of Abraham, Paul speaks about the faith of Abraham in connection with faith in the resurrection. So Abraham experiences the rising of his body to fruitfulness. And it says,

    He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead, since he was about 100 years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb; no unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith, as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. This is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness.

    But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead, Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

    One of the things Paul is doing there is showing that the faith of Abraham, that God would be able to raise up seed from his body, even though it was well past the age of bearing children, of siring children, and Sarah’s womb was barren. He had confidence in the Lord that his promise was effective even against those forces of death.

    Now, what Paul wants us to see is an analogy between that and the faith of those who believe in the resurrection. Abraham believed that the Lord would raise up seed and raise them up from the death of Sarah’s womb. Now, that is similar to those of us who believe that Christ was raised from the dead. And the realm of the dead is compared to a sort of womb, the womb of the earth. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I will return there;” “knit together in the lowest parts of the earth.” There’s this analogy between the womb and the tomb or the womb and the earth that is played upon at various points in the Old Testament. I quoted there from the text of Job chapter two, where Job talks about the way that the Lord is to be blessed, even though the Lord is taking away all these gifts that he has given. And then the way in which in Psalm 139, there’s this analogy between the womb and the deepest parts of the earth.

    Elsewhere we have the illustration of the earth giving birth to its dead. In Isaiah chapter 26, “the earth giving birth to its dead” is playing upon that analogy. And that analogy is one that we find in various points in the Old Testament. And then in the New, Christ is the “firstborn from the dead.” And that parallel between the womb and the tomb is played upon in a literary fashion. So Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and then he’s wrapped in linen garments and laid in the tomb. These parallels are played upon in ways that help us to see the analogy between these two events. Forty days after Christ’s birth, he’s presented in the temple. Forty days after his resurrection, he ascends to the heavenly temple. There’s a Joseph and a Mary involved in his birth. There are two Josephs and two Marys mentioned in the context of his resurrection. Other parallels could be mentioned, but that is part of the context within which we’re supposed to see these sorts of parallels.

    Another example would be Jesus saying that no sign would be given to the generation except the sign of the prophet Jonah, who was three days and three nights in the belly of the big fish. And then he was raised up from that in the same way Christ, the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. And then as he descends into the deep of the earth, he’s going to rise up from that. Now, when we read the book of Jonah, we can see further connections to draw from that that we could get into and fill out the picture maybe a bit more.

    Susannah Black Roberts: From the sort of Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, one of the things that I had always heard was that it was “women received back their dead was specifically a reference to second Maccabees, to the line,

    I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore, the creator of the world who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourself for the sake of his laws.

    And, you know, it’s maybe one of the most striking, you know, intertestamental accounts of like, yes, the Hebrews were, I guess the Jews as they were at that point, really were expecting a physical resurrection of the actual dead. First of all, is it accurate to sort of read Maccabees in Hebrews like that?

    And second of all, how early was that expectation of a physical resurrection of the dead? Like, how did that develop throughout the Old Testament throughout sort of the history of Hebrew thought on these matters?

    Alastair Roberts: I think there are hints to it early on. You have the developing vision, for instance, in Daniel, being a big example, and you have references to those in the earth being raised up, you have allusions to that sort of vision of resurrection and Isaiah – I mentioned “the earth will give birth to its dead” in Isaiah chapter 26. You can see also in places like Ezekiel chapter 37, the dead being brought back from the valley of dry bones and re-enfleshed and the Spirit of God breathing upon them.

    Now, one of the things to notice is that often these early visions of resurrection are more metaphors for return from exile, or the restoration of the nation. And elsewhere, we have passages referring to the preservation or restoration of the king, for instance, the great passage that’s quoted in this sermon on the day of Pentecost in the Psalms. In that famous Psalm, David talks about the way that the Lord will raise up and not “abandon the soul of his anointed one to Hades, and not let his holy one see corruption.”

    And so when we’re reading something like Psalm 16, what the New Testament sees within that is a hint of a trajectory, there’s a sort of trajectory of thought that leads quite naturally to resurrection. Now, of course, we’ve got cases of people being raised back to life in the Old Testament, you mentioned the story of the Maccabees. It seems to me that you might also connect that passage in Hebrews with something like Second Kings, chapter four, where the Shunammite woman receives her son back from Elisha. And in that story, it’s a retelling, among other things, of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

    If we were to imagine that story, and imagine that Abraham went through with the sacrifice, and then having gone through with the sacrifice, he comes back home. And Sarah sees he’s not got Isaac with him, the promised child is nowhere to be seen. She’s prayed for this child, she’s had her womb opened, she’s experienced this tremendous miracle. And then she loses the child, what is she to do?

    Well, within Second Kings, chapter four, we have an idea of what would happen. Within that story, it alludes to, in specific phrases and other things, the story of Isaac, his promise, and then also his sacrifice. And as we read through it, we find that when the child dies, the woman goes to the prophet, the representative of the Lord, and essentially calls for the Lord to return the gift that was taken. And so the child is raised back to life, as the father-like prophet figure lies upon the child and raises it up: First of all, laying the wood of his staff upon the child, and then laying his own body. And so the child rises at that point.

    And that would be, I think, an example of what Hebrews 11 has in mind in the Old Testament narrative. Now, I mentioned Ezekiel chapter 37, Daniel as well. In these stories, the idea of return from exile is a very important part of the picture. And that is behind the story of the resurrection at several points.

    So a great example of this would be the story of the Exodus. As we read through Genesis, and then into Exodus, and then the whole of the Exodus cycle to the very end when they are settled in the land. One of the framing narratives is the story of Joseph. Joseph is sold by his brothers down into Egypt. And at the very end of the book of Genesis, Joseph says that when they leave, they will take his bones up with them. And in Exodus chapter 13, as they leave the land, they take the bones of Joseph with them. And at the very end of the story of the Exodus, the very final chapter of the book of Joshua, they bury the bones of Joseph in the place from which Joseph was sent by his father, where everything had gone wrong.)

    And that story of exile and return, the restoration of the bones, the raising up bones from the situation of Egypt and placing them back in the land is seen as part of a trajectory that is played out in various other forms, that anticipates the greater return from exile, which is what we see in the story of the resurrection, the greater exile, the greater captivity is the captivity of death, the power of Satan, the power of the grave, the power of Sheol and Hades to grasp onto its victims and never let them go. And it’s the deliverance from that exile that is anticipated.

    So we have, for instance, the story of Jonah, which is the story of an individual wayward prophet, but it’s also, on another level, a story about the nation, the unfaithful Israelite prophet who’s swallowed by this big fish as a result of a storm – thrown overboard and then later spat out again. It’s the story of the nation in the very end of the book of Jeremiah. It tells the story of exile as the story of the nation being swallowed by this big fish, this big sea monster of Babylon.

    And we might think also of Assyria as that which swallows the northern kingdom of Israel. And as the great power swallows this kingdom, later on it will disgorge it and the Lord will restore his people. And so the story of Jonah, which Christ takes as a story of resurrection, is a story of descending into Sheol, a descent for Jonah where he feels himself connected with the realm of the dead if you read his psalm in chapter 2 of Jonah.

    But also it’s a story that anticipates the exile of the people as they descend into the Sheol of exile. They’re removed from the land, they’re thrown into the abyss, they’re thrown into the deep, they’re swallowed up by this great sea monster of this foreign nation, but later on they will be disgorged.

    We have other stories like the story of Job that has a similar character. The sea monster there is, among other things, an image of the power of Satan and evil. Leviathan is this sea monster that swallows up its prey, but then the Lord will force it to disgorge his prey in the future. And then we can also think maybe of the story of Daniel. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den and the story of the lion’s den and returning to the lion’s den the next morning and the king wondering if Daniel’s OK is very much a story that reminds you of the story of the death and burial of Christ and then the events of Easter morning.

    As you read that story you can also see that the events that happen to Daniel are a picture of supposed to be seen as a prophetic image of what’s happening to the whole nation. The lion’s den is Babylon. Babylon at various points in the book of Daniel is compared to a lion. Of the beasts in chapter seven, Babylon is the lion. You have names like Ariark, lion-like, given to characters within the story connected with Babylon. And so you have this staying of the power of the lions and then the release from the power of the lions and coming forth, which is an anticipation of what’s going to happen to the whole nation. In the seventieth year they’re going to be released from the force of the lions from the Babylonian captivity. But then after seventy times seven, the seventy weeks of years that Daniel later speaks about, there’s going to be a greater release and that release, it seems to me, anticipates the events of Christ’s resurrection and the events that are the deeper, greater, higher release and the feet of the opponent, which is the roaring lion who seeks whoever he may devour, Satan himself.

    And so as we’re going through these stories, I think it’s very important that we trace the trajectories, recognize that there are at certain points these flares shot forth into the into the distance, which speak of the hope of resurrection and speak of it in a way that suggests bodily resurrection is anticipated. But also there are these stories that anticipate it, that are moving towards it. And we’re in the gloaming where we’re not seeing things very clearly. These flares will enlighten things on the path ahead of us at certain points. But for the most part, we’re groping ahead and these stories give us a sense of where the bigger narrative is going. And when the dawn of Easter morning comes, we look back on the terrain that we walked and we see along that terrain, all these markers that already anticipated resurrection. That story was always going in this direction. And now we see it. It all makes sense.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It seems like it’s one of these things where you have to pay attention to the direction the metaphor is going. Because we have a tendency to think that things that happen on a personal level are metaphors of big, national, things of national importance. The Titanic goes down, and that was one ship with a couple of people on it. And that’s a metaphor for the direction of like Gilded Age society or something like that.

    But the direction of the metaphor actually works the other way with this. So it’s almost as though God had planted in history these resurrection metaphors that were more political as a way of pointing towards the thing that they referred to, the thing that is not metaphorical, the thing that is real is the personal resurrection of Christ and in him, the general resurrection of all of us. And the sort of more political pre-figurments are meant to be images of that rather than the other way around. Is that right?

    Alastair Roberts: To an extent. And when we’re thinking about the story of Christ, it’s important to recognize that our categories of political or personal don’t quite capture the full reality of what’s taking place. The story of Christ is more political than our politics. And it’s that because Christ is, I mean, his very name means anointed one. And we think about the story of Christ as the story of the son of David that is raised up. And so when Peter preaches his sermon on the day of Pentecost, he wants the political force of the event to be fully realized that this is the raising up of a nation. This is the raising up of the people. This is a raising up of a dynasty.

    If you read, for instance, the story of, if you read Isaiah at various points within that, you have this idea almost of this great tree that used to be the Davidic dynasty that has been cut down even below its stump. And now there’s going to have to arise this new root of Jesse, this one who’s going to come forth, the branch he’s elsewhere called, that is going to come up from a dynasty that seems to have been beyond dead. Now, we might also think about the way that Christ is described in Isaiah chapter 53, that famous passage “as a root out of dry ground . . .” This seemed to be death. This seemed to be beyond recovery. But there is a seed for David being raised up. And that’s part of the point that Peter makes on the day of Pentecost. He quotes,

    God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it. But David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken. Therefore, my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced. My flesh will also dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades or let your holy ones see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life. You will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up and of that we are all witnesses.

    Now the point I’m trying to make here is that when Peter is trying to speak about the resurrection, he does not deflate the political meaning in order to relate it to the personal. Rather, he goes more fully into the political meaning in order to make it personal. And so his point is that this was not about David personally, it was about David the dynasty. David the Davidic Kingdom. David is the one who’s the heir of the Kingdom and the one who’s going to be the ruler in whom all find their representation.

    And so he goes into that more deeply in order that we might find ourselves represented and incorporated into Christ. Now that’s something that’s always been part of the story in scripture, incorporation into leaders. People talk in the Old Testament of having a share or part in David. We might also think of the story of Moses. Moses of course was placed into the water by the reeds and he’s raised up and delivered. He’s drawn out of the water, the water being a place that’s associated with death for the Hebrew boys in chapter one of Exodus. And then later on the people will descend into the deep. They will pass into the abyss and the deep as it’s described in Exodus chapter 15 and they will be drawn up whereas that same water will become a grave for the pursuing Egyptians. That story connects the experience of the Israelites with the experience of their leader Moses.

    And so the point that the New Testament makes is that Christ is the representative in a far fuller and more real sense than our political representatives could ever be. No king or queen could represent us as fully as Christ does. No politician, no president – and yet when Christ has pioneered this way through death, that is our personal salvation too. And so Christ is the firstborn of the dead and in his resurrection all other resurrections will occur. And so he is the one in whom we find our destiny.

    And so when we talk about baptism into Christ that’s part of the point. When Paul will talk about the Red Sea crossing he talks about baptism into Moses. Israel shares the destiny of its leader just as Moses was drawn out the water and delivered from the reeds by the river of the Nile, they are drawn out the sea of reeds. Just as Miriam provided for him on the other side the nurse that he would need – his mother – so Miriam meets them on the other side as they sing about the praise of the Lord in chapter 15.

    And there are all these parallels that suggest that the destiny of the leader contains the destiny of the people and that is very much the logic of resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is more political than just as sort of an escape from the political into something just salvational or personal in a way that is not connected with that realm.

    And so I think as we trace these political metaphors we should actually lean into them. What happened is as we see in Revelation for instance you have the depiction of great powers and kingdoms as beasts. Daniel 2 in chapter 7 and that picture of these kingdoms and powers as beasts – behind those is a greater dragon or a serpent. We can see the way that the story of the serpent struggling with the woman is played out in the struggle between kings and the faithful. It’s the struggle between Pharaoh who’s seeking to kill the baby boys and the faithful women, the Hebrew midwives, people like Jochabed and Miriam and even the daughter of Pharaoh at the beginning of the book of Exodus.

    And so that archetypal struggle, the archetypal political struggle, the struggle that’s happening in the heavens is being played out on a lower level on earth. And what happens in Christ’s resurrection is an event that transforms as it were the politics of the heavens and so it has implications for everyone.

    Susannah Black Roberts: There is also a sense in which Christ being born again from the grave is everyone’s promised child. There is this sense of, if for Abraham Isaac was his immortality, essentially because that’s the way that immortality to a certain degree and maybe his assumptions worked that your child was your immortality. Christ being born from the grave is a kind of like it is the fulfillment of immortality in children as well as personal immortality.

    Alastair Roberts: Yes and that’s something that Paul gets into when he talks about Christ as the seed of Abraham and not just individually a seed but the one who contains the whole body who will inherit. And so Christ is the one who sums up in himself every single – the full reality of the inheritance.

    We can see that also in the way that 1 Corinthians 15, the great passage on resurrection, speaks about Christ as the last Adam or the second man. He’s the one who carries the whole destiny of the human race that has gone through death and come out the other side. Christ is the one who has broken open the abyss of death so that we might walk through and dry land.

    And what happens on the other side is a life that is more glorious. It’s not just a restoration to the conditions that we had prior to death – rather it’s the rising up to a greater form of life. Paul talks about as removing the body, the sort of tent that we are currently clothed with, that we might be more fully clothed or in 1 Corinthians it’s like a grain of wheat dying and then bearing much fruit. Christ also uses the same imagery in John chapter 12. And so these images are ones that suggest that the movement from life to death through death to resurrection is a movement that is a transition to something more glorious.

    Now we might think about the way that there are sort of death-like pangs involved in something like childbirth. This is an illustration that Christ uses for his death and resurrection in John chapter 16. It’s like a woman who’s struggling in childbirth with these pangs and then a new child is born into the world and the pangs and the suffering are replaced by joy. And there’s this transition to a more glorious form of life. The form of life in the womb is a very different sort of thing from the form of life out in the world. And we might think about the ways that Paul compares this to the movement from one form of life to something more glorious to a form of life that is animated more powerfully by the spirit.

    And so Christ has gone through this transition himself. Christ was incarnate as a man but the resurrected Christ has a more glorious form of existence. He’s no longer mortal subject to mortality in the way that he was prior to the resurrection. And so that transition is one that we can enter into his resurrection body. His resurrection life is a guarantee of what will be the case for us. And the Holy Spirit is the means by which that is assured to us. And so all of these things are part of a very big developed vision of resurrection. It’s not just based upon a few proof texts here and there, a few odd passages in the Old Testament could be spun that way. It’s part of a profound and extensive portrait that is working up to the more archetypal deliverance from the forces of death and the promise that we’re going to enter into this more glorious form of life.

    And as you mentioned the assurance of a child as that which presents a sort of continuation of life. Christ is the child. He is the one who was born into the world. In Revelation chapter 12 he’s the one who is born in that great vision of the heavens, the woman giving birth. And that is taken from passages like Isaiah chapter 66, this birth that’s going to take place. Or as I mentioned earlier, John chapter 16 where the resurrection is described as a sort of birth event.

    All of these promise the continuation: “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” And we’ve got these images that I think help us to recognize the coalescence of these different forms of continuation of defeat of death. Death represents separation, it represents a cutting apart, it represents a dissolution, it represents destruction, it represents all these different sorts of contrary forces to life and the resurrection is the bursting through of all of those things.

    And in Christ we see the seed, we see the gift of eternal life, that’s a theme that John works on a lot. Christ is the one who gives the living water, he’s the one who’s like the tree of life in the garden, he’s the one who is like the water flowing out from the temple as we see at the end of Ezekiel in chapter 47. And so in all of these images this defeat of the forces of death by a surpassing life is connected with resurrection and draws upon this whole panoply of Old Testament stories, images, passages, prophecies and psalms. And by the time that we put these things together it really brings the text throughout the Old Testament into this unified yet multifaceted witness to what happens in Christ.

    Susannah Black Roberts: There’s a kind of, well there are many other aspects that we could look at but one that as you know I’ve been kind of thinking about recently is just this idea of “the gates of Hades will not prevail against him.” I’d, you know, originally always thought of that as like either the devil won’t win or, you know, the people, somehow Jesus is inside Hades and helping people bust out.

    But it’s actually a defensive metaphor to a certain degree at least. Obviously the gates of Hades are meant to keep the dead in, you know those under the rule of death, but they’re also meant to keep Jesus out, and by his jousting, by fighting on the cross, there’s kind of like two different things that are going on. One is this kind of offensive move where he busts through the gates of Hades into Hades and then pulls people out. And the other is this kind of trick – and I know that there was a kind of heavy emphasis on this among I think the Eastern Fathers to a certain degree – where it was almost like a Trojan horse where Jesus was swallowed by death and then death couldn’t contain him and kind of had to just release its hold on everyone because Jesus was kind of bait who is actually you know his life was poison to death. Can you talk a little bit more about those ideas?

    Alastair Roberts: Yes. In Hebrews chapter 2 we have a key passage that talks about one of the consequences of the resurrection which is very much in a broad sense a political consequence. If we think about the powers of this world, a lot of their strength is found in the threat of death that they can wield against those who will resist them. Now we can think about the significance of martyrdom as those who do not hold onto their own lives. They are prepared to bear witness to the point of death and the description of Christians as a sort of army of martyrs following after the resurrected Christ in the book of Revelation is really playing upon the fact that the threat and the power of death has been defeated and so we can go through death and come out the other side. The power of death by which we are once held in thrall is no longer operative in the same way upon us. So the book of Hebrews writes in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 14 and following:

    Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels he helps but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

    And so this description of the power of death as the means by which Satan or the devil holds people in his thrall is getting at some of the ways in which the death of Christ and his resurrection is a disarming of contrary powers. It’s the disarming of those who would use the threat of death to silence and to subdue their enemies. It’s a disarming of those who would use the condemnation of death to silence.

    We can think about the way that the resurrection is vindication. It’s God’s declaration that Christ is in the right despite the judgment of the Roman Empire, despite the judgment of the Jewish religious leaders, Christ is vindicated and so their authority is threatened in various ways. And we see this in the ministry of the early church in the Book of Acts, again and again, the power of resurrection means that they can witness with confidence even against the threat of death. And that image that you referred to the gates of Hades not prevailing – I think that’s maybe drawing upon images of something like Jeremiah chapter one. As Jeremiah is established as the prophet for the Lord he’s given confidence that all these powers that will be arrayed against him will not be able to resist him and

    I will declare my judgments against them for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worship the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work, arise and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them lest I dismay you before them. And I behold I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar and bronze walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.

    And so the statement concerning the church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it is giving us the confidence that no matter what the forces of Satan, the forces of the evil one, might throw against us, partly in their scheming and planning, partly in the ways that they present obstacles to us, whatever it is, death is not sufficient to arrest the progress of the church, nor are those who formerly held the power of death, because the power of death is now working backwards.

    This is again something that’s played out in stories in places like Acts, where we have the early church experiencing death and resurrection type events. So the story of Peter cast into prison around the time of Passover. He’s going to be put to death. And you think this is the story of Christ playing out again, and then an angel comes, strikes him and wakes him up and opens the doors. He has a soldier on either side but he’s brought out, he’s brought through these doors, he’s brought through the streets, and he’s brought to the house where the disciples are praying. He appears to a woman, a female servant, and she tells the disciples that Peter’s alive! and he’s there! and they don’t believe her.

    It’s the story of the resurrection played out again, and it’s reminding us that the resurrection occurred from a sort of prison. There were soldiers at the opening of the tomb that Christ was laid in. There were also deeper prison bars, as it were, the prison bars of death, the prowling or the roaring lion, Satan, and so this prison was barred and bolted and Christ was set free.

    Now something similar happens with the apostle Peter. Later on in the story, of course, Paul has a similar sort of experience: he’s on the ship in the Mediterranean; there’s this great storm; and on the fourteenth night he takes bread, and he breaks it, he distributes it, and says no one should leave, they should all remain with him to be safe. And you can think – it’s the fourteenth night, he’s distributing this food, everyone must remain to be safe, it’s an evening meal, waiting the dawn: this is the story of the Exodus, this is the story of the Passover, this is the story of Christ and the Upper Room.

    And then you have the shipwreck and the deliverance through that, and then on Malta the encounter with the serpent that seeks to bite Paul and Paul’s delivered from that too. All of this is playing out the meaning of the resurrection in a way that should be unmistakable to the person who’s reading it alongside the book of Luke. With which there is a sort of – as many scholars have noted there’s a parallel in the plotting of the book of Luke and the plotting of the book of Acts; we’re supposed to recognize the life of Christ playing out in the life of his body, his church. And so that resurrection, that deliverance from the death of the abyss of the Mediterranean, and the deliverance from the shipwreck is also a depiction of the deliverance of the church, the deliverance of the polity that abides with and provides security for the church, and in these ways the meaning of resurrection is fleshed out not just as an event that was this great miracle that happened to Christ, but as something that contains within it the destiny and the power of the church that’s worked out within us we are we are those who live according to resurrection life.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It’s sort of remarkably not stoic it sort of it makes it seem as though stoicism is kind of a cargo cult of this, where you know you’re meant to accept death and therefore not fear it and therefore be able to be brave and you know you could read you could read the first half of this – so this is the mother of the seven young men in Maccabees, and you could read the first bit of what she says and think OK she’s being a Stoic; she’s being like a Roman mother, you know, who’s just like gritting her teeth, being a good Roman mother:

    “Do not fear this butcher but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death” – and then, and then there’s the turn, and she says “so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.” So like, there’s no acceptance of death in the way that a stoic would have you accept it, but the effect that stoics were going for, of courage and of steadfastness in the face of wrong and refusal to compromise is actually like the real version is there, available to us for a very different reason.

    Alastair Roberts: Yes, death is defeated not by re-description but by resurrection. And this is something that is very prominent as an exhortation within the New Testament:

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    And then elsewhere we have this obedience of Christ “to the point of death, even death on the cross,” and yet the confidence that that is not the end of the story, there is resurrection on the other side, and the story of resurrection is also connected with justification.

    It’s important to recognize that behind all of this is a story about God’s justice that’s something that comes out of course in the book of Job where Job experiences these incredible reversals of fortune, behind them all of course being Satan, and Satan, the accuser, the one who’s making these false accusations against God’s servant is ultimately proven wrong, and Job has these very elusive they’re not entirely clear what it’s not entirely clear what’s meant at certain points but these statements that hint at a confidence that even if he were to die the Lord is going to vindicate him, and that may require resurrection, it may require something that goes beyond the realm of death, because God’s justice cannot fall to the ground.

    And so that confidence in the face of injustice is because death cannot have the final word, because if death had the final word then God’s justice would not have the final word, because death is wielded by Satan who has the power of death, and so that confidence and justice and that recognition that Christ has been raised for our justification, that resurrection is about the vindication of the righteous sufferer, that gives a confidence to the church’s witness and martyrdom – and the connection between being a witness and being a martyr, the connection between the meaning of those terms is imperative to recognize, as is the connection between justice and resurrection.

    Christ is raised for our justification. He’s raised as a declaration that it’s not just a strange thing that happens, it has significance, a declaration of God’s justice that’s come in the middle of history. We await the vindication of the righteous in the sense that there is injustice in this world and injustice sometimes seems to have the final word; there are righteous people who die at the hand of evil oppressors; there are wicked people who prosper and die in their beds at an old age, and there are righteous people who die early. In these injustices there’s always this straining towards this sense of something must account for this, something must go beyond this, there must be some word beyond the words that we see beneath the sun, and some event that will right these wrongs.

    And so resurrection is something that is following a train of justice and that as you note does not leave us into that sort of stoic resignation it leads us into a sort of confidence in the face of death, a confidence that is born of a greater and stronger and more final justice that will actually reverse the word of death, that will overrule the false and the unjust things that occur, and that death is not actually the final reality within this world. There is something that is greater and that’s the power of life. The God who is the giver of life, the God who is the Lord of life and the God who will restore life to those who are his faithful people.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I guess one more part of this would be – I don’t know if you want to go here, but just the idea of how should we think of the resurrected body? What does that mean? Obviously, you know, in some sense you know Paul says “flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God,” but Jesus says “Look at me: you see a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see that I have, it is I myself, it’s not a spirit.”

    My impression is that we tend to think of “spirit or the spiritual as being as being less physical or being more ghostly – and there you know there were ideas of ghosts; Jesus was saying he’s not a ghost, he has flesh and bones, but what does it mean to be a spiritual body?

    Alastair Roberts: Maybe a better way to think about is that the contrast between the soulish body and the spiritual body. The contrast between the flesh and blood that we connect with the mortality of Adam following the Fall, and the spiritual body that we await in the resurrection. There is as you say not a difference between this sort of airy floaty immaterial thing and something more substantial that we currently experience, but rather a contrast between the animating force, the weakness of the fleshly body. And think about the connotations that flesh has within Paul. Flesh is a sort of principle of solidarity, flesh is something that is connected with weakness, and we can think about the prophets that speak about “the chariots and horses of these opposing armies are but flesh,” they’re weak, they don’t have the power of spirit. Likewise flesh is corruptible, flesh is sinful, and flesh has fallen. When we think about spiritual, spiritual is more elevated but not in the sense of being airy and insubstantial but in being more animated, more powerful, more pure. And in all of these ways we should not think about against a vision of corporeality when Paul’s teaching about flesh and blood not inheriting the kingdom of God, he’s talking about the resurrection body, and he’s stressing corporeality: that there is a body, this is not just going to float around in the clouds when you die, there is again – it’s so important to notice the vision here is not of “going to heaven when you die,” it’s a vision of being raised up. And the destiny of the body is connected with the destiny of the world, because if the body is not raised up, the thing that the body represents and is connected with and joins us with – the wider cosmos, the earth – will not also share in that destiny.

    And so when Paul talks about the resurrection of the body, he’s connecting it with the resurrection of all things: the new creation, the new Heavens and the new Earth, the fact that all of the things that we have loved and invested in here, all the things that are created as good, have some form of destiny that exceeds the clutches of death. There is going to be reality that exceeds the final the end of this current creation, and this current creation is going to be succeeded by a new creation that bears hallmarks and connections with the creation that it follows after.

    There’s going to be a new creative act. Definitely our bodies in the resurrection are not going to be just a reanimation of our existing bodies, there’s going to be something transformative and a new creative act of God, but at the same time there’s continuity. And that’s really important for Paul, that our bodies, just like Christ’s body after the resurrection, are connected. And so what happens in our bodies, the ways that our bodies are rooted in the world – that is something that gives us some sense of what’s coming next. As well, that that world has not been abandoned, and the whole creation is groaning in birth pangs, it’s waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, because its destiny is held in that too.

    Susannah Black Roberts: The world isn’t abandoned any more than Christ’s physical body in the tomb was abandoned because the tomb was empty. His physical body was what was raised up and transformed.

    Alastair Roberts: Yes, and we can imagine Christs resurrection merely being a spirit appearing after his death the body still remains in the tomb, but yet he appears in a spiritual form, airy, floating around, and maybe walking, moving around ahead of his disciples and delivering some platitudes to them, and floating maybe a few feet above the heat and the dust.

    Now that’s not what we have in the gospels. His body is touched, his body eats, he walks with his disciples, and there is physical connection between them, and he assures his disciples that he will return in the same form. There is this sense within that of the destiny of our bodies, but also the destiny of the creation more generally. And if it were not for the physical bodily and corporeal resurrection, a lot of things would start to be lost, and so it’s important to be persistent and not to give up on that point. Many people don’t actually allow the bodily resurrection to have its full play within their understanding of what the future is for Christians, and yet the bodily resurrection is such an important part of the picture.

    Well Alastair, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I think it’s probably time for me to make dinner. I look forward to having you on again.

    Alastair Roberts: Great to be on!

    Susannah Black Roberts: That was so dorky. I’m just gonna have to cut all of that.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    Contributed By portrait of Alistair Roberts Alastair Roberts

    Alastair Roberts received his PhD from Durham University, and teaches for both the Theopolis Institute and the Davenant Institute.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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