Aside from the existence of God and His relations to the living, there is no question so important as the state of the dead and their relations to Him. All knowledge here must come through revelation, for none return from the dead to teach the living. What revelation concerning this did God make to men at the first? Our inquiries involve two points: first, the fact of the existence of the soul after its separation from the body; second, the mode of its existence. As to the first, it may perhaps be said that the belief that the soul continues to exist after death, is innate in man, a primary belief, necessary and universal. Whether this is so, or whether that existence was made known by immediate revelation when the sentence of death was spoken, it is undoubted that this belief appears in the very beginning of man's history, and was very influential in moulding the religious systems of the most ancient peoples. If the Hebrews were ignorant that the soul exists after death, their position was a very exceptional one; and it is much harder to explain their ignorance than to believe their knowledge. That the early patriarchs so believed, clearly appears from the Scriptures, and being now generally admitted, needs not to be here discussed.
But as to the second point, the mode of its existence, the Scriptures contain no distinct revelation. Why was this silence? Why was the invisible realm of the departed, which holds so important a place in all heathen religions, left in the Old-Testament records, with which we are now particularly concerned, almost wholly unnoticed? Two answers may be given: the first, derived from the inability of the human mind to conceive aright of the modes of disembodied existence, and from the limitations of human speech; the second, from the moral nature of death. Let us briefly consider each of these.
First, while the human mind is able to apprehend truths and facts of which it has no clear conception, as of God's self-existence and man's immortality; while we can apprehend the fact of disembodied existence, — of the soul as living separated from the body, — we cannot have any definite ideas as to the manner of its life. We can, indeed, give play to the imagination, and make mental pictures of the invisible world; but, if we do this, the imagination necessarily uses such means of representation as are familiar to it. It has no power to make wholly new presentations; it can only recombine the old under new forms; and the result is the picture of a shadowy land peopled with ghosts, differing only from the living by being divested of a certain gross materiality, — visible forms without solidity; and this is the picture of the realm of the dead presented in all the ancient religions. This inability truly to image departed souls, and to conceive their modes of existence, is not removed by mental culture. The wisest of today are no more able to do this than were the earliest patriarchs. And were men capable of understanding the details of disembodied life, it is difficult to see how, through words taken mainly from sensible things, any accurate knowledge could be conveyed.
We may thus on this ground understand why the Old Testament is so silent. Let us suppose that the Hebrews at the time of the exodus had only the general heathen conceptions of disembodied life. That souls continue to exist, that they are gathered into some undefined place (in Hebrew, "sheol"), and that they have some manner of communion with one another, so much was known to them. (Gen. xxv. 8, xxxvii. 35.) Let it be admitted that beyond this God's revelation to His people at first did not go; in this silence there was nothing to impugn His goodness. That He would give to the living so much light as would serve to their good, both present and future, and to His purpose in them, need not be said. But knowledge for which they were not prepared, and that could not be a healthful factor in their spiritual education, He would not give. And His silence is to be interpreted as in accordance with His uniform rule in His dealings with men, to teach them such things as they are able to hear. If St. Paul many centuries later could say of the vision to him of paradise, that he there heard "unspeakable words," — words that it was not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. xii. 4), — we may well understand why the Old Testament speaks with such reserve of the invisible world of the dead, of angels, and of evil spirits.
The second reason for the silence of the Scriptures is found in the moral nature of death. As to this point they are in perfect harmony with themselves from beginning to end, and in strongest contrast with all other sacred books. Death is everywhere presented in them as an evil condition, the penalty of sin. Adam transgressed the command of God, and so came under "the law of sin and death." The body is an essential element in our humanity. The separation of soul and body, as destroying the integrity of man's being, and so marring its perfection, is an unnatural condition. It is obvious, therefore, that it could not be the will of God that the state of death, which is in its nature punitive, "the wages of sin," should be regarded as in itself something desirable, something better than life; and the separated soul as brought into a higher stage of being through its separation from the body. On the contrary, the fear of death was so stamped upon man's nature that no familiarity with it takes away its terror; which is a fact inexplicable were death natural to man, a mere transition from a lower stage of being to a higher. Nor would God have the dead exalted into objects of worship, demi-gods, the arbiters of human destiny; or invoked as teachers and guides of the living. Into these errors all the early peoples fell, and the pernicious results were manifest in many superstitious and idolatrous rites. Under the severest penalties Jehovah forbade to His people all necromancy, all attempts to call up the departed, either to learn the secrets of their abode or to ask their counsel.
This, then, was the first great truth in regard to death, to be established in the hearts of His elect people, that the separation of soul and body is the fruit of sin and an evil. This was done by the laws respecting the ceremonial impurity contracted by the touching of the dead body. "He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. . . . Whosoever toucheth a dead body, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel." So strict was this law, that if one died in a tent, " all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days." Thus in a most expressive way were the Jews taught that death was a penalty of sin, a condition offensive to God, into which men came by disobedience. By meditating upon this, and seeing that for the purifying of such uncleanness the unclean must be sprinkled with "the water of separation," they would come gradually to understand the nature of death, and be kept from the error that it is an event made necessary by man's original constitution, and so without any moral significance.
This first truth having been established, that death is the penalty of sin, it was an obvious inference that the disembodied soul is in a relatively imperfect condition; for if by its separation from the body its capacities of knowledge and action and blessedness were enlarged, and it was brought nearer to God, then death would be no punishment. This point it is necessary to consider with some fullness, for a misapprehension of the teachings of the Old Testament upon it brings confusion into all our conceptions of the Messiah's work as the Redeemer from sin and death.
The fundamental facts stated in the beginning of the biblical history respecting human life as the unity of soul and body, of their separation by death as the fruit of sin, and the necessary inference that the disembodied state is one of weakness and imperfection, were the norm with which all the later precepts of the law and the utterances of the prophets are in entire harmony. Nowhere in the prophetic books or psalms is the state of death spoken of as other than an evil condition. This is seen in all the descriptions given of "sheol" as the place of the departed. It is set forth as the common receptacle of all the dead, without distinction of moral character; a place of gloom and privation; it is not in its depths that God reveals Himself, and is worshipped and praised. The life of the dead is not one of activity and joy. "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (Ps. vi. 5.) "Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?" (xxx. 9.) "Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?" (lxxxviii. 10.) "Sheol cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth." (Isa. xxxviii. 18.)
Thus the Jews were taught that the disembodied state was not one in which God had pleasure, but a consequence of sin. To die was not passing from a lower to a higher degree of life, an ascent in individual progress, a drawing nearer to God. It was among the living that God dwelt, and to them did He reveal Himself. It was in the earth that His truth and faithfulness were to be manifested. "The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day."
It deserves to be attentively noted that no mention is made in the Old Testament of individual judgment and retribution at death. All alike go down to sheol, but nothing is said of a separation there of the good and the evil. This silence is most striking when put in contrast with the teaching of the heathen religions, all of which make judgment immediately after death one of their most prominent features. In sheol Jehovah does not sit, like Osiris or Minos, as judge of the dead. Why was this? Not that death placed all upon a moral equality in the eyes of Jehovah, or that He regarded all the departed, good and bad, with equal favor; for all His commandments to His people showed Him to be a God of holiness and justice, who would not spare the guilty. Why, then, did He not at each one's death judge him and reward him according to his works? Because His awards can be made to those only who stand before Him in the integrity of their being, — soul and body; and because His purpose in the Messiah demanded that there be a day of general judgment, in which the Messiah should sit as Judge. Individual judgment at death involves immediate separation and reward, a place of blessedness and a place of punishment. And these having been assigned them by God, and the eternal destiny of each decided, a future general judgment would be useless and idle, and the Messianic Kingdom lose its significance.
It is not at all inconsistent with this fact that the judgment of the dead is not at their death, that in the disembodied state God recognizes the distinction of good and evil. That the disembodied soul continued to stand in moral relations to Him, was too obvious to escape even the heathen mind. Its mode of existence did not affect its obligations to obey and honor Him according to the measure of its knowledge and of its capacities. Death, therefore, was no termination of moral responsibility. Wherever the soul might be, it was still under the eye of God, and subject to His will. Nor could God regard the evil in sheol with favor any more than the evil upon the earth. But that immediately after death each was judged, and eternal awards assigned, is nowhere affirmed in the Old Testament. From the hour of death, a veil hangs over all that takes place in the realm of the departed.
Nor is it inconsistent with the conception of sheol as a place of safe-keeping for all the dead, that a belief in a twofold division of it, and so of retribution already begun, should have arisen later in the Jewish mind, and become general; and have been adopted by our Lord in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The spiritual division of the good and the evil would easily pass, in popular apprehension, into a local division; and the soul, conscious of God's love and favor, be truly deemed blessed, as the soul, conscious of its sin and of His anger, be deemed miserable. The term Gehenna, as a name for the place of punishment, had come in general use, and was employed by the Lord. Such later development of belief, in itself legitimate, is not forbidden by the silence of the law and the prophets.
It is in this matter of resurrection as preceding the judgment, and their connection with the Messianic Kingdom, that the Old-Testament teaching, as contrasted with the teachings of other religions, shows some of its most peculiar features. A day of general judgment preceded by resurrection was a conception unknown to the heathen mind. All judgment was individual, and took place at death: and resurrection, as the re-union of body and soul, had no place in their creeds; for the belief of some of the Oriental peoples, that there are cycles of indefinite duration, during each of which successive generations come and go, followed by an universal decay, and an absorption of all things into Deity, offers no analogy to the biblical doctrine. Nor does the belief of the Stoics, which is in substance the same, that at the end of a great cosmical period there is a general conflagration, and that the soul, which is in itself perishable, does not survive it; and then a new period begins, to end in like manner. Nor does the Persian dualism, if, indeed, it knew any thing of resurrection as a redemptive act, know of the true relations of resurrection to a day of judgment, as ushering in a Kingdom of righteousness. It was with the Persians as with the Egyptians, — every soul was judged at death, and entered at once upon its higher life of happiness, or lower life of misery.
Remembering the purpose of Jehovah to teach His elect people, first of all, the evil nature of death; and also to awaken belief in a future deliverance from it through the Messiah; and to make known the time and manner of this deliverance, so far as they were able to receive it; we proceed to consider the order of the revelations He made them, more in detail.
That sheol was not to be the eternal abode of the departed, that from it there should be deliverance, and that each class, the good and the evil, should ultimately go to its own place, was part of the Divine purpose; and gradual revelations were made, as we shall see, both as to the time and manner of this deliverance. First, as to its time. This was declared to be at the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. The bringing up of the dead from sheol could not be an isolated event; it must be one in a series of Divine acts; and be determined as to its time by its special relations to God's purpose, which embraced both living and dead. As that purpose was more and more clearly revealed, the Messianic Kingdom became more conspicuous, and its importance more fully seen. Thus prophecy began early to connect deliverance from sheol with the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. When the King Messiah came, then should the dead arise.
But would sheol then give up all its dead, both the good and the evil, and be from henceforth empty? At first this, like many other points, was left in obscurity; but it was gradually seen, that with the coming of the Messiah there was connected the deliverance of the faithful only from sheol. Not all the dead without distinction would then come forth to partake of the blessedness of this Kingdom, but such only as God should judge worthy.
Second, the mode of deliverance. This was to be through resurrection. The soul would return to earth, and be united to the body, no more to be separated from it; and then would the Messiah give to every man reward according to his works. When all were raked and judged, sheol, as the place of separate spirits, would be no longer needed.
Let us now trace the several steps of Divine revelation upon these points. How much knowledge the patriarchs before Abraham may have had respecting deliverance from death through resurrection, it is not necessary here to ask; but in the promises to Abraham was laid a foundation for further knowledge, since in their fulfillment the facts of the Messianic Kingdom and of the resurrection were necessarily involved. This patriarch did not refuse to offer up Isaac, his only begotten son, although the heir of the promises; for he "accounted that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead." (Heb. xi. 17, 19.) And the Lord's words: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad," show that he both foresaw the glory of the kingdom of the Messiah, and was assured that he should have part in it. Of the later patriarchs we are told that "they did not receive the fulfillment of the promises, but saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Heb. xi. 13.) Death and the disembodied state was not the goal to which they looked forward. This goal was "the land of promise" and "the heavenly city," in which God should dwell, and the Messiah should reign.
The covenant at Sinai brought still more clearly before the elect people the purpose of God in their redemption from death. By giving them possession of a land in which Jehovah would dwell, and reveal Himself as their God, He taught them that life in the body, holy and blessed, is the true condition of humanity; and the covenant with David confirmed this, since His Son, the Messiah, should sit on his throne. On the earth and in their own land must His people fulfill their calling as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and there the Messiah would reign in heavenly blessedness. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses and Joshua, and Samuel and David, should partake of the blessedness of His kingdom, they must be brought up from the grave, and stand again among the living.
Thus in the covenants with Abraham, and with the people at Sinai; in the possession of the land in which Jehovah would dwell; and in the promise of the Messiah and of His kingdom; was embraced the pledge of a resurrection. Let us now turn to the utterances of the psalmists and the prophets, to see how far we can trace in them the growing consciousness of such future deliverance from the power of death.
In Psalms generally ascribed to David, there is a distinct reference to a deliverance from sheol. The apostle Peter quotes from Psalm xvi., and applies it to the resurrection of Christ: "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ." (Acts ii. 31.) The words, "I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Ps. xvii.), cannot well be understood of any thing to be realized on the earth in this life, or in the disembodied state. The psalmist looks beyond this state to the time when he shall awake from the sleep of death. The likeness or form of God in which man was originally created, will be restored, and then will he "be satisfied;" for this implies a communion with Him, such as was given to Adam in Eden. Such expressions as "the path of life" may mean earthly life and prosperity, but if applied to the dead must imply resurrection; and the similar expressions, "the Presence of God in which is fullness of joy," and "at His right hand where are pleasures for evermore," must mean His manifestation in the earth, and among the living, and so involve a promise of the resurrection. The words, "God will redeem my soul from the power of sheol" (Ps. xlix. 15), taken with the context, clearly show that, after the night in sheol, the upright will be redeemed in the morning, — the morning of the Messianic Kingdom, — while the wicked will remain like sheep folded or imprisoned in it. "Death shall be their shepherd."
If we turn to the prophets, we find mention by Isaiah of the resurrection of certain righteous ones in contrast with the non-resurrection of certain wicked; and that a bodily resurrection is meant is now generally admitted. "The dead,"—the idolatrous Jews, or the heathen oppressors of the nation, — "they shall not live, the deceased, they shall not rise; . . . Thy dead shall live, my dead body shall they arise." (Rev. Ver., "My dead bodies shall arise," Isa. xxvi. 14, 19.) The wicked will abide in death, the righteous will live again; and the time when this shall be is the day of "His indignation," when "Jehovah cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;" the day when He shall "punish leviathan, the crooked serpent, and slay the dragon that is in the sea;" and when "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." (xxvii. 1-6.) That this refers to the judicial acts attendant on the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, and to the blessings that follow, is apparent. In Hosea it is said, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave," — sheol, — "I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol, I will be thy destruction!" (xiii. 14.) This is far more than preservation from death; it is deliverance from it through resurrection. (1 Cor. xv. 54.)
In the vision given to the prophet Ezekiel of "the valley of dry bones," and of their re-arrangement into bodies, — "bone to his bone,"—and of their revivification, — " and they lived, and stood up upon their feet," — most commentators have found proof that the thought of bodily resurrection had at this time become familiar to the Jews, since, whether used here as a literal prediction, or as a symbol of the political restoration of the nation, such resurrection must at least have been regarded as a possible event. But others have drawn exactly the opposite inference, that the prophet would exalt the power of God in their political restoration by setting it fortli as a work as utterly incredible in the eyes of men as that an army of the dead should live again. Taken in connection with the miracles wrought by Elijah and Elisha in bringing the dead to life, and the earlier words of the psalmists and prophets, we must, however, regard the former interpretation as most probable. (1 Kings xvii. 17, etc.; 2 Kings iv. 18, etc.)
In the prophet Daniel mention is made of a resurrection, (xii. 2.) "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This is clear as to the fact of a resurrection, partial in its extent; but it is here also a question of construction whether both classes of the just and unjust, in whole or in part, arise at the same time, one to life and one to shame, or the just only arise, and the unjust remain still in the invisible world. The latter agrees best with the language of Isaiah already quoted, where it is said of some, "dead, they shall not live," and of others, "thy dead shall live." But however construed, the resurrection is partial, and precedes the "everlasting life." Daniel connects this resurrection with "the time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, . . . and at that time thy people shall be delivered," which can scarcely be understood of any other period than that of "the great tribulation," of which our Lord speaks, and which was to precede the establishment of His kingdom. (Matt. xxiv. 21, etc.)
If the Jews at this time applied the words of Isaiah to the Messiah: "He was cut off out of the land of the living; . . • He made His grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death," they must have believed in His resurrection, and this as preceding His kingdom, for His exaltation followed upon His death. Believing in His resurrection, they could easily believe that the righteous dead might also arise at His coming. But this point will be considered later.
It may be asked, Why were not the later revelations in the prophets respecting the disembodied state and the resurrection more full and clear? One answer may be found in the spiritual incapacity of the people to receive them. To know the real nature of death, it must be seen in its relations to sin; and therefore human sinfulness must be first realized as a fact of spiritual experience. Only as men feel themselves to be under the law of sin, can the desire of redemption be strong and active; and only as death is known to be the wages of sin, is it seen that the body is to be redeemed. The disembodied state, as a consequence of sin, cannot be eternal: life in sheol is not fullness of life; this fullness can be attained only in the Messianic Kingdom. But our survey of Jewish history shows that such consciousness of sin was awakened in few only, and the relation of sin to death was not seen, nor the nature of the higher life in the Messianic Kingdom; and therefore little could be said by the prophets respecting the part which the dead should have in it. The value of resurrection as an essential part of redemption could be understood only by those who saw in death the expression of the anger of God against sin.
But there were some in all generations, having a deep consciousness of sin on the one hand, and of the grace of God on the other, to whom death appeared in its true nature; but who through their close communion with Him attained to the assurance that death could not destroy that communion. Separation of soul and body would not bring separation from the living God. This feeling often finds utterance in the Psalms. "I am continually with thee." "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee." "My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." However weak in themselves, in the everlasting God was their strength. Because He lived, they would also live. (Ps. xxiii. 4, 6.) In their present communion with God was the pledge that He would not leave them among the dead, He would not leave them in the darkness of sheol, but make them to rejoice evermore in the light of His countenance. The more clearly bodily death was seen to be the consequence of sin, the more clearly was it seen that the purpose of God in redemption called for the re-union of soul and body; and thus the thought of resurrection as a redemptive act gradually took a firm lodgement in the more spiritually-minded of the people.
But there is another answer to this question. As the Incarnation is the key to all the actings of God, both in man's creation and in his redemption, it was not possible that the full significance of death in its relations to sin, could be known by any till His Son came, and "was made in the likeness of sinful flesh," and died and rose again. The Redeemer must Himself die, and through death destroy death. "Forasmuch
THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death." Rising from the dead, He is "made after the power of an endless life," One over whom death hath no more dominion. Thus out of death comes life, out of the mortal the immortal. "I was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." (Rev. i. 18.) And through His resurrection only could men learn the true nature of the re-union of soul and body. His resurrection was not a mere re-union, but one under new conditions, and without possibility of further separation. "Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him." (Rom. vi. 9.) "The second man is the Lord from heaven." To all who shall rise in His likeness, it is the entry upon a new stage of being, upon a higher, an immortal and heavenly life, in which all elements of man's nature, the material and the spiritual, are brought into perfectly adjusted and eternal relations.
Thus, not till the death and resurrection of the Incarnate Son, was it possible for men to know the full meaning of death, or its place in the economy of redemption; or the real nature of resurrection, and of tha higher condition of being into which man was to be then exalted. Till He should die and rise again, "the Resurrection and the Life," darkness must hang over the realm of the dead, — a darkness which only His actings in His Son could dispel. It was not God's will that His children should attempt to penetrate this darkness, and to learn the mode of disembodied existence. In His own time and way, and as they were able to receive, He would give them light; and, relying upon His promises respecting the Messiah, they must walk by faith till His hour for action came. The resurrection is one in a series of connected events, an act not to be separated from God's other acts in the work of redemption, and having its own denned place in the series. None could rise out of death till the purpose of God in the Messianic King was perfected. He was to be "the first-born from the dead," — "the author of life," — and in His likeness were the holy dead to rise. When He should come to establish His kingdom, and sit as Judge, then all whom God thought worthy to partake of its blessedness, would be raised together, and be gathered to Him. Therefore God would have His people to look forward in faith to the coming of the promised Redeemer, and in patience to wait through Him their redemption from death.
It is not without interest to note in several points the effect of this teaching respecting death, the disembodied state, and the resurrection, on the Jewish mind.
1. It brought before the people the great truth that the purpose of God in man was to be wrought out in the earth, and among the living. Although the multitude of the dead continually increased, yet not unto them were the mighty interests of humanity intrusted, not by them was redemption to be effected, not in sheol was the Messianic Kingdom to be set up. The victory over sin and death was to be won on the earth, and by the Incarnate Son, who could say: "I was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of hell and of death;" and on earth should the glory of His kingdom be revealed. Thus the error was guarded against which prevailed everywhere amongst the heathen, that the dead constituted a company so separated from the living that God's actings in the earth had no longer importance for them. On the contrary, all His people were taught that the state of death is merely provisional; that sheol is only a place of safe-keeping, not a permanent habitation; and that when God's time comes, He will re-unite the divided bands of His children, not by the death of the living, but by bringing the dead to life.
2. The condition of the dead being thus presented as one of rest, not of action, God finding His servants and helpers among the living, His people were kept from the adoration and invocation of the departed. While no form of worship among the early peoples was more ancient and widely spread than that of the dead, the Hebrews never deified or worshipped their departed chiefs and heroes. Neither Abraham nor Moses nor David, nor any hero or prophet, was invoked, or made an object of Divine honors. Nor from them was help sought. The noblest dead were not pictured as mighty and majestic spirits able to assist the living, but as the "Rephaim," weak, powerless shades. (Isa. xxvi. 19.)
3. Another effect was the close association in order of time between the resurrection and the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. That the Messianic King should be Himself a man raised from the dead, though declared by the prophet, was certainly never a matter of popular belief. But it was possible for all to see an order in redemption, and that the dead could not rise till the Messiah came. And this was seen and declared by the prophets, so that the two events became closely associated in the popular mind, many proofs of which are given in the Gospels. (Luke xiv. 14, 15.)
4. Another effect was to keep the people from subordinating the purpose of God to individual happiness. It was in the very nature of the covenant relation that it embraced the people as a whole, and could not be realized in individuals; and that the highest individual happiness could be attained only as His work attained its completion in the Messianic Kingdom. It was not for any one person to anticipate the time of the Kingdom, and to demand of God at death the blessedness which should be his in its due order. By His silence respecting any judgment and reward before the Messiah came, God not only taught all to wait His pleasure, but kept them from that indifference to the accomplishment of His purpose which necessarily finds place where individual salvation is made the chief end of hope and action. It may be said that no true Hebrew before the exile ever thought of entering at his death into the fullness of heavenly bliss; and that through death he attained the great end of life.
It has already been noticed that the belief in resurrection could not have been borrowed from any of the heathen nations with whom the Jews were in contact after the exile. If it were true that there were some among them who on religious or philosophical ground held some form of material body to be an indispensable organ of the soul, and so looked for a series of embodiments, yet they knew nothing of the moral nature of death, or of resurrection as a redemptive act. Of a life in the risen body, no longer under the law of sin and death, perfect and without end, they had no conception. The re-union of soul and body, if any believed in this, was only a passing event in the endless cycle of change, — life and death, death and life. But the general belief of antiquity was, that no re-union of body and soul after their separation was possible; and the prevalent philosophy of later times that matter and spirit are so essentially antagonistic, and spirit so much defiled and hindered by any contact with matter, that their separation through death is a great gain to the soul, made resurrection a doctrine offensive, and even absurd, to cultured heathenism.
It may be well here to make a brief statement of the essential distinctions between heathen and biblical eschatologies; as the former is set forth in its philosophers, and the latter in the Old Testament.
1. In the former, sin is not placed in any direct causal relation to death; death is a natural event, and without moral significance. In the latter, death is the penalty of sin, the expression of Divine anger; through his disobedience man came under the law of death.
2. In the former, death, as the separation of soul and body, brings no loss; the disembodied soul enters rather into a higher sphere of being. Any re-union is, therefore, unnecessary, and the doctrine of the resurrection unknown or rejected. In the latter, all disembodied existence is necessarily imperfect because a destruction of man's original constitution; and resurrection of the body and re-union are thus essential to its perfection.
3. In the former, retribution follows at death, each soul as good or evil then receives its reward, there is no day of general judgment. In the latter, there is no retribution at death, other than the continued consciousness of the Divine favor or displeasure; but all wait for a day of general judgment.
4. In the former, there is no redemptive purpose underlying human history, and, therefore, there is no progress to a higher and perfect order, no eternal kingdom of righteousness as the goal. In the latter, there is continued and definite movement to an end, which is fullness of life in communion with God in the Kingdom of His Son; and to this end resurrection is an essential step.
5. In the former, there is no conception of any existence hereafter higher than that of man developed in his natural faculties. In the latter, there is the conception of a far higher condition of being, the supernatural, the basis of which is the Incarnation; and whose consummation is in the holy and glorified humanity — the likeness of the risen Lord.
We thus see how widely differing are the heathen and biblical ideas of the future of man. Properly speaking, heathenism knows nothing of perfect and eternal life: it knows only of the disembodied and, therefore, imperfect state, and of the happiness or misery of the soul in its various transmigrations. But in biblical revelation the future of man is inseparably connected with the purpose of God in the Messiah; and as He entered into His perfected condition by resurrection, so must all who attain to highest blessedness. Through resurrection only is fullness and permanence of life. Hence, resurrection of the body after the likeness of Christ, is the cardinal fact in biblical eschatology.