GRACE AND BEHAVIOUR
‘The New Testament is clear – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved by grace through faith. Is that all there is to it? Actually no! Behaviour after conversion affects the outcome.’ – The Rev Dr Ben Witherington, III addressing 400 people at an evening talk.
WHAT do we mean by After-Life? During the biblical era, there were numerous views of the After-Life. The Egyptian view was the most fully formed; the Greco-Roman view featured immortality of the soul; the Old Testament emphasised Sheol; and the Pharisaic view believed in resurrection.
Stating this, the Rev Dr Ben Witherington, III, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, added that the Old Testament says that when one dies one goes to the land of the dead, unless one is exceptional like Enoch or Elijah.
Addressing some 400 people at one of his series of three evening talks at Wesley Methodist Church from May 21 to 23, the Aldersgate Convention speaker said there began to be a “more positive view” of the After-Life in the later and more apocalyptic prophets, for example, in Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones and resurrection (Ezekiel 37) and Daniel’s reference to resurrection in Dan. 12: 2-3. He quickly added that Daniel’s reference was not one of life in another world, or in heaven. “The Old Testament mentions little or nothing about dying and going to heaven,” he said.
“In Dan. 12:2-3, there is a bad and a good resurrection or, better said, a resurrection of the righteous that leads to one destiny, and a resurrection of the wicked that leads to another. This idea reappears in Revelation 20, and is mentioned in the Gospels.
“So the major conclusion is that you must have a conception of progressive revelation. The Old Testament does not help very much when it comes to the subject of heaven and the After-Life.
“But what the Old Testament does suggest is that After-Life, not Other World, i.e. heaven, should be the focus of hope.
“It also suggests that our behaviour in this life affects the outcome.”
The Rev Dr Witherington said that the main vision of the After-Life in the New Testament, both in the teaching of Jesus and in his followers such as Paul, is that at Christ’s return, those who are dead but are in Christ, will be raised and be made like Him.
The Kingdom will then come on earth, as it is in heaven. 1 Cor. 15:12-58 is a detailed discussion of the future resurrection on earth where we personally have our own Easter.
“The New Testament is clear – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved by grace through faith: Ephesians 1.
“Is that all there is to it? Actually no!”, he emphasised.
“Behaviour after conversion affects the outcome.”
The positive resurrection, he said, goes to “those who are in Christ”, not to everyone. The danger of sin must not be minimised, particularly the sin of apostasy, which is seen as an unforgivable sin (Hebrews 6: 4-6; 1 John 5: 16-17).
So, he asked, “Where do our notions come from, that all persons are going to heaven, or will ultimately be saved? Or the idea that if one is just a decent or good person, one will have a nice After-Life?”
“The key to salvation both now, and for final salvation, is Jesus Christ and how one relates to Him. Acts 4:12 is quite clear. There is no other name by which we can be saved, than the name of Jesus Christ.”
In his two other talks entitled “Rapture or Parousia?” and “The Future of the Church, Israel and the Kingdom”, the Rev Dr Witherington touched a great deal on dispensing with dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a theory of interpreting biblical prophecy which does not have deep historical roots and is not well grounded in the history of the interpretation of the Bible by the church over many centuries.
On Israel, he said the “return of the Jews to Israel in 1948 is not a sign of the end of the end times or a basis for calculations”.
“As even orthodox Jews in Israel stress, the modern secular Zionist government is not Biblical Israel. Romans 11:25 makes clear that Biblical Israel will not show up until Jesus returns and all Israel is saved.”
The Rev Dr Witherington also enthralled participants at two morning seminars he conducted – the first, “Eschatology and Ministry”, mainly for pastors and seminarians, and the other entitled provocatively, “What Have They Done With Jesus?” for church members and friends, in which he talked about the controversy over claims arising from the excavation in 1980 of the Talpiot Tomb – the so-called Jesus Tomb.
The tomb is more than three miles (4.8 km) outside Old Jerusalem in East Talpiot. A considerable array of ossuaries (bone boxes) were found in the tomb.
While no one doubts that they are early Jewish ossuaries, said the Rev Dr Witherington, the original archaeologists and epigraphers, with one possible exception, found no reason to believe that the inscriptions on the ossuaries and the tomb had anything to do with Jesus and His burial or His family, as had been claimed by Jewish TV director Simcha Jacobovici, Hollywood producer James Cameron and some scholars in February 2007.
Experts have now called for further study and a reopening of the tomb.
Said the Rev Dr Witherington: “While I have no problems with further study of the tomb and the one adjacent to it as well, I do have a problem with people pushing theories and making exorbitant claims that are repeatedly shown to have little basis in the reality of the situation and not in accordance with the assessment of the hard evidence.”