In his debate with the Sadducees, Jesus proves the resurrection of the dead by appealing to the story of Moses at the burning bush, “where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Luke 20:37). Jesus says it should be obvious from this that there is a resurrection to come because, “he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (v. 38).
Now, this is a nice clean little argument that shut everybody up at the time and should set us to think on our Lord in wonder. Dutch theologians Herman Witsius actually took it a bit further in his day.
In his section on “glorification” in his Book III of The Economy of the Covenants, he sets out to refute the Socinians who deny that there is a soul that continues after death, which also feels, understands, lives, and is conscious. Now, Witsius goes about refuting it several ways, but fascinatingly enough, he appeals to this passage and reasons that when Jesus said that “do all live on unto God,” it is “not only to be understood of that happy life of the entire compound,” the reunion of body and soul at the resurrection, “but of the blessed life of the soul in a state of separation, which our Lord ascribes to them in the present time.”
He breaks down Jesus’ argument like this:
In order to prove the resurrection, he proceeds in this manner, as first, he concludes the soul survives and live, and then from that infers the resurrection of the body: because God’s covenant was not made with souls, but with entire persons.
I just want to briefly make a couple of points about this remarkable passage.
First, this is an ingenious reading of the text. Christ’s argument is properly for a resurrection, but Witsius sits with the text and recognizes what it presupposes, or rather, he appeals to Christ’s premise for his own conclusion. Not only does it get you a resurrection–it gets you a soul too!
Second, I just loved that phrase, “because God’s covenant was not made with souls, but with entire persons.” God made a covenant with Abraham–not just his inner essence–but the whole man, body and soul; the guy who stands 5’6″, with a beard, drooping shoulders, possibly very unsightly teeth, and who believed in God’s promises. God’s covenant is with him–and all his children, body and soul, who are sons by faith (Gal. 3:6-9).
I think of a similarly marvelous line in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.
“And their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves.” How marvelous? Our union with Christ is body and soul, and even when our bodies lie in the grave, they are resting there in his care. Marvelous.
Incidentally, this is the kind of thing that ends up annoying me 10 years after the fact with so much of the rhetoric in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. It’s still a great book, but the impression you get early on that everybody forgot about the resurrection until the tail-end of the 20th Century New Testament studies is…Well, let’s just leave that can of worms half-opened and recall that Herman wrote this four centuries ago.
For now, I’ll tell you go dig up Witsius. It’s really marvelous, biblical-theology and this chapter itself is great because it manages to do the thing that so many modern eschatologies do not: it keeps an eye on the material glory of the resurrection, while at the same time expounding the beauty of our glorification with its spiritual goods in view: holiness and delight in the vision of God.
Truly, his covenant is made with entire persons.
Soli Deo Gloria