“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:25-29, NRSV).
This statement of Jesus will probably seem to contradict the things I have said in my previous 2 articles on the Resurrection. In many a sermon, no doubt, it has been pointed out that Jesus said “all that are in the graves will come out” – and it is only physical bodies that are put in graves. And the statement that “the hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and will come out” would surely indicate that all of the dead will be raised at the same time. I did point out previously that “all that are in the graves” is simply meant to distinguish those who have died physically from those who are dead spiritually even while physically alive. It is no more proper to insist on a literal meaning of resuscitation of dead bodies, than it is proper to insist that Jesus really meant that one has to eat his physical body and drink his physical blood to have life (in John 6).
When one reads this passage in John 5 in its entirety, it becomes evident that Jesus is saying that he has now been given the authority to do the very things his Father has been doing all along until that time. The passage begins with Jesus healing an invalid at the pool of Bethesda. As this healing was done on the Sabbath, many of the Jews began to complain that Jesus had violated their Sabbath day regulations. Jesus’ reply to them was: “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, also, am working” (verse 17, NIV). The Son of man has ‘grown up’, and is now assuming the role of “vice regent” his Father had purposed for him. He does whatever the Father shows him, and says what the Father says. “Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes” (verse 21, NRSV). So the point of the verses concerning the resurrection is not that there has been no resurrection until now, and that it still awaits ‘the second coming’; rather it is that the Father has been raising the dead all along until this point, and now the Son is assuming that authority. Now the dead will come forth at the ‘command’ of the Son, and will be judged by him. The Father has committed all judgment into the Son’s hands (verse 22). The Son has come into his ‘maturity’, as the Firstborn, representative, and guarantor for all the children of God (all of creation), and will see to it that all creation joins him in his ‘glory’. Judgment for our works, and reincarnation, is the process by which this goal will be attained.
The expectation of the first century followers of Jesus the Anointed, who overcame all of the temptations of ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’, was that they would enter into the resurrection of life – no more judgment and reincarnation – along with Jesus when they died (or at least at the coming of Jesus in his kingdom, at the time when the earthly Jerusalem was destroyed). Whether this meant that believers who were still living at the time of Jesus’ coming would be immediately ‘changed’ into the spiritual resurrection body without experiencing the death of the physical body – as would seem to be the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15: 51, 52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 – or just that all believers who died from that point on would immediately inherit the fullness of the resurrection (Rev 14:13 – And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”) I won’t say for sure at this time. What I can say with relative certainty is that ‘original’ Christianity believed that a great change had been introduced into the government of this world by the coming into maturity of the Son of man (Jesus, the Firstborn), and they expected to enter with him into his fullness of resurrection and governmental authority either at their death or Christ’s ‘coming in his kingdom’.
As pointed out in my articles on the “Olivet Discourse”, the coming of Jesus in his kingdom was not the ‘end of the world’ as we think of it, but was just the beginning of the reign of “the Son of man” (which is not just one individual – Jesus – but the whole “one new man”, the Christ consisting of ‘head’ and ‘body’; all of the saints of the Most High). This reign will continue until all creation has been actually brought into that very same life which the ‘saints’ enjoy. This, as I perceive it, is the ‘order’ of the resurrection Paul spoke of in 1 Cor. 15:22-28. Though this will no doubt be subject to dispute, I see 3 stages in this ‘resurrection order’: (1) Christ [Jesus] the first fruits; (2) those who were Christ’s at his coming [70 A.D.]; and (3) the end, when all things have been ‘subjected’ to the government of Christ. The final stage is achieved cumulatively, over the course of the reign of the overcomers: as each one becomes an ‘overcomer’, he joins with the rest in the fullness of resurrection and reigns with them, until everyone has achieved the resurrection of life, and death has been completely vanquished in everyone’s experience. As Rev. 14:13 says: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
This, I believe, is the genuine Christian message both of resurrection and reincarnation. This message is consistent with the basic message of the other major religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism; and one does not have to accept all of the specifically Christian ‘spin’ on the subject, rejecting the ‘spin’ of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, etc., to agree with the ‘spirit’ of the message. Indeed, all of these religions may rightly call each other ‘brothers’ in the ‘family of God’ (though I have no expectation that fundamentalists in any of these religions will see it that way). I submit that it is at least a possibility that Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus are incarnations of the same ‘soul’ who is the head of the ‘body’ and the Firstborn of the whole family; and that this itself would show that God is really ‘the God of all the earth’. I have read a book written by a Buddhist who acknowledged Buddha and Jesus as brothers, and claimed them both as his ‘masters’. Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi also recognized Jesus as the brother of the Hindu and Buddhist ‘saints’, and seemed to be as fond of referring to the New Testament, and Christian ‘saints’, as to the Vedic scriptures of the Hindu religion, and Hindu ‘saints’. That is what I consider to be the right attitude, and the ‘truth of the matter’.