Rebirth = metaphor; resurrection = reality

My last post, based on a sermon I preached recently, ended with the following passage from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

That is why it is of faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the one of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust 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. That 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.

Paul is not simply inventing a metaphor here. Resurrection is rebirth according to a great deal of the Bible.

First of all, note that Paul’s main stage of argumentation (Romans 1-8, all of which is directed to a point about Israel in 9-11), begins and ends with resurrection as second birth. First Paul directly parallels birth in the lind of David to rebirth by resurrection. Paul writes of the Gospel:

concerning his Son, who was begotten from the seed of David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness from his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This two-stage life applies to all believers who are born of the resurrection to a common fraternity with Christ:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies…. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

But it is not just Romans.

Jesus title is “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1.18; Revelation 1.5). Jesus was raised to new life because the (don’t believe the English muting of the point) “it was not possible for him to be held” by “the birthpangs of death” (Acts 2.24). Jesus himself taught this theology of the resurrection:

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20.34-36).

Paul indeed preached that this was the prophetic significance of Psalm 2:

But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’

Hebrews 1-2 uses Psalm 2 to make the same point that Paul does in Romans 8 about our resurrection relating us to Jesus as brothers of a common mother.

The prophecy of Isaiah 26, promising a return from exile, gives us the same imagery:

They are dead, they will not live;
they are shades, they will not arise;
to that end you have visited them with destruction
and wiped out all remembrance of them.
But you have increased the nation, O Lord,
you have increased the nation; you are glorified;
you have enlarged all the borders of the land.

O Lord, in distress they sought you;
they poured out a whispered prayer
when your discipline was upon them.
Like a pregnant woman
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
we were pregnant, we writhed,
but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.

Jesus resurrection was the real return from exile, and our resurrections have already begun in him.

NOTE: see also Virgin Tomb.

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