Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Christ Reincarnated? What?

One of my vices is video games. I especially like to play first person shooters or the overview type games (Empire Earth, Star Craft, Age of Empires, etc). I have a lot of fun when I play them, but I try very hard for them not to encroach too much on my real life and the important things therein.

That being said, I was playing a game online the other night with a group of guys - the guys I usually play with are from Canada, Virginia, Chicago, and Texas - and it's been fun to interact with them. Most of the guys (I hope all, actually) know about my faith in Christ and my commitment to Him. I have sent them the link to this blog, and I know that some have read it from time to time. I have had various conversations about the things of God with some of the guys - some deeper and longer conversations than others and some have been short comments, affirmations, or statements from me in response to something that was said.

The most recent issue that came up was a question by one of my Canadian friends, here's kind of how it went (I'll call the Canadian guy "Peter J." and another guy from Virginia "Hoover" in this conversation):

Peter J: So Eric, tell me about reincarnation.
Eric: What?
Peter J: Tell me about it, what do you know.
Eric: Um,'s a bunch of crap - to be frank. It doesn't happen.
Hoover: It doesn't happen.
Peter J: Well, what about Jesus. Didn't he reincarnate after he was killed?
Eric: No. He was resurrected, not reincarnated.
Peter J: What's the difference, then?

Well, since I've never really been confronted with this question and confusion, I will address it to the best of my ability.

First, let's define the terms:

Reincarnation is defined by tbe as rebirth in new bodies or forms of life; especially : a rebirth of a soul in a new human body; or a fresh embodiment.

Resurrection is defined as the "act of rising from the dead, from resurgere to rise from the dead." Also, if it is capitalized it means the rising of Christ from the dead, the rising again to life of all the human dead before the final judgment, or the state of one risen from the dead.

There is an alternate definition used by the Christian Science Church as "a spiritualization of thought: material belief that yields to spiritual understanding."

First of all, let me say that the Christian Science understanding is anything but a bilblical understanding. And by that, I mean that defining resurrection this way is done by not using or mangling the texts of the Bible so that they seem to say something that is not being said.

I am not an eastern religious mystic, a guru, or a sage so I cannot speak authoritatively on any one religions nuanced definition of reincarnation, but I can speak about it generally and how it relates to the Biblical account of Christ: what happened to Him after He was crucified.

I think to get a complete understanding of what the Bible says happens after death, we can look at a few key passages of scripture. If we look at Hebrews chapter 9, we see a great description of how Christ's sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to pay (bear God's wrath and punishment) for the sins of all those who believe on Him from all time...and in this we see verse 27 stating, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Hebrews 9:27).

Another good place to look is in Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This is a great story where Christ tells us a lot what happens when people die. Namely, we see exactly what Christ said would happen to the righteous (heaven) and the unrighteous (hell)1, but the key I want to focus on is what the rich man request, and the answer that he is given.

The rich man died and went to hell and was in such agony that he couldn't stand it. He requested that Lazarus (the beggar who died and is in heaven) be sent to his (the rich man's) house to warn his family about the reality of the torment in hell. The answer was a big "no" for the reason that if people didn't believe what the Bible said about these things, then they wouldn't believe anyone or anything else. 2 But notice that Abraham doesn't console the rich man with something like saying, "Relax, this is only temporary because soon enough you will be reborn into the world of the flesh so that you can try again."

The final place that I'll look at (for now, anyway) is in 2 Samuel 12. Here we see David after he's been called out for adultery, murder, and a whole host of other things and the judgment upon him and his family (in part) is that the son born of the adultery will die. After the child dies, and his servants ask David why he's acting the way that he is now, he says, "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Samuel 12:23) The point of this is that David had the clear understanding that where his son is, David would one day go. Now, if reincarnation were to be a biblical concept, David would not be sure because he might miss his son because he'd be living again.

To close out my argument against reincarnation, the single most definitive spot to go is the first place that I cited, Hebrews 9 makes it overly and abundantly clear that we die once.

So now that reincarnation is understood to be a non-Christian idea, and an idea that is completely incompatible with Christianity, let me look at what Christ's rising looked like.

We see the following (to name a few):

  1. Jesus had (has) only one body both after His death when He was resurrected as well as before His death. This is evident by the fact the tomb was empty. (Matthew 28:1-15)3
  2. The Body that Jesus has is identifiably His. Skeptical Thomas was convinced by touching Jesus' scars. (John 20:24-31)
  3. It is physical, not immaterial. (John 20:24-31)
So, I would like to assert that the Bible clearly states that Christ was raised from the dead, and that this raising is nothing at all like the reincarnation of any mystic type religion, but it is completely different. It is interesting to note that the entire claim of the New Testament (and ultimately the entire Bible) rests on this one event in human history. If Christ did not raise from the dead, then the whole Christian faith is worthless, and we (Christians) are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:13-19). This is not a squishy or indefinite issue that we can gloss over in the discussion or defense of the faith. Above all other things - if this is not true - then everything in the Bible is useless.

I would also assert that the resurrection of Christ from the dead is as believable and true as is the fact that you are reading this at this point in time. There is a huge case (historically) that can be built to show that Christ did raise from the dead. I will summarize some of the powerful arguments for this fact....
  1. There was no presentation of the body of Christ by either the Romans or the Jewish leaders to stamp out the faith when it began. And because of that, no historical (and creditable) source can point to where Jesus is buried.
  2. There were 500 eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6) who testified to the risen Christ. What madman would testify to that if it were not true?
  3. The fact that the disciples went from cowering, hiding, and denial of Jesus to testifying, imprisonment, and martyrdom for this same Jesus. Is it plausible that these men were so blinded by idiocy that they chose to die for a dead man whom they disowned when He was alive?
...just to name a few.4

1 I know a lot can (and should) be said about heaven and hell and what the future "Lake of Fire" and "New Heaven and New Earth" are, and that is important, but that is not my purpose in this blog. Please, feel free (if you feel so inclined) to write about this either in a comment or as a mailed in post to the blog.

2 This is also very condemning of the people of that day and of our day. Because Jesus did basically what the rich man in the story wanted. Jesus died and then came back to life (resurrected), and by doing so not only does He have the eye witness account of heaven and hell in the afterlife (He knew this before his incarnation as well), but when He came back it showed positively that not even a dead man living again testifying of these things will convince those who disbelieve the Bible.

3 It is interesting to see that the "Jesus' body was stolen" theory was addressed in the Bible itself. Quick question: If this were actually true, that the Disciples stole the body, why would they have died for a lie that they knew to be true. Also, if it wasn't stolen, why wasn't it produced by the Jewish authorities who wanted, more than anything else, to disprove what Jesus taught and disband his followers.

4 Lee Strobel has written a couple of great books dealing with the skeptical questions surrounding Christianity (from the skeptic's view, I might add) and he does a fantastic job of asking the questions and getting the answers from smarter men than me. His books are called The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith.


Anonymous said...

Thanks EJ!

That kinda clears things up in terms of christian view, I guess that it is just one of those things that people hear and talk about. I am not really sure where the REincarnation idea originates.

Thanks again for the info.


Joey J said...

I actually have been Reincarnated. Now, you have the option to call me a liar, but I'm not a liar. It's pretty sweet being reincarnated! Heck, I think I'll go home and be reincarnated tonight after work. It's fun!!! You should try it some time!

Joey J said...

My Bad! I thought you said rejuvinated.

Nate J. said...

I believe your reference to 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 is key. If Christ is not RISEN then our faith is in vain. So often we focus on Christmas and Christ's first coming to earth. However, the real key is that he literally died and then literally rose again to pay the debt of our sin. I find it interresting that the world has been much more willing to embrace Christmas and it has Easter.

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