The following challenge to the New Testament is not successful against those who have an average understanding of the New Testament. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the objector is honest about the objection, because Jesus answered the objection in the very passage the objector cites. Perhaps, the skeptic finds the objection successful when it is used before an audience who are not familiar with the New Testament.
It is alleged by some that Jesus Christ had no relationship to God while he was dead. Firstly, this allegation uses the the Bible where it states that God is only the God of the living and not of the dead.
“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” Mark 12:27 (NIV)
Secondly, it is recognized that Jesus Christ died and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Now, if God were only the God of the living, then logically it seems to follow that Jesus Christ could not have had a relationship with God while he was dead.
Syllogistically, the conclusion follows from the premises. Hence there is an apparent contradiction.
Premise 1. Jesus Christ was dead when he was in the tomb.
Premise 2. God is not God of the dead.
Conclusion. Therefore, God was not God of Jesus Christ while he was dead.
The answer to this apparent contradiction is simple and is answered in scripture that the objector uses to make his point. The Sadducees believed there was no resurrection of the dead. They did not believe that the human spirit continued beyond the death of the body. Christ’s responded to them by noting that, although the body of Abraham was in the grave, he was alive before God in his spirit or soul. The Sadducees knew where the tomb of Abraham was. They had no doubt that his body was dead and decayed in his grave. They thought that the grave was the complete end of all human existence.
Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. Mark 12:18
Now about the dead rising– have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” Mark 12:26-27 (NIV)
The Sadducees did not accept the immateriality of the human spirit or that the human spirit survives death. Consequently, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus answered their objections by noting that Abraham, in spirit, was alive in the presence of God, even though his body was in a state of death in the grave. Jesus answered the objection by quoting from the book of Exodus in the Old Testament.
Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” … Exodus 3:6 (NIV)
Since God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and since God is God of the living, it follows that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive in some spiritual sense, even though their bodies were dead and in their respective graves. Elsewhere, the Bible teaches there is a distinction between the body and the spirit too.
So, the answer to the objection is found in the very verses used to support the objection. The answer to the objection is the fact that the soul continues to exist after the death of the body. It is true that Jesus Christ’s body was dead while it was in the tomb. However, Jesus Christ’s spirit was in the presence of God the Father. Jesus committed his spirit to the presence of the Father, while his body was committed to the garden tomb. So, as the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive, so, likewise, the soul of Jesus Christ was alive even when his dead body was in the tomb.
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46 (NIV)
So, regarding the body of Jesus Christ, it was in the tomb. Regarding his blessed spirit, he was in the presence of the Father. God is God of the living. Hence, there is no real contradiction. The body dies and decays in the grave while the spirit livingly returns to God to await the resurrection of the body.