There is evidence in the New Testament that Jesus and the Apostles believed in reincarnation, although it will most likely not convince the dogmatic believer. There is evidence that Jesus believed that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah (called Elias in Greek in the New Testament). Consider these scriptures from Matthew:
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. … And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. Matthew 11:10-14
That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? John is Elijah returned as predicted by both the prophets and the law. This is repeated again in Matthew:
And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13
Your conventional believer might reply with this from Luke where Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, is told by an angel that he would have a son:
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he [John] shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:11-17
The conventional believer will say that John was not really Elijah but rather he just somehow went “…in the spirit and power of Elias.” That seems a little weak to me. I think “in the spirit and power of Elias” means being Elijah. That is consistent with what Jesus said in Matthew. To say otherwise is to say that Jesus was mistaken or confused.
One other possible objection is that John himself replied to the Pharisees that he was not Elijah come again:
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. John 1:19-21
It is entirely possible that John himself was not aware of his past lives. Jesus however claimed to have superior information.
Is there evidence that some Jews in the 1st century believed in some form of reincarnation? Indeed there is much evidence of this.
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. John 9:1-3
If the Apostles believed it possible a man could be born blind as a punishment for his sins then clearly they believed he must have committed those sins in a previous life. What other possibility is there? That establishes that they at least believed it was possible. Jesus simply says this is not the case for this particular man.
You would think if the very idea of reincarnation was a serious mistake he would have immediately corrected them then and there. But this is the same Jesus that in Matthew says that John the Baptist is Elijah come again.
In Mark as a prologue to Peter declaring that Jesus is the Christ we have this dialogue:
And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. Mark 8:27-28
This tells you that the idea of people from the past reincarnating was a common notion at the time. The idea being expressed here is that because of his great works people clearly believed Jesus was some great person from the past reincarnated to life again.
This shouldn’t be surprising. In the Old Testament in Jeremiah we have the Lord telling Jeremiah that he knew him before he was born.
Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Jeremiah 1:4-5
In other words the real essence of a human does not come into existence at birth. In another quote from Mark it is clear that the belief that people can live again is common and accepted among Jews in the 1st century:
And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. Mark 6:14-16
In Revelation the author clearly states the idea that those who overcome will not have to “go no more out,” that is go out into mortal life and the difficulties and pain that entails:
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. Revelation 3:11-12
Hebrews 9:27 is usually given as the final refutation of the idea of reincarnation:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
This may be a mistranslation. The Concordant Literal New Testament translates more literally saying that:
And, in as much as it is reserved to the men to be dying once, yet after this a judging… Hebrews 9:27 , Concordant Literal New Testament
This puts a different spin on it. One could interpret this to mean that there will be a time for repeating death, judgment, and rebirth for as long as it takes for one to “overcome.”
In the New Testament the man Jesus overcomes death at the Resurrection. This is the Resurrection of Life, a resurrection to life that does not have the vision of eventual death at the end of a number of days. In Hebrews what is being talked of is the Resurrection of Death, a resurrection to a life with the near certainty of death awaiting one some day. As they say, in mortal life some things are certain, death and taxes!
Jesus makes this promise to his followers:
And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
In this “present age” those who sacrifice their lives for this mission will be given other lives with “homes, brothers, sisters, …” so that in the age or world come they may achieve the Resurrection of Life as did Jesus. Reincarnation is just the mechanism.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3
Born again, and again.
The Apostle Paul writes that:
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26
One aspect of the mission of Jesus was to demonstrate the truth of this, to demonstrate that eventually death can be overcome. Again, reincarnation is just a means, a necessary means, to an end.