The Hope of The Resurrection

What Christian, who is at all acquainted with the Bible, when he hears of the resurrection of the dead, does not at once think of that mighty resurrection song that is the contents of the fifteenth chapter of first Corinthians? Not, indeed, as if that chapter were the only Scriptural passage that speaks of the resurrection: there are many others. Often the Lord makes mention of it. More than once He foretold His own resurrection on the third day. To the sister of Lazarus that came to meet Him after her brother’s death, He says: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Solemnly He assures His people: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25)

And again: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29)

His own glorious resurrection is the very heart of the gospel which the apostles proclaim in the world after His ascension into heaven, and this resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis and pledge of the glorious resurrection of all His own. For “if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:11)

And they that have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within themselves, “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23); “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (1st Thessalonians 4:14). And it is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that we are begotten again unto a lively hope, (1st Peter 1:13). But although the doctrine of the resurrection is taught everywhere in the New Testament, nowhere is there a passage like 1st Corinthians 15, the whole of which is entirely devoted to the exposition of this glorious truth.

The occasion for the writing of this chapter was a heresy in the congregation of Corinth. There were, namely, some among them that denied the resurrection of the dead. They simply insisted that there is no resurrection of the dead. Hence, the apostle in writing this wonderful chapter proceeds from the firm ground of the resurrection of Christ, For so he had preached the gospel to them, and so had they believed, that Christ died for their sins, and that He was buried, and that He was raised the third day. Surely, this resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a well-established fact, corroborated by many witnesses, whose testimony that they had seen Him after the resurrection cannot very well be gainsaid. And Paul himself could testify that he had become a witness of the risen Lord. And the apostle concludes this section: “Therefore. . . .so we preach, and so ye believed.” How then could some of them say that there is no resurrection of the dead, and argue, probably, that the whole idea of a resurrection is absurd? For, to be sure, if the sweeping statement that there is no resurrection of the dead be true, it follows that one must also deny the reality and truth of the resurrection of Christ. But if Christ is not raised, all our faith is vain: we are still in our sin. But Christ is raised, and therefore, also the resurrection of His people is an established truth, the object of a sure hope. For the risen Lord has become the firstfruits of them that slept, and they shall surely follow Him in the glorious resurrection. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each enters the resurrection glory in his own order: Christ is first, for He is the firstfruits; afterwards come they that are His, at His coming. But the resurrection cannot be denied. Death shall surely be swallowed up in victory, and that last enemy shall certainly be destroyed by Him unto whom all things are subjected.

After having established and applied all this in the first section of this beautiful chapter, the apostle turns his attention to the nature of the resurrection- body. (He introduces this part of the chapter by a question which he supposes that someone might ask: “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1st Corinthians 5:35) Evidently, this question might be asked in a spirit of contradiction by someone who, even after the apostle had demonstrated the certainty of the resurrection, might still intend to expose its absurdity. You have people like that. After you have shown them the truth, and they cannot deny it, they make a last attempt to overthrow the truth of the gospel by trying to show the absurdity and impossibility of it all. And so someone might ask: “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” But to such a one the apostle replies: “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” (1st Corinthians 5:36) And let us not misunderstand the meaning of the apostle. He does not mean to assert or to demonstrate that the resurrection lies within the scope of our rational comprehension. From a rational viewpoint there is, indeed, room for the question of incredulity: how are the dead raised up? For consider what becomes of our bodies after death. They are utterly decomposed, so that there is nothing left of them after a short time. And their chemical substances assume other forms, and become part of other bodies. How then can there be a resurrection of the dead? What body is there to be raised? With what body do they come? But, although this is true, the question is, nevertheless, foolish, for the simple reason that it assumes that whatever lies outside of the scope of our reason cannot possibly be true. Let this incredulous questioner but look about him, and read the very language of the resurrection in the things that are seen. For also the resurrection of the dead takes place repeatedly in the parable of the seed that must die before it is quickened again. Yet even this parable in nature we do not comprehend.

But, of course, the same question concerning the body of the resurrection may also be asked by faith, and with a real spiritual interest to know a little of this wonderful mystery. And to them the apostle replies: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (1st Corinthians 15:44) In these words the resurrection body is compared with our present bodies from a fourfold viewpoint. Let us look at these distinctions a little more closely.

But first, let us notice that the apostle also here compares physical death and the resurrection to the quickening of a seed that is sown. With a view to the resurrection, burial is like the sowing of a seed. For those that believe in Christ crucified and raised, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. They bury their dead as the husbandman sows his seed: in the hope of the resurrection. But notice that this metaphor also has something to tell us about the nature of the resurrection. It informs us, first of all that it is emphatically resurrection, not a new creation out of nothing. It is the quickening of that which is dead. However incomprehensible it may be for us, however impossible it may appear to our understanding, that our completely decomposed bodies shall be called out of the dust and appear in glory, yet that is exactly what is meant by the resurrection of the dead. Essentially the same body that is apparently swallowed up of death shall be raised in glory. When a peasant sows wheat, he does not expect a crop of barley; and when he sows rye, he does not look for a crop of corn. And so, essentially the same body that is sown will appear again in the resurrection. We may ask, perhaps, what belongs to the very essence of a human body? And to this question we would give a threefold reply. In the first place, it belongs to the essence of a human body exactly that it is a body, i.e., that it is material. We are not speaking now of the kind of matter of which the resurrection body will be composed; but it must be established that it is a body, and, therefore, material. Secondly, it belongs to the very nature of a human body that it is human. There is a wide difference between the organism of a human body, and that of the animal. And we may, no doubt, denote this difference in a general way by saying that the human body is adapted to be instrumental in the reflection and manifestation of the image of God in man. Hence, that it is a body through which the image of God may shine forth, Itake it, belongs to the very nature of a human body. Lastly a human body is individual. Even though there are millions upon millions of men, and you easily recognize them as human beings, yet there are no two individual human beings alike, either in soul or in body. And each individual human person or spirit requires his own individual body. You could not function or live in my body, neither would my person be able to express itself in your bodies. We may conclude, then, that the resurrection body will be like our present body in this threefold respect: it will be material; it will be the proper instrument for the reflection of the image of God; and it will be distinctively individual: each one will receive his own body. The body that is sown in death will be quickened in the resurrection.

However, even though the resurrection body will be essentially the same body that is stored away in the grave, it will be quite different in form from the latter. It will be elevated to the higher plane of the kingdom of heaven. It will be glorified, even as was the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this implies, first of all, that all the effects of sin will be erased completely, and that it will not only be delivered from the corruption of death, but it will be wholly victorious over death. It will be beyond the reach of the claws of death. For it will have put on immortality, and it will exist in the sphere of incorruptibility. To denote this, the apostle makes the threefold distinction between the sphere of corruption and incorruption, of dishonor and glory, of weakness and strength.

It is sown in corruption. This means that the existence of our present bodies is wholly characterized by corruption. One the one hand, there are corrupting agencies at work in our bodies from the moment we are born, germs that enter into them from without, and that tend to disintegrate, to decompose, to destroy the marvelous organism of our bodies. These corrupting agencies are all about us: they are in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in the water we drink. Think only of the tiny wild beast that is called the tubercular germ, that swarms into our lungs to destroy us. And it signifies on the other hand, that our bodies are exposed to this corruption: they are corruptible. They are not, and they never will be victorious over these powers of corruption that drag us to the grave. This process of corruption begins at the very moment we enter into this world, for we exist in the very sphere of corruption. Throughout our lives it reveals itself in all kinds of diseases, both physical and mental, for soul and body are very closely and delicately intertwined. And it has its consummation, when physical death finally has the victory over us, and the process of corruption is completed in the grave.

But there is more. It is sown in weakness. This implies that our present bodies possess only a limited amount of strength. They cannot continue forever. They have no inexhaustible source of power to live. And their amount of strength is small. It is measured by the span of threescore and ten years, or, at the most, by fourscore years; and we fly away. Even apart from any especially corrupting influences that ruin our bodies, our bodies decline in strength, our eyes grow dim, our ears grow dull, our shoulders stoop under the burden of years, our heart grows weary and exhausted, and we hasten into the arms of death. We are like the flower of the field, which, indeed, is destroyed. When the wind passeth over it, but which withers and dies because of its limited strength, even though no storm breaks its tender stem.

And, lastly, our present bodies are sown in dishonor. In the text dishonor stands opposed to glory. The honor and glory of the human body is that it is the visible manifestation of the beauty of God’s image, the instrument for the operation of the true knowledge of God, of positive righteousness and of perfect holiness. The shame and dishonor of our physical organism is the very opposite. For we have lost the image of God, and our bodies have become the instruments of the lie, of iniquity and ethical corruption. And, besides, death has dominion over them. Corruption, sin, and death leave their marks all over the body, and cover them with shame. For a moment it may seem as if even the present body is still glorious, when it is blooming in the flower of its youth, but soon it becomes manifest that the Word of God is true, and when finally the corpse lies in the coffin, the undertaker may make an attempt to cover up its dishonor, yet even so it is repulsive: it is sown in dishonor!

But all this will be changed in the resurrection. For the glorious body of the resurrection will be raised in incorruption, in power, and in glory. In the sphere of the resurrection there will be no more destroying agencies that creep into our bodies to corrupt them; neither will the resurrection body be subject to any corruption. It will be incorruptible, completely victorious over all corrupting powers. These can never enter into that new world of the resurrection. It will be raised in power. The source of its strength will be inexhaustible, and it will perpetually renew its youth as the eagle’s. Never shall it grow weary. For evermore it shall be able to function with perpetual vigor. And it will be raised in glory. For not only shall all the dishonoring vestiges of sin and corruption be erased, but it shall be raised to the higher level of heavenly beauty. And the glory of the perfected image of God shall forever radiate from and through that new body. It. will be a body that shall be far exalted in power and glory and beauty above the body which Adam possessed in paradise before the fall. For that body was, indeed, not corrupted, but it was, nevertheless, corruptible; it was not under the dominion of death, but it was, nevertheless, mortal; but the body of the resurrection is victorious over all, clothed with incorruptibility and immortality, and shining forth in heavenly beauty. And the reason for it all is, that the resurrection body has the source of its power and glory in the resurrected Lord, the Son of God, Who is the life and the resurrection!

But there is still another difference to which the apostle calls our attention. It is expressed in the words: “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The term “natural body” does not express the meaning of the original very adequately. The word used in the original might better be translated by our word “psychical”. It is difficult to define the exact meaning of this term, and to describe clearly just what is meant by a “psychical body”. But we may say something about it, especially in the light of what the apostle continues to write in this chapter. He goes on to explain that there is a “natural” or “psychical” body, and there is a spiritual body. And he reminds us of the fact that Adam was made a living soul, in distinction from whom Christ is made a quickening spirit. And he continues to teach that the first man is of the earth earthy, the second man is the Lord from heaven. And as we now bear the image of the earthy, so we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. From this it seems clear that “natural” and “earthy” are closely related. Our present body is so constituted that because of it we are earthy. It is a soul-body. Through it we are bound to the earth with all the ties of our present existence. It is weighed, down to the earth, and in it we could never ascend to heaven. It has earthy needs, and from the earth only it can be sustained. By the earth it is replenished. And it has the earthy senses of perception, through which it can have no contact with heavenly things, but only with things that are earthy. Even though with our present bodies, suppose this were possible, we were right in the midst of heavenly things, we would not be able to perceive them, to enjoy them, to inherit them. For “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” vs. 10. In death a “natural” body is sown, that is a body in which our soul is strictly limited to earthy things, and through which it is impossible for us to apprehend the heavenly. And even when the heavenly realities are revealed to us, they are presented in earthly figures and symbols, in order that we may apprehend them by faith, and long for them in hope.

From all this it will also be evident that in contrast to our present natural body the spiritual body is not to be conceived as immaterial. In fact, an immaterial body is no body, but a spirit; and to speak of an immaterial body is a contradiction in terms. Rather must we understand by this term a body that is fully adapted to be an instrument of our glorified spirit as dominated by the Spirit of Christ, No doubt, the nature of the material of our resurrection body will be quite different from that of our present body. In answer to the question: “and with what body do they come?” the apostle reminds us that “all flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, and another of beasts, and another, of birds, and another of fishes.” (1st Corinthians 15:39) So the same matter may assume different forms. The solid ice may melt into the fluid water, and the water may change into the volatile and invisible steam. Yet, it remains essentially the same body. If you sow the seed of a gladiola or dahlia, that seed will ultimately become a bulb, yet you still have the same body. And so, the resurrection body, though essentially the same as our present bodies will be quite different as to the nature of its material from our natural bodies. Through them we shall be able to apprehend the spiritual things of the kingdom of heaven. We shall see spiritual things, hear spiritual sounds, stand in direct relationship even with the angels of heaven, and see God face to face!

Hence, we must be changed, in order that we may inherit the kingdom of God. For most of us, part of that change lies through death and the grave, while the other part of this glorious change must wait till the hour of the resurrection. For others, those that shall live at the coming of the Lord, the whole change will come in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. That resurrection glory is the object of our hope, and we know that in this hope we shall not be ashamed. In hope we triumphantly shout in the face of death: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord!” (1st Corinthians 15:55-58)


Herman Hoeksema

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