Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
“If there be no resurrection of the dead . . . then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain . . . then is not Christ raised: And . . . ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Corinthians 15: 13-18).
THE word “resurrection” is used 41 times in the New Testament, besides various other words of similar meaning. All the prominent creeds of Christendom declare faith in a resurrection as an essential part of Scriptural doctrine and the hope of eternal life. Nevertheless, we doubt that belief in the resurrection of the dead prevails amongst Christians to any considerable extent. Because the resurrection is so closely connected with other Scriptural doctrines, let us examine it in the light of Scripture and facts.
This topic is rarely chosen for a sermon, except on Easter Sunday and funeral services. Although the officiating minister quotes pertinent Scriptures, his remarks prove he does not believe the person about to be buried is dead. Instead he instructs his hearers that they should believe the deceased is “more alive than he ever was.” He frequently plays directly into the hands of “Spiritualists” and “Christian Scientists,” telling the audience that the spirit of their dead friend is hovering over them, and if permitted to speak, he would say, “Dry your tears; weep not for me; I am far better off in glory.”
Many Christians believe that death is a delusion, and not a reality; that people merely seem to die, but actually experience a change to a higher form of being. Whoever holds such views cannot consistently believe in “the resurrection of the dead,” because if no one is dead, how can there be a resurrection of the dead?
Many ministers would say that when they speak about the resurrection of the dead, they mean the resurrection of the body – that the bodies we bury are to come forth from the grave, and the spirits which parted from them in death will rejoin those bodies in the resurrection.
Let us examine their claim:
(1.) The deceased is far better off now that he is free from the flesh. They then describe the liberty and blessedness of the deceased, and who, by getting rid of the body, has attained to life more abundant, knowledge a hundredfold and the freedom to roam throughout the universe.
(2.) They quote Scriptures referring to the resurrection, telling us that at Christ’s Second Coming, the same bodies of flesh that were buried will be reorganized; then the spirit beings which left those bodies at death will return to them, as their everlasting habitations, and they go on to tell how glorious and grand the result will be.
Where is the Consistency?
But we ask: If a dying man obtains life more abundant, knowledge a hundredfold and the freedom to roam throughout the universe, would he not be disappointed if a resurrection meant being confined to a human body again? This leads us to believe that the vast majority of Christian people do not believe in a resurrection – either the Scriptural kind, or the kind they have been taught, a resurrection of the body.
Let us now go to the Scriptures to learn what is meant by “the resurrection of the dead,” and why they speak of the resurrection as the only hope, not only of the Church, who are to have part in the heavenly resurrection, but of the world in general – who will have an opportunity to share in the resurrection of judgment, improperly translated “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5: 29).
Whoever believes the Scriptural doctrine of the resurrection must also believe the Scriptural doctrine respecting death – the cessation of life. That is the only way he will understand the Apostle’s words in our text, “If there be no resurrection of the dead . . . then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”
We find a direct conflict between what the Bible teaches and what many modern theologians claim. The inspired Word claims that the dead are really dead, and are suffering the Divine penalty for sin pronounced against our race because of sin. The opposers take up Satan’s delusive statement to Mother Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3: 4), and attempt to prove that the dead are not dead, that death is really a blessing. These two theories are poles apart, and the two teachers of these two theories are God, on the one hand, and Satan, a liar from the beginning (John 8: 44), on the other hand. Which shall we believe?
If death is not sin’s penalty, incurred through Adam, then life is not the reward and blessing of God secured through Christ by a resurrection. Satan’s proposition, so widely accepted by Christians, is the reverse of the Divine proposition that death is the curse or penalty for sin; that Christ died to release man from this sentence; and that the release comes by the resurrection of the dead. Satan declares that death is a blessing, bringing fullness of life, liberty and joy, and would make the resurrection a curse, bringing imprisonment, difficulty, restriction, pain and trouble.
If the reality of death is denied, it is easy to deny the reality of sin. If it is claimed that Adam was not created in the image and likeness of God, but was created a very close image and likeness of the monkey, as the Evolution theory claims, it follows that in that low estate, man was not fit for a trial for eternal life. It is then only a further step to deny that he ever had a trial, and that he ever failed in that trial. And if the fall is denied, and that man has really been advancing, then it will be consistent to declare that since man did not fall, he did not need to be redeemed from the fall. Therefore, by reasoning upon an unscriptural basis, it appears logical to deny God’s Word which declares that Jesus is our Redeemer, and our Ransom, or corresponding price
(1 Timothy 2: 5, 6) (1 John 2: 2).
A strong Delusion
Our Lord spoke about the unbelief of the present time: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18: 8). The Scripture declarations respecting death testify to our five senses. Even though we should be ready to admit the possibility that our senses are in error if God’s Word contradicts our senses, yet if our senses are contradicted by a human theory, contrary to Scriptural statements, the theory should be rejected and the testimony of the senses held to be true. Furthermore, when the Scriptures and our senses together are united in one testimony, it is wrong to hold a human theory which is contradicted by God’s Word and our senses.
The testimony of our senses, like that of God’s Word, is that death means the loss of life, and not an increase of life. We watch the dying one losing his mental and physical powers until the spark of life becomes extinguished. Our senses tell us that the next thing is corruption, the corpse must be buried, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Our senses note the similarity between the death of our loved one and the death of the brute beast, as the Scriptures declare, “As the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath [spirit of life]” (Ecclesiastes 3: 19).
But we all have a longing for a future life implanted in our nature by our Creator. Does man have any pre-eminence above a beast? The Scriptures answer that physically speaking, man has no pre-eminence above a beast, but they assure us that the Creator has made a provision for man that He did not make for the beast – everlasting life. That provision was made in the beginning, not by implanting a deathless quality in man, but providing life-sustaining trees in the Garden of Eden, so that man could continue his life forever. Nevertheless, this provision was conditional, dependent upon man’s obedience to his Creator.
Man’s disobedience brought upon himself the sentence of death, and the execution of that sentence was effected by driving him out of the Garden, away from the life-sustaining fruits of its trees. The sentence took effect upon Father Adam gradually, until he finally lost life completely. His posterity has become weaker and weaker as the generations have rolled by, and thereby they enter into the great prison-house of death far sooner (Job 3: 17-19).
The Scriptures assure us that the Divine sentence of death was a just one, nevertheless, they also declare that our Creator is a God of love and mercy. Foreseeing man’s fall into sin, He developed a Plan of salvation through His Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus.
In due time God sent His Only Begotten Son into the world to give His life as the Ransom-price for Adam and his entire posterity. It was necessary that God should be just, if He would be the justifier of them that believe in Jesus, therefore, the penalty for sin must be paid by the Redeemer before the work of release could begin. Here is the best evidence as to what the penalty of sin is, and what is not; because, since Jesus pays the penalty, what He laid down proves what the penalty of sin was. What did He do? He laid down His life – He died, “the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3: 18).
Jesus did not suffer an eternity of torment as the price of our redemption, so the fact that He died for our sins, and that the Heavenly Father accepted that sacrifice of His life, proves that the full penalty of the Divine law against us as a race was the deprivation of life. The whole race has gone down to the great prison-house of death, the grave, so our dear Redeemer, when he gave up his life for us, also went to the grave. He took our place, and suffered for us the penalty for our sins.
Just as Jesus’ death ransoms man from the sentence of death, so His resurrection from death became the assurance of the justification of all who accept and obey Him. As the Heavenly Father’s Agent and Representative, He will soon begin the work of blessing the entire world redeemed by His precious blood.
Death’s Captives to be set Free
Our Lord is called the Life-giver, because His great work will give life back to the world of mankind, who lost life in Adam. And since the restoration of life to mankind will mean the removal of pains, sicknesses and troubles, which are a part of the dying process, our Redeemer is styled the Great Physician.
Isaiah 42: 7 is the part of the prophecy which mentions the breaking open of the prison-house of death, and the setting at liberty of its captives. Though our Lord did not begin this work of resurrection immediately after His own resurrection, He informs us when this will be done, saying, “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his [Jesus’] voice, and shall come forth”; and they that shall hear, obey, His voice then shall live (John 5: 28, 29) (Acts 3: 22).
Our Lord passed over the Gospel Age interim, and pointed to the grand consummation of His work in the incoming Age; for the prearranged Plan of God set aside a sufficient amount of time in advance of the general blessing of the world during Messiah’s Reign, to select a “little flock” from the world to be joint-heirs with their Lord in the honors of the Mediatorial Kingdom. These, associated with the Redeemer, will fulfill all the provisions of the gracious promises of God made to Father Abraham that in his Seed (Christ and His Elect Body, the Church), “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Galatians 3: 8, 16, 29).
The Scriptures declare that there is a first, a chief or special resurrection, and later a general one. The first or superior resurrection includes the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and “the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1: 22, 23). “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20: 6). Those who share in the First Resurrection are “changed” from the human to the Divine nature – the highest of the spirit natures.
The Scriptures indicate that the time for this best, or chief resurrection is at the close of the Gospel Age, when the Gospel Church is completed. This includes the living members, whose “change” to spirit nature is instantaneous, so that the moment of their dying as human beings is the moment of their “change” to perfect spirit beings (1 Corinthians 15: 52). Meantime, the Scriptures declare that the saints who died prior to our Lord’s Second Coming are spoken of as being merely asleep – waiting for their resurrection.
Mankind in general is also spoken of as being “asleep in Jesus,” because He laid down His life as a Ransom for all, and because they all shall be awakened from death. The Apostle therefore exhorts us to hope and trust in the resurrection respecting all our dear friends who go down into the prison-house of death, and not merely the small proportion who have lived dedicated Christian lives: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [all our sleeping friends], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died [a Ransom for all] and rose again [that He might be Lord and Life-giver to all], even so [let us believe as truly that] them also which sleep in Jesus [all whom He purchases with His precious blood] will God bring with him [from the prison-house of death]”
(1 Thessalonians 4: 13, 14).
The general resurrection for the world is designated as a “resurrection of judgment,” mistranslated in the King James Version, “resurrection of damnation” (John 5: 29). It is called a “resurrection of judgment” because there are conditions attached to this blessing – obedience to the conditions of the New Covenant. God will only grant eternal life to those who are in heart harmony with the principles of righteousness. The world being awakened from the sleep of death will begin the resurrection process, but only those who become completely raised up out of sin and death, to perfection of being, will experience resurrection in its full sense.
Conditions of society will be greatly improved; knowledge will have taken the place of ignorance; the reign of righteousness and the law of love will have replaced the rule of sin under the law of selfishness; and Satan will be bound and unable to deceive the nations any more for the thousand years. All mankind will be required to make progress in the knowledge of the Lord and the bringing of their own hearts and lives into accord with His law of Love. Whoever will make no progress in the right direction will be cut off in the Second Death after one hundred years of trial (Isaiah 65: 20), even though under those changed conditions, he will only be like a lad.
But the judgment will operate favorably for all who seek righteousness and make progress in harmony with the laws of the Kingdom, so that year by year they will be growing physically, mentally and morally stronger. Eventually they will attain the full, complete standard of perfect manhood, the image and likeness of their Creator, as was represented in Father Adam. Thus the world’s resurrection will be a gradual work, culminating either in their sentence to the Second Death, proving unworthy of God’s gift of eternal life, or in their perfection and final approval of worthiness to have and enjoy the great boon of Life Eternal, under the blessed conditions which are then promised to prevail – when there shall be “no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21: 4).
“Thou Sowest not that Body that shall be” (1 Corinthians 15: 37)
When the world is awakened from the dead, their bodies will in one sense be new bodies, because they will contain different atoms of matter; but they will be old bodies, in the sense that they will be duplicates of those which died. To mankind, and also to the angels, it will be the grandest exhibition ever given of Divine Omnipotence.
He who formed man has the power not only to form him again, and to re-enkindle the spark of life, but even more, to restore to each being a brain like his current one – just as a DVD records the images, words and deeds which then can be reproduced at another time and place. Only an Infinite Being could claim the power thus to reproduce the very thoughts of the billions of mankind. Only He, who knows the very hairs of our heads and their number, and that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without His notice, could do so great and wonderful a thing. And only as we have learned to have confidence in Him through the revelation of His Word, could we exercise faith in such a stupendous miracle as He has promised shall be performed.
We may expect that the great work of the Messianic Kingdom will begin with those who have not gone down to the tomb; when the work of restitution shall have progressed to some extent with these, we may expect that some of those who have previously fallen asleep in death will be awakened, and share in the blessings of that glorious Day. Later, others, and still others, will arise, until eventually all will have “come forth,” and be brought to a knowledge of the goodness, love and mercy of God; and if they will, to the full perfection of human nature. God’s human family will live on the earth in a similarly bettered condition – Paradise restored.
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