With what body do they come? (1 Corinthians 15:35)
No Biblical description of death is so comforting and consoling to the believer as that which is revealed in the familiar word sleep. It is a word that applies to the body only and never to the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death” (John 11:11-13). Of the martyrdom and death of Stephen, we read: “He fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). When the Apostle Paul was yet alive, he said that of the five hundred brethren who had seen Christ alive after His Resurrection, “some are fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). His comforting message to the believers at Thessalonica was, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The Apostle Peter, speaking of Old Testament saints, said: “The fathers fell asleep” (2 Peter 3:4).
The Old Testament saints were comforted by this same truth. More than forty times in the Old Testament it is said of a man who died that he “slept with his fathers.” “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16; 2 Samuel 7:12). Job said: “Now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be” (Job 7:21). In these verses we have a transcendently sublime description of death which assures the believer that it is but “the transient slumber of the body, to be followed by the glorious awakening at the sound of the last trumpet.”1
This temporary suspension of the activities of the body does not mean that the spirit of man is asleep. The body is but the tabernacle or dwelling place of the spirit part of man. Upon the death of the body, the spirit of a believer takes departure, closing the senses of the body until the day of its resurrection. Immediately upon the death of our bodies, we leave the flesh, “to depart, and to be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23), “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).
Here is a simple illustration. Recently I noticed that a butcher shop in our town was no longer open for business. One day while driving past the building I saw a sign in the window which read: “Closed For Alterations.” The owner had suspended his business relations with the public long enough to renovate the store. After about two months the store was reopened with many changes. This is a picture of the death of the believer. He moves out of the body until it has been repaired and renovated, when, at the resurrection, the inward man shall move into his renewed body.2
Death is not to be feared by the Christian. We shall live in a literal body just as real as the one we have now, for, says Paul: “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body . . .” (Philippians 3:20, 21). The coming of our Lord in the air to take us to Heaven will necessitate a change in this purchased body of corruption. The body is as much the Lord’s purchased possession as is the soul. It is dear to Him. “The body is . . . for the Lord; and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). The goal of the Gospel is to bring eternal life and immortality to all who will believe. Since the body of the saints will be “fashioned like unto His glorious body,” we may well wonder what our bodies will be like at the resurrection. John says: “We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). When our Lord ascended into Heaven, He was thirty-three years of age, a young man in the strength and glory of His youth. Senility had not overtaken our Lord when He died upon the Cross for our sins. In David’s Psalm of the exalted Christ in the glory, we read: “Thou hast the dew of Thy youth” (Psalm 110:3). O wondrous thought! We shall be clothed upon with perennial youth. We shall be like Him, fashioned like unto His glorious body.
Christ shall “change our vile body” (Philippians 3:21) we read. The word “change” means to transfigure. It has been suggested that we have here the thought of metamorphosis which is a remarkable change in the form and structure of a living body. When our Lord took Peter, James, and John up into the Holy Mountain, we read that “He was transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2). Christ appeared during that brief period of time in His glorified body. He was transfigured (or metamorphosed) before them. It was a body like His post-resurrection body when He appeared to His disciples behind shut doors (John 20:19). The change of the believer at the resurrection has to do with his body, wherein resides the sin principle, for even the Christian must admit, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The word “change” could not refer to the spiritual part of man, for, as Kenneth Wuest says: “The word ‘change’ is the translation of a Greek word which speaks of an expression which is assumed from the outside, which act brings about a change of outward expression.”3
Biologically speaking, the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly is spoken of as a “metamorphosis.” The ugly, repulsive caterpillar is confined to a tomb which it spins for itself. While in the cocoon there is an apparently dead and formless substance. But after the warm sun of spring has beaten its golden rays upon that cocoon, there comes forth a beautiful butterfly. Though the butterfly is different in appearance from the caterpillar, we recognize the beautiful winged insect as being the same as the caterpillar. It is the same living creature, yet different. So also is the resurrection of the body. Now we have a vile body (or a body of humiliation). The Apostle James calls it a “low” body, “because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (James 1:10). The body of Adam, in its original state, was provided with a covering of glory, but when sin entered the covering of glory was replaced with a covering of humiliation. In our present bodies of humiliation we are unfit for the glories of Heaven and God’s presence, but hopefully we look for our Lord’s return when He shall fashion our bodies of humiliation like unto His own body of glory. It will be the same body in that it will be recognizable, but wonderfully changed.
Some unbelieving skeptics have proposed the argument that it will be impossible for the same body to be raised since the bodies of those who have been dead for hundreds of years have become decomposed into integrant parts; that is, reduced to powder. They add that those elements which composed one body may have become a part of other bodies. For example, a dead body deteriorates. Over the grave of that body a tree may grow, having fed its roots on the elements of the dead body. If the fruit of that tree is eaten by other men, the elements of the decomposed and deteriorated body in the grave become a part of other men’s bodies. They conclude that it is an impossibility to raise the same body atom for atom.
God anticipated this problem. We read: “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35) To answer this, the Apostle, by the Holy Spirit, uses the illustration of a farmer sowing grain. When a farmer drops a kernel of grain into the ground, he knows that when the seed dies or seemingly rots away, that does not mean the end of his efforts. He knows that one seed will come forth into a fuller life, producing a stalk with several ears bearing many hundreds of kernels like the one he planted. The actual seed that was planted he does not see. Yet there is absolute identity. It is the same with the resurrection of our bodies. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die; And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).
It will not be necessary for God to use every part of this body when he raises it from the grave. Such a thought is not taught in Scripture. In fact, it is scientifically true that the component parts of our bodies undergo periodical changes. We are told that through the change of elements, we receive new bodies every seven years. We may not be conscious of the change. Nevertheless we have not the same body today that we had seven years ago. There is an identity that we maintain all our lifetime, and yet there is not one cell in our bodies that was there seven years ago. In the resurrection the bodies of the saints will bear their individual identities. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith has said: “The fact that after death our physical substance disintegrates and scatters, creates no difficulties for God, so that He could not bring those bodies back gloriously transformed.” By the new birth we are born again into the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that can never break down or disintegrate. Because sin can never enter, there is no danger of corruptibility. The resurrection will be the occasion when our bodies become incorruptible and will inherit the Kingdom of God.4
It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:42).
For this corruptible must put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Death is written on the face of all that is alive. The moment we begin to live we commence to die. The report of the birth of a new baby guarantees the digging of a new grave. The preacher of wisdom wrote: “The strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened . . . man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets . . . Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:3, 5, 7). This is a picture of the body of corruption. Its destiny is death, decay, and dissolution. But if we are to have bodies in Heaven, we must have bodies that are free from corruption. This is exactly the kind of body that Christ will give us when He comes. It was buried in corruption, but it will be raised in incorruption. We have some idea of an incorruptible body in the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah both appeared with Christ. Moses had died fifteen hundred years before. Yet he was there recognizable in a glorious body. Elijah had been caught up to Heaven without dying about nine hundred years before, and he too was there in a glorified body. Our resurrection will clothe us with bodies where disease and sickness will never enter. No pain, no weakness, no fever will touch our resurrection bodies. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:43).
The body that is put in the grave is sown in dishonour. The average Christian sadly neglects his body, failing to realize that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Proper care of the body is far more the exception than it is the rule. The bodies of some Christians have been broken and diseased by sin before the persons ever came to a knowledge of truth. The drinking of intoxicating liquors, the use of tobacco, and other sins of the body have brought to the body dishonour. Some do not get enough rest, while others injure the body through laziness and inactivity. Some persons overeat regularly while others mistreat the body by not eating the right kind of food. It is the opinion of the writer that the majority of people are guilty of not giving the body its required care. It is sown in dishonour. But our resurrection bodies will be raised in glory. We shall be like Jesus, in the brightness of His glory. O glorious hope!
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43).
It is believed that the Apostle Paul was frail in body, afflicted with “a thorn in the flesh.” Weak bodies have their limitations, and many of us can testify as to how the work of the Lord often is hampered by bodily limitations. The tasks we seek to perform become wearisome by reason of the infirmities of the flesh. But in Heaven we shall know nothing of physical weakness. The limitations of earth are not known in Heaven. What a glorious change that will be! Raised in power! Here on earth we find that the spirit sometimes is willing, but the flesh is weak. Some of God’s choice saints cannot as much as attend a church service because of bodily affliction, but in Heaven all will have strong bodies. The new body will be a habitation from God, incorruptible, immortal, and powerful.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).
It must be clearly understood that the phrase “a spiritual body” does not so much as infer that the resurrection body will be a body without substance. The word “natural” is from a word used by the Greeks when they spoke of the soul of man. We pointed out earlier in this volume how that man was made of three component parts: body, soul, and spirit. In the physical he possesses world-consciousness through his five senses. With his soul, which is the seat of his emotions, he possesses self-consciousness, thereby having knowledge that he is a personality. By his spirit, he is enabled to know God and to worship and serve Him after his human spirit has been quickened by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies while on earth are natural or soulish bodies and are engaged chiefly with the activities and the environment of earth. By nature it becomes easily adjusted to work and play. The spiritual life is not absent altogether from man, but it occupies a small part of his time and energy as compared with his soul life.
When the resurrection body is called “a spiritual body,” it is not meant that it will be composed of intangible substance. Robert S. Candlish has said: “The words natural and spiritual, as applied to the body, have respect not so much to the nature of the substance of which the body is composed, as to the uses or purposes which it is intended to serve.” On earth we are occupied to a greater degree with the natural body, while in Heaven in our resurrection bodies we will be occupied with all that pertains to God and godliness. The spiritual life of man will prevail.
We might say that the body has two masters, a natural and a spiritual. Paul said: “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). The Apostle was truly God’s child by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, but the natural man was still very much alive and warring against the spiritual. And each of us knows too well what a barrier the natural man is! We are hindered by the attitude of the natural toward the spiritual. But in Heaven we shall be clothed with a resurrection body where the higher principles in man will predominate and the full tide of spiritual life will be in control.
In Heaven all will be incorrupt, immortal, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. Before the throne of God we will serve Him eternally in His temple. O glorious hope! O resurrection day!