The Resurrection of the Body
The Resurrection of the Body
The very heart, the core, the foundation and substance of our Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Very few Christians, if any, would take issue with me on that statement. That having been said, however, it is just as valid a statement to claim that there are very few Christians who actually believe in the resurrection of the dead. You may be startled that I make such a claim, possibly even defensive, but I would not be the least bit surprised should I discover that there are probably those amongst us here in this assembly today who, if pressed to express their beliefs, have doubts on that very subject. Before you scoff at my assertion, let me insure that you fully understand what I am saying. By the resurrection of the dead is meant something quite different from the immortality of the soul, for that, not only does every Christian believe, but also almost every avowed non-believer likewise affirms, or at least hopes is the case, for there are indeed very few people who take comfort or embrace a concept of total annihilation of their individuality, of their distinctiveness, of their self-awareness being lost forever when the time comes for them to be placed in a hole in the ground one day. As long as man has been contemplating his existence, higher reason has taught that the soul is something so marvelous, so elevated, that it must endure forever in one fashion or another. But the resurrection of the dead is quite another issue altogether, for it deals not only with the soul, but with the body. The belief in the resurrection of the body is that this actual body in which you, and I, now exist, is to live forever with our souls; that not only is the ‘essence’ of our being, our spirit, to exist throughout eternity, but this very container, if you will, in which our being exists currently, are to be preserved forever. The spirit, most every one confesses, is eternal; but how many are there who believe that the bodies of men and women will actually rise up from their graves at that great day? And yet that is precisely what the resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches, and it is the core of our faith.
In fact, that is the peculiar and unique foundation of this faith we call Christianity. The great philosophers never espoused or imagined such a concept; and consequently, when the Apostle Paul spoke of the resurrection of the dead, “some mocked,” which proves that they understood him to be speaking of the resurrection of the body, for they surely would not have ridiculed him had he only spoken of the immortality of the soul, for that was a teaching that had already been proclaimed by Plato and Socrates, and which they all received with reverence. And Paul was in good company when he taught of the resurrection of the body, for it was consistent with the patriarchs from the very beginning. Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead, for we are told that he ‘accounted that God was able to raise up his son Isaac even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” Obviously Joseph believed in the resurrection, for he gave commandment concerning his bones; and surely he would not have been so careful of his body if he had not believed that it should be raised from the dead. Job was a firm believer in it, for he said “For I know that my Redeemer liveth; and that He shall stand at the latter-day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” David believed it beyond the shadow of a doubt, for he sang of Christ, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption.” Daniel believed it, for he said, that “Many who sleep in the dust shall rise, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting contempt.” Isaiah the prophet has written, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” If you study carefully what each of the apostles preached, you will find over and over that the very core of their preaching was always the resurrection of the dead.
When they preached they always testified concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and the consequent resurrection of the dead. When they chose another apostle to replace Judas, they said, “One must be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection;” so that the very requirement of an apostle was to be a witness of the bodily resurrection of Christ. When Peter stood up before the multitude, he declared unto them that “David spoke of the resurrection of Christ.” When Peter and John were taken before the council, the great cause of their arrest was that the rulers were grieved because they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. It was this very teaching which stirred the curiosity of the Athenians when Paul preached among them. “They said, he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.” When Paul stood before the council of the Pharisees and Sadducees he said, “Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” The resurrection of the body of Christ, and one day of our own is critical to the foundation of our redemption, it is not simply an academic issue, for as we heard in our New Testament reading today, “If Christ be not risen from the dead, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins.”
In fact, Holy Scripture is so full of this truth that I marvel that so many have departed from such a foundation of our faith, that it should be preached from so many pulpits that the actual bodies of the saints will not live again, nor that the bodies of the wicked will not have a future existence. As Christ actually rose from the dead – flesh and blood, so shall we. Christ was not a spirit when He rose from the dead; His body was laid in the sepulchre, but was not to be found 3 days later for He had risen, spirit and body. Did not Thomas put his hand into His side and did not Christ say, “Handle me, and see. A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” And if we are to rise as Christ did – and we are taught so – then we shall rise in our bodies – not spirits, not some ethereal, surrealistic, phantasmic entity, but “as the Lord our Savior rose, so likewise shall all those who are in the grave, for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
This tabernacle that we now inhabit will one day be laid to rest, but only that it may be replaced with a temple. There shall be an absolute identity between the body in which we die and the body in which we rise again from the dust. Note that I used the word identity, for our body shall not have an absolute sameness of substance. We all know, as a matter of fact, that we are living in the same bodies which we possessed 20 years ago and yet we have been told by our prestigious scientists that perhaps not one single particle of the matter which constitutes our body now was in it 20 years ago! The body in which we die and are buried will be the same body in which we were born and yet I trust every one of us agrees that though it is certainly not the exact same body, in fact, every particle may have been exchanged and yet it still remains your body, not someone elses. In similar manner, so the body in which we rise will be the same body in which we die – it will be greatly changed, but those changes will not be such as to affect its identity. I know that all kinds of questions arise in our minds when we consider the reconstitution of our dead bodies, corpses which have decayed, have been spread to who knows where through the passage of time, which may have been affected by fire and other catastrophic events. But if the God of creation initially brought our bodies into existence from nothing, I should think it a far lessor matter for He to be able to refashion them from wherever they may be scattered. Were it possible to preserve our bodies perfectly after we died without a single shred of decay, do you think that would make it easier for God to resurrect them? Is God that inadequate? It is a known fact of nature, of science, that atoms are conserved; they cannot be created or destroyed, that all matter is composed of atoms of the various elements, and the total number of atoms in the universe remains constant. That is, you can rearrange the existing atoms in any way you like, but you cannot cause additional atoms to materialize nor can you cause existing atoms to disappear.
A non-physical resurrection would be like a sunrise without a sun, it is non-sensical, an absurdity. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn’t have bodies, we wouldn’t be resurrected! We will not be disembodied spirits in the world to come, but redeemed spirits, in redeemed bodies, in a redeemed universe. The point at which Adam became a living being is when God joined his body, the dust of the earth and his spirit together. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you – it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is. Scripture indicates that God designed our bodies to be an integral part of our total being. Death is an abnormal condition because it tears apart what God created and joined together. It is the result of sin. When we die, it isn’t that our real self goes to Heaven and our fake self goes to the grave. When you think of Christ, can you do so without including His body in your thoughts? Paul did not say that if there is no heaven the Christian life is futile, but that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then our hope is an illusion and we are still dead in our sins.
The empty tomb is the ultimate proof that Christ’s resurrected body was the same body that died on the cross. If resurrection meant the creation of a new body, Christ’s original body would have remained in the tomb. And so, to return to my opening argument, we state in our creeds, that we look for the resurrection of the dead, that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Do we?