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The Resurrection

By Richard Gunther


One of the nastiest things one person can do to another is to promise to give them something, and then withdraw it, or fail to deliver. Promise-breaking, lying, teasing and "just kidding" seem to all go together, and the result is usually anger, disappointment and a sense of desperation. In fact, it is hard to describe the feelings of wretchedness which the one 'let down' goes through as they come to grips with the fact that their 'friend' has failed to deliver what they promised.

When it comes to the resurrection, we have the same principle, but in this case the One who promises to give, is also the One who is able to deliver - and will deliver. In fact there is no way God can ever fail to give what He promises.

But was it clear to people of old that God was committed to giving them a resurrection? Apparently Abraham understood clearly that dead people did not necessarily stay dead :

"And Abraham said to his young men, Wait here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you". Genesis 22:5

This belief is explained further in the N.T. :

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac . . .accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead". Hebrews 11:17-19

So right from early Biblical history we have an account of a man who had no problem with the idea of resurrection. If this was so confidently assumed in Abraham's day, there is good reason to think that it was held much earlier than Abraham.

On what basis could a man believe in the resurrection? On the basis of God's promises. For example, in Genesis 13, God promised to Abram that He would give to this man and his descendants "all the land which you see" (meaning the land of Palestine). Abram, being a logical man, would have realised of course that old age and finally death would rob him of any chance of receiving this land, so the only way he could ever actually ever enjoy the gift would be by continuing to live, but it was clear than nobody at that time lived for ever - hence the absolute necessity for life after death.

This may seem like a truism, but it is a vital concept because the honour and reliability of God is at stake. Is God in the business of making promises and then not delivering? We find the very idea quite absurd, especially in the light of His consistent promise-keeping record over the last 6000 years. It hardly seems likely that, having fulfilled literally hundreds of promises (prophecies, predictions) that God would fail in this one.

God's original intention for Adam and Eve was that they would never die -

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever . . . " Genesis 3:22. The result of having sinners living for ever would be an everlasting horror, a never-ending source of wickedness and rebellion in an otherwise holy universe, so God prevented his from happening by reducing Mankind to a limited life span and returning him to the soil at the end of that time. Death is almost the opposite to creation - the difference being that the original materials from which the body is constituted are not obliterated. The components of a living soul are pulled apart by energy processes - like disassembling a model made from millions of tiny blocks (atoms and molecules) and building other things with the same blocks.

The resurrection was clearly implied in the Law.

You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgements: which if a man do, he shall live in them". Leviticus 18:5.

On one level this may simply mean that if a man is obedient, God will bless his life, but what use is a short blessed life when all of eternity spreads out ahead? A man may just as well live an ungodly life and die if there is no reward for obedience.

Moses said to Israel : "(God) humbled you, and (allowed you) to hunger, and fed you with manna . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live". Deuteronomy 8:3

Here again, if the word "live" simply means "lives through this short mortal life" then the promise is stupid.

Jesus used the principle of keeping the Law as a way of bringing law-keepers to a correct understanding of grace.

"A . . . certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He (Jesus) said to him, What is written in the law?

And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

And he said to him, You have answered right: this do, and you shall live". Luke 10:25-28

The lawyer knew that righteousness could come through keeping the law, but when he quoted the law Jesus showed him that "loving your neighbour" meant a lot more than simply sticking to the letter of the law - and the lawyer realised he had failed to keep the law.

The Law drove people to helplessness. It made them feel inadequate. It forced them to see how pathetic their obedience was in comparison to God's expectations. The result was a trip to the Tabernacle with an animal sacrifice - and today, those who see themselves in the light of the Law turn to the cross and grasp the offer of God's great sacrifice.

Jesus reminded people that. as far as God is concerned, no-one is really dead. God is outside our time frame, so He can see things from before our birth, and after our resurrection. We see things from inside the time frame, so we have to believe that in the future things will be different.

"For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him". Luke 20:38

Jesus claimed for himself the ability to raise the dead - an attribute which only the One True God can claim for Himself.

"Truly, truly, I say to 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

Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live". John 11:25

Paul picks this up and repeats the theme :

"Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him". Romans 6:8

God spoke through other prophets, reminding people that the Law offered a way to the resurrection :

"But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die". Ezekiel 18:21

"And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgements, which if a man do, he shall even live in them". Ezekiel 20:11

There are also prophetic Psalms, in which the Messiah and the resurrection are linked, for example the whole of Psalm 72, in which it says :

"And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised. Psalm 72:15

As to the saints, or godly, or believers, God makes many promises of everlasting life. (What would the words "everlasting life" mean, if resurrection was not part of God's plan?)

The meek, or obedient, we are told, will inherit the earth :

For example, the whole of Psalm 37 is about the different futures waiting for those who obey God and those who don't - i.e. "For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth". Psalm 37:9

"The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever". Psalm 22:26

"The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever". Psalm 37:29

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth". Matthew 5:5

And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life". Matthew 19:29

"Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" Matthew 25:34

There is currently some debate on end times events and their sequence. I believe in only one resurrection, in which all who have died will be brough back to life, followed by a time of sorting. Those whom God deems worthy of His Kingdom will be ushered in (Christians, the godly, those who had no opportunity to sin such as unborn children, intellectually handicapped people, and others), and those who have chosen to not believe will be excluded.

But where are people, or in what state are they, before the resurrection? In another paper (A Matter of Life and Death) I showed that the Bible describes the dead as asleep - that is all the dead, Christians and all others, remain in dissolution, without consciousness, awaiting the moment of resurrection. So the resurrection is perhaps, another creative act by God, rather than a reconstruction, using already existing materials.

To say this I admit depends on a certain amount of human reasoning, but I think the conclusions are sound.

There are many instances where death claims the whole body and dissolves it away in other forms of energy. Take the pilot shot down over the ocean. Flames consume his body, then the vast sea currents claim the molecules remaining, which may then become part of the food chain. Are we to believe that God carefully sorts out all the original atoms and molecules from the ocean, and reverses the chemical reactions which burned the body, and then reconverts the heat energy from the flames back into matter?

Or take the soldier shot on the riverbank. Again, his body is washed away and dissolved into the vast ocean. Will God collect all the atoms and put them back together into the original body? And what if fish ate parts of the body, which were then caught in nets and eaten by other people? And how much of our body is really ours - considering that the air molecules we breath have probably been breathed by many other people, and the water molecules have probably been through many other living organisms before we needed them?

"And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory". 1 Corinthians 15:49-54. (Notice the timing. Death is not defeated until after the resurrection)

As I read this passage, we the saints will be resurrected in bodies which may appear similar to our old ones, but the new bodies will be created along higher and different lines. (Jesus was recognisable to his friends, but he was also of a new, higher order of life, being able to appear and disappear, pass through walls, and rise into the air at will - to name but a few aspects). Well of course we should expect this, since we know that flesh and blood - that is, our present mortal body - is incapable of living unshielded in God's presence. (Ex.33:20)

Part of the great humbling which Jesus went through to redeem fallen Man, was his willingness to share in the lower level of life, described as "flesh and blood" :

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" Hebrews 2:14

But the resurrection, however amazing and breathtaking to humans, is just an isolated, small part of God's overall Plan. It is but one small segment, or page, of a huge book, in which believers are mentioned. But before we look at this wider aspect, we ought to examine some of the implications of the resurrection as they concern the saints.


Physically-based relationships will no longer be valid :

"For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven". Matthew 22:30

Rewards will be scaled according to what we do with what we have :

"And you shall be blessed; for they (the poor) cannot recompense you: for you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just". Luke 14:14

Resurrected saints and angels will be equal in immortality :

"Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection". Luke 20:36

The resurrected saved will be sorted out from among the resurrected unsaved :

"All that are in the graves shall hear his voice,

And shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation (judgement)". John 5:29

The type of resurrected body we receive depends on how we live as Christians :

"Every man's work shall be made manifest (openly seen): for the day (of resurrection) shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire". 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

Every resurrected saint will receive a different 'rank' of body as a reward :

"All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the [glory] of the terrestrial is another.

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differs from another star in glory.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

It is sown in dishonour; 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". 1 Corinthians 15:39-44

All the above means that Christians are assured that God will give them new bodies, which will be able to withstand the glory of God, and that these new bodies will be suitable for their work through all of eternity. Just as God caused the Israelites to wander for 40 years without wearing out their shoes or clothes (Deuteronomy 29:5), God is able to make new bodies which never wear out.

The wider implications of the resurrection involve the full restoration of all things. The whole universe is currently running down - galaxies are unwinding, stars are disintegrating, comets are fragmenting, and all through our solar system we see signs of gradual decay. We also see evidence of some massive disaster on the craters and cracks on other planets, and the moon. Our own planet is slowing down in its spin, and its magnetic fields are decaying, our oceans are gradually becoming saltier, our polar caps seem to be melting, and deserts continue to spread. Genetic mutations are gradually increasing too, as life's replication system gradually fails. As a planet we suffer from fickle weather, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and so on, sickness, ageing and death. These things are not 'normal', in the sense that they were designed by God to prevail indefinitely - they are only permitted to exist for a short time.

The general resurrection is actually the signal that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is about to be removed from the universe. Instead of things winding down, or falling apart, God will bring in a new Law, which will in some way maintain everything in its perfect state.

In typical symbolic language, God says :

"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 . . . Behold, I make all things new". Revelation 21:4

These symbols are in place of other deeper realities :

no more tears

no more death

no more sorrow

no more crying

no more pain

Each of these symbols can be applied first to the human condition, but also to all other 'fallen' conditions, since to redeem Man without giving Man a renewed environment would be only half a redemption. We therefore have nothing but joy to look forward to, thanks to the work done by God on the cross and in the tomb.

"O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come".

You shall call, and I will answer you: you will have a desire to the work of thine hands". Job 14:13-15

"And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. Job 19:26,27

"But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD". Numbers 14:21

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