By James H. Brookes
Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923
More than eighteen hundred years ago the Holy Ghost dictated a sharp reproof to the Corinthians, "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:12.) A little later, He sends a word of needed caution to Timothy, and through him to all preachers of the Gospel, "Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness; and their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some." (H Tim. 2:16-18.)
Witnesses for the truth are called today to meet precisely the same error which the apostles encountered, and to meet it on precisely the same ground of "profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith." (I Tim. 6:20-21.) It is true now, as of old, that "some will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" The only answer is that which follows the question in the Bible, "Thou fool." (I Cor. 15:35-36.) One of the early Christians, musing upon a statement of Scripture which to his poor mind was incomprehensible and seemed unreasonable, makes the following confession which should be carefully treasured in the heart, "I forgot God, when I said, How can this be?"
In Dr. Brown's book on the Resurrection there is a story told of a servant, who, receiving a silver cup from his master, suffers it to fall into a vessel of aqua fortis, and, seeing it disappear, contends in argument with a fellow-servant that its recovery is impossible, till the master comes on the scene and infuses salt water, which precipitates the silver from the solution, and then, by melting and hammering the metal, he restores it, not only to its original shape, but to something more beautiful than it was before. It is said that a skeptic was so impressed by this incident, and so convinced of his own foolishness, he renounced his opposition to the Gospel, became a happy Christian and was buried at last near the foot of Dr. Brown's grave in the sure hope of a glorious resurrection.
But whether men understand it or not, whether they believe it or not, there is no truth more clearly and fully taught in the word of God. It is indeed the chief corner stone of Christianity, as a distinctive system of religion, and if torn away, the whole structure is rent to the foundation, and lies a shapeless mass of ruins. Certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, called Paul a "babbler" and a setter forth of strange gods. because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection; "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked." (Acts 17:18, 32.) Nevertheless he preached it in cultivated Athens, as he boldly preached before the Roman soldier Felix, "that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:15.)
Elsewhere he links the literal resurrection of our bodies to the literal resurrection of Jesus, as a historical fact, in such a way that the two stand or fall together. "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen. And if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; be! cause we have testified of God that raised up Christ; Whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now IS Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept." (I Cor. 15:13-20.) There is but one way of escaping the tremendous force of this inspired argument, and that is by denying the authority of the Bible.
As the resurrection of believers is thus bound up with the resurrection of their Lord, it may be well to glance at the importance of His resurrection in its bearing upon the entire question of our salvation.
Thus the literal fact of Christ's resurrection is made the basis of every Christian doctrine, the incentive to every Christian duty, for if He did not rise from the dead, the Bible which has been the stimulus of this world's enterprise is a lie, the faith which has comforted and gladdened and blessed countless millions of our race is a delusion, and God Himself is a myth or a monster. On the other hand, if He did rise from the dead, no other evidence is needed to prove that the Bible is true, that the faith of Christians rests upon a rock that can never be moved, and that a living, merciful God is beseeching men to be reconciled to Him.
Strauss at once saw that this is indeed "the burning question," as he well calls it, and for thirty years of his life he devoted the powers of a singularly acute mind to the preparation of an argument, which he fondly hoped would disprove the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Those who have read his elaborate work will confess, even if in sympathy with his aim, that the long section he gives to "the burning question" is by far the weakest part of his book; and the heart of the believer will throb with joy at finding how futile are the most powerful assaults that can be made against the impregnable fortress of his faith. Those who have not thoroughly examined the subject may be assured that there is far stronger evidence of our Lord's resurrection than there is of any other ancient historical fact whatever; and every Christian who has carefully examined it will stake his very life upon the truth of the assertion.
But there are many Christians who, through false or defective teaching, have erroneous views of the bearing of His resurrection upon their own resurrection. They have a vague idea that at some very remote day, perhaps thousands or hundreds of thousands of years hence, there will be a general and simultaneous resurrection of all the dead, the righteous and the unrighteous, ascending pell-mell, to stand before the great white throne in judgment. A very little thought would convince them that, even if believers and unbelievers come forth together from" the grave, they will be totally distinct and unlike .n character and appearance. Of course every Christian or ordinary intelligence knows that it is concerning the body of the believer the Bible says, "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 raced in power." (I Cor. 15:42, 43.)
In the whole of this sublime chapter there is not the slightest allusion to the resurrection of unbelievers, for the epistle is addressed to "the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours," (1:2.) It was to correct the mistake into which some of the saints had fallen, the passage on the resurrection was written, and it was to them and of them alone, who call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Apostle wrote, "Christ is the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming" (15:23). Not a word is said about the resurrection of unbelievers, and it is sheer ignorance that would seek to establish their resurrection by this chapter.
Precisely the same thing is true of the fine passage in the epistle to the Thessalonians concerning the resurrection. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him * * *. The dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thes. 4:13-18). There is not a whisper concerning the resurrection of any except those who are in Christ, and shall ever be with the Lord; and hence it would be a singular lack of intelligence to cite this passage as evidence of a general resurrection.
Our Lord spoke of some who shall "be recompensed at the the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14), and the following verse shows that in the Jewish mind the resurrection of the just was associated with the establishment of the kingdom of God. This thought they had gathered from the Old Testament Scriptures, where God says to Israel, "Thy dead men shall live together with my dead body shall they arise," (Isa. 26:19.) Again, when Daniel's people, the Jews, are delivered, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to; everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). It does not say all, but many, or as Tregelles, supported by Aben Ezra and other eminent Rabbis, renders it, "These (that awake) to everlasting life, and those (that awake not) to shame and everlasting contempt."
This accounts for the questioning among the disciples, "what the rising from (literally, from among, or, out of) the dead should mean," (Mark 9:10.) This accounts for the intense desire and effort of the Apostle to "attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Phil 3:11), literally, the "out-resurrection, the one from among the dead. ' This accounts for the distinct statement in plain, simple, and unfigurative language, made concerning the righteous dead at the second coming of Christ, "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection" (Rev. 20: 4, 5).
There is no fair way to avoid the conclusion which these words in their obvious import demand, that the resurrection of believers precedes the resurrection of unbelievers by the interval of a thousand years. If Paul by the Holy Ghost teaches "that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust," he does not say that it shall be a simultaneous resurrection. If Jesus teaches that "the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth" ( Jno. 5:28), His own use of the word hour in verse twenty-five shows that it may easily stretch over the thousand years.