The Reality of the Resurrection

By L. J. Fowler

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The enmity of Satan against the truths of God's Word is incessant. The malignity of his nature has ever before it the same object. He would destroy the Bible and dethrone the Christ of the Bible. His attack never shifts to some other quarter. It remains the same. The methods of his attack, however, may and do change. Sometimes he attacks by bold denials; sometimes by perversions; and sometimes by offering substitutions. Whatever the method he would use, the venom of his being is perpetually discharged for the same purpose — the overthrow of the Word of God.

In recent years the implement used by the Adversary against the truths of God's Word, and especially against the truth of the resurrection, has been materialism. It is a denial of everything spiritual. It maintains, according to F. Bettex, a Christian and a scientist, "that the only thing which exists is eternal, indestructible matter, with its manifestations or forces, and that the highest phenomena of life are only such manifestations of matter. The universe is nothing but the motion of atoms, all knowledge only the understanding of this mechanism of atoms." In brief, it fearlessly declares, "There is no God." In the dealing of materialism with the question of the resurrection, it has denied openly the hope which is cherished in the heart of every true believer, and has sought to explain away the fact of the resurrection of Jesus on naturalistic grounds.

A more subtle movement, and a movement which promises to be even more effective in its deceptions than materialism, is appearing on the horizon. It is spiritism, and manifests itself in countless forms. It repudiates materialism as cold and crass, and substitutes a theistic evolution and a spiritualistic resurrection. It firmly proclaims that Jesus rose from the dead in spirit, and that the human race is destined to rise from the dead in spirit. Let it not be thought that this spiritualistic teaching is confined to the seance or to the office of the spirit medium. It is permeating the field of religious thought today. Modernism harbors it; the countless "isms" of the day propound its teachings; and even Postmillennialism leaves room for it. Spiritism is the enemy of the truth of the resurrection as taught in the Scriptures.

In a time such as this, with materialism on the one hand declaring with the false teachers of Corinth, "There is no resurrection of the dead"; and with spiritism on the other, substituting a spirit existence for a God-empowered resurrection, it is well for the Christian to pause and ask.

"What evidence is there in God's Revelation that an actual resurrection in which soul and body I shall be re-united, is the goal of the human race?" In answering this question we will have two I propositions.

The first proposition may be stated as follows: There will be an actual resurrection of the human race in which soul and body will be re-united because it is necessary to the completion of God's plan of redemption and of judgment. This proposition involves the resurrection both of believers and unbelievers. In the Divine plan of redemption believers must be resurrected, and in God's design for judgment of unbelievers they too must be brought forth. Let us consider each separately.

Man is a compound being. He is both soul and body. The redemption of both soul and body was wrought by Jesus Christ on Calvary's Cross. David, speaking of the resurrection, says:

"But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for he will receive me." (Ps. 49:15 R. V.)

Clearly he is speaking of the redemption of the soul from the grip of Satan. It is the soul which goes to Sheol, the prison house of the dead. The body remains in the grave. It is also true that in Christ's work of redemption the body of the believer is included. The Apostle Paul so teaches in Romans 8:22-23:

"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to-wit, the redemption of our body."

Many, misinterpreting this wonderful passage, have taught "healing in the atonement," and have produced much confusion among God's people. Healing is in the atonement, but not as they teach it. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies. It is future. It will occur when Jesus comes again and we are transformed into His own likeness.

As believers must be resurrected in order that Christ's work of redemption may be completed, so also unbelievers must be raised that Christ's work of judgment may be consummated. The unbelieving dead are now held in Hades (called in the Hebrew Sheol), the prison house of the wicked dead. It is a place of unspeakable agony and torture, but it is not the place of final judgment. The teaching of Jesus concerning the resurrection of unbelievers for judgment is found in John 5:28-29.

"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

The character of the resurrection body which will be given to those who spurn the love of God and reject the full provision made by the shed blood of Jesus for their salvation, is not revealed, but the fact that soul and body will be re-united for condemnation is clearly taught by this and many other passages in the Scriptures. It is that which is in the grave, the body, which shall come forth "unto the resurrection of damnation." The righteous judgment of God will fall not only on a condemned soul, as will be seen later, but also on a condemned body. It is to be an actual resurrection; not a disembodied soul existence.

The resurrection of the human race must take place. It is a part of God s plan for the glorification of the believing and the condemnation of the unbelieving.

These general statements from the Scripture should be sufficient of themselves to convince any one open to the truth that there is to be an actual resurrection, and that that resurrection is not to be mere spirit existence, but the uniting of soul and body. We will look into one other field of evidence to discover the answer to our question. Our second proposition is this: There will be an actual resurrection of the human race in which soul and body will be re-united because the character of each resurrection as revealed in God's Word makes it imperative.

Some, not carefully observing the right division principle of Bible study, have erroneously taught a general resurrection in which both believers and unbelievers should be raised together and judged. This view is completely overthrown by the Word of God. The correct translation of Daniel 12:2 as given by Tregelles makes plain that there are to be two great resurrections:

"And many from among the sleepers of the dust of the earth shall awake; these shall he unto everlasting life; but those (the rest of the sleepers who do not wake at this time) shall be unto shame."

Two resurrections are mentioned in this passage: First, those who shall awake unto everlasting life; and second, those who awake unto shame. It is the resurrection of the righteous dead and the resurrection of the wicked dead. They do not come forth at the same time, but an indefinite period transpires between the two resurrections. Here again we find that the Holy Spirit lays emphasis on the fact that the body of the dead, that which sleeps in the dust of the earth, shall be resurrected. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle Paul, reveals that those who have part in the first resurrection will not come forth at the same time, but will be in different companies:

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming." (I Cor. 15:22-23.)

The word rendered "order" in the Authorized Version is more correctly translated "division" by Moffatt. "Every man in his own division" or "company" is the thought in the passage.

The careful student of the Word will find four companies in the first resurrection. Especially let us note as we proceed that the character of the resurrection of each company gives the lie to the teaching of the materialist and the spiritist. In each case the soul and body are united; in glorious resurrection life.

1. Christ is definitely called by Paul in the passage just quoted "the first-fruits." The glorious resurrection of the matchless Son of God is the foundation on which the hope of our resurrection rests. He argues, "If Christ be not risen your faith is vain." It is a truth which is inescapable. Speaking prophetically, as though standing at the very hour of His second coming, Christ Himself says:

"I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of hades and of death." (Rev. 1:18.)

Yes, He did come forth from the tomb, and He came forth not a disembodied soul, neither in a body of humiliation, but in a glorious resurrection body.

2. Almost simultaneous with the resurrection of Christ occurred that mysterious event mentioned in Matt. 27:52-53:

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy city, and appeared unto many."

All that is known of the resurrection of this second company is to be found within the compass of these two verses. However, we can learn a few things from this passage itself which may be of help:

  1. The resurrection of this company occurred "after His (Christ's) resurrection."

  2. They were believers in the Messiah, for they were called "saints."

  3. It was the actual resurrection of the "bodies of the saints" for they "came out of the graves."

Why God should have seen fit to raise at this time from among the dead a number of the saints, there is not a hint in the Scripture. We do know that the event occurred in connection with the resurrection of the Son of God. We know also that God often enacts rehearsals before the actual event prophesied occurs. He gives us foreshadowings of the happenings of coming days. Since this is true, may we not rightfully conclude that in this incident we have the truth revealed that when the believers do partake of resurrection life it will be by virtue of the eternal victory gained by Jesus when He rose from the grave.

3. The next company which will come forth into resurrection life is the Church, which is the Body of Christ. We live in the age called by the Holy Spirit, "The dispensation of the grace of God." It is God's great parenthesis; an unknown period of time which began with the day of Pentecost and will close with the rapture of the Church. (For a more complete discussion of this age, see the Editor's study in the May issue, entitled, "Forty Propositions on the Seven Dispensations.") The event which closes this age, the catching up of the Church, is described in many passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Christ descends into the air, those believers who have died will be resurrected, the living believers will be changed, and both will be raptured into the presence of the Lord to be forever with Him. Three times in three verses in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians this glorious event is described, and in each verse we are told that both the living and the dead receive resurrection bodies at the coming of Christ:

Vs. 51. "Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep (some will be dead and some alive), but we (both those who have died and those who are alive) shall be changed."

Vs. 52. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the living) shall be changed."

Vs. 53. "For this corruptible (the bodies of the dead) must put on incorruption, and this mortal (the bodies of the living) must put on immortality."

Such is the evidence of the actual resurrection of the third company of those who have part in the first resurrection.

4. Following the resurrection and translation of the believers of this age occurs the brief dispensation commonly called the Great Tribulation. God resumes His dealings with Israel as a nation. This age of awful judgment closes with the coming of Christ to rule and reign upon the earth. It is at this time that the resurrection of the righteous dead of Jewish ages will occur. The Prophet Isaiah describes this wondrous event thus:

"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." (Isa. 26:19.)

What a glorious day this will be for the people of Israel! Israel, the despised and rejected of the earth, the stubborn and rebellious people, shall be willing in the day of the Lord and shall come forth from the dust of the earth, it will be a nation born in a day.

As the traveler speeds westward over the line of the Western Pacific he finds himself at the edge of the great range of mountains which separates the desert from the fertile fields of northern California. The burning sands of Nevada are behind him. He enters the three great tunnels that stand as monuments to the engineering genii of our day, and which alone make possible his onward movement. The darkness, the smoke, the feeling of restriction, — all this would rob him of his peace of mind were it not for the joyous anticipation which is his. He knows that as he reaches the end of the last great tunnel, a mile and a half in length, his eyes will view a scene of unspeakable beauty — the Feather River Canyon. Is it not thus for all those who hope in God? 'Midst trials and perplexities, and the darkness of tribulational night, the hope of that day when Christ shall come in His majesty and power, brings peace and contentment to the soul, it was in such an hour of earth's darkness that Job cried out:

"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." (Job. 19:25-26.)

The resurrection of the righteous will occur. "Christ the first-fruits and afterward they that are Christ's" will be fulfilled.

From the careful translation of Daniel 12:2 we learned that God has divided the resurrection into two great sections — the resurrection of the righteous dead and the resurrection of the wicked dead. The phrase, "the rest of the sleepers who do not awake at this time," proves that a period of time will elapse between the first and second resurrections. The final company of the righteous dead, as we have seen, come forth at the beginning of the Kingdom. In the Book of Revelation we find given the length of time which will separate the final company of the first resurrection and the second resurrection:

"And they (those who have part in the first resurrection) 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.)

It follows, therefore, that at least one thousand years will elapse between the resurrection of the last company of the righteous dead and the resurrection of the wicked dead. The second resurrection, the resurrection of damnation, will be among the closing scenes of God's awful judgment upon those who will not receive the truth. It is described in brief but striking language in the same chapter:

"And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death (the grave) and Hades (the prison house of souls) gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was pot found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:13-15 R. V.)

O that men and women might be awakened to the reality of eternal truths! The first resurrection is a reality, in spite of the denials of the materialist and the perversions of spiritualistic teaching. And let it be recognized that the second resurrection is also certain, — a resurrection in which soul will be reunited to body, not to be glorified, but to be condemned. If we would, as children of God, be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," let us learn to receive in simple faith Heaven's Revelation of infinite truths.