Fundamental Christian Theology, Vol. 2

By Aaron Hills

Part VI - Eschatology

Chapter 4


We necessarily had considerable to say incidentally about the resurrection when discussing premillennialism. We now consider the subject more fully, repeating as little as possible what has already been said.

I. Consider the doctrine. By the resurrection of the dead we mean that the body, which we inhabit at death, will in some sense be revivified, and reinhabited by the immortal spirit. If it is not, in some proper sense, our earthly body raised to life again, then there is no resurrection of the body. The resurrection body would be a new creation. If there is to be a resurrection, something must be resurrected. We touch here a very difficult subject, peculiarly difficult because we all know so little about it. The thing we try to discuss, none of us have ever known or seen; it becomes largely an interpretation of words of revelation.

1. Let it be distinctly understood that the whole subject is purely a doctrine of Divine revelation. Reason does not discover it or even suggest it; to her, indeed, it seems incredible. To those therefore who have no other guide than the light of nature affords, the doctrine is wholly unknown.

It is peculiarly an asset of Christianity. When St. Paul delivered his first address at Athens, he stood before the most intelligent audience that could be gathered in all the world. And as he "preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection" they contemptuously called him a "babbler," and said, "May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by thee? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears." Without the Bible it is strange enough to the mind of man.

2. There is no proof of such a resurrection except in the Scriptures.

(1) No one has ever returned to us clothed upon with his resurrection body, so that it might be critically examined and reported on by a learned committee of scientific men.

(2) It cannot be proved, though men have tried to do it, by primary assumptions which imply or require it. a. As that a body is necessary to the future life of the soul. We are not warranted in making any such affirmation; much less that such a body must consist of the matter of our present body. The same organic elements that compose our bodies are abundantly found in nature all around us, and, perhaps, would do quite as well. b. That character can be expressed only through the body, and hence that the resurrection body must be the same in order to such expression in the future state. But both these propositions can be successfully controverted and are pure assumptions without any proof, c. It is assumed that the body shares in the deeds of the present life, and therefore must be resurrected in order to share with the soul in its rewards or punishments. This, too, is a mistake that indicates great confusion of thought. The body is purely the instrumental agent of the personal mind, and has no responsibility for its acts. It would be as reasonable to punish the knife as to punish the hand that held it and the arm that drove it to the heart of the victim. The mind was the real assassin, d. It has been assumed that there must be a resurrection that we may recognize again those whom we have known and loved and lost. The sentiment may be truly respected while the inference is denied as utterly invalid. We do not deny the recognition, but the assumed necessity to it. If it be true, then none of the dead know each other now, since none are yet resurrected. Recognition is as possible on other grounds as on identity of matter. We meet and recognize a friend that we have not seen in forty years; though not one particle of the body that we knew is left in him. This is conclusive proof that identity of matter is not necessary to recognition.

(3) Analogy does not prove it. We point to the metamorphosis of apparently dead nature of winter to the luxurious vegetation of the spring; the transformation of the chrysalis into the butterfly; the change of the decayed seed into the plant. These beautiful changes afford illustrations and presumptions in favor of a resurrection; but none of them prove it. Analogy never proves anything.

These exceptions we are making to common arguments for the resurrection are highly proper. For we should not base so precious a doctrine on untenable grounds. Its true and only ground is in the Scriptures. To the common statements of the doctrine science can make 'unanswerable objections. And reason stands by in helpless impotence. Yet there still may be a sufficient reason; and there must be, since the resurrection of the body is clearly taught in the Scriptures. When God speaks, reason bows to what it does not understand, assured that the power of God is able to execute the purpose of His holy will.

II. The Resurrection denied by several classes of thinkers.

1. It is denied by those who take the word resurrection always in a figurative sense, expressing the rising of the soul from spiritual death to spiritual life. At the grave of Lazarus Martha said to our Lord. "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." It is impossible to twist these words, which Jesus did not contradict, into harmony with any figurative resurrection.

2. The resurrection of the body is denied by the Swedenborgians, who hold that the resurrection occurs at the time of death. The theory is that man has in this life two bodies, an external and internal, a material and a psychical body. The former remains in the grave never to rise again. The other, - an essence, which is neither the body nor spirit but something between them, goes forth with the departing spirit, and immediately invests it as its future habitation. Such is the only resurrection; and it takes place at death. Mr. Bush says: "A spiritual body is developed at death. By spiritual in this connection, we mean refined, subtle, ethereal, sublimated. By the development of a spiritual body we mean the disengagement, the extrication of that physical part of our nature with which vital and animal functions are, in the present life, intimately connected. ... It is a tertium quid, an intermediate something between the cogitative faculty and the gross body." (Anastasis p. 78).

This is a nice theory to contemplate, and quite ingenious; but if it were all true (which none can prove) it still would not answer for the resurrection of the body, which the Scriptures assert. It must therefore be dismissed as a mere fancy, incapable of proof.

3. "It is denied by those who assume that the soul as pure spirit, cannot be individualized or localized; that it cannot have any relation to space, or act or be acted upon, without a corporeity of some kind; and who, therefore, assume that it must be furnished with a new, more refined, ethereal body, as soon as its earthly tabernacle is laid aside. The resurrection body, according to this view also, is furnished at the moment of death." This too, contradicting Scriptures, must be classed as a human speculation.

4. The doctrine of the resurrection is further denied by all rationalists. "Rationalism, wherever it prevailed, swept the whole doctrine away. Reason does not teach the doctrine, and cannot explain it; therefore, it has no title to recognition. Deistical rationalists admitted that the doctrine was taught in the Scriptures, but this was to them only an additional reason for denying their divine origin. The more moderate rationalists, who admitted the Bible to be a revelation of the truths of reason, or of natural religion, explained away all that it teaches concerning the resurrection, making it refer to the rising of the soul from a state of sin to a state of Holiness; or, as relating not to the resurrection of the body, but to the continued life of the soul in a future state." (Hodge Vol. 111. p. 789).

5. "Modern pantheistic theology ignores the doctrine of a resurrection. It does not even admit of the existence of the soul after the dissolution of the body. The race is immortal, but the individuals of which it is composed are not."

6. "Scientific Materialism admits of no other resurrection than the reappearance of the same chemical elements which now form our bodies, in the bodies of future plants, animals or men. The time in our bodies may help to form the bones of those who come after us. Thus philosophy and science, when divorced from the Bible, lead us only to negations, darkness, and despair" (Hodge, Ibid).

III. The Divine Word plainly teaches the Resurrection. We need not labor to collate all the passages, a few will be amply sufficient.

1. John 5: 28, 29. "Marvel not at this; for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ill, unto the resurrection of judgment." In the twenty-first and twenty-fifth verses Jesus is talking of His power to raise to spiritual life those who are dead in sin; but in verses 28 and 29, He talks about raising all those physically dead from their tombs.

2. Rom. 8: 11, "But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you."

3. 1 Thess. 4: 14, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." Only the righteous dead are here spoken of, because they only were under consideration; but Jesus said all in the tombs should rise together.

4. Acts 24: 15, Paul announces his "hope toward God . . . that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and unjust."

5. Rev. 20: 12, 13, "And I saw, the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works." This is manifestly a universal resurrection.

6. The great standard passage on the subject is 1 Cor. 15. It is the most complete discussion of the resurrection, in the entire Bible. There is, in Paul's view, the same necessary connection between the resurrection of Christ and that of mankind, that there is between the fall of Adam, and the death of his descendants. As surely as in Adam all die, so surely in Christ shall all be made alive. In verses 12-23 the doctrine is maintained. It is so connected with the resurrection of Christ that the latter is at once the pledge and sample of the former. "But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep" (verse 20). "For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead" (verse 21).

In verse 35, objections are anticipated: "But some man will say, how are the dead raised up? And with what manner of body do they come?" These questions embody two objections to the resurrection; one against its possibility; the other, against its desirability. The objector assumed that the doctrine involved the resurrection of the body. If it was a mistake Paul should have corrected him. This, however, he does not do, but assumes it in his answer, considering both questions together with special attention to the second. He calls attention to the plastic nature of matter, and the marvelous transformations of which it is susceptible. He says the man who assumes that the future body must be exactly like the present body is a fool. The two are no more alike than a seed and flower, a clod of earth and a star, the earthly and the heavenly. "All flesh is not the same flesh. . . . There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial . . . one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It (the natural body) 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 raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (verses 40-45).

To the objection that our present bodies are not adapted to the future state of existence, he answers. Granted, but that is nothing against the truth of the doctrine. It is true, "brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell 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 trump; 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" (verses 50-53).

IV. We do not know in what the identity will consist. Many theologians have taught very gross views of the resurrection which are unbelievable and even repulsive. In their misdirected effort to defend the faith in the resurrection of the body, they have done much to discredit it. As an example, "Augustine seems to have thought that all matter which at any period entered into the organism of our present bodies would in some way be restored in the resurrection body. Every man's body, however dispersed here, shall be restored perfect in the resurrection. Every body shall be complete in quantity and quality. As many hairs as have been shaved off, or nails cut . . . shall return into the body, into that substance from which they grew" (Hodge, Vol. Ill, pp. 775, 776). Such conceptions are disgusting.

Now identity may be of two kinds-absolute, and proper. The former requires every atom of which it is composed at any given time; the latter is consistent with very much less, possibly with no atoms at all. When we affirm the resurrection of the body in which we die, we simply mean, in perfect harmony with Scripture, that there will be in some sense a proper identity. Even Paul himself, while arguing for the resurrection daringly affirmed, "Thou sowest not the body that shall be" (v. 37).

Just in what the identity will consist, none of us can now possibly know. "Behold, I tell you a mystery!" (v. 51). It is enough to believe that the resurrection body will sustain some relation to the present body; but just what relation we do not know. Let us all be honest enough to confess our utter ignorance of the matter, and cease to read our idle speculations into the Divine revelation, which are certainly not there.

Identity is a most elastic term. A cubic foot of ice is so much solid water. Melt it into a liquid. How changed! Heat it until it expands 1,700 times its original size, and becomes steam. Let that disappear and become the original gases of which water is composed. In all these changes into solid, liquid, vapor, and invisible gas, there is an identity preserved through it all. But how changed!

Many persons assume that sameness of substance is essential to the identity between our present and future bodies, and the idea is pressed to the utmost extreme. But this is the lowest and grossest form of identity. St. Paul nowhere intimates that the gross material of which our earthly bodies are composed will compose the body of the resurrection, He teaches precisely the opposite. And if we open our eyes to the various forms of identity, we are prepared to accept his teachings. The Apollo Belvidere once lay dormant in a strata of marble. A block of it was quarried, in the heart of which is every particle of the future statue; but the Apollo is not there. By care and toil there appears at last the immortal Apollo. Now let this be reproduced in plaster, or bronze, or in another piece of marble; let the size be enlarged or reduced; yet an instructed and admiring beholder exclaims, Ah! here is the Apollo Belvidere! How beautiful! The identity is recognized immediately. And yet there is not one atom in it that constituted the original Apollo. In this instance, the identity consists in the form, the expression, the informing idea that constitutes the Apollo.

Take another illustration: "When you look into a mirror the image reflected remains the same, but not the substance; for that is constantly changing with every new reflection. The soul here-in forms the body. The character is more or less visibly impressed upon the face. We know the former by looking at the latter. Now, if the soul has power thus to illuminate and render intelligent the gross material of our present frames, why may it not hereafter render its ethereal vestment so expressive of itself as to be at once recognized by all to whom it was ever known."

Identity in living organisms is higher still. The acorn and the oak are the same; but in what sense? The infant and the man are the same through all the stages of life; boyhood, manhood, and old age; the substance of the body, however, is in a state of perpetual change. Physiologists tell us the change is complete every seven years. Here, then, is an identity independent of sameness of substance. Our future bodies, therefore, may be the same as those we now have, although not a particle that was in the one should be in the other.

The object of these remarks on the different kinds of identity is not to explain anything. It is not intended to teach wherein the identity of the earthly and the heavenly consists; whether it be an identity of substance; or of expression and idea, as in works of art; or in the uninterrupted continuity of the same vital force, as in the plant or animal; or whether it is a sameness that includes all, or is different from all. We affirm nothing. The subject is left where the Bible leaves it. The object aimed at is two-fold; first, to show that it is perfectly rational for a man to assert the identity between our present and our future bodies, although he is forced to admit that he does not know wherein that identity is to consist. And, secondly, to stop the mouth of gainsayers (Hodge, Vol. Ill, pp. 777, 778).

Men ridicule the resurrection, asking if infants will be raised as infants, and the aged will be wrinkled and decrepit, and the maimed will be minus their members, and the deformed will be condemned to eternal deformity, and the cancer-eaten will rise with bodies half-consumed. The Bible teaches nothing of the kind. It only teaches the resurrection of the body. Whether it is to be the ideal which God had for each body, its perfected development, unmarred by disease or sin, or some spiritual body, somehow related to it, and of which that physical body was only the germ and type, the holy Word does not inform us. And where it is silent, it is folly for us to speak. We can therefore pass by the speculations of men, some crude, and some very beautiful, and fall back in faith on what the Word of God positively says about it.

V. The Resurrection Body.

1. It will not be the body (in every sense) that was put in the grave. 1 Cor. 15: 37, "Thou sowest not that body that shall be."

2. It will not be a body of flesh and blood. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 50). This means (1) that the bodies of the resurrection will be specially suited to the state of existence in which they are to live and act. (2) That our present bodies of flesh and blood are not adapted to that future state. (3) That what is unnecessary to that future existence will cease with the present existence. "They neither marry nor are given in marriage but are as the angels of God." Sexual functions and organism, having finished their work, will be needed no more. If blood be no longer our life, we shall have no need of organs of respiration and nutrition. Such remarks might be extended to eating and drinking, and sleep and rest. The animal necessities of the present life will all be unknown.

3. It will not be a body of corruption. "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption" (v. 43). "Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (v. 50). That body that shall be, will not be liable to sickness or decay, or disorganization, or to the loathsome corruption of the grave. It will be free from all possible accident to its strength or beauty and be blessed forever with the vigor of an eternal prime. Our present bodies are a marvel of divine wisdom, and are perfectly adapted to the environments of the present life; but in that future that awaits us, the soul shall be awake to more pure and elevated enjoyments than these, and such bodies as we have here would impede our progress, and detract from our comforts, and be ill-adapted to the holy employments and spiritual enjoyments of that eternal life, Nothing is corruptible in the pure atmosphere and eternal health of heaven,

4. It will not be a mortal body. "This mortal must put on immortality" (v. 53). Incorruption is negative, immunity from decay. Immortality means perpetuity of life. The righteous will be at once changed and invested, as Enoch and Elijah were, with incorruption and immortality, the deathlessness and eternal youthfulness of the angels of God. "And death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore; for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21: 4).

5. It will not be a body of weakness. "It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" (v. 43). How weak we are! In the fullness of our vigor, and at the height of our power, the accident of a moment may lay us low in utter helplessness. "How little we can effect! How few are our senses! How limited their range! But we do not yet know in what ways, or in what measure our power is to be increased. It is probable that however high may be our expectations on this subject, they will fall short of the reality; for it doth not yet appear, it is not revealed in experience or in hope, what we shall be. We may have new senses, new and greatly exalted capabilities. Instead of the slow and wearisome means of locomotion to which we are now confined, we may be able, hereafter, to pass with the speed of light, or of thought itself, from one part of the universe to another. Our power of vision, instead of being confined to the range of a few hundred yards, may far exceed that of the most powerful telescope. These expectations can not be extravagant, for we are assured that it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him" (Hodge, Vol. Ill, p. 783). To have the ability to think, and study and toil without food or weariness, or rest or sleep, ah, what a boon for every earnest soul!

6. It will not be a body of dishonor. "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory" (v. 43). After death, our poor bodies are hurried away to burial as offensive things, their honor departed, and their beauty vanished and gone. "We all do fade as a leaf." "As the flower of the grass he shall pass away." But it shall be raised in glory. This means radiance, dazzling luster, which excites admiration and delight. The bodies of the saints are to be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body. We shall be like Him when we see Him as He is. More than this cannot be said; what it means we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. When Jesus was transfigured, "His face did shine as the sun; and His raiment became white and dazzling." His disciples fell to the ground, overcome by the excess of His glory; and when He comes again the second time, the heavens and the earth shall flee away at the sight of the insufferable radiance. "And we shall be like Him!" Let it suffice us to know that as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

7. It will not be a natural body. "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (v. 44). The word "natural" refers to "animal life." The apostle is here saying that the future body will not be chiefly related to the animal soul, and the animal nature. It will not need that which is now necessary to the support of animal functions. It will not be sustained in that way, i. e., by breath and food and sleep. These will all cease, with the death of the body.

The future body will be related to the spirit, - pneuma, a spiritual (pneumatikon) body. It will be so much like a spirit as to be independent of food, or nutriment; independent of physical organization of flesh, and blood, and bones, of veins and arteries and nerves; and it will live as spirits live, by the sustaining power of the indwelling Spirit of God.

But what do we know of such a body? - a body without physical parts, or animal qualities or functions? Absolutely nothing. It is wholly beyond our experience. The wings of our imagination weary trying to rise to such an exalted conception. Faith reels and almost faints in her attempt to follow the revelation of this excess of future glory.

8. But it will doubtless be a body that will retain the human form, and be a glorified likeness of what it was on earth. This will insure us a recognition of our friends in heaven. "If the future body is to be the same with the present, why should not that sameness, whatever else it may include, include a certain sameness of appearance?" When Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of transfiguration they were at once known by the disciples. The redeemed are to sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. What joy will it give them unless the patriarchs can be recognized? We are assured that our cup of happiness will be full, and we shall be satisfied. But would we be satisfied, if our social and parental and domestic loves must all perish at the grave's mouth? David, weeping over his dead son, exclaimed: "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." It is the abiding hope of all noble and bereaved hearts. Does God create such deathless hopes to mock them? Do the tendrils of affection twine about the person loved, until they demand infinity for their field, and eternity for their duration, all to be swallowed up in the abyss of annihilation? It cannot be. God hath reserved some better thing for us and for them, whom we have loved and lost awhile,

Memory is another pledge of future recognition. The Bible leads us to believe that we shall retain all our faculties, memory among the rest. If this were not retained, there would be no continuity to our existence, nothing to connect the future life with the present. There would be a bridgeless chasm of separation between the two, and we should enter the other world as newly-created beings, with no consciousness of our past. We could not praise God for His redeeming love, for we would not know from what we had been redeemed. The past would be a blank, and we could not understand the meaning of our judgment, our rewards, or our penalties. We cannot suppose such a condition for a moment. But if memory survives, it will doubtless be quickened into perfection. "The books will be opened." This involves the memory of all scenes and persons, and social relations, of all the ties of affection and gratitude, of all the feelings and emotions that have ever thrilled the heart or affected the life. It will make recognition, not only possible but certain in the future life.

All this is foreshadowed and foretold by the universal longing and expectation of men. It is the common faith of mankind which is itself evidence of a corresponding reality awaiting us in the eternal world.

It may have been noticed that comparatively little is said in the Bible about the kind of body the wicked shall have in the resurrection. But "all that are in their graves shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment" (John 5: 28, 29). "There shall be a resurrection both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24: 15). "Some to everlasting life; and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12: 2). The abhorrent, sin-cursed body with which they shall rise is not described. "The bodies of the unjust shall be raised to dishonor." Westminster Confession: "For them there will be no glorious body. They will be dragged from their graves to the judgment, and their bodily appearance will correspond with their spiritual degradation." Our present body is as the seed of our future body. ... It illustrates by a vivid figure the perpetuity of our bodily life, as proved by the resurrection of Christ. Each sin against the body is no longer a stain on that which is itself doomed to perish, but a defilement of that which is consecrated to an eternal life" (Westcott).