By C. T. Russell Pastor New York, Washington and Cleveland Temples and the Brooklyn and London Tabernacles
"With what body do they come?"—#1Co 15:35.
IN OUR CONTEXT, St. Paul shows that without God’s purpose of a resurrection those who have fallen asleep in death would have perished as do brute beasts. Then he assures us that "Christ has risen from the dead and become the First-fruits of them that slept." Others, indeed, were awakened temporarily; as, for instance, Jarius’ daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus the friend of Jesus. Yet none of these instances is counted as a resurrection: for it is written that Christ is the First-fruits of them that slept. Their awakening was merely of a temporary nature, and they soon relapsed into the death sleep. They did not have a full resurrection—anastasis—a raising up to perfection of life, such as Jesus’ redemptive work guarantees to Adam and to all his race who are willing to accept it under the terms of the New Covenant.—#Jer 31:31-34.
The Scriptures clearly teach that not the body, but the soul, is promised a resurrection—that it was our Lord’s soul that went to Sheol, Hades, the death state; and that God raised Him out of death on the third day. All Christendom has been plunged into difficulties by the unscriptural theory that the body is to be resurrected. We shall now note a few of the difficulties into which this error has plunged us as believers in the Scriptures, particularly in connection with our Redeemer’s resurrection.
What Say the Scriptures?
In Christian minds the ordinary thought respecting our Lord’s death and resurrection is that when Jesus seemed to die He did not die; that He, the being, the soul, could not die; that, instead, He went to Heaven; and then came back on the third day to get the body which had been crucified; that forty days later He took it to Heaven; that He has had that body ever since; and that to all eternity He will have it, marred with the print of the nails in His hands and His feet, with the marks of the thorns upon his brow, and with the spear wound in His side.
What a ghastly thought! How strange that we should ever have been misled into so unreasonable and unscriptural a theory! Some endeavor to gloss the matter by suggesting that our Lord’s flesh is glorified—that it shines—the shining presumably making the wounds all the more conspicuous.
Our Methodist friends have thus stated the matter: "He ascended up on High, taking His fleshly body with Him, and all that appertained thereto, and sat down on the right hand of God." This medieval statement correctly admits that the fleshly
OV353 body was not the Lord’s glorified body, but declares that He, the soul, took it with him as luggage. The clause, "and all that appertained thereto," presumably would refer to our Lord’s sandals, walking stick and such clothing as the soldiers did not divide amongst themselves at the time of the crucifixion—if indeed He had any others! But our dear Methodist friends wish to be sure that nothing was left behind.
All this is of a piece with the theory that when the saints die they go to Heaven, but come back later to get their bodies "and all that appertained thereto"—the inconveniences that they have been rid of for centuries! How many truckloads of things appertaining thereto may be taken by some, and how mixed an assortment by others, is not stated. Neither are particulars given respecting those whose clothing, etc., have meantime worn out. But we have had enough of this, if it has helped us to see the absurdity of theories received from the Dark Ages—if it has awakened us to thought and to Bible investigation on this interesting and important subject.
The Bible presentation is in every way reasonable, consistent and harmonious. St. Paul points out that "there is a natural body and there is a spirit body." He neither means nor says that the spirit body is a human body glorified. Quite to the contrary, He declares that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God"—no matter how glorified. A human being is so totally different from a spirit being that, as St. John says, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," in our resurrection change; and the Scriptures do not even attempt to give us an explanation. —#1Jo 3:2.
The Bible merely declares that as we now bear the image of the earthly—Adam—so we shall by the resurrection change be given a share in the nature and the likeness of the Second Adam, our glorious Lord. We shall be like Him and see Him as He is. But, be it noted, we must be changed from flesh and blood conditions to spirit conditions by resurrection power, in order to see Him as He is. Surely this fact proves that our Lord Jesus is no longer flesh, as once He was—"in the days of His flesh."—#Heb 5:7.
Heavenly Bodies vs. Earthly Bodies.
St. Paul calls attention to the difference between celestial bodies and terrestrial or earthly bodies, and declares that they have different glories. He tells us that the first Adam was made a living soul, a human being, but that our Redeemer, who humbled Himself and took the earthly nature—"for the suffering of death" (#Heb 2:9)—thereby became the Second Adam, the Heavenly Lord. The wide distinction between the Second Adam and the first Adam is clearly set forth; one was earthly, and the other is Heavenly.
St. Paul illustrates by saying that we know of many kinds of organisms on the earthly or fleshly plane one flesh of man another of beasts, another of birds and another of fishes. But however different the organisms, they are all earthly. So, on the Heavenly plane, the spirit plane, there are varieties of organisms, but all are spirit.
Our Heavenly Father is the Head or Chief—"God is a Spirit." Cherubim, seraphim and the still lower order of angels are all spirit beings. Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, after finishing the work of sacrificing appointed Him, was resurrected to the spirit plane—far above angels, principalities and powers—next to the Father. (#Eph 1:20-23.) Thus we read: "He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened (made alive) in the spirit."—#1Pe 3:18.
The more we examine the subject the more foolish and unscriptural the views handed down from the Dark Ages appear. The Scriptures clearly set forth that our Redeemer, prior to becoming a man, was a spirit being—"the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." His leaving the spirit plane to become a man is Scripturally described as a great humiliation. Is it reasonable to suppose that
OV354 the Heavenly Father would perpetuate to all eternity that humiliation, after it had served its purpose? Surely not.
The Bible tells us why Jesus humbled himself to the human nature—"a little lower than the angels." A man had sinned; and under the Divine Law the Redeemer must be on the same plane of being as the one whom He would redeem. Thus Jehovah particularly specified—"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life." Hence the death of an angel or of our Lord in His prehuman condition could not have effected the payment of man’s penalty and the consequent release of the condemned race. Thus again we read, "A body hast Thou prepared Me"—"for the suffering of death."—#Heb 10:5; 2:9.
No one questions that this applies exclusively to our Lord’s experiences during the years in which "He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might be made rich." Surely it is unsupposable that the Father would arrange a Plan by which our Redeemer’s faithfulness in accomplishing man’s redemption would cost Him an eternity of poverty, humiliation, degradation to a plane "a little lower than the angels;" while the Church would be made rich and would attain a spirit state "far above angels" —be made "partakers of the Divine nature."—#2Pe 1:4.
God Highly Exalted Him.
The very same Apostle who tells of our Lord’s humiliation carries the matter to the climax, telling us of His faithfulness, as the Man Christ Jesus, even unto the death of the cross. Then he adds an assurance of the Heavenly Father’s faithfulness in not leaving His Son on a lower plane: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and hath given Him a name above every name."—#Php 2:8-11.
This is in harmony with our Lord’s words in His prayer to the Father. Ignoring the promises of a higher glory as a reward for His faithfulness, He prayed, "Father, glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." (#Joh 17:5.) In humility He asked no reward, but was quite content to serve the Father’s Plan and then to return to His former glorious estate. The Heavenly Father’s response to that prayer was, "I have glorified Thee, and I will glorify Thee again," or further—the implication of a still higher glory than that which He enjoyed before He was made flesh.
The Unconsecrated Cannot Understand.
In the consideration of spiritual problems two lines of difficulties present themselves.
When a natural-minded man undertakes to reason these subjects out, he finds them impossible of comprehension. St. Paul explains this difficulty, saying, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (#1Co 2:14.) He proceeds to tell us that all men are natural men except such as have been begotten again by the Holy Spirit. In their resurrection all natural men will receive earthly or human bodies, while all spiritual ones, New Creatures in Christ, will receive spirit bodies, as St. Paul explains in our context (#1Co 15:36-50.) Not all of my hearers can appreciate this—only those begotten again by the Holy Spirit.
Others I ask to consider what I say and to hold it, if they please, until such time as, in God’s providence, they may be begotten of the Holy Spirit, and thus be enabled to understand spiritual things.
Another class who have difficulty are spirit-begotten, but have been entangled in their reasoning by the declaration of the creeds respecting the resurrection of the body. It is difficult to unlearn error. When visiting foreign lands and learning of the hold of superstition upon the heathen, I concluded that we Christians experience just as much difficulty in unlearning our errors as do the heathen in getting free from theirs.
OV355 He Appeared and Disappeared.
During the forty days following our Lord’s resurrection, His appearances to His disciples were but for a few moments each time, and in various bodies—once as a gardener, another time as a traveler, a third time as a stranger on the shore, etc. If all put together, these appearances would probably not have exceeded four hours out of the entire forty days. We were not critical students when we overlooked these things, and forgot to ask ourselves why these things were so.
Now we see more distinctly why our Lord did as He did. His disciples were natural men and could not appreciate spiritual things. Furthermore, they could not receive the guiding of the Holy Spirit until our Lord’s ascension and appearance in the Father’s presence on behalf of the Church, to make satisfaction for their sins and to make them acceptable joint-subscribers with Himself. Had Jesus ascended immediately after His resurrection the stunned and bewildered disciples would have had no assurance of His resurrection. They would have found it impossible to go out and tell the people that He had risen from the dead when they had no proof to this effect.
Even if Jesus had appeared to them as He did to Saul of Tarsus, this would not have been convincing and satisfactory. They might have said: Here is a phenomenon, but how can we positively associate it with the life and death of Jesus? Matters were different with Saul. He needed something to arouse him thoroughly and to teach him for all time, and others through him, that the Lord is not a man, but "that Spirit."
Besides, the disciples were able to give Saul assurances of what they knew respecting Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Our Lord adopted the only reasonable way of convincing His disciples that He was no longer dead, and that He was no longer human, but had been glorified and had become a spirit being. The two things were necessary, and they were done at the same time.
PRAYER OF THE CONSECRATED
WE seek not, Lord, for tongues of flame, Or healing virtue’s mystic aid; But power Thy Gospel to proclaim—The balm for wounds that sin hath made.
Breathe on us, Lord; Thy radiance pour On all the wonders of the page Where hidden lies the heavenly lore That blessed our youth and guides our age.
Grant skill each sacred theme to trace, With loving voice and glowing tongue, As when upon Thy words of grace The wondering crowds enraptured hung.
Grant faith, that treads the stormy deep, If but Thy voice shall bid it come; And zeal, that climbs the mountain steep, To seek and bring the wanderer home.
Give strength, blest Savior, in Thy might; Illuminate our hearts, and we, Transformed into Thine image bright, Shall teach, and love, and live, like Thee!